Three Arrows (the tree thing, part three)
I don't care much for long posts so I must direct those who want a lot more details on this to our church website (www.rochestercoc.org). You can click on the streaming audio link on the left side of the website and hear the sermon I delivered yesterday that sketched out our direction and the reason for it.
Remember our earlier mention of Joseph and Mary and Nadab and Abihu? The old adage "just read the Bible" didn't work very well there. This is not to lower our respect for Scripture for it is the Word of God. However, the scripture itself tells us that there is more to our walk than just words on a page. Jesus warned that the people around him erred because they didn't know the scriptures or the power of God (or, via The Message, "the way God works."). How can we know the way God works?
God gives us three arrows, all three of which point to Him. There is Scripture, the gathered community of believers, and nature. God warns us not to try to interpret the scripture in isolation for no scripture is of private interpretation (2 Peter 1). When I get what I think might be flash of insight I run it past a couple of our elders and some of the staff first to see what they think. I will not present my ideas, unchecked or unmoderated, to the larger community. What does the community think? When Jesus (John 5) was defending who He was and what He was teaching He referred people not only to the scriptures, but also to witnesses in the community and to what He had done in the open (nature).
So, we ask "What does the Bible say?" and we also work with the community to say "What does the law say? How do you read it?" As Jesus said, we learn to agree with each other along the way knowing that if we agree with each other, He has promised to agree with us (Matthew 18). THAT is why there doesn't have to be a Book of Worship, a Book of How To Pick Elders, a Book of Acceptable Theologians, etc. ad nauseum. The community works out these details.
Paul also told us that what could be known about God could be seen in what He created (Romans 1). Alexander Campbell told us that two books tell of us God; the Bible and the book of nature. "Nature" consists of more than bugs and beasts; it is the totally of what lies outside of our spirits. We can see right and wrong (re: C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity"). We can see that life is often "nasty, brutish, and short" and "red in tooth and claw." We can see that earth is a temporary home, that everything is either eating or being eaten, and that what we do -- whether we are people or wolves -- is more often learned behavior than eternal principle. We see that groups survive, individuals don't, and that stragglers are taken first. I could go on and on here (and do in my sermon) but the principle is understandable enough already, I'm sure.
Sometimes we get two of these right and not the third. For example, let's say a church reads the Bible in such a way as to allow abortion and the ordination of practicing homosexuals. That church community agrees that that is what God accepts. But nature doesn't accept it. In nature we see that it is repugnant for a mother to kill her child (with some exceptions which do nothing but shock us) and that homosexuality is a dead end that does not profit the community or the species.
Or, let's say they read nature to say that men just can't be monogamous and their community of believers -- like some of the renegade Mormon sects today -- say that multiple wives is a great idea. We can then reference the Bible to show that, while once allowed, polygamy is not God's plan for man and adultery is never acceptable.
Or.... nature tells us that joy is wonderful. Kids clap and dance, otters play, people thrill and chill when their emotions are engaged. In the Bible we see David dancing wearing -- well, let's just say some found his attire and actions shocking -- and when someone complained, God punished the complainer and accepted the over-the-top celebrator. But then you find a community that looks upon any outward expression of emotion to be suspect and unacceptable... and you have a problem.
All three must agree. I would submit that the Bible is the final arbiter, period, but that it cannot be read in isolation, apart from community and observation. Jesus referred to all three arrows that point to God. Only when all three point the same way can we walk confidently towards heaven.
[and about the Democract comment last time... good comebacks, people! I am neither Democrat or Republican. My politics are selectively libertarian and are viewed as mealy mouthed liberal or slobbering right wing troglodyke according to who's looking. Good thing I don't plan to live down here forever....]