Sunday, January 20

How sincere believers can read the same Bible and yet come to such differing understandings of Scripture

I have always found it intriguing how Christians reading the same Bible can come up with such a wide variety of beliefs and practices about the church. Recently I stumbled upon a very simple explanation of how such a wide variety of beliefs can exist within the Body of Christ through reading Father Zachary J. Hayes explanation of the Roman Catholic doctrine of Purgatory where he points out that our understanding of the church and church practice hinges upon our overarching view of Scripture itself:
"While the Protestant viewpoint looks for a pure form of doctrine at the beginning of Christian history and sees any deviation from that pure form as a corruption, the Catholic viewpoint sees the beginning more like a seed planted in history. It is the nature of a seed to grow and develop...

Catholic theologians have been inclined to think of the church as a community that grows through history like a living organism. The idea of a seed and the plant emerging from the seed became common metaphors to express this sense of growth. Like a seed, the revelation of God germinates in the ground of history and of human cultures and gives rise to a plant. While this plant is intrinsically related to the seed, it still looks quite different from the original seed, just as an oak tree looks very different from the acorn from which it grew...

In terms of doctrine, this has come to mean that, while the Scriptures have a normative and irreplaceable role to play in the faith life of the church, nevertheless, we ought not to expect any one-to-one relationship between the formultations of the Scriptures and the later formulations of church doctrines..."
--Father Zachary J. Hayes
Wow! If Scripture is merely the initial "seed" from which the plant--the church--matures and grows; then yes, we can have all kinds of beliefs, traditions, and church practices.

But is Scripture meant to be only the initial seed? Is God's Word meant to be only the starting point? Where in Scripture, itself, is the church referred to using a seed metaphor?

This might not seem like a big deal, but to me the seed metaphor has enormous implications. If Scripture is just the starting point where the "seed" begins its journey evolving into a more developed state, then truly everybody is right in ascerting their viewpoint of what has evolved as being "the truth." Indeed each seed will develop into a different plant. Isn't this what we have done with the church? Church is what we want it to be, not what what Scripture says it is. Acts and the Epistles are not blueprints, but are understood as "seeds" that sprout and grow into something different than what we find in the pages of the New Testament.

I believe it is not only the Catholics who have misunderstood the church, her doctrines and practices as deriving themselves from Scripture seeds, but Protestants and Evangelicals as well. All of us tend to justify what it is we believe (or want to believe) by copying/pasting favorite proof texts about the church and making them fit our current ecclesiology.

We have taken the seed found in the Bible, sowed it into the soil of history, nurtured and watered it down through the ages, and think what we have today is an improvement over what Jesus and the apostles left for us. After all, why gather in a simple home to stimulate one another to love and good works, when we can meet in multi-million dollar complexes complete with state-of-the-art technology and artificial waterfalls cascading in the foyer?

So, what is your view of Scripture? Is it a starting point meant to evolve into something else? Or is the intent to give us a more prescriptive set of commands and instructions on how to best make disciples, plant churches, etc.? Or, maybe, something in between?

5 comments:

Eric said...

Guy,

Great stuff! Thank you.

When the church deviates from scripture, almost anything is open season. It is postmodern thought run amok.

God has shown us what we need in scripture. With the Spirit's guiding, we can be what He has described. We can't improve upon God's principles and practices. There's no reason to even try.

J. Guy Muse said...

Eric,

Thanks for stopping by and for the comment. I believe many of us believe we are following God's Word, but in reality are more like the Catholic writer I quote in our practice of believing more in the evolution of the Scripture as in the seed metaphor he uses, rather than as a basis for our practice and belief.

Eric said...

Guy,

You are probably correct. It is easy to see others' contradictions, while much more difficult to see and admit our own.

brywieb said...

Excellent post, Guy! I reckon as long as we read the Bible in order to validate our current theological and religious positions rather than read it with a spirit of humility and repentance, we will continually fabricate systems/forms in attempt to get to God and accomplish things for Him.

I've come to read the written Word with the same tone presented by the Living Word - Jesus- when he came and said he was here to reveal the Father! There is a true, deep intimacy in coming to know the Person rather than looking at scripture as a "how to" manual. Peace!

J. Guy Muse said...

Bryan,

Thanks for stopping by and for the helpful comment. I can really identify with what you write There is a true, deep intimacy in coming to know the Person rather than looking at scripture as a "how to" manual...and especially if that "how to" manual continues to evolve into new forms as described in the post! Trust you guys are doing well and hanging in there strong. Hopefully our paths can cross again someday. We so enjoyed getting to know you back in 2010.