Emerging Concerns Part 3 – Community

Culture - Community - Motivation/Role Model - Society/Kingdom

In the previous article I addressed the role of Culture in post-modern thinking and how one might encounter it in the church. From the idea of meaning proceeding from or coming from culture, we are left to question meaning and even, what can we really understand . This next stage in post-modern, emergent thinking builds further off this foundation of culture. The cultural setting or backdrop can be seen in the Bible; so what are the implications? Each culture records its history and ideas. We have all read books from other times and places; Don Quixote, or the Iliad to name a few. Often we learn something new; a different way to look at things. The question is, did God meet people where they were at and accommodate their flawed views of the world and how life should be ordered?

Again you will see this in many ways in the church, some more subtle and others more radical. One teacher points to how the bible has been misunderstood and used to justify tragic action and wonders whether the Bible is the best God could do. Another professor compares passages in the Bible to other ancient writings. For example; in Psalms 103:12 we see “as far as the east is from the west”. In an Egyptian hymn, a deity is praised for his judgment, the guilty are assigned to the east and the righteous to the west. When we find thoughts and stories that resemble those in scripture does this mean scripture proceeded from them? Could it be that ancient people having heard oral traditions and through seeking stumbled upon bits and pieces of truth…? Isaiah 9:2 tells us that “the people in darkness have seen a great light”. Did not the Word (the great light) proceed from God informing those stumbling in darkness of the real picture of reality and intentions and created order of God?

While the Bible certainly has an ancient backdrop this becomes gradually overstated making the Bible more and more the product of man and less a work of God. We are then left to wonder what the Bible may mean for us.

The idea that Scripture may mean something different for us is gaining traction. Quite a few modern evangelical teachers and others have built off these questions and propose a progressive approach to understanding the Bible and how it should be applied or even if it should be applied anymore in some cases. They leaned back on these ideas of culture and meaning shedding doubt on the understandability of the Bible.

A college friend of mine commented on how information is now more readily available and searchable so it must be harder for false teaching to gain acceptance and therefore the call in Jude to contend for the faith may not have the same meaning for us. (see my response: In Danger of Being Non-Contenders) It does seem right, so much has changed, can we apply the Bible to ourselves and others as the ancient church did? After all, we have grown up with the ideas of evolution and progress; are we not better now than the cultures that preceded us? After all we have the printing press/copy machine, computers, light bulbs, and nuclear power. We have different social structures than that of biblical times. How then do we decide what to take from the writings of these other times?

Such teachers proposing a progressive approach point to places in the Bible we’re Christians met to make decisions and propose that we need to figure out how to apply the Bible in community. You will run into teachers that talk about the passage where Jesus tells his disciples what they bind here on earth will be bound and what they release will be released in heaven. They may also talk about common practices and views of the time and propose that what the Bible says was being built from traditions outside the Bible. This verse on binding however is misrepresented. A clearer understanding may be seen if we look at the Amplified translation.

Matthew 18:18 Truly I tell you, whatever you forbid and declare to be improper and unlawful on earth must be what is already forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit and declare proper and lawful on earth must be what is already permitted in heaven.

Matthew 5:18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away , not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished . 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments , and teaches others to do the same , shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.

Certainly there is a place for those that study the Bible, scholars, to meet and discuss what the bible is saying. As we read the Bible we need to consider their guidance. We see this in the AMP bible in which scholars expound upon words. Binding and loosing does not mean we seek how we together want to apply it but we seek it’s real meaning and God’s intention apart from our time and our society and the way it wants to structure itself.  Admittedly there are uncomfortable circumstances and teachings in the Bible, but are we seeking the will of a community or the will of God.  God can speak across time; the question is not can we understand but do we want to understand?

"Wyclif Giving 'The Poor Priests' His Tra...

“Wyclif Giving ‘The Poor Priests’ His Translation of the Bible” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The concepts of personal Bible study and private interpretation are key to the reformation.  In the 14th Century John Wycliffe found that many clergy hadn’t even read the Bible and just taught what they were told.  The church had become a political force sanctioning or influencing wars to keep nations and groups in check as well as a tool to control their populace through the sacraments and fear of loosing eternal life if these were with held.  Much of this was put in place by the church under the over-site and direction of a community of church leaders.   Wycliffe started to teach against the church’s political entanglement, accumulation of wealth, indulgences, and trans-substantiation and was removed from Oxford.  He requested and was granted a small Parish.  But the problems in the church burdened him and while in prayer God reminded him that Greek, the language the New Testament was written in, and Latin, the language it was translated into, were both the language of the people.  The Bible wasn’t written in highfalutin language.  Wycliffe translated the Bible into English and was later put on trial as a heritic.  The trial was interrupted by an uncharacteristic earth quake before the judge was to make a verdict.  God gave His Word to us and it is not so tied to culture and it is meant to be personal; “for I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin”.

Yes, the bible does recognize authority and community oversight and even calls for us to submit our selves to the authority of the community we live in.  While the bible itself tells us that such authorities and community oversight has been put in place by God it doesn’t mean that they are infallible and the bible doesn’t justify a blind following.  For example in the case of Saul God allowed authority to be put in place that was corrupt to enlighten his people to where their faith should have been.  When David called for a census which God was opposed to it was the people that were punished for their blind obedience.  We all have a personal responsibility to the truth and in that the Word of God is quite individualistic.  It was Joshua who said “Choose this day whom you will serve but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord”.

So let me summarize where post-modern and emergent thought leads with regard to community.   The first stage builds upon culture and gradually reduces the Bible to something proceeding from man and the culture at the time.  It may acknowledge God’s influence on the Bible but will over-state the influence of culture on the Bible and understanding the Bible.  From this the second stage is to promote a progressive way of understanding the Bible.  Often the uncomfortable situations in the Bible are highlighted as reasons why we need to reinterpret the Bible.  So essentially in post-modern thought which is founded on humanism and evolution we find ourself in a culture and we take the thought of our current culture as well as the thoughts of past cultures and put them together to evolve the next generation and its culture.  This is done by communities that meet together to consider these thoughts and the predominant (natural selection) community prevails.  This is a far cry from our God who as creator made man in His image and who is the one that is to build, guide and direct us.  If these things are true then scripture should read that a great light entered their world and for us it is no longer a great light but is a dim light from which we can glean a few things.  But scripture says a great light has entered THE world; both our and theirs.

These are just some of the things to watch out for in the Church and Christian academia with regard to culture and community.

See:  Authority and Authorship

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About Devin Adint
I have always had many interests; technology, science, philosophy, theology, politics, history, etc... Currently, life for the past twelve years has placed me in the area of technology fulfilling roles in System Administration and Architecture. But I have always been involved in the local church and enjoy researching and discussing issues of theology, philosophy, history and politics...

2 Responses to Emerging Concerns Part 3 – Community

  1. Paul Luksch says:

    Good job indentifying a problem and critiquing its claims. Once again a wrong teaching has entered the church and must be brought to light so that others don’t slip away into it. Its really no different than other teachings that have cropped up over history. There really is nothing new under the sun; just enough time passes and people forget. Elevate man, bring doubt upon the Scriptures, and then you can demphasize Christ and most every other claim or command that God has given.

    • Paul Luksch says:

      I meant to add that ALL Scripture is breathed by God, good for teaching, rebuking, correcting, training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

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