One last look at `finding the right church'; question on `inerrancy'

The most remarkable aspect of our series on disappointment with the church and finding the right church once you've decided to move on may have been this: That a newspaper column reaching about 100,000 readers and saying that the writer was looking for a new and better congregation, produced only two invitations to try the writers' churches!

A few thoughts remain on this topic. One letter I received, though obviously the result of much thought, left me perplexed as to what the writer was getting at. After I wrote and explained that to the writer, he replied with some of the most cogent thoughts on the topic received. In part, they are:

"Sometimes the large congregation is the most distant, as we practice our faith without recognizing our brothers' needs. A good Sunday school class, or choir service, might provide an effective subgroup for interaction. Some of us enjoy the large church as a place to have the professionals, on staff, do what we should personally do. I plead guilty to not caring enough.

"...As I wrote (earlier), about the wide range of search factors for the right church, for some it's like deciding which movie to go to. The big church with busses for kids' snow trips might be the answer for some families whose children make the decisions for worship. The music might be another. (Or) could it be Calvin, Luther (was Luther a Lutheran?) Arminius, (speaking or not speaking in) tongues, gifts (of the Spirit), and so on?

"A good test for selecting a good church is to review the giving to missions. What percentage of the budget goes to serving missions? Fifty percent is a good number. Let God tell you!"

Though I'm dubious, personally, about that last "test," I can appreciate it to a certain extent. My skepticism comes from the conviction that if the church is a true church which has as its mission the advancement of God's kingdom through every aspect of its program, it doesn't matter how much of that is going to planting new churches through missionaries in this country or abroad. Putting its own roots deeper to make a more profound stand for the kingdom where it is is also "missions," in my view.

But if the church is primarily a club, a substitute for the Lodge or the Country Club, as many are...if its mission is its members' social agenda or its pastors' aggrandizement, then it has no mission in the true sense, and should be spurned by all whose purpose in religion is better knowing and better serving God.

The `inerrancy' question

On another issue, I received a letter months ago which for a time "fell between the cracks" and got no answer from me. I apologize to the writer and herewith hope to rectify the situation.

The writer agreed with me, for the most part, on a church which I had praised in an earlier column, but added that he was troubled by a statement in the church's summary of faith (or doctrinal statement, as many congregations call them) which professed and required of its members or office-holders, belief in "the inerrancy of Scripture."

Could any intelligent person conscientiously subscribe to the proposition that the Scriptures, the Bible, is inerrant, and if so, how?

This question was the nub of a debate among evangelicals beginning in the 1970's (but not for the first time, then), and to some extent still going on. I can't cover the whole debate here, but will give my own view of it.

It seems to me no great leap to say, if you believe in an all-powerful, all-good, God who is the creator and source of all that is in the universe, who despite His omnipotence and omnipresence and His existence apart from time, also is a "person" in the sense of a being who wants to be known and loved—it seems no great stretch to believe that He chose to reveal himself through records of events that are word-for-word inspired by His Spirit and essentially protected from significant error.

This is the teaching of Scripture itself, in 2 Timothy 3:16, Matthew 5:18, and is virtually the same belief held by the scribes of Israel, who preserved the Jewish scriptures (the Christian "Old Testament") over several millennia, so faithfully transcribing them from one generation to the next that it was considered a grievous matter to get even the smallest vowel marking wrong when scribes made a copy.

My theology prof at the conservative seminary I attended said that even those who hold to inerrancy as a principle believe that as much as three percent of the scriptures we have today is in doubt. Thus you find in new translations, even done by conservative scholars, notes about passages that do not appear in some manuscripts consulted in making the translations.

Does it help you to know that when we say we believe in an inerrant Bible, we mean a 97 percent inerrant Bible? Perhaps not. I don't believe that failure to profess inerrancy is tantamount to heresy or would damn anyone.

But for me, believing in a God of the supernatural who is very much involved in the lives of His people in all generations, it makes more sense to believe in inerrancy thus defined, at least as a general principle, than to disbelieve it.

(This is not to be confused with the belief, which some fundamentalists hold, that the King James Version of the Bible is the only real Bible. I would say, as most evangelicals do today, that the KJV is not even the best, much less the only, version to be used today.)

Published May 1994.

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© 1994, 1995 Jon Kennedy