Tuesday, December 20, 2005

B.I.B.L.E., Being Baptist and Bubba Gump

This last Sunday, my wife, three of our five children and I had the opportunity to visit a special Sunday School class. The class was held at a home/hospital/detention center for children who, for one reason or another, have been removed from their regular home situation and are under a level of specialized care (another blog entry may possibly serve to deliver the details of that event). One child in particular was very quick to provide good answers to about every question asked, racing ahead of the almost-flustered volunteer who brought the lesson. At one point, the young boy (perhaps no more than 10 years of age) thought to impart some information he felt we all should know, volunteering loudly, “I know what the Bible is!” He had my attention! He proudly recited, “The Bible is:

B asic
I nstructions
B efore
L eaving
E arth”

I could only sit agape as for a brief second as I flew through the corridors of time, catching a glimpse of Jesus sitting in the temple amazing the teachers with his answers. I saw a similar scene once before in an airport as one of my children (I think she was about 6 or 7) sat on the floor during a long layover surrounded by three Orthodox priests in their long flowing robes, large iconic crosses hanging over their long flowing beards, listening intently as she explained (in detail) the life of Christ as she understood it. All they could do was listen as all she could do was talk.

[You know, the problem with taking off down a rabbit trail early on is that it seems like it’s the main path . . . from the “what it’s worth” department . . .]

This morning I was prompted to think on a unique feature of the Bible that has been very obvious for some time, but at the same time is very peculiar. The peculiarity is that it may be said that God never does the same thing twice. Erickson says, “Once the Passover or the crossing of the Rea Sea or the contest on Mount Carmel had occurred, there was the danger that its value for those who were not present might have been lost. God will not repeat an event over and over for each person who will ever live.”

On the other hand, considering the act of revelation, we understand that God’s actions alone are not relegated to simply “adventures”. We understand plainly that God spoke directly to the human race, has communicated specifically through direct action, and has come into human history without ceasing to be God. “God, who at many times and in many ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds.” (Heb 1:1-2).

Someone described it this way: you don’t know what is on my mind unless I say it, when I open my mouth, the word(s) that come out reveal who and what I am on the inside. So, what was on God’s mind? When He opened His mouth, Jesus came out. When Jesus opens His mouth, a two-edged sword come out.

This is why scripture says, “Do not eat the bread of him who has an evil eye, nor desire his dainty foods; for as he thinks in his heart, so is he; Eat and drink, he says to you, but his heart is not with you.” (Prov 23:6-7).

God made it a point to have events recorded in scripture so that the value of the experiences would not be lost. But let’s be perfectly clear: the Bible is not merely a record of past events. It is revelation itself—and current. What I mean by this is, though the Passover event will not happen again (for example), the author of the whole of scripture intends that we understand it. The unique feature of scripture is the progressiveness of all it contains and the culmination of all things in the Supreme Revelation, in Christ Himself, the living Word of God.

When we return to the question, “Does it matter what I believe?” one must also consider the role of authority. One striking feature of my Baptist Heritage is that since the 17th century, Baptists have proudly claimed the centrality of scripture as the standard for life and godliness. The “striking” part comes when we realize that Baptists as a whole represent the full range from Arminianism to Calvinism. You got yer General Baptists and Particular Baptists, National Baptists, Progressive Baptists, American Baptists, Southern Baptists, Conservative Baptists, Regular Baptists, Free Will Baptists, Landmark Baptists, Reformed Baptists, Soveriegn Grace Baptists, Separatistic Fundamental Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Strict Baptists, Six-Principle Baptists, Missionary Baptists . . . (and if I forgot any, I am really, Really, REALLY sorry). How can this be?

"Baptists are like a box of chocolates."

You got yer John the Baptist, Smyth the Baptist, Helwys the Baptist, Murton the Baptist, Grantham the Baptist, Williams the Baptist, Bunyan the Baptist, Keach the Baptist, Gill the Baptist, Fuller the Baptist, Taylor the Baptist, Cary the Baptist, Boyce the Baptist, Broadus the Baptist, Spurgeon the Baptist, Strong the Baptist, Mullins the Baptist, Fosdick the Baptist, Hobbs the Baptist, Criswell the Baptist, Patterson the Baptist, Mohler the Baptist, ad infinitum . . .

How can the Bible be so foundational and have such a wide range of liberty? Well, that’s the key, isn’t it? As far as Baptist life is concerned, we are “people of the book” and it does matter what we believe. But because of this thing called “liberty of conscience” we are able to enjoy a wide range of its application. We say “The Bible is Core” with Calvinistic force, yet “give me liberty” with an Arminian refrain. Most people don’t know this, but John Smyth, one of the significant “founders” in Baptist history had such a high view of scripture that he did not allow the reading of the Bible in public worship—it was too lofty for public reading! Besides, he felt that since English was NOT the language of inspired scripture, it should be read in the original Greek and Hebrew. The problem was that the general public “does not speke Greke and Hebrue”, so the public reading of a translation was to demeaning. Yet, here we are—“people of The Book!”

Here is the rock-bottom issue: the Bible is God’s written Word. Jesus is Lord and believing what He says matters. Working out the finer details keeps us from stagnation on the one hand, while on the other keeps us functioning as a body, each with talents and abilities contributing to the whole. In short, controversy demands Christian attitude and brotherhood. This is where reason is held in check and prevented from becoming authoritative. Controversy keeps us running back, running back, running back to search and find out, using reason to investigate and handle the evidence presented as the Word of God. Reason is not to be used to determine what is true or to filter what affirms my liberty—the scripture tells me what I am free to do! As someone said, the Bible is a book of “do’s”, not a book of “don’ts” and if you do all the “do’s” you don’t have time to do the “don’ts” and if you could, you wouldn’t, and you can’t, so you don’t, so it’s cool!

The cool thing about the Bible is that it shows us what will never do again. Yet, those very things are the pattern for the very things He keeps on doing—God saves and this is seen over (in the types) and over (in the symbols) and over (in the leaders He raises) and over (in the people who need His help) and over again.

Would we benefit if God thundered down directly from Heaven into our ears? Yes, but since He already has, we benefit.

Would we benefit if God slipped into our bedrooms and dreamed us a message? Yes, but since He already has, we do.

Would we benefit if God became flesh and dwelt among us? Yes, and since He already has, we do.

We need to get accustomed to the idea that we live in mystery, not in contradiction. Jesus is fully God and fully human. The Bible is a divine and human book. The events it records are unique, yet the pattern shows otherwise--God created and makes new creations in Christ Jesus.

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