A Final Window Cleaning

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   In the symbolic house of faith we are imagining, the windows through which the light enters are the Scriptures (though most of what we have to say about the New Testament will be conveyed in the coming sections).  However, in order for us to see clearly, we need to remove a possible misunderstanding. Is this kind of focus on the Bible fundamentalism? What about the claims of science? Of historical criticism? What about sitting on the ‘stool’ whose legs also include reason and tradition?  Shouldn’t we leave Biblicism to the Baptists?

    The main point to make is that we believe that the Bible conveys God’s Word, and that it does so through what it actually says. We should not suppose there is some truth behind the words, or to be reconstructed from the words, which is His Word. In that case, something else other than the Scripture would have the final word. Believing this about Scripture distinguishes Christianity understood as the inheritance from the apostles.  As a result, those other ‘sources,’ reason or tradition or perhaps experience, are those things by which we endeavor to hear and understand the Scriptures. What has been believed before and passed on to us must be honored in our endeavor to hear aright.  And historical criticism is simply learning about the culture and language of the time of writing so that we can hear better.  Finally, all of the above does not mean that the writing could not have a history of editing and passing on: The Holy Spirit can just as well work through these.

       We come to know things in different ways, according to their areas of life. We must in theology struggle to bring what we know about biology with what the Scripture says about the origin and purpose of the world and human from God. We need to recognize that a passage like Genesis 1-2 is not of a genre or type like that of a biology text book. Scientific theories are offered and sometimes change, but they are important as they describe the real world that is God’s. So does Genesis 1-2, but in the genre of origin story, and with the question of the source and purpose of all things in mind.  For these reasons a dialogue between ways of knowing is an important part of theology, but does not contradict the central claim of our faith that in the words of the Bible are found the Word of God, and that these books together measure whether any other kind of claim is from God or not.

Read Can the Bible be Authoritative? by author, N.T. Wright and discuss.

Law and Gospel; A Sidebar

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   Traditional catechism, i.e., teaching to prepare for confirmation, centered on the exposition of the 10 Commandments (along with the Creeds and the Lord’s Prayer, which we shall consider later).   So, as part of our consideration of the Old Testament, we should reflect on the Commandments.  But first let us say something about how the tradition, and especially its Reformation part, has understood the law in general.  As Paul makes abundantly clear, the law cannot save us because we cannot save ourselves by our efforts, though the law in and of itself is good and holy. However, this does not mean that the law is not important to us. It does three important things: first, it restrains evil in this time in which we await the coming of the Kingdom of God. Secondly, it shows us our need to God’s grace. If the measuring rod of holiness is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, none of us has a chance!  Third of all, it can, gradually and modestly, be a set of guideposts and encouragements on the road for the pilgrim. 

  The Ten commandments stand as the beginning, the cornerstone of the Torah which God gives to Moses. (Luther also finds in them a kind of universal guide for the human race, individually and corporately, since they understand thoroughly our nature and standing before God). They cannot be separated from His revelation to us, nor from His saving acts at the Red Sea. Theology and ethics are one; He has opened graciously the road we are to follow. 

   The first commandments have to do with God setting us apart as a special people in a special covenantal relation which He has initiated with us (1). He alone is our God. He has a particular character, a name (3), and has done specific things on our behalf (1). He has set apart time for us to recall Him, and to worship Him (4).  All this comes from Him; the One who made us without our help has now called us (2).

    While the first four commandments have to do with our relationship with God, the latter four have to do with how brothers and sisters in this covenant with the God of Israel would consistently treat one another, so as to be a people set apart for His praise and purposes. He gives the gift of children, and He gives parents the responsibility of passing on the faith, so they must be honored (5). Life and death lie properly in His hands (6), as does the marriage relationship for the sake of the procreation of children (7). If our life is grounded in His promise which is true, we need to mirror it in our honesty and trustworthiness one with another. (9). Not only our speech, but also our property bespeaks (or doesn’t) this covenant, this special bond initiated in Him (8), which includes treating your neighbor respectfully as belonging to God and not to you (10).

Sing ‘All People that on Earth Doth Dwell’ and discuss.

 

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