Monday, July 23, 2012

'WORD OF GOD' ..AND BIBLE are not equivalent. July23, 2012

Dear Leroy, Thanks for your reflection on this great classic Pilgrim's Progress.  I have regular conversation with a long time conservative  church of Christ/Christian Church friend. We walk and talk regarding scripture often. Our insurmountable(though our friendship does transcend it somehow)  point always ends up being the nature of scripture. He sees written words, the Bible, as the most real meaning of 'Word of God' (as if you can hold it in your hand)  and I know that is shared by most, even more 'progressive', Christians. I challenge him to take the phrase 'Word of God' as used in scripture and to find in context that it never means the Bible and rarely  refers to any written word on paper or stone. And when it does refer to OT torah  teaching it also emphasizes such law  was passing and to be replaced by a law written on the human heart. This is a strong  and misleading teaching of especially  Protestant Christianity. It claims too much.   It has had to be  historically as it has been I'm sure but eventually what has been good has to stand aside for what is better and that I think is where we now are regarding the meaning of Word of God.
The same is true regarding the 'promises of God.'  Yes, I love and claim the importance of statements found in scripture that are promises made to people of the past and ones that apply in general ways to  us all. But we have not been openly taught,as we could be, to listen for the Word of God that comes to us directly in life and in dream and vision as being truly the  most personal promises that God makes to the human. The ones made this way directly to the human heart are often consistent with those received by people in the written text  stories but they by their nature come with far more richly Sacred authority than written words could ever or likely ever were intended to bring. They are indeed personal and specific for each one. They do not lead one to ignore community but instead lead one to more awareness that we are part of the whole community of Gods humankind past and present. I'm fine and pleased when people find promises that assist in dealing with life's struggles in the form of written word. I know that is real and I do not discount it. But I believe we are well into an age that our Christian teaching should be that which openly encourages each person to listen to and for the  Living Word Of God. A Word of God which is superior in quality to any past or present words of ink and paper or chiseled in stone. Even Paul said, 'The letter(eventually) kills but the Spirit gives life.'  That refers, I believe,  to all written words clung to as if they were the eternal and most personal Word of God. 

If we read the Bible with an open mind to where it actually points for us to seek the Word and Promises of  God, I am confident that it consistently points beyond itself to the Living Spirit which goes and comes as it wishes and never is held hostage to written words of the past. I believe this is how Jesus  imaged  the Spirit and Word of God in his own mind. We are surely to all be looking for a Word of God that  goes well Beyond the Sacred Page and seeks  God  in no less place than there. I know and understand that we fear such a living Word of God will not give us the  fleshly 'reasoned' certainty and consistency that an external authority such a pope or a book seems to assure. But we lose much by being grasped and controlled by such fear and bias. Listening and expecting the Living Word of the Spirit over and beyond any written word or law  requires a strong step in faith, personal responsibility and courage.  And  trust that God will provide the faithful Pilgrim with all resources in just the timing as it is needed.  

This theme, which is quite biblical, may be the single most important rediscovery I have made over the past 30 years,  which took me well beyond the  practiced theology not only of my specific Church of Christ heritage but  also of  popular historic/traditional  Christian teaching. A pilgrim is sworn to follow the light that is given to him/her. 

My best to you always.  I have great admiration for you  and wish you much more time in your great work among 'Restoration' folks far and wide. Jim Hibbett

Note: The reader may also find this blog of interest regarding where written word is transcended by living spirit:
On Sat, 21 Jul 2012 16:47:48 -0500 "Leroy Garrett" <> writes:
Soldier On! W/ Leroy Garrett
Occasional Essay 409 (7-20-12)
The Promises of God Are Yes and Amen
                                      THE PROMSES OF GOD ARE YES AND AMEN
   All the promises of God in Christ are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. -- 2 Corinthians 1:20.
John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) is the most important Christian classic ever written, and it remains to this day one of the most significant books of all English literature. It has been translated into over 200 languages, and it is the only book beside the Bible that has remained in print for over 300 years. First published 334 years ago you can purchase it today on Amazon! And it joins the apostle Paul’s “Prison epistles” as being written in jail. And yet it remains among the least read of the great classics. It is forgivable if you are among those who have not read it.
   Bunyan was in jail in Bedfordshire, England -- twice in fact and for a total of thirteen years -- for disobeying the Conventicle Act, which forbade preaching or assembling apart from the authority of the state church, the Church of England. As a dissenter to the authoritarianism of the state church his constant theme in preaching was “Grace Abounding,” which became the title of his spiritual autobiography. The persecutions and deprivations he suffered led him to write an allegory on the Christian’s pilgrimage from earth to heaven, the full title of which is Pilgrim’s Progress From This World To That Which is To Come.
   The allegorical names and places Bunyan chose are reflective of his own triumphs ad tragedies, and his own hopes and fears. Pilgrim, the protagonist of the allegory, is any Christian. Apollyon is Satin with whom Christian constantly struggles. Then there is the City of Destruction, Christian’s home town where he became terribly burdened by his sense of sin, and from which he left in despair in search of the Celestial City. Obstacles like the Hill of Difficulty, Vanity Fair, and Slough of Despair and characters like Obstinate, Worldly Wisdom, and Mr. Legality point up the hardship of the road to glory. But there are places and characters along the way that edify and encourage, like Home Beautiful, the home congregation, the Place of Deliverance, the Cross itself, and the chanting f the 23rd Psalm, along with Evangelist, Help, Hopeful, Faithful, and Good Will, who is Jesus himself, to name a few.
   I wish to share with you two of the great truths in the allegory that I find especially meaningful.  First, as Christian leaves the City of Destruction he asks Evangelist where he should go. Evangelist asks if he sees the Wicket Gate -- Wicket, not Wicked! -- in the distance. Christian can’t see it. Then do you see the light in the distance? Evangelist asks. Christian sees some light. Then go to that light, and from there you’ll find your way to the Wicket Gate, Evangelist assures him. At the Gate he finds Good Will, who is Christ, who directs him to the Place of Deliverance, the Cross, where he is relieved of his sins. All this supposedly represents baptism and the beginning of the journey.
   Bunyan is here saying what John Henry Newman said in his great hymn Lead Kindly Light: “I do not ask to see the distant scene, one step at a time for me.” When Christian cannot see the distant Gate but only some glimmer of light, Evangelist advises that he proceed with such light as he has. This is most comforting for those who journey from darkness to light. It is not done in one giant step. God holds us responsible only for such light as we have at any given time. He does not require that a blind man see or a lame man walk. As we faithfully follow such light as we have, we believe we will receive further light. If the heart is right God will provide sufficient light for the journey, even if it means but one small step at a time.
   But as we make the earthly sojourn to the Celestial City we may well confront weighty obstacles, and this is what happens to Christian, and this is the second lesson I take from this allegory. Christian and Hopeful his companion are captured by the Giant Despair who beats, starves and imprisons them. Christian remembers that he was given a key for the journey and Hopeful urges him to see if it will unlock the door to freedom. Indeed the key opens the door and the pilgrims complete their journey to the city of God in glorious triumph.
   Bunyan, with remarkable insight, names the key Promise. The key is the promises of God ! Whatever the nature of the despair or the heartbreak -- the death of a beloved one, a health crisis, a financial hardship, family problems -- the promises of God are there to sustain and comfort us. .We may not escape the prison of despair as quickly as did Christian, but we will find help in time of need. If we suffer we find meaning for the suffering in the promises of God.
   This is what Paul is saying in 2 Corinthians 1:20. Because of God’s faithfulness in Christ we can say Yes, we believe to his promises. We can count on them with certainty. We can take them to the bank of hope, live by them and die by them. Take this promise that appears in both Testaments: I shall not fail you or desert you (Hebrews 13:5; Deuteronomy 31:6).  If God is with us in the tragic turns of life and feels our pain, it gives meaning to suffering. This one is also in both Testaments: He shall wipe away all tears from their eyes (Revelation 21:4; Isaiah 25:8). The problem is not in the promises, but in our failure to respond to them with a hearty Yes and Amen.
   The apostle Peter gives us the purpose of the promises of God when he says: “The greatest and priceless promises have been lavished on us, that through them you should share the divine nature and escape the corruption that is rife in the world through disordered passion” (2 Peter 1:4, NJB). The precious promises, emanating from God, are designed to make us like God and to enable us to escape the evil influences of this world.  An example of this would be “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Purity of heart is an attribute of God; the promise of seeing God is a promise of intimacy with God. The promise inspires one to cultivate the attribute.
   John Bunyan was on to something when he named the key that opened the door to the road to the Celestial City the promises of God.  We too have that key. The ball is in our court as to whether we respond with an emphatic Yes and Amen!  And John Henry Newman was on to something when he concluded his great hymn with:
   Lead, Saviour, lead me home in childlike faith,
     Home to my God.
   To rest forever after earthly strife
     In the calm light of everlasting life.

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