An Heretical Hermeneutic

I call it that because it’s an accurate description … and because “A Generous Orthodoxy” was already taken.

I’m not going to attempt to defend it; only to propose it. Or, rather, to quote it:

I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be (or “will have been”) bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be (or “will have been”) loosed in heaven.

The heresy is in my interpretation. It comes from my hermeneutic that maintains there may be more than one correct/right/valid way to interpret a given passage of scripture; that scripture may have many complex layers, given the complexity of the One who reveals it and the creatures He created.

In this quote from Jesus (Matthew 18:18), the burden for making some decisions within the fellowship of believers seems to rest upon believers. It does not say, “Whatever God binds and looses in heaven, you had better be absolutely certain that you perfectly understand and inerrantly bind and obey on earth.”

It just does not say that.

The context is Jesus’ teaching on teaching children well; on handling conflict; on forgiving others – all in answer to the question “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

(Insulting question on its face, isn’t it? Especially to ask of the One who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.)

But the answer seems to be that those who are bold enough to live Christ-like lives are given the authority within that kingdom to exercise judgment … judgment about what is right and what is wrong – not about who is right and who is wrong. Because this enigmatic quote is sandwiched between the admonition to go to a brother who has sinned/or has something against you – and in two or three agreeing to ask God to do something for them.

Am I imagining it, or is this all connected? Not just a dissociated grouping of various sayings by the Master, but an ongoing thought:

Somebody has a problem with someone else. They get together. One is stubborn. The other brings friends who validate his point of view. If the stubborn one remains stubborn in the matter before the whole big group, the others are to turn away from him. What they have decided – binding or loosing – will be (or already will have been) decided the same way in heaven. Because God will listen to those two or three and decide that way.

Given the fact that the original language can be interpreted in two different tenses, I even see the tinge of meaning that the God who was, who is and who is to come rules on the matter from the perspective of eternity.

Does that mean that eternal law is cast in that decision?

What happens when two different sets of two or three agree on points of view that as far from each other as the east is from the west?

Does God bind their belief on the ones they have gone to and spoken to about this matter? Does He require them to follow their siblings’ belief even though they do not hold it?

Or does God bind belief on the one who holds it?

That, to me, is the gist of Romans 14 – that our instruction isn’t to go imposing our beliefs on other brothers and sisters, but to try to avoid offending their consciences while remaining true to our own. That God holds us responsible for remaining faithful to the beliefs we hold, not that they hold. That there are some things that are just simply a matter of conscience.

Eating meat sacrificed to idols is apparently one of those things. Participating in ritual sex with a temple prostitute is not.

Maybe that’s why the Spirit’s support for the resolution of the Council at Jerusalem seems so tepid in Acts 15. The letter goes out from the council phrased “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us ….”

Only seemed?

Was that because the Spirit was in favor of half of the measure – forbidding fornication – but was not interested in passing church law on matters that were primarily Jewish kosher food and sacrifice customs? Matters that were moot, since Christ put animal sacrifice to death and since sacrifice to pagan gods was empty ritual because those gods were imaginary?

If that’s so … how many times have we as Christians made our walk with Christ much more difficult by binding items of belief on ourselves that Jesus never intended us to bear? Are our consciences so burdened with nonessential beliefs that we’ve bound our own hands and hearts to do good in His name?

I’m thinking about stuff that has passed for doctrine within my lifetime, folks … and some of it that still passes for doctrine, even though they’re things that scripture doesn’t even mention.

I’m thinking about forbidding charity to missionary societies, orphan homes, Bible camps and anything else that smacks of “cooperation.”

I’m thinking about requiring accountability partners, multilayered church authority hierarchies, signatures on documents of commitment, attitudes of being 100 per cent “sold-out” 24/7.

I’m thinking about forbidding applause, hands raised in worship, new songs, old songs, solo voices, musical instruments, silent contemplation.

I’m thinking about a few dozen other things that have absolutely nothing to do with preventing or guaranteeing our closeness to God through His Son.

But most of all, I’m thinking about a mindset that requires explicit, detailed authority and permission (referenced from isolated book, chapter and verse) for everything that God supposedly wants us to do as being a very damned convenient excuse for not doing anything at all.

Pardon my French, but that’s the word that comes to mind … because if God does bind these very restrictive beliefs – good, bad or indifferent – on a Christian, then the least violation of that voluminous rulebook is an act of self-condemnation. (Isn’t that the very kind of thing Jesus was talking about when he said the Pharisees were eager to bind on others a lot of rules they had no intention of keeping themselves, nor in helping others keep?)

And if they are so bound on earth – and manage to remain true to those beliefs – does that mean that they would remain bound to them in heaven?

Wouldn’t that take some of the life out of the party both here and hereafter?

The point, to me, is that a lot of our self-devised rules are pretty arbitrary. They serve to separate, not to unite. They do so by creating castes of “I’m better than you” folks who can live by those rules and look down on those who don’t; who can preach them into hell for their infidelity. They create super-apostles versus lesser believers who can never feel confident of their faith. They foster an “I’m right and you’re wrong” attitude that is totally inconsistent with the truth – that we are all wrong, and only Jesus is right.

You see, I’m not sure that Matthew 18 is entirely about the proper procedures for handling conflict between brothers.

I’m thinking it might also be good tongue-in-cheek advice for how not to impose your fifty-volume perfect-bound personal rule book encyclopedia on someone else: Just leave them alone. Let them struggle through their own challenges, not yours. Because if you love them, you can’t possibly excommunicate them forever, based on your imperfect knowledge and your imperfect judgment.

C’mon. Can you really picture Jesus saying, “… treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” without a hint of a smile playing at the side of His mouth? The One who came from heaven to redeem pagans and to call tax collectors to follow Him?

Is it possible that the struggle to determine and dedicate one’s self to what is right is far more important than being eternally right about the details of rules and regulations? Wasn’t it Jesus’ consistent teaching that the Pharisees and Saducees had found God’s own rules insufficient and lacking, producing volumes and layers of their own interpretation and legislation to complete the deficit?

Didn’t He say that we will be judged as we judge others?

Wasn’t it for freedom itself that He set us free … not to live lawlessly, but in love with Him and each other?

Isn’t all of that the heresy that He instigated with regard to man’s view of God’s Word, which is Himself?

Ain’t it called grace?

11 thoughts on “An Heretical Hermeneutic

  1. Yes, yes, yes. Very well said.It is amazing to me how long I missed Jesus point that we are to seek god, not perfection. That God “desires mercy, not sacrifice” and how, even though I feel that I understand it better now, still fail to live it very well.I wonder, though, how to convey this to others. I feel when I talk in these terms like I’m speaking a foreign language.Thank you.

  2. What about this comment?“There are some sins against the body of Christ that require church actions: sins that threaten the doctrinal health of the church, sins that threaten the emotional health of the church, or sins that threaten the witness of the church. They require the church to take action”What kind of grace is this? You know what I mean and it is hurting so bad.

  3. Anonymous – and I can’t know if you’re the same person who has posted as “Anonymous” a couple of times recently – all I can say in response is that churches of all stripes have abused scripture for as long as there has been scripture. So have individual members of the body of Christ. As nearly as I can tell, the only sin that cannot be forgiven is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit; the only sin that brings a New Testament curse is preaching a false gospel; and the sins that specifically warrant distance from the church are sexual immorality, greed, idolatry, slander, drunkenness and swindling/extortion.Do we turn out brothers and sisters for extortion and sexual immorality, but not drunkenness or greed? Then, if we bind on ourselves the “pattern,” we have been unfaithful to it.And if we distance someone from the fellowship, shouldn’t it be done with tears and in love because that person refuses to show penitence … the primary thing that John the Baptist and, later, Jesus preached?Isn’t the very purpose of distancing to deny treasured fellowship to the impenitent heart in a last-ditch, desperate measure to encourage a change of heart?Not to protect the reputation of the church (which is by definition full of sinners and hypocrites, forgiven though they might be); not to protect the witness of the church (which should be about Christ, not our own self-made “perfection”); not to protect the emotional health of the church (can anyone but God do that?) and not <>primarily<> to protect the doctrinal health of the church (if one of our body parts is sick with an infected scratch, do we immediately amputate?).When I try to read between your lines, Anonymous, I keep reading hurt that came from a church. I am so sorry for that. I don’t know what happened, or where, or how. I don’t know who’s right and who’s wrong. And it’s not even slightly important for me to know in order to pray with you about this.Christ came to heal and forgive. (Doctrine can’t do that, no matter how right it is.) Sometimes He’s asked to forgive whole churches.Can you do that?And if I’m right; if you can’t find Him at the church where you experienced such pain, don’t you think you should keep looking for Him wherever He might be?

  4. I am passing Donna…….cause I am STANDING UP APPLAUDING! KB, you knocked this one out of the park, and Greg should publish it in New Wineskins. You need to save this one for your best-selling book that is coming to us someday! 🙂Thanks again, bro!DU

  5. Keith, Excellent post! What “food for thought” for me as I start a new week. Thank you again for your willingness to lead the 2nd service congregation at PV in communion meditation last week. I heard you presented meaningful thoughts–as usual for you!

  6. Man, you’ve been holding back. Not posting as often lately but when you do… watch out.Binding and loosing is a fascinating term. Rob Bell in Velvet Elvis talks about it some. He stole his thoughts from Ray Vanderlan I think.Great post.

  7. And I wanted to add that in the spirit of Galatians 1 when its Grace + , That is we are saved by grace plus something else, whatever that might be then its no good news at all.

  8. Excellent Keith–I’ve been thinking along these lines because of converstaion with a sister recently–so I quite enjoyed your heretical hermeneutic!

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