stay in the lines

When I do a post, sometimes I want to make a particular point on an opinion, maybe even close to a conviction of mine. But then I remember what this blog and what Christian ministry is all about. It’s not about what we think, but about God’s word. Yes, God’s word interpreted, and in consideration of how the Spirit has guided the church in that interpretation, maybe we can say, loosely speaking. And then I draw back, going to what the word, Scripture specifically says.

Opinions are fine for talking, conversational points, but not good for Christian teaching.

There are issues of interpretation, called biblical hermeneutics. And that can open up controversy, no doubt. Maybe there’s a place for that in considering different ways a text might be understood, with perhaps more than one point being made in a text. That’s part of the genius and depth of Scripture. At the same time, we do well to seek to stay in the lines of what Scripture is saying, noting possible differences in understanding that, but nevertheless seeking to stay true to what Scripture calls itself: God’s (written) word.

I think sometimes Scripture is a bit fuzzy on purpose, and that we’re not meant to unravel it all. At the same time we ought to pay attention to both sound interpretation along with how the church has generally interpreted a passage, trusting that the Spirit keeps the church true to the main intent of Scripture, the gospel, and in doing so, helps the church on the details. There is a need for reformation in understanding at times, because humans and institutions within the church can get off track.

The main point here is to seek to adhere to what Scripture says, what God might be saying through it, along with what God indeed is saying. And remain in dialog with that, with the goal of remaining true in both faith and practice. In and through Jesus.

evangelicals and Scripture

Richard Foster in his book, Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith celebrates the evangelical tradition for its emphasis on Scripture. Of course we can and should celebrate what all the great traditions of the Christian faith contribute to the whole.

It is common nowadays for evangelicals to be criticized left and right, for this and that, and almost everything else. I almost feel like I have to duck anymore when I get on social media and note the criticisms leveled by other Christians. A lot of it concerns how white evangelicals voted in the past election. We need to think long and hard on things like that, all of us. I agree with something John Dickson said in reference to his nation, Australia, that we best be careful on that score, or else it’s likely we’re not thinking hard enough, whichever way Christians might vote.

Another common criticism is how evangelicals fail when it comes both in not appreciating the tradition of the church, or the importance and place of philosophy. Again, evangelicals return to Scripture, but I do think we try to do so with more of an appreciation for church tradition and philosophy than in the past.

I for one both accept the label “evangelical” which essentially means gospel-oriented, and the emphasis on Scripture which comes with it, all things tested by Scripture, including the tradition of the church, and philosophy. But my manner and own concern is far less ambitious. I want to simply plod along, hopefully faithful to the high view of Scripture I hold, which I believe is taught in Scripture itself: that the Bible is indeed the word of God written. Of course we have to read it as a whole, and consider all the parts with reference to the whole. When we do that, most any criticism against our view of Scripture I think rings hollow.  Something ongoing for me and many others. In and through Jesus.

Scripture readings on Sundays

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”

The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

Acts 8:26-40

I’ve been sharing Scripture readings on Sundays, going through the book of 2 Corinthians according to the headings of the NIV Bible from which I quote. Before that for years I had shared the prayer for Sunday from the Book of Common Prayer. I still highly value that book and the tradition that goes with it. I love church tradition, and probably prefer something of it at least in every church service or gathering. Along with the Lord’s Table. But the Lord led us away from the Anglican church plant to find a church for our grandchildren, which now the family attends. And my wife and I are happy to be a part of it.

I have always been a Bible person, raised evangelical in the Mennonite tradition. And I work for an evangelical ministry, Our Daily Bread Ministries. So Scripture is in my bones. I recently switched to sharing Scripture on Sundays. The Book of Common Prayer includes Scripture readings, but within the wisdom of that tradition drawing as well from the Great Tradition which has been at it for centuries. I have a profound respect for all of that. For a person to have Scripture, as we see in the above passage is indeed good, a good start. But by itself it’s not enough. With Scripture is the Spirit and the church, those sent to proclaim as well as witness to the good news of Christ.

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

Revelation 22:16-17

So tomorrow I plan to continue with Scripture readings beginning the gospel according to Mark. Hopefully anyone not understanding will benefit with posts during the week, and from other sources. I’m just one voice, a witness. We need to look to Scripture and the Spirit along with the church for God’s help in understanding, so that by faith we may enter into the salvation and kingdom of God in and through Jesus.

scripture, application and experience

I think the genius of the teaching at the church we initially found to take our grandchildren, and now are a part of ourselves is its combination of scripture, emphasis on application, and getting right down to the nitty-gritty of life, where we live, our experience. And that certainly comes from the teaching gift of the senior pastor, who ably, I’m sure has mentored others, who have their own unique gifting from God in the teaching ministry of this church. And a great teaching ministry, by the way, to the children and young folks.

We really don’t need anything fancy nowadays, just a straight shot of God’s word. But when we receive that, we find not only an appeal to doctrine, but also to application and experience. The so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral, gathered from John Wesley’s writings, but which Wesley himself would not have approved of, as has recently been brought to light by Methodist theologians: Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, kind of correlate to this thought. But scripture not only has primacy of place, but a place all by itself. Whatever role tradition, reason, and experience have is all under scripture. Which is why I believe in what our church is seeking to do in helping us grow as disciples of Christ to become more and more like him.

When we go to scripture, we don’t have to worry about drawing this out, if we take scripture itself seriously. Scripture will ably do that for us, if we pay serious attention to it. We just take it for what it is, going through it, letting it, really God’s word do it’s work. Nothing more, nothing less. All of this in and through Jesus.

in prayer for the Roman Catholic Church

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:4-6

In a recent post, I was thinking of the early music of the Protestant Reformation, and celebrating the renewal of spiritual life God seemed to clearly give at that time. In no way was I desirous of putting down other Christian traditions, such as the Roman Catholic Church, or the Eastern Orthodox Church, or any other Christian tradition. All are rooted in a tradition which believes the church was built in a sense on the apostles, beginning with Peter, and on the apostolic teaching of the gospel. In no way do I want to exalt one tradition over another.

I was raised in an evangelical Anabaptist church. Now I’m evangelical with some Anabaptist remaining, but above all, wanting to find the common ground that is ours together as the entire church in Christ and the gospel. I have to admit that for me, while I think I mostly understand it, it seems a direct affront to Christ’s desire that we in Christ would be one before the world, that so many churches have closed communion. That is not true of just one tradition, but a number, even within the Protestant tradition. But by the Spirit through the gospel we are one in Christ anyhow, regardless our practices. Tradition by the Spirit and the word has essentially gotten the gospel right. Christ is the gospel, the good news of God. Christ in his person, life, ministry, and work of salvation through his death and resurrection, followed by his ascension, the pouring out of the Spirit, with the promise of his return.

This is an especially difficult time for the Roman Catholic Church, and for our sisters and brothers in Christ in that great tradition. The rest of us need to be holding them up in prayer: the pope, the leadership in that church, the priests and nuns and laypeople, all who serve Christ there. Christ is faithful, and the church will stand because Christ will cause it to stand. Repentance, reformation and renewal, that is a need for us all. We need to be open to understand where we are wrong now, confess that, and make the necessary changes to be confirmed over time. The evangelical church is not without its faults, sins and scandals.

So we stand with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ. In prayer for them, and for all of the church, as we seek to follow our Lord and be faithful witnesses of the good news in him.

becoming Bible people with tradition and in spite of prevailing thought

There is no question that simply being in the Bible and citing scripture is not foolproof against the deceptive wiles of the devil. Numerous sects and heresies which is a term meaning deviations from the truth have been spun out of just that sort of practice. So the answer can’t simply be to just get back to the Bible, unless that’s qualified as to specifically what is meant.

Scripture itself points to the church as the pillar and foundation of the truth, so that any biblical interpretation apart from consideration of what the Spirit has been saying to the churches and the church at large is automatically suspect. Individuals have divided over mistakenly supposing the Spirit had given them insight which either contradicted others, or gave a needed insight. The richness of scripture and Christian orthodoxy, the Christian tradition is apparent when one begins to look and dig deeper into scripture itself, and the patristic (church fathers) sources.

We can’t rightly or even possibly consider the Bible apart from tradition. Our translations of scripture are dependent on interpretation to some extent, an interpretation that does do justice to the Book at large, but does provide answers where interpretations might vary. The church in the early centuries is an example of this: reacting to various heresies, like the idea that Jesus had a beginning and is a created being, not God. The church instead came up with the truth from scripture that Jesus is both completely God and completely human, two natures separate, not intermixed, yet indissoluble (permanent) in the one person. And the teaching of the Trinity, that God is one God, so that we can speak of God that way as one person, yet three equal Persons in that one God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When the Protestant Reformation occurred, these past formulations were not under consideration for revision. Martin Luther didn’t want to leave the church, but reform it. But when what is called the Radical Reformation occurred, it was essentially a restorationist movement, with the goal of becoming strictly a church in accordance with scripture, specifically the New Testament. The Anabaptists were one such group, and Menno Simons early on was misunderstood to be a heretic when it came to those early formulations, and soon realized that one can’t leave tradition behind. He made it clear that the Anabaptists accepted the teaching of the Trinity, and of Christ’s two natures as formulated by the church in those early councils.

It does seem to me like we live in a day in which people need to get back to scripture. Certainly not to read it as a flat book, as if it is all equally applicable today. To see it as the unfolding story it is, fulfilled in Christ, and to be completed when he returns. But scripture itself seems to have fallen on either deaf or complacent ears to a significant degree among believers. The diminishing of biblical knowledge among church goers seems to have been occurring incrementally for decades now. And today, either people don’t know, or little care, or they easily misread scripture in defense of an agenda which is actually based on something other than God’s word and will. Not to say that any of us are immune to any of this; we most certainly are not.

Maybe we lack interest in scripture in part because our expectations are elsewhere. We love this or that, and feed on such, with just a bit of time left to maybe get to a reading from the Bible. We fail to dig and ponder, read and wonder, study and think, and pray. We connect elsewhere, finding scripture irrelevant.

Instead in this day maybe like in none other, we need to regularly plug in and find our way through God’s word, which is called a lamp for our feet, and a light for our path. We need to look at current thinking in light of scripture and the gospel. Including of course our own thinking and practice, which so easily is and can be misguided.

And we need to find our way to a church which believes and practices the word, with of course the realization that the gospel, the good news of God in Jesus is the point of it all. And all the richness and vitality that comes out of that.

May God help us to live out what we are as God’s people together by the Spirit through the word in and through Jesus.

 

making sense of nonsense

As humans, we are rational beings. We want to understand as much as we can, and try to make some sense of things. Necessarily, we factor in reason, as well as our experience, and at best, together. And if we’re wise, we surely will consider how generations past have grappled with life: their thoughts and practices, in a word, their tradition.

In some sense this is a never ending process, open to refinement, or just to the application necessary to the times in which we live. In another sense, for people of faith, there are certain matters that are fixed. The basis for that is both scripture and tradition. The church of the Great Tradition: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and the like, will put both on an equal par, actually on the basis of scripture. Other churches such as those within Protestantism, will see scripture as the authority, but if they’re wise, I think, will understand that scripture does give some serious weight to tradition, particularly how the church has interpreted the point of scripture, the gospel, over the centuries. So that even within differences of understanding that, essentially the heart of the gospel is the same, found in Jesus, and in his death and resurrection, and all that’s related to that.

What can become a crisis of faith is experience along with thoughts which seem to give the lie to God. And specifically the great, good God of the Bible. But if we read all of the Bible, we’ll find that it mirrors life: the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly. We are often left with no answer to our question, “Why?” both in terms of life, and sometimes within the pages of scripture itself. Although there are explanations, some of them tied to the idea that the secret things belong to God, left to God’s understanding, while the things revealed belong to God’s people, to hold on to for life, what is called truth (Deuteronomy). So that in the end we have to trust God.

The answer for us in the here and now is simply to learn to live in the never ending tension of life, both what makes sense, and what from our perspective is sheer nonsense, and maybe the case from God’s perspective, as well. Though God is at work to bring good out of it all, even what forever will be evil.

In the main point of scripture, the gospel, God used the greatest evil to bring about the greatest good at the cross, in the death of Christ. We hold on to that, both in terms of understanding God and life. There is something which ultimately will override all the nonsense of this world. And sense will take care of it all in the end in God’s good judgment and justice to come, and the salvation which follows.

In the meantime, I continue to hold to this, the idea that what makes sense will prevail, only through faith. Certainly the resurrection of Jesus as given to us in the gospel accounts, being a major factor for acceptance of the faith. But also a faith which amounts to a trust in God, even when it seems that the bottom has fallen out in our experience, or maybe even thought, so that there’s nothing left to stand on.

God is underneath, and around all of that. And the truth of the gospel, the good news in Jesus is the hope and even assurance we have that all will be well in the end.