My last post dealt with apostles and the apostolic and the extremes and misunderstood notions prevalent within the church. Freedom and grace, not fear and control are the necessities needed in apostolic work. The great misunderstanding is that the apostolic work will yield similar results regardless of place or culture. That’s the fear and control talking. When a gospel of radical grace and freedom takes root in a community, the results will look differently depending on the context. Granted the expression of that discipleship community will be (hopefully) an expression of Christ, how that church expresses Christ will be manifold.
The apostolic writers in the New Testament used a variety of metaphors to express the church in her growth. The notions of a temple being built, a family coming together, the functioning of the Body of Christ, among others provides a plethora of ways the church is expressed in the world. Variety and uniqueness should be in the very DNA of every local church. This is why I would appeal to those with apostolic callings to be artistic in the work they do.
In Eph. 2.10, it states we are God’s workmanship, the handiwork of the eternal craftsman. The church is a work of that Jesus builds through the Spirit. This is the poema of God. The lyrical poetry crafted before creation that finds expression in the earth through the church. The context and culture a church finds herself in will offer different canvases and different media to express the reality of Jesus Christ. Some canvases may be small, others large. The media may be oils, acrylics, watercolor or collage. Some may very well be sculptures or even a dramatic work or poetry incarnate. Whatever creative raw materials are found in a given area, Jesus Christ will build His church through the Spirit, the finger of God.
The out working of such expressions of Christ in the world should challenge, stretch and transform us. If we find ourselves only agreeing with the art, the artistic expression is not doing the work of unveiling truth and beauty but merely becoming something petty but pretty. Something ‘pretty/petty’ is nothing more than a sanitized version of the God revealed in Jesus Christ. Sugar coated works of art belie the unrestrained passion the God of creation has for His Bride. Why should we as followers of Christ settle for something less? Why should we stifle or even kill the arts and artists?
The Orthodox (Roman and Eastern) Church takes both apostolic tradition and the Bible as sources of authority in the church. With the different view of apostolic tradition laid out in my last blog post, we now turn to the biblical record as a source of authority in the church.
In some evangelical circles, the place of the Bible is supreme. Coming from a Southern Baptist background, a certain pride was being a people of the book. In some more conservative (some might say fringe) groups, the Bible must be 1611 King James only. The point being this is the true word of God and other translations are in error or, more generously, a mix of truth and error. Such a view of scripture finds a certain similarity to Muslim and Mormon views.
While such views are often the reaction to textual criticism, New Testament studies and other things like the Jesus Seminar. Theologically, the work of NT scholars should be acknowledged and considered. However, this can be taken with a grain of salt since the emphases change roughly every twenty to thirty years. The greater task may be that of interpretation. Ultimately, I see the hermeneutic lens as that of the life and teachings of Jesus. He is the final Word and the living Word that the Bible testifies to through the power of the Spirit.
The narrative of the Bible is the story of God and humanity; God’s purpose for humanity and the plan of redemption revealed in Christ. Granted this is greatly simplified, the story of the God revealed in the Bible is rich in the text. Likewise, the story we find ourselves in is part of and a continuation of the biblical narrative. The canon of scripture is closed but we continue to testify of the living God revealed through Christ Jesus.
Let us consider our view of the Bible: Do we look to the Bible for ammo to cut down the one we disagree with? Do we interpret scripture to justify our economics, politics and culture? Or do we see the written testimony of people of faith that testify to a redeeming God? Do we see the living Word via the written Word? Does our view of the Bible end at the book or point us to the One the book is about?
Authority in the church is a touchy subject. I won’t even begin to touch the issue of papal authority but rather look to common views of authority within the wider world of evangelicalism. Those more Orthodox will take some issue with this since we owe biblical canon, a good deal of theology and certain liturgical practices to them. That being said, apostolic authority, biblical authority and pastoral authority will be under review.
‘Authority’ is often used by those in leadership to retain control, elicit fear and unwittingly usurp the authority of Christ as the head of the church. Such use of authority can lead to abuse of power. [See my previous post on Authority and abuse] Again, I will not touch the scandals in Roman Catholicism. The issue it seems is that earthly authority is being mistaken for Kingdom authority. Kingdom authority rests in the rule of God as seen in the life of Christ. If the authority in the church (as being within the Kingdom) does not reflect the life and ministry of Jesus, something is askew. I would say it is often our view of authority that is out of line.
With this issue of authority causing confusion, what is the proper way of addressing the issue of authority and leadership within the Body of Christ? Likewise, how do we deal with apostolic, biblical and pastoral authority? What other areas of authority in the church do we need to address? Share your thoughts.