Church Planting

Trust in Him

Jesus said, “12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:12-14)

Lord I believe. I believe and I am prepared to be used by you for great works. I believe and I am prepared to ask you to sustain the whole of my life. You have told your disciples to ask for anything in your name, so I will look to you for everything. I faithfully believe you will do it all!

For everyone who has a chance to read this I pray for you, that you would accept the challenge to believe, that you might allow God to do great works through you, and that you trust him whose riches of grace and mercy in Christ Jesus is abundant. As a show of my faith in you I encourage you to message me about the journey of your faith.

Advertisements
Church Planting

In His Steps

I recently read (and Listened too on Audiobooks) “In His Steps” by Charles Sheldon. This book, published in 1896, is a sentimental yet pleasing read. Though not enthralled by some of the characters in the book, it was for me an optimistic perspective of what might happen if Christians humbly asked, what would Jesus do. It is a bit crushing to discover that, at the time of its publishing, the author was robbed royalties due to improper registration of the copyright. Perhaps, however, we all benefited because the book became one of the best selling books of all time as a result (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_books). I can still remember the wristband around my arm with the large block letters, WWJD stamped across it. I didn’t know them but Charles Sheldon was traversing time and speaking directly to me. Of course he is not the first one to ask such a question but this is not a post about the history of imitatio dei. No, I want to share of myself a parallel of the miraculous examples given in this book. I was a man of great worries. Rachel can attest to this and offer several examples of proof I am sure. Though blessed with a sense of spiritual things from the beginning of my life and regardless of my spiritual gift of “Faith”, I wrestled my problems away from God and with hands clenched refused to let them go. Until the day God said to me, “No More Worries”. Unlike the people in Raymond I didn’t answer a call to the backroom in the church. However, the call to relinquish my worries and faithfully walk as Jesus did was as clear as a man dying with Jesus on his lips. Miraculously, the call was evidenced by a complete lack of worry in my heart, though I had every cause to be afraid. It was as if God had preemptively cast out my worries and then challenged me to retain the blessing through fervent commitment and prayer and repentance. I must emphasize, it was not my accomplishment, but Gods. Perhaps, it was as Paul said, “the intercession of the Spirit through wordless groans.” I know in my heart that it was the Spirit.

The faith journey began anew with the greatest step in ministry I have ever taken, the decision to follow God into Church Planting. On three previous occasions God planted seeds in the hearts of both Rachel and me. Why was this such a leap of faith? Because it required trusting God with our finances, residence, safety, and a whole lot more.

Consistent with how God has spoken to me at other times, this journey required a transformation of my identity. Was I prepared to give up being a paid church Preacher? Seeking preaching positions would certainly be safer. In that I at least had experience. A minister in his early thirties with seven years of full-time ministry experience is certainly desirable. None of that experience nor most of my formal education, however, prepared me for the evangelistic effort that is church planting. Nonetheless, God said, no more worries. So I bathed myself in faith and moved to New England where I knew God was sending us. (Rachel can share with you her own journey in this desire to plant churches. It is a remarkable one and I would not dare steal her story here.) We had no job and no home. Fortunately, Mom and Dad opened their home to us while we transitioned into what God had planned for us. I admit the cultural stigma associated with moving in with Mom and Dad lingered in my mind. Not for prideful reasons, though perhaps some, but rather I didn’t want to burden them unfairly. Regardless, the offer was made and we excepted. Mom and Dad have blessed me more than a few times with gifts of love and generosity. This time however, grew to feel like something more. It wasn’t a simple pure affection for us but also a support of God’s call to reach unbelievers. I didn’t realize at first but their hearts and kind words made it apparent.

With a desire for some brevity I will leave out a few things here and tell you one of the greatest gifts of our move to New England. The Dutile family and the seed team. Never have I come to be accepted and loved by such a group of people so quickly than the seed team. I am eternally grateful for them. We first met Shaun and Marci over Skype and were excited by their tender desire to know us and discern the work of the Spirit in bringing us to them. Later we visited the team (at that point just two families) and were again embraced by the team. The drive home however was different, worry crept in. Was this really what we should do? Are these people going to accept us? What if we don’t match? But God said, Do Not Worry! In a moment of sheer desire not to be overwhelmed by worry I cried out to God for an hour after we got home. “Lord we desperately need your guidance! Show us NOW what you have in store for us!” I spoke these words not with the heart of a doubting man but with the eagerness for the Lord as Gideon had done. The next morning the phone rang. “Let’s meet this week Chais” said Shaun. “How about Tuesday”, I said. Can we do Monday, he replied.” God wasn’t waiting, he was answering prayers!

All along this journey Kairos, a church planting organization that helps planters establish churches of Christ, was in communication with Rachel and myself. They are our continued compass in the planting business. We were continually uplifted by Stan, Scott, and Bruce with every step we have taken. On their word Rachel and I signed up to learn how to raise support. Right now we anticipate traveling to New York for the class. Already the material for the course has been invaluable. It is NOT a guide to fundraising. It is a Christ centered approach to engaging Christians in ministry. Few tools I have discovered are as practical and useful as “The God Ask” by Steve Shadrach and Scott Morton. What we are learning from this course is challenging our faith into growth. As a direct result of how God has spoke, “No More Worries”, and the spiritual guidance of “In His Steps” and “The God Ask” Rachel and I prepare for another faith move.

After some time past it became apparent that the Lord was bringing all of us, that is the seed team, together. Shaun and Marci formally invited us to work with them. God had blessed us again!!! It was not long after that I began to feel the call to move again. This time, with less money, less safety and no regular job except sharing the Gospel! With Rachel in agreement, we began looking for a place to live in Laconia, NH. Right NOW, this very weekend, Rachel and I found a place we desire to live. In faith and with no worries we are marching forward. God has not called us to a place of safety, but he has sent us to a bounty of people with whom we can share the word of God. What Would Jesus Do? This I believe we have tried to live. We are disciples whose mission is from the Lord. I believe He says to us, “Go to them, the marginal, the helpless and the hapless. Heal the sick, raise the dead, and give as you have been given.

Interpretation

A Moral & Positive Failure: Finding Authority

16TH CENTURY SOLA SCRIPTURA

How is Scripture authoritative? This fundamental question, addressed throughout history, resurfaces with us in postmodernity out of the rejection of modern “regulative” hermeneutics. What exactly is rejected, why is it rejected, and what must replace it? We begin with the development of regulative hermeneutics and its formation in the Disciples of Christ. Then we look to the failure of moral and positive law. We conclude with a brief discussion of postmodern hermeneutics from James K.A. Smith.[1]

The sixteenth century reformers Zwingli and Luther sought authority for the church through Scripture. In 1517, Martin Luther wrote his 95 Theses that brought about the beginning of the Reformation period. In it he challenged the authority of the pope and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. His opposition to the pope caused a backlash resulting in the destruction of many of his books. Luther saw Scripture as teaching “us to see, to feel, to grasp, and to comprehend faith, hope, and charity, far otherwise than mere human reason can”.[2] He believed that through diligent reading of the scriptures, putting the scriptures into practice, and the power of the Holy Spirit, anyone could come to understand Scripture.[3] Luther also felt it was important for translators and interpreters to work together since “et propria verba do not always occur in one mind”. In saying this, Luther expresses the benefit of cooperation. This offered a practical checking process. Later in the seventeenth century, another phrase, “res et verba”, was used to show disapproval for ornament and extravagant wordings that failed to read faithfully the subject matter.[4] Luther seems to grasp this idea years before through his disdain for commentary authors who write long books that amount to nothing.[5] Luther was in favor of authority from the scriptures alone. He was responding to the touted authority of church tradition. Humans err, so scripture must be the authority that corrects the church. Luther expresses it this way: “But I prefer the text to them all, though, in popedom, the glosses were deemed of higher value than the bright and clear text.”[6] In this, we can see that Luther views Scripture as “bright and clear”. We can understand the text because of its “clarity”, so the text can act authoritatively in our lives. Ironically, Luther frequently mixed languages while speaking, causing difficulty in translating his own work. In addition to viewing scripture as clear, Luther saw the literal sense of scripture as the highest form above, other senses such as allegory. The Disciples of Christ place a high emphasis on the literal sense of Scripture due in part to the work of Luther and Zwingli. The literal sense of Scripture influenced the role of Scripture for the Disciples of Christ during the American Restoration Movement. Luther played an important role in our discussion of the authority of scripture, but it was the Scripture and church centered approach of Zwingli that gained favor.

Zwingli attended the University of Vienna and The University of Basel. Later Zwingli preached in a Protestant church in Switzerland. It was there Zwingli began fighting against Catholic tradition. His desire for reformation drove Christians in Zurich to revolt. Zwingli viewed Scripture as authoritative. To him Scripture was infallible and useful to judge our behaviors and beliefs. This was something the Pope, bishop, or council could not do. An example of Zwingli’s position on the authority of Scripture can be shown from his works.

 

“Now finally, since reference is made to the judges which my Lord Vicar thinks cannot be found outside the universities, I say that we have here infallible and unprejudiced judges, that is the Holy Writ, which can neither lie nor deceive. These we have present in Hebrew, Greek and Latin tongues; these let us take on both sides as fair and just judges.”[7]

 

One tradition Zwingli sought to abolish was forced fasting during Lent. Of this he said, “And I showed that it was an unsound contention that the gospel writings nowhere clearly allowed the eating of flesh.”[8] Since, for Zwingli, Scripture clearly allowed the eating of meat, the forced abstinence during Lent was wrong. Again, all of Zwingli’s positions came from the understanding that Scripture is authoritative.

Zwingli was able to affirm the authority of Scripture since he held that to those who had faith and studied Scripture, it was clear and understandable. This clarity was given to us from God in order to have authority in our lives. It was not necessary to rely upon imperfect man to find authority for Christian living since Scripture is perfect, cannot lie, and is clear. His position opposed the idea that Scripture was not clear and needed interpretation by the church for people to understand.

The concept Luther and Zwingli uphold is called Sola Scriptura. The difference between them comes in their application of Sola Scriptura. Luther saw Scripture as authoritative, but did not believe that the silence of Scripture was prohibitive. Zwingli on the other hand, believed that the silence of Scripture meant we did not have the authority to act. Without a command from scripture, we should not act. As a result, many traditions in the church were no longer authoritative and became prohibited. Zwingli’s position on Sola Scriptura had an influence over Scottish and English churchmen.[9] This indirectly affected the teaching of John Knox and, later, the leaders of the American Restoration Movement.[10] Sola Scriptura and prohibitive silence still affects the churches of Christ, however unconsciously, today.

A third reformer who brought Sola Scriptura into broader practice was John Calvin. Like Luther and Zwingli, Calvin sought authority from Scripture alone. John Calvin was a French theologian. His view, like Zwingli’s treated scripture as a book of law. This led Calvin to limit singing practices in the church. Calvin did not allow the use of musical instrument, choirs, polyphony, or newly composed pietistic texts.[11] This can be seen here in Calvin’s commentaries on the Psalms.

 

“We are not, indeed, forbidden to use, in private, musical instruments, but they are banished out of the churches by the plain command of the Holy Spirit, when Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14:13, lays it down as an invariable rule, that we must praise God, and pray to him only in a known tongue.”[12]

 

Notice that Calvin, references clarity by claiming that instrumental music is banished by “the plain command” from Scripture. Calvin views Scripture as a law book that authorizes or bans methods of worship reinforced by the idea that clarity of Scripture is obtainable.

From Calvin and Zwingli developed what we call the “Regulative Principle”. Calvin’s form of the regulative principle focused on worship.

 

“For there is a twofold reason why the Lord, in condemning and prohibiting all fictitious worship, requires us to give obedience only to his own voice. First, it tends greatly to establish his authority that we do not follow our own pleasure, but depend entirely on his sovereignty; and, secondly, such is our folly, that when we are left at liberty, all we are able to do is to go astray.”[13] (The Evil Which Compels Us To Seek Remedies)

 

Later it was adapted to authorize all kinds of activities. The regulative principle is the combination of two ideas Sola Scriptura and prohibitive silence. Both ideas determine how Christians should live and worship God. The clarity of Scripture thus becomes an essential element to this principle. The opposing concept known as the normative principle suggested that anything not prohibited by scripture was permissible. The normative principle received far less use than its opponent.

 

THE A.R.M. & THE REGULATIVE PRINCIPLE

 

Influenced by Scottish Presbyterianism, father Thomas and son Alexander Campbell independently came to view the Bible as singularly authoritative. Thomas, a clergyman from North Ireland, set a foundational belief that affected the American Restoration Movement. His motto was, “Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; and where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent.”[14] His motto bears a strong resemblance to Calvin’s regulative principle. Alexander came to a similar perspective as he taught a return to the ancient ecclesial example found in Scripture. Scripture became the command and example of how the 19th century Christian should live. Evidence for this comes from his article series, “A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things”.[15] A portion of this text reads, “A restoration of the ancient order of things is all that is necessary to the happiness and usefulness of Christians.”[16] Alexander did not, however, believe that all of Scripture should be used to form Christian practice. Instead, he focused specifically on the NT and even further on the teachings of the apostles.

 

“…the thing proposed, is to bring the Christianity and the church of the present day up to the standard of the New Testament.”[17]

 

“we shall have no other revelation of the Spirit, no other New Testament, no other Saviour, and no other religion than we now have, when we understand, believe and practice the doctrine of Christ delivered to us by his apostles”[18]

 

From this canonical particularization, Alexander looked to define a precise order of worship. Reformation hermeneutics is not the only influence determining how Alexander interprets Scripture. For a larger perspective, we must turn to his dependence on Baconianism.

Baconianism was devised by Sir Francis Bacon. He believed that bias could be overcome but putting into practice scientific checks or steps to correct the mind.[19] Objectivity would be achieved through mechanistic practices. We can define Baconianism as inferring (deduction) from observation of gathered facts (induction) what is occurring with the whole. It was attractive method for finding order in Scripture.

Campbell believed that Scripture was written in human language and therefore could be analyzed with the same methods used to interpret other literary works.[20] He optimistically believed Scripture to be understandable if only the proper method was applied, a result of “Scottish Common Sense realism.”[21] By discovering the appropriate meaning of the words in Scripture, clarity and uniform understanding could be achieved. For this he turned to the Baconian method.

Campbell, from a Baconian perspective, derived meaning from Scripture through observation and reflection. He believed that correct teaching could be obtained through induction of the full Scripture covering any subject and deducing the truth. Baconian hermeneutics requires looking at Scripture as a collection of facts. By connecting these “facts”, Campbell hoped to create a uniform method of interpretation that would lead to greater unity as opposed to the divisiveness of creeds. Using this method of interpretation the Scriptures produced patterns and order by which Christians should live. As a result Campbell interpreted Scripture to fight denominationalism and practices not authorized by apostolic command, example, or necessary inference. Campbell fought against infant baptism for this very reason. It is important to note here that it was not Alexander Campbell’s intention to create a system that would be cause for division. He desired Christians to be drawn together by a singular constitution, which is the apostolic portion of the NT.[22] Unfortunately, division was the clear result.

CEI, or command, example, or necessary inference is a method that applies the regulative principle to the Scriptures. A strong proponent of CEI is J.D. Thomas.[23] Like Campbell, Thomas found great usefulness in Baconianism. Thomas breaks down scripture into principles and incidentals. Principles are transcultural, permanent and binding. Incidentals are local, temporal and exist culturally or at least situationally. By employing “common sense”, Thomas distinguishes the two.[24] Common sense functions to determine parallels to our current situation, present spiritual principles, and find clues in Scripture to help us. Once specific patterns are identified, they must be followed. Identifying these specific patterns requires commands, examples, or necessary inferences. To determine if an example is binding, we must explore the context and utilize common sense. This also applies to necessary inferences. First we examine the context and then use common sense to determine its usefulness. Commands also function in this way. First, we determine from the context whether the characters had to do it, and then we use common sense to apply it to us. The difficulty here is the failure of common sense to actually determine anything. All commands, examples, and necessary inferences are based upon human inference and common sense.

In the A.R.M., we have many different denominations whose separation was based upon the regulative principle and CEI. The pursuit of a perfect resurrection of the 1st century ecclesial community failed in the likeness of its Spirit and divided us over its practice. It created a framework of laws devoid of Christ and grace. It found its pinnacle in the practice of moral and positive law. The framework pushed the plan instead of the man.

 

MORAL AND POSITIVE LAW

 

Moral and positive law was developed by Thomas Hobbes in “Leviathan”, written in 1651 CE. In his work Hobbes defines moral law or natural law as, “…those which have been laws from all eternity… consisting in the moral virtues; as justice, equity, and all habits of the mind that conduce to peace and charity”.[25] Natural laws are laws that we can understand from nature and which do not depend on a higher authority to require them. There are two essential components to natural law. They are the ontological and the gnoseological. Ontological implies, “Every kind of being existing in nature, a plant, a dog, a horse, has its own “natural law, that is, the proper way in which, by reason of its specific structure and ends, it “should” achieve fullness of being in its growth or in its behavior”.[26] “Gnoseology deals with the human faculties for learning and understanding. In these ways, gnoseology implies what is known naturally, by inclination, congeniality, or connanturality.[27] In this case reason is preceded by natural understanding. Natural law is determined by natural inclination and then reasoned out. Natural law does not begin with reason and then determine natural inclinations.

Positive laws are “… those which have not been from eternity, but have been made laws by the will of those that have had the sovereign power over others, and are either written or made known to men by some other argument of the will of their legislator.”[28] Positive laws have no natural example imposing authority. Only when a greater authority makes them laws do they mean anything.

A particularization of positive law is divine positive law. Hobbes describes this as “…the commandments of God, not from all eternity, nor universally addressed to all men, but only to a certain people or to certain persons, are declared for such by those whom God hath authorized to declare them.”[29] These laws are commandments of God carried to people through visions, dreams, divine messengers, and His covenant people. The inherent challenge of the divine positive law is, how do we know it comes from God? If it does not come directly to every man by way of direct communication of God how do we know it is a law? This is one of the issues Hobbes tries to address. It appears to be impossible to know certainly when God makes commands. We might say that miracles or righteous living are signs of the command but they fail to give us certainty. We are reliant on our faith in the communicator of the message. Though we may not know with perfect certainty if a law comes from God, the same laws are easy to carry out. To understand this Hobbes walks us through God’s covenant with Abraham.

God made a covenant directly with Abraham. This covenant extended to all the seed of Abraham. Though Abraham’s children did not directly receive their father’s covenant, they were required to obey the commandment handed down to them by their father. This supports necessary inference. Since Abraham was given the covenant and it included his children, anyone who was considered his child understood the necessity of following the command. Hobbes makes the point that the decision to follow the command, so far as it does not disagree with the moral laws, must be followed according to the “commonwealth” or community.

Following in the footsteps of Thomas Hobbes, by way of influence from Scottish Common Sense Realism, Charles Hodge utilized moral and positive law in the 19th century. Hodge elaborated on moral law in his writing, “Systematic Theology”. Under the heading, “Preliminary Principles”, Hodge teaches that moral law is taught from Scripture through the words of Paul.[30] When Paul teaches that gentiles are a law unto themselves, he is teaching moral law.[31] This is due to nature. Hodge interprets nature as the conscience that commands obedience. Every human being has a conscience that accuses them or testifies about them. This appears to be an obvious generalization from Hodge, but he clarifies that even groups who do not uphold moral laws still maintain its authority by their disavowal of it.[32] By turning away from the law, they show the law to be a judge against them. One of the central moral laws is the law of love. Unlike Zwingli, Hodge believed that nothing is sinful that moral law and the Scriptures does not specifically condemn (normative principle). Like Hobbes, Hodge views divine positive laws as laws made authoritative by God. The laws binding on Christians are found in the Scriptures, specifically in the commands found in the New Testament. The 19th century A.R.M. was greatly influenced by moral and positive law; Thomas and Alexander Campbell were among the preachers who used this hermeneutic.

A moral and positive law hermeneutic has created theological difficulties that have lasted into the present. To examine some of these challenges consider the sermon from the preacher Benjamin Franklin in 1877 CE. To Franklin, positive law is of a “higher order” than moral law.[33] He says it this way: “It rises above mere morality, philosophy, or the pleasure of man, into the pure region of faith, confidence in the wisdom of God, and in submission to the supreme authority”.[34] To Franklin, obedience to positive law requires more faith. This is the beginning of our theological difficulties. Franklin places undue favor on positive commands.

It becomes better to do things such as observe the Sabbath (positive law) than to love your neighbor (moral law). In the negative, it is worse to break the Sabbath (positive law) than to kill your neighbor (moral law). Assumed in this is that divine positive laws are issues of faith and obedience. The Hebrew people were commanded to paint the doorframe of their homes with the blood of a lamb. They acted in accordance with this command and therefore survived the death of the first born in Egypt. Franklin reverses the command, saying that if any Hebrew did not cover their doorframe with lamb’s blood, their firstborn would die. Obedience in this case requires absolute precision.

Franklin creates a situation that at first seems simple. Either you painted the doorframe of your house with blood from a lamb and you live, or you don’t and you die. However, the situation quickly complicates. God did not simply ask them to place blood on the doorframe. He told them what day to slaughter the animal, how old the animal must be, the lamb could have been a goat’s or sheep’s young, must be without defect of any kind, that they must be killed at twilight, the meat of the animal must be eaten, and dressed with herbs, roasted and not raw, and eaten with unleavened bread. The animal must be eaten with your cloak tucked into your belt, and sandals on your feet, and staff in hand. According to Franklin’s application of divine positive law, these acts had to be completed to perfection. God does not dispense grace when we fail to perfectly carry out these commands. The one who places his staff down while eating is killed. If the meat is undercooked, death awaits them. If one of the Hebrew people fails to receive word, divine judgment is coming.

Now all this appears as a kind of straw man example, but it illustrates a question. Does God give grace to those who do not follow his commands to perfection? If our ability to follow divine positive law is the measure of our faith, how should we interpret the Scriptures?

 

BUILDING A LEGAL HERMENEUTIC

 

Consider another example of this line of thought from James A. Harding. He saw Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as examples of positive law.[35] They must be carried out perfectly to be effectual. Harding uses the example of the walls of Jericho to make his point. He believed that if Joshua had not done exactly as God commanded, the walls would not have fallen. Grace is given for the moral laws but not for positive laws.

What developed from the high order of divine positive law was, for the churches of Christ, a legal hermeneutic. Hicks describes it this way “the hermeneutical task for Churches of Christ has always been to discover what God requires of us, especially what he requires in terms of positive ordinances. Our hermeneutic has been tailored to answer that question.”[36]

Harding believed that “works of righteousness” (moral law) could not save us because even one sin condemns us.[37] Our performance of righteous works is done out of our indebtedness to Jesus, who did what we could not. Grace covers these sins through Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, God forgives us of our sins. This is consistent with Franklins view of moral laws.

Though Harding does not view works as our way to redemption he does believe that access to our “pardon” comes with conditions. These conditions are God’s acts of righteousness that we submit to. They include faith, repentance, and baptism. Positive law becomes for us a test of faith we must pass before we can receive our redemption. They are easy to obey perfectly, so God is strict in demanding them. The power of these divine positive laws has caused the churches of Christ to seek in Scripture any positive commands that secure our redemption. A legal hermeneutic is thus developed to read all of Scripture as law, as Campbell did, and determine which laws are moral or positive. In making these distinctions, we create an interpretive framework for our salvation. Unfortunately we do not agree on what God meant to be redemptive positive commands. Positive law came to apply Sola Scriptura and prohibitive silence using CEI. The absence of God’s positive command became a direct salvific condemnation. For this reason, we have divided over all manner of things including instrumental music, kitchens, Sunday school, and paid preachers. A kitchen may seem an innocuous thing until it is place within a legal positive framework. Then it becomes the difference between obedience and disobedience, saved and not saved.

 

OBSERVATIONS

At this point it is necessary to take a count of the observations we have made. I have listed them in order of their appearance in this paper.

 

  • Sola Scriptura replaced and undermined ecclesial tradition
  • Scripture was conceived to be optimistically “clear” and “simple”
  • A literal sense of Scripture was favored above analogous readings
  • Prohibitive silence was favored over the normative principle
  • A legal framework changed how Scripture was applied
  • Authority was developed only from the apostolic portion of the NT
  • The Baconian method treated Scripture as a literary document
  • Determining the application of examples required the use of CEI and common sense
  • Divine positives laws are favored over moral or natural laws.

 

First allow me to point out the benefits this hermeneutic collaboration has done for us. Sola Scriptura redirected our attention back to the primacy of Scripture. There is a point where Scripture can be understood as clear or simple. It is clear and simple in the sense that a general picture of Scripture as a narrative can be understood. As Christians we find ourselves relating to the historic position of the 1st century church because we both follow the birth, baptism, ministry, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Baconianism placed the Bible in its historic and literary context. It also emphasized the importance of induction. However, as John Hicks explains, Baconian induction “tends to override the historical and contextual character of Scripture itself.”[38] Some of these devices are more positive than others. However, using these devices in combination transformed Scripture into a pattern of authority that detracted Christians away from the message of the gospel. It replaced the importance of the Christ event with an ecclesial perfectionism. The grace given to sinners was found only in perfect practice of 19th and 20th century positive law.

POSTMODERN RESPONSE: A BRIEF DISCUSSION

In light of the limitations of A.R.M. to establish unity let’s briefly consider the postmodern attempts at a new hermeneutic. The argument for the clarity of Scripture stretched clarity beyond function. The result of this over reaching argument was division. Postmodern interpreter, James K. A. Smith argues for the necessity of interpretation instead an assumption of clarity.[39] Interpretation happens with everything.[40] We are finite creates that interpret the world and people around us.[41] In this way a person cannot fully know any other thing completely. What we can achieve is an interpretation of what we view around us. We interpret the world through our senses, sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell. We are limited to these kinds of experiences. When humans relate to one another they cannot fully expresses themselves to make themselves full known. We are limited by our various forms of language. When we receive what is expressed from other human beings we interpret their language by our own experience in the language, by the languages variety of use, and by our capacity of understanding. All of this is not to conclude that we cannot know anything about what is being expressed. Nor does this mean we can interpret what we experience in any way we see fit. We can see the application of these ideas through our interpretation of Scripture.

First it is important to highlight three characters utilized by Smith in his creational hermeneutic. Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault, each play a role in Smith’s creational hermeneutic.

 

Smith uses Derrida to show “(a) the centrality of Scripture for mediating our understanding of the world as a whole and (b) the role of community in the interpretation of Scripture”. Smith uses Lyotard to “recover (a) the narrative character of Christian faith, rather than understanding it as a collection of ideas, and (b) the confessional nature of our narrative and the way in which we find ourselves in a world of competing narratives.” Smith uses Foucault to demonstrate “(a) the cultural power of formation and discipline and hence (b) the necessity of the church to enact counter formation by counter disciplines”.

From these three postmodern theorists Smith forms how the church looks at Scripture.

James Smith demonstrates that readers are coproducers of meaning when examining the text. The authors of, for example 1 Corinthians, are Paul (if you accept that he was the original author) and God by way of the Holy Spirit. Paul interprets his experience of God and the situation with the Corinthian church in the writing of his letter. We engage Scripture through our understanding of the language the Bible is written in, the historical location of the letter, as well as our understanding of the cultural situation. From these things we interpret what God and Paul reveal to us and how, by way of analogy, these things have meaning to us.

From this perspective interpretation is seen as a creational good rather than a consequence of our fallenness. Smith deconstructs Augustine’s position on the goodness of creation against Augustine’s concept of “original sin”.[42] For a long time, interpretation has been viewed as something to be overcome.[43] Instead we have favored perfect, objective understanding. This is impossible however, since we are finite creatures. Neither were we intended to understand the world perfectly. We were created as limited and finite creatures that interpret the world and God. Instead of exactitude, we are forced to engage in community with creation and God in order to understand everything. In this way interpretation becomes a creative good. This view has the added benefit of changing how we view the role of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is no longer relegated to guidance of Scripture through and by Scripture. Instead the Holy Spirit engages us in communal interpretation.

Unity may be achievable through the understanding that interpretation is a creational good. In this way unity is developed through participation in the interpretive community by way of the Holy Spirit. It then becomes unnecessary for us to achieve exactitude in understanding before we can worship God in a community of believers.

 

[1] James Smith, The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: BakerAcademic, 2012). See also:
James Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church (Grand Rapids: BakerAcademic, 2006).

[2] Martin Luther, The Table Talk (Philadelphia: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013), 1.

[3] Ibid., 2.

[4] A.C. Howell, “Res Et Verba: Words and Things”, ELH 13, no. 2 (June 1946): 134, accessed November 7, 2013, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2871594.

[5] Luther, 2.

[6] Ibid, 2.

[7] Selected Works of Huldrich Zwingli: The Reformer of German Switzerland (Philadelphia: Evergreen Review Inc., 1901), under “Kindle Locations 812-815,” Amazon Kindle edition.

[8] Ibid, Kindle Locations 300-301.

[9] Thomas Olbricht, “Hermeneutics in the Churches of Christ”, Hermeneutics in the Churches of Christ 37, no. 1 (1995): 3, accessed September 20, 2013, http://www.acu.edu/sponsored/restoration_quarterly/archives/1990s/vol_37_no_1_contents/olbricht.html#N_1_.

[10] Ibid, 4.

[11] Joshua Busman, “Different Commandments: Sola Scriptura and Theologies of Worship in the Protestant Reformation” (presented at 2010 SCGMC Meeting at Duke University, Durham, NC), 1, accessed November 6, 2013, http://www.academia.edu/338201/Different_Commandments_Sola_Scriptura_and_Theologies_of_Worship_in_the_Protestant_Reformation.

[12] John Calvin, Commentary On the Psalms, under “Kindle Locations 1666” Amazon Kindle edition.

[13] John Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming the Church (1543), trans. Henry Beveridge (Dallas, TX: Protestant Heritage Press, 1995), accessed September 5, 2013, http://www.swrb.com/newslett/actualNLs/NRC_ch00.htm.

[14] Monroe Hawley, Redigging the Wells: Seeking Undenominational Christianity (Abilene: Quality Publications, 1976), 29.

[15] John Hicks, “Stone-Campbell Hermeneutics I,” John Mark Hicks Ministries (blog), Wineskins.org, May 28, 2008, accessed August 30, 2013, http://johnmarkhicks.com/2008/05/28/stone-campbell-hermeneutics-ii-campbells-reformed-hermeneutic/.

[16] Alexander Campbell, “A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things,” Christian Baptist, 1824, accessed November 13, 2013, http://www.outrageouscampbellite.com/pdfs/Restoration-Ancient-order-of-Things.pdf.

[17] Ibid,.

[18] Ibid,.

[19] Francis Bacon, Novum Organum [The New Organum], trans. James Spedding, under “Kindle Location 15,” Amazon Kindle edition.

[20] Olbricht, 6.

[21] Hicks, “Stone-Campbell Hermeneutics I”.

[22] Campbell, “A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things”.

[23] J.D. Thomas, We Be Brethren: A Study in Biblical Interpretation (Fort Worth: Biblical Research Press, 1958).

[24] Ibid, 43.

[25] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Penquin Classics, 2012), under “Kindle Location 2942,” Amazon Kindle edition.

[26] Jacques Maritain, “Natural Law And Moral Law,” in Moral Principles of Action: Man’s Ethical Imperative, ed. Ruth Ansben, Science of Culture Series (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1952), 6:62.

[27] Ibid, 62-63.

[28] Ibid,.

[29] Ibid, Kindle Location 2954.

[30] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 266-67.

[31] Romans 2:14

[32] Recent discussion of Natural or Moral law has, in view of secularism, been seen as changeable depending on a person’s religious or secular location. The natural is developed from human perspective. For more detailed exploration of Natural Law see: Stephen Pope, “Tradition and Innovation in Natural Law: A Thomistic Interpretation,” in Human Nature and Natural Law, (Long Lane: SCM Press, 2010).

[33] Benjamin Franklin, “Positive Divine Law,” The Gospel Preacher, 1877, accessed September 15, 2013, https://webfiles.acu.edu/departments/Library/HR/restmov_nov11/www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/bfranklin/tgp2/TGP209.HTM.

[34] Ibid,.

[35] James Harding and J.B. Moody, Debate On Baptism and the Work of the Holy Spirit (Nasville: Brandon Printing Company, 1889), 256, accessed October 20, 2013, https://archive.org/stream/MN41991ucmf_5#page/n1/mode/2up.

[36] John Hicks, “Stone-Campbell Hermeneutics V,” John Mark Hicks Ministries (blog), Wineskins.org, May 31, 2008, accessed October 30, 2013. http://johnmarkhicks.com/2008/05/31/stone-campbell-hermeneutics-v-moral-and-positive-law/

[37] Harding and Moody, 219-220.

[38] John Hicks, “Stone-Campbell Hermeneutics VI,” John Mark Hicks Ministries (blog), Wineskins.org, May 31, 2008, accessed October 30, 2013. http://johnmarkhicks.com/2008/05/31/stone-campbell-hermeneutics-v-moral-and-positive-law/

[39] James Smith, The Fall of Interpretation.

[40] Ibid, 162.

[41] Ibid, 20.

[42] Ibid, 141.

[43] Ibid, 36.

 

Works Cited

Luther, Martin. The Table Talk. Philadelphia: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.

Howell, A.C. “Res Et Verba: Words and Things.” ELH 13, no. 2 (June 1946): 134. AccessedNovember 7, 2013. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2871594.

Zwingli, Huldrich. Selected Works of Huldrich Zwingli: The Reformer of German Switzerland. Philadelphia: Evergreen Review Inc., 1901. Amazon Kindle edition.

Olbricht, Thomas “Hermeneutics in the Churches of Christ.” Hermeneutics in the Churches of Christ 37, no. 1 (1995): 3. Accessed September 20, 2013. http://www.acu.edu/sponsored/restoration_quarterly/archives/1990s/vol_37_no_1_contents/olbricht.html#N_1_.

Calvin, John. Commentary On the Psalms. Amazon Kindle edition.

Busman, Joshua. “Different Commandments: Sola Scriptura and Theologies of Worship in the Protestant Reformation.” Presented at 2010 SCGMC Meeting at Duke University, Durham, NC, Date. Accessed November 6, 2013.

http://www.academia.edu/338201/Different_Commandments_Sola_Scriptura_and_Theologies_of_Worship_in_the_Protestant_Reformation.

Calvin, John. The Necessity of Reforming the Church (1543). Translated by Henry Beveridge. Dallas, TX: Protestant Heritage Press, 1995. Accessed September 5, 2013.

http://www.swrb.com/newslett/actualNLs/NRC_ch00.htm.

Hawley, Monroe. Redigging the Wells: Seeking Undenominational Christianity. Abilene: Quality Publications, 1976.

Hicks, John. “Stone-Campbell Hermeneutics Ii.” John Mark Hicks Ministries (blog). Wineskins.org, May 28, 2008. Accessed August 30, 2013. http://johnmarkhicks.com/2008/05/28/stone-campbell-hermeneutics-ii-campbells-reformed-hermeneutic/.

Campbell, Alexander. “A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things.” Christian Baptist, 1824. Accessed November 13, 2013. http://www.outrageouscampbellite.com/pdfs/Restoration-Ancient-order-of-Things.pdf.

Bacon, Francis. Novum Organum [The New Organum]. Translated by James Spedding. Amazon Kindle edition.

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Penquin Classics, 2012. Amazon Kindle edition.

Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977.

Franklin, Benjamin. “Positive Divine Law.” The Gospel Preacher, 1877. Accessed September 15, 2013. https://webfiles.acu.edu/departments/Library/HR/restmov_nov11/www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/bfranklin/tgp2/TGP209.HTM.

Harding, James, and J.B. Moody. Debate On Baptism and the Work of the Holy Spirit. Nasville: Brandon Printing Company, 1889. Accessed October 20, 2013. https://archive.org/stream/MN41991ucmf_5#page/n1/mode/2up.

Pope, Stephen, “Tradition and Innovation in Natural Law: A Thomistic Interpretation,” in Human Nature and Natural Law, (Long Lane: SCM Press, 2010).

Thomas, J.D. We Be Brethren: A Study in Biblical Interpretation. Fortworth: Biblical Research Press, 1958.

Maritain, Jacques. “Natural Law And Moral Law.” In Moral Principles of Action: Man’s Ethical Imperative, edited by Ruth Ansben. Vol. 6. Science of Culture Series, 62. New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1952.

Smith, James. The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: BakerAcademic, 2012.

Smith, James. Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church. Grand Rapids: BakerAcademic, 2006.

Church Planting

Philosophy of Faith Sharing

Philosophy of Faith Sharing

God has called me to be a minister of process; to guide the formless faith of unbelievers toward a journey of faith, transformation, and sharing. Understanding this call came from my own spiritual journey. God challenged me as a young man to deny myself that I might be remade through a profound transformation of identity. Through the power of Christ, that enables him to bring everything under his control, my life, my value, my identity was remade. Contrary to my hopes that the process would be relatively short, God had in mind for me to undergo a lengthy journey of faith and self-discovery. This process continues and will push on until that eschatological future where we all are remade into the complete likeness of Jesus.

The ministry God has given me is characterized by four key factors, journey, transformation, faith sharing, and urgency. Every person can be placed along a journey of life experiences that encounter opportunities for faith. My life serves to make those encounters life changing experiences.

As people engage moments of faith they encounter the possibility of transformation. Through belief God uses that experience to bestow grace and move them closer to his mission for their redemption. The formless faith of the unbelievers takes shape by the grace of God, through the blood of Christ, by the transformational work of the Spirit, in the normative redemptive act of baptism.

My ministry serves to guide questioning unbelievers along this transformation by sharing my own faith. This is what is referred to as, Faith Sharing. It is an intentional ministry of revealing my experience with God and His work to shape my life. It is also a deliberate demonstration of how all Christians should share faith with unbelievers.

I tie all of these factors together with the need for urgency. This factor is divided into two halves, personal and ecclesial urgency. Jesus calls us all to a sense of urgency so we might all be counted as his disciples and children of God. In this way I encourage and challenge unbelievers to begin examining their beliefs. This is my method of calling for personal urgency. The urgency is for faithful processing. At the church level I believe we have failed to recognize the need to expand our circles of influence and have regarded the task of faith sharing from a long road perspective. A key factor in my ministry is to develop a sense of urgency within believers. By equipping, demonstrating, and journeying with believers, Christians can expand their circles of influence to include unbelievers. We do not have time for the long road; we must take the short path to achieve our aim.

Church Planting

Gospel Sharing in 60 Seconds

I was recently asked to record a 60 second clip explaining the Gospel message. My initial emotional response to this question was, 60 seconds to explain everything!!! What parts should be emphasized? It would be easier to just describe the gospel with one word rather than 180 (180 words is my estimate for a 60 second message based on a 30 second radio commercials I do. 90 words is just enough to fill 30 seconds of air time). Here is my 60 second message.

The God whom I serve is a loving, honorable, righteous, creator. In the beginning of creation God made humankind. He made us so we might enjoy a relationship with Him and to stand as images of His character. Our sin however, destroyed our relationship with God. Just as sin wrecks our lives and friendships, it put a rift between us and God. To save us and achieve something better for us, God sent His son. Jesus is the son of God. Throughout his life, Jesus called people to repent of their sins and accept God’s sovereignty in their lives. To ensure our hope for redemption Jesus sacrificed himself to clear our guilt away. He now calls us to accept what he did for us, by making him the Lord of our lives and following a way of faith, love, honor, and discipleship. As his disciples, we actively await Jesus’ return and the coming of a new creation, without pain, suffering, or death. Nothing in this world is more important than a relationship with Jesus.

Okay, not quite 180 words but pretty close. Now it’s your turn. Share with me your personal way of sharing the Gospel.

 

 

 

About

Author

Chais DiMaggio – Received an M.A.C.M at Harding School of Theology and a B.A. in Bible from Ohio Valley University. He currently works for the Burlington Church of Christ in Burlington Massachusetts. Previous work includes: Associate Minister for the Springfield Church of Christ in Springfield, VT from 2007-2011, Minister at the Central Church of Christ in Clarksburg, WV from 2011-2014,  and Church Planter in Laconia, NH from 2014-2015.

Chais is an advocate for people with exceptional needs, particularly children with mental illness/disorder. He cared for two children with mental disorders over a decade. He also worked as a para-educator at an elementary school.

Grab Bag

Christmas

I celebrate Christmas. I know some people don’t like to for various reasons, but I do. To me Christmas is a celebration of something amazing. A child was born and with that child came the sovereignty and kingdom of God breaking into the world. The majority of the NT speaks of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension because of his impact in the world. A portion of the text, however, speaks of his birth directly. It’s important for a few reasons. Jesus’ lineage needed validation against the accusations of his illegitimate birth. In creaturely form, Jesus participated in a human existence. His birth is also the fulfillment of expectation for God’s people that a messiah would come. For us today, it is the beginning of the pinnacle event that brings hope for our future with God.

Celebration of Jesus’ birth expresses our devotion to Jesus not as a child but as the everlasting incarnation of God breaking into the world. Jesus is not an immutable child to whom we pray “dear baby Jesus”. He is the fullness and exact representation of God. That said, not everyone does celebrate Christmas as a celebration of Jesus. For many, I imagine, it is simply a holiday. I view this as an opportunity to share the story of Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Direction, or orientation, is important to me evangelistically. If I can share the the truth of Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension, perhaps I can direct them toward a life of following Christ.