Thursday, May 10, 2007

Encounter Through Scripture

I have been teaching a chapel class this quarter on the history of Churches of Christ, using the excellent book by Gary Holloway and Doug Foster, “Renewing God’s People: A Concise History of Churches of Christ.” Many people in the class have expressed appreciation for learning more about our heritage, and I too have been blessed to learn more as I teach.

In chapter 10, “1906-1941: A Distinctive Church Takes Shape,” the authors note that a three-part hermeneutic (method of biblical interpretation) arose in the late 19th century and came to dominate Churches of Christ in the 20th century. This hermeneutic held that Biblical authorization came only through “direct command, approved example, or necessary inference;” anything else was prohibited. Concurrent with the rise of this hermeneutic, and at least partly due to it, was a certain contentiousness of spirit. “We were a debating people. Our ministers debated Baptists over the order of Baptism and salvation, Christian Churches over instrumental music, premillennialists over the millennium, and numerous other groups over a variety of issues. As a result, much of our theology in Churches of Christ was formed in controversy” (p. 112).

I am going to speak generally here and perhaps a bit simplistically, but I believe my observation has the ring of truth. Because of this hermeneutic, we tended to read the Scriptures in order to take positions, find authorization, or establish practices. And of course to increase our “Bible knowledge.” But even the latter was seen as an end in itself, not as a means to something else, namely to know God through Jesus Christ in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit and be in deeper relationship with him.

As a result, in the last fifteen years or so many in our fellowship have pursued a spirituality focusing more on prayer, service, and community and less on reading the Bible. There is tremendous interest in the spiritual disciplines and various expressions of discipleship. This is great! But when I read a survey disclosing that 87% of evangelical Christians don’t read their Bible other than in church on Sunday, I am inclined to believe that reflects people in the Churches of Christ too. We seem to have been in a “between time” in which we stopped reading the Scriptures simply to acquire Bible knowledge or take positions but did not find a more pleasing reason to read the Scriptures.

I would suggest that the Scriptures are beckoning to us to meet God there. Not only there, but certainly there. Not to establish our doctrinal positions (though the Scriptures do that), and not to become walking encyclopedias of Bible knowledge, but to know the heart of God. To know the story of God and his people. To be swept up and integrated into a life that is often very different from and calls into question the life around us.

I have begun working through a workbook called “Becoming Disciples Through Bible Study,” and one of its statements intrigues me: “The Scriptures have power to bring about an encounter between God and the one who reads Scripture.” That is an encounter I am eager to have. Continually.


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