Saturday, June 07, 2008

Truth in the Church

For the last month I have struggled with truth. Specifically, what truth will God reveal to the community of believers. A review for the book “Paradigms on Pilgrimage ” triggered this internal debate. Among other things the reviewer states:

"Let us assume God did use evolution to create the world. Why does he allow so many Christians to think he didn't?"

This question, and its generalization struck a nerve in my psyche. Christian friends whose walk I trust are on both sides of the evolution issue. Is one side or the other in disobedience to God on this topic? I don’t think so—but then I must face the logical conclusion—that God knows what He did and He chooses to not reveal this truth in general to His Church.

This debate, and others like it are repetitions of earlier controversies. Forty years ago believers fought about rock music, five hundred years ago believers argued about whether the sun moved around the earth or vice versa, nineteen hundred years ago there was dissension on whether the new Gentile converts should be subject to circumcision, and other aspects of Mosaic law.

This first century debate, chronicled in Acts 15 included elders of the Jerusalem church, the apostles Peter, Paul, and James; Barnabas, the prophets Barsabbas and Silas, as well as a group of believers that were Pharisees. This account makes a couple of things clear:

· There was a respected group of believers involved—the leadership of the Church

· There was much debate on the subject

· They respectfully listened to evidence (e.g. Paul and Silas relating God’s signs and wonders among the Gentiles)

· God did not supernaturally reveal the answer

In the end they adopted a position, validated by the Holy Spirit:

"For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.”

The writer of Hebrews refers to this period as “the time of reformation.” [chap 9:10] It was the beginning of a new covenant where some regulations imposed by God were cancelled. Some sins became not sin. But the transition in community was gradual. Even Paul, no enemy of the absolute, writes in Romans: “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” and “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

But this was not the end of it. Paul in Romans 15, 1 Cor 8, and Colossians 2 makes it clear that the final solution is that no thing is unclean in itself, and that idols have no impact on the true suitability of food. The statement adopted by the group in Jerusalem was transitional—eventually almost all Christians accepted Paul's later position on the matter, and today most of these issues seem quaint.

As individuals we are called to love, freedom, and confidence in our walk with God. But when it comes to truth in the Church, God does not call us to proofs of knowledge, unanimity, or judgment of other believers. Instead we are to "pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding"—truth in that context can wait.


VirusHead said...

Maybe it's the approach. For me, it's never - and I mean never - a question of why God would allow the christian community to believe different things. For one thing, it was never just one community... but also it's self-evident to me that disagreement is intrinsic, although sometimes repressed/suppressed. After all, humans aren't infallible, and neither have been even the highest of prophets, nor even the speaking friends of God. In fact, I think it's one of the most amazing things about the protagonists - warts and all, acceptable to God, unlike some of the 2D perfection heroes of some other cultures.

But given that frame... I think you addressed this question as well as anyone could. Nice!

darin said...

I agree with virushead. you addressed this question as well as anyone. Your precision and clarity of thought makes me think you should preach!!

I too have struggled with truth and have come to a different understanding. Jesus said, take up your cross and follow me. He didn't say understand or even believe, he said follow. So lately I think we are asking the wrong question in pursuing orthodoxy. Perhaps Jesus expected orthopraxy, correct ethics or actions. (orthodox folk don't like my idea that much.)
enjoyed your post, always causes me to think

VanceH said...

I recently learned the term othropraxy and I really like it. Although I don't think anyone would argue the value of right action, it seems that there are a lot more people willing to put their energy into defining/defending "right thinking." Right now the risk of false doctrine seems low compared to the risk of improperly judging another believer...

darin said...

orthodoxy is frankly easier
there is little risk to thinking and believing, much greater risk to acting
it isn' t that the two aren't connected. I believe that God is a God of creating and creation, that Jesus taught us not to be violent, so I am a pacificist in my actions, violence is not an option.
But in our American Christian heritage, orthopraxy just doesn't get discussed.

jeff said...

Wow. Interesting stuff.
With reference to the post, my overall thought is this...
It's a really difficult, (but interesting tension.) The Christian community has been split on a variety of issues as you clearly illuminate. There are also times that it has been quite universal in supporting ideas and opinions that we today would be consider quite attrocious. If the author takes the position that God will illuminate these things, he certainly owes a wide explanation for Christians being on the wrong side of things like the Spanish Inquistion, slavery, Hitler, etc.

As for orthodoxy versus orthapraxy:
This is incredibly important. As I study and meditate particularly over the book of James, one of the things that becomes clear to me is that it's not an either/or thing but the two are quite closely tied together.
Darin is right, I think to say that Jesus told us to follow him, to engage in actions in the world. The thing is, this belief is actually a belief, not a practice. It's the piece of orthodoxy that leads to our understanding of the importance of orthopraxy.
I understand James to be saying that if we're not engaged in orthopraxy, if we're not doing actions in the world in Jesus name, then this is proof of a defective belief about the nature of Jesus and what he expects of us.
(Numerous post moderns have also made lots of similar, related points that are wider than the book of James. The idea is, I guess, that premodern concepts of "knowing" ran deeper than our conceptions. When ever they thought about beliefs they thought of understandings that run deeper than rationality, and will inherently lead to orthopraxy.)