05 August 2008


There are perhaps two quotations from the Bible that are most miss-read in the church’s conflicted world. One is Amos 3 verse 3, “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” and the other is in John 17 the first portion of verse 21, “(I pray…) That they all may be one…” Both involve issues of context.

The Windsor Report, arguably the worst piece of Anglican scholarship for decades, choose to use Amos to legitimize their conclusion that unless the church undertakes to placate bullies, there is what the report calls a “real danger” of schism. The report’s authors chose to refer to schism as ‘walking apart.’ Those who promote schism (cf. Abp Akinola) often as they call it something else, typically, “re-alignment” have frequently pointed out that the two sides must agree before they “walk together.”
Those who act as though the Windsor Report is Holy Writ use the KJV version of John 17:21 to elevate organic unity to the level of a critical goal. They are in fact willing to sacrifice others to that goal.

It is my thesis that both passages are massively misread.
Amos is not telling us, as several who (I think deliberately) miss read it suggest that there must be agreement on everything. Rather in the chapter Amos is listing a series of paradoxes, things that cannot be true. Two people cannot walk together unless they both want to walk together. Amos did not say, “Two people must agree on doctrine to walk together.” He merely observed that the decision to walk together is needed.

In fact, one can read Amos to say that the decision to walk together is all that he required. I think that such a reading is a bit over the top, but it is as good as the assumption that the decision requires complete agreement on everything.

Similarly, John is written not in the context of organizational unity. Rather, Jesus is praying that we will all share the relationship that He has with the Father. As two brothers might be close to their dad while voting for different political parties, there is no assumption in the prayer that the members are in 100% agreement on issues of the day.

Does this matter? I think it does. These are examples of the old American observation that one can prove just about anything-using Bible verses.
· One looks at any disagreement, and announces schism because two cannot walk together if the do not agree. One can observe this behavior in GafCon’s partisans.

· An archbishop demands that North American churches sacrifice the hopes and aspirations of lesbian and gay persons and announces that we all have to be one.

In both cases what we see is a convenient misreading of the text. Words matter. How we use the Bible matters. The first rule is I think, that every verse, (every verse (!)) has a context. It is critically important that the context be understood and appreciated. When context is not considered, the result is really bad scholarship like the Windsor Report or really evil ideas like the idolatry of institutional unity.



Anonymous said...

What I do think I remember from University is that Amos' travellers are going up to Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is the goal of their wanderings. Their agreements are simply besides the point. Agreeing or not they are heading for Jerusalem - on the same road.

It is a bit of a Paradox, but so is the following statement on the Lion that roars...

Anonymous said...

And as to John, haven't the churches always been separated into different parishes, organizations, Nations, East and West even?

I simply cannot concieve of "being one" meaning in one and the same organization. The Trinity are 3 Persons, we are various churches.

Only together we are the Church.

JimB said...


That is why I consider the self-proclaimed-orthodox usage of those verses incorrect. They simply lift them without context. Thanks for the comments.


Anonymous said...

One of the things that attracted me to the Episcopal Churh is that it is such a "broad umbrella". The fact that people with differing views can sit down and pray **with** each other and**for** each other is very important. I can pray for somebody that I don't necessarily agree with and I hope that he is also praying for **me**. (I need all of the prayers that I can get!) If the Holy Spirit has enlightened me at all, I can pray that it also enlightens him and vice versa. I am happy that I can sit down next to him and talk to him and **listen** to him and get to know his view point. I can then understand him better and perhaps even learn something from him. How else am I to continue to grow and mature? I wouldn't want it any other way.

Sue B.

St Laika's

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