Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Time and Timing

During the course of a 45 to 60 minute "Bible study", it's amazing (and disheartening) to think of how little of that time is spent actually looking into the text.

Sure, the sermon is usually based on the text for the day, but it is sort of a platform on which the preacher stands, rather than the ultimate end.

Perhaps the Catholics are right to keep it down to a out 10 minutes... At least they've spent an equal or greater amount of time doing what is the supposed goal of Fundamental Evangelicalism--"simply teaching the Word of God".

Take a sermon I recently heard, based on a chapter in the Gospel according to John. The chapter was 42 verses. Let's say the sermoner spent 10 seconds reading each verse (although it's generally closer to 5 seconds). That's 420 seconds, or 7 minutes. Then, each 5 to 10 verse section gets about 2 minutes of application. That's 8-16 minutes. Let's say 15.

So, we have a total, so far, with simple reading and application, of about 22 minutes. And that's if he's reading slowly and you're in a long chapter!

So, what's the rest?

This reminds me of one time, when I was young...

(If only my illustrations were that engrossing!)

Stories. I know I've done it. I'm not condemning anyone here. I'm saying that, perhaps, a Sunday morning service is not the time to drag out all of your old stories, even if "The Time Grandma Hit a Cat with the Lawnmower" really does emphasize your main points about Jesus healing a blind man.

So, how long should sermons be? I don't know. Who should we emulate? Who is good at making a point and not rambling?

Read a parable from the Gospels. See how long it takes you to read it aloud in a conversational voice. You're looking at about 2 minutes for most of them.

And Jesus never had a problem getting His point across!

On 1 Timothy 3:15

I mentioned in another post that I had never noticed that Paul, in his 1st letter to Timothy, calls the Church the pillar and foundation of the truth. When I read this with an open heart just a few months ago, it blew me away.

Paul just casually states that the Church is in such a role. This has huge implications for Protestantism.

As a cradle Protestant who grew up in a sort of emergent Pentecostalism and later found himself in more fundamentalist circles, I'm accustomed to thinking of "the church" strictly in the sense of "anyone who is a faithful follower of Christ". That seems to be the most common understanding of the term within evangelicalism. The idea is that as long as you have made some sort of commitment to Jesus, you're part of the church, and we're all bound together in a mystical way. We can't know how we're bound together, but we are.

At least in some way, this is very close to the Catholic idea of the "invisible church" (all those who are following God to the best of their knowledge and abilities).

The reason this becomes problematic for Protestants is that there is no way this non-organized, extremely divided group or people could be a solid foundation of truth.

Let's look at a moral issue, for example:

What's the truth about homosexual relationships? Is it wrong? Is it neutral? Is it inherently good?

Ask a someone in an Independent Baptist Church. You'll almost certainly get a clear answer. They are very likely to tell you that living a homosexual lifestyle (i.e., being actively gay) is inherently wrong.

OK, so the church (in the Protestant sense) says being actively gay is wrong, right?

Not so fast.

Now go ask someone in an "Open & Affirming" congregation in the United Church of Christ the same question. You'll get quite a different answer.

So which is it? Is living an openly gay lifestyle right or wrong? If "the church" Paul is talking about is merely the mystically-united group which Protestants generally claim it is, then Paul, though otherwise divinely-inspired and inerrant, made a mistake here.

So, either there is a visible Church, established by Christ, with a visible head, and a consistent teaching authority, or the Bible is wrong.

I don't know about you, but I'm not about to bet on that second choice.

Pillar and Foundation of Truth

According to 1 Tim 3:15, who or what is the pillar and foundation of all truth?
Go ahead, go look it up. I can wait.
...Thinking music...

That's right, THE CHURCH is the pillar and foundation of truth! For some reason, I can't remember noticing this verse at all before a few months ago , when I started investigating the catholic church. I know I had read it before that point, but I guess I had skipped over it, and I can only assume that anyone whose teaching I have sat under must have glanced over the verse, too.

Heck, I know that's what I would have done. Just like when you come to a verse that challenges your presuppositions, you wrestle with it a while and you come to a conclusion. Mine were usually 1 of the following:

1. It really means what it says in context, which demands of me a radical alteration of my current doctrinal stances
2. The author didn't really mean that/it was just for his time period/he's using a different definition of such and such word/it's just a minor verse anyway.

In short, the choice is to embrace the contextual meaning of the passage and reconcile one's beliefs to the text or to ignore the passage substantially.

To embrace the sacred scriptures in their entirety or to ignore them in their entirety. (for we cannot pick and choose)

Unfortunately, it seems that "bible-teaching" evangelical fundamentalists would rather reject the entire canon of scripture than embrace a passage that's too Catholic-y for their tastes.