Often, when mainline church leaders are challenged about their liberal interpretation of the Scriptures, they defend themselves by saying:
- Well, we also believe that all Scripture is God-breathed. We just interpret it differently than you.
However, I wonder whether our differences are a matter of honest interpretation or our prior commitment to a particular philosophy, which we impose upon Scripture, coercing Scripture to agree with us. Here’s an interesting example. Luke wrote:
- One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. (Acts 16:16-19)
Frankly, I can’t say with any assurance why Paul was “very much annoyed.” This spirit-possessed slave girl was evidently speaking Gospel-truth. Perhaps she said it in a disruptive or mocking manner? We don’t know. However, Paul reached a point where he had had enough and cast the spirit (demon) out of her. Consequently, she was no longer able to reveal hidden knowledge and make money for her owners.
However, according to BishopJefferts Schori, head of the Episcopal Church, USA, “Paul was guilty of failing to value diversity, to see the slave girl’s beautiful difference”:
- “Paul is annoyed at the slave girl…She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves. But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness. Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.”
However amusing Schori’s imaginative interpretation might be, it was clearly miles away from what Luke had intended to convey. Luke never gave his readers the slightest hint that Paul ever attempted to deprive anyone of God’s gift! Schori’s idea that Paul sought to deprive “her of her gift of spiritual awareness” flies in the face of everything we know about Paul – a man who consistently sacrificed his life to build up the church.
Furthermore, if a holy spirit from God had been cast out by Paul, there is absolutely no precedent for such a thing anywhere in Scripture. It would mean that God Himself was casting out His own servants – an unthinkable impossibility! Instead, Luke identifies the resulting problem for Paul as the fact that the owners were now deprived of their income, not that Paul had done anything unrighteous or that he didn’t “honor diversity.”
Why does Schori resort to such an impossible interpretation? Evidently, she has a commitment to an alternative philosophy of life – one that will not restrict her or others to certain sexual norms. How will such a pre-commitment affect interpretation? It will relativise it. In other words, Paul’s teachings and behavior are no longer the product of the Holy Spirit, but rather his own limitations – personal and societal. It also means that we are now free to take the teachings in any manner we so choose in order to justify our lifestyle!
Clearly, despite her protestations otherwise, Schori doesn’t believe that Scripture is God-breathed. How then do such people rise to the head of our churches? Can say for sure, but it certainly was prophesied. When Paul addressed his beloved Ephesian elders for the last time, he revealed his pain:
- I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:29-32)
“Savage wolves” will arise from the midst of the church and tear it down by distorting the truth. His prime concern was never the plague, invading armies, or even the Romans, but the distortion of the Bible. What was Paul’s answer? Unwavering alertness and discernment! From where would this come? From God and the “word of his grace!” As the distortion would tear the church down, it is Scripture that would “build you up and give you an inheritance.”
It is therefore my prayer that my own agenda or philosophy will never interfere with my understanding or the teaching of His Word. Above all else, I want to honor Him! This is life and truth! This must also become the prayer of us all!