Whose Lens Are You Using?

Many people feel somewhat uncomfortable with the idea that the confessions of the church are a lens through which we view Scripture. To them, it smacks too much of putting the confessions on a par with Scripture. There is always danger in elevating man’s words to the level of Scripture. However, is there another way in which we can understand this relationship?

Let’s put it this way: everyone has lenses of some sort when they come to Scripture. No one can interpret Scripture from a completely clean slate. Let me repeat this: everyone has lenses through which they read the Scriptures. The question, then, has been racketing about in the wrong quadrant for a lot of people. The question is not whether one will have a lens through which to interpret Scripture, but rather which lens is the correct lens?

The reason this becomes important is that there are really only two alternatives. Either one takes the lens of a church’s confession, in which case one is entering into the collegiality of the church’s reading of Scripture, or one is inventing one’s own lens that will be on a par with the standards of the church, yet separate from it. At the very least, it could be said to be bordering on arrogance to think that one’s own lens has the same kind of authority as what the church has said.

I can hear the objection already: “You sound Roman Catholic.” On the contrary, for I assume the difference between Scripture as the norming norm, and the confessions as the normed norm. Therefore, the confessions are not infallible and may be changed (as they were when they came across the Atlantic into America in the 18th century). The problem here is that anything other than a biblicistic understanding of Scriptural understanding is often taken to be Roman Catholic. This is simply not the case. The Reformers loved the church and highly respected her opinions. They respected her opinions above their own, in fact. And this is really the point. In submitting to the confessions, we acknowledge that the church is our mother. The irony of all this is that there are some today who claim that confessionalists are not being very courteous to the church. As a matter of fact, it is the non-confessionalists who are being discourteous to the church’s opinion.