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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Biblical Inerrancy: The Lectionary

When I began the inerrancy series, I mentioned in the “What Inerrancy is Not” post that the doctrine of inerrancy forced us to be confronted with things that challenged our worldviews and held beliefs about ourselves, God, and our relationship to Him. John countered that those denominations that use a lectionary are more often faced with challenges to their faith because they are more likely confronted with the Scriptures than his caricature of evangelical churches:

“For example, an inerrantist in a church that only cycles through the pastor's favourite dozen passages (a far too common occurrence) will face up to far fewer biblical challenges than a non-inerrantist who attends a church that follows a lectionary. We will only face up to challenges if we read them!”

I did not respond to that idea because it sounded quite reasonable to me. I also remembered times when I was in a church that used the lectionary and was able to talk about the passage for that Sunday with my friend who was a Roman Catholic that heard a homily on the same passage the same Sunday, another benefit of a lectionary. However, recently, as I was finishing the series and considering the more liberal denominations, the thought struck me: What do they do with Isaiah 66:15-24, or Isaiah 63:1-6? There is no way that, even with their dismissals of the meanings of these texts, that they could read them to the church on a Sunday morning – so what do they do?

It’s very simple, actually. They don’t read them. In fact, what is not read seems very deliberate. I compiled a short list, which is not exhaustive.

Key Scriptures supporting historical doctrines eliminated from the lectionary:

Warnings against sexual immorality:

Gen 19;1 Cor 5:1-4, 9-13, 6:9-10, Leviticus 18, 20; Rom 1:26-27; 1 Tim 1:8-10. (This includes every single scriptural prohibition of homosexuality. Every one!)

Marriage and family guidance:

1 Cor 7:1-18; 1 Tim 5 (entirely); Titus 2:1-10; 1 Tim 2:8-15; Eph 5:22-33, 6:1-10, 1 Peter 3:1-7

Bishop (pastor) qualifications: 1 Tim 3 (entirety); Titus 1 (Entirety)

Warnings against false teachers/doctrine:

2 Cor 11; Jude (the whole thing); 1 Tim 1:3-11; 1 Tim 4; 1 Tim 6:1-5; 2 Tim 3:1-13; 2 John (all of it); 1 John 4:1-6; 2 Peter 2; Rev 2-3;

Judgment:

Matt 12:41-42; Luke 11:31-32; 1 Cor 15:35-53; Rev 8-18, Rev 20; Matt 18:1-14, Matt 23:13-33; Matt 24:1-35, 45-51, Romans 2 (entirety)

What do liberal churches do with a Bible they don’t believe? Two things – they encourage parishioners to believe that they should only digest it in “community”, and then ensure that the community does not hear the Word that stands against their positions. Of course, any person who dislikes specific texts can dodge them (though I doubt the caricature presented is a “far too common occurrence”, for which there is no evidence of it being far too common) – but an adherent of inerrancy must either suffer cognitive dissonance or read and believe all!

“We will only face up to challenges if we read them!”

Indeed. Indeed.

12 Comments:

  • This is probably the main reason my congregation won't use a lectionary. One of the three founding elders was originally an Anglican, and another was PC-USA. The third was United Methodist. They had all come from mainline denominations to found an evangelical congregation, and they brought with them a desire to teach scripture and all of scripture. A lectionary means you have to preach from passages that you might not want to preach on, so it's avoiding selective attention on the part of the preacher. However, it adds selective attention on the part of the denomination.

    The solution they went with (and have been doing since) is that they preach whole books expositionally from start to finish, and thus they are forced to do the whole Bible regardless of what they would prefer to do. About one quarter of the year is reserved for gospels, running from early January to Easter or shortly thereafter. This is the material that gets recycled the most frequently, but it probably should be. The remaining quarters are for history books, epistles, and prophets.

    Since 1978, they have done Genesis 1 through II Samuel 10, Song of Songs through Hosea, Amos, Haggai through Ephesians, II Thessalonians through Titus, Hebrews through I Peter, I John, and Revelation. The only selectivity is in which books get treated next. Some of the books not yet preached have been covered in Bible studies as well.

    By Blogger Jeremy Pierce, at 10/29/2006 01:48:00 PM  

  • There's two things I'd like to add to that post. First, be careful with context. You imply that all non-lectionary churches work systematically through the Bible, whereas lectionary churches miss parts out - patently untrue. Although the lectionary doesn't include the whole Bible for Sunday services, it does make preachers talk about things they wouldn't otherwise have picked! (As an aside here, I don't know what lectionary that was you linked to - it's not exactly clear from the spreadsheet itself. But you should also realise that the CofE lectionary, for example, runs over a 3-year cycle to improve coverage.)

    Second, though, you misunderstand the nature of the lectionary. The important point is that it's not for Sundays only. A lectionary (certainly the CofE one) runs through the whole week, with several readings for each day (daily prayer, mid-week services etc.). These readings do work systematically through the Bible. From experience, small bits are occasionally missed out from the obvious progressions, but they have never in my experience been anything like as important as those areas you mentioned. It's usually extensive genealogies and that sort of thing.

    So, you're partly right but you partly miss the point I was making - a lectionary doesn't guarantee that one will read everything [i]if the only Bible reading one does is on Sundays[/i], but it will make the preacher talk about stuff he wouldn't have chosen. I never intended to imply that all inerrantists miss stuff out (and I know I didn't say that) - but some people certainly appear to, given the curious emphases certain parts of the US church have. The purpose of a lectionary is to make people read outside their comfort zone.

    (Sorry I've not been around for a while - life's been busy. I know I've left a couple of threads hanging, and I'll try to get back to them if I can work out which ones they are!)

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 10/30/2006 05:40:00 AM  

  • Jeremy,
    The approach you describe is another good one - although it's effectively a lectionary (because it prescribes readings for a period), it's a flexible one, which can be good. I can understand why some people would want to have that flexibility for their church - and that's fine as long as they maintain their determination to read the whole Bible and don't start missing bits out. The formal lectionary prevents that by preventing flexibility. I don't know that there's a "right" way because each has advantages and disadvantages.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 10/30/2006 05:42:00 AM  

  • John,
    I should have been more clear about the spreadsheet. It is a 3-year coverage spreadsheet. I sorted by Scripture verses, not by Sunday, which makes it clearer. It is representative of the CofE lectionary as well, though none of the denominations are exactly the same in the lectionary, the Common Lectionary serves as the basis.

    I also never implied that non-lectionary churches work through the whole text. Many churches preach topically, which may address all of the themes in Scripture, but will probably never address the entire Bible. I think that is an error as well, but less so than intentionally eliminating specific themes. Many inerrantist churches feature expository preaching, often through books as Jeremy noted.

    Second, I'm sure you realize that your allusion to the nature of the lectionary as a documen that runs through the week is hollow. Mainline Protestant denominations are exceeded only by Catholics in their abandonment of Scripture during the week! I challenge you to find evidence to the contrary - here is a poll which reflects that lectionary church members are less likely to read their Bibles during the week than inerrantist church members. The lowest US protestant denomination? Episcopal, of course. (I think the Presbyterian numbers are misleading because PCA churches are inerrantist while PCUSA churches are not - generally).

    Baptist (black and white) and charismatics are inerrantists denominations, and are most likely to read their Bibles out of the church house. Not surprisingly, churches that have a lectionary that ignores several Scriptural areas tend to be churches that both do not study the Word and are theologically liberal (small l).

    I honestly think a lectionary is a good tool for what you present here - to force the pastor/bishop to preach a text he may not have chosen. As soon as a lectionary is produced that does not discard specific areas, I will seriously consider adding one to my library for use. Until then, I'll just preach the Scriptures as the Spirit leads - but the Scriptures in their entirety, whether I struggle with their message or not.

    Jeremy,
    That's a great idea, but is every church ready for a year long sermon series on Ecclesiastes? I think the congregation needs to have a certain level of maturity to go there. I pray I will be in such a congregation!

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 10/30/2006 02:59:00 PM  

  • I'm confused, John.

    Does a church that uses a lectionary, (just use your church for example, instead of a broad statement of what is done in the U.S., as you seem to use the U.S. in examples quite often, but don't live here) teach their congregation studies on:

    Warnings against sexual immorality: Gen 19;1 Cor 5:1-4, 9-13, 6:9-10, Leviticus 18, 20; Rom 1:26-27; 1 Tim 1:8-10. (This includes every single scriptural prohibition of homosexuality. Every one!) Marriage and family guidance: 1 Cor 7:1-18; 1 Tim 5 (entirely); Titus 2:1-10; 1 Tim 2:8-15; Eph 5:22-33, 6:1-10, 1 Peter 3:1-7 Bishop (pastor) qualifications: 1 Tim 3 (entirety); Titus 1 (Entirety) Warnings against false teachers/doctrine: 2 Cor 11; Jude (the whole thing); 1 Tim 1:3-11; 1 Tim 4; 1 Tim 6:1-5; 2 Tim 3:1-13; 2 John (all of it); 1 John 4:1-6; 2 Peter 2; Rev 2-3; Judgment: Matt 12:41-42; Luke 11:31-32; 1 Cor 15:35-53; Rev 8-18, Rev 20; Matt 18:1-14, Matt 23:13-33; Matt 24:1-35, 45-51, Romans 2 (entirety)

    ...or not?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10/30/2006 06:33:00 PM  

  • Oh, as a follow up. I don't understand what all this talk is about "forcing a preacher to talk about what they otherwise wouldn't have talked about"....it's really simple. Teach the whole Bible, and you are guaranteed not to miss anything!

    It doesn't much matter what the schedule is. I know we go through the Bible from cover to cover. If the pastor feels compelled to teach on something out of order, he does so. Once that specific area is covered, he returns to the previous area. Nothing is ever missed.

    Bible studies are good for getting in depth in other reference areas to the main area of study. If there is one thing I am certain of, my pastor doesn't shy away from any passage or book! We are encouraged to read ahead, study, get on our knees in prayer and understand everything we possibly can.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10/30/2006 06:39:00 PM  

  • Hammer,
    You're right - I'd never put the entire lectionary out like that, and it doesn't cover everything on Sundays. However, you're also wrong, in that it's unfair to judge a scheme that is designed to be used every day of the week on the basis of what it covers on a Sunday.

    This isn't, as I'm sure you're about to say, a cop out. One might think, from your post, that the only things that are omitted on Sundays are the controversial sections. However, that's not it at all. What the Sunday readings try to do is to provide broad coverage of the Bible. No book is omitted, and it attempts to represent each book fairly (by reading, as far as possible, its main themes).

    Remember, the reason that I said that lectionaries were a Good Thing was because they forced people to face up to the whole Bible. That requires that people actually follow the lectionary - which means reading every day. Reading systematically through the entire Bible is also a Good Thing - but is merely a different way of achieving a lectionary. It does, however, take a lot longer than 3 years to do properly! As I said to Jeremy, I don't know that either approach is better than the other. As long as we are committed to reading the whole thing, that's what's important.

    Your criticism of many mainline churches' lack of personal exposure to the Bible (outside worship) is perfectly fair. But you have to remember that the lectionaries are founded on the idea that people will be reading the Bible midweek. The failing isn't in the lectionary but in the churches that fail to live out that calling. (It is the same as my saying, "What's the point of preaching through whole books when some members don't come every week?")

    My original criticism wasn't of churches that do read the Bible properly - you said as much in the post above. My criticism was of those churches that do not do so. The lectionary is a guard so that, even when people don't read and study as they should, they at least get some exposure to the whole Bible. And, because it's provided across the whole denomination/grouping/whatever, it's not up to the individual pastor to decide what and how much to read. The weakness of the individualist approach is precisely that a church is at the mercy of its pastor - if he's good then all is fine; if he's no, they're stuck. There is no "one correct way" to arrange things, but each has advantages and disadvantages.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 10/31/2006 04:43:00 AM  

  • John,

    Are you going to answer my above question? I am still confused.

    My original criticism wasn't of churches that do read the Bible properly - you said as much in the post above. My criticism was of those churches that do not do so. The lectionary is a guard so that, even when people don't read and study as they should, they at least get some exposure to the whole Bible.

    How are churches teaching the whole Bible if certain teaching are left out? No matter what the teachings are? You haven't answered my question, so I have no idea if your church teaches the sections Hammer pointed out as being neglected.

    If your church doesn't teach these sections, then you are hardly someone to emphasize the need for studying the entire Scripture-you are more a person to emphasize religious tradition of scheduled reading of selection. That really helps a person like me to understand how certain pages of the Bible are dismissed.

    If your church does read the sections Hammer pointed out are left out of lectionaries, then my apologies.

    By Blogger Rightthinker2, at 10/31/2006 10:05:00 AM  

  • Oh, and your comment that a church is up to the mercy of the pastor is correct. A pastor who is called by God to teach his congregation will teach the whole Bible. He would want his church to understand and believe the Bible in the entirety. I exhausted this point in an above comment.

    Nothing is left out! It isn't "up to the pastor", in a sense where he decides what is important (like what appears in a lectionary-that was decided by more than one person, but nevertheless, it is selective) because he follows through the Bible, page by page. If he does an "out of order" topical discussion, he returns right back to the through the Bible teaching, right after he is finished.

    Nothing is missed, and topics are given as much time as necessary via Sunday, Bible studies and instruction to study topics at home along with prayer. He can't help if someone misses a Sunday any more than he can if someone misses your church lectionary. It's up to them to be in church, and if they stick around long enough, the teaching will come around again.

    By Blogger Rightthinker2, at 10/31/2006 10:14:00 AM  

  • One of the things that I have been teaching my children is that the 'left out' verses are most likely to be the most important verses.
    We attended a marriage the other day where the readings were of the exact same nature as mentioned here. They would quote a text and deliberately leave out the politically incorrect portions. They began the Ephesians 5 reading with verse 25, for example, and skipped 26-27.
    In another, rather dramatic example, I was at a sunday school class where they used a printed lesson on the beattitudes; Matthew 5. The printed lesson not only left out Matthew 6, but actually renumbered the beattitudes so the user would not even know that anything had been left out!

    By Blogger von, at 11/05/2006 01:27:00 AM  

  • ...sigh... Mathhew 5:6, not Matthew 6

    By Blogger von, at 11/05/2006 01:38:00 AM  

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