Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cutting Down Arguments

How do you deal with people that disagree with you theologically?

There seem to be several avenues people take in trying to find a basis of authority on which they stake their beliefs.

1) Me & the Spirit: Basically, I'm so illumined by the Spirit (of what?) that I can sense the great truths of the faith. We should notice that there are at least two varieties of this epistemological stance: a) the gnosticizing liberal thinks that they've got an inside track to what God has to say, normally in such a way as to overthrow what the Bible plainly says or what the Church has confessed for nearly 2000 years; b) the charismatic literalist thinks that they don't need to hear what other people have said about the Scriptures (whether that be Christian scholars or - dare I say it - the Church catholic in her creeds and confessions)...think the Oneness Pentecostal movement. The tie that binds is that this person believes that they can pierce the darkness that has kept the Church of Jesus Christ from seeing the truth (for as much as 2000 years); all they need is to meditate and read their Bible and God will reveal to them everything that's needed. They'll get a new revelation, or having felt a sense of connectedness to all world religions.

This isn't a new phenomenon. Martin Luther said that there were a certain group of preachers of his day who confuse their own spirit with the Holy Spirit: “they think they have swallowed the Holy Ghost feathers and all.” John Calvin warned “the fanaticism which discards the scripture, under the pretense of resorting to immediate revelations is subversive of every principle in Christianity. For when they boast extravagantly of the Spirit the tendency is always to bury the word of God so they can make room for their own falsehood.” Archetypes: John Spong, Joseph Smith and just about any neo-montanist on TBN.

2) Me & the Pro: I've been taught by this pastor, or read these books, or gone to this seminary, or earned this degree so I really know what it's all about. I'm not denigrating sitting under good preaching (I've benefited from it, and I hope others will benefit from my preaching). Anyone that's been to my home knows I have a library numbering in the low thousands. I did go to cemetery seminary and earned a degree there. But to think that the insights of the latest generation trump the illumination that the Spirit has given in the Church for thousands of years is a denial of Jesus' promises regarding the Church. The Reformers consistently pointed back to the Scriptures, the early Church Fathers, the ecumenical councils, and more recent scholastic thought to prove their continuity with the Apostolic deposit of the faith.

These approaches can be combined, and I would dare say that all of us do that very thing - inconsistently shuffling the bases of our belief.

I think the right track is to take a Me and the Church approach. When Jesus called his apostles to himself, he didn't just bring one - he brought twelve. He established a community in which his power, his authority, his doctrine would continue. We do well to read our Bibles with the whole Church catholic. The Word gives life to the Community, and the Community reiterates the Word in the World.

Without this necessary balance, we fall to the idols of self or society, and are not conformed to the Saviour.

Image h/t Naked Pastor


James said...

Enjoy the blog!

I noticed the paranethesis in the first hermeneutical community: "me and 'the spirit'." The Spirit of...? The ecstatic approach to interpretation, whether gnostic or monistic pentecostal, is a perfect example.

However, this is of course a validity to the "Spirit and me" approach as well, isn't there?

Similarly, though the "me and the church" approach is somewhat ambiguous (requiring that we answer, "whose church - yours or mine?" Tridentine or Lutheran? Orthodox or Reformed Baptist?), it also has a scriptural validity to it and obvious wisdom.

The witness of the Spirit and the church, of course, belong together. The Spirit always speaks by the Word in and through the church. And the church, though not always singing in tune - or in harmony - replies to God in prayers and praise before a watching world. But the work and hope of the Spirit is this: as the church continues to sing her responsive theology, and His Word reverberates through her halls, her "broken hallelujahs" approach the heavenly chorus.

Rev'd Chris Larimer said...


Thanks for commenting. When I say "me and the Church" I mean just that - the broad consensus of catholic orthodoxy that forms the core of all the Christian churches. That consensus is found in creeds and universal / ecumenical councils. Outside of that we become increasingly sectarian. (Not to say that there isn't more truth in some sects...but that we begin to exclude God-fearing Christians when we press beyond those earlier boundaries.)