Thursday, May 31, 2007

One: Scripture vs. tradition.

I have been in a lot of conversations of late about Catholic theology versus Protestant, and I wish to weigh in on a few of the “dividing” issues to help us see that we are a lot closer than we all thing. Jesus asked us to be one as he and the father are one, so it maybe it is time we started highlighting our similarities more than our difference.

Today I wish to take on the hotly debated topic of scripture and tradition. It is important to know that the two co-exist, and like so many of our debates become false distinctions. Scripture is tradition and tradition is scripture.

Protestants often rail against the Catholic Church for elevating the status of tradition to be on par with scripture. Thus Protestants proclaim sola scriptoria apart from tradition. Protestants proclaim there is no authority other than scripture. To an extent no Christian would disagree with the authority of scripture, but the interpretation of that authority can only be interpreted through tradition.

It is foolish and dangerous to believe one can interpret the Bible in a vacuum. The scriptures were written in a particular context, and an important tool for interpreting that context is the use of historical teaching (i.e. tradition). To come along 2000 years after Christ and believe only now are we rightly understanding scripture is dangerous. The creeds, confessions, and councils of Church history must always direct and shape the lens we use to read scripture.

Catholic teaching stresses that the New Testament in particular was recognized as scripture because of the way it preserved the apostolic teaching that had been passed on Jesus Christ himself. It was the church that formed these writings as scripture because the church recognized that preservation of the traditional teachings of Christ present in them.

Tradition in the Catholic church does not subtract from scripture but more fully illuminates that authority preserved within it. Tradition is not contrary to scripture, but rather helps us rightly understand scripture.

Protestants, Orthodox, evangelicals,, Pentecostals, etc. also bring their own traditional to the text. Luther interpreted the Bible through a particular traditional understanding. All great theologians have. This is a good thing. Debate is also good and should occur as we hammer out what we believe. But I wish our debates where based the merit of friendship and unity, not that of pride and anger. Perhaps we should not break fellowship with someone who holds a different view that ourselves.

The problem lies when one person or one group interprets in reaction to another, as it to proclaim we have understood rightly, you have not. All groups highlight particular aspects of Christianity over others in their interpretive lens.

The point being that we all have strengths and blind spots in reading scripture because of our particular tradition. Instead of fighting and accusing one another let us affirm our common beliefs in the major tenants of Christian faith.

Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant all affirm the Apostle’s Creed. Perhaps the most important creed from our history affirm that we all believe in One Lord, Jesus Christ, buried and raised to life ascended to heaven to judge the world. We all believe this Jesus has provided the forgiveness of sins, the hope for the resurrection of our bodies, and eternal life with God.

There is One Lord, help us to be One church.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Psalms - 1

How well God must like you –
You don’t hang out at sin saloon,
You don’t slink along Dead-end Road
You don’t go to Smart-mouth college.

Instead you thrill to God’s Word,
You chew on Scripture day and night
You’re a tree replanted in Eden,
Bearing fresh fruit every month.
Never dropping a leaf
Always in blossom.

You’re not at all like the wicked,
Who are mere windblown dust-
Without defense in court,
Unfit company for innocent people.

God charts the road you take.
The road they take is Skid Row.
- The Message

I was struck by the imagery of a tree replanted in Eden. A life devoted to scripture – living and breathing scripture. That is a life devoted to God’s way in this world makes a bold stand in the world that is a reminder of Eden. When we allow our lives to be transformed by scripture we remind the world what life was like in Eden – and what life will be like in the coming Garden city. Personal holiness then is not private – just between God and me, but is a public declaration that there is a better way to be human, a way full of love mercy and hope. Faithfully living to God’s word, is faithfully living as God always desired.

The image of the tree is one of sturdiness and life, contrasted to that of windblown dust. All life is from “dust”, but lives not lived as God desired are a waste – they are not living as the image bearers of God and not really living. The point though is not the dust – it is the beautiful tree of life that is a faithful to one whose image they bear.

I can say I thrill to God’s word. More than a manual on right living it is a beautiful story that I am being asked to live in, participate in, and act out in this world. Let us all thrill to God’s word and in doing so be sturdy trees of Eden in this despairing world.

May the tree of life people reflect the image of God.