Sunday, March 21, 2010

"I hope you've got your bibles with you..."

The church seems to go through seasons of repeating this refrain, but I have noticed it as a recurring theme in recent weeks, not just in church services that I've been at, but also in podcasts I've listened to: "I hope you've got your bibles with you..." (or words to that effect).

Generally, the stated purpose of this is along the lines of: "If you don't have your own copies of the bible with you and read along, you have no idea if I'm deceiving you or not..."

Eh, what? You know, in all my years of attending church I don't think I have ever heard anyone deliberately misquote the bible in order to teach a non-biblical message.

So why should the congregation members have to bring their bibles along and read along? For most of history this would have been impossible for people to do - before the invention of the printing press bibles were only for the very rich, and beside that the majority of people were illiterate. Back then, the ordinary believers had to trust the reader and preacher, so why not nowadays?

But I've just realised that this refrain can actually be used for a slight deception if the people do bring their own bibles along and read along. For you see, the preacher will generally be preaching an interpretation of a bible passage or a message resting on the foundations of several biblical passages. And if the congregation member sees that the bible passages referred to are genuine, then that lends support to the interpretation or message presented. Even if the interpretation is not good or the message is flawed in some way. If the congregation member sees that it has its roots in the bible, they're more likely to believe it.

Now I'm not saying that everyone who encourages their congregation to bring their bibles along is doing this, but it might be happening somewhere...

Think I'll leave my bible at home this morning.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Witness vs demonstration

Further to my earlier post, I have to comment on one aspect of one of the talks from last year's Vineyard Leaders Conference (UK) that I've been listening to. The rather uninspiringly titled "The reformation today: Theology 2" (link to mp3) is one of the best and most challenging talks I've heard in a long time. Highly recommended, even if the audio quality is a bit lacking.

One of the points made in the talk was that when Jesus sent out his disciples (Matt 10, Mark 6, Luke 9) to preach, his instructions were simple:
  1. Preach the simple message "the Kingdom of Heaven is near"
  2. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with leprosy, drive out demons
  3. If anyone is unwelcoming, simply move on to the next place
At no point in there is the instruction to debate non-believers, or attempt to convince anyone of anything - if people don't want to hear, just move on, leave them alone, someone else will want to hear.

How come nobody seems to view evangelism in those terms today? Some folk seem to go out of their way to try and persuade those who aren't interested about the reality of the gospel.

Oh, hang on, the problem with the 'proclaim and demonstrate' model of witness is that (for the most part) we don't seem to be willing or able to do the 'heal the sick' bit these days. Or rather, it is easier to try to engage with non-believers on an intellectual level, because if they don't believe this is due to some fault in their perception of reality. Whereas if we tried to heal people and nothing happened then it would be our lack of faith, our fault.

Hmmm. Maybe we should be more about demonstration than debate.

“Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words” as St Francis of Assisi once supposedly said.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Witness vs Gospel

I have a bias.

I don't think I ever really thought of it as a bias until last week. It concerns the content of sermons, or talks at Christian events, whether it be a Sunday morning church service or a weekend conference or an event like Greenbelt.

The bias is this: speakers who preach from the bible and expound what it says = good / speakers who preach about their own life and experiences of God, occasionally using seemingly random verses and passages to support what they're saying = bad.

I know where the bias comes from, I was raised with it. This is exactly the opinion of my parents and the church I was raised in. It was instilled in me from a very young age. So I never really noticed it before, or that it might be a bad thing.

You see, I've always thought that witness really involved telling people about what Jesus did 2000 years ago. And it kind-of annoys me when people / preachers talk about what happened in their lives last year, even if what they're telling is what Jesus did in their lives last week. I suppose my bias could be summed up by saying: 'if it isn't in the bible, its not worth preaching'.

Is this a good bias? Is it right? I'm not so sure.

For about three years now we've been attending a Vineyard church, and the teaching style generally treads the line between the two styles - generally there's a lot of preaching from the bible, but there's also the personal experience stuff too. Sometimes I like this balance, sometimes I wish there was more exposition. Usually I don't notice my bias. But it generally comes out when we have visiting speakers - most of the visitors we have had over the past few years have preached their experiences of God, not expounded. And as a result I have been biased against them without realising it. It came to my attention this week as I've been listening to the talks from the Vineyard Leaders' Conference from last year (I actually meant to listen to this year's talks but downloaded the wrong ones by accident, doh!).

The main speaker, Steve Nicholson, tells some fascinating stories of what God has done in his life and church, with only occasional reference to the bible. And along the way he mentioned that 'witness' is talking about what you've seen. And I realised that he's right. I didn't witness anything 2000 years ago, indeed, I have only hazy memories of the 1970s! If I'm to witness it must be about things I've seen - better still, it should be about what God has done in my life.

So, I've finally realised that witness is not equal to gospel.

Hopefully I can work around this bias, now that I'm aware of it.