Saturday, October 27, 2007

Scriptural Worship or Scripture Worship?

Outside of an occasional reference, I have avoided much in the way of my personal "conversion story" on these pages. First of all, it's too soon. Like one of my history professors said about the study of the Vietnam War: "It's not history yet." A certain time has to pass to reflect, and put events in proper perspective. Second, the fact that a person believes differently than before naturally infers that they believe their current belief to be superior. To feel the need to automatically defend the decision perhaps suggests more of a need to convince yourself than others. Finally, unless approached with care, such efforts can come across as triumphalist, which destroys any good that was intended.

That being said, I feel compelled, nevertheless, to toss a pebble or two in the direction of my old religious affiliation, the Churches of Christ. I owe much to these churches. Ultimately, they primed me for the fullness of Orthodoxy. I seriously doubt if I would have become Orthodox, save for my Church of Christ background.

But as a close friend and former preacher (Tim) told me recently, "you were never a good fit." And I suppose he was right. I always felt ill at ease with a number of things, not the least being much of our terminology. Our language seemed to convey the idea that we worshipped scripture itself, rather than He to whom scripture testified. I vividly recall the matriarch of our little church always saying that "we had to get back to the word," as she would peck on the cover of her Bible with her finger. Scripture--the word, if you will--was emphasized repeatedly--the Word, not so much. This summer, my wife and I were travelling in Arkansas. As my wife remains a faithful Church of Christ member(and Orthodox churches being as scarce as hen's teeth in Arkansas), we attended a worship service at an upscale Little Rock congregation. I followed along as the preacher gave an edifying talk taken from the Parable of the Prodigal. Amazingly, the name of Jesus Christ was not mentioned once--not a single time--not even in the "invitation" afterwards. It was all as dry as toast.

This seems so strange to me now, for in Orthodoxy, our worship is absolutely saturated in scripture, while at the same time it is Christocentric to a degree that I could have never imaged before. What led to this reflection on my part was (as always, it seems) an article in the paper. I actually read all the little ads in the Dallas Morning News Religion section. One of the Church of Christ advertisements got to me a bit. This particular congregatin set it out as plain as can be:

The Church and the Bible

Some people believe the Church gave us the Bible; that at some time in history religious leaders pronounced the 27 books of the New Testament inspired by God. Prior to this pronouncement, they think the books of the Bible were merely human writings. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The church did not give us the bible, the word of God gave us the church. God's word is the seed of the kingdom (Luke 8:11). It carries its own authority. All humans can do is recognize what is already inherently true about Scripture--that it is the inspired, authoritative word of the living God.

Join us Thursday at 7:00 PM for a workshop on how the Old and New Testaments have been preserved for us.

To me, this little statement encapsulates the worship of scripture. And it is just so misguided--wrong--on so many different theological and historical levels that one really doesn't know where to begin. Any thoughts?


npmccallum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
npmccallum said...

The primary problem with the statement in my mind is the "Scripture against the Church" mentality: a false dichotemy that either the Scripture comes from God or the Church, but not both. The conclusion of this thought is inevitible: one must have either the Scripture or the Church. We both agree that this is heresy. Scripture attests to the Church and the Church to Scripture. Without both, one does not have either in its fullness.

s-p said...

Yes, the seed is the word of God, but Christ Himself says He is the seed that will fall into the ground and die, doesn't He? Even on a more literal level, who decides what is "the word"? The Apostle's spoken words gave us the Church, later their written words instructed that Church that ultimately decided WHICH written words were authentically apostolic.

JN1034 said...

This is a very thought-provoking post, and a painful one to reflect upon. Many Orthodox elevate the written letter above the living Word, this is globally true. A few Fathers and Mothers of the Church made it certain that even if we never had written accounts, the Gospel would live as it should ... within people - by the grace and mercy of the Holy Spirit. A vast majority of OCD intellectual Christians disincarnate the Gospel by fixating on the letters and the canons. And they can be quite impressive in their deception by quoting and spewing paragraphs as if their tongues can proclaim the Gospel separate from their hearts. This ancient semantic of oral v transcribed Tradition is circular reasoning. Every religious and spiritual tradition has this peculiarity (read: dysfunction). Yes, there is a current trend among the Orthodox to disengage from living the Gospel and become either overly Christocentric or enmeshed in Sola Sciptura or habituated with visible piety and ritual that we've caved to foreign tendencies rather than build upon the awe-inspiring Pneumatology of the Orthodox Church, the life of the "age of the Holy Spirit" that truly defines Church and Christian. To bind to the written letter is easy, is the coward's way because it's all black and white, right or left, up or down. But to adhere to the invisible living Gospel as enlivened by the free and free-willed Holy Spirit who lives, does, and goes where It will? That is a huge leap of genuine faith, is a boldness of the human spirit that truly communes with God. What greater worship is there than to put aside Scripture and to incarnate it in one's self? What need would that saint have of the written text when he or she communes directly with the Author? Unless Orthodoxy (and other traditions) consider a return to making theosis the primary mode of living worship, then veneration of the sub-human material world (inc. the Bible as manuscript) will reign without boundaries. Thanks for stimulating this talk.

The Scylding said...

The reformation concept of sola Scriptura has devolved to solo Scriptura (as per Peter Leithart) or even Nuda Scriptura (coined by the Internet Monk, Michael spencer). The original meaning of the reformers, was to refer to Scripture as the Prime rule so-to-speak, not the Sole rule. The church pointed to the Scriptures, and acted as the interprative community, as opposed to the then Roman view of the pope as final interpreter/court of appeal.

However, in my understanding, scholastic tendencies in calvinism, especially as developed out of the Westminster Tradition (as opposed to Continental Calvinism - Heidelberg & Dordt), started to devalue the Church as the posessor and interpreter of Scripture.

The anabaptists didn't help either, since theirs was a radical individualism from the word go.

The devaluation of Church went much easier in communities which had a strict symbolical view of the sacraments, as opposed to those who confessed the real presence (Lutherans, Anglo-Catholics, some reformed). Thus it has come to the point where there is some unfortunate truth in the moniker - "The PCA is a baptist church with wet babies".

A Lutheran goes to church to have his sins forgiven - a modern reformed/baptist/many other individual goes to hear a moral exhortation (if he's lucky).

So in a sense Luther tried to bring back the tradition of corporate interpretation and Christian living to the Church in the West. This is closer to the Orthodox model of "What is and has been believed everywhere, by all" (simplified) than the Roman hierarchical system of papal interpretative authority.

Theron said...

I usually tell people...the Church wrote the Bible.

Steve Hayes said...

Some years ago our parish priest, who lectures in church history at a university, invited his colleagues to his son's baptism.

One of the colleagues was a Baptist, and after the service he remarked that it was so much more scriptural than the Baptist services. We talk a lot about the Bible he said, but we don't base our worship on it.wragcucr