Updated: Feb 6
"What do you mean when you refer to the canon (rule of life) of sixty-six books as recorded in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament as the holy Word of God?"
This core question is often ignored during issues focused battles to prove I'm more right than you, I'm smarter than you! When we who claim to be followers of Jesus treat others as lesser than me because the person with whom I'm relating does not have the exact same views of the Bible I have, our pre-judgments get in the way of hearing a Word from God.
For instance, this brings to mind three persons I know pretty well, three friends who voiced differing views of the Bible.
One told me: "I believe the Bible is the spoken Word of God. I take it word for word. I don't interpret the Bible." (I must confess I wondered if the person who said this was a scholar who read the original languages several hours several days each week. Of course, I knew he was not a scholar because if he was he would have understood the various nuances of the recorded words and various ways in which the words had been added to or taken away from over time.)
The other person I know told me: "You know? I treat the Bible like any other book. It was written by several persons over time. It's full of inaccuracies and mistakes because it was written by humans."
I believe another one of my friends would land somewhere in the middle of this conversation: "I believe the scriptures are set a part because they are prayerfully written by people of faith. They contain many different forms of literature revealing ways God related with the people of Israel and ways God became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. These holy scriptures reveal people of faith had different ways of looking at God."
Unfortunately, persons representing the three viewpoints listed above tend not to converse with one another any more. So, I am not surprised that persons who represent these extremes seldom sit down together, seldom share a meal together, seldom have anything to do with each other. It's tempting to be more concerned about being right instead of being in right relationship!
When people ask me my understanding of the holy scriptures, this is what I say:
The scriptures as recorded, Genesis through Revelation, reveal a series of faith conversations that occurred over a period of a little more than two-thousand years. Persons of faith shared their perceptions of God, their perceptions of humanity, and their perceptions of ways God relates with humans. Being prayerfully immersed in passages of scripture, and pondering the perceptions listed above gives us the courage to ask: If I took this passage seriously, in what ways will I change?
(What I wrote here was influenced by a book written by Dick Murray, "Teaching The Bible to Adults." It is one of the texts read by participants of "Disciple Bible Study.")
Since God is God and we are not, all we can do is offer perceptions. The faith journey is not about figuring God out. It's about being with; therefore, faith conversations offer differing perceptions of what it is like to be with God. Faith conversations present many similar perceptions. Faith conversations immersed in "The Bible" present differing perceptions too.
For instance, take a look at the first two chapters of the book of Genesis. Look closely. There are two accounts of creation. I believe both are true in their own ways. Both acknowledge the One Living God, Yahweh, to be the Creator of all.
Likewise, take a look at the first four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Even though Mark, Matthew, and Luke share the story of Jesus in similar ways, the author of John shares the story quite differently. All of the Gospels are true.
Like the apostle Paul said as recorded in his first letter to the Corinthians chapter 13, verses 10-13: "When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely." ("The New Living Translation of The Bible").
This text reminds me what I was like when I was twenty-three years old. I had just graduated with a Master's of Divinity Degree from Duke Divinity School. I had just received my first appointment. I was assigned to serve as pastor with four churches located half-way between Lexington and Asheboro, North Carolina. During the three years I served as pastor with Tabernacle Charge of The United Methodist Church, I embodied a basket case of emotions: excitement, fear, curiosity, disappointment, joy. I knew I was way in over my head. My wife, Helen, knew how I felt; God knew how I felt; a few of my friends knew how I felt. Of course, the parishioners with whom I served knew I was overwhelmed and had a whole lot to learn. I found it challenging to admit I had a whole lot to learn. In my opinion, I thought in the childish ways the apostle Paul described. How did I do this? I acted like I had more figured out than I really did. I was afraid to be transparent. I was afraid to admit: I don't have all the answers! I was afraid of being rejected.
I think one way we reveal our immaturity occurs when we act like we're so right about our particular understandings of the Bible we're too afraid to confess "we see in a mirror dimly."
Some of my friends respond by saying, "Yea, well, I may see in a mirror dimly but I have to claim what I see and believe. The Bible reveals truth and I'm going to claim that truth. Not only that, the Bible contains all of the answers to every important question. If it's not in the Bible, I don't believe it!" What do I say to that?
The author of the Gospel of John wrote as recorded in John 21:25, "Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written." As a matter of fact, it's the last statement recorded in the book of John.
("The New Living Translation of The Bible.").
I recall another teaching Jesus said as recorded in John. It is essential to our understanding revealing God's desire that we will share holy conversations immersed in the scriptures.
In one of his farewell conversations with his disciples, Jesus told them, "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth." (John 14:16-17a).
Jesus, The Vine, connects us with triune God. When followers of Jesus, the Christ, prayerfully gather and listen for a Word, Spirit breathes light, discernment, clearness, silence, pregnant discovery and transformation. It's like the Spirit reveals puzzle pieces. Together we seek to prayerfully put together a puzzle called, Dear God, what are you up to now? In what ways do you guide us to be a part of your being and doing?
I would like to lift up one other passage of scripture because I believe the passage sheds additional light on the purpose of the holy scriptures.
"Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. if the foot says, I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand, that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ears says, I am not part of the body because I am not an eye, would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?" (I Corinthians 12:14-17, "The New Living Translation of The Bible.").
How can we discern the messages God sends if we only converse with followers of Jesus who share the same perceptions we do? It would look like The Reader's Digest Version of The Bible, one condensed volume, made simple and easy for us. It wouldn't be a Bible. Instead it would be a watered down paraphrase organized to help us not have to invest as much time and energy sitting at the feet of Jesus.
When we separate from other followers of Jesus who have different perceptions than we do, it's like we create our own simplified just for me version. "Like relates with like" and we forget we are parts of the One Body of Christ. It would be like our right ears saying to our left ears and our left ears saying to our right, "You share a perspective I don't want to hear. I'm sick and tired of your inferior observations; therefore, I'm cutting you off from my body. I'll do better without you. You distract me and unsettle me. Off with you!"
For example, when I'm honest about it, I know some persons who treat me as lesser than because I do not agree with them on their interpretations of the Bible. To be honest about it, quite often I find myself praying, "God, I want to treat the person with whom I persistently disagree as lesser than. I'm tempted to step back from our friendship. Then I remember what Jesus said, There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends. (John 15:13, "The New Living Translation of The Bible"). Then I remember "Jesus' friends are our friends too!" No matter what we call ourselves, no matter what suspicious categorizations we use to push each other away, we share the same blood, the blood of our Savior and Big Brother Jesus. Even though friends on both sides of the fence may refer to me by various names like progressive, conservative, centrist, dreamer, believer, orthodox, liberationist, I don't really care what people call me. I'm a follower of Jesus, the Christ. The friends of Jesus are my friends too!
"Holy Father, help me dare to get as close to the kin you choose for me as you desire for me to be. Lead us Lord Jesus along journeys of intimacy that occur when we dare to grow up to be as Christlike as Father God wills us to be! Lead us on pilgrimages that include being with persons of varying perceptions!"
Dear God, help us be one as you are One.
As recorded in the high priestly prayer Jesus shared prior to his crucifixion,
"Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth. I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one--as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me." (John 17:17-21, "The New Living Translation of The Bible.").
Let's sit down together and be still together in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Let us open the pages of the holy scriptures together. Let's pray the scriptures together. Let's open our hearts to God and one another. Let us be open to the triune God speaking through each other. Then we will discover the true meaning of the Holy Word. The Holy Word will leap off the pages, the realm of God will reveal epiphanies carrying us on adventures led by Holy Spirit wind.
We will feel like the first disciples did when they first followed Jesus. Remember? Remember how Jesus led the way saying to them, "Jesus looked around and saw them following, 'What do you want?' "he asked them. They replied," 'Rabbi,' "(which means 'Teacher'), 'where are you staying?' 'Come and see,' he said. (John 1:38-39a, "The New Living Translation of The Bible.").
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