Shortly after we arrived in Tanzania, there was considerable violence in the Geita region between Muslims and Christians over who gets to butcher meat. Until recently, I’m told all abattoirs were Muslim run, so that they complied with halal food laws. However, Christians wanted to run their own because they didn’t want to eat Muslim food. Obviously losing Christian clientele was bad for the Muslims’ business so things got pretty serious. As soon as I heard about this conflict, the passage that sprang to mind was 1 Corinthians 8-10.
It’s startling how relevant the passage is to the Geita situation but my concern here is not to give commentary on those events so much as to explore the nature of scripture. (You might remember this has been a longstanding interest of mine.) Because preaching 1 Corinthians 8-10 in Australia is hard. We are rarely faced with this kind of situation. Sure there’s the odd halal butcher but the most common application of this passage I’ve heard is about whether you can eat in Chinese or Indian restaurants that have (decorative) idols.
Reading a passage like this in Australia, application seems like a bit of a stretch. Even if you’re looking for a principle to apply you’re hard pressed to find something that will connect with Christians’ daily lives. It’s certainly not the hot button issue is was for the Corinthians! It’s hard to see how this passage might be relevant for an Australian in a meaningful way. ‘Written to them, for us’ sounds a bit hollow. So we try with all our might to make it seem relevant.
I don’t want to dispute the usefulness or inspiredness of the Bible, but I wonder whether we need to consider again who the ‘us’ is. Could it be that while I, or my congregation or even my people group, don’t find a passage particularly relevant, the ‘us’ is meant to be much broader? Have I understood that saying, so important for our doctrine of scripture, too narrowly?
I’m not saying that a passage like 1 Corinthians 8-10 is only relevant to people who experience a similar situation to the Corinthians. But we do consider parts of scripture to be particularly relevant to some people – instructions to husbands or wives, for example – and that doesn’t stop us from considering that they are written to our congregation as a whole. Could we take the same approach on a more global scale?
What do you think? If I’m on the right track, what might be some implications for how we think about what books we preach through or how we preach through them?
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.