Yesterday we wrote about eucharist. I guess the question is "Can you be Christian and not believe in eucharist?" (in many senses: that it is not central to worship, that it is not "real" or that it has nothing to do with fellowship, to name a few) My guess is any number of Believers would strongly declare "Yes!" They think they are true Christians but eucharist is not on their radar.
In light of that, as a Word and Sacrament guy, my next question is related. "Can you be a real Christian without the New Testament?" (I mean the writings of sacred Scripture) I asked this question of my Bible study yesterday and they were hesitant to answer (knowing something tricky could be in the works), but with a little prodding they finally said, "no." My guess is my Evangelical friends who would call eucharist peripheral would answer the same way. Can't know Jesus without the Bible generally means the New Testament.
What about the apostles? Were they real Christians? Well they did not have the New Testament. It is tempting to say that 'they wrote it' but that is not true. In fact, it is probable that the only apostle to write a thing was Peter. [Paul is an apostle, though later in time and not one of the twelve. Some think John and Matthew, though it is unlikely.] So until the last book was written, around 100 AD or so, our New Testament did not even exist! Once all the books were written they still were not always collected together. Some were popular in one geographic area but not in another. Ancient times were different from ours. There was no internet, no access to mass media, no bookstores or libraries. What Matthew was writing in Syria(?) was not widely distributed because of the time and cost of copying such things. It was a painstakingly slow process and a church under 'pressure' had few resources to mass produce the sacred writings. (I read an author who was criticizing the existence of monasticism, he said it was an error. Hmmm, I thought to myself as he quoted from his bible, who do you think made copies of that Bible for one thousand years to insure it was around?) While most churches no doubt had some writings, I have no doubt few had all of them and some small, poor congregations were isolated and had nothing. In addition, it was the fourth century when the "Church" officially canonized Scripture. At that point there were some places that had additional works (like the Shepherd of Hermas) while others were reluctant to all of them (John, 2&3 John, Jude, James, II Peter are all examples. Revelation is the most controversial of all). [see The Church History , the final edition completed in 325, by the early church historian Eusebius, book 3] THE New Testament was actually clarified in reaction to a heretic (Marcion) who offered the letters of Paul and an edited version of Luke as the true revelation (to remove the taint of Jewishness found in some writings). Now let me be clear, the writings of the New Testament were generally agreed upon and the authority of those canonized writings is not under question or doubt. [in our own day there are still disagreements between branches of Christians on the number of books...]
I repeat, the issue is not the New Testament, it is the realization that all manner of early Christians would not have ever had access to the New Testament because it was impossible at that time. We live in a world of books, they lived in a different world.
The only Bible Jesus ever knew is the Jewish Bible. Rabbi Leman shares his journey to Christ as one centered in the Jewish Scriptures. As I have said before, when Jesus "opened the Scriptures" for His apostles He wasn't reading the Gospels and Paul!
I think Bible and Sacraments (especially eucharist) are central to Christian living. I also assume some are saved without either because they are in a faith relationship with God through Jesus. It is tempting for some to say that what is needed for salvation is the only thing that matters. I would respond that salvation in such a minimalist approach ignores Jesus promise to give us life in abundance. [Because a human with one leg is still fully human does not mean we should amputate limbs at will as unnecessary.]
Today I will read the Bible a lot (John in particular). At Morning Prayer and at eucharist I will read several excerpts from Scripture. I will also celebrate communion. I think what I am doing is ground level, foundational and essential to the Christian faith. If you prefer to minimize eucharist please understand your arguments call into question the centrality of needing the Scriptures (and vice versa).
Seeking Jesus in Word and Sacrament, encountering Jesus in Scripture and Eucharist: there is more to life than minimalism! Go for abundance!