This week in my reading I became incensed by a letter to the editor in Anglican Life, the newspaper for the three dioceses of Newfoundland and Labrador. In it the author gives a literal interpretation of I Thessalonians 4: 13 – 18 and then proceeds to give a graphic account of his understanding of ‘rapture,’ and the necessity of persons to make decisions about belief and practice.
These words influenced my entire day. I fail to understand how persons, in explaining their beliefs and points of view, omit to realize the potential hurt and concern that might be raised. In addition, we are called to reveal the light of Christ in the world, and as church, we have to present the love and word of God in a responsible manner. We must be responsible in our theological reflection, in our interpretation of the Scriptures, and in our sharing of the Gospel, such that we do not become a stumbling block for others. The words and themes that the author of this letter to the editor offers in relation to the rapture have the potential to bring much distress to vulnerable persons, those with mental instability, and young children. If we are called to protect the vulnerable, and support and uphold the weak, then this letter is flying in the face of the Gospel message, no matter what theology it espouses. For much of the church’s history, the interpretation and theological reflection of the Holy Scriptures have been off-limits to much of the Christian community.
Interpretation, reflection, and theology has been the work of priests, pastors, and scholars. In many ways I have challenged this, given my belief that the Scriptures and their reflection need to be open to all. Now, as I face the challenge of this letter, I am reminded that all Scriptural interpretation and reflection need to be completed in a careful and responsible manner. The Anglican expression does not espouse nor emphasize a theology of rapture, and reflections of this manner produce hurt and concern, or dismissal and disregard by those both within and outside the community of faith. We have individuals of all types that have opportunity to interact with our faith community, both within the wider society, and those who would approach our doors. Letters such as these serve to prove that the Anglican church can be seen as irrelevant, outmoded, and dismissed by the wider world. We have a responsibility to uphold Holy Scripture, and offer interpretation and reflection amid the light of reasonable understandings of context, history, tradition, and experience. The Word of God cannot be manipulated and offered outside of the context of its writing and setting.
Also, it cannot be offered as the ‘answer’ without a proper examination by the faith community as a whole. We are a community of Christians, inspired by the Holy Spirit, that interprets Scripture in light of reason, tradition, and experience. We have a duty to love God and care for all, most especially the vulnerable. We must take seriously the words which we offer and promote, and how these words may dishearten and dismay, further alienating persons from the community of faith, and God who sustains us in Christ Jesus.