In the current public conversation about gay marriage, there are many stories of Christians who refuse to participate in gay marriages. They refuse to bake wedding cakes for gay weddings. They refuse to make floral arrangements for gay weddings. They refuse to issue marriage licenses for gay weddings. When pressed, they universally point to the Bible as the source for their conviction that the only God-given definition for marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
Q – Why is the Bible so important to Christians? Why would Christians try to stand up against the culture and accept so much pressure and spend so much time and money in court defending their stance just because the Bible says that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
A — The Bible is the guide God himself has provided for guidance in faith and life. It is a source we can see and touch and read and re-read in order to learn who God is and what he wants us to be. God knew that in the world of time and space we would need something we could hold in our hands.
There are Christians who see the Bible differently. Marcus Borg, in his book Speaking Christian says, “The Bible is sacred scripture . . . because our ancestors in the faith declared these particular books to be sacred, that is, authoritative. . . . not because it was uniquely and directly inspired by God.” ( (Borg 2011) p. 70
The gulf between Christians who believe that the Bible is the inspired revelation of God and Christians who believe that it is an ancient, sacred book is huge. Insurmountable. The authority granted by God himself is quite different from authority respected because ancient people thought the book was authoritative. It is logical to ask, if the authority of the Bible is its designation as “sacred” by ancient people, how is that different from the Baghavad Gita? Other ancient people believe in sacred Vedas. Muslims believe in the sacredness of the Quran. If the Bible’s authority derives from the same authority as these other “sacred” books, what makes it more authoritative than any of them?
The answer is: Nothing.
Why don’t most Christians agree with Marcus Borg? We disagree with his view, because we recognize in the Bible the unique revelation of God. We recognize that God inspired and then preserved Scripture for our instruction and blessing. How else did writers across so many thousands of years write the same truth set in the same prophetic context? How else did all the different elements of the Bible survive wars, fires, and simple human forgetfulness during years of apostasy? The Bible is God’s book, and he has always taken care that each generation pass it on.
God’s inspiration of Scripture makes it unique in the set of all sacred texts. The others are exactly what Marcus Borg describes—texts selected by ancient people for their beauty or their inspiration or even their spiritual qualities. They don’t claim to be God’s Word. The Bible does, and we accept that truth.
Furthermore, when we cling to the teachings in the Bible, we are not clinging to ancient traditions that can be invalidated when the times change. Rather, we are clinging to timeless truth. Because the Bible is God’s inspired revelation of himself, we teach that Jesus is the Way, not a way. We teach that Jesus is the only Way to God, and we make this exclusive claim, because Jesus said it, and we know Jesus said it, because it is in the Bible.
That is why Christians stand firm in the conviction that homosexuality and other various “orientations” in the sexual pantheon are sin. The Bible teaches us that God created man and woman to live in a mutually exclusive relationship with each other, enjoying the sexual bond as one element of a whole life relationship blessed by God. The Bible compares the relationship of God with his church to the relationship of man and woman. Because the Bible teaches that this plan is God’s plan, we accept it and reject all other sexual variants. If the Bible had emerged as a “sacred book” among many “sacred books,” we could not count on its unique and universal application to all people at all times.
This is the reason that the church I attend makes the Bible central in our worship. Not only do we include extensive Scripture readings in each worship service, but much of the language of other elements of worship—prayer, praise, offerings, and so forth—is drawn from Scripture.
Recently I was reading a news item that included a reference to the experience of attending a Christian worship service. A man said of the experience, “It was a biblically based church.” When the interviewer asked him to elaborate on the meaning of that statement, the man said, “The sermons were very conversational. They always had a tie-in to the Bible and how these teachings relate to everyday life.” I chuckled a little, because in my church, we would not say that the sermon had a “tie-in” to the Bible. If the sermons in our church are not drawn from the Bible, we feel cheated. We would not be satisfied with a sermon on some general subject that included a quotation from the Bible for illustration or inspiration. We expect the sermon to help us understand some important lesson from the Bible, and we expect it to embody motivation and inspiration to point us to God, to lead us to learn, to prompt us to pray and grow and mature in faith.
Many people in the culture find it quaint or even disturbing that Christians value the Bible so highly. Sadly, it must be noted that someChristians find it equally quaint, because, like Marcus Borg, they have abandoned the notion that God inspired the Bible. Our conviction that the Bible is God’s revealed guide for our faith and our life puts us at odds with the culture, and with some Christians, on many points. Same-sex marriage is only one of many issues where our commitment to biblical teaching makes us stand in opposition to both the secular ethic and the new and different Christian ethic that derives not from the Bible but from the sense of joining in the evolution of humans.
If you consider the Bible to be God’s inspired guide for your faith and life, be sure you actually read it every day. It will be hard enough to live a godly life if you pray and study every day. There is no hope you can do it if you never actually read God’s inspired guide for your faith and life.
By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.
Image: Open Bible
By Wnorbutas (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0