Saturday, February 21, 2009
Friday, February 20, 2009
Leading in Hope
To paraphrase John F. Kennedy (who paraphrased someone else), managers look at things as they are and ask “Why?” but leaders look at things as they might be an declare, “Why not?”I agree with this on all sorts of levels. Two brief comments.
Leadership shines brightest when things are darkest. It differentiates those who manage from those who really lead. Napoleon said, “Leaders are vendors of hope.” People need hope.
Although pastors like to spiritualize a lot of things, hope as a leader probably has more to do with psychology then theology. People are looking to you for cues to know how they should respond, not just doctrinally correct teaching. Are you a thermostat or a thermometer? It’s a well worn metaphor, but worth a reminder. Thermometers measure the temperature, but thermostats set the temperature. Leaders are thermostats, not thermometers. I imagine you already knew that, but some of the best lessons in life aren’t new, they just remind us of what we already knew.
So as the New Year breaks, one of my resolutions is to lead by verbalizing the positive. It’s good theology (Phil. 4:8) and good psychology that result in good leading.
Firstly, this is makes good economic sense too. Hope, in a real sense drives our economy. I invest because I hope to make more money doing so. Investment, whether in the stock market, a new business, or a new home, is what drives our economy. Hope gives us confidence and confidence allows risk and risk makes for investment. We were too confident and some people made some investments that were way too risky. But right now we seem to have so little hope that people won't make any investments. We need hope economically speaking.
But more importantly, I come to church for hope. Hope in eternity, but most importantly hope in the now. Hope that I can be the person God created me to be - not mired in the muck that is "normal" life. Sometimes I think the church is really good at dispensing hope for eternity, but really lousy at dispensing hope for today. When things get "practical" it just so often seems like I cannot separate what comes from the church from what comes from so many other secular sources.
And yet Christ came that I might have life more abundantly - NOW!
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Thursday, February 19, 2009
1. The Christian faith is less of a life perspective that challenges the supremacy of individualism as it is a faith being defined through individualism.I look at this from a "big picture" view and find we are in a post-authoritarian age. Let me break that down for you.
2. Growing numbers of people now serve as their own theologian-in-residence.
3. In the past, when most people determined their theological and moral points of view, the alternatives from which they chose were exclusively of Christian options - e.g., the Methodist point of view, the Baptist perspective, Catholic teaching, and so forth. Today, Americans are more likely to pit a variety of non-Christian options against various Christian-based views.
4. Faith, of whatever variety, is increasingly viral rather than pedagogical. [...] Feelings and emotions now play a significant role in the development of people’s faith views - in many cases, much more significant than information-based exercises such as listening to preaching and participating in Bible study.
Not long after Christ was here, the church organized, and not too long after that, from a historical perspective, the church became authority, at least in the West - and then things started to go downhill. Now what do I mean when I say that? Well, Christianity took a few centuries to conquer Europe, then the New World, where due to political freedoms, it morphed a few times as an authority, and now the only place it is genuinely growing is the third world. There seems to always be a "growing edge," and a decaying center.
So what's the point? Well, Christianity appears to be revolutionary in nature. Christ Himself was a revolutionary - not a political one, but certainly an ecclesiastical one. (Think of His battles with the local religious authority.) Christianity seems to thrive in adversity and grow moribund in authority. And now we live in a world where it may have "maxed out" as they say when concerns authority - so what is it going to do.
Well, the trends that the Barna study pegs sound like a fairly good idea. It means an end to orthodoxy - but then Jesus never was about orthodoxy - He was about people.
Will there be bad with the good in a trend like this? - ABSOLUTELY! But think about that bad that has come with the good that has been the orthodox church. It will also be chaotic beyond the comprehension of old farts like myself.
My wife and I currently host a bi-weekly fellowship of Christian young adults - immediate post college, graduate school types. They want to be independent in their planning so we let them pull the thing together. We host, but we don't organize. Frankly, it drives us crazy. We never know until the doorbell rings who is coming and what is going to happen. (We serve dinner at this thing so imagine how many meals have been over and under served) We try to follow the planning on Facebook, but too much happens by text message or phone calls. There is no way to describe it but chaos.
And yet, these people are thriving, and thriving in the Lord.
As we look at these trends, I am wondering if rather than seek to harness it - we ought not seek how to set it free!
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Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Fitting God In
So you're racing through another jam-packed day, late picking up the kids from basketball practice because you got stuck at the office. You still have to pay the bills, walk the dog and perhaps grab cold pizza before collapsing into bed.The question is how to react to something like this. Is it good or bad. Well, in my book, like many things, its clearly neither.
When do you ever find time for God?
One publisher has the answer: "The One Minute Bible, Day by Day," whose brief readings promise to inspire your "daily walk with the Lord."
My initial reaction is that no habit starts out full blown. Smokers do not start at 3 packs a day. Even now, my eating problems do not come back in a day. I do not automatically transit from the healthy less than 2000 calories a day to the weight packing 5-10,000 a day of my greatest girth in a single day. It starts with that one extra "quick bite."
The road to a deep and meaningful devotional life must start somewhere, and if one-minute Bible readings is that somewhere, then I say great.
But the rub is, when it comes to our spiritual habits we never seem to move beyond there. I have been complaining and praying lately about my eating habits. You would think that after about 5 years of really working at this, eating well would now be my habit - but to the contrary immense concentration is still required from me daily to maintain healthy eating habits. I cannot seem to turn the corner when it comes to those habits.
And so it seems with devotional habits for so many, myself included. We never seem to turn a corner. In fact it never really becomes habit. We stay satisfied with our one-minute Bible readings.
To me, the key question is to find such an introduction that is as habit forming as that piece of cheesecake or that first cigarette. Shouldn't the abundant life of Jesus be that addictive? Is the "One-Minute Bible" that addictive? If not, why not?
Now that is a question.
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Tuesday, February 17, 2009
All In The Family
My experience with any number of small declining Presbyterian congregations is that they all have a similar vision of themselves. The universal refrain is “We are a warm friendly family.” And it often is true. They are so warm and friendly toward each other that they have become insular. Their motivation for survival has become to preserve the relationships, traditions, and history that they can’t envision living without. Newcomers will pose challenges to the status quo and are therefore a threat.I see his essential point and I agree with it in principal, but I also can nitpick the idea to death on both sides of the issue - actually on the fact that there are more than two sides. But why? The problem, I think, is the limitations our models, any model, puts on us when we are talking about the church. Each model has strengths and weaknesses, but no model is sufficiently robust to take the best of all and reject the worst of each. If such a model existed, I have to think that God would have taught it to us rather more directly.
When I raise this issue, others chime in with another context: The mega-church (or the mega-church wannabe) model. Here the complaint is that everything is run like a business and the wannabes are trying to convert their congregations into businesses so they grow into a big church. Critics want these churches to behave more like a family.
I would suggest that in addition to lifting up the family business metaphor, that the most effective challenge to congregations trapped in a business mindset is not the condemnation of business and marketing. Rather, embrace the business marketing mindset but press them to define what business they are in. Are we really about selling “fire insurance?” Are we a self-help seminar business? Are we a group therapy clinic? Are we a spiritual experience department store? What is the church’s mission and how does every aspect of our life together relate to our mission.
Furthermore, the pervasive image of the church in the New Testament is one of family. Can we say we have truly embraced the God’s “business plan” of familial communities bearing witness to the kingdom? The absence of family is a deviation from the business plan.
We need to recover the image of the church as family business.
You see, if the "family model" church were composed entirely of genuine, people truly to allow themselves to be transformed into the image of Jesus it would work. If the mega-church were composed entirely of genuine, people truly to allow themselves to be transformed into the image of Jesus it would work. The model is not the issue - the people are.
I have clientele that range in size from less than 5 people and less than 1 million a year to companies with employees numbering in the thousands and revenues in the billions. I have been in small ones that were miserable places to be and big ones that were wonderful, and vice-versa. I have watched them reorganize again and again to no better effect. But when management changes, then things happen.
There is only one question I ask when evaluating a church - it has to do with the character of the leadership. No - scratch that - make it the discipleship of the leadership. If that is right they can choose any model they want.
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Monday, February 16, 2009
Read The Whole Bible
The great Reformer Martin Luther famously found the letter of James to be a strawy epistle because, in his judgment, it did not teach enough Christ or faith or grace. It had too much law for him. Most of us have forgiven Luther for overcooking his confidence, but he illustrates how many of us often read the Bible. We fasten upon a “maestro” – and Luther’s maestro was clearly the Apostle Paul – and make the rest of the Bible fall in line with our maestro’s lens of interpretation.McKnight has put his finger on a genuine issue here. But he also falls into his own trap:
Maestro Bible reading is an alluring temptation for a number of reasons:
-It is simpler to master one author and let the others chime in where they fit;
-It is safer to have it all figured out;
-It is more challenging to work out our faith when we invite multiple voices to the table;
-It is easier to fit into our church tradition if we just let the tradition shape what we believe, and many traditions are shaped by maestro Bible readings.
...but the wisdom of God in giving us a canon—a list of 27 books that included Paul and Peter and John and Hebrews and Jude...Our canon includes more than the 27 books of the New Testament - there are the 39-fortysomething (depending on your denomination) books of the Old Testament. You see, McKnight's primary point:
Two observations flow from avoiding the maestro approach and inviting to the table all the “theologies” of the Bible. First, language can only do so much and the one thing that it can’t do is capture the fullness of God’s truth in one set of images. As you can’t describe a mountain from one angle, so you can’t describe the gospel with one term...Scripture is revelation and God reveals much of Himself in the Old Testament, as well as the New. Way too many Christians act as if Christ's coming somehow changed God's nature, but nothing could be further from the truth. Christ was there at creation and his incarnation was part of the plan from that beginning.
McKnight goes on to draw the conclusion that the plethora of scriptural voices create an image of a diverse church. With this I agree completely.
If we can put away our maestro approaches long enough to invite others to the table – African Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans, and both genders –we might hear the gospel better and offer to our world a more complete depiction of what God is doing in this world.To accomplish that we need to start with our own views. I'd start by reading the ENTIRE Bible.
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Sunday, February 15, 2009
Sermons and Lessons
Henry Barclay Swete, Regius professor of divinity, Cambridge, England; born Redlands, Bristol, March 14, 1835; D.D., Cambridge and Glasgow; Litt.D., Dublin; educated, King’s College, London; Caius College, Cambridge; deacon, 1858; priest, 1859; dean, tutor and theological lecturer, Caius College, 1869-77; rector, Ashdon, Essex, 1877-90; professor of pastoral theology, King’s College, London, 1882-90; fellow of Caius College, 1858-77; honorary fellow, 1886-90; fellow of King’s College, 1891, of British Academy, 1902; honorary canon of Ely, 1906; author of “The Old Testa¬ment in Greek,” “The Akhmim Fragment of the Gospel of Peter,” “The Apostles’ Creed in Relation to Primitive Christianity,” “Faith in Relation to Creed, Thought and Life,” “Church Services and Service Books before the Reformation,” “The Gospel According to St. Mark: the Greek Text with Introduction, Notes and Indices,” “An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek,” “Patristic Study,” “Studies in the Teaching of our Lord,” “The Apocalypse of St. John,” etc.
“These things have I spoken ‘unto you in proverbs. The hour cometh when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but shall tell you plainly of the Father." - John 16: 25.
In what sense is it true that our Lord spoke to His disciples in proverbs? His teaching, as it is represented in the gospels, falls almost entirely under the two heads of discourse and parable, and neither of these answers to the usual conception of the proverb. But the proverb in its Biblical accepttation has a wider reference; it comprehends not merely the brief aphorisms and trite sayings current on the lips of man, but all sayings which contain more than they express; which, simple in form and phrase, are packed with thought that eludes the hearer because it lies beyond the range of his personal experience. Such sayings normally turn upon the analogy which exists between the outer form of things and the inner truth; they lead the mind on from what it knows or can imagine to that which lies as yet beyond its grasp. The parallelism may be locked up in a few pregnant words, or worked out at length. In the latter case the proverb grows into the parable, the parable being merely an extended proverb, as the proverb is a contracted parable. Even the words are interchanged; the parable of the Good Shepherd is called by John παροιμία, while Luke gives the name of παραβολή to the proverb, “Physician, heal thyself.” If we examine our Lord‘s Galilean teaching in the light of these facts, the truth of His saying in the text becomes apparent. Parables were the chief vehicle of instruction during the greater part of the ministry; without a parable spake He not unto “the crowds that flocked to hear Him; “all things “ were “ done in parables,” i.e., the whole business of the ministry was transacted in this form.
But the parables, it may be urged, were not enigmatic; their purpose was to teach truth in the only shape in which a mixed multitude could receive it. This is widely different from our Lord’s own account of them. The primary end of the parable, as He explained it, was not to assist the mental vision but to darken it: “that seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand.” Doubtless the parable served to keep the word alive in men’s hearts till the time came for growth, even as the seed preserves the germ which it conceals; but its immediate effect was not to reveal the truth but to hide it. How well it served this purpose may be gathered from the fact that even the Twelve, to whom was given the mystery of the kingdom, were compelled to ask for an interpretation of the Parable of the Sower. It was our Lord’s habit to explain to them in private the meaning of His public teaching; without this help even the inner circle of His disciples would have failed to understand it. The parable, notwithstanding its apparent simplicity, is of the nature of a veil; the obscurity which belongs to it is not accidental, but of its essence. Christ‘s design was to postpone full knowledge where definite teaching would be premature, and thereby to stimulate thought and provoke inquiry. As the son of Sirach says: “He that hath applied his soul will seek out the hidden meaning of proverbs, and be conversant in the dark sayings of parables.” Such inquirers there doubtless were among our Lord ‘s hearers, men who had ears to hear and truly heard; but even in their case the proverb or parable was but preparatory to the fuller teaching which was to follow.
The Fourth Gospel creates at first a different impression of Christ’s method. In the Johannine discourses He seems to drop parable and proverb, and to use a directness of teaching which is in strong contrast with His manner in the Synoptic Gospels. The difference is perhaps especially noticeable in the great discourse of the fourteenth and two following chapters. Here our Lord is represented as speaking only to the apostles, neither uninstructed peasants nor captious scribes being present; even Judas, it is expressly said, has left the upper room and gone out into the night. If ever there was an occasion upon which Jesus could pour out His mind freely, it was this. Yet it is of the discourse delivered at this gathering that He says, towards the end,” These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs.” It seems, then, that while the literary form in which the Johannine sayings are cast differs widely from that to which we are accustomed in the Synoptists, they claim to possess a true affinity, an essential oneness with the curt sentences and enigmatic parables of the Galilean ministry. There is a note which is common to the Johannine and the Synoptic reports, a note which is deeper than manner or form and can be heard in all Christ’s teaching down to the eve of the passion. Whether He instructed a crowd of fishermen, taxgatherers, traders, and peasants by the shore of the lake, or the chosen eleven in the sanctuary of the supper chamber at Jerusalem, His method was substantially the same. From the day when He began to teach until the night before He suffered He followed a uniform plan. His plan was always to go beyond the immediate comprehension of His hearers - not indeed by the use of unintelligible words, for His words are ever of the plainest - but by making simple words hold more than they seem to hold; by so speaking that, either in form or substance or in both, He spoke in proverbs which concealed more than they disclosed. No one who has occupied himself with the attempt to expound the gospels will fail to recognize the truth of this remark. The simplest of our Lord ‘s sayings is found to be inexhaustible; when the student has done his best, he is constrained to leave it with the conviction that there are depths in it which he cannot fathom, and suggestions of half-revealed truths which for the present baffle inquiry.
It was, then, characteristic of our Lord to speak in proverbs; and the Christ of the Fourth Gospel does not differ herein materially from the Christ of the Synoptists. But when we have said this, we must be careful to add that the words hold true only of His teaching before the passion. Christ Himself has told us that His use of this method wan only for a time; “ the hour cometh when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs.” The great Master will not limit Himself to a single method; He will adapt Himself to circumstances. If He used proverbs and parables throughout His earthly ministry, even when speaking to the innermost circle of His disciples, this was because the time had not come for employing any other vehicle of teaching. But He distinctly foresees the arrival of the moment when proverbs may be flung to the winds, and He will be free to speak to these same apostles plainly and directly – ούκέτι έυ παροιμίαις . . . άλλά πρρησία [no longer in parables, but plainly]. The alliteration, which is repeated a few verses be¬low, seems to show that the writer of the gospel wished forcibly to contrast the two methods. The proverb excludes plain speaking, and plain speaking, when it comes, will abandon the use of the proverb. In the future, Christ foretells, obscurity, whether of words or of thought, will give place to a luminous clearness, extending both to the form and the substance of the message. This is to be the main distinction between Christ’s earlier teaching and His later, between the ministry which preceded the passion and that which will follow, between the teaching of Christ in the flesh and His teaching in the Spirit.
It follows that our Lord saw, beyond the rapidly approaching end of His earthly mission, the dawn of a fresh period of teaching under other conditions, and therefore after another method. His passion marked only the end of the first stage of His work as the Teacher of mankind. We call these chapters in John the “Last Discourse,” but they are the last only of one series of the great Master’s lessons. The days were past when excited crowds exclaimed, “What is this? a new teaching! “and hung upon His lips as if afraid to lose a word; when hostile officials declared “ Never man spake like this man,” and could lay no hands upon Him, such was the fascination of His voice. The days were past when, alone with His disciples, He taught them, as they could bear it, the mystery of the kingdom of God. But all this has been but the prelude; the richest harmonies of Christ’s teaching are yet to be heard. When? and how? He answers only, “The hour cometh,” and the Church is left to interpret those words by the event. The phrase is one which occurs not seldom in the Gospel of John. “The hour cometh in which all that are in the tombs shall hear His voice “; “the hour cometh that whosoever killeth you shall think that he offereth service to God “; “the hour cometh, yea is come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own.” It is clear from these examples that “the hour “which is intended may be remote or close at hand. Jesus does not say plainly which He means; He is still speaking in proverbs. But looking back at His words over the centuries we may venture to interpret them by the light of experience.
The hour cometh when I shall tell you plainly of the Father.” The words reveal both the subject and the manner of the Lord’s future teaching. The subject will be the revelation of the Father; the manner, that of one who brings a clear and full report from firsthand observation of the facts. In the earlier part of this discourse the Lord had announced that He was going to the Father, but would come again. He now adds that when He returns, He will bring back word of the Father.
To reveal the Father had been the purpose of His personal teaching from the first. Even in the days of His flesh He could tell men of that which He knew, and bear witness of that which He had seen in His preexistent life with God. He was Himself a living revelation of God; so that John, looking back from the end of the first century to the days of the Son of man, could say:” We beheld his glory, glory as of an only begotten from a Father.” When on the night before the passion Philip thoughtlessly exclaimed, “Lord, shew us the Father,” the Lord with a touch of infinite sadness answered,” Have I been so long time with you, and dost thou not know me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” All His teaching, all His life, had been directed to this one end, to show men the Father. Never before had man been taught so plainly the fatherhood of God. He had taught them to call daily upon” Our Father which is in Heaven,” to look to the Father for daily bread, to imitate Him “as dear children,” to prepare for their place in His presence. Yet this teaching, sufficient as it was to awaken a consciousness of the divine love and of human responsibility, left the mystery of divine paternity unrevealed. In what sense God was the Father of Jesus Christ, in what sense He was the Father of Christ‘s disciples, were questions which still awaited an answer. There are those who bid us be content with the theology of the Sermon on the Mount. Christ Himself, be it said with reverence, was not content with it; He recognized that there was a plainer, fuller, more explicit report to be given when He returned from the Father, and to that future teaching He referred those who had heard all His earlier words.
Did our Lord then resume the office of Teacher after His return from the dead? Luke enables us to answer the question, as far as regards the immediate sequel to the passion. During the forty days that followed the resurrection, the Lord appeared from time to time and spoke to His apostles “the things concerning the kingdom of God.” The old teaching began again; the subject was the same as before the passion. But was it handled in the same way? Only a few fragments of this post-resurrection teaching remain; but in them I think we can discern greater plainness of speech than in the sayings of the ministry. Take for example the words spoken on the first Easter night: “ As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you. . . . Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whosoever sins ye forgive they are forgiven.” Or those spoken after the return to Galilee: “All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” This is assuredly plain speaking, and if there is nothing in either saying which is wholly new, the manner is new; it is πρρησία, not παροιμία any more. Indeed, the critics have so generally recognized the change of manner that in the second saying they have thought they discovered an idealized report, into which the next generation had infused its own beliefs and hopes. The hypothesis would have been unnecessary, if they had but remembered Christ‘s promise to convert proverb into plainness of speech, or if they had believed the words of the text to be truly Christ’s.
But the forty days were only the beginning of the new order. The ascension which terminated the visible presence of Christ on earth, inaugurated His presence in the Spirit. The Bridegroom was taken away only to return at once in the power of the Holy Ghost. The “other Paraclete“ who was promised was yet not another, for He was the very Spirit of the Son, of the Christ, of the sacred humanity of Jesus. When He spoke to the Church, He spoke not from Himself, but as the Vicar of Jesus Christ, teaching in Christ’s stead, carrying on and completing Christ‘s ministry. Hence the Lord speaks of the Spirit’s teaching as His own. “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now; howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth . . . he shall take of mine and shall declare it unto you. All things whatsoever the Father hath are mine; therefore said I, that he taketh of mine, and shall declare it unto you. . . . These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs; the hour cometh when I shall tell you plainly of the Father.”
The hour came, then, when the Spirit came; and the first results of the new πρρησία are to be seen in the teaching of the apostles, and especially in the epistles of Paul.
It is a fashion of our time to attach an excessive importance to the personality of Paul as a factor in the evolution of the Christian religion. Undoubtedly that personality is the most striking in the apostolic age - perhaps it may be added, in the whole history of the Church. Undoubtedly also, the teaching of Paul was colored by his mental habits, and these owed much to the influences of his Pharisaic upbringing. The relation of Paul to contemporary thought is a legitimate subject for inquiry, and we have recently been reminded how much may be gleaned by a diligent worker in this field. But it is impossible to ascribe Paul ‘s presentation of Christianity as a whole to any such source; the only question that can arise with regard to it, is whether we are to consider it as a product of the apostle‘s own mind, or as due, in the last analysis, to the Spirit of Jesus Christ. The former of these alternatives is often taken for granted; men speak of the gospel which Paul preached as “Paulinism,” as if it were a type of Christianity which owes more to Paul than to Christ; and of Paul himself as a second founder of the Christian faith. But to speak thus is to claim that our own age understands Paul better than he understood himself. In all his epistles he styles himself” the servant,” nay “ the bond-slave,” of Jesus Christ; he assures us that the gospel which he preached was “ not after man,” but had come to him “through revelation of Jesus Christ “; that Christ lived in him, worked in him, spoke in him, through the Spirit. On this point I gladly quote the judgment of Professor Harnack:
“Paul understood the Master, and continued His work. . . . Those who blame him for corrupting the Christian religion have never felt a breath of his spirit . . . those who extol or criticize him as the founder of a religion are forced to make him bear witness against himself on the main point.”I would add to this that those who thus misjudge Paul’s position, either forget or ignore the Lord’s promise that His Spirit should guide His Church into all the truth, telling her plainly of the Father. In the light of that magnificent promise Paulinism is seen to be, in its essence, nothing else than a continuation of the teaching of Christ. It is the voice of Christ, speaking at length πρρησία, with a new directness and comprehensiveness. If utterance was given to Paul to make known the mystery of the gospel more fully than it was taught by the other apostles, more plainly than it had been taught by the Master Himself, he was in this simply a witness of things wherein Christ revealed Himself to him through the Spirit. Thus, when Paul proclaims his great doctrine of justification by faith, while the arguments by which he defends it rest here and there on methods which belong to his age and mental training, we are assured that the doctrine itself, in its inner verity, is but the teaching of Christ brought out into the clearer light of the Spirit. Or again, when he unfolds his doctrine of the person of Christ, and teaches the divine preexistence of the Son and the meaning of the incarnation, we know ourselves to be listening to the very Spirit of Christ, who through the apostle’s words is glorifying Christ as Christ foretold. The same is true of the other great apostolic teachers. We hear the voice of the Spirit of Jesus Christ in John’s doctrine of the Word made flesh, and not less clearly in the doctrine of the Lord’s high-priestly office as it is set forth in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The apostolic letters speak plainly where Christ spoke in proverbs; but the Teacher is the same, though the method is changed.
A Paul or a John comes but once in the life of the Church. But it is a shallow unbelief which would limit the teaching of the Spirit of Christ to the first century; and such unbelief is refuted, if refutation be necessary, by the promises “ I am with you always, even unto the end of the world “; “ the Father . . . shall give you another Comforter that he may be with you forever.” The Spirit was not granted only to the first generation. Nor was He granted only to the ante-Nicene Church, or to the age of the great councils, or to the medieval saints, or to the reformers. The grant is for all time. Christ teaches His Church today as truly as He taught the apostles and the fathers and the schoolmen and the reformers; the Spirit speaks now as certainly as He spoke in the days when dogma was being made in the yet undivided Church. His instruments, His manner of teaching, vary from age to age. Today, He does not teach, as some hold, by creating fresh articles of faith; still less by proclaiming new gospels, messages of peace and healing for - the world which were unknown to the ancient Church. The Spirit of Christ will never proclaim any other gospel than that which Christ proclaimed on the first day of His preaching in Galilee; will never teach any other faith than that which was once for all delivered to the saints. But as the world grows older, the Spirit of Christ may be expected to tell men more and more plainly of the Father. There have been and there will be fresh interpretations of the original message, new lights thrown on the teaching of Scripture and on the doctrine of the Church. The Light of the world is ever bringing on the dawn of the perfect day; the unchangeable truth grows clearer in the growing light of knowledge and experience.
There has been in the best theological teaching of the last fifty years, within our memory, a marvelous extension of Christian thought, an opening up of new or forgotten avenues of truth, a lifting of clouds which had long obscured the field of vision, a casting away of unsound opinions and mere presuppositions, which marks a real advance in spiritual knowledge. We have had our prophets, even if we have not ventured, while they were with us. to call them by that name; we have had teachers to whom it has been given to look into the mysteries of life and of grace with an insight not wholly due to strength of intellect or length of experience. If for the moment they have been taken from us, and we seem today to have no prophet amongst us any more, they have at least taught us that the Spirit of Christ in His illuminating power has not been withdrawn from the modern Church.
Nor is it only in the province of theology that our Lord’s great promise is fulfilling itself to our own age. Indeed it is perhaps chiefly by the discoveries of physical science that He is to-day telling us plainly of the Father. It is true, alas! that to many of the discoverers themselves these new marvels bring as yet no message from the Father of their spirits, or seem rather to exclude the possibility of His personal existence. They cannot see the sun for the glory of the light; their vision is darkened by the brightness of this new revelation of God. But we have reason to hope that this first effect of physical research will pass with fuller knowledge and reflection. Meanwhile it is for the Church to welcome these great accessions to knowledge as a true fulfillment of the Lord‘s word. To us at least He is speaking in them more plainly than before, telling us of the Father in His relation to the visible world. We know and believe that it is the Only Begotten who declares the Father, whatever the revelation may be, through whatever channel it may come.
It is impossible to foresee the surprises which even the near future may have in store for not a few of us. Within the lifetime of the younger men new lights may break upon the Church, bringing new fulfillments of Christ‘s words. Such a hope may well inspire life with a buoyancy which will stimulate the next generation to new endeavors. In view of the promise of progressive teaching which the Church has received from Christ, no problem need be abandoned as hopeless, and all lines of legitimate study may be pursued with confidence. “I will tell you plainly,” is a word which will fulfill itself ever more and more to those who are patient workers in every part of the great field of knowledge.
Yet its complete fulfillment must lie beyond, the present order. Come what may, there are limits imposed by human infirmity which can¬not be removed in the present life; limits partly of the spirit, partly of the intellect, partly due to the inability of human words to express the highest truths. No one has recognized this more clearly than, Paul, notwithstanding the abundance of the revelations vouchsafed to him. “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child . . . now we see in a mirror darkly . . . now I know in part.” The proverb, the enigma, must enter largely even into the teaching of the Spirit, so long as we are here. The plainest words that can be used to express our faith are not free from obscurity; the most carefully balanced statements of Christian doctrine are, in the last analysis, found to be in some respects confessions of our ignorance. There is in every great article of our faith an ultimate enigma which baffles our efforts to construct a perfect theory. Sometimes we seem to be on the verge of a solution, but further reflection throws us back; the mystery eludes us still. It has been so in every age of the Church; it will be so, we may be very sure, to the end. The” proverb “is with us still, notwithstanding Christ’s greater and growing” plainness of speech.”
But the fact is suggestive of hope and not of despair. There must be a more magnificent fulfillment of Christ‘s promise reserved for the future state. There must be a teaching in store for us which will exceed our present knowledge, as the teaching of the Spirit exceeded the parables of our Lord‘s ministry.
How our Lord will teach His Church in the great future is altogether beyond present comprehension. The apocalyptic imagery of the New Testament, largely based on Old Testament conceptions of the world to come, speaks of Him as coming in the clouds of heaven with the glory of God; of a throne set and books opened; of a new Jerusalem descending from God out of heaven; of God tabernacling with men, and men seeing God day and night in His temple, or made pillars therein, and bear¬ing upon them an inscription which reveals the name of God and His Christ; of a Shep¬herd who is Himself a Lamb, leading His flock to fountains of waters of life, and of God wiping away every tear from their eyes. We recognize at once the symbolical character of these descriptions. But what are the facts which lie behind the symbolism? One thing can be clearly made out. The future holds for us a presence of Christ not altogether such as we now have through the indwelling of His Spirit, but such as will be a new manifestation of the risen Christ to the risen Church. It is not another coming of the Spirit which is the hope of the future, but another coming of the Christ in person; not a vicaria vis Spiritus sancti, but the very power of the incarnate Lord revealing in Himself the fullness of the divine glory. How this can be we can no more understand than the apostles could understand the coming of the other Paraclete before He actually came. Nor again can we see the relation which the second coming of the Son will bear to the mission of the Spirit. Will the teaching of the Spirit be merged in the personal teaching of the Lord, visibly present with His Church? We know not. But we are sure that in the perfect life Christ will at length tell us plainly of the Father. The last riddle will be solved, the full measure of the divine πρρησία attained. If I may venture to carry John‘s alliteration one step further, the πρρησία of the Spirit which succeeded to the παρουσία of the ministry, will culminate in the παρουσία. The silence of God will be broken at last; the final mystery will become, as Ignatius has it, a μυσγήριου κραυγής, a truth proclaimed aloud that all may hear.
Yet it is not to be thought that all truth will be flashed in a moment upon the soul that has reached the presence of Christ. The analogies of God’s dealings with mankind in the past point to a progressive illumination in the world to come. Teaching will not cease because mystery has vanished away. “The Lamb shall guide them.” The metaphor speaks of an endless advance in the knowledge of the Infinite.
The prospect is one which ought to appeal with especial force to us whose daily life here is spent in the endeavor to learn and read the lower lessons of truth. All truth is one, and every truth is in its measure a revelation of God. Thus we may, if we will, connect our pursuit of exact knowledge in letters or history or philosophy or physics with our eternal work of learning to know God in Christ. Habits of mind, of character, of life, can be formed here which we may carry with us into the eternal order. With such an end in view, nothing is trivial, nothing is to be despised. “He that is faithful in a very little “ - how little it is that we can learn or teach here! - “is faithful also in much.”
One thing is needful in order that our studies may be linked on to the eternal. The conscience must be kept bright and clear; the ear of the soul must lie open to the voice of Christ. His plainest words fall like muffled sounds on hearts that are preoccupied by sin or self. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God “; they shall hear all that the divine Word will tell them of the Father.
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