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Sunday, June 29, 2014

An Important Consideration

I'm taking some moments even on a Sunday to write a few things down. It has been my practice in recent days and weeks to write, even if I have nothing to say. Today is not that sort of day.

What is the mechanism by which the Protestant community (conceive of one individually for the moment, if you would) knows its dogma? It would seem to be a mechanism, if there is one, for there is no reason to appeal to the community as preferable to the individual, unless it were to possess something--either in kind, or in degree--that the individual does not have. In one way, we bracket out the charge that the individual appealing to the Holy Spirit speaking in his portion* of the Scriptures is really only appealing to his own interpretation of them, in order to ask why it is with this community and its dogma one has made his stand?

This makes people very uncomfortable, because most of us have just made "Reformation" ecclesial assumptions and accepted the resulting disunity as a fact of life. You're doing it now. You're saying to yourself, "Well, all true Christians agree on what's important," never stopping to realize that at one point, the things we have now accepted as adiaphora were once vital, worth dying for. This is not a lecture about taking your faith more seriously. I'm not your pastor, and I am not the Lord. What I am asking is if the Americanism with which most of us are tainted in one way or another ultimately stems from Sola Scriptura, from the fact that, stripping away all the ecclesial niceties and hoops and circumstance, the ultimate interpreter of Scripture (under this paradigm) is you, and, at the end of the day, no one has any idea what God really said. Derivative authority is a sham. We know it, too, or else we wouldn't call it "derivative." From whom does it derive? We would be horrified to think it derives from ourselves, which is why the standard tack is to appeal to the Holy Spirit. Believe me, brethren, I sympathize. After all, the Holy Spirit is God, who cannot lie. Should be a simple matter, then. Uh, no. There are those among you who will appeal to scholarship. Especially you Reformed types. This move is more easily defeated than the last. Say it with me now: "Everybody has their Captain Jack."

Don't hear what I'm not saying, as he would say. This is not an emotional appeal for unity at any cost. I'm simply asking: If you had to give a fairly detailed account of your doctrine, as opposed to another, could you do it? Would it make sense? I'm not advocating punching the "heretic" Roger Olson (or take your pick) in the face at the next cocktail party. What I am saying is that you and I are awash in a dogmatic relativist soup of our own making, and it should bother us. Maybe even enough to start at the beginning.

I looked religious indifferentism right in the face, right at the beginning of this journey, and again one night on the way to a party. I was lamenting that possibly a dear friend of mine would worry about my soul, because I sought full communion with the Catholic Church. She replied, "Well, nobody has the whole truth, you know?" We are much too comfortable with that sentiment.

That's why I asked about a mechanism. What we want and need is to know what God said, and what He didn't. The Presbyterians would "have me" as long as I would have wanted, but I wanted Truth, not comfort. Some of you even dare to think that certainty is a false hope. If that is the case, resign your pastorate; you don't believe your good news enough that I should listen.

Real ecumenism is hard. It's about reasons, and denials, and invitations. It is not often nice. I'm burnt-out on impotent niceness, as you may have noticed. If you want to die, do evangelism/ecumenism. If you like cocktail parties, join the UN.

*Note: The Catholic Church maintains that the Sacred Scriptures are composed of 73 books, not 66.

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