Blogtext: "He shall lead you into all truth.."

This Old bible, again

Our view of the Bible shapes our church life. Or if you turn that around you may say that what the church is doing is what is left of the bible at the hands of those who are in authority. In what sense is the bible a catalogue of 'must do principles' that we should slavishly follow? Is that how it is ever seen by the prophets and apostles? Has it ever been useful as a handbook the way it stands? One of the exasperating things about the bible is it's absolute unwillingness to be just that. No single book or letter pretends to be 'a manual for spiritual life'. Hence it is up to us to find a way to translate what we read into live issues with which we grapple and attempt to put into practice.

Without a shadow of a doubt the bible is a true testimony to the truth that Christ Himself is. When the biblical texts were written they were literally descriptions of "the Word becoming flesh in their time". I cannot think of any criterion more important than this: "The word became flesh". Theology that has no practical application is so much hot air. Does the fact that they were discoveries of the riches of God in their time diminish their value for us today?

The answer to that depends on our view of the development of the human society. If we have come to believe that our sophistication in technology and the complexity of our society is a higher and therefore better level of existence then we are likely to consider the Bible  to be that worst of all things: "an antiquated and obsolete commodity." It has come to be the watchword of most modern interpretation: "We must understand the cultural context", as if understanding the skin of a sausage allows us to reject the content within. The evasion tactic is  based on the idea that if something was said and done within a certain environment then we who live in a different environment can ignore what it said then. But here is the crux: what is said in a certain environment is never caused or adapted to the same. The teachings of scripture had no more acceptance then than they have now. It was not a product of its environment at all. Making that mistake is easy, but non the less unforgivable.

Before any of the teachings of it can be ignored, modified, adapted or 'decaffeinated' you need to ascertain the essential core of the teaching. What is the source of it? If the source of the content is from something, or someone who is not a part of our or their environment, then obviously the environment argument is worthless.  Using it shies away from the real issue. Is it true that the development of the social and cultural aspects of humanity have made the moral and ethical teaching of scripture redundant? In what way has humanity developed beyond what it was during the 2000 years of the gradual composition of the Bible? Seen over that period of time the basic moral character shows a certain development, but it is not improvement we see but just sophistication in what is generally called 'sin'.

It is not true to say that mankind has reached a higher level of anything except selfish self-glorying and a matching loss of humility. Pride is  what characterizes mankind, not humility. Proud of achievements, proud of defiance against God, proud of throwing all restraints over board, proud to the point of death without recognition of a coming judgement. To mistake sophistication for development and pride for maturity is to ignore the cyclical nature of history. Using too small a window of history we may well pride ourselves of certain gains, but whether those gains are for a long-range good is not seen in the small window at all.

In that sense the christian is a bit of a wet drip. The one who believes in God and reads the bible will know for sure that it contains hundreds of verifiable predictions of a 'falling' from an elevated position, not a gradual achievement towards one. I have often referred to the statement made by God in Genesis 11:6 "
 And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they 

will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them." You will notice how God appraises our possible 'development'. We  shall not fail in doing whatever we aim for, HOWEVER IMMORAL IT IS. That should tell us  to be very wary of what is called evolution.

"Panta rhei"?

The phrase means: everything is constantly changing.The graphic image is of a man bathing in a river, every bit of water that engulfs his body is new to that man in that river. It was rather cryptically expressed by one of the greek philosophers; Heraclitos:

ποταμοῖσι τοῖσιν αὐτοῖσιν ἐμβαίνουσιν, ἕτερα καὶ ἕτερα ὕδατα ἐπιρρεῖ.
Potamoisi toisin autoisin embainousin, hetera kai hetera hudata epirrei
"Ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers."

Today that phrase has come to be a sort of mantra used to defend change in any direction. Nothing is  stable and there are no fixed ultimate truths in either biology or understanding of morals etc etc. Since everything is in a state of flux, therefore it is meaningless to claim any sort of authority for the Bible or of any form of philosophy for that matter. So holding on to a set of texts written  2000 years ago is simply madness, that water has passed, and neither water, bather nor river are the same. Therefore, the argument goes, we have no longer use for the book as such. The only thing we can retrieve from it which may be meaningful, is its ideals. And the ideals that we cull from the texts are also fluid and only really matter for "this man bathing in this river this day".  The day in which we live hates the very idea of permanence, is afraid of it and avoids it at every cost.

The folly of that becomes apparent when you consider the actual metaphor used. Water, as a commodity is in itself a constant created at the dawn of time by a chemical reaction "between 1 Hydrogen atom and 2 Oxygen atoms." The amount of water on the earth is constant. If it was not we would all be drowned. But water has three distinct phases of existence and it exists in a continual passing from one of those phases into the next in an never-ending repeating cycle. The snow falls, it melts to water, is absorbed by the living things on earth and breathed out as vapor. Always changing? Yes but what does it matter that the form changes if what is essential to water is unchanging? To mistake its passing through the given property stages for real change is patently mad. The tears of Cleopatra then are part of the mouthwash at your dentist today! And you will rinse off your makeup in the very same water that bathed a new born Hippo in Tanzania three years ago. The melting glazier returns as the steam in your sauna. The ice in your long drink was the fluid surrounding Adolf Hitler before he was born.

No Constants?
Do you see my point now? Unless there was a constant called water there could not be a flowing water to keep on running downstream. Think of the horror of a river bed where the liquid running down was not water?  What if it turned to blood? Ask the Egyptians, or wait for the turning of all the seas and rivers to blood. (Exodus 4:8-10, Rev 11:5-7) If we could not trust our drinking water to be a constant we would never dare drink! If the composition of the air was not a constant we would be in a panic every day: "Dare I breathe this?"  Well what is the choice? Wait until you have tested it?

The very fact of absolute constants is of essential importance to us. What science would there be if everything was in constant flux? The very reliability of the created things is the basis for our entire existence. You could not understand anything unless it was the same next time you looked at it. To deny those constants is literal madness. So why should there not be equivalent constants in the issues of morals, ethics and faith? Because man does not like to be told how to live. The earliest events in a baby's life are surrounded by "I can self".

The preference for fluidity has another description: evasion from responsibility. And yet another: "I will not be held accountable!" Of course If I can make up my own rules as I go along, or ignore all the rules except those that benefit me only, then I can neither expect anyone else to do as I do nor do I believe that my action has any real consequence. It is easy to be morally impeccable if you do away with all morals. But anything we do always runs into the doings of any other being. Unless we then are fairly agreed on some basics, some constants, then we and society falls apart.

Is society falling apart? Rhetoric question.

Sound doctrine
But my issue is not water or morals but something larger than both. The issue of truth lived and loved within the context of the Christian Church. In varying degrees most churches claim some sort of reasonable foundation for their belief and faith, and some even claim to be following the Bible as the Word of God. I have however been around long enough to know that such statements must be scrutinized in depth. For between what is said and what is done in actual reality may differ enormously. What is posted in the foyer may have little bearing on the life lived beyond the hallway doors.
Whatever truth we say that we believe, the proof of that is not in the statement on paper but only how it is lived in real terms of flesh and blood. Hypocrisy, that painful Greek word, lives in the gap between saying and doing. "By their fruit you will know them."

In every generation the people grapple with the world they live in and they try as best they can to structure their understanding of what surrounds them. If they are Christians who believe the Bible to be the word of God they have a need for understanding what the Bible says to them in their time. I emphasize that: in their time. Times change! Cultures change, politics change, economics change, people change, even climate changes, that is the flux of things. To arrive at a coherent world view suitable for our time is guaranteed to be pretty useless in a different world. So by what constants must each new generation rediscover the ultimate truths that make the flux bearable and transparent to our understanding? Sound doctrine is a phrase covering the essentials to be known in their time and for those who live in it. 

A kind of Trinity
The Creator of mankind has laid a base for reliable knowledge in "The Word". The Majesty of God is made comprehensible by God acting out his Word in creative acts. What God speaks becomes. When God speaks the spoken takes form and receives substance as well as reliable presence. The gift of speech presupposes thought. Expression into what is a void is with importance meaning and verity. The Word becomes what the thought behind the word envisioned. The insistence of God to create man in His own image equips man with thought and language. Words will then be crucial in everything man is and does. By what stretch of madness does the speaking or writing man deny the possibility of a God doing towards man what man must necessarily do to fellow man in order to be man at all? The creator invents man with language ability, and therefore addresses man in language terms. 

A library, no less, is the result. To know how to read and understand is a requirement to make anything of that which is written. But it is easy to forget that before it was written, it had been lived and done and had had a real existence, again, in flesh and blood, in real human terms. The interactions of men create events, the chain of events become history. History is used to teach future generations what happens "if". History can be ignored, but always at our peril. Why? Because it is not the passing of time that makes man different, that only changes his environment, but not man himself. 

Man has changed from an original status to what he is today.  His present state is a gradually declining and downward move further and further away from his origin. But mankind is also the sole recipient of the Creators concern to restore man to his original status. This concern is also told in the same books that tell the story of downfall and devastating defection from the original reality.

But the books were not written solely by men. They were the product of another divine activity. Not only does the Creator know to give language to man, God also knows how to make man write what God wants to say for future generations. "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets;  but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,  having become as much superior to angels as the name he has obtained is more excellent than theirs." And again: " For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For when he received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.  And we have the prophetic word made more sure. You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.  First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation,  because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God."

The writings were done in languages within their time and culture and therefore must needs be interpreted. Interpreted and translated. A merely verbatim translation would be hard to read. The safeguarding of the original content is the invisible miracle that is mostly ignored. The controlling hand behind all human endeavour allows us to know with assurance that what we today hold in our hands is as close to the original as language and our own limitations in understanding allow.

But what would be the use of a text unless we also had a key to the understanding of it? The dilemma is highlighted in the Acts of the Apostles. A man travels along the roads down towards Egypt while reading from the scroll of Isaiah about the suffering servant. He understood a little but not enough. The question comes to him from a fellow traveller: "Do you understand what you are reading?" Perplexed he answers:"How can I lest someone explains." And so the table-servant from Jerusalem becomes the instrument of the very same dynamic that first caused the books to be written and brings the application of that which was written to a man on a quest to find God.

Bible readers are lost without that agent. So we need the Philips and the Pauls and all other who come to proclaim the truth, to explain to us what we are reading. But surely, they are but men like us? Yes and, well, no.. They started out as normal and spiritually blind men, but a transformation has happened in their lives and they have received a gift from God: the Holy Spirit, the very same who first inspired the writings to become at all is the "guide into all truth". The Bible is the only book in the universe that can only be understood as you allow the author Himself to explain what you are reading!

“I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."

A kind of Trinity then is needed. A man willing to listen to God, a word written to the end that man should seek God and find, and guiding Spirit to make the miracle happen: the word becomes flesh. By the ministry of the Spirit. This produces Life in Christ, not merely more words about it. Listen to what the Spirit says about why the words were written: "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;  but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name." 

Here is the critical point: Unless the words produce life they are merely clanging gongs and sounding cymbals. 
Now this is true also: all life takes on form and one of the most common forms that life takes on is a verbal description of it. There is no life that does not have form in the real world. And because we are creatures of communication we will soon not just live but try to describe that life in written and spoken form. We do not generally make the mistake of believing that what we have written or said IS ACTUALLY the life. But the description of it is true as far as any word about something ever can be. The description is then a visual check against claims to life that are different to the life described. A case in point: The apostle Paul was very aware of what real spiritual life was all about. He came to meet some who said that they were christian disciples (terminology was correct) but no sooner is Paul among them when he smells a rat. There was not the actual life which can be described by the words 'christian disciple'. And Paul knowing very well that nothing but the Holy Spirit can give a holy christian life must then ask: "Excuse me my brothers, have you received the Holy Spirit when you were baptized?"   If the TV series of lighthearted comedy called Fawlty Towers is familiar to you, then you know the exquisite acting of the Spanish hombre Manuel. Any question asked of him meets with a stare of absolute non comprehension and a "Que?" That is what Paul met. "We have not even heard of such a thing as the Holy Spirit." And much less received it. The rest is written.

Unless the words produce the life of which they speak they are neither sound nor doctrine. If you allow a pun: "Sound" can only come from life. Without life there is no sound. A dead body is never sound nor does it make the slightest sound. Sound doctrine always sounds life. Ah, see the double meaning of the word!

When life has taken the form of a vital first generation church then as it begins to face the fact that our lives are short and the message that made us alive will live on beyond our time, we then safeguard it by writing. The end result is what we have come to call 'our theology'. There has hardly ever been any movement of the Spirit in the world that has not left a legacy of a set of formulated statements about the life enjoyed. So we may open up the international Dictionary of the Christian Church and find a whole array of 'theologies'. All of them testify to the need to codify life. To document what those who were made a live by the Spirit in their time saw as the safeguard of what their faith and life was about. The word had become flesh in them in their time, and the residue of it, even long after they were gone, was their theology. We have absolutely no means of living their lives again, nor do we re-enter the specific times and the challenges against faith that they had.
We must needs face our own times, cultures, morals and challenges. And we do that on the basis of the 'trinity' describes above. We, being men and women eager to become what the word says and always will say as long as it is among us, bow before God and receive the teaching Spirit who has survived a hundred theologies and is ready to give life enough to write another chapter in the book of testimonies to the indwelling and outworking of the life of God. What use is Augustine, Anselm, Abelard, Zwingly, Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, Whitfield, Wesley, Spurgeon to us today? They have codified and described their experience of the life that was made real in their time. A wise man takes courage and reads, not in order to copy what they did, but to learn from them about similar challenges to the faith in our time.  We may find that the way the Life of God in our time expresses itself will have many similarities with the events of past time. There is very little under the sun that has not been before.

But the faith of our Fathers is dead. They are dead. Their theology in itself is no more than the fossilized oysters in the limestone steps of your church. Forsooth! They are only witnesses to a life that has been and is now gone! We do not inherit the faith of others. Faith is not passed on organically or organisationally. We cannot become what they were by imitation, neither can we duplicate the times they lived in. The creeds were all, in part, if not the whole, 'polemical' in the sense that they stemmed against a world that questioned the faith and its foundation. What would a creed look like today in the world of the mindsets of today? Nothing like the ones that were hammered out in the third century. The world has not stood still, it has moved a long way from the issues that hit hard in Nicea and Rome and Constantinopolos.

We may of course hold fast to a 'theology blast from the past' simply because it is easier to follow down a set of rutted tracks than find and make our own. But that is no guarantee for life as such. Theology has never brought about the spiritual birth of anybody. No revival has ever started in a theological college on the basis of  reading a theology penned by men. But reviving power comes to them who, even though they are in theological seminary, read the Bible and commit themselves to the Author of it, to create in them the life of which the Bible speaks.  And may I add: Only the bible speaks of the life available.

In the beginning of the Nineteen-seventies Scandinavia saw the 'charismatic' revival across the breadth and length of the Christian churches. That revival has died out almost entirely. Looking back on that time in which I myself was very close to the center of it, I recall how often people pleaded for "showers of mercy" and then when the first mercy drops started falling immediately brought out their historically conditioned formats of all the traditional ways in which they had been acting 'church' and insisted in trying to dig private channels for the Spirit to flow down. To the surprise of many church dignitaries the Spirit refused to obey. And their insistence on their right to have power, authority and final say-so over the effects of the work of the Spirit had the opposite effect. The Spirit was quenched and without many taking notice "The King left the building".

New wine must not be poured into old wine-skins. Who said that? What is the likelihood of God pouring new life into fossilized oyster shells? Zero. His promise is to raise up a new people. To renew us who live now. Even to clothe old bones with new flesh. You must not ask for  revival if you also, in the same breath insist on having foreknowledge as to what that is going to be like. You see, life creates it's own inherent form. And as likely as always, when we have been revived by the Spirit of God the time may come when we want to pass on to the next generation what has happened among us, and so we will write more theology for posterity to ponder on. It is inevitable. But it does not pass on the life it describes!

He shall lead you into all truth

"You are eagerly searching the scriptures (and because many of you fail to know the important difference between revelation and reflection on it,) and  your historical theologies, because you think that in them you have life. But You wont come to me to get the life of which they speak!" 
This is a somewhat embellished version of this most central teaching by the Rabbi to his disciples as given in John 5. The context is a sobering call to consideration:

And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness to me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen;  and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe him whom he has sent.  You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me;  yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.  I do not receive glory from men.  But I know that you have not the love of God within you.  I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?"

The church of Christ suffers more from this seeking the glory that comes from men than we realize. To be found to have 'the right theology' is more important than to walk in the Spirit. Theology is the occupation of the head. And a very fruitful and lusty one at that. But the Spirit is poured out in our hearts! It is utmost heresy to claim that these two are the same. Theologies are the pen-work of men describing the ways and vagaries of a life that was once created by the Spirit. But as valuable as they are as such, they never create the life of which they speak. And they speak massive volumes, jokingly called "tombstones", but that is not far off the truth. Any man or woman drowning in his or her  theology has effectively closed themselves off from the Holy Spirit and His ministry of taking the words of Christ and interpreting them to us in our time, and with the needs of the equipping of the saints to do their task as its primary aim. Unless the word becomes flesh in us who live now, we have no future although we have a richly documented past. Like a writing on a grave stone: "Here rests in loving memory. A church embedded only in the past."

"Jesus answered them and said: It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." 

When you first insist on the need to have a theological box from the past into which you squeeze the words of life before you will serve it, you will do considerable damage to the same word. Don't do it.
 "After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.  Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life;  and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Jesus lost thousands of hangers-on when he put the life available only in Him before their ideas about Him. The story repeats itself . Allow Christ His rightful place and theology will come in useful. Put theology before the living Christ and you serve nothing but ashes. That is extremely unsound.

Teddy Donobauer

Doncaster January 16th 2019


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