Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Do We Really Need Them?

Do we really need those people in our Christian fellowship who insist that they are right about the Bible; that their interpretation is the correct and only one; that any and all deviation from what they believe and teach will put you out of fellowship with them and with the Lord?

Well ... yeah.

How different are the two extremes in Christianity today from what they were in century one?

Is a contemporary Christian who views scripture with amber-lensed spectacles - seeing it only as a great legal pad full of ordinances and rules - all that different from a Jewish Christian from century one, who had spent his or whole life trying to obey all 613 precepts?

Is a Christian of today who sees scripture through rose-colored glasses - viewing it as a pink release slip from law and responsibility - not similar in point of view to the Gentile Christian of early church times, who had always lived in liberty and at the mercy of the gods?

And isn't there a middle ground - not of compromise - but of clearly-focused scriptural interpretation, one that sees God's Word with untinted lenses, in all of its Technicolor glory?

Paul the apostle was trying to be the Holy Spirit's scribe when he wrote I Corinthians; coming, himself, from that strict Jewish point of view and also addressing Gentiles who had emerged from pagan "morality." His answer, in chapter 12, is that we all need each other.

As followers of Christ, we are all given one Spirit. If we call Him "Lord," it is by that Spirit. He gives different gifts, and different tasks for using them to serve - but in some measure, "God works all of them in all men." (He doesn't say "each of them in each person.")

But they are to be used for the common good.

Then Paul lists some gifts:
  • the message of wisdom

  • the message of knowledge

  • faith

  • gifts of healing

  • miraculous powers

  • prophecy

  • distinguishing between spirits

  • speaking in tongues

  • interpretation of tongues

Paul concludes the list by saying that the Spirit gives these gifts as He wills, - and the implication is "not as we will."

And he begins building one of the most valuable metaphors in all of Christian theology by saying "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by (or "with" or "in") one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks (Gentiles), slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink."

Each part of the body has its unique and vital function. Each is essential. Eyes need ears need hands need feet need ... well, modest parts.
"But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

"Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it."


So, what do spiritual gifts have to do with hermeneutics? What does all of that have to do with our need for each other?

Everything.

Everything we have and are and even believe (v.9; also Ephesians 2:8) is a gift of God. We call Christ "Lord" by His Spirit. Our backgrounds, heritage, natures and resulting perspective on scripture are all His gifts to us. Some of them make it harder to see scripture for what it is. Some make it easier.

- Just as there are some of us who are gifted with poor eyesight or other physical impediments to overcome, we are also challenged by God to transcend ourselves in our view of scripture as well as in our perception of Him through His creation (Romans 1:20).

In the same way Jesus opened the minds of His followers to scripture in century one (Luke 24:45), He promised them that His Spirit would "guide you into all truth" (John 16:13).

Here are some ways that I believe people with different views of scripture can fulfill their mutual needs for each other:
  1. They open each other's minds to the scripture by the Spirit working through them and through it; by calling their differences back to scripture to see what it clearly, untintedly says.

  2. They can keep each other in check, encouraging each other to avoid extreme positions on any matter which scripture leaves to conscience.

  3. They can appeal to God together in prayer for a clearer, less-tinted perspective on what His will for them is, expressed in His word.

  4. They can maintain active (dare I say "spirited"?) dialogue, which keeps them focused on Christ - rather than on peripheral issues of little or no importance - and that focus will naturally lead them to unity in purpose: serving Him in this world, rather than arguing about Him.

I confess that my lenses tend toward the pink. I have to work and work at it to wipe them clear. I have to work even harder to avoid judgment when I read or hear the words of folks whose lenses tend toward the yellow. You see, I've come to realize that the description in my opening paragraph's question can describe either extreme.

But I am convinced that, as differently-gifted parts of one body, we need each other.

We're His body in this world.

And He needs us to be one.

3 comments:

mmlace said...

Mine tend to be kinda rose-colored as well. Ironically, most of my closest brothers and sisters in the Lord have the yellow-colored ones! We disagree on alot of matters that are left to the conscience...and we even disagree on what some of those matters are. So do I need them? Absolutely. In fact, recently, they've been there for me when I've needed them the most. So we are able to put aside our differences for the sake of the common good and love each other anyway. Because, as you said, that's what Christ desires of us (John 13:35, John 17:20-23).

Also noteworthy is that Paul follows up those instructions about us being members of His body each with his/her own spiritual gifts, with "good ol' number 13", of which you commented a few posts back, "If we're not here for each other, then we're not here for God, either." And in Romans, when Paul is speaking of similar things, he precedes his instructions with a few of my favorite verses from the book of Romans, "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not covet,' and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law."--Rom. 13:8-10. I'm noticing a pattern there...

Paul ends his instructions on this particular topic in Romans by saying that when we can finally learn to accept each other, we will "overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit"--hey, another spiritual gift!

Milton Stanley said...

Don't have much to add to what you've said, but you've composed one fine word on hermeneutics, one that expresses the communal nature of the task. Thanks.

Luke said...

Excellent thoughts. I never get tired of Paul's body metaphor.