This We Believe: The Theological Declaration of Barmen, affirmation 6

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“Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28.20) “The word of God is not fettered.” (2 Timothy 2.9)
The Church’s commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of the free grace of God, to all people in Christ’s stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and Sacrament.
We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes and plans.

This is one of the clearest statements against proof-texting that our tradition has to offer. “Proof-texting” is when you pull a statement out of its context and use it to prove your point. Never mind that if it were read in context, it might not prove your point! (or it might, but that still doesn’t make it okay!) Proof-texting is a way to make Scripture say whatever you want it to say, rather than the other way around. We are to read the word of God in order to be formed in Christ’s image, to be made new and transformed, to be informed by God’s will. But it is so so so tempting to come up with what we believe and then find the sentence or even half-sentence in Scripture to support it. This is how we got into trouble RE slavery, women, people of different ethnic backgrounds, LGBT people, and numerous other situations. If we are willing to read only a few words, we miss the overarching story of the Bible, we miss the historical context, the literary context, and often even the simple and obvious meaning.

This affirmation tells us that the Church’s task is to deliver the message of the free grace of God to all people, and we do this through Word and work, sermon and sacrament. Our task is not to decide what we want and then to make scripture fit that. The Word speaks into many situations and about many things, but it serves only the One, not anything or anyone else.

Have you ever engaged in proof-texting? (it’s okay to admit it—most of us have done it at one time or another!) How can we avoid falling into that trap? Have you ever seen the Word of God or the work of Christ set in service to another ideology or master, rather than the other way around? What do we, as faithful Christians, do when we see that happening? How do we avoid it to begin with?

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3 responses »

  1. Proof-texting may be an American Christian past time! It is stunning sometimes to see how the Bible is used to justify opinions and behavior. At its worst I’ve heard a Christian leader claim that the parable of the talents is “proof” that Jesus supports capitalism as an economic system. Just even writing those words makes me cringe, expecting a lightning bolt to blast my computer.

  2. One of the things that I listen for when I come to church on Sunday morning is a message that helps me to avoid that very thing – proof texting. A good example would be Johns recent sermon on the parable of the talents.

  3. Fred, can you say more about the parable of the talents sermon and how it helped you in this way? I was away with the youth on the retreat, so I missed the sermon…but I think this conversation could be really fruitful, so I’d love to hear more!
    Thanks!

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