Bound Conscience, whats the deal?

Some in the twitterverse have suggested or implied that applying bound conscience ends up replacing scripture with experience. Certainly history has shown time and time again, when other factors triumph over scripture, whacked theology and abusive practices show up in spades.

By the same token, experience does play a role in scriptural interpretation. Wesley’s quadrilteral, ie, scripture, tradtion, reason, and experience is very true even for Lutherans, but how we implement it is different. We like to discard the quadrilertal, and say scripture alone… but to be totally honest, if we threw out everything but scripture, we’d likely be in a vastly different place. Imagine if each parishoner had to reinvent the Augsberg confession from scratch, or even the Nicene Creed for that matter.

This is not to say tradition, reason, and experience should triumph, or even balance with scripture. But more so, I think we must admit they do play a role, even if only a small part in our interpretation.

As far as divergent beliefs, we can look towards our own recent history of a couple hundred years. We had pietists, rationalists, pro-slavery, anti-slavery, high church, low church, Missourians, anti-Missourians, and a host of others (the term election controvery is commonly used, but that seems merely a catch-all phrase to me). Then throw in that within some communities, there was a mix of Mormon and Reformed theology within the Lutheran church as well… yet if asked, many likely would say, scripture alone.

In light of such diversity, it is commonplace for there to be divergent thoughts on any number of issues over interpretation. Both sides will state they have the right interpretation. Both sides will provide solid scriptural support for their views, albeit each side likely will doubt how solid that support really is on the part of the other side, even more so if they use differing methods of interpretation. Some might even get out a hammer to pound their view into the heads of the other party, but to no avail.

This is where bound conscience enters in. I think Luther said it quite well.

Luther:  For I am neither arrogant nor so eager for vainglory that for this reason I would be ashamed to revoke ill-founded doctrines. Indeed, it will please me most of all if the truth is victorious. However, I do not want to be compelled to affirm something contrary to my conscience, for I believe without the slightest doubt that this is the meaning of Scripture.

Luther: Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in the councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.

When 2 parties are thus at odds over an interpretation, both likely hold views very similar to Luther. In effect, if one wants to maintain some sense of unity, the really only solution is to agree to disagree, and in doing so respect one anothers views. A Hammer has no place in this.

Luther quotes taken from

http://www.elca.org/~/media/Files/What%20We%20Believe/Social%20Issues/In%20Process/Human%20Sexuality/Wengert_on_Bound_Conscience.pdf

2 thoughts on “Bound Conscience, whats the deal?

  1. I’m glad that the church fathers didn’t consider bound conscience a solution. You could then be Arian if your reading of scripture was so bound.

    Sorry, but this is just bad theology. Lutherans have always taken theology very seriously, but now we’ve abandoned that tradition.

  2. Drawing on my extended (57 year) journey to find Christ, I can agree to disagree with the best of ’em. However, when one party disagrees and wants to change 2000 years of tradition along with current Church doctrine (homosexuality is no longer a sin) to justify their position, then co-existence is no longer an option. To state the obvious, this is why many Christian denominations exist. I bear the opposite party no ill will, I just can’t fly their flag over my church and tell the world I stand with them and their biblical interpretation. In effect, they have tarnished the ELCA brand and drove the center-right to the exit doors.

    The variety of Christian denominations in the US is the one aspect of our faith that keeps us vibrant. In the marketplace for truth, a robust competition of thinking offers each pursuer of truth their own community to stand with. I’m not going away mad, but I am going away!

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