Monday, January 02, 2006

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 ( 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....]


At 1/02/2006 05:26:00 PM , Blogger Keith Brenton said...

I meant earlier in the discussion to insert an observation that the sin of Nadab and Abihu may have had more to do with firewater than strange fire (an opinion I expressed on Mike Cope's blog some time back). Otherwise, God's instruction to the grieving Aaron seems like something of a non-sequitur.

Assume I'm right to illustrate your point: that Nadab and Abihu whooped it up the night before, perhaps out of nervousness or joy or anticipation or some combination thereof. They were too potted to realize that it wasn't the right moment in the service to ignite the altar and it wasn't their place to do it.

Even if God hadn't specifically said "Don't get drunk before your perform your duties as priests," wouldn't observing nature - other people who have gotten drunk and tried to perform a complex task - have told them it was a stupid idea? Wouldn't the resounding answer of the Israelite community have been "NO!" if the night-before priests had polled them about whether they should have a few pints before bedtime?

One of the most fascinating scriptures to me is the context of Jeremiah 32:35, where God says that he made no commandment to Israel and Judah regarding sacrificing children (the same God who ordered Abraham to do so) nor did it ever enter His mind! And the conclusion I have to reach is that He thought better of them; that He thought it would never enter their minds.

And if there are things so self-obviously abominable about which God has spoken no specific "Thou shalt not ...", are there also things so self-evidently enriching that He has felt to need to say, "Thou shalt ..."?

At 1/02/2006 09:39:00 PM , Blogger Jared Cramer said...

Homosexuality is a dead end that does not profit the community or the species.

Hmm. Do natural occurances of homosexuality make this more difficult? I wonder, would you make the same argument regarding the sexuality of a sterile couple? Would their sexual interaction be wrong because it "does not profit the community or the species"?

At 1/02/2006 10:20:00 PM , Blogger PatrickMead said...

Jared, the two situations are not compatible. Homosexual relationships are not only a dead-end, they are entered into with that knowledge. Most sterile couples have no idea that such is the case until after they have made their commitment to each other.

Also, homosexual relationships -- even those few which occur in nature -- are harmful in at least two ways. The first, they do not build the strength of the group, whether that is a troop of baboons or a cul-de-sac in New Jersey. There are whole books on this so I will move on to the next. The sexual act between homosexuals is physically harmful (that's an exit, not an entrance). No wonder that so many sociologists who study them have commented on the anger, bitterness, etc. that they usually feel towards themselves and others (Michael Saia, a man who loves and cares for so very many of them, says they often refer to themselves as 'bitterness collectors.' That is certainly harmful to the community in which they exist) Their sexual activities -- again, something which perhaps should not be graphicaly described in this open blog -- usually progress, or regress, in more and more harmful forms. The majority admit to harmful and risky behavior and acts of degradation.

So, as said earlier.... not the same as a couple who would like to have children, but cannot.

At 1/03/2006 10:29:00 AM , Blogger pegc said...

Thank you for this post! You have answered some of my questions in such a poignant way! I appreciate your words and thoughts.

I have been waiting for several days for part three and hope there is a part four, five, etc.

We are part of a church family who has merged (coc and independent christian) this past year and are trying to create a vision. Your words and sermon have helped me define some of that vision for myself. Thank you again!

Please continue to post more on these thoughts and I will return again and again to read!

Peggy Corder in Texas

At 1/03/2006 01:20:00 PM , Blogger Jared Cramer said...

Let's say I was dating a girl who could never physically have children. Would we be wrong to get married? You seem to insinuate that such a marriage would be less good than one in which procreation is a possibility.

At 1/03/2006 01:27:00 PM , Blogger PatrickMead said...

I don't want this narrowly focused topic to diverge into one on homosexuality. You haven't addressed the other issues so I'll state them: when we approach homosexual conduct (not inclinations or desires. We all fight evil desires and inclinations daily) we find that it is expressly condemned in Scripture (arrow one), in nature (arrow two), and by two thousand years of church testimony (arrow three). To ignore those is to show a breathtaking arrogance, regardless of how pure and sweet our motives are.

At 1/03/2006 01:41:00 PM , Blogger TCS said...

I assume that you are including within the gathered community of believers an indwelling of the Holy Spirit. That the group is either purposely asking for divine guidance or is under the influence (even if they don't think they are).

I believe that we have not only proof texted the "Spirit and Truth" thing. That seems obvious to me. But we have also I believe missed the context of the statement. The woman's question has to do with worship location, the conversation has to do with revelation of God in the flesh right in front of her. He is The Truth. God is Spirit and not limited to place. True worshipers (those that worship Jesus because he is the truth) worship Jesus and worship everywhere, all the time. Living sacrifices.

At 1/03/2006 02:36:00 PM , Blogger Josh.Graves said...

I would add something about the consistent witness of the church through 20 centuries of thinking, prayer, and study--those who advocate homosexuality as an acceptable practice have to deal with the Spirit's working for two thousand years.

I understand Jared's position somewhat (though I don't agree). If Paul does not delete slavery in light of the power of the gopsel, what right does the church have to do so? Well, we have many good reasons to detest slavery, don't we. Many of the arguments that are used to fight slavery are used to justify homosexuality. This is just a side comment.

As always, homosexuality is the proverbial isn't a threat to the Christian church as say-greed, lust, impurity, racism, and sexism. At least not in the forseeable future.

I am convinced that if Jesus were to come back today, he would chastise fundamentalists for the way in which we constuct false boogeyman's or enemies when the real enemy is larger and more dangerous.


At 1/03/2006 09:42:00 PM , Blogger Bob Bliss said...

Not to inflame this discussion of homosexuality but to add another voice I would encourage the reading of an article in Touchstone Magazine ( called "The Gay Invention" by R. V. Young. Young is a professor of English at North Carolina State University and a Catholic. His basic argument is that the ancient Greeks did not have a category for someone with an exclusive same-sex orientation. Many men in society practiced both heterosexual activities (married and unmarried) and homosexual activities as a regular habit. Interesting read.

At 1/03/2006 10:53:00 PM , Blogger PatrickMead said...

Bob, evidence of pregnancy would be all that was needed. Go through chapter 22 and check your local rabbi!

On a different subject, I am cutting off this discussion concerning homosexuality. Remember -- that isn't what the columns are about!

At 1/03/2006 11:16:00 PM , Blogger Jared Cramer said...

Sorry, I wasn't trying to sidetrack the issue. I was just trying to try out the three arrows on one of the examples you provided. The following explanation is a little lengthy, so my apologies in advance. I've bracketed it for those interested, but I don't think it's the key issue that I am curious about.

When it comes down to it, I find your three arrows remarkably close to the Anglican triad. But, I don't think the three arrows hit the mark when it comes to homosexuality.

#1 Nature, I don't think that nature argues what you're arguing. In fact, I believe that it is the arrow that works against your conclusion. Homosexuality and bisexuality are found in nature (article). Your second reason seems to be that it does not help the group (I assume because of a lack of procreation). However, that can be found in heterosexual relationships (e.g. sterile partners) and we certainly never condemn that, at least in our tradition. Your third reason seems to be that it is naturally harmful. However, this is only the case with male/male anal intercourse (an act that has other naturally affirming evidence, e.g. the natural stimulation of the prostate). I wonder if you would use this same argument to decry anal intercourse in heterosexual relationships.

Scripture isn't an open and shut case. After all, sexual norms don't seem to be immutable (there was a time, it seems, when polygamy was an accepted practice).

Those who affirm faithful monogamous same-sex relationships would say that the homosexuality condemned in Scripture and Tradition is the chosen perversion of heterosexuals. Most researchers believe that sexual orientation is unchangeable. The only exceptions (e.g. NARTH) are those who already have prior conservative religious convictions.

The psychological and spiritual brokenness and bitterness you reference, I believe, is more due to the dual rejection homosexuals have from both their culture and the Church. I don't believe it is inherent in same-sex relationships.

I think that perhaps another test case reveals a difficulty in your application of the three arrows: slavery. It has only been recently that the majority of Christians have declared it immoral. Scripture, thousands of years of tradition would argue that it isn't.

My question, Patrick, is what does the church do with those who apply the three arrows differently or come to different interpretations than others. Do we love and affirm their sincerity? Or do we reject them. While we don't know each other terribly well, I feel like I know your heart, a bit, and what I think is key to the Church today, is that we learn to accept those who differ. That's why I look forward with great excitement to sharing Communion with you on Sunday. Though we surely disagree, I know that you know that our kin, our shared blood as Christians, runs deeper than that. I'm not worried about rejection from you (though I face it from many other people dear to me).

At 1/04/2006 12:23:00 AM , Blogger eaglewood said...

I have been following this thread with some excitement because it correlated with something I have been writing about. The thing is I have not been able to put in words the same way you have. I have had some concern about (and is part of my calling) about how believers approach one another when it comes to what they believe. Your talk about the Spirit and Truth has hit home with what I have been trying to say.
A lot of people who seem to have a calling to protect the Truth of the Word seem to forget about the Spirit of the Word. We forget (myself included) that The Word is only part of G_d’s revelation of Himself to us. It is as you have said the final arbiter, but it is not the only thing that testifies of His existence. The Word even talks about the very rocks crying out His glory.

Thank you for these posts as they have been a refreshing drink for my soul.

At 1/07/2006 09:10:00 AM , Blogger extremist said...

Jared said:

I think that perhaps another test case reveals a difficulty in your application of the three arrows: slavery. It has only been recently that the majority of Christians have declared it immoral. Scripture, thousands of years of tradition would argue that it isn't.

This is frequently cited by those who want to discredit tradition and justify novel interpretations of Scripture. However, it is simply not true.

Christians did not approve of the type of slavery familiar to Americans in the pre-Civil War South where people were kidnapped and forced into bondage. In fact, Christians were in the forefront of opposition to such immoral practices. This is apparent even from Scripture:

1 Tim 1:9-11: "We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me."

At 1/10/2006 12:21:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We forget that The Word is only part of G_d’s revelation of Himself to us."


because we forget this...the very word of God has become an idol before the Lord.

At 1/12/2006 09:52:00 PM , Blogger Jared Cramer said...

So, it seems, extremist believes that slavery under Roman conditions wasn't immoral? Or that the continued slavery existing around the world may or may not be immoral. If the idea that a human being is not a commodity to be owned is a "novel interpretation of Scripture," so be it. I, however, believe that it is an interpretation that holds true to the heart of both the Old and New Covenant, though those covenants were delivered in culturally limited ways.

At 1/16/2006 09:11:00 AM , Blogger extremist said...

No, Jared; please don't twist my words. If I wanted to approve of all slavery in the Roman Empire or slavery that exists today, I am capable of doing so on my own. I didn't and wouldn't. Quite the opposite.

You argued that "Scripture, thousands of years of tradition would argue that [slavery] isn't [immoral]."

My point was simply that given Scripture's condemnation of slave traders, you seem to be mistaken about that.

You said:

If the idea that a human being is not a commodity to be owned is a "novel interpretation of Scripture," so be it.

It appears that you entirely missed my point. You're the one who asserted that Scripture approves of slavery -- not me. In my view, the weight of both Scripture and Tradition is against slavery. The abolitionist movement in America, for example, was led by Christians who were motivated by their faith.

At 1/17/2006 10:32:00 PM , Blogger Jared Cramer said...

Who were motivated by their faith to reject the shallow interpretations of a few selected Scriptures in light of the intent and message of Scripture as a whole. I would argue the Scriptural arguments against homosexual are just as limited as Scriptural arguments in favor of slavery or women remaining silent in worship.

The three arrows work when one is concerned with the heart of Scripture as interpreted within a community of faith in light of the current culture. It does not work when one proof-texts small snippets of Scripture without regard to original context, current knowledge or the movement of the Spirit within certain groups with which we may be uncomfortable.

No word twisting was meant. Sorry if that is what came across. :-)


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home