Let’s face it, we all think we’re pretty smart. We would not believe what we do unless we were convinced that it’s right. We would not go to church, read the Bible, hold certain dogmas and doctrines, etc. unless we were sure about their veracity. I like to think, read, and talk about theology, ecclesiology, Christian practice, and other topics connected with God. My views matter to me and I have invested a lot of time into them. And yet a bomb dropped on me this morning when I read Isaiah 29:13-14.
In a message assuring the destruction of Jerusalem, a city that had ceased to listen to God, Isaiah proclaimed,
“And so the Lord says, ‘These people say they are mine. they honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away. And their worship of me amounts to nothing more than human laws learned by rote. Bexause of this, I will do wonders among these hypocrites. I will show that human wisdom is foolish and even the most brilliant people lack understanding.” NLT
There were two things that screamed to me from this passage.
1. How the Spirit works
In a college class on reading the Bible, I remember seeing the neat diagram that showed a little stick man on one side and Bible on the other. There was one arrow connecting the stick man to the Bible, as he needs to study the Biblical world, and then another arrow that represents the application of the “timeless principles” of scripture to his context. What seems to be lacking, among other acknowledgements of the infinitely complex interactions that occur when we read Scripture, is the role of the Spirit.
I have drawn my own diagrams that attempt to include the Spirit, the context of the original reader that he can never quite escape, as well as the context of the scriptures that we will never quite understand completely. Yet I think that this is just another foolish attempt to understand something that is a divine mystery. There was something that happened today that I cannot explain in which inspired and truthful words on a page were used by God to challenge my intellectual pride. I am so limited and finite. There is no way that I could ever claim to understand how God works.
My diagram of the “Bible reading process” now would be more like a dust cloud or comic book explosion with all of the interpretive elements flying around within it helter skelter, somehow interacting in a way only known to God, communicating God’s message as the Spirit uses the Bible to thump me off of my intellectual high horse.
2. Where Our Hearts Belong
The other observation was that we can place a lot of things in the place of worshipping Christ. As Isaiah warns, we can talk about God and do things for God while not giving him our hearts. How we do we know when something has usurped God’s place? One thought I have is to remove it from your Christian life and see how you do.
An example of my own: My wife was given a prophetic word that she would marry a “David”. It certainly made her aware of a guy’s first name in social settings! But she ended up marrying me. an Ed, not a David . . . technically. But I’m a worshipper. God just seems to use me whether alone or with people when leading worship. My acoustic guitar is one of my dearest possessions. It’s right up there with the Bible in worshipping God for me. Worshipping has been a tremendously large portion of my Christianity, but it’s not the reason why I am a Christian. It’s a means to an end. And lately, God has uplugged this connection point to him. It seems that silent meditation has been a major way to meet with God. Perhaps I had become so attached to “worship music” that I needed a break from it.
Other issues when we get into doctrine can be a bit dicey. I’ve heard stories of Christian students at Christian colleges who openly wept in biology class when they learned about evolution. With the debate aside for now, does our relationship with Christ really depend on the process of creation? Does the Bible have to be interpreted in just one manner in order for it to be true?
Luther claimed that the church stands and falls on the doctrine of justification by faith through grace. (and here is where I duck from all of the stones). But does it really? I like and believe in Luther’s formulation of this doctrine, but I think the church stands and falls on Christ. Did I become a Christian because I intellectually liked Luther’s justification formula better than my Catholic one? Is this doctrine my reason for remaining in the faith? Not at all.
I am inseparably woven into Christ. I am a part of him. I’ve tried to go my own way and do my own thing, but somehow he graciously holds onto me. Christ’s presence in my life is a reality that I simply cannot deny. If we find out a 100 years from now that Luther could have been more precise or accurate in his formulation of this doctrine, my relationship with Christ is still secure. Truth is essential and important. No one would deny that. Yet it is the God who gives that truth who must be supreme over all.
So while I choose to believe in Luther’s doctrine on justification, I also believe that some Catholics have equal access to God. Though it may be more difficult to find Christ in some Catholic churches (at least as my experience has been), I think that dogmas or doctrines (no matter how central they are) cannot precede Christ.
Perhaps this relates in a way to Josh’s post on denominations. Let’s face it, we can proof-text scriptures all day (the way that all Christians do most of the time) and claim “case closed” on our arguments because of the wealth of scripture behind our views. But should not search the scriptures for life, we search the scriptures because they are a means to Christ. The scope of the entire story of scripture is that humanity turned away from God and that God has provided a restored relationship through Christ. There’s the good news. God is advancing into our lives and our world to bring his rule, a restored relationship with his creation.
I pray that nothing in this world or in our minds would ever supplant the supreme place of Christ. Though creeds and doctrines are important, they cannot take the place of Christ in our hearts.