Let’s be Friends

Here is my article for this coming month’s church newsletter, the Courant:

Let’s be Friends

If there’s one thing that continues to surprise me, no matter how long I’ve been a minister, it’s the fact that “Church” is so hard. Have you ever thought about that? It shouldn’t be.

Most American congregations aren’t particularly diverse ethnically, or culturally, or linguistically, or economically, or educationally, or theologically. (Sure, there are exceptions, but most are not.) Indeed, most are made up of people who are remarkably similar. Many, especially small congregations, are dominated by just a few families who make up a huge percentage of the membership (thus, ensuring that many congregations aren’t even all that diverse genetically!)

Yet, for some reasons, this whole “Church” thing turns out to be incredibly difficult. It’s hard to keep people engaged and cared for. It’s hard to makes sure people are heard and valued. It’s hard to get over old hurts and ongoing mistrust. It’s hard to admit the wrongs we do (and forgive the wrongs done to us).

Which raises the question: Why?

If we aren’t separated by the big things (see above), why is it so difficult?

I’m sure there are many reasons, but two rise to the surface as I think about it: (1) we’re so close, we fight like family, and (2) we’re so close, we propagate a culture of status quo.

We’re so close, we fight like family.

Every relationship eventually has to deal with conflict. Sometimes it’s conflict over little things (“what kind of pizza to order?”); sometimes it’s conflict over bigger things (“what kind of end-of-life care do we chose for a loved one?”). Conflict is inevitable in every relationship. There’s nothing wrong with that. The question is how we engage it.

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed, it’s that friends are often far better at engaging conflict than families (even conflict over big issues).   Friends tend to give each other the benefit of the doubt (families often don’t). Friends tend to fight fairly (families often don’t). Friends often overlook little slights understanding that some things just aren’t worth fighting about (families regularly argue intensely over things that are, quite frankly, utterly insignificant). Friends frequently seek harmony in the midst of difference (family often demands unanimity). Friends always know that a relationship could disintegrate (families usually [wrongly] assume that’s an impossibility).

I’m not a big fan of using the “family” metaphor for congregations and this is partly why. What if, instead of assuming we’re family, we actually worked at being friends? I’ve never met a church-goer who complained about their congregation being too friendly. On the other hand, I cannot even begin to list the times “family-like arguments” have infected congregations to a point where reconciliation seems almost impossible.

Friendship can be particularly difficult when so many of us actually are family (or at least have limited real diversity to overcome), but it is possible. Perhaps it is even necessary.

We’re so close, we propagate a culture of status quo.

As crazy as it may sound, the fact that congregations are often made up of people who are so similar, creates a context where change is disincentivized. One might be tempted to think that our like-ness would make us more affirming of each other’s growth and development, but the exact opposite is often the case. Why? It’s simple: the more we’re like someone, the more their change suggests we might need to change too.

Put bluntly, in contexts where true diversity is limited, an individual’s decision to change is, inherently (albeit perhaps unintentionally), a judgment on the groups norms.

This can be a good thing for some groups. It can facilitate stability and limit change just “for the sake of change.” On the other hand, the Church is an entity that’s almost all about change. Congregations don’t exist to help people stay what they are; congregations exist to help people become what they can be (in order, of course, to increasingly glorify God).

What an incredible irony it is: one of the primary reasons churches exist is to facilitate change, yet many congregations make true change almost impossible.

Again, the metaphor of “family” is less helpful than that of “friends.” Families usually experience change as condemnation; friends, more often, see change as opportunities for growth and development.

Let’s be friends.

I’ll be the first to admit that there’s a place for “family” language in the Church. (It is, after all, a biblical metaphor and sometimes helpful.) What if we put it on the back burner for a while though, and started replacing it with “friendship” language. Or better yet, what if we started actually being friends?! Not because we have to, but because we can. Not because we’re so much alike, but because we’re committed to being together even (perhaps especially) when we differ.

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Why do you care about AIDS?

This year, thanks to our anticipated move, I’m not riding the Aids Red Ribbon Ride (which I have immensely enjoyed for the past two years). Nonetheless, I know and love some incredible men and women who will be riding it and supporting it. As I watch their training on FaceBook and observe their fund raising, I’m reminded of how often I’ve been asked: Why do you care about AIDS?

Have you ever asked yourself that? (Probably not.)

Have you ever asked someone else? (Again, probably not.)

Believe it or not, I’m asked that question a lot. To me the answer is obvious (I’ll get to that in a second), but I guess I understand it. After all, I’m a middle-aged, married, straight white guy. I’ve never been promiscuous, never been a drug user, never been raped, don’t have a blood disorder, and – although I was an EMT for a short time – have never had an accidental sharps exposure.

To most people, I am exactly the opposite of someone who should particularly care about AIDS.

That’s why I care about it.

I care about it because most people look at me and assume that AIDS has nothing to do with me. As a matter of fact, most of my friends, colleagues, and parishioners assume that it has nothing to do with them either.

They look in a mirror and they compare themselves with “the kind of people who get AIDS” and they imagine there’s no overlap.

Except, they’re wrong.

AIDS – unlike pretty much everything else in the world – doesn’t discriminate.

Straight people get it. Gay people get it. Young people get it. Old people get it. Gorgeous people get it. Ugly people get it. Rich people get it. Poor people get it. Athletes get it. Musicians get it. Chess players get it. Parents get it. Single people get it. (I could go on, but I think you get the point….)

That’s why I care about it.

There’s more though.

I also care about it because I’m a minister. Every week I stand in front of my congregation and I call them to confession with words like: we have all fallen short of God’s will for us; we are all sinners in the hands of a gracious God – a God eager to forgive…. A God whose love is so deeply that nothing can separate us from it… nothing! “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation….”

I say those words, and I realize that the Church (big “C” – the Christian Church, as a whole) has not lived into them very well.  We’ve all-too-often imagined that God’s love doesn’t extend to people we imagine are unlike us… to those people… them… they… (whomever “those,” “them,” and “they” happens to be).

We’ve failed to realize that they are us.

I care about AIDS because, nearly every Sunday, when I call my congregation to confession I’m embarrassed at how the Church (big “C”) has responded to the AIDS crisis.

Yes, I think about AIDS that often.

Every week, I’m reminded of how often we have sectioned off people whom God Loves. (I wish I could say “they have,” but I know I’m stuck with the first-person-plural here.)  We’ve sectioned them off and imagined they’re somehow not us.

We’ve failed to realize that they are us… we are them.

That’s why I care about it.

Sure, AIDS is increasingly experienced as a disease to be “lived with” rather than to “die from,” but we have a long way to go.  Will you help?

Grace and peace,
`tim

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A Home Library

Here is my latest article for our Church’s monthly newsletter, the Courant:

This will come as no surprise to most of you, but I’m a little bit of a “book guy.” Although my library doesn’t hold a candle to that of some of my colleagues, I have been carefully adding new favorites to it for about two decades. However, with an overseas move on the horizon, I’ve had to rethink my approach to books and start evaluating which are important enough to take up space (and weight) in our luggage (or to reacquire digitally), which can be stored, and which to liquidate.

As I’ve thought about this, I was reminded of a list I put together several years ago describing what religious books are worth buying for a home library – as it turns out, it’s very similar to the list of books that I’ll be packing. Most people make the mistake of buying too many low-quality books and end up with a library full of relatively worthless ones that aren’t really all that helpful. Perhaps I can save you some money and space – here are the ones I think everyone should consider:

  • An NRSV version of the Bible: there are a lot of English translations and paraphrases available and each has their own benefits and drawbacks. The NRSV, however, is something of an “industry standard” and it’s the one we use in worship at Pultneyville Reformed. For what it’s worth, I prefer versions that include the Apocrypha – they usually cost the same, and it’s helpful to have at your disposal. ($10-50)
    (Also available online for free at: http://bible.oremus.org/)
  • A copy of the RCA creeds and confessions: you may not agree with everything in them, but they provide a helpful foundation for being able to think intelligently about matters of faith. The Bible is our “only rule of faith and practice” but it isn’t always easy or concise. The creeds and confessions often boil down complicated concepts into helpful explanations. ($7)
    (Also available online for free at: https://www.rca.org/standards)
  • The Isaiah Vision by Raymond Fung: It’s a simple little book, but the Adult Sunday School Class has spent most of the year discussing it and its implications. Sometimes congregations like ours find it easier to say what we don’t believe than to describe what we do stand for. The Isaiah Vision gives language for how “to do church” in a way that makes sense in a wide variety of contexts. ($8)
  • The New Bible Dictionary published by InterVarsity Press: Bible dictionaries are essentially encyclopedias of Bible information. If you run across the word denarii do you know what it means? What is a Psalm? What important contextual and genre information should you know when reading Nehemiah? Bible dictionaries give you all the inside information you need in (reasonably) short and concise articles (without actually telling you what to believe). I like IVP’s The New Bible Dictionary because it does a good job of straddling “easy” and “academic. ($30)
  • John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion: believe it or not, the Institutes are exceptionally accessible. Even if you take a year or two to work through them, you’ll be better off than reading a hundred pseudo-religious books picked up from the sale aisle of the bookstore. Whatever you do, though, please get a modern translation like the one by Ford Lewis Battles. ($25-50)

You can buy all of them for around a hundred dollars, and if you never buy another religious book, they’d serve you well for the rest of your life.

Seriously, how often can you say that?!

On the other hand, if you’d like to go further than that, here are a few more I’d suggest:

One last thing: there are two categories of books that are generally a waste of money for a home library (1) original language resources and (2) commentaries. Although both do a great job a boosting the ego, they simply aren’t usually worth it. Why? Put bluntly: the NRSV is a quality translation and most people will never develop enough skill with the original languages to make it worthwhile, also most commentaries fit in to one of three categories: too academic, too unacademic, or too stuck on a particular position. Most people will benefit more from spending time studying the Bible itself (especially if they do it with other people) rather than studying what some “professional scholar” has to say about it.

As always, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or would like help choosing specific editions.

Grace and peace,
`tim

 

PS: I provided links to the above resources on Amazon.  For the record, I get no “kickback” or benefits for doing so.  Most of them can be found through various distributors at similar prices.

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Getting them in… and keeping them.

I read a lot of articles about how to get people to who “left the church” to “come back” and equally as many trying to describe why [insert particular group] isn’t coming to church.  At some level, they’re interesting.  Truth be known though, I’m increasingly convinced that most of them completely miss the point.

  • It doesn’t have to do with the fact that they don’t have enough time – that’s simply an excuse (and not an honest one, at that).
  • It doesn’t have to do with sports activities on Sunday – that’s only occasionally the case.
  • It doesn’t have to do with worship style – that’s, for the most part, a matter of preference and it’s possible to find a church that reflect pretty much any preference in most communities.
  • It doesn’t have to do with gender or racial realities – everyone knows there are congregations who fit any particular position one might have on any particular topic.
  • It doesn’t have to do with any of the things most people (and, it seems most scholars) try to blame it on.

Here’s what I think: People don’t come to church because – when push comes to shove – they don’t believe it’s any more significant than whatever else they might be doing.

Yeah… that’s it.  Nothing more/nothing less.

People’s actions reflect what they think is important.  Period.  You can comfortably ignore pretty much all of the excuses people give and all of the studies scholars do – as interesting as they may be.

Those who don’t attend church – regardless of what reasons they give for not attending – deep down inside simply don’t believe it’s worth their time… at least not as worthy as whatever else they might be doing.  (Which is pretty damning to those of us in the church if they’re not choosing anything more significant than an extra hour of TV or a second cup of coffee!)

It does beg the question, then, doesn’t it: Are they wrong?  Are we – who do participate in the life and ministry of the church – really doing anything significant enough to be worth their time?

  • Are we making the world a better place?
  • Are we fighting for justice?
  • Are we truly acting as outposts of God’s kingdom?
  • Are we engaging the living God in our worship?
  • Are we inviting people into deep, world-transforming discipleship (and helping them with it)?
  • Are we positively and powerfully influencing change in society and government?
  • Are we…  well, are we being significant?

It isn’t that we don’t believe significantly.  It isn’t even that we don’t talk about significant things.  Most of us do both.  The question is whether we’re doing anything significant.

Changing worship styles may temporarily bring a few people in; changing worship times or adding services may make a minor difference for a few; adding “social” activities may even help a little, but they’re all cosmetic.

The question is: when they get past whatever’s comfortable or convenient, will they find anything that’s substantive?

The days of people coming to church “because it’s the right thing to do” are long gone.  Societal pressure (at least in the US) used to be enough to get people in the pews on Sunday morning – regardless of whether or not it was actually worth their time to do so – not anymore!

The days have come when we have to earn our place on people’s calendars – when we have to deserve their time.

Yes, I know: God deserves it… but that’s not enough.  God’s worthiness is irrelevant if they don’t recognize God’s presence in our worship or God’s work lived out in our lives and congregations.

There you have it.  From my perspective you can ignore all the studies and stop wasting time on all the articles.  If you we want people in the pews, we need to be offering something significant enough to get them (and keep them) there.

Grace and peace,
`tim

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Dear Baby Music Majors

I was once one of you.  I started coursework for my music degree – along with all the other music majors – days before most of our classmates began digging into their 100-level classes.  I spent hours in practice rooms and rehearsals.  I took diction classes, conducting classes, music history, theory, composing, and a variety of instrumental methods.

UCB Music Library MS 1087I hate to break the news to you, but here it is: many of you will not graduate from college with a music degree.  Like me, a remarkable percentage of you will change majors and graduate with something only vaguely (or not at all) related to music.

Don’t feel bad.  As a matter of fact, I have good news: whether or not you graduate with a music degree, you will want to…

..Learn your history.

I imagine music history is useful for actual music graduates, however I know music history is useful for the rest of us.  Nearly everything you learn about in history class will apply to art, architecture, philosophy, theology, and literature.  Rent will make more sense to you if you’re familiar with La Bohème.  Movies and TV – from vampire dramas to reality shows – are more enjoyable if you can place them in context. (The musical/media mismatches can be remarkably funny, too!)  Whatever field you go into (even if it is music), your only regrets will be what you don’t learn. 

…Learn your theory.

Before I switched majors, I thought theory was something to “get through” – a prerequisite to the real music classes.  Little did I know that theory actually was the real thing.  When I initially switched majors, I looked back at my time in theory classes as wasted.  How wrong I was!  You probably don’t believe me, but you will actually use it.  You will never regret the ability to transcribe a melody or transpose a part.  Honestly (and this is no exaggeration) I lament my half-hearted attention to theory more than nearly anything else from my college career.

…Learn your foreign diction.

You may never again sing (or listen to) an Italian Art Song or German Lieder; IPA may someday be a dim and ancient memory, but it’s a small world.  The ability to pronounce French, German, Italian, and Latin will come in handy regardless of what profession you settle in.  Perhaps it will be on a honeymoon or vacation; maybe you’ll use it at a conference; the possibilities are endless.  You will use it, that much I can promise.

…learn a non-ensemble instrument.

Trombone and saxophone are wonderful, but let’s face it, most people don’t play them very much after graduation.  Piano, flute, voice, guitar… you will use them.  You don’t have to be “stage quality,” but you won’t regret being decent.  I was a vocalists, keyboardist, and (low) brass player who took alto flute lessons on a whim (and because I needed a “woodwind”).  Odd as it sounds, these days I’m generally more likely to pick up a flute than trombone, or baritone, or tuba… or even organ (even though I’m a pastor in an organ-playing church!)

…stay in touch with your classmates.

This one requires very little explanation.  My music major days are well-over a decade behind me, yet the music department of my alma mater remains a source of some of my favorite memories and the people that filled it remain some of the most supportive and resourceful people I know.

You may spend the rest of your life in the music world, or you may not.  Either way, enjoy your days as a music major and soak them up – I promise, it’ll be worth it!

Grace and peace,
`tim

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“Right” belief and “Right” Discipleship

Back to the grindstone after a bit of a break on my Belgic Confession series…

Today we turn to the question that haunts pretty much every page of every church history book ever written: What was/is Jesus?

One needent sit  through very many history or theology classes to recognize that nearly every conversation eventually comes back to how one answers the question of Jesus’ divinity.  Was/Is he God?  Has he always been God?  Did he just look like God?  Was/Is he human?  Has he always been human?  Did he just appear human?  Does “sonship” require divinity?  Did something change at Jesus’ baptism?  What was the extent of kenosis?  Did Jesus reveal divinity as a child?  Was the centurion at the crucifixion declaring Jesus’ uniquely God’s son or one of many divine children?  What is the relationship between the person of Jesus and the office of Christ?  Do the answers to any of these questions change post-resurrection?  post ascension?

The questions never end.

Nor should they.

Christianity is, fundamentally, a religion defined by our beliefs about Jesus, nd that means that Christianity, at some level, requires us to wonder about who (and/or what) Jesus is (and/or was).

Dear Guido, not surprisingly, has a deeply orthodox doctrine of Jesus, declaring him “…the only Son of God— eternally begotten, not made or created… [of] one in essence with the Father; coeternal…. [who] already existed before creating all things.”

Obviously, Guido was familiar with the Nicene Creed (which, had defined the orthodox view of Jesus for almost 1200 years by the time Guido arrived on the scene).

Importantly, however, Guido doesn’t just stop with a solid doctrine of Jesus, he ends Article 10 with the recognition that the whole point of trying to understand Jesus is to draw us into discipleship:

[Jesus] is the true eternal God,
the Almighty,
whom we invoke,
worship,
and serve.

The Reformed tradition hasn’t always done well at making the jump from solid doctrine to true discipleship (especially when we’ve allowed ourselves to be overly influenced by “get ‘em saved” evangelicalism).  Guido, however, makes the connection almost accidentally.   To him, it seems, the two could barely be separated.  Indeed, they cannot.

This is the basis of what it means that the Reformed tradition is a “confessional tradition.”  Reformed folk aren’t “confessional” because we’re obsessive and compulsive about doctrinal issues (although, there are some….)  We’re “confessional” because we believe that “being Christian” and “being disciples” are the same thing and that “right” discipleship and “right” beliefs are – at best – causally related to one another.

I wonder what it might look like if Reformed denominations took that as their primary focus?

Grace and peace,
`tim

(As a side note: I deeply dislike the word “invoke” here.  In some religions to “invoke” is to ritually demand someone’s presence – Christianity’s use of the word is different.  While an “invocation” may be ritual, we do not perceive ourselves as somehow demanding God appear but rather humbly “calling upon God” to be attentive to us.)

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Migration – the Children’s Book

I realize I’m a bit behind on my Belgic Confession posts, but I’m excited to announce that I’ve finished my latest Children’s workbook.  This one is focused on helping kids understand the struggles many people encounter when attempting to migrate.  (Which, of course, is directly related to what we’ll be doing in Italy.)

Some of you may recall the workbook I wrote last year to tell the story of Peter Waldo.  This is very similar – it’s a workbook for children (probably best suited for 5-12 year olds).  It tries to engage their imagination and help put them “in the shoes” of people seeking a new life in a new land.

Sophia just finished it, here are pictures of her work:

CoverInsert Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5 Page 6 Page 7 Page 8 Page 9

If you’re interested, you can download the workbook at www.tenclay.org/booklet.pdf.  Give it a try and, if you do, please send pictures; we’d love to see them!

Grace and peace,
`tim

 

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An Important Middle-Road

For those of you expecting a post on Monday, my apologies.  However, you can read my post on the 5th section of the Belhar Confession over at That Reformed Blog.  

To be honest, I’ve started my post on The Belgic Confession, Article 9 about a dozen times over the past week and haven’t been happy with any of them.  For good reason, too.  Dear Guido has the tendency to over-state his case once in a while (seriously, have you noticed how often he uses the phrase “we believe” and word “all”?!) and he’s in rare form with Article 9.

Let me be clear: it isn’t that I question the doctrine of the Trinity.  Indeed, as surprising as it may be, I cannot recall ever having particular doubts about it.

However, I’m less convinced than Guido that it’s particularly obvious in the scriptures.  As I suggested last week, it’s obvious enough for those of us who already believe in it, but for those who don’t the Trinity is something of a hard sell.

It is worth noting, however, that the confession here (as in a number of places) reminds us that – although we have good reason to trust the decisions of those who came before us (see the last paragraph) – there is something important about what we experience as well:

All these things we know [about the Trinity]
from the testimonies of Holy Scripture
as well as from the effects of the persons,
especially from those we feel within ourselves. (emphasis mine)

Even solidly theological matters, to Guido’s mind, engage us at at a sensate level.  We can philosophize and intellectualize God to the point of ridiculousness (indeed, the Church often has!), but in the end the human species requires something deeper.

tightropeReformed folk have developed a pretty awful reputation with this particular reality.  We are sometimes caricatured as stoic and cold, and we’ve all-too-often deserved that reputation.  However, such adjectives should be foreign to Reformed Christianity.  Indeed, I’d like to suggest (following the dear Guido) that the Reformed tradition, if not Reformed people, has tight-walked an important middle-road: not overly intellectual, but also not overly emotional.

Tipping too far over into the “intellectual” world empties the faith of it’s ability to move us (i.e. rendering it useless).  Tipping too far over into the “emotional” one confines the faith to personal preference (again, useless).

I don’t have any perfect plan for (developing or) maintaining that balance, but I’m increasingly convinced at its necessity.

Grace and peace,
`tim

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The Trinity…. oh my…

There’s something a bit ironic about Article 8 of the Belgic Confession.  Or, to put it a bit more precisely, about placing one of the least biblical doctrines in Christianity after 5 – almost 6 – articles focused on the sufficiency of the scriptures.  (That may seem extreme, but read on and don’t worry, I’ll write on Article 9 next.)

Triquetra-circle-interlacedIt may not be helpful to anyone else, but I find it helpful to separate doctrines into basic 3 categories:

  • Things the scriptures make clear.
  • Things we can reasonably infer from what the scriptures make clear.
  • Things that seem to make sense considering what we know (or don’t know).

To my mind, the doctrine of the Trinity fits into the second, perhaps the third category – which means that regardless of how true it is, no one can be reasonably expected to develop it from simply reading the Bible.  Instead, it’s a concept carefully and logically developed to prevent the heresies we would otherwise inevitably fall into when trying to speak via positiva of God.

That’s part of why the doctrine of the Trinity is so important. It’s a reasonable and appropriate considering what we know and not having it is dangerous.

“Dangerous?” You ask?

Yes: Dangerous.

Without holding tightly to the doctrine of the Trinity, we are prone to wandering into explanations of who and what God is that might make more sense on the surface but fail to stand up to deeper meditation and thus, falsely define who and what God is (which, yes, I believe is dangerous).  Pretty much every metaphor used to describe God eventually lands us in some form of arianism (Jesus was created and not truly God), docetism (Jesus was pure spirit and not truly incarnate), or modalism (God just shows up in different was at different times).

The problem is: The doctrine of the Trinity, despite being deeply logical, simply doesn’t make a lot of sense and – no matter how much people might argue to the contrary – it isn’t exactly clear in the scriptures (although, for those of us who believe in it, it is clear enough).

Not that I suppose it matters to you, but I’m completely comfortable with that.

One of the lines that often shows up in my prayer life (I believe I just used it yesterday in worship again), is that I am thankful that “God is God and we are not” and that our inability to fully understand God and the divine plan is part of what draws me to worship.  I often admit that if I could understand everything there is about God, I wouldn’t waste my energy in worship and prayer — a God I can fully comprehend isn’t “big” enough.

So if God’s Trinitarianism is difficult to comprehend, that’s ok… even good.

Which isn’t to suggest that we can’t comprehend something about who and what God is, and that leads us back to Article 8:

We have “one God… single essence… three persons… really, truly, and eternally distinct… [yet] this distinction does not divide God into three…  nor [are they] fused or mixed together… There is neither a first nor a last, for all three are one in truth and power, in goodness and mercy.”

Wow.

I don’t completely understand it (although I do recall one instance when – for a few moments – it actually seemed to all “click”), but if “God is God and we are not” isn’t that a good thing?!  If you want my 2cents, the Trinity isn’t really something to understand anyhow; it’s something to meditate on.

Think about it….

Grace and peace,
`tim

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Boldness or Narcissism?

Acts chapter 4 describes Peter and John thrown in jail, dragged before the religious hierarchy, chastised for preaching about Jesus, and ordered to quit doing so.  Their response was to boldly reply: “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge;for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4: 19-20)

To no surprise, this passage has been on my mind lately.  Not only did I spend Easter to Thanksgiving preaching through the first chapters of Acts at Pultneyville, but these very verses were cited by the early Waldensians when ordered by the religious hierarchy of their day to stop preaching.  (The modern Waldensians, of course, being the Italian side of the partnership we’ve begun preparing for.)

You are My Witnesses: The Waldensians across 800 Years Editor: Frank G. Gibson Photo Plate #2

You are My Witnesses: The Waldensians across 800 Years
Editor: Frank G. Gibson
Photo Plate #2

The same verses came to mind as I read through Belgic Confession, Article 7, particularly this paragraph:

…we must not consider human writings—
no matter how holy their authors may have been—
equal to the divine writings;
nor may we put custom,
nor the majority,
nor age,
nor the passage of times or persons,
nor councils, decrees, or official decisions
above the truth of God,
for truth is above everything else.

We’ve already looked at Guido’s argument that the authority of the scriptures is self-evident.  Here he approaches the authority question from the other side: nothing can supersede biblical authority, no matter how official it (or they) may be.

I expect to see this article referenced a lot in the coming years as arguments are made (from both sides) of any number of topics – particularly as the church continues to struggle with questions of sexuality and gender.  I’m not going to get into any of that here, but I hope that when they reference the section I’ve copied above, they don’t forget the notice the two lines following it:

For all human beings are liars by nature
and more vain than vanity itself.  (Emphasis mine.)

Why can’t any human authority supersede the scriptures?  Because humans are “liars by nature and more vain than vanity itself.”  It’s simple.  Our tendency, in all things, is to twist the truth to reflect our own preferences and priorities.

Believe it or not, this is why I’ve spent so much time meditating on Acts 4: 19-20.  Yes, we are called to boldness (particularly when the topic is gospel or justice).  However, we need to always be careful that our boldness is divinely-inspired rather than a result of our narcissism – the distinction is not always easy to make.

All too often, I’ve noticed, the declaration that “God told me so” is more a bludgeon used to wallop one’s  opponents than a reflection of divine inspiration.  (For the record, one need not be self-aware enough to notice that they’re abusing the scriptures for it to be the case.)

Either way, the Article’s point is well taken: the “truth is above everything else.”

And by “everything,” Guido means everything.

Now that’s quite a statement!

Grace and peace,
`tim

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