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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Why a Sacramental World View is Helpful in Understanding Sacred Scripture

Typically we see a ‘conflict’ (sometimes ugly and heated) between the “Bible people” and the “Sacramental people” (usually divided as Evangelicals and Catholics). As we wrote a few days ago, every heresy is an insight into truth gone wrong. It over-emphasizes one particular aspect and de-emphsizes an important corollary (the pendulum swings too far in one direction).

The sacramental worldview does not worship things or believe nature is divine (like pagan or pantheist). The sacramental worldview does not worship “the spiritual” and consider salvation to be an escape from this world (like the Gnostic). Instead, the sacramental worldview acknowledges God as the Invisible, Spiritual Source of all created things Who has become incarnate in the world and redeemed all things in Jesus Christ. Jesus is THE Sacrament of God the Father (in and through Jesus we meet God). The church is THE sacrament of Jesus (in and through the church we encounter the Body of Christ). The activities of the church are sacraments of the Lord and His ministry among us today. Jesus is MEDIATED in and through concrete reality.

So far, so good, but what of the Bible? It is “the Word of the Lord” or “The word of God.” However, how we understand this matters. Some folks worship the Bible. They equate it with God. They emphasize the DIVINE and the spiritual. They also ignore the human. The words of Scripture are thought to be ‘timeless’ and ‘spaceless’ and there is no need to do anything but read them (here and now---wherever or whenever that is) and the ‘common sense’ meaning is readily available for our understanding. No mediation of God’s word in and through human language here, it is simply and literally God’s word (and by the way it is also translated into English which we tend to gloss over).

On the other hand, some see God as too spiritual, too removed from the world. SO the Bible is just a human document attesting to the ancient faith of an ancient people. It may inspire but in general it is not needed. It is old and probably outdated. This approach (Progressive Christians) usually places the authority of Scripture under human reason; which quickly ends up looking like whatever agenda the particular person has. Hence the Bible is critiqued by us, not us by it!

A sacramental view says the Bible is the Word of God. It (Spiritual) comes to us in and through (Material) words, books and human authors. It has all the limits of human writing (e.g. you can find a misspelling or a grammar error in the original). Like all language it is limited because concrete. (If you say “God is love” you are not saying “God is truth.” You have to say something which means you cannot say everything at the same time. Language cannot always convey all we want it to, hence the expression, “I am at a loss for words.”)

Words are limited. God is not. SO the Bible is NOT God. It is God’s communication IN and THROUGH the sacred writings. Approaching the Bible in this way means that we respect its authority while acknowledging its reality as a collection of human (divinely inspired, yes, but still human) writings. Understanding ancient context is, therefore, needed to understand what is being communicated.

That is how God is. He communicates to us in and through people and events, through sacred actions and sacred writings. To fail to see BOTH the creature and creator, the human and divine, the material and spiritual is to miss the truth. To fail to understand what mediation really means (in and through) is to fall into paganism (with a Christian-like veneer). That error can lead to real paganism (toss out Jesus) which I think explains much of the contemporary religious scene in America today.

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