Christian Unity and Uniformity of Beliefs

You know trouble is on the horizon, when someone says, the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it without truly thinking things through. The Bible says a ton of stuff for sure… alas man’s leaning towards self-deception, man’s inability to see things clearly, and our old Adam zest for power muddies the water a great deal when it comes to how we interpret what the Bible says. 33,000 is a figure often quoted as to the number of distinct Christian belief systems… and yet within those belief structures, when you start asking questions at the pew level, you will often find even greater diversity.

Did God intend for potentially millions of different interpretations of the scriptures?

Genesis 11 suggests God has issues with too much like minded thinking. Ie, God’s confusion of languages and scattering of peoples with respect to the construction of the tower of Babel.

And yet, we have Jesus prayer for unity in John 17…

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one,Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

So what gives with this… is God changing his tune, or do we have something hosed up in how we are reading this?

I think the answer in part is the trinity.

One issue in The Shack film, is the bit where in papa had the marks of the cross. For theological nerds, this heresy known as patripassionism is problematic as it makes the Son and The Father one, rather than 2 distinct persons. Ie, within the teachings of the trinity, Jesus is God, the Father is God, but Jesus is not the Father, nor is the Father, Jesus. For many folks though, this distinction is probably glossed over… on the surface it seems we theological nerd types may as well be arguing over how many angels will fit on the tip of a pin.

But this is key… the Father and Jesus are distinct persons. Consider John 17:22-23 taken to an extreme, is Jesus suggesting that we are to be God in the above text too?

And while I don’t necessarily think God’s plan was to have millions of interpretations of the scriptures, I think its also pretty clear his thoughts on being one do not equate to 100% uniformity in beliefs either. Consider the later part of Galatians 3 where Paul talks about oneness in Christ, there is no Jew nor Greek…. and yet Romans 11 is pretty clear that he didn’t throw the old covenant away with the bathwater either.

Its also helpful to ponder 1 Cor 13, where it talks about us seeing dimly, and the passing of gifts, ages, and time as well as growth in Christ.

And yet, people can have a intense need for certainty. Struggles with the mysteries of faith can become really hard at times…  The whole bit about working out your salvation with fear and trembling is not really applicable to the dude the Samaritan found alongside the road, the pilot who came within seconds of death, or the husband whose wife just died in his arms. In those times, Jesus is reaching out, just as he did for Peter, but it may not feel like such…

And while we do have certainty in the resurrection… the error is one where in we take said certainty from beyond the scriptures into our personal and/or tribal interpretations of said scriptures. Consider what could happen if one built their faith on rapture theology, and then learned about Darby later in life where in things start to unravel. And while basing ones relationship on the rapture is an extreme… building God into an exclusive box of ones own making generally doesn’t work out too well.

And for the box rattling that The Shack film brings about I am grateful.

2 thoughts on “Christian Unity and Uniformity of Beliefs

  1. Is there a right way or a wrong way to interpret the Bible? Or are there many valid interpretations? Who then is right? How do you know that your interpretation is correct, and your neighbor’s is not? Only a person by Divine Institution can claim to interpret Scripture with certitude. I don’t know anyone like that, do you? Usually each person comes up with his or her own spiritual interpretation, which heavily depends on that person’s religious background and experience. In the end, it comes down to my interpretation vs. yours. I think I’m right, and you think you are. We are at stalemate. I noticed your rant on the Rapture. If you will read my “Treatise’ I present another view extensively based on Scripture–no need for Darby, he’s passé`.

  2. Sorry for the delay on this, your comment ended up in my unapproved queue and I didn’t notice it until now. Being your comment seems far from spam or garbage, the only thing I can think of is a wordpress bug… My apologies for this.

    Is there a right way, or a wrong way to interpret scripture… a great question indeed. Personally I think history can be helpful in this as we can look at a given interpretation, and then see how said interpretation was lived out in light of the two greatest commandments, and if it fails in one or both, then its likely that the interpretation is in error. Granted, even this approach is not without peril. Consider the abusive practices of indulgences that Luther railed against… in isolation, I think everyone today would agree that the interpretations leading to such was in error. And yet, folks today will often have difficulty leaving their sins at the cross. In such cases, perhaps an indulgence of some form could truly help some to leave such at the cross.

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