Monday, September 26, 2011

Poor Fork-legged Animal

Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ is such a bizarre "twilight zone" endeavor.  Imagine how ludicrous it is for some mere human laden with cultural blind spots, physical frailties, and mental misperceptions --- all mixed together with a good dose of blinding arrogance --- to try to communicate the essential nature of the Creator of all to other similarly constituted humans.  Then, to top it all off, such a person dares to declare that we can know what this Creator desires for us and from us, that we can truly know the "mind" of God!  Absolutely preposterous!

Yet, this is exactly the claim of the Christian faith, that through preaching the Word of God is communicated, comprehended, apprehended, and inculcated by mere human beings.  Indeed, we are simply "poor fork-legged animals," as Frederick Buechner describes us (who, in good preacher fashion, is borrowing a phrase from someone else, in this case Shakespeare).  It is beyond incredible that the great Creator of all should condescend to such a faulty and fleshly means to be understood by such faulty and fleshly creatures such as ourselves.  No wonder the apostle Paul calls this medium "foolishness," for that is how it appears to anyone who gives it much thought.

Yet again, many of us preachers know that there is so much more than mere mental processes and chemical reactions happening when we preach.  This is on my mind right now because of my experience this last week preparing and delivering the sermon for September 25 at little Calvin Sinclair Church.  All week I wrestled with the text, Exodus 17:1-7.  I was intrigued with the "Is the Lord among us?" issue in the desert travails of the Israelites, but for some reason I wasn't coming up with anything very interesting (at least, not to me) for making a sermon out of this.  Though I squeezed out a passable few decent points, I went to sleep Saturday night feeling very dissatisfied.
In my dreams, I continued to work on this text and trying to come up with a better sermon. By the time I woke up, I had a whole new approach with much more relevant illustrations than when I went to sleep. Then, as I delivered the sermon Sunday morning, there were a number of people who seemed very intent as they listened.  Afterwards, many of these people commented on how my sermon sections derived from my "dream work" (which they did not know about) were particularly relevant to what is happening in their lives at this time.

So, how are we to understand all this?  It is apparent that there is so much more going on during a sermon than the cleverness of the preacher or the relevant use of word studies. Truly, the Holy Spirit is active, and no amount of work with the original languages, cultural and geographic settings, literary analysis, sitz im leben, or weltanschauung speculation can ever eliminate the need for God's direct intervention to make meaningful the words of one "poor fork-legged animal" trying to convey the eternal truths of the Divine to the mundane lives of other "poor fork-legged animals."

Quite literally, thank God!

Now, where is my Greek verb parsing guide?  (Sorry, Dr. Storey, my Greek isn't as good as it once was.)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

500 - 1000 - Maybe Even 2000 Years Of Schism!

(It has been pointed out to me that this posting is a bit abrupt and polemical, using broad brushed labels such as liberal and evangelical. While I must admit this tendency here, probably due to the fact that I wrote this quickly, without time to make my statements more nuanced, I believe the major points I am making are clear and along the lines of what I intend to communicate. Yes, I love "liberals" (especially those who drink Guinness) and some of my best friends are such, but my sentiments in this posting are along the lines of St. Paul's declaration (Ephesians 6:12) that "...our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.")

Okay, I'm getting a little "fed up" (as my dad used to say) with the claim by the liberals in the PCUSA that we evangelicals are now the schismatics because we believe that WHAT a person believes is important.  (Sorry, I don't have time right now to make that last sentence into something more erudite.)  Since the "how-can-you-evil-evangelicals-dare-exclude-anyone-just-because-they-do-not-believe-the Bible-is-God's-Word-or-that-Jesus-is-God-incarnate liberals" finally have cleared the way for getting what they want in this denomination, I have been reading their comments that we should all seek the unity of the church, and that if anyone does not agree with their views on Bible, sin, Jesus, gays, church government, and God, then such a person (eg: any orthodox evangelical) is resisting the leading of the Holy Spirit and fracturing this cherished unity.  It is funny that these same people did not see things this way when they were being "prophetic" as they spoke and acted against the Book of Order and majority policies up until this year.

If their assertion that the evangelicals are being schismatic by forming new structures (eg: Fellowship of Presbyterians, Evangelical Presbyterian Church, etc) for living out our discipleship as followers of Jesus is true, then I hate to break it to the PCUSA liberals that this would make them schismatics as well.  In fact, we all need to go back to the Pope and confess our sin of schism, since the very nature of being a Protestant means schism from the Roman Catholic Church!  After all, that's why we are called "Protestants," for crying out loud!

I remember being in a gathering of Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox, where one of the Roman Catholic persons said something about the nature of being a Protestant.  An Orthodox monk then quipped, "To me, you all are Protestants."  That's right, even the Roman Church is schismatic from the point of view of the Orthodox Church.  So, what are we talking about here: 500! - 1000! - maybe even 2000 years of schism? 

As long as we view unity of the church as consisting of only the institutional and organisational forms, then yes, we evangelicals in the PCUSA are being schismatic!  It would not be difficult to extend the liberal understanding of unity in the church to include persons who are not even Christian in any sense. Why not ordain a Buddhist monk to be a PCUSA minister? After all, such a person may be exemplary in lifestyle, compassionate, and possessing many gifts to be shared with others. And they probably have some kind of sense of a "Christ-consciousness" that could pass as acceptable in most of our presbyteries.

If, however, the faith of the church is organic, relational, and spiritual; rooted in a common understanding and experience of who Jesus is, and if this faith is flourishing through the shared and communicated witness of those who have encountered Jesus during the last two thousand years (and even longer for Reformed thinkers), then there is a great unity of the church that transcends all our little polity scrabbles.   In all the cultural, political, economic, and even theological diversity of Christians in all times and places, there is a core identifiable "like-mindedness" that one follower of Jesus can recognize and honor in another follower of Jesus. 

As the Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 4:3-6): "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."  There is a unity that the Spirit makes between all those who follow Jesus, and this unity consist of both content and experience that can be recognized and communicated.  This is evidenced in the various ecumenical creeds that all Christians can affirm because of a "like-mindedness" created not by human organisational ingenuity, but only by the Spirit of God.

The liberals in the PCUSA place far too much emphasis on the institutional forms, while ignoring the heart of faith.  And they cannot align themselves with the heart of the faith because they cannot subject themselves to the authority of the Word, since the Word imparts corrective content upon our own ideas, assumptions, and preferences.  Therefore, they mistake unity for an organisational haven where human intuitions can thrive without the illuminating light of the Scriptures, the Church Universal, or the healing guidance of "like-minded" Christian fellowship.  This may be unity, but it is unity in darkness void of understanding.

Well, that's what I've been thinking, for what its worth.  Now, what channel is ETWN on?