The Moral Arc of the Gospel
Earlier today I was doing some research and did a search of the PC(USA) Book of Confession. I was searching and reading all the references to baptism. In doing so I came across more than one statement rejecting baptisms done by women including this line from the Scots Confession: “This is why we abandon the teaching of the Roman Church and withdraw from its sacraments; firstly, because their ministers are not true ministers of Christ Jesus (indeed they even allow women, whom the Holy Ghost will not permit to preach in the congregation to baptize) and, secondly, because they have so adulterated both the sacraments with their own additions that no part of Christ’s original act remains in its original simplicity. The addition of oil, salt, spittle, and such like in baptism, are merely human additions.”
After I read this (and got done laughing about the spittle in the baptismal water) I had some pause for shock. I know that the Scots Confession in particular is a very contextual confession. It’s hard to understand the vehemence with which they felt the need to be disassociated from the Roman Catholic Church. But what hit me in a way I had never triggered on before is this whole deal that in a time when even the Roman Catholics were okay with women baptizing the Reformed (but clearly not reformed enough)Tradition (from which we get Presbyterianism) was rejecting any notion that women could baptize. It’s not about the person it’s about the Holy Spirit –unless that person was a women and then it’s all about her… or more accurately her illegitimacy as a person capable of leading God’s people or enacting a sign of God’s grace.
This reminded me again (I’m daily reminded of such) that whatever we may think and claim all of us have a fluid interpretation of scriptural authority. Our understanding of God’s will shifts – in many different directions. This reminds me of the oft quoted saying (well oft quoted by me at least): “The moral arc of the gospel bends toward inclusion.” –Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament Theologian (with a hat tip to Martin Luther King Jr. who said that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice.) Dividing walls fall. Over. And. Over. Yes we try to shore them up from time to time, yes they take a long time to fall. But they do fall. This happens within scripture. This happens still today.
Our view of what scripture says to us about God’s will changes. It’s just that simple. (And no that isn’t simple- that is deeply complex, but the reality that our interpretations of scripture and discernment of God’s will changes is not really up for debate for any but those unwilling to broaden their perspectives about their own viewpoints and the history of those viewpoints.) God is constantly trying to imagine that the Kingdom of God (which I usually prefer to call the Community of God but bow to tradition… yah I get the irony of admitting that here) is bigger than we can imagine, just as God is a bigger God than our intellect.
What ways is God trying to expand your horizons, viewpoints, and imagination? How is God bending you towards inclusion?