throwing in (casting) my lot with the evangelicals, but hopefully “simply Christian”

If you’ve known me through the years, you’ll know that I’ve flirted with the Great Tradition, at one time years back considering considering (yes, repeated) becoming a Roman Catholic. And liking much of what I witnessed and was aware of from the Eastern Orthodox tradition. I still hold the Great Tradition in esteem, but to make a long story short, it seems evident on the face of it, that the true church is bigger, and that the tradition is not as infallible as it might seem to some. But I won’t dig further there.

I could come up with all sorts of reasons, I suppose, why in the end I remain something of an evangelical (maybe of an Anabaptist, liturgical mix), while not making the mistake of cutting myself off from the Great Tradition, as if they aren’t part of the true church as well. They are, at least all who are born of the Spirit, which is the case since the church is the Spirit-indwelled Body of Christ on earth, surely on both a local and global, universal level.

The evangelicals are made to be a regular punching bag nowadays, from so-called “progressive” Christians to nearly everyone else. And it’s not like we’re without our faults. What tradition doesn’t have issues? Strengths and weaknesses? Of course some will refuse to acknowledge any good in a given tradition, nothing new if we consider social interent sites like Facebook, where never is heard a discouraging or encouraging word, depending.

Let’s just say that I cast my lot in with the church and the gospel, with scripture being the backbone of all of that, the church deriving its authority from both. Of course the Lord himself, to whom all authority has been given, the one from and through whom we live and work.

Can the evangelicals change in some helpful ways before the Lord returns? Of course only God knows what that should be, but surely yes. Life goes on with much change for better or for worse, but God’s word and the truth of the gospel remains the same. Our understanding hopefully will grow within those necessary bounds. And the church by the Spirit most definitely has an important say in that.

Hopefully, “simply Christian” with an emphasis on Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, is where I stand, but only with others. Yes, each one of us, but also necessarily, all of us together. Before the world, in and through Jesus.

Back to the Bible

One of my favorite radio programs as a young Christian, was Back to the Bible with Theodore Epp as the teacher. I can still hear his voice with the simple, straightforward teaching of the word of God. Although I don’t think I’ve heard that broadcast for years, I’m confident it continues on faithfully as before, since it’s grounded in the written word of God within the traditional evangelical church mold. There are some like ministries, but the two which stand out the most in my mind and past experience is that program and programs (now, Discover the Word) from Our Daily Bread Ministries. What I like about both ministries is their commitment to scripture in a Christ-centered way, the gospel at the heart of it. One might criticize either ministry for this or that reason (not that I’m suggesting I have any important or significant criticism of either), but they are both nonsectarian in their approach, and faithful in their teaching of scripture.

Just because these ministries are grounded in the written word of God, in the Bible, doesn’t mean that they’re not rooted in tradition. Of course they are, how the Spirit has led the church at large over the centuries, although with the more or less conscious attempt to get back to the pristine understanding of such, and away from the additions later on, which may not be actually binding or authoritative in the same way, such as the assumption of Mary into heaven, and before that praying to Mary, or asking Mary to intercede for the pray-er compared with the teaching of the divine and human natures of the one person, Jesus, or the Trinity of God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

For better or for worse, evangelicalism, in my case of an Anabaptist bent, with traditional liturgy preferred, is my home. Yes, of the Protestant sort, though hopefully that word would become less and less significant toward the goal of living out the unity that is the church’s, in Christ.

We need to think about this in a constructive way, critically and contextually, with an emphasis on the teaching of scripture itself. Just what place does the church hold in all of this, and what might be the strengths and weaknesses of the various traditions of the church in how this is understood and practiced. A tall order, and beyond any one person, really a church endeavor, since the Spirit guides the church together. And something which is most often taken for granted, or not even on the radar of many. Yet important, nonetheless.

But for me, synods and magesteriums aside, the one place we continue to go back to for our grounding in Jesus and the gospel is scripture, God’s written word. Yes, we go back to the Bible.

 

the need for both scripture and creed

Although I am thankful to say that I can cite much good from which we can learn, in spades in the ministry where I work with no bad examples there, there is pop theology you can find in many places elsewhere which is not sufficiently grounded in scripture or the great creeds of the church.

We need both scripture and creed in either order depending on what one means, both of paramount and critical importance for the church in its call to contend for the faith once for all entrusted to God’s people.

The “Ecumenical and Historic Christian Creeds” include probably the two most common: the Apostles and the Nicene Creed. The Anglican denomination of which we are a part is working on a new Book of Common Prayer which will be more in keeping with the 1662 edition and will incorporate “we believe” in place of “I believe” which overall I find more helpful (but that’s another subject). I’m looking forward to the release of that book. I highly value the creeds and liturgy, because these are the works of the church. No scripture is of private interpretation, we must be committed to the revelation the Spirit has given to the church both in terms of scripture’s initial reception which is actually given through the church one can say, in the first place, and its interpretation, hammered out in the midst of controversy over especially the early centuries of the church.

While first and foremost I would want to be identified as a follower of Jesus along with being a Christian in the orthodox sense, I am also an evangelical, committed to the gospel for life and witness, and committed to scripture as having primacy for our understanding. The revelation given to the church is a living witness, one the church continues to receive by the Spirit, and each of us who are in the church are a part of that reception process. My sense of this in terms of the Great Tradition would be more Roman Catholic than Eastern Orthodox in that I believe that the church can continue to grow in its understanding of the truth in the breadth of scripture. At the same time I think the gift from the Eastern Orthodox Church is valuable too in its good emphasis on scripture. Where I depart from both is what I suppose makes me an evangelical in the Protestant sense in that I don’t believe tradition is infallible in its totality, or necessarily even meant to be in terms of how it’s practiced. But everything pertaining to the gospel is in at least some sense infallible, since the gospel is both the heart and point of the story, of scripture itself.

I’m excited about the Institute for Bible Reading and a book written by one of its founders, Glenn R. Paauw, Saving the Bible from Ourselves: Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well. Some would say that we simply need to keep tethered to the Church and its teachings. I think it’s a matter of and/both, not either/or. The church itself needs to stay grounded in scriptures in accordance with “the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude :3).

Trying to adhere to this will go a long way toward helping us avoid erroneous teaching such as the health and wealth gospel and pop theologies we sometimes see coming up like little weeds everywhere. What we want is the wheat, not the chaff. Vital for our own faith and witness in this world.