10 April 2010
Interesting! Acts 10:40 God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible 41 not to all the people but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God… who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead… 11:1 the Gentile also had received the word of God
[that is, they received the good news of peace through Jesus, preach by witnesses… and confirmed by God through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon those who preached the message.]
Okay. So, apparently (in this case at least) the apostles did not “use the scriptures” to point Cornelius and his group to Jesus. But Peter’s mention of “the prophets” certainly referred to the scriptural record. And it is quite likely that the Roman centurion, Cornelius, as a devout believer in the Jewish God, would be aware of the Jewish (OT) scriptures and law.
And our “Christian scriptures” (NT) were actually written by these “witnesses” – including Peter himself. So, while, our own walk/ journey/ experience with Jesus is a testimony/ witness we can certainly use in “preaching the good news” to others, so also is the written witness of those who actually knew Jesus during His time here on earth. And, in fact, their witness has a level and aspect to it which ours cannot, since they not only had walks similar to ours (after Jesus’ ascension), but they also had a “physical walk” with Jesus which we, now, do not have in our earthly lifetime.
I mention all this because I think that sometimes the concept of “sola scriptura” has been taken to an extreme which refuses to recognize anything but a reasoned explication of scripture (therefore setting aside the role of the Holy Spirit in teaching believers, and yes, setting aside one’s own personal walk as a witness to Jesus), no doubt in fear of anything that isn’t clearly rational. On the other hand, there has been (likely in reaction to the aforementioned extreme), a recent swing to the opposite extreme, where scripture, if recognized to any degree at all, is only seen as a “backup” to “sharing my personal walk with Jesus.”
I have recently heard from people who I really like, and who I know really do want to share Jesus, make comments such as these:
“The Bible is really just a group of written-down experiences of people who walked with Jesus/God. And they happened in times and cultures that have a lot of aspects we don’t relate to. So while it doesn’t hurt to read scripture, what is more important is for us to share our own experiences, which are more understandable for people today anyway. And remember, even your experience and my experience won’t be just the same, so differences in how we present Jesus are normal and nothing to really worry about.”
“You don’t need to do Bible studies with people to help them to grow in their walk and know how to live as a believer. You just need to walk with Jesus yourself, and tell your own stories, and show God’s love to people in practical ways, and they will understand, and learn to follow God and live in godly ways like you do.”
“Church sermons and Bible stories are really just repetitive teaching, and keep people from getting out there and living their faith. If you sit and listen to Sunday morning sermons, by three or so years you will have learned all the Bible stories, and after that it is just repetition. What you need to do is get out and walk the walk, and then you’ll really keep learning, knowing God more and more, and others will see Him in you, and come to Him.”
“ If you really do want to use the scriptures to teach others, and to learn more yourself, you don’t need the Old Testament. It just gets you all bogged down in rules and regulations that don’t apply to us anyway. Just stick to the New Testament, and best of all, to the gospels.”
The trouble is, what I see happening in these lines of reasoning, is a lack of depth. People do come to know Jesus. But knowing based only on present experience, and particularly on one’s own personal experience, and perhaps the experience of one or two mentors, is shallow because there is a lack of understanding.
Look at this in terms of a marriage relationship. My husband is a First Nations person. He is also a believing Christian. He is also leary of “church activities.” I realized those things very quickly by simply observing the color of his skin and the information on his “status card;” observing that he prayed to the Lord Jesus with great love and devotion; and the fact that he avoided most church activities. And if I had stayed at that level of knowing my husband, I would have probably drawn some “logical” conclusion such as “First Nation people who are Christians are leary of church activities.”
Now, if I were a new believer, and the person who shared Jesus with me was my “example of Christ” – as I could have generalized my husband to be an example of “First Nations people” – and I just accepted their life example as I saw it at that point, and accepted their little story of their relationship with Christ as a valid and complete enough lesson about what it is to be a believer, and accepted their declaration that “my walk” so far is also valid and complete enough as it is, and that it isn’t necessary to go digging into all those old scriptures… I wonder what conclusions I might start drawing about relationship with Christ, relationship with other believers – and even what the Good News Jesus came to bring us really is.
Going back to my relationship with my husband, over the years I have learned something of his history, related to his avoidance of “church activities.” Some of what I have learned, has come from him. He has told me a bit about his experience at a church-run “residential school” as a child. But he hasn’t told me much, because it was not a positive experience, and he cannot bring himself to dig up old pain. And if I had left it at that, no doubt I could now conclude that “First Nations people who are Christians are leary of church activities, which has something to do with painful residential school activities.” Another “logical” conclusion perhaps, but, as I’ve learned, not the full truth, by any stretch.
Over the years, therefore, I have investigated other sources of information about residential schools and their life-long effects on the children forced to attend them. And on the parents who lost their children. And the cultures where family life was destroyed for generations. And I now understand that many very evil things happened in those places (and some good things, too, to some children in some of the schools), in the name of “church.” And that therefore my husband’s personal perception of what “church” really is, has been very colored by his own experiences – just as my perception of “church” really is, were colored by my very different childhood experiences related to “church” (again, some good, and some not so much, though I didn’t see the “not so much” parts as, well “not so much” until much later).
At any rate, I have learned from other residential school survivors, and from comments made by people who taught in those schools, and from government and church documents, and from school documents, and from school graveyards full of nameless grave stones, and from accounts of history and culture of that time in our history, and so on. And because of what I have learned from going beyond the bit of his story which my husband has been prepared to share with me, I have actually come to know him a lot better, and it has had some pretty important, deepening, growing effects on our relationship, and on our family, too. For example:
- I have a better understanding of “where he comes from” and why he makes certain choices.
- I have greater empathy for him, and for his family (who at first kind of drove me a bit crazy)
- I no longer nag at him to get involved in “church activities”
- And in consequence he no longer gets annoyed at me and clams up even more; in fact, he has started to open up and share more of his story with me, letting down his “walls” so that I know and understand him better; and he listens to me, too, and understands more about me
- I have been open to finding other things (other than church activities) that we can do together
- And I’ve been beginning to see the truth about some “church activities” a lot more clearly – and consequently have begun to get a healthy little dose of leary-ness about them myself
- We argue less, and confide and discuss more
- He actually supports me more in the “church activities” I continue to be involved with
- Because we have grown closer, our family relationships have also grown and developed
So, getting back to this question of putting scriptural knowledge and understanding way into the background, in favor of just sharing my personal walk, I can see that getting that background knowledge (as some folks view scripture these days), I can actually deepen in my relationships with God and other believers. For example:
- help me understand and empathize with others in the family
- help me not to draw false conclusions
- see how people’s experiences alter their perceptions: and realize that altered perceptions can sometimes lead people away from the truth, or lead people to see realities they had been blinded to. In either way, I am encouraged to…
- be drawn closer to Truth
- help me realize that just because another person – even one I admire a great deal and care for – believes in a certain way, that way is not likely to be the whole truth
- makes me long for Truth…
and since Truth is a person, Jesus (God incarnate) … drives me to seek Him. And He chose to reveal Himself through experience and teachings given to mankind over a long period of time, and written down in scripture…and through His own words/ teachings given, in the flesh, by Jesus, here on earth, and recorded in writing by His “witnesses.”
So, although I love and value my own experience of knowing Jesus, and learn from the experiences of others, in what they share with me and what we live together, I still want more… and my Lord has given me that “more.” And a really key part of it IS scripture.
One last thing, the Holy Spirit – Christ’s own Spirit – is given to us to “teach us all things” that Jesus taught… to help us to understand all that Jesus was really saying, to hear His Truth right from Him – and our closest “primary source” is His words, recorded by those who knew Him, lived with Him, watched Him, listened to Him, interacted with Him. (Oh yes, His words and actions, of course: because there is a lot of truth in that old saying: actions speak louder than words! And actions turn words into living reality).
(Wow! That whole discussion, line of thought, came out of reading just half of one verse of scripture! Well, one verse in context of the chapter before and after, of course. And related to where God has been, taking me in my “walk with Him.” Anyway: scripture, guided by the Holy Spirit – and yes, I do ask for His guidance when I read scripture – really is important!)
(And thank You, Father, for that “confirmation” from Your word, from You, to my “I’ve been thinking I would really like to start a Bible study…” musing this morning).