Sunday, April 11, 2010
Faith in a Scripture-less Christ?
Membership in some communities serves to insulate us from what other communities are saying. This is even true of the university community, where its members can be mutually reinforcing to the exclusion of other points of view. Bart Ehrman, agnostic and head of a religion department, writes something that sounds utterly absurd to the great majority of Christians:
• “For most Christians, Christian faith is about believing in Christ and worshipping God through him. It is not about belief in the Bible…In traditional Christianity the Bible itself has never been an object of faith.” (Jesus Interrupted, 225)
If “the Bible itself has never been an object of faith,” what then has been the object of faith? Ehrman answered “believing in Christ.” However, how would the church know what to believe without the Word of God? Paul rhetorically asked,
• “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14)
Christian faith has always rested upon a body of revealed truth. Without this, there can’t be a Christianity or even a Christ that we can believe in. In fact, Biblical faith has always been measured by our response to God’s Word. The Word of God had informed Adam and Eve to not eat from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” They disobeyed the Word, fell and suffered alienation from the Word-giver. In contrast, Abraham believed God’s Word, and as a result, he was reckoned as righteous (Gen. 15:6). Later, Abraham was obedient to the Word of God, even when God instructed him to convert Isaac into a burnt offering. God, therefore, told Abraham that He would bless him because of his obedience to His Word (Gen. 22:15-18).
Spiritual maturity has always been directly related to our response to the Word of God, His self-revelation. Job had been commended by God because he repented in response to the Word of God and spoke correctly of God, not according to his three critics (Job 42:7-8). All of our trials are about the very same thing. Will we abide in the Word of God or won’t we?
It seems almost pointless to rehearse the evidence against Ehrman’s proposition. The entire history of Israel demonstrates that they prospered as they were obedient to the Word and suffered calamity in their disobedience and rejection of their Word-based faith. I can’t list all of the times that Moses stressed this equation without quoting the entire Bible. God’s Word of the Covenant was always central to Israel. Even after Moses had spent 40 days and nights with the Lord and he descended back to his people after having the greatest mountain-top experience, it was all about teaching Israel the Words he had been given (Exo. 34:29-35).
Israel’s holidays weren’t about conjuring up ecstatic experiences, but instead reciting the Words they had been taught. It was these teachings that would product the joy and gratefulness.
Jesus’ Word continued in this very same tradition. For Him, life wasn’t about food, but about the Word of God. Even when tempted by the Devil, He quoted Scripture:
• Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:4 quoting Deut. 8)
Faithfulness wasn’t a matter of great exploits or even how much time we spend in worship, but about embracing all of God’s written Words. Love was also to be measured by our response to the Word of God:
• “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him…If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (John 14:21-24)
Even worship had to be according to the truths of Scripture. In his discourse with a Samaritan woman, Jesus informed her that true worship had to be according to the truth about God as revealed in Scripture:
• “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:22-24)
God’s people were never free to offer up any worship or to conceive of God in any way they so pleased. It had to be according to God’s truth, as revealed to Israel. (We too want to be adored for who we are!) Even after His resurrection, celebrating with Jesus was never a matter of letting-go or of setting aside the truths of Scripture. Instead, Jesus instructed and encouraged them from the Word of God, demonstrating that everything prophesied about Him had to be fulfilled (Luke 24:25-27; 44-47). If Jesus was so entirely centered upon the Word, so too must we be!
Ehrman’s message, however un-Scriptural it might be, is a popular message. It gives encouragement to those who want Christ but prefer to reject His Word. However, Jesus will not allow us to separate Him from His Word:
• “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:14-15).
We deprive ourselves when we attempt to separate Christ from His Word – a Word that is so foundational to every aspect of our lives, as Joshua asserted:
• “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (Joshua 1:8)
As unbelievable as this statement might seem to modern humanity, many can attest to its truth through their changed lives. (If you haven’t experienced a changed life yet, just be patient and wait on the Lord – Psalm 27:14).