Sunday, February 08, 2004

Stuck in Between

“If I had a history book and the Bible,” he was explaining, “I might as well throw the history book away because the truth is in the Bible.”

There were about twelve of us in the basement of a townhouse in Burlington. We had been invited to a party which was, in reality, a Bible seminar. I was born and raised in the Christian Reformed tradition but had switched over, with my family, to a Charismatic church. It was precisely at this moment that I was deeply regretting the denominational change. They may not like drums, but at least the Calvinists were able to differentiate correctly between their parties and their Bible studies. I was struggling at this time with my belief in the infallibility of Scriptures and, for some unknown reason, had believed that the eighteen-year-old leading this Bible study could help restore my faith in them. After showing, from the very Bible I was doubting, that the Bible was indeed reliable, he proceeded to explain to me that the history books I loved so much were of little worth since the Bible imparted all the wisdom I needed.

He did not deny the value in history, but he greatly depreciated it. I’ve found this trend distressingly common in Charismatic churches. Pastors often preach that we must go directly to the source, the Bible, and forget about the creeds and doctrines from the past. The truth is written there as plain as day, they explain, we don’t need the confusion of the doctrines of man. With one fell swoop, the struggles of countless Godly men and women throughout the centuries are dismissed. The reasoning seems to be that Christians can simply dismiss the rich tradition of the church and carry out the exegesis of Scriptures with their own wisdom.

This reasoning is fundamentally flawed. Just as a scientist will not dismiss all of Newton’s theories and begin where he started, a Christian should not dismiss all of the creeds of the church nor all of the writings of the church fathers. Charismatic pastors hit upon an important truth when they point out that the Scriptures are infallible while teachings, doctrines and creeds are fallible; but in dismissing the wisdom of the church fathers outright they are not only throwing away valuable wisdom but are also ignoring the very roots of their own traditions. In addition, while Scriptures might be infallible the interpretation of them certainly isn't.

This became abundantly clear when I attempted to point out that a certain teaching being expressed at the “party” was influenced by the writings of Augustine. I should have kept my arrogant mouth shut, but being quite young and rather obtuse I continued my explanation. Before the night was out I had been dismissed as a heretic and relegated to hell. The fellow leading the lesson simply could not believe that his interpretation of a passage was influenced by a great philosopher who had been dead for centuries.

Here is my quandary, I will often find myself bristling and muttering to myself at some of the teachings being frantically proclaimed from the Charismatic pulpit. I also find the absolutely blind right-wing simple-mindedness being preached alarming. There is a grassroots movement among many belonging to the Charismatic church to promote the state of Israel, not because they particularly love Jews, but because they want the temple restored so Jesus can return. The flags of the United States, Canada, and Israel can be found at the front of many Charismatic churches, and the sanctity of this Trinity is unquestioned. Which is odd, because the same pastors who are proclaiming George W. Bush to be a modern-day prophet and saint also loudly bewail the perceived rampant immorality being consume and promoted by Americans. There's a sort of duality where the America represented by the Declaration of Independence, the flag, the American political institutions, and Republicans are sacrosanct while the America represented by Hollywood, MTV, secular music, liberals, and Muslims are a source of wickedness of Babylonic (yes this is now a word because I made it one) proportions.

At the same time, I find the worship, fellowship, and openness to the Holy Spirit absolutely invigerating. The worship at Charismatic churches can be filled with nauseatingly repetitive songs but often the songs are powerful in their praise and worship. While theologically weak, Charismatic churches are not spiritually weak. I know many people treat the Charismatic focus on the work of the Holy Spirit with dismissal and contempt but I have felt the power of the Holy Spirit and I know that however much I despise the weak preaching I love the acknowledgement of the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, at a Christian Reformed Church I often feel as if I could drop off to sleep during some of the droningly uninspiring singing. This is not to say that CRC churches can't sing, I've heard them sing well and inspirationally many times. I have felt the Holy Spirit while worshipping at CRC churches as well but what I'm trying to say is that there is a certain tendency in CRC churches to drone through hymns without much enthusiasm or commitment. While I find the Charismatic dismissal of tradition vapidly stupid I sometimes find the CRC focus on tradition doltishly dense. I am tired of being dismissed from a theological discussion because I don't know the Canons of Dordt.

More importantly, however, I have fallen in love with the CRC's Redemptive vision. I love it. This vision is so inspiring that I want to attack every corner of Creation with redemption, I want to work towards restoring true shalom to the earth, and I want to engage in every vocation at once.

Perhaps I can create some sort of hybrid.

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