The All Our Minds project | On Tradition and Scripture

Comment

The All Our Minds project | On Tradition and Scripture

After years of creating very detailed Toys R Us Wish Lists, I can count on one hand the number of Christmas gifts that I remember getting as a child. I remember being really excited about opening and playing with them. I remember praying to God for patience when I couldn’t sleep on Christmas Eve—true story. But what I remember most about my childhood Christmases are the traditions that formed within our family along the way.

Putting up the tree together.

Going to the midnight church service on Christmas Eve.

Waking up mom and dad at 5 am on Christmas morning.

Reading the story of Christ’s birth before opening presents.

Some of our traditions were passed along from previous generations. Others we just picked up over time. Regardless of how they were introduced, they shaped my experience and understanding of Christmas in a way that gifts never could.

Every family has their traditions, and church families are no exception.

Over centuries of Christendom, countless and varied traditions have arisen within the church. When it comes to theology, a tradition is any kind of teaching that has been handed down from generation to generation. Some of these teachings are recorded in the Bible. Some are found in other historical or religious texts. Still others have been passed down orally.

Each of the three major branches of the Christian church—Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Protestantism—have different traditions and different views regarding the role of tradition in a person’s faith. Needless to say, there’s a lot of discussion surrounding this topic, which leads me to today’s question.

What is the relationship between tradition and scripture? How does it play out practically?

I’ll be honest, I’ve been sitting on this question for a while. As somebody who has been surrounded by Protestant theology and influences for most of my Christian walk, I realize that my experience of church tradition has been much different from that of my Orthodox or Catholic counterparts. Aware of the limitations of my own experience, I’ve wondered how to address this question in a way that gives ear to those sitting on other sides of the table.

After doing some research and talking to people with more holistic knowledge on the subject, here are some of my thoughts on it.

All churches have traditions

Protestant church services come in many shapes and sizes, but generally speaking, they are thought of as less traditional than Orthodox or Catholic services. Both Orthodoxy and Catholicism are marked by ritual, liturgy, tradition and the utmost reverence to God. They gather in ornate sanctuaries, kiss icons of Jesus and other saints, and sing beautiful hymns that have been passed down over generations.

When we think about tradition in our churches, our minds often go straight to these types of traditions. Candles. Incense. Recited prayers. Though these traditions don’t play as prominent of a role in Protestant churches, it’s important to note that tradition is not limited to Orthodoxy and Catholicism.

Gathering on a Sunday morning. Following an order of worship. Reading Scripture corporately. Celebrating Advent. Revering Christ as the risen Lord. Partaking in communion. Acknowledging the liturgical calendar.

These are all traditions that span across all of the three main branches of the Christian church. They are things that we do again and again to express our commitment to and affinity towards the one true God. Many of them are beautiful and sacred. They have a way of inviting us into a greater sense of reverence and awe towards our God.

Your view of tradition is shaped by your view of Scripture

Many of the church traditions that are absent in Protestant worship are ones that are not explicitly mentioned in the Bible. Often, they are historical stories that have been passed down for many centuries and have ultimately been incorporated into the life of the church. While those who have embraced these traditions believe that their historical nature gives them weight, many Protestants question their authority because they are not rooted in God’s Word.

Herein lies the tension of today’s question.

If I, like many Protestant Christians, hold firmly to the belief that the Holy Scriptures are God’s perfect and complete revelation of His Truth, then I’ll likely conclude that extra-biblical stories and traditions should not be put in a place of prominence in my faith. That doesn’t mean that I would reject tradition altogether, as I mentioned before that all churches have them. It simply means that when a certain tradition is in conflict with a truth that has been revealed in Scripture, I would hold Scripture in higher regard than the tradition in question. This is the view that I align with.

If I, like many Orthodox Christians, hold firmly to the belief that Holy Tradition is a means by which “to return to the true message of Scripture and to understand its divine meaning,” than I give tradition more authority in my personal theology (Zell par. 22). In other words, if I believe that Scripture needs the help of tradition in order to be rightly interpreted and experienced, then yielding to extra-biblical teachings and stories is not only permissible, but necessary within my theological framework. Catholics share this belief in the need for both Scripture and tradition in one’s experience of their faith.

The authority of tradition in your theology is largely contingent upon your beliefs regarding the authority of Scripture. If we’re not starting from the same view of Scripture, we can’t expect to land on the same view of tradition. There’s a clear link between the two.

We don't worship tradition. As important as it is, we don't worship Scripture. We worship Jesus.

Now that we’ve established what makes us different, let’s take a moment to remember what we have in common—namely, Jesus.

Whenever I’m wading through the many perspectives on deep theological questions like this, I have to step back and remind myself that Jesus is at the center of everything. He’s the reason why I even care enough to think about these questions. If I’m not careful, I might become so convinced of my own perspective that it becomes the cornerstone rather than a building block in my faith.

Doctrine is important, but it isn’t what binds us together. Jesus is.

Before He was arrested and ultimately crucified, Jesus prayed, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). At the very end of His earthly ministry, Jesus simply prays for His disciples to know Him, His Gospel, and His Father. He doesn’t pray that they would think all the right things at all the right times, but rather that they would be in right relationship with Him. Out of that relationship, their understanding of Him would remain righteous.

When we flip this upside down and let our doctrine dictate our knowledge of Him instead of the other way around, we run the risk of worshipping that doctrine instead of Jesus. In doing so, we end up with a very small view of God. One that we have created in our own image and that we somehow expect others to bow down to.

So now what?

Earlier this week, I did an interview with a Protestant pastor—more on that in my next post—who gave me this definition:

“To me, a God-fearing Christian is someone who is always willing to learn and always willing to adjust his beliefs based on his new understanding of Jesus and the Bible. Not being too rigid to think ‘Now I have the whole truth in my hand.’ The worst thing I can do is claim that God is in my hand. When I do this, He’s not God. I am.”

Regardless of where you stand on the question of tradition and Scripture, my prayer today is that each of us would explore our theological views with a posture of humility that implores us to keep Jesus on His throne of our hearts and minds.

Despite our differing views, there are people across all three branches of the church who know Jesus and worship Him as Lord. Truly knowing Him is the most important part of our theology.

Resources

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/november/2.52.html

http://ww1.antiochian.org/content/scripture-and-tradition

https://www.goarch.org/-/the-saints-of-the-orthodox-church

http://ww1.antiochian.org/content/first-visit-orthodox-church-twelve-things-i-wish-id-known

http://www.truthontheweb.org/sola.htm

Comment

The All Our Minds project | On Today's America

2 Comments

The All Our Minds project | On Today's America

I’ve started to notice a pattern. Every time I see a new question come through for this project, the first two words that usually pop into my mind are “oh boy.” Oh boy, that’s a great question. Oh boy, where do I start? Oh boy, I’ve got some work to do.

Today’s question revolves around another “oh boy” moment. The one that many of us shared on the morning of November 8, 2016. Oh boy, how did we get here? Oh boy, how can I vote for either of them? Oh boy, we’ve got some work to do.

Here’s today’s question...

Many Christian leaders are embracing a president who is surrounded by scandal. How do you as a Christian reconcile your beliefs, the Christian church and the current state of American politics?

Oh boy.

So the implication of this question is that it simply doesn’t make sense for Christians—who worship a pure God and proclaim a desire to live like Jesus—to also endorse a scandalous leader. There’s a tension. A fundamental inconsistency that’s hard to deny.

Sarah Schwartz, a Master of Theology who was featured in an earlier post, said something during her interview that I believe also applies to this question. “In this political moment in our country,” she explained, “there's a lot of confusion about what is partisan and what is actually the Gospel.” And I couldn’t agree more.

Ever since Trump came into office, many Christian friends of mine have talked about having somewhat of a crisis of faith. People like Jerry Falwell Jr., who claim “evangelicals have found their dream president” have left us with some big fat question marks (Falwell Jr., 2017).

“American politics have always been volatile,” says Dr. Jamie Campbell, founder of Living & Leading. “So that part for me is not new or necessarily alarming. I think there's just an element of tension, particularly for those of us who are younger, in navigating the way that that platform has been utilized to articulate a version of Christianity that we’re finding ourselves less and less in alignment with.”

This misalignment has created somewhat of a refining fire—a crucible moment—for many young American Christians who are looking intently at both their deeply-rooted faith and their president’s Twitter feed and trying to make sense of it all.

The dilemma that got us here

I’ve heard many people say that Christians who voted for Trump are hypocrites. I’ve also heard many people say that that Christians who voted for Hilary are hypocrites. I’m not here to cast stones or to side with one group over the other. In fact, the whole point of my last post was that not all Christians make the same political decisions and that that’s okay. But let’s take a step back from the finger pointing and remember the dilemma that many of us were faced with this time two years ago—almost to the day.

The months leading up to the 2016 presidential election were marked by confusion, discord and tension within the Christian community. With a God-fearing, servant-hearted candidate nowhere in sight and a civic duty to exercise our right to vote, many felt as though they were caught in a catch-22—that there was really no winning. Even long-standing conservative Christian leaders like Wayne Grudem and John Macarthur struggled publicly with this decision.

But if we’re defining hypocrisy as claiming to have beliefs that don’t match your behavior, then this election really left Christians in a position to be accused of hypocrisy regardless of how they voted. Vote for Trump and you’re a hypocrite for backing a candidate whose behavior is in direct opposition to the faith you profess. Vote for Hillary and you’re a hypocrite for backing a candidate whose behavior is in direct opposition to the faith you profess. Vote for a third party candidate and you’re “throwing away your vote.” Don’t vote at all and you’re squandering a right that people before you died for.

So there it is. The decision that we were all faced with. The decision that we each made based on the influences, circumstances and information that surrounded us. I remember sitting in the frustration and anxiety of choosing how to act in light of such unappealing options. I remember praying for wisdom, doing my research, watching interviews and talking to friends. We could make light of the tension by joking about moving to Canada or saying our heads hurt from thinking about it too much. At the end of the day, we all made this impossible decision the best way we knew how.

If it’s rooted in hatred, it’s not from God

“Eight-in-ten self-identified white, born-again/evangelical Christians say they voted for Trump” (Pew Research Center, 2016). Ever since this stat first came out, the media has been using it in some interesting—and dare-I-say, sneaky—ways.

“You can always use data to say the thing that you're trying to emphasize,” explains Campbell. “I found myself being less worried about whether 80% of evangelicals actually voted for Trump, and more worried about what that label of evangelical means from a social perspective.”

This statistic could be used to tell many different stories about American Evangelicals, but the most popular one seems to be that we’re all just a bunch of hypocrites. That 80% figure is frequently leveraged in articles about extremists who identify themselves as Evangelicals or who worship Trump as “White Jesus.” When these two isolated pieces of data are communicated in the same context, they tell the deeply flawed story that all Christians in America are violent extremists who believe that Trump is God’s gift to our nation.

As I step back from that narrative—the one that seems to be gaining traction at every corner—I’m forced to return to what I know is true about the God I worship. “If we hold Christ as the center of our faith commitment,” says Campbell, “then becoming students of the Gospels again is actually really important. We have to go back to how we saw Christ operate within what's presented to us in the Gospel.”

And what’s presented to us in the Gospel is the God of love, sacrifice, Truth, compassion, mercy, humility, miracles and hope. 1 John 2:9 tells me that, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.” Any act of hatred that’s committed in the name of God is inconsistent with the very character of God and therefore cannot be of Him.

When I see news articles about Christians beating up LGBTQ people or making racist comments, it doesn’t make me doubt my God. I know that those things are not from Him. It honestly just makes me sad that He is being so wildly misrepresented as the God of hate rather than of love.

At the end of 2 Timothy, Paul warns Timothy of this: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (4:3-4).

This passage comes to mind when I hear about hate rallies and violence against minorities committed under the guise of the Christian faith. They point to a fundamental misunderstanding of who God is and who He calls us to be. They point to itching ears that suit their own passions. In the verse that follows, Paul reminds Timothy to be “sober-minded” when faced with these myths. To keep his eyes fixed on who God is and on the work He has called him to. If we are doing that, our faith won’t be shaken.

A shifting generation of faith

I truly hope we can all agree that the current relationship between American politics and the Christian church isn’t a particularly healthy one. That neither side of the coin is looking particularly shiny these days. But alas, there is a way forward.

“We have been handed a version of Christianity,” says Campbell, “and we can either choose to accept it and accept the inconsistencies that we're seeing and pass that down, or we can generationally decide to turn to God and to ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate us and to help us move forward well.”

As a faith community that’s dedicated to honoring God, it’s important for us to maintain a posture of humility that allows us to put our beliefs under the microscope and identify the dark spots. We need to open our eyes to see the ways that we, as people who are actively seeking to know and understand Him better, can realign ourselves with His Word. “We actually have the opportunity to become more unified as this generation of leaders really wrestles with understanding the core beliefs of Christianity and passing them down to the next generation,” says Campbell.

In his book The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer writes, “We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to them undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God that we received from our Hebrew and Christian fathers of generations past” (Tozer 4). As we strip away the distractions that currently face the Christian church in America, we will see God’s Truth more clearly—and then we’ll pass it on to the generations to come.

God is the same yesterday, today and forever

This response took me a few months to formulate. I kept on stepping away from it and coming back to it. Discovering new information and hearing new perspectives. Ultimately, this is where I landed. This is why my faith does not feel threatened by the current state of American politics. Because the core beliefs that keep me rooted in my faith have not been touched by our political climate.

Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:11). His sacrifice atones for the sins of anybody who believes in Him (John 3:16). We’re fully justified before God by faith, not works (Philippians 3:9). And His grace-filled forgiveness is the source of every truly good thing in life (Romans 8:28). These things are true no matter who is president.

So now what?

I came across the below passage in C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity. As I was thinking about this question and remembering the acts of cruelty that have been committed by both Christians and non-Christians in our country these past few years, I was humbled by this challenge to seek mercy for others like we would seek it for ourselves:

Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again (Lewis, pg. 117).

Perhaps we can embrace this challenge in our own lives. In doing so, we just might create the climate of humility that is so absent in our country right now.

Resources

https://www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/554066/?utm_source=twb&__twitter_impression=true

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2018/03/why-christians-support-trump/

https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/can-evangelicalism-survive-donald-trump-and-roy-moore

https://townhall.com/columnists/waynegrudem/2016/07/28/why-voting-for-donald-trump-is-a-morally-good-choice-n2199564

https://townhall.com/columnists/waynegrudem/2016/10/19/if-you-dont-like-either-candidate-then-vote-for-trumps-policies-n2234187

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/05/04/their-dream-president-trump-just-gave-white-evangelicals-a-big-boost/?utm_term=.86a6f941208c

https://townhall.com/columnists/waynegrudem/2016/10/09/trumps-moral-character-and-the-election-n2229846

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/09/how-the-faithful-voted-a-preliminary-2016-analysis/ft_16-11-09_relig_exitpoll_religrace/

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/09/how-the-faithful-voted-a-preliminary-2016-analysis/

https://www.thenation.com/article/why-evangelicals-still-support-trump/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NN0IGHg0rms

Lewis, C. S. (1952). Mere Christianity

2 Comments

The All Our Minds project | On Partisan Politics

Comment

The All Our Minds project | On Partisan Politics

There’s one thing that we can all agree on when it comes to the current state of American politics: THEY. ARE. MESSY.

Whether it’s through the radio, our social media feeds, or late night television, we’re constantly being invited into the state of outrage that is ruling our country right now. Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, you wake up most days to a decadent buffet of things to be mad about. Things that you feel have gone horribly wrong in this land of the free.

That outrage pushes us into corners. It pushes us into a militant mindset that urges us to point to the person across the table and say “Whose side are you on?” With everybody feeling angry and threatened, it becomes a classic game of us versus them.

But what if you’re not an “us” and you’re not a “them”? What if you don’t fit into the shirt that either side is throwing at you? Where does that leave you? Here’s today’s question...

How do I reconcile my faith with my political views? What is the balance of being a Christian with more liberal leanings?

When I started receiving questions related to politics—there’s one more after this—I reached out to Dr. Jamie Campbell, an undergrad professor of mine, for expert insights. Dr. Campbell joined the Biola faculty shortly after earning her J.D. at Georgetown. Her career at Biola culminated in a 3-year stint as the Interim Dean of the School of Humanities & Social Sciences. This summer, Campbell launched her own mentoring, coaching, and consulting practice called Living & Leading, which is dedicated to cultivating leadership capacities among emerging leaders.

Campbell is firmly committed to speaking truth and challenging Believers to understand and embrace their call to community, justice, presence, and love. After our conversation, a few key questions around today’s topic rose to surface. Ones that each of us need to answer honestly for ourselves as we consider the relationship between faith and politics.

Am I loving God & loving others?

I’ll just come right out and say it: there is an undeniable shortage of love when it comes to the conversations and actions surrounding politics in our country right now. And when love is lacking, hatred becomes a vicious cycle. You said this hateful thing so now I’m going to say a hateful thing in response—and round and round we go.

“There are questions in the political realm that I always answer with, ‘Am I loving God, and loving others if I align myself with this?’ And how or how not?” says Campbell. “My culture and my faith linked together require that frame.”

Next time you are making a political decision, I challenge you to do your part in breaking the cycle of hatred by asking yourself this same question. Ask it with humility. Don’t ask it with a heart that screams Well this is obviously what God would want or How could a real Christian ever think otherwise? Instead, come to the table with a sober mind and a heart that says This is how God calls me to show love.

Where do I fit within this two-party system?

If I tell somebody in America that I’m a Christian, it’s likely that they’ll assume that I’m also a Republican. Somewhere along the way, these two terms were deemed synonymous and all God’s people said “Amen.”

But this strict correlation has never made sense to me—and it makes even less sense in Trump’s America, where so many people feel “politically homeless.” Since when is every Christian the same one thing other than sinful?

In a recent sermon titled “Jesus and Politics,” Pastor Jeremy Treat from Reality LA put it this way: “If you think that a follower of Jesus has to be a Republican or a Democrat to be a Christian, than you have confused a political party with the kingdom of Christ and you are in great danger of being a puppet and not a disciple” (40:20-32). Jesus didn’t fit neatly into the political categories of His time, and neither do we. No single political party is going to get it all right.

Tim Keller recently wrote an article for The New York Times on this very topic. In it, he broke down the faulty logic that has created a largely unresolved tension between the Christian faith and partisan politics. He writes about James Mumford’s concept of “package-deal ethics” and the notion that “you cannot work on one issue with [a political party] if you don’t embrace all of their approved positions” (Keller, par. 8). Many of us as Christians are often left wandering in this middle ground.

Campbell shared a personal example that paints a helpful picture of this dissonance. “I've reconciled myself to the fact that my political decisions are going to be inconsistent with party delineation,” she said. “If I'm pro-life with babies, then I'm also pro-life with the death penalty. And those are different positions politically, but that just means that my key commitment is to life, because I don't think I can love God and love others if I don't value the life that God gave us.”

That term “key commitment” stands out to me. By identifying your key commitment in each political decision you make, you’ll force yourself to think beyond party lines and value biblical wisdom over the status quo. This is how Jesus operated. His key commitment was to remaining faithful to God the Father by exemplifying perfect love for sinful mankind. He made every decision, including political ones, in service to this key commitment.

What is motivating me to participate in politics?

Later in that same sermon, Pastor Treat said, “The church’s goal is not to make a Christian nation, but to make disciples of all nations” (46:45-52).

Many American Christians have become fixated on this idea of establishing America as a Christian nation. Some seem to be convinced that this is the supreme task that God has put before us as citizens of this world. If we could only pass this law or change this policy or get this person into office, we would be one step closer to achieving God’s plan for our country.

But the Great Commission is bigger than that. The Great Commission tells us that it’s actually not about forming our Christian bubble and protecting it at all costs. It’s about bringing the Gospel message of love, hope and sacrifice to every corner of the earth.

Campbell offered a thoughtful perspective on this connection between the Great Commission and our involvement in American politics:

“If you see the Great Commission as undergirding what it is to be a believer, then activity within the political sphere has to be driven by how you see and understand Christ.

“What Christ brought when He came to earth was this transition away from power and social structure to people and love. Jesus came to earth and said ‘I understand that you want me to do this in the political sphere, but I am actually here to tell you to be free from the law. And oh, by the way, love each other and love God.’ That's it.

“As American Christians, if we're really paying attention to what Christ did and we’re drawing parallels between His context and our own, then I think we're called to do something very similar in the political sphere which is to say, ‘Look, I know you guys think this political stuff is the most important stuff in the world, but it's not.’

“Yes, participate in politics. As an American citizen, you have that responsibility. Be responsible, be intentional, utilize your understanding of culture and faith to act—but understand that this political time is not the most important element. It's turning people back to Christ. It’s really getting down in faith to love God and to love others.”

When our participation in politics is motivated by a desire to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with [our] God,” we’re a lot more likely to engage with fellow citizens in a way that is honoring to Him (Micah 6:8). We’re a lot more likely to approach differences of opinion with curiosity instead of condemnation. And we’re a lot more likely to mirror the heart of Jesus to the people around us.

So now what?

The original question was about reconciling liberal political leanings with the Christian faith, but I hope this response is evidence that the conversation is so much bigger than conservative versus liberal.

“It’s really important that we have the wisdom to understand a gap between the principles of Scripture and policies as they play out in government,” says Treat (38:04-13). The Bible gives us a framework of principles to live by—love the immigrant, give generously, value human life—but it does not prescribe political policies that correspond with each principle. We need to use biblical wisdom to apply these principles in our own hearts and contexts when making political decisions.

I know strong Christians on both sides of most hot button political issues, and I truly believe that there’s no need to feel threatened or defensive when we disagree.

“At the end of the day, it's not going to be, ‘Am I a Republican or Democrat?’” says Campbell. “It's not going to be, ‘Do I agree with this leading generation or do I listen to my pastor?’ It's going to be, ‘What does my faith look like as a servant of Christ and how do I understand my role in the church?’"

These are the two core questions that we need to ask when making decisions about any aspect of our lives. Political decisions are no exception.

Resources:

https://www.biblegateway.com/

https://realityla.com/resources/jesus-and-politics/

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/29/opinion/sunday/christians-politics-belief.html

Campbell, Dr. Jamie (2018, October 11). Phone interview.

Comment