“The authority of God’s word written over all contexts”?

For a variety of reasons, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my travels a year ago to visit with Anglicans in Nigeria. Readers of this blog might remember I encountered a curious practice. At major church events, there was the practice of “appreciation”: members of the congregation stood up, donated money to the church, and said exactly how much they were giving. (You can read my description of that event here.)

As I witnessed this, I thought about Jesus’ instruction on giving in the Sermon on the Mount:  “When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your alms may be done in secret; and your father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:3-4, NRSV) I mentioned this verse to several people I encountered at this service. They readily admitted the practice did not conform to the teaching but shrugged and said, “It’s our culture.”

We can debate the merits of public giving in another post. For the record, in a culture that has a huge problem with corruption, I’m open to the idea that disregarding Christ’s teaching on this count might be a reasonable accommodation to make to Nigerian culture.

I just wish Nigerian church leaders would cut the rest of us some slack. The Nigerian and Kenyan delegates to the recently-concluded Anglican Consultative Council meeting in New Zealand have released a reflection document titled “What really happened in Auckland NZ at ACC-15.” I think there are some important points in here but I was disappointed to see the strong emphasis on the apparent un-Biblicism of many Anglicans. To wit:

While there were many reports and resolutions at ACC-15, we wish to highlight our concerns over the report and the resolution on “The Bible in the Life of the Church” project…. However, we are seriously concerned that the context in which people interpret the Bible is considered as important as what the Bible actually says.

The Bible stands over context, not the context over the Bible. God’s Word changes us—we do not change God’s Word….

We call upon all Anglicans to pray that our beloved Communion will stand firm in honouring the unique and universal Lordship of Jesus Christ as the Son Of God, and the authority of God’s Word written over all contexts, and in every matter of faith and practice.

I have no doubt of the sincerity behind this statement and the strong belief in the supremacy of the Bible. I just think that a more productive place from which to begin conversations about the life of the Bible in the Anglican Communion is to acknowledge that all of us—whatever our cultural background or context—fall short in allowing ourselves to be transformed by the revelation of Jesus Christ as entrusted to us in the Bible. Surely from that point of common ground, we can begin to make progress in our inter-Anglican conversations?

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2 thoughts on ““The authority of God’s word written over all contexts”?

  1. Daniel Weir

    The more aware we are of how our contexts influence our interpretation of Scripture the more we can learn from Christians in other contexts. When we fool ourselves into believing that we have a context-free interpretation, one that is universal, we close ourselves off from the gift that others might give us in conversation.

    1. Atiqah

      I’m a religious stekpic, but respect my husband’s Christian faith. My lack of faith does not stop us from loving eachother, or from me being a good wife/mother/citizen. His faith does not injure or harm me, hold me back, or imprison me. If it did, we could not be together.

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