“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly!” (Colossians 3:16)
We confess the Bible as the only source of our faith. What Catholics and Orthodox call tradition can never be accepted as a source of faith as it cannot be traced back to the apostolic time and often contradicts the Bible.
Therefore it is obvious that in our common talks we make it our priority to get to know and understand the Bible better and better. We reject the fundamentalistic understanding of the Bible based on the teaching of verbal-inspiration, because this way of thinking inevitably leads to giving up the mind, which God gave us to gain a deeper and fuller understanding of Himself.
In the same way we have to reject liberal theology which reduces the Bible to a mere human fabrication. Moreover the reasoning of liberal theologians is often anything but historical or critical. In their interpretations they are primarily led by their own ideologies. We do not take the Bible literally but we do take the Bible seriously.
God revealed himself so plainly that everybody who searches for him earnestly will find him in his word. Everybody is able to recognise Gods will.
The reproach that we regard the Bible as a certain kind of oracle is not only unjustified but also contradicts Kluges own statement that we have a relatively high theological level. From this item of criticism it becomes obvious that his aim is not at all to provide objective, helpful criticism but defamation.
We clearly reject every random or arbitrary treatment of the Bible such as the random drawing of Bible passages on certain occasions (e.g. at the turn of the year). Also the Herrnhuter Losungen or Daily Watchwords which are very popular among Protestants and Free-Churches belong to this category.
We also know that the Bible does not have an answer to every question.
On the one hand it is clear that God has revealed in the Bible everything that is necessary for the salvation of man and that we do not need any additional revelation or tradition to find God and our salvation. On the other hand there are many things for which the Bible does not give us a clear answer or no answer at all. This is also true for many aspects of our practical life. Therefore the reproach that we apply models from the first century directly to modern life is in itself ridiculous. In many details we simply do not know how the first Christians lived day by day. The summarised reports in the book of Acts show us only a few basic principles. In our situation today there are many things that we have to realise by thinking them through under the leading of the Spirit. We are not Bible positivists like the so-called Church of Christ, who try to positively justify all of their actions through passages from the NT.
The claim that only competent people, that is those in charge, are able to understand and interpret the Bible correctly might be found in Roman-Catholic doctrinal documents. This is not what we teach. We do not claim to have a monopoly over Bible interpretation like the Roman-Catholic magisterium (teaching authority) and the Watch Tower Society. The strength or weakness of our interpretation is dependent on the strength or weakness of our arguments which should be understandable for everyone.
We are glad and thankful that everybody has free access to the Bible and that the Catholic monopoly over the Bible has been broken. Nowadays nobody is expelled from his own country for possessing a non-Catholic Bible edition. Obviously the Bible is not able to defend itself against those who interpret it wrongly and it is very sad to see what some people have done with Gods word. But where opposing opinions can be freely voiced in an open discussion the truth can be clearly seen.
We would like to comment on some of the Bible passages which Mr. Kluge accuses us of misinterpreting:
a) Concerning the direct application of models from the first century to modern life we have already explained our position. The issue of daily meetings obviously really bothers Mr. Kluge. Gods love urges us to do so.
b) Church as community of sinners
We cannot interpret allegorically, rationalise away or discard as irrelevant for today a Bible verse that does not exist. Other people however, do so with passages that speak about the holiness of the church. E.g.: Matt 18:15-18; 1 Cor 5:1-1; 2 Cor 6:14-7:1; Eph 1:4; 5:25-27; Col 1:9-11; 21-23; Rev 2:5; 3:15-16; 14:4-5 etc.
c) Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. (Matt 7:1)
In saying this Jesus did not mean that we cannot refer to what is bad as bad anymore, nor that we are not allowed to admonish a sinner.
The Bible passage (the author means Matt 7:1) which speaks of Gods unswerving judgement is misinterpreted in the most terrible fashion, when it is consistently abused to justify moral laxity. Good remains good and evil remains evil. (J. Schniewind, Das Evangelium nach Matthäus, 1964, p. 97)
According to Mr. Kluges words Jesus would have rejected other Jewish believers in a positively arrogant way in Matt 23, not to mention the way John the Baptist and numerous Old Testament prophets exhorted their contemporaries to repent.
What would Mr. Kluge say about the abusive and aggressive language used by the great reformer Martin Luther?
How many people were condemned not only with words but also with the sword or at the stake by the very church in which Mr. Kluge is a priest.
We clearly distance ourselves from all those crimes committed in the name of Christianity but we will continue to call good, good and evil, evil.
It is Gods love for the people that motivates us for that very reason we must not turn a blind eye to their sins.
But as for me, I am filled with power, with the spirit of the LORD, and with justice and might,
to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin. (Micah 3:8)
Within the same context (Matt 7:6) we can read: Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.
This very verse presupposes that we have to assess who is open for Gods word and who is not. But we always have to be aware that the standard we apply to others will be applied to us as well. In Matt 7:1-5 and Rom 2:1 Jesus and Paul both reject the attitude of judging others while doing the very things one is criticising others for. We do not only want to apply Gods standards to others but all the more to ourselves.
In this place, then, as it seems at least to me, He doth not simply command us not to judge any of men’s sins, neither doth He simply forbid the doing of such a thing, but to them that are full of innumerable ills, and are trampling upon other men for trifles. And I think that certain Jews too are here hinted at, for that while they were bitter accusing their neighbours for small faults, and such as came to nothing, they were themselves insensibly committing deadly sins. (John Chrysostom Homilies on Matthew Homily XXIII.)
Another passage which is helpful for understanding Matt 7 is the following statement of Paul:
Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of Gods Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are discerned spiritually. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one elses scrutiny. (1 Cor 2:14-15)
These words are not an expression of human arrogance but a spiritual reality for all those who have humbled themselves under Gods hand enabling Gods Spirit to give them the authority to discern everything. Even if Kluge disputes the fact that we have the Holy Spirit he has to admit that according to Gods word the Holy Spirit grants believers the authority to discern. Kluge judges us strongly without considering the fact that many of the things he criticises as being sectarian in our case are regarded as virtues in his own church. Our critic should perhaps examine himself in the light of Matt 7:1.
d) Rom 14
The context speaks unambiguously about the attitude of Christians towards the Mosaic Law. The weak ones here are not the alcohol or nicotine addicts… The weak in Rom 14 are those who continue to keep the ritual law of the OT because they still have not realised the full extent of salvation through Jesus. If they had ignored the food laws they would have acted against their consciences and would have faced a dangerous dilemma, from which Paul wanted to spare them.
It is a completely different situation if nowadays somebody does not want to give up his sins or holds to unbiblical teachings. Such people are not weak but evil.
If somebody honestly fights against his sins and perhaps fails then patience is called for. The command of brotherly love requires this of us, independently of Rom 14.
The fact that Rom 14 responds to the question of keeping the Law is seen in its connection to chapter 15. This view is also upheld by numerous commentaries.
e) Lk 15:3-7 // Matt 18:12-14
The interpretation of this parable that Mr. Kluge proposes is not the communitys interpretation. Of course the question arises as to whether a normal shepherd would leave 99 sheep because of a single lost one. Joachim Jeremias, a German scholar also writes: Experts on Palestinian life all agree that a shepherd cannot possibly leave his flock to itself. If he has to look for a lost animal he leaves the others in the charge of the shepherds who share the fold with him (Luke 2:8, John 10:4 f.), or drives them into a cave. (Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, Revised Edition, 1963, p.133)
Jesus wanted to show Gods great love which surpasses the usual human standards and accepts also those who are usually written off by other people. The question is whether in the case mentioned by Kluge this parable can show the right solution.
To Kluges comment that in the group it is not usual to endeavour continuously for people who did not take the bait after the first contact. Such people missed their chance… we want to say that among us there are several brothers who did not immediately take the bait. We do not work with psychological pressure but give those people, who (still) have too little interest space to think over everything they have heard. Repentance is not the result of human psychology but of Gods acting.
Concerning the Canon: We recognise the Old Testament Canon which Jesus had as a Jew in Palestine (which means we reject the Apocrypha acknowledged by the Catholics and Orthodox who euphemistically call them deutero-canonical scriptures), and we acknowledge the Christian canon of the NT which has been commonly accepted since the time of Athanasius.
There is no doubt that not all books of the Bible are of the same importance. Clearly the Gospel of John is far more significant than, say, the genealogies in 1 Chron 1-8.
The ultimate standard for our canon is Jesus Christ. For this reason it is impossible to recognise scriptures as belonging to the Old Testament that Jesus neither knew nor recognised as Holy Scriptures. In this point both the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox organisations have raised themselves above Jesus, calling apocryphal scriptures Old Testament scriptures. In the Catholic organisation these books are: Tobit, Judith, 1 & 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Jesus Sirach, and Baruch. There are also additions to the books of Esther and Daniel. Through the decision of the Council of Trient these books gained canonical significance in the 16th century, as the Catholics believed they could find in them biblical support for some of their unique teachings which were rejected by the Protestants (prayer for the dead 2 Macc 12; Veneration of angels Tobit). Neither Jesus, nor the Jews ever regarded one of these books Holy Scriptures. The first Christian canon list for the OT (Meliton of Sardes) does not include these books. Also Jerome and Athanasius rejected them. With this teaching the Catholic Church has defied not only Jesus, but also a significant part of its own tradition.
By including the Book of Baruch they even suceeded in having a book which was written after the year 70AD, later than all NT scriptures, recognised as part of the Old Testament, and one that also contains anti-Christian polemic (Bar 3:37-4:4 sets the incarnate Logos against the Jewish Law, which is here called the Wisdom which appeared on earth and lived with humankind. This passage also speaks against Gentile mission: Do not give your glory to another, or your advantages to an alien people.)
Also the Book of Tobit, with its propaganda for pagan customs (the commentary from the Pattloch-Bibel on Tobit 6:7-9 says: Incense was popularly used in Assyrian-Babylonian religions to fend off evil demons) is out of place in the Bible.
In contrast we hold to the same Old Testament canon which the disciples accepted from the Nation of Israel and which was Jesus own canon, too.
Consequently, we clearly accept the book of Ecclesiastes (Kohelet) as part of the OT, even though its canonicity was disputed by the Jews in Jamnia at the end of the first century and it is not once quoted in the NT. The understanding of the inspiration of this book poses certain problems, because several passages, such as the ones listed below, can surely not be understood as a direct word from God:
I said in my heart with regard to human beings that God is testing them to show that they are but animals. For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knows whether the human spirit goes upwards and the spirit of animals goes downwards to the earth? Eccl 3:18-21
Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of countenance the heart is made glad. Eccl 7:3
Do not be too righteous, and do not act too wise; why should you destroy yourself? Do not be too wicked, and do not be a fool; why should you die before your time? Eccl 7:16-17
I found more bitter than death the woman who is a trap, whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are fetters; one who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her. Eccl 7:26
But whoever is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no more reward, and even the memory of them is lost. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished; never again will they have any share in all that happens under the sun. Eccl 9:4-6.
The solution might be found in an interesting literary concept. The (unknown, most probably post-exilic) author describes in the frame of a literary fiction the thoughts of Solomon after his apostasy in order to show the limits of human thinking without God.
So although we can find deep human wisdom in this book, finally only resignation remains: All is vanity (Eccl. 1:2 and many other passages). A man living without God cannot fathom the deepest sense of life with God.
In Eccl. 1:12-2:26 we find a depiction of Solomon’s life without mention of his name. We can even find a reference to his harem which, according to 1 Kings 11:1-13, was the reason for his apostasy (Eccl 2:8). Solomon was looking for joy, but he did not find it. Without God it remained hidden from him. So this book is an interesting kind of warning about apostasy!
The concluding verses (12:8-14) which, in the opinion of numerous theologians were added later by another person, try to somehow fit this wisdom into the frame of orthodox belief. But the most sensible explanation remains the one mentioned above.
For interpreters in earlier times it was also clear that much of what is written in the book of Ecclesiastes cannot be from God. Even Gregory the Great in his Dialogues IV/4 gives the explanation that some of what the the Preacher utters is of carnal temptation
For the record, let us briefly mention that the question of the exact understanding of Ecclesiastes is for us not one of dogma. We normally do not assess religious groups according to their understanding of this book. As long as someone does not claim that the above cited antigodly statements are the instructions of God, and does not use this book to justify heresies (denial of the immortality of the soul) as do the Adventists and Jehovahs Witnesses, we accept the possibility of various explanations.
We do not try to find a canon within the canon. This expression can be more appropriately applied to Martin Luther’s attitude, who arbitrarily rejected certain books due to his own narrow doctrines on justification.
Thus, concerning the letter to the Hebrews, he wrote that it cannot be considered of equal value to the apostolic letters.
Concerning the Letter of James he wrote:
in direct opposition to St. Paul and all the rest of the Bible, it ascribes justification to works, and declares that Abraham was justified by his works
But this James does nothing more than drive to the Law and to its works. Besides, he throws things together so chaotically that it seems to me he must have been some good, pious man, who took a few sayings from the disciples of the Apostles and thus tossed them off on paper
He calls the Law a law of freedom, although Paul calls it a law of slavery, wrath, death and sin
Whatever does not teach Christ is not apostolic, even if Peter or Paul were to teach it. In the same way what preaches Christ is apostolic, even if done by Judas, Hannas, Pilate and Herod
In sum: he wished to guard against those who depended on faith without going on to works, but he had neither the spirit nor the thought nor the eloquence equal to the task. He does violence to Scripture, and so contradicts Paul and all Scripture. He tries to acomplish by emphasizing law what the apostles bring about by attracting men to love. I therefore refuse him a place among the writers of the true canon of my Bible; but I would not prevent anyone placing him or raising him where he likes (Introduction to the Letter of James, 1522)
Concerning the Revelation of John:
I miss more than one thing in this book, and this makes me hold it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic… There is not a single prophet in the Old Testament, let alone the New, who so completely through and through uses visions and pictures that I think of it almost as I do of the Fourth Book of Esdras, and can nohow detect that the Holy Spirit produced it. There is one sufficient reason for me not to think highly of it, — Christ is not taught or known in it (Introduction to the Revelation of John, 1522)
It is not hard to see who speaks about a canon within the canon, and who really claims to be able to discern what preaches Christ and who arrogantly considers his own intellectual judgement higher than scripture.
As for our own literature: Gods revelation is complete. Therefore, the Bible is the one and only document that has authority for us. It is not our goal to produce our own literature. It is more important for each one to study the Bible actively and independently.