They called me an Evangelical Part 4
Solid Food for the Mature!
“Our minister is going to another church”, Marian announced the following week as we cleared the table. “They’ve put me on the selection committee for his replacement. I’m hoping you’ll give me some clues as to what to look for.”
“Well hopefully, the issue we’re tackling today will have some relevance”, said Larry. “Ministers have an important teaching and training role which can affect the life of a whole church. So one of the key questions is: What will they teach? And what authority do they attach to the Bible?”
“You had a neat summary last week of our Christ-centred emphasis”, said Pete. “Can you do it again? What should be our approach to the Bible?”
“Funny you should ask”, said Larry, “I just happened to anticipate such a question and wrote something down – it’s a bit of a mouthful.”
Believing the Scriptures to be God-inspired and fully reliable, we take them as our primary authority for what to believe and how to live, and by them we judge other potentially helpful sources of knowledge of God, such as human reason, church tradition, and personal experience; the final touchstone of all interp¬retation being the recorded words and works of Jesus.
“Actually,” said Pete, I find that very clear, although a lot depends on what we mean by ‘God-inspired’, doesn’t it?”
“Quite right”, said Larry. “It amounts to this. The original disciples of Jesus had direct access to him while he was on earth. They came to believe his words, especially when they were so spectacularly backed up by his deeds. But they knew that later generations wouldn’t have such direct access. Jesus said he’d send his Spirit to guide them in passing the word on. All the authors of our New Testament were in that first generation and when they wrote things down, they didn’t doubt that God was helping them to get the story right.”
“All Scripture is inspired by God”, I quoted, showing off a bit.
“Yes, and that same verse in 2 Timothy goes on to say that Scripture’s purpose is to teach, correct, and train the maturing Christian for ‘every good work’. Interestingly, some Bible translators in the early twentieth century, strongly influenced by Liberal scholarship, changed that to read “every Scripture inspired by God is useful . . .”, which leaves the door open for readers to pick and choose which parts of Scripture they feel are inspired. Others spoke of Scripture as being inspiring rather than inspired – a very subjective criterion. Such adaptations don’t do justice to the original Greek for ‘inspired’, which is literally ‘God-breathed.’ You don’t ignore or cut out passages you don’t like. You wrestle with them in the light of the whole story. The 16th century Reformers constantly stressed the importance of ‘comparing Scripture with Scripture.’ It’s at this point that human reason submits to what is clearly affirmed in Scripture. So must the church.”
“Yes but”, said Pete, “some people have weird interpretations of what the Scriptures say.” He turned to Marian: “like the woman who knocked on our door yesterday.” She nodded.
“True”, said Larry, “A lot depends on what we think are correct ways to interpret the Bible. The Reformers picked up many clues from previous centuries, and especially from what the Bible says about itself. For instance, they stressed the need to interpret the Old Testament in the light of the New, and both in the light of what Jesus said and did.” “Mind you,” he added, “while Liberals are often guilty of changing things they don’t like, I’ve also known Evangelicals who ignored passages they found awkward. We must take the whole story into account, and refer back constantly to the big picture.”
“I was thinking about that”, I said, “in connection with the absence of teaching when I was young about spiritual gifts and lay ministries. Despite the fact that many New Testament passages clearly highlight these aspects, churches then were often one-man bands with the rest of us following like sheep.”
“Which just shows”, said Larry, “that we must constantly return to Scripture, however well we think we know it all, to recalibrate our understanding. A mature church is a church whose people study the Scriptures regularly – for themselves, as well as through Sunday services – and obey what they hear God saying through them.”
“So”, Marian came in, “my committee will need to get a clear idea of what our applicants think of the Bible, and how they use it?”
“I’ll come back with some more queries next week”, said Marian. Nobody questioned her assumption that we’d all be back. Try and keep us away!
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