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The Church and The Bible

 
I was born in 1925. My generation is often called,‘The ‘Greatest Generation’ because of its ingenuity and sacrifice in WWII. My generation and the people who are living now have witnessed the demise of the traditional churches in America. The disappearance of the traditional church in Europe preceded what is happening in America. While church leaders mention all kinds of societal changes as reasons for people leaving the church, they are slow to acknowledge the fact that the concepts and language of Christianity have become irrelevant. The religious concepts, world view, and images which were meaningful bearers of faith in their historical setting and became encased in doctrines are void of meaning because of our new insights in understanding human life and the natural world.

I was brought up in the traditional view, educated in its theology, and proclaimed it [with some reservations] for thirty five years. It was meaningful to me because I was nurtured in that view, but I no longer can believe it and many of the youth I faithfully taught no longer find any rational meaning in it.

As a pastor of a congregation in the 60’s I was excited by the theological discussion which shook the world when Bishop John A. T. Robinson’s book, Honest to God, hit the market. As Bishop Robinson said, “All I can do is to try to be honest: Honest to God and honest about God.” I was excited about the movement that followed and the flood of books about new insights into Christianity. The church should have listened, but it circled the wagons and stayed on course and the exodus from the church accelerated.

I have done considerable reading and spent a lot of time reflecting on my own faith journey in my retirement. Much of the church’s theology no longer has meaning for me, but my faith in Jesus’ call to “Follow me,” is my inspiration and draws me to love the world and its people.

I have tried to put my mind to the question, “Why is the church so afraid of and resistant to change?” The obvious answer is TRADITION. It is difficult to leave the familiar, especially in matters of religion and faith and a tradition that has existed for more than 1,500 years.

However, people change. We have discovered much about human nature and the vastness of the world and universe. Our current knowledge and understanding was mystery to the individuals who formed our religious doctrines and what they experienced as mystery was often attributed to the gods. We need to reexamine the writings which are our link to the past, and find new ways to make Jesus relevant to our time. These writings are in our Bible. How we understand and interpret these writings can renew our link to Christianity. How we relate to the Bible will determine whether we cling to the traditions of the past or how the church will be renewed for an exciting future.

If the Bible is read as a history book, as the way events actually happened, then the traditional view will continue even though it is irrelevant. But let’s envision a different scenario. The Bible is the response to a relationship between humans and a spiritual being or God. What motivated these writings? Did God initiate a message and the people reacted, or did people have a need or fear and ‘heard God’ speaking to their situation’ I believe that then and now the initiative is a human need to which the human ‘receives’ a spiritual inspiration. I want to look at one area: Jesus and the Gospels.

After Jesus’ death and then the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D. which led to the dispersion of the Jewish people to cities around the Aegean Sea, the followers of Jesus were heartbroken and searching for meaning in their lives. Mark, Matthew and Luke were written at this time, some 40 to 70 years after Jesus’ death. While they seem to contain some historical descriptions, they are basically ‘faith’ stories—what the People of the Way found meaningful for their relation to the divine. As they searched their Jewish writings they were drawn to words about a promised powerful messiah, a descendant of David, who would restore the Jewish nation. With that hope now shattered by the Roman conquest, the writers of the gospels used the Passover lamb as the basis to interpret Jesus as a ‘spiritual’ messiah, and wrote the gospels as fulfillment of the prophetic references which they often interpreted in unrealistic ways. As the Passover lamb symbolizes forgiveness of sin, so Jesus became the perfect sacrifice for human sin and whoever believed in him would have peace with God. Since no human is sinless, the writers claimed Jesus divine by saying he was miraculously born of a virgin woman. The writers also had Jesus perform miracles to affirm his divinity. From this, theologians wrote the doctrines which have basically turned Christianity into eternal life insurance: Believe in Jesus and when you die you will have eternal life in heaven. [My reflection: I find my life interesting because it is about experiencing something new—growth, change. Wouldn’t perfection in heaven forever be boring?]

In focusing on heaven, the church has neglected Jesus’ being the love of God on earth. Which brings us to a new meeting place where the message of Jesus’ life addresses the care of the earth, and the followers of Jesus are called to be love in a society driven by greed and the neglect of those who are left behind. I believe Jesus was totally human and that his life radiated love so completely that he revealed the presence of God in himself and experienced divinity in all humans and in all of creation. As followers of Jesus reflect God’s love of humans and the natural world, the church will be the yeast and salt for a needy world and its human occupants. Discipleship is not about rewards. It’s about loving service.

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