Thursday, April 02, 2009

Remembering John Donne

“The Scriptures are God's Voice, The Church is His echo.”

John Donne 17th C, commemorated this past Tuesday.

Almighty God, the root and fountain of all being: Open our eyes to see, with your servant John Donne, that whatever has any being is a mirror in which we may behold you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Fundamental to serving God in the Church is an acceptance of the authority of Holy Scripture. Perhaps the choice of the opening word “fundamental” seems ill advised, but I am not talking about biblical literalism - which is opposed to the Reformational hermeneutic of grammatico-historical analysis - but about the fundamentals of our faith. Without a firm foundation on God’s self-revelation in Holy Scripture; in God’s word, and in the Word made flesh, Christ Jesus Himself, there are no fundamentals and no place to stand. The two are linked together in my mind, because they are linked together in the mind of Jesus who came “not to abolish the Law or the Prophets; …but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).

Neither am I talking about simplistic proof texting, yet the texts are indeed important. There is such a thing as biblical theology, and both Jesus and Paul, and the other New Testament writers model that for us in their treatment of the Old Testament. From a classic Anglican position we also go back to the biblical theology of the Early Church Fathers. The Lord warns us in Isaiah that if we are not firm in our faith, we will not be firm at all (Isaiah 7:9b). There is no firm foothold, no possibility of establishing “fundamentals” if you take your stand on the quick sand of the world and human philosophy.

The fundamentals of the faith are first of all reflected in Holy Scripture itself, and then secondarily, in the writings of the Fathers. There is no argument there over what the fundamentals are. True, much of the writing of the Fathers was a defense of the faith against heretical opinions that were springing up everywhere. That is the point. There is a difference between what is theologically true, and what is a lie. The lie was always characterized as heresy, or apostasy. You either believe Holy Scripture, or you don’t. There is no valid half-way point.

You either believe the creeds, or you don’t. You can''s say you affirm them as true, only in so far as you can modify their plain (and historic) sense. You either believe...or you do not.

You either believe and respond to God’s call to personal holiness, or you don’t. Thus says the Lord, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). If you don’t understand holiness as Scripture and the Fathers understand holiness, you don’t understand holiness at all. There is no real question in the Church today regarding what Scripture, the Fathers, or the Church catholic has always taught, and teaches still, about the fundamentals, or about sexual morality. Morality is after all an essential part of our walk before the Living God.

The question before mainline churches today is simply this: The text says what it says; no-one is really disagreeing, there are no varying interpretations, no one is really disagreeing over what Holy Scripture actually says. The disagreement is over whether or not the texts, Holy Scripture itself, and the ongoing teaching of the Church, are relevant at all. From the viewpoint of the tradition of the Church we believe what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all (The Vincentian Canon - more about that in 3 weeks). What is being said in some quarters today is that those fundamentals, and those moral teaching are no longer relevant in modern society.

Over the last several years bishops and high-placed leaders in the Church have disavowed specific fundamentals. They tell us that the physical resurrection did not happen, that Christ did not die for our sins, and that he is no longer the way, the truth and the life and that it is not true that no man comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). According to them, it doesn’t matter what Jesus said in John 14:6, because he probably didn’t say it anyway.

Unfortunately there is no common ground between our small group revisionists and the Church catholic. For them, there is nothing that can be discussed on the basis of Holy Scripture. They tell us that the moral teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, the teachings of Paul and Peter on holiness, and the teachings of the Law and the Prophets on these issues, are no longer relevant in modern society. They reject the teaching of both Scripture and the Church and take their stand on sinking sand, on an antique humanism that is already going out of fashion in this post-modern age.

You either build your house on the Rock, or you build your house on the sand. They prefer the sand, probably because in their mind it is closer to the water. “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are the peoples and multitudes and nations and languages” (Revelation 17:15). I should probably apologize for the use of that text because certainly in the minds of some The Book of Revelation is almost the very last place we ought to look for a word from God.

The truly relevant question is not what they believe, or don’t believe. The truly relevant question is: What do you believe? Do you stand on solid ground, or do you stand on sinking sand? These questions are not a matter of airy-fairy theological debate. They are in fact questions about life and death. A seminary professor of mine taught that miracles didn’t happen, that the physical resurrection of Christ did not happen. So what!?

The so what happens when their students go to a parish and undermine faith in the resurrection, and in so doing destroy the faith of a woman who was dying of cancer.

The so what happens when we hear teaching on “Situation Ethics” - that it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you do it lovingly - and see it lived out. Clergy begin to say that premarital sex is perfectly O.K. (which happened in the 1960s). That attitude was a contributing factor to the free-love movement of the late sixties and early seventies and has laid countless young people in America vulnerable to a variety of venereal diseases, including HIV/AIDS - not to mention the broken hearts, shattered lives, and destroyed families left in the path! Paul calls sex before marriage, “fornication.” Why? There are after all several very valid reasons.

As Christians we believe that “The Scriptures are God’s Voice, The Church is His echo.” We believe it, in part for some very practical reasons. The teachings of Scripture guide us on our journey preserving our mental and physical health, preserving the integrity of our families, and leading us to the Door to Eternal Life, Christ Himself, The Living Word. Jesus Himself was well aware of the antipathy people had towards His teaching and asked “Do you take offense at this? … The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe” (John 6:61-64). The direct result was that many of his disciples turned away and no longer walked with Him. The question is: Will you walk with Him? Peter’s response was this, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

1 comment:

Viola Larson said...

Excellent! Thank you Chris, a good wake-up along with my coffee.