Saturday, October 03, 2009

Are we a "Biblical" church?

this is a slightly edited version of a short article I just wrote for our church newsletter, also called Thin Places.

Is Cambridge Drive Community Church a Bible believing church? That is a question that is often asked, but it usually carries with it considerable baggage. Generally, the question really being asked is something like, "Are you fundamentalists?" or "Do you take the Bible literally?" or possibly, "Are you conservative, like me?" or "Does your pastor use lot of proof texts in his sermons?" or maybe even, "Do you read the King James Version of the Bible?"

When we were visiting Phoenix some time back and looking for a church to attend, we came across the Shadow Rock UCC Church that addressed this question in a way that inspired me. They answered, "We take the Bible seriously but not literally." I think that is a good start, but I want to go a bit further. Taking the Bible literally is not being Biblical. Indeed, I have never met anyone who takes the entire thing literally - check out the wonderful book, The Year of Living Biblically to see what I mean. So to make that claim is to be dishonest at the start. Worse than that, it does violence to the text of the scripture. The Bible is composed of a wide variety of types of literature, written in different times, for different purposes, to different audiences, in different languages that reflect different paradigms of reality. We live in a very different world from theirs and face wildly different issues. Indeed, through the centuries covered by the Biblical text, the writers reflected different cultures and times and issues and answered them in ways that were often contradictory. To be "Biblical" requires that we take all of this into account when we come to the text and form our faith.

So, what does it mean to be a Bible believing church? First, we must look at the scripture for what it is. We do not believe that our scripture was lowered from heaven on a golden cord nor do we believe that a founder discovered golden tablets hidden under a stone which were translated by an angel. We don't believe that God dictated each word to a scribe who copied what he or she wrote. We have a scripture that reflects the differing experiences of men and women through the centuries, wrestling with faith in their contexts, and sharing their experiences. We have a scripture that includes a wide variety of types of literature which are meant to be handled and understood in different ways. And as Howard Moody, pastor emeritus of Judson Memorial Church in NYC, reminds us, the Bible is not the Word of God... Jesus is.

We must remember that truth and historicity are not the same. Whether or not a story took place the way it is reported has little to do with the truth embedded in that story.

Harry Emerson Fosdick spoke of the effective preacher having a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. It is a good metaphor for the task of Biblical interpretation (and we always interpret the Bible - just translating it requires interpretation). It is not enough to even understand all of the setting of the scripture, the original intent of the authors, or the message that was conveyed to the original hearers. We must also ask the question, "how does this word translate to our situation?" knowing that answer may be different today than it was 10 years ago and is likely different than it was 2000 years ago.

So, is CDCC a Biblical church? I hope so... Unfortunately, many of those that claim to be are anything but...


Dave Miller said...

Nice post Roy. I have had many a discussion with folks who forget Moody's words.

To me, that is an important distinction.

fernando said...

Good words.