Skip to comments.Retain the Bible’s authority in church
Posted on 07/09/2005 9:08:34 AM PDT by sionnsar
Modern spirituality invents its own standards and rituals, but the Bible stands as an authority over all traditions.
Throughout history human beings have been incurably religious. Religion has continued and even flourished under atheistic regimes such as those imposed by Marxism. Despite the secular mood of our day, religion has not disappeared, it has surfaced again often under the guise of spirituality.
Contemporary spirituality retains its popularity and it is so often undemanding. It is more interested in whether spirituality meets a felt need rather than the truth. We can invent our own rituals and standards of behaviour. In particular, it does not require corporate disciplines such as going to church.
Christianity starts with revealed truth. According to our faith, God has not left us in ignorance and darkness. He has not left us to invent our own religion. According to our faith, God speaks and his word is recorded in the Bible.
That is why the private study of the Bible and the public preaching of the Bible are of such importance. It is interesting that when preaching loses touch with the Bible it also loses touch with Jesus Christ. The Scriptures really are a book about the Saviour. Likewise, where possible, personal and family Bible readings have proved to be an immense blessing. It means that God speaks to each of us through his prophets and apostles, and that our lives may be shaped by his word.
Some people claim to be led by promptings of the Spirit within their own souls. In giving us the Bible, God has committed to us a public document which all of us may appeal to. We do not have to be experts in spirituality or specialists in religion. The Bible stands as an authority over all church leaders and traditions.
Of course, church traditions, Christian experience and human reason are significant ways by which we may determine belief and behaviour and understand the mind and the ways of God. But the authority of the Bible is singular: it stands alone.
I hope that the Bible retains its place in our churches. I hope that it is read, and read well. I trust that readings from both Old and New Testaments are customary in the churches. I hope, also, that families read the Bible together and that as individuals we study the word of God. Of all the books in the world this is the most precious and the most important.
Comment on this article for the next issue of Southern Cross
This reminds me of an Orthodox priest telling the story of a conversation between priests where one said "we need to preach the Fathers more." To which another (wiser) priest responded by saying "no, we need to preach like the Fathers more -- i.e. clear, Biblical sermons."
When one reads the spiritual writings of the Orthodox Church, one constantly runs across exhortations to read the Scriptures, especially the Gospels. In the letters to spiritual children (especially to laymen) of any number of Russian saints in particular, one sees over and over the exhortation to read at least a little from the Gospels every day, even if one does nothing else.
One finds, in all the great saints, an intimate knowledge of the Scriptures that is not academic, but something that is pulsing through their veins with evangelical purity. I an article in "Divine Ascent" recently about Metr. Anthony (Khrapovitsky), the leader of the Russian Church in Exile at the time of the Russian revolution. The author (who was a contemporary of Metr. Anthony and not at all uncritical) said of this holy man that he knew the Scriptures so much by heart that he was a "walking concordance," and yet was appallingly (in the author's opinion) ignorant of any modern scholarship about the Bible.
His knowledge, of course, came from hearing the Scriptures in the daily cycle of monastic life, and from constant reading and meditation. His understanding of the meaning was enlightened by the teachings of the Fathers.
Again, one encounters this over and over in the great saints we Orthodox admire, ancient and modern. St. John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and SF is another 20th century saint who knew the entire New Testament and Psalter by heart -- the story is told of him being at a service in Paris where a lengthy passage from an Epistle was appointed to be read. The reader, hoping to move things along, turned two pages at once and continued with the reading. St. John interupted him and inserted, from memory, the entire lengthy passage from St. Paul.
Nor is it restricted to saints. A friend of mine was at a service many years ago where a visiting deacon from Russia (who couldn't speak English) was invited to read the Gospel. At the last minute, the clergy realized that there was no Slavonic Gospel in the church. The deacon shrugged, took the English Gospel, put it on the lectern, and proceeded to intone the entire passage in Slavonic from memory. Those in attendance who knew Slavonic said that if he missed anything, they didn't catch it.
I guess the point to this little excursus of mine is to agree wholeheartedly with the fact that the Scriptures are indeed of highest authority, and to agree with the author of this piece on the need for them to be preached in every Church, and to be "read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested" by all Christians -- as the colect from the BCP so beautifully puts it.
Orthodox Christians would of course point out that the interpretation of those words needs to be guided by the traditional teachings of the Church. (Strictly speaking, the interpretations of St. John Chrysostom and other commentaries on the readings of the day are appointed to be read during Matins of Orthodox services -- although this is rarely done outside of monasteries because of time constraints.)
But we must directly encounter the words of Scripture themselves, not just other words written about them. Occasionally, in some Orthodox circles, some of the fear of seeming "too Protestant" creeps in, to the detriment of teaching, reading, and preaching from the Scriptures themselves. This attitude is not part of the Orthodox tradition, as the countless examples of our own saints shows. They did not become saints through theoretical meditations on abstract theology or through studying canons or history. Their spiritual life was not "Sola Scriptura," but the Scriptures certainly were overwhelmingly at the very center of it, and what animated their own words...
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