R. Justin Shepherd | PART-TIME PUNDIT


doctrine: a self-imposed standard
29.May.2007, 9.20 am
Filed under: faith

NOTE: The serious discussion of faith can weary me. Indeed, that is not at all what this page is meant to encompass, though it will be touched on from time to time. I have a lot more whirling ’round in my head than tomes on doctrine and denomination, and I mean to address it. However, as this is raising such discussion, I’ll extend it for one more post. Coming soon: Something funny!

Refined, if undefined.My conversion story—or, if I was Baptist, my “testimony”—is unlike any other that I’ve heard. Briefly put, it starts in high school, when I questioned belief in an old book and an unseen god. A Muslim woman spoke to my “gifted” class when I was in 10th grade, and asked for a show of hands of all the “Christians.” Mine was the only unraised.

Looking back, I remember that day as a turning point. I was at once disturbed and proud that I was the only non-Christian in my class. Had you asked every person at school, they all probably would have said they were “Christian,” in the same way that so many actors (to use a somewhat valid stereotype) would say they’re “Jewish.” It was a culture, not a faith. And that said a lot to me.

While in college, I continued thinking about all this. I was living the pagan life in moderation—getting drunk once in a while, smoking pot even more rarely, trying (though not very successfully) to woo women into my bedroom—but finding little satisfaction in it all. Meanwhile, two of my closest friends had started a band, one I thought would be awesome and that I really wanted to be a part of, except that it was “Christian” and, of course, I wasn’t. I helped out at their first two shows, and though musically it was far from perfect, something in these performances stirred me like nothing else ever has.

I went home, a sophomore, during some sort of break from school. And there in my mom’s book basket was an old copy of “The Screwtape Letters,” C.S. Lewis’ dialogue between a high-ranking devil and one lower on the totem (no offense intended to my many American Indian readers). I read it in one sitting—in the bathtub, I think… a few days later, I was in my own bathtub back at college, praying to God and asking for His Spirit to invade my heart.

•••

The old man and his booksLewis’ writings have held a huge place in my life ever since. No one I’ve read puts the gospel more succinctly, more smartly than he, and his conversion experience closely resembles mine: from committed nonbeliever to committed Christian, the axiom coming very unsuspectedly and the change dramatic. He and I both went from arguing strongly and convincingly against a god to arguing strongly and convincingly for THE God.

All that being said, occasionally I’ll read something he wrote and think, “Is that so?” His major works tend toward an intra-ecumenical Christianity, accessible and useful to any Christian regardless of denomination. But in his letters (two parts of a three-volume, extremely dense collection of every letter he ever wrote grace my shelves) there’s much more discussion of his particular church experiences, qualms with the priest, issues with the worship music, etc. And more than once I’ve read something that took me aback, that I found not only disagreeable, but in rare cases unbiblical. If further research bears out that it’s unblical, i simply try to toss it into the Recycle Bin (PC)/Trash (Mac) in R.’s well-tuned OSBrain.

In fact, the religious tradition of which I’m a part encourages this, to some extent. While taking notes during a pastor’s sermon, for instance, if something unbiblical is presented as biblical, it’s within reason to write it down, consult the scriptures, and raise the offending passage with the pastor. Ideally, then, he would either a.) prove the validity of his statement or b.) apologize for the error, and make whatever reparations are necessary, if any. He graduated from seminary and I didn’t; however, the Bible says what it says, and the layperson may theoretically be gifted with just as much discernment and understanding as the church official.

These, then, are my self-imposed standards on judging the words and deeds of the Church:

These are the rules!1.) The Word of God, revealed through the Scriptures, is the utmost authority on all things related to the faith. Admittedly, there are many issues on which Scripture is mute. However, all discussions, arguments, theories, etc. can be weighed against the Word, to determine whether some or all of it should be discarded out of hand.

2.) The Word of God, revealed through the Scriptures, are without error (in the original autographs). Obv. this is not held by all “Christians” these days… esp. those “theologians” whose working premise seems to be, “The meaning of a particular scripture is usually not found in the literal language of that scripture.” Yet it has been held by most of the church through most of history, hasn’t it? Circular logic, maybe, but that’s where faith comes in. Anyway, no other writing can be held as such. And this is why I think that Lewis—and even the earliest Christian writers, for that manner—must be taken with a grain of salt. Are they useful? Sure! Are they divinely inspired? In some sense and to some degree, yes… but so am I, at times. Are they inerrant? I highly doubt it. I would even go so far as to say that other letters of the Apostle Paul, if we were to find them, shouldn’t immediately be assumed to be divine and inerrant, because Paul (and all other humans, before and after) was fallible and could have written things that were, in fact, mistaken.

3.) Traditions, customs, etc.—even sacraments—are useful, so long as they are not turned into a new “circumcision” by which faith is measured. This applies equally to the Protestant teetotaler, the Baptist dipper and the Catholic candle-lighter. Paul is clear: Christ tore down the law, which draws men to evil. We are not to build new laws to replace the old.

•••

It’s worth noting that we’re explicitly told that men will be judged on their actions. And in that sense—though it pains that part of me which rebels against postmodern excesses—the individual must ultimately come to his own conclusion. We’ll not be let off scot-free for causing others to stumble simply by claiming, “Well, my church does it this way” or “I picked that up from a Yancey book” or “That’s the way 21st century America worked.” No man is an island, but he is invariably a sort of sovereign nation in the world of believers. He should be expected to come to the aid of impoverished nations, whether by finance or philosophy; he must tend to the security of his own soul’s homeland; he must write his own constitution, amending as it becomes necessary.

Mine’s called the Honorable Republic of Roy, Inc., and will soon be the first nation to be publicly traded on the NASDAQ. Reserve your shares today… an investment in Roy is an investment in the future.

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7 Comments so far
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Republic? You surprise me! 😉

Seriously though, this is good (since I was never a VOX user, I can say that without guilt). And I agree with most of what you have here. But I would submit the following for your consideration… The comparison of the sacraments of the historical church with the problem of “circumcision” found in the scriptures. Is this really an appropriate analogy? I agree that rituals should not (and are not to those who fully understand them) be performed in order to show your spirituality or to “do enough” to be a good Christian, or even to please God. Rather, these are natural by-products of our relationship with God and our emersion into God’s church.

I would not think that when Jesus gave instructions for baptism or communion it is comparable by any degree to the problem of forcing Gentiles to participate in the Jewish ritual of circumcision before they could become Christians. And did Christ tear down the law or fulfill it? This is a serious debate still between certain types of churches.

Two more points. 1.) That picture of the guy with the snakes is awesome. And by awesome, I mean it scares the hell out of me! We can all agree on that one I think! 2.) You want something funny? try this. I welcome your comments on that post, and would be willing to cut your family in if you wnt to invest in it with us. I am still waiting to here back from Cort! Or we can trade shares. One share in the Republic of Roy for one share of Golgotha Fun Park.

Sounds fair doesn’t it? Love you guys.

Comment by Brandon Andrew Miles

I certainly don’t mean to demean the sacraments. What I meant by including them is just that anything can be turned into a “law” by well-meaning but negligent people. On second thought, though… of the three sacraments (that Protestants generally practice, anyway), baptism and marriage aren’t really too susceptible to be turned into repetitive ritual. Communion, meanwhile, honestly I’ve always thought we’re handling this wrong. Maybe wrong is the wrong word. But I don’t think Christ meant to set up a monthly eating of a cracker and a shot of juice. I think what he meant was that believers, when gathered together to eat, should remember him in their eating.

Anyway, like I said, I just threw it in there as an extreme example of what we’re capable of turning into an idol. I don’t necessarily think that’s happened, though, at least not in the congregations I’ve been a part of.

Comment by rjustin

So what about those shares? Come on! It’s the nation’s #1 Shaded Biblical Mini-Golf!

Comment by Brandon Andrew Miles

By which they mean the nation’s only Shaded Biblical Mini-Golf.
Anyway, having been through the buying-a-business thing before, I think you’d be better of to build your own. Maybe a rock-themed one: Stellar Kin’s “Stellar Kids Love Mini-Golf!” and Ice Milk Makers Inc.

Comment by rjustin

Just a quick comment about communion–it does seem in Scripture that there may have been a whole meal served in between the bread and the cup. However, it also seems that there was something special about THE bread and THE cup, and recognizing it as Jesus’ body and blood given for us. Paul gives pretty explicit instructions to examine oneself before partaking. There’s even a warning of bringing judgment upon ourselves if we fail to do this. These instructions are not mentioned enough in Protestant churches in general (I can’t speak for Catholic, Orthodox etc.) and I do feel this is to our detriment. Sorry to take it back to a more serious level. It’s meant in the most friendly kind of way.

Comment by Shelley

I agree about the communion. Though Justin’s idea that Jesus would have us remember Him in all that we do – everytime we get together to partake in food, worship, basketball, or building a fence… I believe that is a true reflection of what communion is, but it does seem that there was something special about “My blood poured out for you,” and “My body broken for you,” at the last supper of Jesus from the gospel accounts. The historical church would have considered it a heresy to do away with this sacrament, and it is something the church has always done in some form or another. Though symbolic perhaps (but perhaps not), it reflects the very thing that Christ was and is. Sacrifice, and an open literal “communion” with God our Father. This is the gospel. Changing any part of it would be like denying the trinity or the dual nature of Christ. These ideas have been examined before, and found to be heretical by the earliest Apostles. Why then should we feel differently? I know that the Catholic and Orthodox churches take this way more seriously than most protestants. But that is not to say that none of us get it.

Further, if we ever had a Stellar Kin theme park, it wouldn’t be mini-golf. It would be one ride and one ride only. The Rock-and-Roller-Coaster. Hang on if you can! You probably can’t.

Also, the nation’s “only” Shaded Biblical Mini-Golf? The article itself says there are other bible-themed courses that have been reported in Lexington, KY; Myrtle Beach, SC; and Nashville, TN. This is clearly a growing trend! I just can’t pass it up!

Comment by Brandon Andrew Miles

This blog entry has me recollecting when I first realized you became a Christian and how surprised I was when I heard you were.

I remember when I was 16 and at the C-J workshop and you really wanted to do that profile on Frank Simon. You really struck to me as anti-Christian. It didn’t bother me, I assumed that was just what you believed.

Fast forward to January my freshman year at WKU. When I heard from someone that you were going to a retreat from Campus Crusade, I couldn’t believe it. How could this guy, who I thought was anti-Christian, become a follower of Jesus. This is especially intersting to note because at the time, I was not walking with Jesus at all. And yet here was someone, who was choosing the faith that, for the time being, I chose to reject.

I have been amazed at how God has worked in your life and mine both since then. I could have never predicted it would turn out this way. And praise God for that.

Comment by Mai




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