Friday, 14 June 2013

The Once and Future Scriptures - The Bible and Liturgy (pt 6)

This post continues my look at The Once and Future Scriptures edited by Gregory C Jenks. Here are my thoughts on the into and first chapter, the second chapter, the third chapter, fourth chapter and fifth chapter. This post will be dealing with the next chapter.

Marian Free - Chapter 6 The Bible and Liturgy
Marian starts off by pointing out that their are holes in the liturgy. For example Luke 19:12-27 doesn't get a mention in the three year Sunday services (p 95-96). I agree that there are issues with missing texts in liturgy. I have been looking at a 2005 weekday lectionary and there are holes in it. I think the Biblical texts already have an agenda and to cut out bits from it only creates another agenda. The church should be preaching the whole council of God. Free points out that many congregations are ignorant about the content of the Bible as they are not given the tool to help make sense of it (p 96). Free says that the primary place in which believers encounter the Bible is in the liturgy and then for the rest of the chapter exclaims it.

Liturgy & Forming Identity
I do like Free's assessment of the liturgy. The Scriptures are essential to it and so it is where Christians gather to hear the Word and worship God (p 97). One of the Bible's role is to help form and maintain the identity of the faith community (p 97) and that "the Bible is a communal document written by and for particular communities, and continually interpreted by and for those communities of faith" (p 97-98). As the stories of the Bible is told and retold they become the story of those who hear it (p 97). Yes, as we learn about the overarching Biblical story line, God redeeming His people for His purpose, we see that we are included into this story. Everything is going well, then Free says "in this setting the historical accuracy of the Bible is not relevant" and we meet the Jesus of faith as much as we meet the Jesus of history (p 98). If the story of God redeeming His people for His purpose is not grounded in history, then I think we should all do something else on a Sunday. The Jesus of faith, is the Jesus of history. I am reminded of something historian (and Christian) Dickson said in The Christ Files: Christianity has placed it's head on the chopping block of history and lets anyone take a swing. If we can not see ourselves as part of the true, real, historical story of the Bible, then what story are we becoming part of? I kinda don't want to live for a non-historical, or a-historical story. The good ones are the true ones.

Free correctly points out that the communities story has been used to misinform and dis-empower others. "Misinformation leads to mis-formation" (p 99), but does not go on to say how we can avoid this and by what standard we can claim that someone has misused a Biblical text.

The Lectionary
In this section Free points out both advantages and disadvantage of the lectionary. One advantage is that it forces communities to look at an even spread over the Bible and not favour one bit over the other (p 100). On the disadvantage side, I agree with Free, the breaks up can seem a bit arbitrary and like in the liturgy similar stories and parables are sometimes skipped over (p 100). I found the point interesting that when these passages are skipped over it may "lead to a false understanding of the story and of the history of faith" (p 101). It seems history is important after all... Free expands on the issue of breaking up the text; it sometimes doesn't fit the natural break in the passage (p 101-102) and how sometimes the text is pushed into a season (Advent, Epiphany, Easter, etc) and not used chronologically (p 102). I agree with all this.

Free then points out that "The Revised Common Lectionary restricts the choice of reading to passage from the Bible" (p 102) as if that is a bad thing. In the past sometime "lives of saints and other non-canonical texts were included as part" of the service (p 103). Free has already stated that it is the Bible that shapes the community, not other non-canonical texts, so I don't see why this "restriction" is such an issue. Why don't we also include some of the best selling books to our regular diet to be more contemporary with culture? If we did that, we would still be restricting some other category of books that we didn't use, like say Mein Kampf or the Communist Manifesto... Since I am an Anglican I deem the Bible containing all things necessary for salvation, so I am happy with this "restriction". Of cause this doesn't restrict the preacher from using materials from the lives of saint, or any other non-canonical material (including extreme right and left texts) in their sermon. In fact, it would be good if they had more references and citations.

The Sermon
Free points out some of the difficult in the preachers task to expound on the Scriptures. They have to move from the original language, the context of the book and its historical setting and then apply it to today (p 103). (Note again, the importance of history in this task). The preacher is to draw out the meaning of the text (p 103) and shouldn't dumb down the text (p 104). I agree that it is important to wrestle with difficult passages as it will help model and equip the congregation in how to deal with the Bible (p 104). It is a bad thing when preachers focus on personal and social issues and not the Biblical text (p 104). The cliche statement is mist in the pulpit, fog in the pews.

Free doesn't like if the congregation has to leave their intelligence at the door before a service and would like more preachers to do justice to the complexities of the text and not feel threatened by scientific discoveries or critical scholarship (p 105). I also agree, but with caution as to how much stress we put on these "new" discoveries over the Bible. Like all things science, things are contented in the next generation, so we shouldn't get too caught up in them. Science is after all based on faith, hopefully it agrees with reality and be true, but note it is not the standard of truth. We have something else for that... Also on the complexities of the Bible, I do think preachers need to wrestle with texts to explain them well, but I also hold that the scriptures are clear and that anyone can read it and will be able to understand the main driving point behind it. Even if a preacher does mess up the sermon, the person in the pew still has a Bible (at least in this country) of which they can read and understand themselves. If we had more educated people in the pews, then maybe they would hold the preacher to a better standard.

Challenges & Conclusion
Free points out that in post Enlightenment times the value of the Bible has been diminished (p 109). With numbers declining there is a challenge for the church to simplify its message and play to the lowest common denominator (p 109). Wrapping up this chapter Free says that the liturgy is thee one place in which Christians regularly encounter the Bible (p 109). I do hope that the Sunday service has an emphasis on the Bible, but I would also hope that Christians also encounter the Bible every (or most) days. Like critical scholar ship, the liturgy is just one tool that the Church has. There are daily lectionaries, Bible reader apps and plans, daily devotionals etc... that anyone can us to help them read the Bible. Our Church should be examining the true (and historical) story and provide resources to help everyone to do that.

Free ends with a great question: "Do we want to search for the meaning of the biblical text, or are we content to read meaning into it?" (p 110). May we always continue to do the former, and not the latter.


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