Monday, December 6, 2010

Lausanne Covenant 02

Continuing our Evangelical Documents Study Series, let's take a look at the next small segment from the Lausanne Covenant, promulgated in 1974. While the previous portion discussed the purposes of God, the next bit concerns Scripture:

2. The Authority and Power of the Bible

We affirm the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both Old and New Testament Scriptures in their entirety as the only written word of God, without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice. We also affirm the power of God's word to accomplish his purpose for salvation. The message of the Bible is addressed to all men and women. For God's revelation in Christ and in Scripture is unchangeable. Through it the Holy Spirit still speaks today. He illumines the minds of God's people in every culture to perceive its truth freshly through their own eyes and thus discloses to the whole Church ever more of the many-colored wisdom of God.

Needless to say, this will be a paragraph that in certain respects could not be accepted by Latter-day Saints. It specifically states that the Old and New Testaments, which together comprise the Bible, are the "only written word of God", which would exclude the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. This is a real sticking point. It's not that Evangelicals are necessarily in principle unable to accept the idea of new books of Scripture; we simply aren't persuaded that any has been forthcoming, because we believe that God is working in different ways today. (And, after all, very little has been actually added to the LDS Standard Works these days, in contrast to the frequency of new revelations during the lifetime of Joseph Smith. So even within LDS circles, arguably there's no need for the frequency of new written revelation to remain constant over time; it can vary in accordance with important clustering events in salvation history.) If we were persuaded that God was giving us new books of Scripture, that would seem perhaps a bit odd, but there's nothing I can see that in principle bars us from recognizing them if they ever come along.

Also, we note that there is a clear affirmation that God has not stopped speaking to us; however, his Spirit speaks to us largely through the Scripture that we already have - it is continual witness of the Spirit, even though the text is not being augmented. Now, nothing in this says that this is the only way that the Spirit ever speaks to us these days; actually, many Evangelicals and other contemporary Christians are quite open to the idea of continuing personal 'revelatory' interaction with God, so long as that new revelation does not enter into conflict with Scripture (and is not viewed as on par with it) and so long as it abides by biblical and sensible guidelines. (In other words, we probably would be pretty caught off-guard if someone in the back of the sanctuary stood up and announced that God told him to build a new flag pole out front to keep the grass green; we'd have to consider very carefully whether it seems to us more likely that God has spoken such a thing to/through this person than that they're simply misinterpreting something else.)

The other thing that sticks out to me here is that the Bible is said to be "without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice". In comparison to some rather fundamentalist views, this is a relatively soft stance on inerrancy, because it allows that the Bible could very well contain many erroneous presuppositions that don't affect the main message that God seeks to convey through the text. It's also compatible with the view that our cultural constructions of narrative 'error' may not be the appropriate ones for judging an ancient text. (Also worth noting is that these sorts of statements generally have in mind the original manuscripts, not copies that may contain errors, although we also believe the standard critical reconstructions of the text to be quite reliable for ascertaining the original reading.) In this form, I think that - at least within Evangelical circles - this sort of biblical inerrancy is a relatively moderate one, perhaps one I could conceivably affirm. I'd prefer to put a greater stress on the next part, the Bible as "infallible rule of faith and practice", which I would have written as, e.g., "the sole supremely authoritative rule of faith and practice". Put that way - and I think the authors of this document would concur - there is no peer to the Bible (or, if you like for generality, written Scripture). All creeds must be potentially open to revision in light of correction from the biblical text; the Bible takes precedence - as an authority for faith and practice - over creeds, tradition, etc. This seems compatible with saying that there is a limited distinct authority that can be ascribed to later tradition, or (for those who believe in it) to contemporary non-Scripture-producing prophecy, or any number of other sources. (In case it isn't apparent, I have some prima scriptura tendencies.) To say that the Bible is the locus of such authority is also to rule out the lamentably common trends, especially in more liberal churches, to discard biblical injunctions at will because they conflict with dominant Euro-American cultural trends.

Those are some of the points that I note, at least. What are your thoughts on this paragraph from the Lausanne Covenant?

1 comment:

  1. Actually, to some extent we can. Article 8 in the Articles of Faith states that we "believe the Bible to be the word of God" so long as it is translated correctly. With so many variations and translations of the Holy Bible. True meaning can be lost and the messages befuddled. Though it's true, the rest of that articles says "We also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God."

    The Book of Ezekiel speaks of the "Sticks of Joseph and Judah" (Ez 37:16,19). This came as a commandment from the Lord for both tribes to write and preserve the records of their people. The Stick of Joseph represents the Book of Mormon, which was a record of the people that left Jerusalem shortly before its destruction and came to America. The Stick of Judah is the what becomes the Old Testament of the Bible. God reveals his purpose of this in the last line of verse 19: "Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand." The two records are meant to stand with each other, not cancel either out of the equation.