Saturday, January 25, 2014

"Bible-Mindedness and Episcopalians"

Caelius has some really great things to say here.  I'm going to try to convince him to get this posted at one of the major Episcopal Church media outlets - but meantime, will you read it and link to it, if you read my blog?  It's very important.

If TEC can't make faith about "faith in daily life," it's all over, folks.  It takes some work and practice to be able to get grooved in and to articulate some of this stuff - but Caelius has helpfully offered some ideas for practices that people can engage in meanwhile; that should help a lot.

Here's the crucial stuff:
 Why Episcopalians Should Read and Discuss the Bible More

1. Your children have no idea what you believe.

Children, by necessity, have living memories similar in magnitude to one liturgical cycle. And chances are, they're hearing the readings only on Sunday. In the same way you discuss confidently what your children are learning in school, you need to be able to discuss confidently what they are learning in Sunday School and what is being said in church. My father discussed the sermon with me every Sunday when I was growing up. A solid grounding in the Bible (and how living, breathing Episcopalians read it) will give children a foundation for committing to Christ and practicing Christianity in the future and resist the attractions of more authoritarian approaches to following Christ. And if they don't come to believe, they will have a new appreciation for history, culture, and literary analysis.

2. We need a credible word spoken into our lives

In Paul Zahl's Grace in Practice , he writes about a ritual he suggests for every married couple. The first thing they should do in the morning, before they listen to the radio, check their e-mail etc. is: (1) read a short portion from the Bible together; (2) exchange prayer requests with one another; and (3) pray spontaneously. How very Evangelical. Anglo-Catholics may prefer an abbreviated Morning Prayer.

The reading of Scripture first thing in the morning is the important part. Zahl talks about the importance of a word being spoken into the marriage outside of it. Human communication inevitably is a place of struggle, as our incurvatus in se selves seek to be known and heard more than to know and listen. And indeed, the Bible (as long as the passage is from the Lectionary or chosen by a good random number generator with a key (there are 31,102 verses in the King James Version…) is ideally such a word. All the other words in our lives have an uncertain agenda. The ones we speak are ultimately self-promoting, and so also are the ones we hear from those like ourselves. We believe that the source of Scripture has an agenda that is to our benefit and speaks credibly, even if we do not hear Scripture credibly. Scripture is the foreign word we need to hear.

3. We need to discuss what he have in common beyond the institution

The fastest-growing churches are the ones to which people want to belong. That point may sound trivial, but it's not. The fastest-growing churches are the ones that find people who bring together those who belong together. One parish to which I belonged realized that there were a whole group of people interested in political Progressivism and liturgical worship. People drove there from fifty miles away. Their Christian Education hour was typically focused on politics, social ills, and culture. The most Bible was discussed might have been in the 20s and 30s group, which was mostly composed of Evangelicals who wanted to be Progressives and/or had been alienated by Evangelicalism.

If we want to create vital churches that are genuinely inclusive, we need to find affinity groups beyond politics, race, and class. And if we are Christians, the affinity group we need to seek is those who love and follow Jesus Christ. And the Holy Scriptures ultimately point to him.

Too many times when I am with church people, I find myself discussing politics, either that of the civil authorities or that of the Church (at the parochial through international levels). And when I bring the Bible into these discussions, I often hear, "I disagree with that." I don't hear, "I do not interpret that verse, passage, entire book in that way and here's why." So we devolve into the mere exchange of opinions and very little insight into Jesus.

I think Episcopal churches would be stronger (growth is another issue) if we could discuss the Bible with another in a way the demonstrated mutual engagement with the text. The Bible and the Sacraments are the most obvious foci of our unity, and they are the healthiest ones to discuss as well. Grounding ourselves in Scripture will make it easier to have conversations about the difficult institutional issues we often face.

4. We need to be able to talk with Barna's "Bible-minded" Christians as fellow disciples, not as the Other

This past Sunday, I was at an ecumenical service. The hosting pastor said on a couple occasions that he thanked us, "that we thought it not robbery" to attend. I guessed that it was a Biblical allusion, but I had no idea the reference. Google told me that it is the King James rendering of the phrase from the kenotic hymn of Philippians 2, "who being in the form of God, did not think equality with God something to be snatched at." (I admit that my memory of rendering this verse comes from translating it from the Vulgate.) I am still not sure how I feel about this allusion, but I recognize it as an incisive comment on ecumenism. To participate in a service like that does require that we humble ourselves. In the future, I will have something to discuss with the pastor in the future that does not dwell on the competition for souls or service opportunities that otherwise engages the visibly disunited Body of Christ.


Anonymous said...

Dear Barbara,

Thank you for posting Caelius's thoughts, and for commending mine. I am so grateful for his many practical ideas which are, as he noted in a comment, strikingly consistent with what I was trying to say in my post.

I am especially grateful for suggestion 4. The language of Scripture (to say nothing of the actual message of Scripture) is a common tongue reaching across denominational boundaries. The less fluent we are in the Bible, the less capable we will be at communicating effectively with other Christians of different stripes. That can only impoverish us, and ensure that we sink deeper into a self-referential echo chamber, cut off from the rest of the Church (past and present).

God grant that we may indeed learn to sit still and hear the Word.

Dane Boston

bls said...

Thank you, Dane. I, too, admire Caelius' practical suggestions, and believe they can accomplish two important things at once: they'll help us build fluency in Bible - and at the same time will create the habit of daily attention to faith and prayer. That last thing is more important than we know, I believe.

Thank you for coming by and commenting; I'm enjoying your blog very much. (Found it through Fleming Rutledge's, BTW.)