Sunday, September 18, 2011

Christian Believer: Week Three {Scripture}

This week in our Christian Believer course, we talked about "Scripture" (God's Book for God's People).  It was interesting, but for some reason, the conversation was a bit slow getting started.  By the end, though, we had some great discussion.

We started out watching the video, and it made several important points regarding Scripture:
1. Scripture is full of doctrine, but there is also a doctrine of Scripture itself.
2. The Bible is God's way of revealing Himself.
3. God is the source of the Scripture.  It is inspired (God-breathed).
4. The Bible has authority.
5. The Bible is the source of what the church believes-- doctrine.

After the video, we discussed our readings.  We read some about King Josiah, and how, of all the Old Testament kings, he was one of the few who actually headed God's word and then we moved to Psalms.  One of my favorite passages was Psalm 119.  My favorite parts were "I have hidden your word in my heart" (Psalm 119:11), "I am a stranger on Earth" (Psalm 119:19) and "Your statutes...are the joy of my heart" (Psalm 119:112).  I also really like 2 Peter 3:16 because it basically says "some things are hard to understand".  It brings me comfort that the Bible itself says that it's not supposed to be easy to understand!

The readings in our study manual discussed both the Old and New Testaments.  I love this sentence about how the first Christians viewed the Old Testament- "They believed that the One whom they called Lord was anticipated in this Book".  It reminds me of what value should still be placed on those books!  It went on to talk about the gospels and how they are "biographies" of Christ, but they are so urgent and insistent, some readers don't want to call them that.  Finally, the reading said of the book of Revelation: "A remarkable book written to the people in a time of severe persecution to sustain them in their knowledge that at last their Lord would triumph". Beautiful summation, no?

The reading went on to try to articulate why the Bible, which might be considered unattractive to the casual reader, stirs us so.  It stated that the Bible is all about the incredibly challenging, but also very significant, subject of God's relationship with the human race. It gives a "new dimension" to our self worth- if we are important enough to be pursued by the eternal God, there is more to us than meets the eye!

In our discussion, we talked about the Bible's importance and the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.  That is- we as Methodists (and more broadly, as Protestants) place a unique emphasis on the Scripture.  In our churches, Scripture is elevated about tradition, experience, and really most anything else.  In our other book, we had a reading from the Formula of Concord and think it stated our believes so well.  "We believe, teach, and confess that there is only one rule and norm according to which all teaching (dogmata) and teachers are to be appraised and juged, which none other than the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments...Other writings, whether of the fathers or more recent theologians, no matter what their names may be, cannot be regarded as possessing equal status to Holy Scripture, but must all be considered to be subordinate to it...." Another reading from the Docrinal Standards of the Untied Methodist Church states "The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation".

One member of our group questioned Peyton about his beliefs, being a former Catholic.  Peyton answered that although he thought sometimes our churches did themselves a disservice by ignoring tradition, Sola Scriptura is the reason he left the Catholic church.

That said, there was a paragraph toward the end of our reading that struck a cord with me.  "Theologians sometimes remind us that we should not confuse the Bible with the Word of God.  That is, our Lord Jesus Christ is the Word of God incarnate, while the Bible is a document of many words and not the Word of God in the same sense Christ is.....While the Bible is not to be confused with the Word made flesh, and is by no means to be revered in that fashion, it is nevertheless crucial to knowledge of Jesus Christ."

I thought that was so interesting.  Because, just as we obviously see any tradition that puts anything equal with the authority of Scripture as flawed, maybe sometimes we elevate the Bible too much.  It's a neat thought to realize that there is something above Biblical knowledge and that is Christ Himself.  And I would add- a personal relationship with Him.  Another thing I think protestants struggle with is that although we say that we don't put anything equal to the Scripture, sometimes inadvertently, we do.  I know many Christians (myself included) who sometimes unfortunately, subconsciously elevate the words of people like C.S. Lewis or Beth Moore a bit too much.

The readings from our other book were also interesting this week.

One passage from Jerome pointed out that "Scripture offers itself in such a way that an uneducated congregation can more easily learn from it" and that "both the learned and the unlearned can discover different meanings in it". So true!

Ulrich Zwingli, a Swiss reformer, points to the importance of knowing the Bible- "For if we are not versed in Scripture, how are we to tell whether the priest who teaches us is expounding the pure truth unadulterated by his own sinful desires?"  I think this is so important and I'm glad that so many before us have made the Bible truly accessible so we are not entirely dependent on the clergy to teach it to us.

Finally, a twentieth century theologian, Alan Richardson, says "The inhabitants of the world may learn righteousness when God's judgments are in earth, but only if they have listened to the thunder in the voices of the prophets of the Old Covenant; they will learn to hope amidst the chaos of twentieth century civilization, only if they have caught the authentic Galilean accent of the New Testament, as it speaks of the sure mercies of God's covenanted grace.  The Bible, the Old Testament as well as the New, teaches us the vocabulary of the divine language; unless we have learnt to understand this tongue, the words of God spoken through the events of our day will be lost in the bale of conflicting voices, and the meaning of the twentieth century crisis will remain hidden from us."

Possibly my favorite passage was one by John Wesley and is the perfect closing and summation to this post: "I want to know one thing, the way to heaven- how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: for this very end he came from heaven.  He hath written it down in a book.  O give me that book!  At any price, give me the Book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me.  Le me be homo unium libri [a man of one book]."

1 comment:

Mallory Pickering said...

I feel a little conflicted about the Zwingli quote, which seems to be representative of contemporary evangelical attitudes. Of course, I am grateful for the accessibility of Scripture. However, I do think a negative aspect of that is that people make themselves and their own judgment TOO authoritative. Because of our modern dispositions, we are more distrusting than ever of authority, including the authority of ministers. We have no concept of submitting to a pastor or to the authority of the Church. I think that's a little sad and one of the negative effects of the Reformation.