In the Christian Churches (Restoration Movement) we have long prided ourselves on our biblical stances. We are People of the Book who seek authority and guidance from the pages of Scripture. We, above all others, are quick to cite a verse to answer a question or prove a point. This is the church I grew up in, and it is where I still live. I am a person of the Book, and I believe in the authority of the Bible for guidance in my life and in my church.
Yet, many times I have seen this biblical stance slip into an intolerant legalism. (A better term for this might be “legalistic orthodoxy.”) After all, if I believe I am right and have Scripture on my side, why should I be tolerant of dissenting viewpoints? BTW, this is not a fight with non-Christians. Our polemical use of Scripture is almost always aimed at other Christians.
My teacher, Grant Osborne, taught us that a bedrock principle of biblical interpretation must be what he called a “hermeneutics of humility.” We seek to understand the Bible as fallible humans, people locked in our own culture and biases. Can we ever be sure we are not scouring Scripture to find the answers we want to find? Don’t we read with our opinions already formed, often just looking for reinforcement? I know I do this. Sometimes I run into a Scripture passage that doesn’t fit my theological grid or agenda, and I am stumped. If I am wise, these are the times I hear Dr. Osborne’s voice reminding us to slow down and not be overconfident. I must lay down my theological swords, holster my doctrinal guns, and unplug my stubborn ears. Even at my age, Scripture still has a lot to teach and I have a lot to learn.
The worst thing I can do, I think, is to hop from one legalism to another legalism. I trade one set of proof texts for another. I move from one dogmatic universe to a parallel but equally dogmatic universe. I want to be a person of the Book, but even more than this I want to be a man of God who listens and follows rather than judges and condemns. May God help us shed unhelpful and hurtful legalism. It divides Christ’s church and breaks God’s heart.
Nebraska Christian College