Thursday, February 17, 2011

More Mathison

Someone at CTC linked another article Mathison wrote that got me thinking. Here is a quote:
Not too long ago, in an effort to get a better grasp of the Lutheran doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, I was reading the chapters on the sacraments in Francis Pieper’s Christian Dogmatics, and I ran across this statement: “The difference between the Lutheran Church and the Reformed in the doctrine of Baptism is fully and adequately defined by saying that the former believes God’s Word regarding Baptism, the latter not” (vol. 3, p. 269).
Let that one sink in for just a moment. Here we have one of the most respected Lutheran systematic theologians of the last century saying that the difference between his church and the Reformed over baptism can be summed up as follows: “Lutherans believe the Bible, and the Reformed don’t.” It’s just that simple, right?
When I first read this, I was a bit taken aback. How could a theologian as brilliant as Pieper so casually ignore the role of interpretation on this point? Why could he not see that this is not a matter of disbelieving the Bible, but of disagreeing with the Lutheran interpretation of the Bible?
I have to give Mathison credit. He asks questions most protestants dare not ask. He does not have answers but he does not use the standard protestant tactic of simply ignoring the problem with a bit of rhetorical hand-waving. That is refreshing.

What Mathison notices here is just normal protestant speak. That is when they say "the bible says X" they mean "my opinion is X". You hear it all the time. There is the Lutheran view, the Anglican view, the Catholic view and then there is what the bible says. In my tradition "what the bible says" would be followed by the reformed view because I was reformed. Now he is shocked to see "what the bible says" definitively declared to be something other than the reformed view. Not by some insignificant preacher but by a big name theologian. Is it uncharitable? Sure. But it is more than that. It is dishonest.

The truth is protestantism depends on this dishonesty. If protestants didn't lie about the level of certainty they have then nobody would be protestant. No preacher will get up on Sunday morning and make clear that he is giving his own opinion and that lots of fine pastors would disagree with him. If he is honest he will do that every week. But people go to church to hear the word of God. They don't want wishy-washy preaching. When they ask, 'What must I do to be saved?' they don't want to hear about 17 different things that various churches tie to salvation. They want one answer and they want to be sure it is the right answer. No protestants pastor can deliver that kind of certainty so they lie.

They don't call it lying. They think of it as speaking out of the certainty of faith or some such euphemism. But their faith does not allow them to be certain. Their faith tells them they are sinful, fallible humans. They cannot know they have God's word right especially when there are bible Christians who would disagree. But there exists such groups on almost every question. So they just ignore them. They just say "the bible says X" with no if's and's or but's. It is precisely what Mathison found offensive.

The tactic is effective. People crave certainty and they latch onto a pastor who speaks with power. You don't need to be logical. You don't need sound exegesis. You need to make people trust you. That is just as easy to do when teaching falsehood as it is when teaching truth. Especially when you don't know you are teaching falsehood. Pastors rarely lie about doctrine. They just lie about the level of certainty they have about it. It seems like a white lie. People respond well. What is the harm?

We can see the harm when someone else does it. When a pastor says the bible is OK with abortion and those who say it is immoral just don't believe the bible. Is he morally obligated to state that many Christian teachers disagree with him? Is he allowed to speak out of the certainty of his faith? No if's, and's or but's? He doesn't know, for sure, that is what the bible says. But it is understood that it is OK to lie about that how sure you are? We quickly associate the biblical condemnations of false teachers with such men. But it it objectively different from what every protestant pastor does almost every Sunday?

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