Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Obedience in the Darkness, Part III

Moving from the conservative south to the liberal east coast sent me into a spiritual panic attack. I had discovered this beautiful, historical Episcopal church and decided I would attend there for my first plunge into worshipping on Sunday. The second time I went the priest gave a sermon on unity because he had just voted in a practicing homosexual as bishop and he knew it was going to cause a schism in the church. I came unglued and as the church was emptying onto the outside entryway where the priest was greeting everyone at the door, I began shaking as I heard affirmation after affirmation of the priest’s decision by elderly--supposedly full of wisdom by that age--parishioners.
Just as I was about to slip out of line and run for my car, I was pushed forward towards the priest who stuck out his hand to shake mine. I burst into tears and told him that his vote was horrible and against God. You should have seen the look on his face and those around him. Then I dashed off to my car, sobbing in confusion.
On my way home, I spotted a Lutheran church still having services and pulled into the parking lot. I needed a good dose of real Christianity, so I slipped into the back during the sermon and stayed afterward to speak to the pastor. Very sweetly, he sat down with me to discuss the reason for my renewed tears. When I poured forth what the Episcopal priest had just said and lamented about the liberalization of Christianity, I was expecting some sympathetic support. He looked at me, wide eyed and told me he was a homosexual. I cocked my head to the side and stared at him catatonically. Toto, I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore.
I found my way back to my car, almost fainting. Is this what Christianity had come to? Maybe I should find my way back into Adventism. NO! I shall not retreat back into error because other denominations have error.
Over the next few years I encountered pastor after pastor who used the original Greek texts to prove that God did not condemn homosexuality, only promiscuity. One heterosexual pastor who had been married for three decades wrote his dissertation on the subject and was utterly convinced that Christians had mistranslated the original passages and had spread homophobia where the authentic scriptures had never condemned same-sex marriage.
I asked myself, “Who do you believe? What if scripture had been mistranslated into English? How was I to know?” I became very discouraged.
Every single church I attended was utterly, sincerely praying for the Spirit to reveal truth and live righteously. The kindest, most loving and generous Christians were often in the most outlandishly liberal churches--churches that preached that the Bible was dangerously anti-Semitic, homophobic, misogynistic and corrupted through the years of copying. (After all, we have no original manuscripts and the copies we have are copies of copies of copies... for two thousand years. They, practically speaking, could not be perfect anymore, let’s be reasonable, they insisted.)
It seemed many of the churches (or at least the members themselves) had accepted the inevitability of Christian Relativism. They shrugged off the idea of absolute truth as unimportant. What mattered was the experience we had, doctrine was passé. Find a belief and church that works for you, where you feel inspired--forget the rest, they advised. I didn’t buy it. I had read the German philosophers (existentialists, nihilists, anarchists ). I had read Francis Schaeffer. I read the Bible. I seized and clutched firmly to my breast the worldview that there was an absolute truth and we could know it!
So I began the quest--not of figuring out what it was (not yet) but the idea of how one knows absolute truth--an epistemological quest. It must be discernible to the human reason, perception and spirit--but it also must come from a truly objective source. The idea that we receive direct infallible revelation from the Holy Spirit to us as individuals, in reality had turned Christianity into theological chaos. When we all get to decide truth, to personalize truth, then there cannot be absolute truth.
The mayhem of Christian relativism stirred up many other questions that no one was able to answer:
1. The Bible seems to be full of admonishing God’s people to stay unified. Does scripture actually tell us point blank that correct theology is more important that unity or that unity is more important than theology? No one could answer that with a prooftext.

2. Does scripture support the idea of 30,000 different denominations? No prooftext.

3. Why do the Catholics and Orthodox and Protestants all have a different Bible and how do we know which one is the correct one? What about all the different translations? Which one is the most correct and how do we know? Does the Bible tell us what books were to be placed in it? Again, no prooftext.

4. I had been challenged by my Catholic, Orthodox and Lutheran friends to pray about the real presence in the Eucharist, because the Bible could be interpreted to mean that the communion bread was really a sacrament or really a symbol. I had prayed about the subject and had had a very dramatic revelation about it. So what do I do about that? Can I trust my revelation? Pastors would drop their jaw at that one and just produce textual evidence that supported their side and insist their interpretation was the only logical, God-breathed one. And of course they all disagreed with each other.
One day while reading some esoteric philosophy about dualism in Greek thought, something popped out at me. The author pointed out that western enlightenment had reintroduced the idea that man was the judge of all truth through his perceptions. It was a Greek philosopher who claimed that “man was the measure of all things.” He mocked that during the Dark Ages man actually believed that God had absolute truth. The neanderthals sought truth outside themselves and their own reason, gullibly convinced that truth must be taught. Of course, scholars now know, modern man is born with the innate ability and right to make all moral judgements themselves.
A thought dawned upon me, maybe, just maybe I have been accepting a secular worldview. Is it possible that man’s perceptions are good for taking in and assessing facts, but because of sin our vision of truth is clouded. Maybe God’s absolute truth is revealed by an outside source and the Holy Spirit uses our faith to “recognize” the truth. Is is possible that the complete truth is not downloaded into my mind’s hard drive by the Holy Spirit as I assumed. I began pondering that one.
A brilliant friend of mine, who had been with me through most of my intense pursuit of truth, seemed frustrated at my discouragement. He offered me some advice that changed my life, “Maybe, Teresa, you should forget about finding truth. Maybe you will never find it looking for it. Maybe you should look for who God put in charge, who is God’ authority for protecting and preserving and teaching the truth.”
At first I dismissed the comments. But the wisdom of them began to grow. Did the Bible actually say who God put in charge of truth? Who to go for when you wanted to find out what He meant when He said something? Humm. Intriguing. So I began to search the scriptures.
During this time I had pulled my dear friend Pastor Steve Cobb aside after a Wednesday evening service and asked him about the interpretation of a certain scriptural passage. I told him my interpretation of it. He corrected me with the “accurate” interpretation. I know he had his Ph.D. but why should his interpretation be better than mine, I asked? He explained that the correct interpretation wasn’t about his personal opinion, but that I couldn’t just make up a new interpretation going against all Christian history and tradition. That was presumptuous and prideful.
I felt a numb icy shock fill my body. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from him. He was telling me that my interpretation needed to stay within the boundaries of Christian history and tradition. He said the “T” word! My next question was too controversial and terrifying to ask. “Which tradition?--the Fundamentalists, the one written in the book, Systematic Theology, the five hundred-year-old Calvinist tradition? Lutheran’s tradition? Oh no--Catholic? That is the oldest right?
Used as a source for early thought on the Sabbath in our book, It’s Okay NOT to be a Seventh-day Adventist, in my living room sat the 10 volume set of Ante-Nicene Fathers’ Writings. Some of these writings were from the bishops who knew and studied under the Apostle’s themselves. These men were anointed by the hands of the Apostles and commissioned to leadership of the church’s the Apostle’s had started. These guys’ opinions would have enormous gravitas. If anyone’s interpretation of scripture could be trusted it would be these guys.
With trepidation I opened the first volume up and began reading the first-century and early second-century writings of the bishop of Rome, Clement and the bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp and the Bishop of Antioch, Ignatius. These guys were taught by Peter, Paul and John. This was going to be good....


Arik said...

Acts 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Luke 11:13 13If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

Are you forgetting the gifts of the SPIRIT?

1 Crinthians 12:7But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.
Wisdom, knowlege, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, and tongues.

11But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

12For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.

13For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

I am sorry Teresa, the Catholic Church does not have a lock on the Holy Spirit! All you have shown is that to be a Catholic one MUST give up the ability to think critically for themselves. Because my church said so is not good enough for me.

It is your'e church's claim that they cannot err. All you are doing is showing the same contemptuous and arrogant spirit that persecuted many voices that saw Catholicism has indeed erred.

The words of Jesus himself to counter the temptations of Satan were "It Is Written", why? because these "words" are not mere letters in the Bible! When combined with faith they are power, and Truth. All scripture is inspired by God, and given for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in Righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). "Tradition has no place above or equal to the very inspired words of Scripture.

Teresa Beem said...

You quoted scripture that says all have the Holy Spirit, and I agree. So those in the Catholic Church do also. The Catholic church never has said that the church had exclusive use of the Spirit of God. Can you show me where it says that? No, as a matter of fact, the Catholic Church believes the "rain falls on the just and unjust."

Catholics believe anyone searching for God will be led by the Spirit.

Like yourself I wrongly believed that Catholics handed over their minds and became robots to belong to their church. As a matter of fact, now that I am Catholic, I have access to the most brilliant spiritual minds of all times. (We all have access to them but before I didn't pay attention.) Now my thoughts ride on the backs of giants such as St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and all the saints--Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr. I find my thoughts and theology has deepened because I am Catholic.

The church does not say it cannot err. Again that is not what it teaches. Just as Protestants claim infallibility for the Bible, Catholics claim the same Spirit for the Church when it pronounces upon morals. God will guide His church so that it cannot lead people into hell. That is its only claim to infallibility. The people themselves are not perfect, nor are pronouncements upon things that are not directly linked to our salvation.

Catholics also believe the Bible is inspired. Catholics absolutely see the Bible as one source of authority. Catholics interpret scripture differently. Their interpretation is based upon the Apostles and early church fathers.

But to open a different can of worms--note that scripture says "ALL scripture is given for reproof." If this is so, why would the Reformers take OUT of the Bible the scripture they didn't agree with? Where are the seven books of scripture that make up "ALL scripture" that Paul was speaking of? He was referring to the Greek Septuagint--that contained the CATHOLIC OT--and those books were there for millennia for both Jews and Catholics until the Reformers whose banner was sola scriptura decided THEY were the ultimate authorities over scripture and jettisoned seven books from scripture--including the book of Wisdom, Judith, Maccabees, etc.?

Why would they do that? Because some of the teachings of scripture backed up Catholic doctrines.

Protestants no longer have the complete Word of God. And they have rejected "all scripture" that was supposed to be used for "doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness"

Catholics absolutely believe the total Word of God, both what He said and what was written--in the complete Bible.

Ken said...

Actually, early Christians followed other writings as well, which neither Catholics or Protestants now accept as inspired. One of the most interesting mistranslations in many Bibles is the word "eternal" or "everlasting" for the Greek aionian. The adjective comes from the noun eon, which is a period of time, having a beginning and an end, so eonian cannot mean eternal. Eternal hellfire is a false teaching which developed in the church centuries after Christ.