Thursday, May 17, 2012

Simply Listful

Growing up in the church, one of the best ways for me to memorize stuff was to put it to music. There are songs I learned (many from my mother) that help me remember the 12 apostles, the 66 books of the Bible, the 15 judges of Israel and many more (call toll free to order now). Song is also a good way to memorize scripture. One of my favorite verses is 2 Corinthians 5:21 which I fell in love with through the Acappella song "His Righteousness". To this day I can rattle off the 15 judges while singing to the tune of "Reuben and Reuben" in my head. Thanks, Mom!

In many of my recent journeys, I have been continually amazed at how easy it is to take a scripture and strip it of its meaning and regurgitate it to mean something totally different. I think this is called context. Every verse, every chapter, every story is part of  the larger narrative of God's workings in his creation culminating in the gift of His Son. When we move scripture out of the context of Jesus and His life we run the risk misunderstanding and misusing God's Word. Patrick Mead has done a recent series on this subject which is interesting reading and has certainly expanded my horizons. Look at his Tentpegs #356 and #357 starting here and here. For a bit lighter reading you can just stay right here with my ramblings.

Thinking about how easy it is to strip the context from scripture, I started wondering if many of the mnemonics we come up with to help us learn actually hold us back once we need to dig deeper. See 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 and Hebrews 6:1-3 for other writers frustrations at their audiences inability to move past simple matters on to maturity.

I am in no way saying that we shouldn't use these devices to teach our children and new Christians. But when these lists and mnemonics carry over into our advanced teachings and we use them as doctrine we are not able to mature as Christians.

Take for instance the 12 apostles. Lovely little song to the tune of "Jesus Loves Me." How many were there really? What about Matthias? What about Paul? What about Andronicus and Junias who are of note among the apostles (1 Corinthians 16:7 YLT). Were they not apostles? Why don't we have a song with 16 apostles? Granted the song specifically says that Jesus specifically called these 12, but then later he called Paul. See how we leave out part of the story. This is a pretty harmless example. As would be anything about the 66 books of the Bible. The Jewish Bible organizes and counts what we call the Old Testament books in a completely different way. No harm done. But there's a story there that we need to dig deeper to find.

I don't know of a song for the 10 commandments, but we know there are 10 of them and what they are. We  memorize these in Bible class growing up. They are the foundation of the Hebrew law. We have them on display in our courtrooms. When asked what was the 1 greatest commandment, Jesus gave us 2 as most important. All the rest just supplement these 2 and expound upon how to live them out.

The 5 steps of salvation: Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, Be Baptized. Sometimes a 6th is added, walk faithfully. Sometimes people want to stop after 4. So much is involved in each "step" that this over simplified listing becomes more of a source for arguments than an aid in leading anyone to Christ.

The 4 types of prayer (ACTS): Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. This is both a list and an acronym. Who knows what supplication is anymore? We don't use that word. I do confess that I always have to look up what the letters in the acronym stand for. The only one I can remember is thanksgiving. Which might be why most of my prayers center on this aspect more than the others. So we boil down our prayers to 4 distinct parts thus stripping out any emotion or the need for the Spirit to groan for us.

The 5 acts of worship: Singing, Prayer, Teaching, Giving, Lord's Supper. Our concept of "worship" is a bit skewed from a lot of angles. First we note the beginning and ending of a "worship service" with specific markings and anything outside that time is not "worship", meaning we have a lot more leeway in what we can do. After the closing prayer we can have a special chorus or drama presentation or sing "Happy Birthday". But during that allotted time, we can only do the 5 things listed above. Except for announcements, those are fine. Does scripture reading fall under teaching or would that be a 6th act? Does it matter what is "in" the "worship service" and what is "out". When the church gathers together as the ekklesia what are we to do? We read about the early church gathering for the acts mentioned. They gathered for fellowship and encouragement. They gathered for meals. They gathered in homes, in the synagogues, in the temple, in caves. They gathered in secret. Nowhere do we read about any distinction between "in" and "out" regarding what to do. Certainly not a listing of what is acceptable and what is not. We have admonitions to wait for everyone before eating especially the Lord's Supper. We are to sing to each other. We are to pray with lifted hands. So much is left out of the list. If we use it as a checklist "Yep, we did those 5 things therefore we worshiped" or as an exclusionary rule set "Nope, you can't do that in worship" then we are missing the point of Romans 12:1-2 which seems to indicate that our whole lives are to be offered in sacrifice as worship to God. 

And now to my best friend CENI. The acronym that keeps on giving (and taking away). I ranted at length about this in a previous entry. This is not an acronym that I learned growing up, but the concept of the 3 ways we find authority in scripture (Command, Example, Necessary Inference) has so many holes in it that it fits right in with this discussion. CENI can be a helpful tool for interpreting scripture. But it cannot be our only tool. And it cannot be applied to each and every scripture equally. The context of God's story is too big to fit in 4 little letters. All commands are not for all people at all time. An example of someone doing something one time does not make a pattern and certainly not a binding command. All things that you necessarily infer are not necessary to infer.

I'm sure there are many other lists and acronyms that I could go on about, but these are the ones that came to mind. I don't want to leave the impression that these are harmful in any way, certainly not for teaching young people. They are great tools, but they can only take us so far. Let us get past the elementary teachings, past the milk, and journey together towards maturity and have some nice hearty steak along the way (unless you're the weaker brother and only eat veggies in which case I'll share a nice salad with you).
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