Friday, July 28, 2006

The Mystery of God and Biblical Morality

In the comments of the previous post, New Here provided a link to a sermon offered by the Rev. Dr. Roy E. McLuen, Rector of St. Andrews, Panama City, Florida. I'm reproducing a substantial portion of that sermon here, as I think it is worthy of our reflection:

...The church has ALWAYS been caught up in the storm of controversy. God is a mystery as is what he desires, so the church will always be riding on this stormy sea of controversy. Jesus is not going to come along and calm this sea. The church was always in controversy in the past, it is in controversy now, and it will be in controversy 10,000 years from now. And there is good reason.

We base our theological and moral decisions on Scripture and Tradition. Some of these are inappropriate. In Deuteronomy chapter 22, beginning with verse 13, we are told that if a man DISLIKES his wife, and THINKS she was not a virgin before he married her, he can take her to her father and mother. If they cannot PROVE that she was a virgin, she is to be stoned at the front door of the parents. DO WE REALLY WANT TO LIVE BY THIS KIND OF BIBLICAL MORALITY?

Later in that same chapter, we are told that if a couple is caught in adultery, they are to be taken outside the village and stoned. DO WE REALLY WANT TO LIVE BY THIS KIND OF BIBLICAL MORALITY?

We are also told that if a son disobeys his father, the son is to be stoned. How many of us over the age of 20 want our fathers to tell us what to do? How many of us believe it is correct to stone such a disobedient son? DO WE REALLY WANT TO LIVE BY THIS KIND OF BIBLICAL MORALITY?

In the Scriptures slavery is not only condoned, but it is encouraged. For 1800 years after these Scriptures were written, the church followed this tradition. Paul tells us somewhere that if we can get free, that's ok, but we shouldn't try to get free
from our masters if we are slaves. DO WE REALLY WANT TO LIVE BY THESE BIBLICAL TRADITIONS?

In Exodus, we are told we can sell our daughters into slavery, in the New Testament, women are told to keep silent in church. For almost 1980 years, women were not ordained. Most churches would fall apart without the women. Women have only been able to serve on vestry since the 1970's. Everything was done by men for hundreds of years. Women couldn't even be on Altar Guild 100 years ago. DO WE REALLY WANT TO LIVE BY THESE BIBLICAL TRADITIONS? I have a personal investment in this issue. I am told in Leviticus that a blind person can not serve at the altar or even get close to it. I DO NOT WANT TO LIVE BY THESE BIBLICAL TRADITIONS!

In the letter to the Romans in chapter one beginning with verse 26, Paul talks about what some say is homosexual behavior. Whether it is or not is controversial. But putting that aside, in verse 32, he says they ought to die. DO WE REALLY WANT TO KILL ALL HOMOSEXUALS? DO WE REALLY WANT TO LIVE BY THIS KIND OF BIBLICAL MORALITY?

Some of the material in the Scriptures is cultural truth bound by time, some is universal truth held in eternity. Some of the material in the Scripture is human truth, some is divine. Not all biblical truth is God's truth. We can say the same for tradition. It is not always easy to tell one from the other. Perhaps, I should say, it is always not easy to tell one from the other.

So what is the solution for the church today? That's where our second reading from 2 Corinthians comes in.

Paul talks about a ministry of reconciliation. He tells us what to do about our controversies, but not in ways specific to each controversy. In every controversy we are to remain reconciled. To be reconciled means to worship at the same altar, serve in the same church, and argue with one another about the controversies without calling each other names, abusing one another, or trying to destroy one another.

We will never understand God fully or even minimally: GOD IS MYSTERY. We will never be able to understand all of God's desires for us: GOD IS MYSTERY.

But we can understand this: God wants us to love him. God wants us to love our neighbors. God wants us to reconcile.
Keep in mind that what Dr. McLuen is stating here is nothing new. His examples of biblical morality that we have rejected are intended to point out that we use scripture, but also priniciples other than scripture, to make moral and ethical decisions within the Church. To understand these other principles, I refer you to our previous discussion of Charles Hefling's essay, How Shall We Know? As a reminder, I'll repeat here two of the relevant quotes:

...What does all this imply about Scripture? Two things. First is that on matters of faith, on what Christians are to believe for their soul's health, scripture is the sole authority. The second, however, is that Scripture is not and cannot be the complete, all sufficient criterion by which to discern our moral duty...

...God is not at odds with our best moral judgement. The human capacity to know the good is not only a capacity that he has created but also, what is more, a likeness and a taking part in his eternal Word, the true light that enlightens every man and woman...

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