Having lived on three (3) continents and visited four (4), I have closely observed how the same Gospel or scriptures of the Bible hold different meanings and interpretations. I find this profound and credit the dynamism of the scriptures to adapt to almost every situation that exists. Simply put, whoever you are or wherever you live, God’s Word will come through.
When I was growing up as a young inquisitive Christian, I heard sermons purporting, that every problem had a possible solution in the Bible. If this was true then obviously, the Holy Book was truly living and held relevance even for the future. This scripture states “And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19 (ESV) which only goes to entrench the fact that every problem or situation has a solution as God has the resources to supply “every need”.
The Bible spells out clearly what is sinful but not so much what isn’t. The Old Testament (O.T) used the Ten Commandments as a yardstick to measure deeds and actions. Along the line, were other laws that were given regarding food, marriage, worship etc. and dispersed all through the lifespan of the books in the O.T. 39 (Protestant), 46 (Catholic). The New Testament (N.T) on the other hand does not define a set of rigid rules or laws. Between the Gospels and Epistles, we see the parables, and Paul’s effort to set some standards for the early church. Some of these are purely carved out of his Jewish law background and through received revelation of the Holy Spirit. There are appeals to morality and goodness much more broadly with the Holy Spirit guiding our hearts towards the will and the mind of God.
12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear [to hear] them now. 13 But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth [full and complete truth]. For He will not speak on His own initiative, but He will speak whatever He hears [from the Father—the message regarding the Son], and He will disclose to you what is to come [in the future]. 14 He will glorify and honor Me, because He (the Holy Spirit) will take from what is Mine and will disclose it to you. John 14:12-16.
Having said that, reliance on the spirit means there is the possibility that there could be an infinite of laws to live by, or the spirit will determine what is sinful and what is not. As the Father determines what amendments must be made, the Spirit disperses those into the hearts of men, women and children. Think about when Microsoft releases an update to a software and every user gets a prompt to update their computers.
What is moral or amoral holds a level of subjectivity and therefore, cannot be applied across the carpet to all Christians universally. What Paul wrote to the Romans was different from what he did to the people in Corinth and to the others’ within the region. Interpretation of scripture is a complex process which is reliant on our belief systems of which most of them aren’t Judeo-Christian in most cases. Are we then as believers and followers of Christ commanded wholly and exclusively to abandon our cultural norms and embrace Jewish cultures as a foundation for our faith, or we can look at Christ through the lenses of what makes us who we are, our cultural norms and beliefs?
This I find very fundamental to our embracing of the Gospel. William Bascom in his essay “African Culture and the Missionary / LES MISSIONS ET LA CULTURE AFRICAINE” makes the argument that the good aspects of African traditions would have formed a solid base for the propagation of the Gospel in contrast to condemning everything traditionally African. Though with good intentions, it led to the breakdown of already established good morals and opened such societies to crime and immorality.
The drinking of wine or alcohol for example is seen differently based on where you live and what doctrine(s) you believe. There’s a vague definition of wine and alcohol in the Bible where there are warnings against strong drink and excessive drinking but not a total condemnation of it. (Proverbs 23:20, Isa 5:11) Whether you are Catholic or Pentecostal, you might have different views towards this. It could either be, drinking wine is unacceptable and not allowed or acceptable based on moderation. Same could be said of the values for life as pertains to abortion and the death penalty, gay marriage, the chase for wealth and prosperity, divorce, etc.
Your views and convictions will be informed through a combination of you pre-religious views (a combinations of societal and cultural norms), God’s word as stated in the Bible and your perceived directions from the Holy Spirit. These are complex variables that breathe life and dynamism into our understanding and interpretation of scripture. To view other people’s actions solely through your own lens could be erroneous in itself because, what might be moral in your microcosmic worldview may present another meaning in another’s. To be continued…