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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Simple church and the problem of scholarship

There will always be a need in the body of Christ for professional scholarship to aide in appreciating the implications of various interpretations of an ancient text. But this is only one small part of what being a church is all about.

The body of Christ can do most of what it needs to be doing by simply caring for one another in love and allowing each person a voice when we come together. Can love can be enhanced by knowledge? Sure, when you better understand what works and what does not work it helps you to choose what really works instead of what only seems as though it should work. But most of the time, the connection of love that all people need is not a connection that requires specialized knowledge. It just requires caring, and being present with someone.

Instead of simply loving each other we have gotten into the institutionalized habit of loving through preaching our life style at each other. This requires everyone be the theological expert as if we all can and must understand everything in the bible. Instead of loving each other we have been given the assignment to talk the talk and keep each person indoctrinated in the "true" faith.

The strategy in most bible believing fellowships has been to teach, teach and teach some more until everyone is up to speed on what every verse in the bible "really" means. It might seem like a good idea but the results have been disastrous. Using medicine as an analogy: caring for each other does not require we all become doctors of medicine who understand every pathology of the body.

Sure, we can encourage each other to take better care of ourselves, to exercise, to get rest, and drink plenty of water. But sometimes we need to say, "I don't know what will help, you need to see a doctor." The day will never come when most people know what a medical doctor knows, but fortunately we do not need to spread the expertise that far and wide.

Every one in the body of Christ has been trained to become a shibboleth tester. We judge each other by the things we have been taught Christians should believe. Although a large population can learn to be loving, it is not possible to turn a large population into theological experts. Christians these days have a love for talking about the things of God at a level that requires far more expertise than they actually have.

As a result most of what passes for biblical doctrine is over simplified narrow minded uneducated tradition that has been "naturally" selected by the fact that it is an easier way to control a non expert population with a superficial reading of the biblical text to find what merely feels as if it is the obvious. Add to this a good measure of what really used to be authentic scholarship centuries ago and then call it a denomination. As a result a pseudo scholarship has come about where Christian teaching and understanding is mere superstition eclipsing even common sense and paradigms that run woefully ignorant of reality.

This has made the body ill and filled it with useless fatty tumors. The body is in need of pharisectomies and physical rehabilitation. In the future, I am predicting that most Christians will get their theological expertise from a balance of various published authors, thinking things through for themselves and a good dose of awareness for what is going on in so called secular scholarship. The local pastor will become, more than anything else, a facilitator to keep the people engaged in the love of each other. Sure, whenever any one teaches or preaches it helps if they are as biblical as they know to be, but the goal is to meet hearts where they have need, not turn everyone into a dumbed down expert or to condemn the pastor because he botched the semiotic implications of an atypical use of the aorist tense. It is good enough that we pursue a healthy relationship with God and a healthy relationship with each other. We are not all awesome theologians, medical doctors or psychiatrists. We are just people and that is even more awesome.

Complexity is a necessary part of understanding deep questions at a deep level. But most of the time I cry out for the simple life.

1 comment:

  1. Someone told me years ago that, "You cannot learn more than you are willing to apply." Of course that is overstatement, but more thinking than doing leads to a Pandora's box of error.

    In my limited experience, Christians suffer from wishful thinking. We choose ways to live in a better world and then sigh because nobody will make it so.

    The "secret" to successful Christian living is to BE a Christian -- a follower of Jesus Christ. When we read, "Jesus said..." that generally means that there is a rule for living in what follows.

    We look for people who agree with our assessments of ourselves and our world view, and between us we can create whatever Christianity we think we want. Intellectuals are as guilty as the rest of us.

    Instead of, "What is the truth?" the tendency is to ask, "What affirms the truth I want to believe?"

    In the real world, a pastor becomes what the people want him to be, or they leave the fold and find one who is a better fit. That can be good or bad, yet generally we either want more rules and condemnation or more liberties and giddiness. Ultimately, the avg. churchgoer probably cares less about Christ than about the conduct of the pastor and governing board. For this, we get an enormous array of "theology."