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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Post-Restoration Hope #2: Wandering Cow

When you think Churches of Christ and Sacred Cows, some things come to mind immediately. The most unavoidable is the adherence to a doctrine of acappella worship. It is tempting to tackle this one head on - I've got lots of good ammo for the fight. I feel confident that I can dismantle most people in this debate over the Biblicalness (is that a word?) of this doctrine.

But I won't.

I won't talk about how it is a tradition. I won't talk about how the "beautiful voice" can be as idolatrous as the beautiful piano. I will not talk about the sin of determining fellowship based on this topic. I will not talk about how it is used as a tool for sectarian identity (spiritual pride) and is so highly elevated as a doctrinal necessity that it borders on cultish activity, I will not talk about... OK, OK, I will not talk about it.

What I do want to talk about is what I believe to be the real sacred cow. If banning instrumental music is a sacred cow in Churches of Christ, what I am going to talk about is its momma: our hermeneutic.

Our hermeneutic is our lens or set of rules for interpretting the Bible. Church of Christ have really made Biblical interpretation easy.

1. If it is commanded in the Bible, you gotta do it (or avoid it).
2. If there is an example of it in the Bible, you gotta do it (or avoid it).
3. This one is a special bonus rule to fill in the gaps: If there is an inference of something, then it can be considered binding. Naturally this caused some problems, so it turned into necessary inference. Now again, that caused some problems, so it later turned into approved necessary inference. (By the way, who gets to approve what is necessary to infer?)

These three rules are what I will identify as the mother of all Church of Christ sacred cows. Let momma cow out of the barn and all the babies come with her.

Problem #1: This is a man-made set of rules. All hermeneutics are. It is not that they are bad, per se, but that they are incomplete. There is no perfect way to interpret the Bible. There just isn't so quit thinking there is. It amazes me how a back-to-the-Bible movement like the RM could so blindly swallow this idea. I know it is a relic of modernity, but come on. Let's accept the reality that we made it up and move on.

Problem #2: This hermeneutic is reductionistic. It assumes the Bible is so easily understood. In a way it is. Any person hearing the stories or reading them would come away with something, hopefully good, may be even the essence of the gospel. But to think that you can just interact with the Word of God and fully know it is nuts. This hermeneutic assumes that if you take the Bible and squeeze it through command, example and necessary inference that you get truth. Just ain't so.

Problem #3: Assumes the Bible is written in one genre. Psalms and Paul's letters are given the same regard. Genesis and Revelation are apparently written and must therfore be interpretted in the same manner. Hey, I can hear the teenage boys, "let's go to Song of Songs and find out some necessary inferences there, if you know what I mean."

Problem #4: Buys into OT / NT divide. I know that this is not exactly part of the hermeneutic proper, but it is a partner in crime. Although it was treated as such all my years growing up, the OT is more than just anecdotal material with some really cool miracle stories and lots of stuff you just need to skip. The Bible Genesis through maps is the story of God. (It's not the complete story as that story is still being written, but I think you know what I mean.)

For these reasons (although there are more), I think that our sacred cow should be let out of the barn, slapped on the butt, and made to graze in the wide open fields.

Notice I didn't say slaughter it and have steak. I think there is good in our hermeneutic. There just isn't any good in it when it is authoritative such that it causes undue division, theologically empty arguments, and promotes a dull and artless fellowship.

I believe if this sacred cow were allowed to graze, the little sacred cows would eventually follow and our issues with instruments, women in more prominent roles, how exaclty a baptism has to happen (which one took and which one didn't), and a score of other problems would resolve themselves in the freedom of Christ we all have.

Let's exercise that freedom in love.

12 comments:

don said...

comment #2 in this series: you're a dangerous man, Fajita.

Keith Brenton said...

Nah, let's just choose up sides and smell armpits like we've been doing for the last 150 years.

(Is that why my armpits sometimes smell like they're 150 years old?)

David U said...

You've done it now.........you went to meddlin with cows! Preach on, brother!

TCS said...

Great series of posts. I like calling it a humaneutic. It like so many of those "great sayings" that were once given by (I think) well meaning and thoughtful folks, has over time become law. You know speak where the Bible speaks.... Luckily ,I think, I don't belive alot of places are teaching this. We have become SO reductionist that hermeneutic doesn't get taught. I bring it up in classes I teach just to show its absurdity in many of the ways you have so well stated. I plan on saving your post. Keep writing.
Don't know you, but I like you brother.

Fajita said...

Keith, your post reminds me of a Steve Martin sketch when he stuffed tuna fish sandwiches under his arms as deodorant and wondered why nobody wanted to get close to him.

TCS, I like your term, humanutcis. I agree, too, that these rules are not being taught so much anymore, but that is exactly what makes them so dangerous. I have a friend (Brian Mashburn) who asked me what was worse than knowing you had a poisonous snake somewhere in your house? Not knowing there is a poisonous snake in your house.

Anonymous said...

And you live in Arkansas...worship in a church of Christ?...my mind can't get around this.

Fajita said...

Neither can mine.

Keith Brenton said...

Hey, I represent that! I worship in Arkansas, too!

Concerning Problem #2 ... I was considering the possibility of making it my one-and-only New Year's Resolution to "BE LESS REDUCTIONISTIC," but it wasn't possible. I'm the least reductionistic person I know.

I can't even speak Toki Pona.

Deconstructivism isn't all that it's cracked up to be.

Fajita said...

You pulled that crazy made up language out of nowhere. Nice one.

Yeah, bends the mind that people in Arkansas could say such things and not get a real hard spanking. Truth is, there are pockets people everywhere who do not toe the line, think differently, and believe peculiarly.

I am a native Minnesotan, kind of ex-patriated to Arkansas, maybe that's my excuse.

don said...

comment #2 in this series: you're a dangerous man, Fajita.

Fajita said...

Keith, your post reminds me of a Steve Martin sketch when he stuffed tuna fish sandwiches under his arms as deodorant and wondered why nobody wanted to get close to him.

TCS, I like your term, humanutcis. I agree, too, that these rules are not being taught so much anymore, but that is exactly what makes them so dangerous. I have a friend (Brian Mashburn) who asked me what was worse than knowing you had a poisonous snake somewhere in your house? Not knowing there is a poisonous snake in your house.

Anonymous said...

And you live in Arkansas...worship in a church of Christ?...my mind can't get around this.