So after thinking some things over and talking to a few people I find that I have little hope for the churches of the West. Protestant churches can’t get their act together with scripture and nobody seems to care about it or agree on what can be done to fix it.
I talked with a co-worker and my sister this morning (my sister is the secretary of the office) and I posed a question to my sister about head coverings. The point wasn’t so much about the head coverings itself, but more about why are Christians so averse to scripture that can easily be understood as literal scripture. The verses in question are 1 Corinthians 11:1-16. My question posed to her was this: “If this is a literal piece of scripture, that is, if Paul is saying that, in the churches of God women should cover their heads while they pray and men should not cover their heads because this is dishonorable, why is the idea of head coverings so offensive?”. Now, again, the question really wasn’t about head coverings, but about the fact that the scripture itself, the words in the bible, seem to indicate that head coverings MEAN SOMETHING in the church of God, and that Paul says the covering or uncovering (female or male) should be observed, why, when I point this out, are people (men and women) offended by it?
Her answer was in several pieces. First she tried to say that maybe it was interpreted differently between one person and another, which she is right, different people interpret this section of scripture differently, and that lends to part of the problem! Then she said it came down to HOW it was instructed to wear head coverings. A pastor who politely asked women to wear head coverings because it believed that’s what scripture instructed should be obeyed, but a husband who told his wife “Hey, I read this and the bible said you should be wearing a head covering, so you need to start doing that” is too offensive in his delivery (!!) and it would make her mad! I mentioned that my dad said the same thing some time ago when we had a discussion and he said that I delivered scripture in a manner that was too offensive!
Somehow the discussion got pushed over into the realm of women’s submission and she asked me if I thought that women should be completely obedient and submissive to their husbands, ready to do whatever he asked when he asked it, regardless of whether or not they were asked “nicely” or not. All I said was, “What does the bible say?”, and that was enough to set her off the rails. She, like almost every other Christian woman, suffers from issues with cultural conditioning, and has been taught that women don’t have to do things if they don’t feel their husbands are being nice to them.
In the end, however, it was made clear that the whole discussion was over the understanding of scripture, and she continued to push the idea that we all understand scripture differently from one another, which, in the end, makes scripture useless. We may come to understand what a scripture means differently, but the meaning shouldn’t be different from one person to another based upon life experience. This is what is known as Contextual Understanding, and I have mentioned it before with reference to Contextual Morality. Contextual morality changes based on the situation at hand and is one of the ways we end up with people reading the bible and saying things like abortion and divorce are okay one day when it wasn’t the day before. It depends on the situation. A wife who is being “abused” by her husband cutting back her spending allowance suddenly has the moral okay to divorce, even though no adultery was committed because the context of “abuse” makes it okay. Abortion becomes allowable because, “What if my daughter got pregnant from rape! That would be awful for her to have to keep that baby and I don’t think it would be right to raise a child who would know they were the result of a horrible crime!”. Suddenly “murder” becomes okay if the situation is right.
Contextual understanding of scripture is the same way and seems to be what’s on tap for most Christian churches. YOUR life experiences change how YOU understand scripture, but MY life experiences change how I understand scripture, so the same verse can have MULTIPLE MEANINGS!
Do you see where this becomes a problem?
How is the Word of God a foundation for the church if no one is on the same page? Even in a single church you have people who agree with the teachings of the Pastor on 80% of the scripture, but the other 20% is anyone’s game! And I’m not talking about poetic verse, here. We can discuss the many different interpretations of the Psalms all day long and, yes, we will get different meanings of the verses out of it because its symbolic, its meant to be representative of a truth, or many truths! Literal verse, however, needs to be recognized as literal. You may come to understand the meaning of a literal verse in a different manner than I do, but the meaning of that verse, the truth of that verse, will never mean “different things to different people”. If that were the case then how can I say “Jesus is the only way to the father” and have it hold any weight if Oprah can say “Every road leads to the father”, and her statement be given equal weight simply because it is her perceived truth? Only one can be the truth.
I think, for me at least, I need to start viewing scripture through the lens of “what would have been the understanding when it was written?”. If God does not change then the meaning of His word has not changed from the moment it was put on paper. If God said, through Paul, “Men should not cover their heads when they pray or they dishonor their heads!”, and it was understood, when Paul wrote the letter, that “men should not cover their heads, with hats, with shawls, with doilies, with ANYTHING”, then if that is how it was understood when it was written then if I understand it that way now I am not understanding wrongly.
This lack of a baseline understanding of scripture is tearing the Protestant churches apart and confusing both believers and non-believers. Its ridiculous and needs to stop, and if the meaning of a scripture was good enough for the Church of Corinth, then its still good enough for me.