This morning I grew nostalgic and Googled my old Pilgrim Lutheran congregation in Louisville, Kentucky, which is now Resurrection Lutheran.
This was the congregation I was part of as I came to an awakening of faith and a quickening of calling into ministry. It fell into disrepair in the 1990s, I think, at least partially, because of the theological disputes within the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and because of a specially heartless orthodoxy and exclusiveness of at least one pastor. This was a man who would not bury my father because he could not make assurances this lapsed Catholic would go to heaven, and who wouldn’t do another member’s funeral because he hadn’t attended church because of medical issues.
Between the 1990’s and today, after Pilgrim became Resurrection, a former philosophy professor of mine, named Curt Peters, faithfully served the church for many years; it began a vibrant ministry to feed the hungry around the world; and another to draw Sudanese refugees into its membership.
I looked at the statement of faith of Resurrection and found there, after the Apostle’s Creed, other statements opening with this one about Scripture:
The Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God to the world that He created. The Bible’s primary purpose is to bring God’s love and powerful presence so that people will be reconciled to God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
First of all, I must rejoice that Resurrection has indeed seen a gracious resurrection of its ministry as a church of Christ. Second, I must say I agree wholeheartedly with every word on that extensive faith statement.
Yet that single word, “inerrant,” troubled me deeply, because I have lived with the Battle for the Bible for years, and that word “inerrant” often is used as a battle cry. And, being a life-long student of the Bible, honesty prevents me from claiming inerrancy for the Bible. From the thousands of manuscript variants to the intentional diversity of theologies, the Bible is both divine and very human. It is comprised of concepts that are necessarily our mental tools that wear with time and cannot be studied without all the exasperation and bewilderment that is part and parcel of the constantly changing flux of human language. So, I don’t know what an “error” is in this human-divine mix. I am therefore inclined to believe it is a word-choice motivated by a mistaken attempt to make the Bible less witness and more argument—less a confession of trust, and more a defense of the reasonableness of propositions.
Yet today I feel simpatico with the words of the immortal Dylan, “I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.” So, I gave my reaction to “inerrancy” another thought, prodded by what the apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians,
10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose (1 Cor. 1.10).
That mind that we are united in is the mind of Christ. And that Christ, whose mind and purpose we are charged to channel is the one who died on the cross to win the proper battle—not against, but for those who differ from us.
I want therefore to bury my hatchet against the LC-MS and fundamentalist Christianity. I want to wince less, and smile more when I hear and discuss that word, “inerrancy.” I want understand what makes people fear losing the struggle to share God’s love. I want to witness to them about how we can be more confident, and more loving still, because of God’s faithfulness to us (1 Cor. 1.9). I want to confess that God’s faithfulness to us includes God’s trust that we will love best when we strive for agreement rather than division. I want therefore to witness first and always to the love of God, and afterwards to the Bible’s holiness and faithfulness. And if others worry about giving up that word “inerrancy,” then I want to remind them of our own shared, human fallibility; and meanwhile, to be patient with their worry.