Saturday, January 21, 2006

Silence is Divine

Speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where it’s silent. This has long been my motto, but I have not always lived up to it. Like many reformation denominations, which with one mouth subscribe to the Nicene Creed, and with another mouth sing a different tune, I too have given lip service to my motto without being true to its ideals.

The motto, I believe, is a good one. If the Bible speaks on an issue, I ought to speak where it speaks, always in love, of course. But the hard part is remaining silent when the Bible is silent. That goes against my human desire to have an opinion on everything, and to feel free to share my opinion.

It’s true that we’ve been given everything that “pertains to life and godliness.” But does every question that arises “pertain to life and godliness?” If so, the Bible is silent on nothing, so why is there a need to be silent about anything?

But if the Bible is indeed silent on some things, I ought to be careful that I’m not preaching my extrapolations about the Bible’s silence in place of the Bible’s actual silence. In short, I ought to actually be silent on the issue, not fill the silence with my own human-derived rules and assumptions.

I have to allow for the fact that a question under discussion simply may not pertain to life and godliness. God’s opinion is not always binary—meaning “yes,” or “no.” Sometimes there is a third answer embodied in His silence on the question.

Filling this silence can’t be done without some fairly extensive forays into fallible human logic. For instance, the Bible is silent (in my opinion) on the issue of church-owned places of worship. We find examples of the disciples renting rooms, meeting in public places like gardens and synagogues, and meeting in believers’ homes, but we never find examples of them pooling their resources for a building fund.

So whether I insist that we can or can’t own a church building, I’m in essence speaking where the Bible is silent. I ought to simply acknowledge the Divine silence. Let every man be convinced in his own mind.

Of course, I may form an opinion and live by it. On this particular question, I believe that it is probably a matter of indifference to God, but that more genuine fellowship can be achieved by simply meeting in our homes whenever feasible. But my opinion must not be mistaken as firm Biblical exposition. If I present it that way, I am violating my motto of remaining silent where the Bible is silent.

That is what the Pharisees did when they tried to fill in all the gaps in interpreting the law for the masses. “Surely,” they thought, “if we cannot work on the Sabbath, and walking long distances is work, there must be a maximum distance one can walk on the Sabbath.” They proceeded rather logically from the letter of the law, but ended up “teaching doctrines which are the commandments of men.”

That is the danger we are in when we try to fill in all the gaps by interpolating and extrapolating God’s will from the information contained in the Scriptures. When we rely on a series of assumptions (for instance, that the Bible’s silence is evidence of disapproval), and proceed to make rules for everyone else based on our conclusions, we are indeed teaching doctrines which are nothing more than the commandments of men.

It’s so much more scriptural, yet takes so much more self-restraint to just let the silence sit there. It’s fine to develop opinions from Biblical silence. But we can’t impose our opinion of what the Divine silence means by trying to fill it with our own fallible voices.

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Friday, January 20, 2006

One of these days

I just thought I'd post the words of a song that really resonated with me recently. I've done a search on the Internet and can't find the songwriter's name, so if anyone knows, please leave a comment on this page. I heard a beautiful rendition of it done by a group called Smalltown Poets, and spent some time on the computer arranging it for four-part harmony to sing in group settings. But I'm pretty sure from the sound of it that it's an older song going back a few generations at least.

The reason it really struck a chord with me (sorry for the pun) is that it is a very hopeful and optimistic song anticipating a day when "love and peace" come face to face. I pray for that day when Christians lay down their swords against their brothers. Patience, folks.

Here it is:

    One of these days
    When time shall slip its cog in place
    And spin its line of lovely lace
    Then love and peace come face to face
    One of these days

    When sorrow can nowhere be found
    And greed shall lay its weapons down
    And hate give up without a sound
    One of these days

    When love by tender instrument
    Through circumstance and incident
    Shall peace and love again invent
    One of these days

    To see this from within the soul
    We must be patient and consoled
    To know the joy that’s ours to hold
    One of these days

    And so with earnest inward eyes
    We man the post where duty lies
    And seek to win the precious price
    One of these days
    One of these days

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

My pride colored glasses

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the blinding nature of pride. It is so easy to see it in someone else, but we Christians must be honest that it is amazingly difficult to see it in ourselves. The moment we think we’ve reached maximum humility is the exact moment we’ve topped the charts in pride. After all, a truly humble person believes, or at leasts suspects, that he is actually quite proud. It is the proud person that thinks he is essentially humble.

The importance of this point is profound when we comprehend Solomon's wisdom that "pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." Mankind must be constantly on the verge of destruction, headed for a fall, if this is the case—and indeed it is. What's more earth-shaking to ponder is that we believers are not immune from this vice. We, too, are inherently proud, and therefore on the brink of destruction, headed for a fall.

The whole situation is not unlike the old "colored glasses" analogy. I always believed the denominational advocates each had their own set of colored glasses through which they viewed Christianity, or the Bible in particular, and that I did not. The Baptists had their tinted glasses, and so did the Presbyterians, Methodists and Lutherines. While I might allow, in moments of introspection, that my glasses were not perfect, I certainly considered them mostly clear compared to the other person's glasses.

The thought did cross my mind at times that others must think that I must be the one with the colored glasses. It would even come up with Christians in discussion of other religions. But I must confess, the thought was quickly dismissed most of the time as too relativistic.

As C.S. Lewis wrote so poignantly a couple generations ago, we can easily determine that another person has a retina through which they see the world, but it is difficult to see our own retina. That is like asking us to see the very thing we use to see.

I now realize that I had all along (and still have) colored glasses on. Make no mistake--I desire to take them off and see the Bible, and Jesus Christ, and God, and faith, as they really are, not as I want to see them, or have been taught to see them, or feel outside pressure to see them. But truth demands that I be brutally honest with myself and acknowledge that it is completely impossible to remove them altogether. I have a point of view, a filter we might call "human fallibility." Once I realize that, there is no going back to the naive belief that I do not have a point of view that is colored by my own thinking process.

If it is impossible to remove my glasses entirely, a useful way to think of the situation I find myself in is that I need to try to constantly clean them. That means changing the focal length of my eyes every so often to see the lens, not just what I normally see through that lens. That means thinking about my thinking on Christianity, not just thinking about Christianity.

Just the other day, my son Jaden got a library book of stereograms (A.K.A. "Single Image Random Dot Stereograms," or holographs). For the uninitiated, stereograms are those colorful, seemingly abstract patterns, often printed on posters, which actually contain vivid three dimensional images. You cannot see the image by focusing on the page. You can only see it if you trick your brain into focusing on an imaginary plane in back of the paper, usually designed to be the same distance from the paper to your eyes. You are essentially looking "through" the paper to see the image printed on it. The key to seeing the image is in changing the focal length of your eyes. While we do this millions of times a day unconsciously, it is not something we normally do consciously.

That's what I want to do with my faith, in a way, only I don't just want to see an illusion, a trick played on my brain. I want to see my own retina—my own lens through which I view my devotion to our Creator. To do that, I have to acknowledge that I have always had "pride colored glasses," and to some extent, I always will. Until I let God remove the prideful perspective that I am the most correct of the bunch, I will not be the most correct of the bunch. How's that for a paradox?

I don't at all mean to suggest that the ideal Christian should be plagued by doubt and insecurity. God forbid! We should be confident and unwaivering in what we know:

    Psalm 119:5 - Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees! (NKJV)

    Isaiah 26:3 - You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. (NKJV)

    1 Peter 5:10 - And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (NKJV)

But we should likewise be willing to add to our knowledge. And if we're going to be "plagued" with anything, my friends, let it be with humility.
    1 Peter 5:5 - Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud,But gives grace to the humble.” (NKJV)

    1 Corinthians 10:12 - Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. (NKJV)

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