Tag Archives: Church

Science and the Bible in Late Modernity

One of the principles key to the protestant reformation was the idea of Sola Scriptura: that the Bible is sufficient of itself to be the source of Christian doctrine. John Wesley further clarified this idea when he stated, “In all cases, the Church is to be judged by the Scripture, not the Scripture by the Church.”[1] However, at some level, all Christians are forced to make some judgment about the scripture in the form of interpretation.

How is a person to interpret the scriptures? “Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason. Scripture [however] is primary, revealing the Word of God ‘so far as it is necessary for our salvation.’”[2] This idea is more commonly known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral; every person forms their theology through scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Theology is at its best when all four areas are attended to.

As we look at the debates over science in the late 19th and early 20th century it is easy to see that many of the warring factions clung to one corner of the quadrilateral. Many of these groups were unwilling to explore how the other three points of the quadrilateral would affect their theology.

In the early 20th century there were two extreme camps and (as usual) the majority in the middle. The first extreme was the group that believed that the end of religion was in sight. This group, inspired by the enlightenment, believed that humanity was moving out of an age of religion and into an age of reason. Inspired by Darwinian evolution, scientists such as John Wesley Powell believed that religion was a necessary step in the evolution of ethics. Humanity needed to go through the process of creating and living out religion in order to develop morality; now that this morality had developed religion would be allowed to fade away and it could be replaced by science. Powell called this “the metamorphosis wrought on religion by science.”[3]

The other extreme is exemplified by characters such as T. DeWitt Talmage (a popular preacher) and William Jennings Bryan (a lawyer and politician). Talmage spoke vehemently against evolution because he believed the Bible contradicted evolutionary theory. He said, “I do not care so much where I came from as where I am going to.”[4]

Bryan, in his written out but undelivered closing statement at the Scopes trial, spoke eloquently of the evils science has wrought upon the world. He then got to the heart of his message:

The world needs a saviour more than it ever did before, and there is only one name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. It is this name that evolution degrades, for, carried to its logical conclusion, it robs Christ of the glory of a Virgin birth, of the majesty of His deity and mission, and of the triumph of His resurrection.[5]

Both Talmage and Bryant felt that science was not only wrong, but was a danger to the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

Many people stood between these two poles; among them James Cardinal Gibbons (a Roman Catholic Cardinal), Joseph Le Conte (a professor of geology), and James McCosh (a Presbyterian clergyman). Each of these individuals believed that science, rather than being a threat to Christianity, was in fact a blessing. Le Conte wrote, “In every case Christianity has risen from the contest stronger and purer”[6]. Cardinal Gibbons wrote:

Science and Religion…are sisters, because they are daughters of the same Father…Now since reason and revelation aid each other in leading us to god, the Author of both, it is manifest that the Catholic Church, so far from being opposed to the cultivation of reason, encourages and fosters science of every kind.[7]

This group was enabled to see scientific advance as a blessing because they were not trying to defend the Bible. They felt that the Bible could defend herself. Rather this middle group of people was attempting to understand the truths God was speaking to them through the Bible by first understanding a little better the world around them.
Can a conclusion for today’s young scientists be made? What are the lessons we can learn from our past? I would suggest that we need to stay rooted in the biblical revelation, our ecclesial traditions, human understanding, and the experiences which we and the spiritual community around us live out. At the same time we need to allow ourselves to explore ideas that make us uncomfortable. Evolution was a very uncomfortable idea for many in the early 20th century because it forced a drastic shift in worldview. It changed completely the way they thought the world worked.

As we move forward into this young 21st century we need to be prepared for the day when we realize that we are wrong. We need to prepare for a time when our worldview, our personal paradigm, is forced to shift and completely rearrange our perception of how the world works. When this happens, we can remain grounded in our faith by recognizing that God has not changed; it is only our perception that has changed.

Endnotes

[1] Popery Calmly Considered (1779) in The works of the Rev. John Wesley, vol. XV, p. 180, London (1812)

[2] The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church-2004, p. 77

[3] Powell, John Wesley. The Monist. 8 (1898), 199-200,203-4.

[4] T. DeWitt Talmage. “The Missing Link”, in Live Caols. (New York: Wilbur B. Ketcham, 1885), pp.271-75.

[5] Allen, Leslie, ed. Bryan and Darrow at Dayton. (New York: A. Lee & Co.. 1925) pp.195-6.

[6] Le Conte, Joseph. Religion and Science. (New York: D. Appletion & Co. 1874) pp227-30, 231-33.

[7] Cardinal Gibbons, James. Our Christian Heritage. (Baltimore: John Murphy & Co. 1889) pp.301-4,9-10,19-20.

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Judges 12 – Including outsiders

The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan opposite Ephraim. And it happened when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead would say to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he said, “No,” then they would say to him, “Say now, ‘Shibboleth.’” But he said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it correctly. Then they seized him and slew him at the fords of the Jordan. Thus there fell at that time 42,000 of Ephraim. – Judges 12:5-6 (NASB)

***

The Battle of Lawrence

When I was six years old my family moved within six blocks of Allen Field House on the campus of the University of Kansas. I never really had a chance of being anything but a rabid fan of the Kansas Jayhawks. You can tell a Kansas basketball fan from most other fans. There is a certain amount of pride, which borders on arrogance, which seeps into any discussion of college basketball. We know our history and take pride in the history of the Kansas basketball program. And we hate Missouri. It does not matter that Missouri has left the conference and we no longer play the program to the east, we still despise Missouri. For the historical roots of this rivalry take a moment to read about Quantrill’s raid and the burning of Lawrence.

In college sports we have devised a number of systems to make sure we can separate the strangers rooting for “our” team from the strangers rooting for “their” team. Kansas fans wear blue and red, Missouri fans wear yellow and black. Kansas fans rally around our Jayhawk mascot; Missouri fans rally around their tiger. Kansas fans chant “Rock Chalk” in the closing minutes each home victory; Missouri fans have little experience in celebrating the closing minutes of a home victory. We have developed systems to know who is on our side. Whenever I see a Kansas hat or shirt at the gas station or at work, I stop and make a positive comment to my fellow Jayhawk fan.

People are very good at spotting outsiders. There is something in our brains which cause us to make a nearly instantaneous decision that a person is “one of us” or “one of them”. This tendency is not limited to our college basketball affinities. In fact this tendency has a very dark side and has been a plague on humanity resulting in genocide, holocaust, enslavement, discrimination, and all sorts of evil.

Bronze by Jenny Downing

Our first instinct should not be to look for an outward sign to know if a new person is to be included or excluded. Rather, our first instinct should be to care for the stranger and meet their needs regardless of their affiliation. It does not matter if the stranger I meet is a part of a different group. The thing that matters is that we were both formed by our creator and placed on this earth under a divine mandate that we work with God to create a new and greater world. The strangers I meet are as fully known by God as my neighbors. My enemies are as loved by God as my family.

When I look at a Missouri fan, it is important that I first recognize that they are valued by God and they are worthy of my love, respect, and assistance. It does not matter if they say Shibboleth or Sibboleth; what matters is that I have an opportunity to reflect the light of Christ into their lives.

Application:

  • Write down all of the people you walked by today without acknowledging their humanity (take your time, you’ll be surprised how many there are).
  • Make a goal for one day each week, that on that day you will not let a person go by without acknowledging their value.
  • Reach out to an individual or group you would normally exclude and be a part of their lives for one evening.

Queries:

  • Who do I exclude?
  • Do my actions truly demonstrate that I believe all people are valuable and worthy of love, honor, and respect?
  • Do I actually help people? Do I only think about helping people? Do I even think about helping people?
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Judges 8 – Allowing the Lord to rule

Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, both you and your son, also your son’s son, for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.” But Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you.” – Judges 8:22-23 (NASB)

***

It is a difficult thing to refuse power when it is freely offered. It is often the case that the decision to defer supreme power is what characterizes a truly great leader, and the decision to grasp supreme power is what destroys a great leader.

Mt Rushmore under construction.

There are numerous examples throughout history of leaders who have had the opportunity to increase their power, but instead choose to decline, and build up other leaders around him or her. George Washington is an excellent example. Washington declined the opportunity to seek out a third term as president, even though he almost certainly would have won (and kept winning for life). The decision to allow others to succeed him laid the groundwork for the peaceful turnover of power between differing factions in the United States for the next 220 years (and hopefully longer).

Vladimir Putin

On the other side of the coin is the leader who will not give up power. A modern day example of this leader would be Vladamir Putin, current President of Russia. When Putin was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term as President in 2008, he worked to have a place holder serve a term while Putin became Prime Minister for four years. Putin returned to the Presidency in 2012 in an election which featured many documented irregularities.

The church is infamous for becoming an institution through which individuals with authority can rule mini-kingdoms. This can be just as true for the head trustee, the treasurer, a Sunday School teacher, or a pastor. It is important that the church put in positions of authority, those people who constantly remember that God is in control and “the Lord shall rule over you.”

When a Church allows an individual or group of individuals to rule, in the place of God, then it is no longer a Church.

Application:

  • List the areas in your life in which you exert authority of another person or institution. Pick one of those areas and empower someone else to take over your authority.
  • Examine your Church governmental structure and determine if it has adequate controls on individuals taking advantage of authority.
  • Hand one area of your life, which is causing you stress, entirely over to God.

Queries:

  • When was the last time you refused power?
  • Look at the leaders in your church; have they sought to increase their power or empower others?
  • Does God rule over your life, your family, and your church?
  • Are you willing to let others be in control? Are you willing to accept their decisions even when you think they are wrong?
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Judges 2 – The past, the present, and the future

All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. 11 Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals, 12 and they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the LORD to anger. 13 So they forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtaroth. 14 The anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. 15 Wherever they went, the hand of the LORD was against them for evil, as the LORD had spoken and as the LORD had sworn to them, so that they were severely distressed. – Judges 2:10-15 (NASB)

Ancient Ugarit Ba’al – 14-12th Centuries BCE

One of the difficulties of leadership is that it requires you to look in three directions all at once.

A leader must look to the past. The past has tremendous lessons to teach and we must learn from those who have gone before us. The past is also full of heroes and champions of the faith on whom we can rest during times of struggle. If every generation was forced to figure everything out for themselves we would never get anywhere; the past is the foundation upon which we build. As leaders we must be students of history and not be so arrogant that we refuse to learn from our mothers and fathers.

A leader must look to the present. A leader must be aware of what is going on in the here and now. What needs must be attended to immediately. Who is hurting? Who is in danger? Who needs to be celebrated? The present is what we are building and creating. The present is influenced by the past, but we can turn the present to anything we choose (both good and bad). If we spend all of our time focused on the past or the future, we will miss the good and bad things going on around us right now. The danger of missing the good is that we may fail to notice a new leader. The danger of missing the bad is that we may allow destructive forces to become enmeshed into our organization.

A leader must look to the future. Where are we going? How do we get there? If we want to build something that will last longer than we will it will take a great deal of planning in the present. Creating a vision and developing a plan to accomplish that vision is necessary. We must also understand human nature and outline how the organization will avoid common pitfalls. Setting concrete plans in place is a task which is commonly ignored by leaders in the church.

Too often churches look to the past and the present, but ignore the future. They fail to set future generations up for success. Then as a generation ages, it wonders why their children have turned away from God. A church must plan for next year, and next decade, and the next generation, and three or four generations after that. When looking to the future there must be a very long view.

In your role as a leader keep your eyes always focused on the past, the present, and the future. It can be tough, but it is absolutely necessary. If any one of these three time periods is neglected, or over-emphasized, it can cause problems in the church for multiple generations to come. Be sure to set a solid foundation for your grandchildren and your grandchildren’s grandchildren. We are all interconnected. We are still recovering from the problems of our ancestors (slavery, patriarchalism, church schisms); to the best of our ability we need to clean up our messes now, and not leave them to our descendents.

Application:

  • Make a list outlining:
    • Your anchors to the past.
    • Your activities in the present.
    • Your vision for the future.

Queries:

  • Who are your heroes? What ancestral baggage are you struggling with?
  • Do you hold the past, present, and future all up in prayer?
  • Which time period do you neglect? Which do you spend too much time thinking about?
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Sermon: The Expert, the Leader, & the Assistant

I truly appreciate every opportunity to preach that I am given. It is always an honor and a blessing to me. Below is the outline of a sermon I gave last week.

***

Scripture: Exodus 31:1-11

Big Idea: At different times in life we will all take on the roles of expert craftsman, leader, and skilled assistant. At any given time, know which role you are called to, and within that role use your skills to share the love of Jesus with your community.

 

I.                   Introduction

a.       Setting – between the exodus and the exile

                                                              i.      Practically the last of God’s instructions on Mt Sinai

                                                            ii.      Exodus 32 tells of the Golden Calf

b.      Purpose – to create a throne room for God

c.       Scripture: Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship, to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftsmanship. And behold, I Myself have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and in the hearts of all who are skillful I have put skill, that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of testimony, and the mercy seat upon it, and all the furniture of the tent, the table also and its utensils, and the pure gold lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering also with all its utensils, and the laver and its stand, 10 the woven garments as well, and the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons, with which to carry on their priesthood; 11 the anointing oil also, and the fragrant incense for the holy place, they are to make them according to all that I have commanded you.”

d.      In this passage are three different roles:

                                                              i.      Bezalel

1.      the expert craftsman

2.      filled by God with the spirit of God

                                                            ii.      Moses

1.      the leader

2.      Listens to God

3.      Points others in the direction God is going

                                                          iii.      Oholiab

1.      the skilled assistant

2.      Appointed by God & given skill by God

3.      But the expert responsible for completing the work

4.      A helper

5.      Just as responsible for accomplishing God’s will; but not in charge

e.       These three characters are excellent examples for us because: At different times in life we will all take on the roles of expert craftsman, leader, and skilled assistant. At any given time, know which role you are called to, and within that role use your skills to share the love of Jesus with your community.

 

II.                When we are Bezalel, the expert craftsman…

a.       Who was Bezalel

                                                              i.      Name

1.      “In the shadow of God”

2.      As if to say even the most skilled craftsman is a step behind God

                                                            ii.      Beginnings as a slave & training in Egypt

1.      Imagine humble beginnings first stone carvings

2.      Developing his skills making idols in Egypt

3.      Years in slavery and finally able to use his talents

                                                          iii.      Calling by Moses

1.      Spent his early life getting ready

2.      Only after being called by God through Moses was he unleashed (ch35-40)

                                                          iv.      Legendary candlesticks – particularly blessed

1.      Legend: The candlestick of the sanctuary was of so complicated a nature that Moses could not comprehend it, although God twice showed him a heavenly model; but when he described it to Bezalel, the latter understood immediately, and made it at once

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