Chapter 4 The Use of the Bible in Determining Doctrine
Simply put, there are only two basic paths that Christian theology and religion follow, and have followed throughout all history. Christian theology either takes the path based on faith in Jesus Christ drawn without compromise and without doubts or questions from God’s Holy Word. Or, it follows a path that is based on views and opinions developed and processed by human reason.
This does not mean to say that those who base their personal beliefs on reason do not possess a faith. They do believe, but what they believe is determined by human reason. It is not determined by an unqualified trust in what the Scriptures say.
The theological position of every individual who belongs to a Christian church body is decided by faith or reason, even today. Faith or reason will determine how an individual views the Bible as well as how that individual will regard the very words within Scripture. Faith or reason will affect the way an individual perceives a doctrine of the church. Faith or reason will also influence the very meaning of words used by the individual. For example, if I use the words “justification,” “sanctification,” “inspiration,” “inerrancy,” “Bible,” “Scripture,” “the Word of God,” “law,” “Gospel”, “gospel”, “church,” and “ministry,” to name just a few; although I can find thousands of people who will agree with me on the meanings of these words, many of you who are reading this will not. Some of you may agree with me on the meaning of all of these terms; others may only agree on the meanings of some of these terms; and still others may not agree with me on the meanings of any of these terms. For some it will be like comparing apples and oranges. Why? Because reason influences the perception of the words and defines them, not necessarily in the way they have been used in the Bible. Many will say that justification means you are made just, and to be made just, you must perform works. Yet the Bible says we are “justified by faith, it is the gift of God and not of works, lest any man should boast.” We may be using the same word – justification – but there are two distinct meanings to the word and doctrine. Reason tells me I must do something to be justified; faith says, “Jesus justified you completely, fully, uncompromisingly on the cross.” This is more than just perspective; the influence of “faith” or “reason” pervades the doctrine and teachings of each and every church body and the beliefs of each and every individual.
Regarding the doctrines of the church and the ministry, this has also been the case. Every person who belongs to a Christian church body has a particular view, understanding, and opinion regarding these theological words. These positions arise on the basis of whether one uses faith or one uses reason to determine what they accept and believe.
Moreover, by using certain words and terms and molding one’s reading of Scripture in a certain way, one gives oneself away as using certain Lutheran sense-making reading glasses for the understanding of God’s intention with a specific stated doctrine. The words ‘doctrine’, ‘Holy and inerrant Word of God,’ and ‘God’s intention while inspiring the writing of His holy and inerrant Word,’ as well as the heading of this chapter ‘The Use of the Bible in Determining Doctrine,’ express the sense-making ambience of orthodox Lutherans. ‘Liberal’ Lutherans would approach these words and phrases with bold remarks concerning people who actually believe that God verbally inspired the Bible, that God intends that we follow Him and live by His direction and seek His guidance. As a conservative Lutheran who attended an increasingly liberal Lutheran College, I am speaking from experience here, not being judgmental! While attending services in a liberal setting, I heard sermons preached in chapel and lectures given in the classroom that questioned and doubted the historical events and miracles recorded in the Scriptures, that God really did not mean that Jesus was born of a virgin; and that it was foolishness to believe in the Physical Resurrection because Jesus’ death on the cross was just so sad and tragic and He was buried, period. Through associations outside the church, I have come in contact with numerous people, some of them close friends, some pastors in other Lutheran groups, who have belittled the Bible while others hold to its divine inspiration and inerrancy. My intention is to concentrate on the slightly different views, approaches and uses within the ambience of those who are conservative, orthodox Bible-believing Lutherans.
At times, this paper will refer to several types of believers, they are as follows: Bible-believers, partial Bible-believers or semi-Bible-believers, and non-Bible-believers or Bible-deniers. Because theological terminology often has different meanings based on geographical and denominational differences, it would be good to define these terms as they will be used in this paper. A Bible-believer is a person who regards everything that the Bible says as being true. There are no doubts, questions, or hesitancies to believe even one verse of Scripture. For the Bible-believer, the entire Bible is the wholly inspired and inerrant word of God. Every word is true. Every event mentioned in the Bible has actually occurred or will occur. The partial-Bible-believer accepts and believes those parts of the Bible that pertain to what he or she wants to believe. This person may have misgivings, doubts, questions, and hesitancies to accept certain portions of Scripture. This may be on one or two matters, or it may be on many matters. For example, the individual may have a hard time believing that the world was really created in six days, that Balaam’s ass really spoke, or that Moses really wrote the first five books of the Bible. Perhaps they adhere to theistic-evolution because they cannot bring themselves to believe the creation account to be true, yet they do not want to deny that God is the Creator of all things. The partial-Bible-believer only believes part of the Bible. The Bible-denier is precisely that, one who cannot accept Scripture or anything in it as being true. For them, the Bible is nothing more than a literary work, to be judged like any literary work that has been written by a human being. The Bible is not the word of God. It is not inspired by God. It is not inerrant. It is merely a religious book of myths, legends, and fables about religious life among the early Hebrews and the early Christians.
In this chapter I will be presenting a brief overview of the history of theology. Our purpose is not to do a comparative study of every theological school of thought, of every theologian, of every religion, or of every denomination within the Christian religion. Our purpose is to merely present an overview of some of the major theological influences and opinions that have affected the way in which hermeneutics was carried out and the Bible interpreted. Because this paper deals with a matter within a Lutheran church body within the USA, there will always be an emphasis on the Lutheran position, and when necessary, statements regarding the doctrines and positions on the church and the ministry will predominate. We shall begin by looking at the common, predominant views in the three periods: before the Reformation (4.2.1), during the Reformation (4.2.2), and from the Reformation into the 20th Century (4.2.3). For the sake of showing how several doctrines are presently being interpreted, I will briefly touch upon the Word of God (4.3.1), Inspiration (4.3.2), Inerrancy (4.3.3), and Revelation (4.3.4). The purpose for doing this is not to cover any of these in detail. Rather it is to show that not every one understands these four doctrines in the same way.
Then I will talk about four modern views, approaches, and uses of the Bible: the Grammatical-Historical Method (4.4.1), The Historical-Critical Method (4.4.2), The Vox Viva Approach (4.4.3), and The Syntactical Theological Exegesis Method (4.4.4). None of these will be an exhaustive presentation. Certainly much more can be said about any and all of them. What is presented is done so basically to acquaint the reader with each of the four views and to provide a brief discussion of each. In section 4.5, there will be a presentation of Evangelical, Evangelicals, and evangelical. It is the same word, but throughout the world and especially in the USA the word has different uses and different meanings (4.5.1). The Roots of the Fundamentalists and the Evangelicals in the USA will be discussed to present background information (4.5.2). The section will also show differences within modern Protestantism in the USA between the Fundamentalists (4.5.3), the Evangelicals (4.5.4), and the Pentecostals (4.5.5). In 4.6, I will show three common views, approaches, and ways of using the Bible by the “moderate” and “liberal” Lutherans in the USA. We will take brief looks at The Existential Demythologizing Approach (4.6.1), The Gospel Reductionism Approach (4.6.2), and The Divine Human Mystery Approach (4.6.3). The three views will be compared and commented upon in (4.6.4) and an indication will be made how each of these is influencing, or has influenced, theologians in the LCMS and the ELCA. Time does not permit me to go into any of these in any great depth. These approaches have influenced many within the Christian Church today. Some Lutherans have also been more influenced by them than others. My approach in this chapter and in this study is to demonstrate my view of, approach to and use of the Bible as the infallible and inerrant Word of God in the formulation of the doctrines of the Church and the Ministry.
In setting forth a doctrinal position on the doctrines of the Church and the Ministry one could, on the one hand, work with the premise that by going first to Walther, F. Pieper and Luther and only going to the Scripture after examining what these men have written, that the Evangelical Lutheran Synod has encountered its current difficulty in not being able to clearly and succinctly state the doctrine of the Church and the Ministry. We have already seen in Chapter 3, and we shall see again in this chapter, that the LCMS influenced men have a different view and approach to Scripture, because many of them have been trained not to regard the Bible as divinely inspired, but as something on a par with the writings of human beings.
On the other hand, one could state that one has to approach Scripture first and thereafter may look at what C. F. W. Walther, the two Pieper brothers, and Martin Luther said about the specific sections of Scripture that are under examination regarding the doctrine of the Church and the Ministry. Thus, one deals with the particular doctrine directly embedded in Scripture and not with theological and philosophical approaches or with a study of human insights into it. One makes a choice to examine directly what Scripture has to say about this or any other particular doctrine. And by doing this, one could say that they put the Lord first, thereby letting God be God by letting Him state the doctrine as He intended it to be understood when He inspired the writing of His holy and inerrant Word.
To deal with the struggle within the ELS to set forth in precise language the doctrines of the Church and the Ministry, I could have used many approaches. I have chosen the approach which I believe will best illustrate why the differences exist and also will show the solution that I humbly suggest should be attained.
My intent in this paper is to discuss the current influence — the use of the writings of man and apparently regarding them as equal to or superior to the Word of God — that Walther and his theological descendants have had on a sizeable number, although a minority, of pastors and theologians within the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. It is my opinion, and not mine alone — as evidenced by a survey that I conducted of the 37 ELS pastors who have been active in the ministry and have witnessed and participated first-hand in this struggle during the past three decades — 34 out of those 37 agreeing with me, that without the influence pattern established by Walther in Kirche und Amt to establishing doctrine as we saw in chapter 3, and the views and opinions of his modern theological descendants who have strayed from the orthodox position due to their training and the influences within the LCMS, there would have been no problem in setting forth the doctrines of the church and the ministry decades ago. For the matter to be resolved, one has to go directly to the jugular of the problem in the ELS which is differences in the views of God’s Word, the approaches to interpreting the Bible, and the uses of Scripture regarding the doctrines of the Church and the Ministry that creates the mega differences and results in the desire for different positions.
There is no other access route to any problem that arises in the ELS other than to search the Scriptures thoroughly and repeatedly, study it, search it in groups, and search it individually so that future generations can look back at our searching and finding direction from God’s Word in the formation and formulations of our doctrinal statements. Thus the Scriptures should and must be used to decide the doctrine of the Church and the ministry as well as all other doctrines.
In order to resolve the issues, both sides in the ELS must meet together, lay aside all earthly encumbrances, and let the Word of God, to which both sides firmly adhere, decide the definition of these and all other doctrines.
In 4.7, we shall see some of the differences between the three major Lutheran church bodies in the USA. Working from liberal to the orthodox, conservative, we begin with the ELCA (4.7.1), proceed to the LCMS (4.7.2), and conclude with the WELS (4.7.3). In approaching the chapter in this method, the scene has been set for an understanding of two broad, seemingly strongly opposed, views, approaches and uses of the Bible concerning the formulation of the doctrines of the Church and the Ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Synod in the USA.
In the final section, 4.8, there is a presentation of the relationship of the Bible and the doctrines of the church and the ministry, concluding with an explanation about why there are currently two vastly different views on these two doctrines within the same church body, the ELS. The chapter prepares the way for the presentation of the two Bible-based doctrines from an orthodox, conservative Lutheran point of view.
Background to the current struggle between views, approaches and uses of the Bible
Ask any group of people on a street corner, “What is the Bible?” and you will receive almost as many responses as people that have been asked the question. For many people it is merely a religious book. For some the religious writing of any religion is considered “the bible”. Today, news reporters sometimes speak of Jews, Muslims, and Hindus reading “their bible”. One can also encounter those in the secular world who refer to a particular book to guide them in their daily activities, be it sales, computer programming, or management. These individuals refer to these guidebooks as “their bible”. It is even possible to go to a bookstore and purchase The C Programmer’s Bible. There are those who regard the Bible as merely as book, a history of the human race, something interesting to read about the experiences of our forbears. Still others regard it as interesting literature. More than one university has included the reading of the Bible in the curriculums of their literature departments. Outside the realm of Christendom, therefore, one can encounter a very different concept of the Bible than the one held by the Christian Church as the Judeo-Christian Holy Scripture of the Old and the New Testament. There may be some scholars throughout the world who prefer to use the names First and Second Testament, although within Christendom such terminology is rare.
The word “Bible” comes to us from the Greek word biblia (βιβλία) which means “books.” The Bible, as we have it, is a book of books, the number of books will vary depending on whether or not the individual is Lutheran, Protestant, or Catholic. Some of the more common synonyms for Bible are “Holy Writ,” “Scripture,” “Holy Scripture,” “The Scriptures,” “The Word,” and “The Word of God.” Not everyone today agrees that the Bible is “The Word of God.” Some say the Bible merely contains the Word of God. Others hold that these are two very separate and distinct terms.
The terms “Scripture,” “The Scripture,” and “Holy Scripture” comes from the Latin word scriptura, which Jerome included in some passages of his Latin translation of the Bible, more commonly known as the Vulgate. The word means “writing.” The terms are really synonymous and it really does not make a difference which term is used in the English speaking world. It is possible to find pastors, preachers, and professors using all of the expressions interchangeably, or in some cases, they may have a favorite that they use with more regularity. Walk into any bookstore in the world, or log on to any internet site of a vendor of Christian books and more than likely a person could use any of these terms and the vendor would know what is meant. Lutheran and Protestant theologians tend to use the terms “Scripture” and “Bible” most frequently. Other languages have similar terms, which also are used interchangeably die heilige Schrift and das Biblia in German, for example. Whatever term is preferred, all Bible-believing Christians will agree that there are two basic parts of the Bible, the first dealing with history and prophecy prior to the birth of Jesus Christ, the second dealing with the history and events involving the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and then the birth and development of the early Christian church during the first century AD.
Rather than enter into a long discourse on the various designations used for the Bible and any advantages that might be associated with each, my purpose in this chapter is to point out various views, approaches, and uses of the Bible among Bible-believing Christians and theologians. Toward the end of the chapter I will present some of the more specific differences among various Lutheran church bodies, especially those in the USA.
Christians and Bible-believing theologians tend to view the Bible differently. For some, the Bible is a book of laws that governs and rules their daily lives. Others consider the Bible to be an extensive divine map of words, each of which has to be mirrored in their lives to make sense and give meaning as they proceed along their path to an afterlife. Still others regard the Bible as the saving historical revelation of God, which they use as they practice their religion. For others, the Bible is from Genesis to Revelation God’s gracious plan of salvation for fallen human beings. There are also people in churches who view the Bible as a meaningful book of people’s religious experience in the past which could be rationalistically or historically approached and from which clues and guidelines for meaningful rationality and historicality could be extracted.
In line with our sense-making view, approach and use of the Bible as the Word of God, I will quickly pass over the history of theological interpretation and touch lightly upon the uses of allegory, rationalism, and historicism as these have influenced the views, approaches, and uses of the Bible. Most of these are really outside the scope and margins of our Bible-believing approach and thus will not be dealt with in extensive detail. The main emphasis will focus primarily on a number of Bible-believing views, approaches and uses of the Bible prominently in use among Lutherans and Protestants and the seemingly slight differences between these which have immense outcomes in the area of doctrine formulation and formation. Primarily, attention will be focused on the doctrines of the church and the ministry as these doctrines can be stated according to these views. The areas that will be covered will be theological views in the Christian Church prior to the Reformation (4.2.1), the differences between the Lutheran and Reformed approaches to the Bible and Biblical interpretation (4.2.2), and from the Reformation into the 20th century (4.2.3).
Theological Views in the Christian Church Pre-Reformation
During the Old Testament times, the Hebrews heard the Word of God directly through His chosen prophets or through readings of various scrolls on which the books of the Old Testament had been written. There are instances in the Old Testament in which we are told of how lessons from a scroll, or even an entire scroll were read.
Outside of Judaism, there was a heavy influence on religious thought and interpretation from the Greek philosophers. Their preference for the allegorical method of interpreting the epic poems led to interpreting Scripture in an allegorical method, a method which continued up to the Reformation, and is still used by some today. We shall briefly look at the allegorical method (220.127.116.11) and then the literal method (18.104.22.168) as the two dominant methods of interpretation prior to the Reformation.
The Allegorical View, Approach And Use Of The Bible
Allegorizing is a method of interpretation that looks beyond the literal and obvious meaning of words as they are arranged in sentences and paragraphs and seeks a second, third, and sometimes even a fourth meaning for the text. Some trace the use of the allegorical approach back to the ancient Greeks in the 6th century before Christ. During the ensuing centuries, the process of interpreting literature allegorically continued to be used, refined, and developed.
In the 6th century BC it was used at the University in Alexandria, the leading center of education in the world of that day. The allegorical approach became a dominating method of interpretation after a conflict developed between the study of science and the study of Greek culture and writings. In order to permit the myths in Homer’s writings, the legendary epic poet of the 8th century BC., to exist side by side with scientific knowledge, the “scholars” felt compelled to use the allegorical method. By using allegory, the ancient Greek reader was not only entertained but was given a new-found value in Greek classical literature in which the foibles, frailties, idiosyncrasies and desires of the mythical gods were portrayed. These same gods were at the same time portrayed as being strong, beautiful and immortal interventionists in the lives and events of humankind. The Greek philosophers often found the actions and interventions of these mythical gods to be offensive. For them, allegory became a means of extracting both meaningful ideas and values from these epic writings.
Allegorizing as a method of interpretation of Scripture was devised by heathen philosophers who neither knew nor believed in the Lord God. Their approach was based on reason, not as a result of a faith that Scripture had produced within them. Based on the success they had had allegorizing secular literature in order to reconcile the epic writings with the “new-found” scientific knowledge, they decided to do the same thing with Scripture, namely, to use allegory to reconcile the account in the Old Testament with scientific knowledge. The new interpretations soon spread to the Jews living in Alexandria who now learned that the Old Testament was in conflict with scientific thinking. What for centuries had been accepted by the Jewish people in terms of “divine cause and effect” was now cast aside as something that could not be grasped. The new understanding was that things happen because of some natural cause. Everything occurs “on its own.” It does not occur because of divine intervention. Aristobulus used allegory to theorize that Moses “was really the originator of many of the thoughts of Greek philosophy” and that many of Moses’ ideas had been borrowed and adapted by the Greeks.117
Philo (c. 20 BC – c. 40 AD), a contemporary of Jesus Christ, was a famous Jewish philosopher and theologian at the university in Alexandria. He was involved in promoting the allegorical methodology among the Jews and neo-platonic philosophers in this Egyptian city. Philo preferred to interpret the Old Testament using the allegorical approach. He established some guidelines that helped the reader determine when allegory must be used to provide an alternative meaning to what the text literally said. This he felt was necessary because at times, at least for him, the literal sense presented something that was “unworthy of God” or that implied a contradiction. Examples of this include the passages in Genesis which tells us that Adam “hid himself from God” and the reference to Abraham as the “father” of Jacob. Philo felt that these needed to be interpreted in another manner; the first because it dishonored the all-knowing and all-seeing God, the second because Abraham was Jacob’s grandfather. Thus Philo felt it was necessary to interpret Scripture in another way.
The early use of allegory was firmly rooted in platonic and neo-platonic philosophies. Plato’s idea that true reality actually lay behind what appeared to the human eye became the basis for using allegory. When applied to literature this suggested that a text’s true meaning lay behind the written words. The text serves as a kind of extended metaphorical screen. Behind it lay the real ideas and the actual hidden meaning. The reader thus had to “read between the lines” or peer behind the veiled meaning of the text to ascertain the author’s message.
The allegorical method continued to gain prominence among scholars in the late second and early third centuries AD primarily through the work of two men in Alexandria, both of whom had been influenced by Philo. These two men were Clement and Origen. Allegory was used not only at the university in Alexandria, but it became a prevalent means of interpretation among the Hellenists and the Gnostics.?
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Whence the Problem?
1.2 Preliminary stating of the problem
1.3 The basic problem and the basic statement of the study
1.4 Overview of the study
Chapter 2 The Historical background of the Current struggle and CFW Walther’s influence
2.2 CFW Walther: primarily a dogmatician or an exegetical-student-of-the-Bible?
2.3 The historical background of the problem
2.4 The development of the problem
2.5 The Missouri Approach Continues to Influence the ELS
2.6 The Cincinnati Case
2.7 Male Teachers and the Public Ministry
2.8 Struggles within the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference
2.9 The Break-up of the Synodical Conference over Doctrinal Issues
2.10 The 1963 Conclave in Mankato
2.11 Continued Debates within the ELS
Chapter 3 An evaluation of Walther’s Theses on Church and Ministry
3.2 The influence of Martin Stephan on Walther and the group in Missouri
3.3 Walther the Dogmatics Professor
3.5 The theses of Dr CFW Walther on the Church and the Ministry
3.6 Conclusion: Walther’s Format Continues To Be Used and Thus Foments Debate
Chapter 4 The Use of the Bible in Determining Doctrine
4.2 Background to the current struggle between views, approaches and uses of the Bible
4.3 The Inspiration and the Inerrancy of the Bible
4.4 Modern Views, Approaches and Ways of Using the Bible
4.5 Evangelical, Evangelicals, and evangelical
4.6 Modern Views, Approaches, and Ways of Using the Bible in Lutheran Church Bodies in the USA
4.7 The Differences Regarding the Doctrines of the Church and the Ministry among Lutheran Church Bodies in the USA
4.8 The Relationship of the Bible and the Doctrines of the Church and the Ministry
Chapter 5 The Biblical doctrine (nature) of the Church
5.2 The Kingdom of God
5.3 The Biblical doctrine of the Church
5.4 The Visible Church Is an Outward Manifestation of the Church
5.5 The Form in Which Christians Work Together is An Adiaphora
5.6 The ELS Agrees on a Statement Defining the Church
Chapter 6 The Biblical doctrine (nature) of the Ministry of the Church
6.1 The Problem Is Fueled By a Difference of Understanding When Using the Biblical Expressions in the Vernacular
6.2 What Is the Proper Use of the Terms “Minister” and “Ministry?”
6.3 Is the Pastoral Ministry Divinely Ordained in Contrast to Other Forms of Public Ministry?
6.4 The Priesthood of All Believers
6.5 Performing the Ministry Publicly
6.6 The Call to Public Ministry
6.7 The Scriptural Qualifications to Serve in the Public Ministry
6.9 Scripture Must Determine the Doctrine of the Ministry
6.10 ELS official statement on the Doctrine of the Ministry
Chapter 7 Epilogue
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