Articles for the Month of March 2015

Wild, Wild West

wild wild westIn times past there were places in our country where the rule of law was unknown. Waste, howling wildernesses encroached on the edges of civility. In those days a crooked glance, a lost card game, jealousy or shamed honor might land you in an unmarked grave. No rules. No law. Only the wild, untamed whims of men prevailed.  Most dared not enter uninvited places like Robber’s Cave, Oklahoma or Hole-in-the-Wall Pass, Wyoming but at the peril of their lives.

Here’s a bit more background ,

“The Old West, often referred to as the Wild West, encompasses the period after the Civil War ,the rest of the 1800's, and the early part of the 20th century. During this time, thousands of pioneers pushed their way westward in search of land, better lives, gold and silver, and sometimes, to escape the law. Geographically, the "Old West" generally applies to those states west of the Mississippi River. " (1)

 

 "There is much legend surrounding American History of the Wild West when it comes to American outlaws and lawmen. The odd thing is that on occasion, the two were interchangeable and a lawman might have been a bandit previously in another state." (2)

 

"American vigilantism originally arose as a frontier response to the threat and reality of crime.  The first settlers who moved to the Deep South and the Old West were not protected by a criminal justice system. There were no law enforcement agencies, no regularly scheduled court sessions, no nearby jails or prisons, and vast open spaces to which offenders could escape from their victims. In the absence of any legal system, correctional facilities, or institutional   mechanisms for redress of grievances, victims and their allies felt compelled periodically to track down and round up outlaws and "take the law into their own hands". (3)

It is interesting to note that the outlaw of one territory might be considered the lawmen of another. The terms were often interchangeable in these wild lands where men would take the law into their own hands in the absence of trustworthy legal system.

Have the tales of the Wild West been relegated to dusty old storybooks? The historical account above suggests that most of these fringes of society disappeared from our culture by the early part of the 20th century. In fact some have been transformed into quaint quiet tourist attractions! Robber’s Cave, Oklahoma is now a beautiful park and camp ground. Crawling around in the caves and on the rocks one can only imagine what happened there in days gone by.

However, human nature being what it is I would not say the Wild West has entirely disappeared. It very likely has just changed its form and adapted to modern culture. Fallen human nature will always take the law into its own hands – this is surely the nature of sin. This I would expect from those who make no claims to know God. The gangs of the inner cities, the drug cartels, the Mafia all make their own rules and enforce them as their laws judge.

But what I find disturbing is the encroachment of these methods among those who claim God as their Sovereign and His Word as their law. The Wild West appears to be rearing its head again wearing flowing religious garments rather than rough cowboy boots. I personally am acquainted with individual church members, segments of congregations and even pastors who have been “transferred” from church structure. In order to maintain some anonymity and privacy I must be vague, but there are details that would make your hair stand on end and even raise your ire I would hope.

But I know you need something, so here are episodes that had similar features though separated by time, place and culture. In these instances all church members were invited to an important business meeting. Upon arrival each was met at the door and assigned to a certain side of the room. The “goats” on the “left” were told that all their memberships were all being transferred to another church administrative structure. No reasons were given at the time, neither was there any appeal. They had been accused, tried and “executed” all without knowing why.

After personally speaking with many of the individuals in these stories I have been struck by a recurring theme. One thing these episodes have in common is the request by the “offensive party” to know what they were being accused of. It is astounding and an intolerable injustice that these individuals were not allowed to know their offense even after diligent and prolonged request. This represents not only an egregious violation of Biblical principle; it is illegal and violates the most basic rights guaranteed by our Constitution.   These incidents happened in the 21st century, in our own country, in our church – but in a situation which may feel like one has indeed been catapulted back into the times of the Wild, Wild West.

On a more troubling level we are all aware that several Unions of the Seventh Day Adventist church have voted to ordain women without regard to gender.   (4, 5)

So far they are,

Mid-America Union – March 8, 2012

North German Union – April 23, 2012

Columbia Union Conference – July 29, 2012

Pacific Union Conference - August 19, 2012

Danish Union – May 12, 2013

Netherlands Union – May 30, 2013

 These movements represent a direct violation of world church policy by church leadership. Some who have voted for these policies would no doubt regard their action as civil disobedience, or perhaps religious vigilantism or modern antinomianism.   Civil disobedience would regard its action to violate church law as morally right because it sees itself as adhering to a “higher law” so judged by personal conviction and as such it refuses to yield obedience to a law deemed to violate higher law. Vigilantism might regard itself as endowed with a self-proclaimed authority to do what is necessary for the moment in order to maintain unity. Antinomianism could see itself as unbound by laws which do not reveal its concept of grace.

One must stand before God Himself and answer for his actions himself alone. So I cannot judge the motives of those who voted. Some who hold views which support Women’s Ordination are men for whom I have the deepest respect. I have no doubt that many are motivated by noble intentions.

But I am drawn to a question Jesus asked a young man one day. We read in Luke 10: 26 the penetrating inquiry, “What is written in the law? How readest thou?” How we respond to Jesus’ question may be the most important issue we need to address as we prepare for the 2015 General Conference session in San Antonio.

We are familiar with the words of the law regarding ordination, but are quite divergent when asked, “How readest thou?”   We are reading the same texts but coming to vastly different conclusions. In fact we are coming to completely opposite conclusions.

How can that be? Well, we are simply reading the law with different assumptions - we are using different hermeneutics.   A hermeneutic is simply the method we use to interpret the words of the Bible.

Traditionally Seventh Day Adventists have adopted a method which promotes a plain reading of scripture. Simply stated our old method teaches us, “The text means what it says”. This has been termed the Historical-Grammatical method.

However, during the past several years of study on the topic of Women’s Ordination (WO) by the North American Division Theology of Ordination Study Committee (NAD TOSC) and the General Conference Theology of Ordination Study Committee (GC TOSC) an alternative hermeneutic has been proposed.   It is called the Principle-Based-Historical Cultural method (PBHC). This hermeneutic, among other things, promotes the use of what is called, “trajectory”.   (6-11)

Here are a few quotations from the NAD TOSC report from November 2013.

     "A plain and literal reading strategy would be suf­ficient to understand most of the Bible. Yet the com­mittee believes that there are occasions when we should employ principle-based reading because the passage calls for an understanding of the historical and contextual settings." p25

     "One question will be considered by an honest reader of the Bible: Which approach or reading strategy does more justice to the meaning of the text? This question is especially important when considering difficult passages or issues, and is fun­damental to the proper interpretation of Scripture." p25

     "What hermeneutical approach should we gener­ally take in our reading of scriptural texts? How should the biblical text be applied in the contempo­rary world? What hermeneutics should be devel­oped to distinguish that which is merely cultural from that which is timeless? ….These questions must be answered to interpret the Bible as a unified whole. One persuasive way to do that is to adopt a “redemptive movement hermeneutic, which can be applied to many issues that emerge when reading difficult passages. …. This approach looks for the redemptive spirit (or “trajectory”) in the text to discern what still applies today." p27

(Emphasis with italics is mine. I would encourage you to read the entire section on hermeneutics in the NAD TOSC report and to listen to the video presentations sited in the Reference section at the end of this blog.)

The purpose of this new hermeneutical method was to take the plain reading of certain difficult passages of scripture and use “trajectory” to propose, or imagine, or surmise what God would have really meant for us to understand if the Bible writer had had a clearer knowledge of the real character of God and His ultimate purpose for humanity. The reader surmises that since the plain reading of the passage ‘obviously’ could not harmonize with the real character of God, the true intent must be ascertained by some other means than taking the words at face value. One must try to separate what was ‘merely cultural’ from what was ‘timeless’.   In other words, the person reading the text interjects into scripture what should have been written. The reader decides what the scripture should have meant.

I find this a very dangerous manner of interpreting scripture. The most obvious problem is the sinfulness of human nature to imagine what the God of the Universe ‘really’ meant to say. Whose mind is sufficient imagine God’s true intent? Even if this were possible, who would judge the validity of one manmade trajectory over another? Whose mind could judge the mind of another man when we try to imagine God’s word as it should have been written? Will we need scholars to interpret ‘difficult’ passages for us? Will they have to send consensus papers to the world church to inform them of the meanings of ‘difficult’ passages of scripture? Who decides what is ‘difficult’? What would be the criteria for a passage to be termed ‘difficult’? What about the elderly man in a traditional culture who reads his Bible at night by lamplight or the young girl in China who opens the Word of God in her home church? Will they just be left out of the loop? This is quagmire of unfantomable proportions.

In Judges 17:6 it was reported, “In those days [there was] no king in Israel, [but] every man did [that which was] right in his own eyes.”  In the early history of our country we had a similar situation in the Wild, Wild West.   I thought those days were over, but all this furor makes me wonder, “Is it back?” If our westernized church is again becoming like a reborn Wild, Wild West, it need not be.

We have here a comforting promise, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or [whether] I speak of myself.” John 7:17  We have also this insightful observation, “The Bible, with its precious gems of truth, was not written for the scholar alone. On the contrary, it was designed for the common people. The poor man needs it as much as the rich man, the unlearned as much as the learned. It is a great mistake for ministers to give people the impression that they can not understand the teachings of the Word of God, and should be content with the interpretation given by those whose business it is to proclaim the Word of God. Ministers who thus educate the people are themselves in error. To him who loves the truth, the Word of God is as a light shining in a dark place, pointing out the path so plainly that the wayfaring man, tho a fool, need not err therein. {ST, July 11, 1906 par. 1}

The Bible was designed to be read by the common man and anyone who is willing to do His will, can understand doctrine. The plain reading of scripture is God’s intent.

***************************************************

Reference

1) http://www.legendsofamerica.com/oldwest.html

2) http://www.thewildwest.org/cowboys/wildwestoutlawsandlawme

3) http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Vigilantism.aspx

 4) The Mid-America Union Votes to Support the Ordination of Women

http://spectrummagazine.org/node/3850

5) Ordination of women-Seventh Day Adventists

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ordination_of_women#Seventh-day_Adventist

 6) NAD Theology of Ordination Study Committee Report - November 2013 (please note that this is an NAD TOSC report, not a GC TOSC report)

http://static1.squarespace.com/static/50d0ebebe4b0ceb6af5fdd33/t/5282a08be4b0b6e93a788    acc/1384292491583/nad-ordination-2013.pdf

 7) New WO Hermeneutic examined, pt 1 & pt2

http://ordinationtruth.com/category/principle-based-historical-cultural-method/page/2/

 8) NAD’s new PBHC hermeneutic: a closer look

http://ordinationtruth.com/category/principle-based-historical-cultural-method/page/2/

9) NAD’S trajectory hermeneutic examined

http://ordinationtruth.com/category/principle-based-historical-cultural-method/

 10) Theology of Ordination Study Committee completes work (UPDATED) http://ordinationtruth.com/2014/06/05/theology-of-ordination-study-committee-completes-work/

11) Biblical Hermeneutics: Blest be the tie that binds us - March 15, 2014 Jay Gallimore http://advindicate.com/articles/2014/3/15/biblical-hermeneutics-blest-be-the-tie-that-binds-us