Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Making Sense of the World

Ambrosiaster, the designation given by Erasmus to an unidentified Church Father active sometime between 366 and 384AD, is considered by many to be the most insightful, accurate commentator on Paul's writings in the New Testament before the commentaries of Martin Luther (1483-1546) and other sixteenth-century reforming Biblical scholars came along.

Ambrosiaster is cited in an entry for this coming Sunday's second Bible lesson, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, in Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings, Lectionary Cycle A.

I wish that contemporary Christians would all read these words, an encouragement to those who adhere to a reverential view of the Bible and a correction to those who regard the central teachings of Scripture (and the confessions of the Church) as optional.

Ambrosiaster also affirms the power of the Biblical witness without additions or subtractions on the parts of those trying to make the Gospel more palatable to unbelieving or skeptical people.

This is Ambrosiaster's take on why Jesus called fishers to preach His Word:
It was because Christian preaching does not need elaborate refinement of verbal expression that fishers, who were uneducated, were chosen to preach the gospel. In that way the truth of the message would be its own recommendation, and it would not depend on the cleverness or ingenuity of human wisdom. The false apostles were doing just that, and moreover they were omitting the things which the world does not believe, like the virgin birth of Christ and his resurrection from the dead.
Our call as Christians is, on the one hand, to lower those cultural barriers that might prevent others from knowing and following Jesus Christ. That's why the use of contemporary music and language in worship are good things. Doing so makes Christ accessible to those who don't know Him. (And that, for we Lutheran Christians, is a central component of the ongoing Reformation project begun by Luther.)

On the other hand, we have no authority from Christ to change the content of the Bible's teaching. As Rick Warren has memorably said of the Church's relation to the Biblical message it's called to proclaim: "The package must always change. The content of the package must never change."*

Recently, my wife Ann was asked by a friend about what is going on in Haiti, where our son, along with his girlfriend and others from the congregation of which they're a part, plan to go to work with children at a vacation Bible school this coming summer. "Why do you suppose that country can't get things together in spite of all the help they're getting?" Ann was asked. Massive poverty, massive destruction after last year's earthquake, and a long history of political corruption and despotism were all reasons Ann cited. And, she added, that one can't discount one legacy of Voodooism in the country's troubles: demon possession.

"You don't believe that?" the other person asked Ann. "Of course I do," she said.

The fact that the Bible teaches about the existence of demon-possession and that Christ, Who cast out demons, believed in this phenomenon, should be enough to convince any Christian that demons do wreak havoc in our world.

But so should experience. As a young pastor, I participated in a weekly study with a group of pastors that included Mennonites and Lutherans. One Lutheran clergy about a decade older than me said that he had never believed in angels or especially, in their fallen counterparts, demons. An older Lutheran colleague, who was far from being a Biblical fundamentalist, shocked the first pastor by saying, "If you don't believe that there are demons, you either haven't been paying attention or you're naive."

Ambrosiaster's comments indicate that the teachings of the Bible have always aroused skepticism. There's nothing new or sophisticated about the doubts we may have when the Bible speaks of angels, demons, the virgin birth of Jesus, Jesus' resurrection, and other teachings. Faith doesn't come naturally to us. It's a supernatural phenomenon created by God in believers. (That's why believers can never see themselves as being superior to unbelievers in any way.)

But if we approach the Bible and Christian faith with a willingness to believe, a willingness to trust in God and in God's Word, we might find God not only constructing faith in our lives. We might well conclude that faith in the God revealed in Jesus Christ is the only thing that allows us to make sense of our world or ourselves.

All that and heaven too. What a deal!

*My paraphrase from memory.

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