a proper stimulus: the word, tradition, scholarship, and pastoral reflection

Having internet access and many books, probably best not in that order, but probably in that order in our practice, can be helpful to provide a stimulus for the body of Christ, to help us do the works of service to which we’re called.

We need to be in the word, and tradition, both. The word, scripture, is the final authority, but an authority dependent to some extent in its outworking on tradition, the church, by the Holy Spirit.

We benefit from good biblical scholarship feeding tradition, the church, whether or not we delve into it ourselves. It shapes how we approach scripture, and through that, all of life.

Pastoral reflection is just as serious in the mix of what we humans do in response to God’s revelation, as anything else. In fact the shaping on the human side goes both ways: the insights we need from scripture are best worked out in a church setting, in the church itself. A good pastor, and good theology is reflective of listening to God’s voice and seeking wisdom and direction within the context of real life, and the community in Christ, the church, is the kingdom in which this life takes root and bears fruit.

I have been a word person, but not enough a person of the church, though I’ve always either attended or have been a part of one, so that it has rubbed off on me, or at least has been present in the good ways that come from the Spirit.

What we need to realize is the reality and importance of the stimulus, and we could say stimuli which God provides for us in Jesus. We need to acknowledge what already affects us in that, and deliberately take it in all the more, with an emphasis on the word of God and prayer. All of this together, in and through Jesus.

marriage today in the church and society

“Haven’t you read,” [Jesus] replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Matthew 19

Eugene Peterson, one of the very best Christian writers in my lifetime, himself a pastor had an interesting exchange in the past few days in which he seemed to affirm same sex marriage, and then immediately retracted that, and clarified his position. See this interesting post from Christianity Today.

My own position is to side with what scripture up front seems to make clear both in regard to marriage, and same sex relationships, or homosexuality. Of course scripture itself is nuanced, and challenging on some levels, and always must be read in light of its fulfillment in Christ. That said, it seems pretty clear why the traditional view not only holds strong with most Christian denominations and traditions, but surely will remain so in generations to come. Perhaps what might change is how people who have same sex attraction are received into the church, although that probably varies from church to church now.

Denominations and churches which accept and practice same sex weddings, and ordain those who are thus “married” I have seen, either argue that scripture itself leaves room for “covenant” gay sexual relationship, that when scripture does address this subject the few times it does, it is referring to something else altogether. I have read the arguments myself, and find them less than convincing in comparison to traditional teaching and interpretation of scripture. Or there are those “Christian” leaders who simply question Biblical teaching, even at times suggesting that the resurrection of Christ can be taken either literally or metaphorically, in others words that one can be a Christian without believing Christ’s physical, bodily resurrection. While I disagree, I can respect the former, but not the latter.

I think it’s a tragedy when whole groups are ostracized by the church, and now I’m thinking of the LGBT group. But any church, or Christian who doesn’t hold an affirming view of such relationships, will be seen as attacking the person. I doubt that enough work is being done to reach out to these people. At the very least they should know that they’re loved, and welcomed. I’m not sure myself just how to address this, though I think I know what my tentative suggestion might be. But I would want to be part of a group of men and women prayerfully deliberating on that.

As to my own view for society, I say that the church should not try to dictate what the state wants to do. The state, or government is not the church, and can’t be held to the church’s standards. Nor should the church be forced by the state to adopt the state’s standards. So I would hold to a separation of church and state, at the same time hoping that the church’s influence through the gospel might rub off on the state. But never at the expense of compromising the church’s own complete allegiance to Christ and the gospel.

It is quite a challenging and hot topic today, a sea change having taken place in society, with some impact on some churches. It’s simply a new time for the church to learn to live in a culture which doesn’t define marriage in strictly a traditional way. The church will continue on, but hopefully with new insight in helping those who feel rejected by the only one who can change any of us, and receives us all.

turning the corner

Sometimes I feel and seem to be in a place in which either my wheels are turning slow, or they’re stuck. And I can’t get any uplift, the joy of my salvation largely absent. Life can then seem to be a grind, the oil of the Holy Spirit seemingly absent. So that one essentially feels like they’re on their own.

Most of the time for me, such times are relatively short lived, and yet when they keep coming up again and again, and then one holds on and seems (I don’t like to use the same word too often, but it seems like I needed seems again) like it might never end, then one begins to wonder what’s up.

It’s not like there are no reasons for the difficulty; I can chalk it up most of the time to a trial which I could specify. It’s that there ought to be a word from God for it, and actually there always is something I can seek to apply from scripture. And basically simply seek the Lord in prayer, while I try to comply to his word.

I find inevitably that it’s simply a matter of time before I break into the clear again, and emerge into the sunshine of God’s grace, and begin to see a bit clearer. But again, when I keep going back again and again, and especially when it’s for the same reason, then I begin to think enough is enough. I’ve had it, and I want something different as a pattern of life.

I find that in the evangelical circles in which I am in, there seems to be no place for “the dark night of the soul” (see Psalm 88 for just one of the many examples of this from scripture). And because of that, we fail to learn how to navigate such times through scripture, and through tradition, surely to our great loss. Perhaps there are depths which may be needed before certain heights are accessible. At least for us to be deepened ourselves, we surely need to go through something of the depths.

Turning the corner in this is simply by grace through faith. Even as we were saved, we are being saved in the same way. Works come sometimes as a needed expression of faith I suppose, but by and large I see as the result of God’s grace and our response of faith. And what is needed is something of a glimmer of hope, which is certain to get stronger, along with the faith and love which accompanies it.

Is God true to his word, and just how great and good is our God, anyhow? I have to know, or at least ought to, that God will take care of whatever difficulty I’m in, and that in this there can be a greater purpose at stake. We are in the world not merely for ourselves, to somehow succeed, or live carefree, untroubled lives. We in Jesus are in the world in mission for others. We are to be a witness of God’s ongoing faithfulness in Jesus, of the faith that is in Jesus, the good news in him. That is why we’re here, and that is what God is about, both in shaping us, and in our experience in this life of the ongoing salvation that is in Jesus.

drinking deeply from the faith

The first title that came to mind when I was thinking of something of this post in general was “drinking deeply from the Christian tradition.” I like that title, and believe in what I would mean for it to convey. Usually I don’t concern myself much over titles of posts, but the title of this post is probably more directly related to its content than in many of my posts. Drinking deeply from the Christian tradition is important and we’re at a great loss when we don’t consider the history of the church from the very early church to the present day. There’s much wisdom for us to receive from the church mothers and fathers. And how the Spirit led the church through the centuries is something that we not only have to take into serious consideration, but in terms of the gospel and of the faith certainly has straightforward application for us, especially as expressed in the creeds, such as the Nicene Creed.

What I’m getting at in this post is just how we’re to live in the reality of the world, the flesh, and the devil, which are anything but faith friendly. Ironically this can be the very factor which helps us to find and learn to drink deeply from the faith that is ours in Jesus.

When I feel overwhelmed, or just burdened down about this or that, I by and by come to realize my own great need of pressing hard into the grace that is ours in Jesus, and seeking to live all the more through that, in the word and through the gospel. In a way, in the midst of it all, sometimes the pummeling that occurs in life, I can learn to relax by faith, and say to myself that through God’s grace in Jesus, all will be alright. That I may need to work through this or that, but to take one thing at a time, and above all seek to trust in God and God’s word through it all.

It is completely gift, the scriptural meaning of grace, in and through Jesus. But we have to make every effort to enter into this rest of faith, to live in God’s grace. This may mean almost feeling our way along at times in a kind of semi-darkness in which we have just enough light to keep us going. Maybe in seemingly complete darkness, crying out to God to be our light, and to give us light through his word.

We in Jesus need to learn to drink deeply from the faith, and to keep coming for more and more. Because that is nothing less than our life, and through our drinking others can come to receive that life as well, in and through Jesus.

black and white, and gray all over

Yesterday I was in an exchange in which I was told by a good man that the Bible is black and white, and therefore we should know, in this case, how we should have voted in the presidential election (I would add to that, if we voted at all). I stated, that yes, things in the Bible are black and white. Of course that’s true, with some qualifications. In the first place, the Bible doesn’t address everything, and in some ways it gives us just enough to be dependent on God and interdependent on each other, to keep us moving along the pathway of faith. Also one has to read the Bible in context and consider what part of the story is being told. Nevertheless, by and large, many big issues are clear enough.

We need the Holy Spirit to help us see aright even the most simple truths of God, which even in that case, we can never know as fully as God does, although God gives and helps us to know what we need to know. At least one of the biggest problems we have is the struggle in how to apply the truths in real life. That we can’t make room for Christians who while holding to a traditional view of marriage, believe society should make room for those who hold to other views, or in thinking that overturning Roe v Wade does not make anyone necessarily pro-life on the abortion issue, means that we are not grappling with the very real issues that are pastoral, and make up the complexity of the human experience. And we likely are not reading our Bibles correctly either, in the first place. One of my problems is how Christians left and right apply scripture meant only for God’s people, to the United States of America. The biggest need in all of this is to stay humble, express our opinions, but never think one has the final answer on many things, and don’t wave off people who see things differently.

Yes, everything that is black and white in scripture, ends up being gray in this life, only because we need God’s light in Jesus by the Spirit to see the light of day on what might need to be done in any given situation. And we need to pray, and ask questions, and look to God both in scripture and through the church for the wisdom we need both in individual cases, and in issues at large. A tall order indeed, not easy. So that there’s room for us all to enter into the conversation and see how God might be helping us together to come to a more Christian, Jesus-like, God honoring answer.

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 importance of sound doctrine

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

2 Timothy 1:13-14

Nowadays, it’s not like the need for sound doctrine is scuttled, though I think it often is. It simply is the case that there’s some unsound doctrine as in teaching which is accepted as sound biblical teaching. We have to be on our guard. Especially dangerous is the teaching which comes from churches with an emphasis on a direct knowledge from God, as if they are the purveyors of truth unlike other churches around them. That is a form of gnosticism in the idea that they are the enlightened ones, and the rest of the church is not.

I think the passage quoted above, Paul’s last letter, gets to the heart of the issue. We have to get back to both scripture, and to what the church has taught through the Holy Spirit. Both. We have an unhealthy tendency to appeal to one or the other: either scripture alone, as if it’s in a vaccuum, or the Spirit and experience alone especially as given to certain leaders in the church. When actually we need both together, and discernment from the entire church by the Spirit through the word.

Thankfully within evangelicalism there is an awakening to a new appreciation of the Great Tradition and what the church by the Spirit has taught from scripture through the centuries, especially pertaining to the gospel. The evangelical tradition for all the beating it takes, some of the criticism justified, at least is strong in seeking to promote sound instruction from scripture. They can frankly outdo most of their critics from other church traditions in that regard. But the failure on evangelicalism’s part to make the Lord’s Table the climax and center of a service, is a telling one, inherited from the emphasis which occurred at the Protestant Reformation.

Deb and I left the infant Anglican church plant to take our granddaughter to a church which has programs for kids. I think we’ve found a suitable church now, which is solid in what they believe and teach, even if they don’t agree fully on what the Spirit has given the church through the centuries to believe and practice. I miss the liturgical, the confession of sin, recitation of the Nicene Creed, the broken body and blood of the Lord in the bread and cup. But we do appreciate what is present: a strong emphasis of teaching the word, and hopefully along with that the gospel which is at the heart of the word. That is what we hope for at this present time for our granddaughter.

And I might add, I  believe the church should be engaged in good works to help the poor to get on their feet and to become established through the gospel. Without question this should be an emphasis of every church. Teaching is not enough; practice must follow. Too often Christians depend on the state to do what the state cannot possibly do in the same way the church can and should do. Of course the state should fulfill its responsibility; any good society should look after its own, with safety nets for the poor in helping the poor toward a self-sustaining existence. But only the church through the gospel can help both the rich and the poor and everyone to find the life that is truly life, the eternal life that is in God through Christ.

Sound doctrine matters, and I do appreciate the emphasis of the best of the evangelical tradition in teaching and promoting that, insofar as they understand that. They need to keep working on the other part, to which they are awakening. And never forget to work at helping the poor and needy and oppressed and disabled in and through the name of Jesus. So that they in turn can help others in and through Jesus. Amen.