August 2009

When I can’t think of anything to blog, I pass on links. Here are a few that have tickled my fancy lately:

  • American Orthodox History, my new favorite podcast. Matthew Namee — an independent Orthodox historian — has decided to explore the basically neglected history of Orthodoxy in the new world. (I took Thomas Howell’s otherwise excellent History of Religion in America, and I don’t recall that Orthodoxy was ever discussed, even though it has been here longer than, for example, the Southern Baptists.) Namee is still feeling his way around podcasting, but if you like history, you will enjoy it.
  • Read Uncyclopedia’s entry on Eastern Orthodoxy. You need to know a bit about Orthodoxy and Church history, but if you do it’s hilarious.

I don’t generally like blog posts that are mostly quotes, something I’m guilty of before and will be again. But there are two quotes that have been rattling around my head for the last few weeks, and they help me hold my uneasy place in what some have dubbed the post-evangelical (and in my case, the pre-Orthodox) wilderness.

I couldn’t explain why if you asked.

The first is from St. Basil:

At such a time, then, there is need of great effort and diligence that the Churches may in some way be benefited. It is an advantage that parts hitherto severed should be united. Union would be effected if we were willing to accommodate ourselves to the weaker, where we can do so without injury to souls; since, then, many mouths are open against the Holy Spirit, and many tongues whetted to blasphemy against Him, we implore you, as far as in you lies, to reduce the blasphemers to a small number, and to receive into communion all who do not assert the Holy Spirit to be a creature, that the blasphemers may be left alone, and may either be ashamed and return to the truth, or, if they abide in their error, may cease to have any importance from the smallness of their numbers.

Let us then seek no more than this, but propose to all the brethren, who are willing to join us, the Nicene Creed. If they assent to that, let us further require that the Holy Spirit ought not to be called a creature, nor any of those who say so be received into communion. I do not think that we ought to insist upon anything beyond this. For I am convinced that by longer communication and mutual experience without strife, if anything more requires to be added by way of explanation, the Lord Who works all things together for good for them that love Him, will grant it.

The second, from St. Paul (here in New King James rendering):

Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.

For two-and-a-half years Susannah and I taught a Wednesday night class at Cornerstone. For two years we had a Sunday class.

Susannah led the teaching for the most part, though I would step in from time to time. Somewhere in the last year, we segued away from teaching lessons (stories) to teaching the scripture memorization literature from Scripture Memory Fellowship.

That all ended this month after a lot of burnout and some other considerations I won’t go into right now.

But due to a scheduling conflict, we were given a bonus week and we decided to play the SMF game “Tic Tac Know,” a kind of combination of Tic-Tac-Toe and Bible trivia. It can actually be a pretty good instructional tool, but some of the questions are pretty esoteric for 8-year-old children.

(Real example — Q: Jesus said the Pharisees are like what? A: Ravening wolves.)

And that is where the fun began.

Susannah was having a hard time finding a card that the students would know, so she finally decided to make one up.

“What do you do to be saved?” she asked.

We were met with blank stares. This was when I knew we were in trouble. Two years teaching, and we get blank stares to, “What do you do to be saved?”

Slowly, one of the students raised his hand.

“Ummmm…Be baptized?”

I was tempted to give him the point for a second; after all, II Peter 3:21 says baptism saves us. But Mark 16:16 says that those who believe and are baptized will be saved, so even if I was going to give him credit, he was still missing half of the equation.

Besides, he was guessing.

Then, another student shot her hand up and blurted out, “You get prayed for, and then you try to not be bad.”

At this point, we were hanging our heads.

No, we said, to be saved you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Oh, they said. Yeah, that.

So, next question, this one directly from the game: what are three proofs of Christ’s bodily resurrection?

Again, silence.

At this point, I would have taken anything, even, “You ask me how I know he lives — he lives within my heart.”

Instead, one student, mulling it over said, “Easter.”

Yes, we said, Easter is when we celebrate that Jesus raised from the dead. But how do we know that he was raised?

“Well,” she said, “I know that he was killed at Christmas.”

The answers only got more creative, including, “Like if his skin was still there (in the tomb), but he wasn’t?”

The hysterical nature of the entire event was only compounded by the fact that Susannah had a little trouble spitting out the question, and ended up asking for three proofs of Christ’s bodily erection, not unlike the time the pastor kept saying that our prayers are a sweet incest to God.

We made it through the rest of the night without any more serious hiccups if you don’t count one very defiant second-grader who refused to obey, but the entire experience was a pretty solid cap on the end of our teaching experience.

We taught these children for two years. Genesis. Exodus. The Gospels. Scores and scores of scripture about salvation, God’s promises and eternal life.

And this was how it ended.

Lord, have mercy.

In Mississippi, there is a ballot petition going around under the name of Personhood Mississippi.

Basically, the voters hope to put it to a referendum and amend the state constitution to define human life as beginning at fertilization and give full legal rights to — I guess — zygotes, embryos and fetuses.

I realize that this is an effort to effectively make abortion illegal in Mississippi, and I believe that induced abortion at any stage is a grave evil.

Something about defining humanity through a ballot initiative, however, rubs me the wrong way.

Maybe it’s because it gives too much power to the god of state. It is no longer, “God says this is life,” but rather, “Mississippi says this is life.”

Then — and this is my real concern — there’s precedent.

If a group of voters can constitutionally define “life” one way, what’s to stop a mobilized group that wants to define it a different way from doing the same thing? At that point, it’s no longer judicial activism legislating evil, but the pure will of the people — 50 percent plus one.

Slippery slope may be considered a logical fallacy, but I happen to believe in it.

EDIT: Apparently, the Diocese of Jackson has released a statement  not endorsing the petition because the bishop thinks it might hinder national efforts to end abortion.

There were a few rallying cries in the Reformation. One of those was Sola Scriptura, or “scripture alone.” Though there are varying degrees of nuance attached to it, the generally accepted definition of sola scriptura is that it is “the doctrine that the Bible is the only infallible or inerrant authority for Christian faith…and that scripture interprets scripture.”

That is contrasted with the Roman Catholic view, quoted here from the Catechism to make sure I don’t screw it up:

The Second Vatican Council indicates three criteria for interpreting Scripture in accordance with the Spirit who inspired it.78

112 1. Be especially attentive “to the content and unity of the whole Scripture”. Different as the books which compose it may be, Scripture is a unity by reason of the unity of God’s plan, of which Christ Jesus is the center and heart, open since his Passover.79

The phrase “heart of Christ” can refer to Sacred Scripture, which makes known his heart, closed before the Passion, as the Scripture was obscure. But the Scripture has been opened since the Passion; since those who from then on have understood it, consider and discern in what way the prophecies must be interpreted.80

113 2. Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church”. According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (“. . . according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church”81).

114 3. Be attentive to the analogy of faith.82 By “analogy of faith” we mean the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation.

In short: scripture is to be interpreted in light of the church’s traditions. Orthodoxy has a similar belief, defining Tradition as “that which has lived on in life of the Church.”

So, for the Catholic reader, there is already an interpretive framework in place — Holy Tradition.

But for the Protestant, there is no interpretive frame work, unless you consider scripture itself to be the interpretive framework (and, perhaps you can). That leads to the problem, however, of how you ensure good, sound theology when exegeting — how do you keep people from coming up with crazy ideas after reading the Bible?

For the true Protestants (I’ll get to evangelicals in a moment), that means confessionalism. For example, the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod says this:

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod accepts the Scriptures as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, and subscribes unconditionally to all the symbolical books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God. We accept the Lutheran Confessions as articulated in the Book of Concord of 1580 because they are drawn from the Word of God and on that account regard their doctrinal content as a true and binding exposition of Holy Scripture and as authoritative for all pastors, congregations and other rostered church workers of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

Likewise, Reformed churches require their pastors to teach within the bounds of the Westminster Confession, and — to stretch it a bit — the Southern Baptists require their missionaries (though not their pastors, per se) to only believe within the boundaries of their continually evolving confession.

What bothers me about this is thus: is it really true to your own beliefs about sola scriptura to say, “We believe scripture to be the only authority, but because we believe this book or document to be a proper exposition of scripture, it’s authoritative, too?”

Looking back at much of the Auburn Avenue controversy, half of the arguments about their beliefs weren’t “is it scriptural?” (half were), but rather, “is it in line with our confession?”

But at least within confessionalism there are boundaries to keep people from straying too far from the shore.

Evangelicals, on the whole, don’t really stick to confessions beyond a very non-binding statement of church beliefs that are something to the effect of “We believe in God, and Jesus is coming back soon to rapture us all.” I have personally heard a couple of preachers/evangelists say, “I am sincerely convinced that anyone who reads this Bible passage under the guidance of the Holy Spirit will come to the same conclusion I have.” I can only assume they were expressing confidence in the Holy Spirit.

But with no interpretive framework (except, perhaps, dispensationalism), people have become not only independent, fundamental Baptists, but disciples of Creflo Dollar and snake-handling Pentecostals as well.

Perhaps I have finally come to a place where I truly understand what a catch-22 is.