The False Dichotomy

A younger cousin has taken me to task “as a devout Christian” on my strong expression of concern about our changing climate. He asks, “do you believe that God has created climate change to spite, challenge or invigorate humanity”?  I am regularly challenged on how we humans like to think in binaries. In so doing we often set up false dichotomies. I like what Augustine of Hippo said about the false dichotomy many make between Scripture and the Natural World (Science) in his Literal Commentary on Genesis.

The Literal Commentary advises a two-step procedure. First, we must evaluate whether the scientific claim has any validity. This must be done by the methods of science, empirical observation and theoretical reasoning. It is not enough to quote the Bible against a scientific theory. If we are unsure about the conclusion, we can consider it false. “The truth is rather in what God reveals than in what groping men surmise.” https://www.catholic.com/…/how-augustine-reined-in-science

Like Augustine, I assert, “Christians can be sure that God’s truth in nature does not contradict God’s truth in Scripture.” As for the science of understanding what is happening to Planet Earth, “Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.
– Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/

I encouraged my cousin to read both the NASA document above as well as Genesis 1 for the Old Testament story of creation which begins,

The History of Creation
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis%201…

And the New Testament version in John 1.

The Eternal Word
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.
And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John%201…

Certainly some scientists and some religious folks like to see a complete separation of science and spirituality. As I wrote earlier, I believe that is a false dichotomy that has brought us to this current chaos. The whole point of the Genesis creation story is that God gifted us with free will. How we choose to exercise that free will makes all the difference. The story of the Old Testament is how we humans, despite our best efforts to follow God’s laws and prophets, use that free will to bring chaos to the world. The story of the New Testament is how God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit seek to redeem us and this world.

Yes, God loved the world so much
that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost
but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world
not to condemn the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.
No one who believes in him will be condemned;
but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already,
because he has refused to believe
in the name of God’s only Son.
On these grounds is sentence pronounced:
that though the light has come into the world
men have shown they prefer
darkness to the light
because their deeds were evil.
And indeed, everybody who does wrong
hates the light and avoids it,
for fear his actions should be exposed;
but the man who lives by the truth
comes out into the light,
so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God.” John 3:16-31

And that eternal life, that Kingdom of God, is meant to start here and now as we humans choose to become the body of Christ. So it is not just Scripture that points to the Way, the Truth and the Life; but also God’s natural creation. As Paul wrote in Romans 8, “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time”.  Science confirms that as we continue to lay waste to Mother Earth and her groans become increasingly more distressed.

So who is my neighbour?

The sermon on Sunday at Spirit Song was on the Good Samaritan. You remember the story. A lawyer asked Jesus what he must do to be inherit eternal life and be welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven. Like any good teacher, Jesus turned to the question back saying to him,

“What is written in the law? How do you read it?”

The lawyer answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.

Jesus replied to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live.” However, the lawyer was not done. He went on to ask, “Who is my neighbour?” — Luke 10:25–29

The parable Jesus then relates tells the story of a man who was robbed and left for dead. Both a priest and a Levite (a man who worked in the temple), passed by without helping. However a Samaritan, despised by most in Jesus’ community, did stop and render assistance even putting the injured man up in a nearby inn. Jesus then asks which of the three; the priest, the Levite or the Samaritan acted as a neighbour to the man dying at the roadside. The lawyer said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”— Luke 10:30–37

So in today’s much more chaotic world, who is my neighbour? For a genetic perspective on who our neighbours are, and indeed who our brothers and sisters are, I highly recommend The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey which I first saw on the National Geographic channel. The author, Spencer Wells says,  “You and I, in fact everyone all over the world, we’re all literally African under the skin; Brothers and sisters separated by a mere 2.000 generations. Old fashioned concepts of race are not only socially divisive, but scientifically wrong. It’s only when we’ve fully taken this onboard, that we can say with any conviction that the journey our ancestors launched all those years ago, is complete.”

United Methodists face vote on LGBTQ issues. Will it rip the church apart?

The above is the headline from an article about an upcoming vote later this month at the United Methodist General Conference in St. Louis.  A special session has been called to vote yet again on a plan regarding same-sex marriage and the acceptance of LGBTQ clergy in the church. According to this article,

The United Methodist Church faces the possibility of a schism because of the vote. It’s inevitable that people will leave the church because of how polarizing the issue is, according to congregants, clergy and experts. It’s also possible entire congregations could leave the denomination.

This sounds all too familiar to this former member of the Anglican Church of Canada.  The argument in favor of allowing seems to be, that “love would be at the core.” The article also notes, “United Methodist churches and properties are currently owned by the denomination.” That was the same with the Anglican Church of Canada. One the largest Anglican congregations in Canada, as well as the most overtly evangelical, had to give up their buildings when they chose to be faithful to their understanding of the way, the truth and the life. See http://www.vancouversun.com/life/Anglican+diocese+retains+ownership+four+disputed+church+properties/2266487/story.html
Perhaps the one thing Methodists have going for them is a church leader largely forgotten in the Anglican Church of Canada, but still very much at the essence of the United Methodist Church, John Wesley. It would be interesting to do a study on his teachings particularly as they would apply to the situation the church currently finds itself in. So I googled  what John Wesley would say to us today on this issue and came across an article  published the last time this issue was raised in the United Methodist Church. The author, Donald A. D. Thorsen, professor of theology and chair of the Department of Theology and Ethics at Azusa Pacific Seminary in Azusa, California writes,

Wesley, the founder of Methodism, affirmed the primacy of scriptural authority. But he also acknowledged the genuine, albeit secondary, religious authority of tradition, reason, and experience. By doing so, Wesley simply made explicit what is implicit in all theological reflection, even when it ostensibly is based on Scripture alone.

Given this so-called quadrilateral of religious authority, how should Methodists — or any Christian interested in considering a breadth of relevant data — view homosexuality? Although Wesley did not specifically deal with the issue of homosexuality, his theological legacy provides a comprehensive and integrative way of evaluating it. https://goodnewsmag.org/2016/04/john-wesley-revelation-and-homosexual-experience/

 This article in turn led me to research Wesley’s Quadrilateral. I believe this presents a schema for approaching this discussion in a way that would be blessed and guided by God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

The dangers of tradition

The reading at last Sunday’s service was from Matthew 15:1 – 20

In the reading some of the scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem come to Jesus and ask, “Why do your disciples break our ancient tradition and eat their food without washing their hands properly?”

The scribes and Pharisees try to follow God’s way by following the customs and traditions that were handed down over the ages. Remembering what your mother taught you, you may well say these rules make a lot of sense. So why did Jesus not discipline his disciples for breaking them, just as your mother may have disciplined you for coming to the table without washing your hands? Instead, Jesus criticizes the Pharisees asking, “Why do you break God’s commandment through your tradition?” For the Pharisees have developed a ‘work around’ for the God’s commandment to ‘Honour your father and your mother’, and ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death’. The Pharisees have developed a corollary to this which allows  a man to tell his parents, ‘Whatever use I might have been to you is now given to God’, therefore he now owes no further duty to his parents. Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites, saying your tradition empties the commandment of God of all its meaning. Jesus then quotes Isaiah to describe the Pharisees: ‘These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’.”

Quite the indictment! However, before we dismiss the Pharisees of old as simply a viper’s brood (Matthew 3:7), it is critical to ask who are the modern day Pharisees? C.S. Lewis in Screwtape Proposes a Toast suggest that 2000 years later we still have a fine crop of Pharisee wine. In this selection the senior and very experienced devil, Screwtape, rises to propose a toast. In his hand he holds a glass of Pharisee wine.

Different types of Pharisee have been harvested, trodden and fermented together to produce its subtle flavour. Types that were most antagonistic to one on earth. Some were all rules and relics and rosaries; others were all drab clothes, long faces and petty traditional abstinences from wine or cards or the theatre. Both had in common their self-righteousness and their almost infinite distance between their actual outlook and anything the Enemy really is or commands. The wickedness of other religions was the really live doctrine in the religion of each; slander was its gospel and denigration its litany. How they hated each other up there where the sun shone! How much more they hate each other now that they are forever conjoined but not reconciled. Their astonishment, their resentment, at the combination, the festering of their eternally impenitent spite, passing into our spiritual digestion, will work like fire. Dark fire. All said and done, my friends, it will be an ill day for us if what most humans mean by “religion” every vanishes from the Earth. It can still send us the truly delicious sins. The fine flower of unholiness can grow only in the the close neighbourhood of the Holy. Nowhere do we tempt more successfully as on the very steps of the altar.  http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/wp-content/uploads/satevepost/screwtape-proposes-a-toast-SEP.pdf

So who is most in danger of becoming the Pharisee today? Why dear church goer, it is you and I. To paraphrase JB Phillips translation of Matthew 16:25, the one who want to save his life by simply following rules will lose his life; but the one who cedes control of his life to Jesus and loses his life for Jesus’ sake will find it. So being a follower of Christ is not simply following a set of rules no matter how important they might be. Rather it is yielding control of   your life to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Wild at Heart

Responding to Gregg’s challenge at our men’s meeting yesterday, I have set up members with their own account. So we can now ‘meet’ 24/7 through the vehicle of this website. Here’s a link to the book we’re studying.

Lee made the point on our way home that we really didn’t talk too much about Chapter 5. Perhaps this a a venue where we can continue this conversation.