The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) study team on the “Authority of the Bible in the Life of the Church” concluded its first extensive meeting with a call to reinstate scriptural authority within the church, Oct. 3, 2004. The four day meeting at Cartigny, Switzerland, marked the first of a handful of gatherings that aim to develop guidelines for approaching biblical texts in a local, national and international context.
“I take joy when Scripture contradicts itself, because this indicates that God’s truth is far more complicated than my truth. If we use it to make life easy, we betray how Scripture makes truth work,” said Prof. Diane Jacobson, as the meeting began.
“Our imagination and our lives are transformed as we read Scripture carefully, closely and critically, as part of a faithful community,” Jacobson, who teaches Old Testament at Luther Seminary in St Paul, Minnesota, USA said. “What is true about Scripture is theological, centered in the gospel, which is very different from insisting that every word is true.”
The team coordinator, Rev. Dr Reinhard Böttcher, DTS Study Secretary for Theology and the Church, said he hopes all members of the group can share their diverse views on biblical relevance.
Answering this call, the Rev. Alexander Priloutskji, general secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia, explained his view that the church’s commitment to the Bible as the inspired, unchanging Word of God in the pervasively Orthodox milieu of Russia.
Rev. Dr Wilfred John, lecturer of Systematic Theology at Sabah Theological Seminary, Malaysia, said he believes the multi-faith and charismatic or Pentecostal challenges significantly define the churches’ approach to presenting the Bible as authoritative.
Rev. Permilla Parenmalm, from the Uppsala Institute for Diaconal and Social Studies, said that while the Bible has over the centuries helped to shape Swedish society.
Rev. Dr Mercedes Garcia Bachmann, dean and lecturer in Old Testament Studies at ISEDET, an ecumenical theological school in Buenos Aires, Argentina insisted, “We must challenge biblical texts when they serve oppressive purposes, when they are used to demean women, Indigenous People or any other group.”
Prof. Guenther Thomas, teaching Systematic Theology at the University of Bochum, Germany said “a liberating hermeneutic is not foreign to but is a result of dealing with the Bible.”
Added Thomas: “our christological models determine our view of Scripture.”
Böttcher closed the meeting with a call to understand the differing interpretations for the sake of the communion’s unity.
“Insofar as we as Lutherans view the Bible as the sole norm for our faith and praxis, our failure to deal with emerging tensions concerning its interpretation could threaten the coherence of the communion especially in dealing with ethical issues,” Böttcher said.
The Sept 30-Oct 3 meeting was convened by the LWF Department for Theology and Studies (DTS). Each of the LWF study team members will be writing articles that explore challenges to maintaining biblical authority, and will discuss the papers at the group’s next meeting in 2006.