Monday, September 26, 2005

The Canon II

Well the time has come to wrestle with this subject again. To give you some idea of where I'm coming from I must repeat some statements already made in earlier posts:

Dad was a Methodist preacher, and retrospect indicates that he was a rather liberal one, especially for the early 20th Cent. His father was a charter member of the Unitarian Church in N.O. (about the turn of the century). His grandfather, and others up the line for several generations were Methodists (one ancestor presumably ordained by Francis Asbury). All of which is to say that I came from a long line of Methodists, leaning heavily on the liberal side.

Dad preached a sermon when I was 9 that still reverberates in my memory: he preached on the Bible; he told us the Bible is a library of books; he went on to speak like this (crudely paraphrased):

"If you find something else that speaks to your spirit, perhaps more than parts of the Bible, that's okay, add it to your Bible....."

Well... with that simple assertion for me he cut off any notion that everything in the Bible was object of more reverence than anything out of the Bible. So the canon became fluid, individually discerned, not like it is for so many people, written in stone.

Well I am a chip off the old block. Actually I never thought too much about it until fairly recently. At 9 I read through the Bible, cover to cover. (A maternal grandmother was said to have read through the Bible every year of her life after ten, but they were Presbyterians!)

Dad preached out of the Bible; I preached out of the Bible the 8 years I was in the parish ministry, and thought nothing of it.

More recently I began to study the history of the Church: so many heretics, so much blood shed, so much chicanery-- which led to the Church practically being banned in France with the Revolution. I discovered Voltaire's famous saying: "the first priest was the first knave who met the first fool". It struck a responsive chord; I had met a few robed knaves (in fact they're easy to spot by anyone with a critical faculty: the ones who get rich at the expense of their faithful flock.)

Then I met George Fox, who went around ranting about steeple houses and hireling priests. I remembered how Paul said he 'took no money'; he made his living as a 'tentmaker'. When Harvey Cox came along with his 'The Secular City', many of us became 'tentmaking ministers'. And of course, liberated from the ecclesiastical pressures of orthodoxy, we had unorthodox visions, harking back to the heretics of old.

To return to the canon: it's a reading guide for orthodox Christians, with a strong, often unspoken implication that this is the reading we revere, and this only. But I'm not an orthodox Christian, very unorthodox: a Methodist, Quaker, Universalist. I hope I will be privileged to engage in civil discourse with those of a stricter persuasion.

One other point: my theology includes a concept called The Everlasting Gospel, according to which the O.T. was the work of the 'Father'; the N.T. was the work of the 'Son', and thereafter has been the work of the 'Holy Spirit'.

Blessings to all.


Twyla said...

Was your link "heretics" referring to something specific on your hypertext page?

I read something by Blumhardt recently that resonated:

Nothing is more dangerous to the advancement of God's kingdom than religion. But this is what Christianity has become. Do you not know that it is possible to kill Christ with such Christianity? After all, what is more important - Christianity or Christ? And I'll say even more: we can kill Christ with the Bible! Which is greater: the Bible or Christ? Yes, we can even kill Christ with our prayers. When we approach God with our prayers full of self-love and self-satisfaction, when the aim of our prayers is to make our world great, our prayers are in vain.

Although I think the Bible has much to offer, it was written by men. Men err. The water gets muddy. So I look, listen and lean on the Spirit. Same with other sacred texts. Many have wonderful sparks of divinity within them, so I look, listen and lean on the Spirit.

Larry said...

Re the link: I messed up on it, Twyla. Think I've corrected it now; try it again. If not you can check supplements in the original contents, then check History of the Church, and page down in that contents to heretics.

Blumhardt is so right. Christians have been killing one another with great gusto for 2000 years. We kill Christ in dozens of ways. We kill Christ whenever we tell people that they must read only certain books, which was what really happened when Constantine's bishops established the canon; he was determined that everyone must believe the same thing: good politics for the Empire, but not for Christ.

I know this opinion is considered very radical by a lot of people in the same way that many people consider criticism of the President to be radical-- or even unpatriotic.

Larry said...