The Bible And Christianity
By Kevin P. Edgecomb
If it were truly necessary for a book, and the reading of that book, to occupy a central role in the lives of those calling themselves Christians, why was literacy so very uncommon in the West up until this century? And why was not printing invented by one of the Apostles? People relied on oral transmission and on artistic depiction of various stories. They would meet in their church buildings, first homes and rented public halls, later in their own dedicated structures for such, and they would hear, not read, things from the Bible. The main impact and the focus of these meetings, though, was not a book-club reading, but in the sermon, fellowship, and the sacred meal. It was the interpersonal relation of one human to another that made this Way last. And it was that living Spirit, shared among the people and passed from one to another, that is the true Guide. Not some scribbles of ink on papyrus, parchment or paper.
The NT is a record of the earliest of these Wayfarers' beliefs. They had the same Spirit that animates the modern Wayfarer and all that they were, all that they knew, learned and believed, is there and available to the modern believers as well. The NT is not some kind of magical handbook to salvation -- that is a work that is outside of its pages, a work that is a living and breathing thing in the lives of those who let it happen. The book is like a journal of God's dealing with others, and the way that God has dealt with other nations, lives and minds.
In the gospels, we have not only the written representation of what was once a solely and preferably oral tradition about the life of Jesus, but the testimony of several faith communities, each different, quite diverse, but all accepted and accepting one of the other. Paul's letters are a great thing to have -- written help to struggling communities, to arrogant communities, and to communities being undermined by others. Is it so strange that Paul's most vehement response, his most violent statements and the sharpest edge of his genius for rhetoric appear in the letter to the Galatians, wherein he responds to a group telling his Galatian fellow-believers that "the only way is THIS way, with the law, the festivals, and the food"? Had we not been tossed by circumstances into a more literary as opposed to oral tradition as the Christian standard, I think we would have ended up with a quite different religion than there currently is. We would have an instant and clearcut response to invalid interpretation: "That's not what I said; now listen more carefully...."
As an example of that, having such widespread literacy now, anyone can pick up a Bible and read a passage and stick any meaning upon that passage that they desire, whether it is justified by the text or not. And do not be surprised that there are interpretations there that are simply invalid, wrong, and unsupported by the language and the work itself, whether that is a politically correct statement about religion or not: freedom of religion should not be freedom to lie and to be an idiot. The modern usage of the "proof-texting" method is so widespread and accepted that it is almost universal among the churches. It is most heavily relied upon by the fringe elements of the religion, much as we all remember. To say, "Don't believe me, believe your Bible" is all well and good. But when those words, phrases, passages, books and corpus are subjected to the sectarian interpretation, and people believe them, they have shown that they are no more innately powerful to guide to the truth the true believer than is a Harlequin romance. Interpretation, vanity, gullibility, hope, greed, all of these together produce not only a certain mindset against which one would almost think it a sin to rebel, but one which has a permanent effect upon its victim.
Some will react by rejecting our foregoers' writings entirely. Others by slavishly subjecting themselves to yet another Crackpotian, not Christian, interpretation. Both do so because of a completely wrong image of this work of writings we call Scriptures. They are little different than this very message: written by another Wayfarer, trying to help, trying to explain himself, and share something that is so obviously clear to him, and who is gaining and learning by the simple act of its writing.
And last, a note on some of my usage's: Way and Religion. The imagery of a path, a road, a way, is common to every philosophy I've read of. It is the easiest metaphor to grasp for a biped, who walks places, or rides, or drives to a place at which one wants to arrive. A life lived can be seen as a path, most especially the manner in which it is lived. A Path of Wisdom, and Path of Multifold Righteousness, a Path of Enlightenment: are any of these incompatible with biblical instruction? Is a life lived well, without a Christian name on it, less in the Eye of God than an evil life, lived under the name of Christ? There are far more such than we'd like to admit.
A Way is valid, is laid out by God, who slaps you on the behind to get you moving along it. You can stay on it, difficult in its isolation, its struggle, the sometimes seemingly insurmountable peaks, and deep forbidding valleys, with only a small soft voice and the presence of God with you, and maybe a handful of others, or you can slip off it and wander back to the old easy way you were once on: the one that's paved with golden bricks, easy walking, with plenty of free food and lodging on every side, and where you've plenty of friendly company: the way of Religion, built by Man: "just walk on our path, and you'll be just fine! Don't walk on those other paths, though! Those aren't real."
There is a Way, a Way of Life, and that Way belongs to God. It's not for any human to define, to limit, or to reject. Religion is not the best representative of this Way: rules and laws are not Alive, are not representative of Life, with its twists and turns, flourishing and vibrancy, but are rather, through dogma, doctrine, and tradition, inhibitors or the Spirit. A community ruled by fear of error, by terror of a Divine Axe, cannot love God, love God's Son, God's Spirit, or God's Way, or, perhaps most importantly one another or oneself.
If you can't love yourself, how can you say that you love God? God wants children, that's why the name Father is used in the NT, and just as easily characteristics of Mother are given as well in both the OT and NT. God does not want frightened mice shivering under a fiery brow's gaze! Powerful, Living, Loving, and Fearless are the Defenders and Warriors of God, those who will stand up to all evil, everywhere, even evil given the name of Jesus. I hope to be one someday, but now I just write stuff.
That's my take on the matter, on the authority of scripture. All the best --Kevin.
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