Five Minute Friday: Need

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.

Blessed are the undefiled in the way,
Who walk in the law of the LORD!
Blessed are those who keep His testimonies,
Who seek Him with the whole heart!

– Psalm 1:1-2; Psalm 119:1-2 (NKJV)

There are days when I see a whole lot more conflict than blessing. The psalmist must have had moments when he thought, “Eh, nah, troubled is the man who delights in the law of the Lord.” Inevitably, it seems, the one who truly, desperately wants to obey and please God will butt heads with others, often quite unexpected others. And then that one gets to sit back and wonder why those others get away with the things they do.

A tale, as they say, as old as time.

Father, help me to remember that stooping to their level is no good. Blessing really is found on the higher road, the only one that leads to You. Even if I can’t see it or feel it right now.

Kate says: need.

Go.

Best be keeping this one simple.

If you call yourself a Christian, you need to read the Bible. You need to devour it. You need to love it.  You need to soak the pages with your tears and look up the words you don’t understand. You need to pay attention to how pastors and teachers interpret and apply passages. You need to learn how to interpret and apply for yourself.

This world is full of voices and ideologies and philosophies. You need to know what is true, good and pure in order to recognize what is false, bad and gross. You need to make a conscious choice to submit yourself to the commands that stretch across the thin pages, commands from God Himself.

You need to stop making excuses. You have time. You’re smart.

Get in there. Do the thing.

It cannot be that the people should grow in grace unless they give themselves to reading. A reading people will always be a knowing people.

– John Wesley

Stop.

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Sola What?: Sola Scriptura

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This post was edited August 11, 2014, Edits appear in red italics.

Gentle Reader,

This is the post that I have been dreading. Attempting to keep a discussion of Sola Scriptura concise and accurate is like getting my wiener dog to stop chasing a ball. It’s just not going to happen. So please don’t take this one little entry as your only point of access into this centuries-old debate.

I begin by saying that Scripture should be seen as a coherent whole, containing the entirety of the Gospel message from Genesis to Revelation. This is the point of

Sola Scriptura: Scripture alone; the Bible, as the inspired (both directly and indirectly) word of God (as distinct from the Word, Jesus) is the only source that is authoritative for the faith and practice of Christians

I absolutely believe that Scripture, as the specific revelation of God (as opposed to the general revelation of nature), is the only source from whence faith and practice can be derived. There is no separate oral tradition. My Catholic friends who insist that such a tradition exists must also admit that this oral tradition is taken from the written word – simply not the written word of Scripture. Rather, oral tradition can often be traced to the second and third century pseudepigraphical (not written by the author named) documents such as the Protoevangelium of James. Despite Church Fathers noting that the document was of dubious origin, it was a popular work, and the belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary, first taught here, became entrenched.

 When a doctrine can be traced to what was recognized as an unreliable source, we have a problem.

But Protestants are not free of problems, though they are not of the same sort.

There are two kinds of problems within the congregations who claim Sola Scriptura. The first is seen in cases where there is no rule in how to approach the Bible, no idea for an interpretive framework. “Me and my Bible,” is the cry of this set. Ancient Christians answered this cry when they developed what is referred to as the Rule of Faith:

The Rule of Faith enabled the church to identify, preserve and pass on a coherent doctrine of God in the face of competing accounts of Christian identity. . .The plurality of potential interpretations did not entail the equal legitimacy of all the various claims, as if the church simply appealed to tradition because the Bible was defenseless. Instead, the early Christians saw the Rule of Faith as a form of moral restraint against human tendencies to twist the Scriptures in a self-interested ways. (1; emphasis mine)

In other words, if you read the Bible and cannot come to the conclusion that you

believe in God the Father Almighty, the Maker of Heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy [Spirit], born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucifed, dead and buried;. . .the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into Heaven and [sits] and the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from [where] He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy catholic [universal] Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, (2)

then you have a problem. This is the ancient, orthodox understanding of both the frame around and the conclusions of Scripture. This is the lens through which it must be read. There needs to be a basic framework through which it is rightly understood. The proliferation of groups and cults that take a handful of verses and run wild with them is more than enough comment on the dangerous places that too-simplistic an understanding of Sola Scriptura can lead.

Thankfully, many churches understand that the Bible must be approached in this way. However, there are other areas of entrapment, found in our fondness for adhering to and elevating certain ways of interpreting and applying that teaching to the detrimental eclipsing of Scripture itself. 

Consider the theological hot-bed of eschatology (concerning the end of all things). There are denominations that absolutely insist, for example, upon a dispensational, premillenialist understanding of the end. Trouble is, whether anyone wants to admit it or not, Scripture does not spell this out for us. The only things that are perfectly clear about the end are:

Calamity will strike the earth.

Jesus will come back.

Everyone will be judged; those who are saved will enter into Heaven and those who are not will enter into Hell.

It’s not easily discernible whether a pre-, mid- or post-tribulation rapture of the Church will occur – or whether a rapture will happen at all.  Nobody knows for sure what form the mark of the Beast will take. Is the scroll that only the Lamb is worthy to open (Rev. 5) a Scroll of Destiny or the Title Deed to the Earth? Are the two witnesses (Rev. 11) Moses and Elijah?

I fully understand that the Bible must be interpreted. We interpret anything we read. The problem arises when, as in our example of dispensational premillenialism, an interpretive theological tradition outside of Scripture is held with such tenacity that it becomes the authority. Anyone not holding to this tradition is seen, at best, as something of an idiot and, at worst, as being outside of the Body. This is not appropriate. We must be willing to see those who claim the essentials of faith as being our brothers and sisters, whether or not we agree down to the last dotted “i” and the last crossed “t.” 

Once more allow me to emphasize that there is nothing wrong with holding to a particular understanding of the end times or of other things, such as soteriology. What I am attempting to show here is that we must not close our fists around such concepts and beat people with them. We must be willing to subordinate our systems to Scripture itself, constantly looking at the text and asking the Spirit for guidance.

Ultimately, Sola Scriptura is an accurate understanding of the Bible’s place in the life of a Christian. Surely we must say that it is God Himself who is the authoritative ruler on things pertaining to the faith and that the Bible, as His word to mankind, contains all that we need to know in order to establish a correct and ongoing relationship with Him. This is our authority. And yet we Protestants do not practice what we preach. In some cases we lack the most basic of frameworks, such as the Rule of Faith, and this leads us to some wildly inaccurate conclusions and dangerous cherry-picking. In others, our framework becomes so entrenched that we cannot and will not consider another view. We even go so far as to reject the trueness of our brothers and sisters who see a passage differently. 

This should not be so.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the Sola What? series, go here.

 

References:

1. Daniel J. Treier. Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Recovering a Christian Practice. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 59.

2. Ibid., 58.

3. http://evangelicalarminians.org/node/29.

How I Came to Faith: Married Days

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Gentle Reader,

Arriving at an intellectual acquiescence to Christianity left me stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. I knew that I could not travel down the roads of other religions or atheism, but I had very little toleration for those who called themselves God’s people. Scripture makes much of the family of God, and I knew that I couldn’t call myself a Christian and not be an active part of that community. How could I reconcile this with the awful experiences I’d had? I’d seen revivals crushed, pastors forced from their pulpits, the Bible used for personal gain. How could I possibly be part of that group?

This was to be a stumbling block for quite some time, but I had other problems. I’d done enough reading about historiography and the bibliographic test in particular to accept that the Bible, and the New Testament especially, had been accurately preserved. (If you are skeptical, do some research yourself – using unbiased sources. They do exist.) I was not hung up on the finer points of inerrancy; it did not matter to me if numbers of soldiers had been rounded up or down. The Bible is not explicitly a history book. Nor is it a science book, so I took no issue with a non-literal reading of the Genesis account. It seemed readily apparent to me that the Bible contained things from the mouth of God and things inspired by the author’s relationship to God. What mattered is that this is what we needed to know.

(An important note here: Not everything recorded in the Bible has God’s seal of approval. I grow weary of people pointing to episodes of, say, incest and claiming that God is fine with it. Anything in those pages that goes against His commands is clearly wrong, even if a consequence is not mentioned).

My problem came in a clash between what my mind accepted as true and what my beliefs pushed me to live out. This dissonance showed itself in my hunger to know more about God while I lived apart from Him. I could read a passage and think, “Yes, this makes sense,” and then go out and do the exact opposite. Don’t sleep around, God says. You’ll get hurt and tangled up if you do. I knew in my gut that was true, yet I was so obsessed with keeping my then-boyfriend (now husband) that I rationalized that, somehow, it wouldn’t happen to me.

Again, I was blind to my own hypocrisy and quick to see it in others.

A mental acceptance of the Gospel does nothing. Even the demons believe (James 1:19). I had enough firepower in my arsenal to engage in intelligent, spirited debate – but my heart was empty. My life was hollow. I didn’t look any different. I didn’t feel any different. And I knew, somehow, that this didn’t make sense. I read of encounters that Jesus had with people and how they came away completely changed. Why was I the same?

Why did I resemble those who opposed Him?

The boyfriend and I got engaged on a beautiful summer’s day in his Alaskan hometown. After at least 5 years away from the church, I suddenly felt that we needed to make it part of our routine. Was this God drawing me to Himself or me making a connection between marriage and going to church? I don’t know how the will of God and the will of man works together. I didn’t want to actually be involved with a church. I didn’t want to get to know people or be part of a ministry. I just thought we should go and listen. Put in an appearance, so to speak.

Chris just shrugged his shoulders and went along.

We decided to go to a service at a large, non-denominational church in our area. I can’t tell you what the sermon was about. I can’t even tell you one song we sang that day. What sticks out to me is the realization that I had to either get on the boat or turn away completely, no matter how little sense the turning away made. As we drove home, I looked at Chris. We can’t sleep together on Saturday night and go to church on Sunday, I said.

He was quiet for a long moment. You’re right, he replied.

This was the first, tentative, adult step I made in the faith. I would love to tell you that it’s been nothing but success ever since, but this is not the shape my journey has taken.

I was still consumed with being accepted. Before long I discovered that a gal I’d met in college also went to this church. We renewed our friendship and it wasn’t long before she and her fiancee were the closest friends that Chris and I had. At the time, she had no discomfort with the difference in her professed beliefs and her party lifestyle. Sadly, we went along for the ride. Even now the smell of stale cigarette smoke makes me think of one too many hours spent in one too many bars.

Chris and I began working with the youth group at the church. This had far more to do with my longing to be part of a special group of friends than anything else. I rationalized this crossing of boundaries into the realm of “them.” I told myself that I wouldn’t be anything like the Christians I had seen abuse their authority. While I didn’t use the position I had to hurt anyone, it didn’t take much time for me to see that the partying I was doing didn’t line up with the message I was sharing with the girls in my group. How could I possibly be arrogant enough to tell them that it was wrong to party, silly to be obsessed with shallow things and that their drama would hurt all their relationships when I was engaged in those very things?

One overcast day a little over a year after we got engaged, I walked past a motorcycle accident and a crying flower girl through the doors of a wedding chapel, on my way to become Mrs. I was scared to death. The church had insisted upon premarital counseling if we wanted one of the pastors to serve as our officiant, and that counseling had been disastrous. Some ill-worded advice had resulted in crashing waves of confession that neither of us knew how to deal with. Who could we talk to? Who would help us? Some of these confessions impacted portions of our families, so that was out.

Still, I took as deep a breath as my corseted dress would allow, squeezed all the blood out of my father’s forearm and made those serious vows.

Marriage was HARD. I was living away from home for the first time, in a 450-square foot apartment that reeked of cigarettes, with a man I wasn’t entirely sure I liked sometimes. The tasks of housekeeping itself weren’t difficult; I’d been taught to keep things clean and comfortable. I could work out a system for laundry and make a grocery list. But how in the world was I supposed to live with this person, day in and day out? He liked his showers way too hot (still does), had a loud voice and a big presence. All the little things that had seemed charming while were dating began to drive me nuts.

Worse yet, he was starting to act funny. Chris never got sick, so when he started to complain of an upset stomach and began to lose weight, I worried. He was tired and snappy a lot of the time. He came home from his church men’s group anxious instead of encouraged. Normally a gregarious, stereotypically outgoing person, he withdrew. He didn’t want to go anywhere. Didn’t want to do anything.

Shortly after our first anniversary, we agreed to go on a camping trip. I was surprised, but happy that Chris seemed more like his old self. Perhaps the long winter and the first difficult days of marriage had taken a toll on him as they had on me. Maybe we’d get into a better routine.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the How I Came to Faith series, go here

How I Came to Faith: Early Days

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Gentle Reader,

We are going to dive into some deep doctrinal waters in weeks to come. I am planning to write a series on the Five Solas – their historical background, what they are, if they stand up to questioning. A project like this takes a great deal of research and careful planning, however, and I don’t want to leave the blog completely inactive while wading through piles of books and stacks of articles. So, as a lover of both story and debate, I thought it would be worthwhile to answer a question I have been asked on multiple occasions:

Why are you a Christian? 

The short answer is that it makes sense on psychological, social and historical grounds. (Please hold your objections to the end of the post). The short answer is always the end point of a long journey, though. It is that journey I wish to tell you about.

I was raised in a Christian home. Some of my earliest memories involve being at church, giggling with other little girls as we twirled in our fancy Sunday dresses. I was taught to pray, very simply, at a young age. My brother and I had cassette tapes that contained Bible stories and worship songs. My parents prayed and I knew that they read the Bible.

My understanding of life began with God. It was a given that He was real.

The thing I don’t remember is the day that I decided to ask Jesus to forgive me and be the Lord of my life. My mom tells me that I was 4 or 5. I came out of the bedroom I shared with my brother and told her, quite matter-of-factly, that I had asked Jesus into my heart. That was that.

I had a simple, innocent understanding of God. When I hit first grade, I told my parents that I was always the first one to finish my lunch and go outside to play. My mom asked me if I was lonely, being all by myself. I told her that I was fine; I would sit on the swings and talk to Jesus. He was my friend.

When I was 7, I received a Bible in my Easter basket. It was a New King James Version done up with Precious Moments illustrations and little devotions for kids. I loved that Bible. (I still have it). I loved that I could read the stories by myself, that I could highlight things I liked (I have a deep, abiding passion for highlighters) and that I could write in it. Never once did it occur to me that I couldn’t write in my Bible. I had questions. I read things that made me cry. Or made me laugh. Or made me think, “God is just SO COOL!” Why not make notes?

I was encouraged to read my Bible – and I was encouraged to ask questions. Faith in God was never presented to me as something requiring a closing of the mind. I was a kid who needed to understand things, and that need splashed across every area of life. Why did the American Revolution happen? Why does 2+2=4? How come dogs don’t like cats? Why can I float in the water? Why was David the only one willing to fight Goliath? How did God make the world? Why don’t some people believe in God?

My parents didn’t always have answers for me, but that never stopped me from asking.

Right about the time I got that Bible, we left the church we’d been involved in for as long as I could remember. That made me sad, but I understood that my parents thought it was the right decision for our family. For awhile we didn’t go anywhere, but eventually my parents began the process of finding a new church for us. This was when I became consciously aware of different ways to order a congregational worship service (of course, I didn’t know that’s what I was aware of). This fascinated me. Could various churches do things differently and still be worshiping God?

We settled into a new congregation, but never quite became part of it. My brother and I were very shy, so the large numbers of children in the Sunday School classes scared us to death. Mom and Dad, being shy themselves, never forced us to join in. I was glad for that, much preferring to sit in the adult service and listen to the pastor’s beautiful preaching. (It didn’t hurt that he had a British accent, and I was already a confirmed Anglophile). I took my Bible with me and, with help, found the passages that he preached from. I was learning.

Things continued in much the same way for a few years. Like most people, it wasn’t until junior high school that my questions about life and all I had been taught reached a deeper level. The ages of 12-14 are so hard; you’re beginning to shed childhood, responsibilities increase, hormones rage. Suddenly, everything I had known to be true was shadowed by a gigantic question mark. It didn’t help that I had started attending a private school, away from all my childhood friends – and that we had been going to a new church.

This is where we’ll stop for today. I encourage you to reflect on your own story.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the How I Came to Faith series, go here