Tuesday, March 17, 2009

March 17- Limits of Scripture

(Geneva Bible front page)

3//17- Calvin on the Limits of Scripture

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. “ John 16:12,13

Calvin: Moses wrote in a popular style things which, without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend. Nevertheless, this study is not to be reprobated, nor this science to be condemned…For astronomy is not only pleasant but also very useful to be known..Nor did Moses truly wish to withdraw us form this pursuit…Had he spoken of things generally unknown, the uneducated might have pleaded in excuse that such subjects were beyond their capacity. (Gen. 1:16)

Scripture is not our God. We do not worship the Bible. Though it should be treated with respect, it is not to be treated like a good luck charm. I had a friend of mine who would not put the Bible in a drawer lest it be in the dark. He would not put another book on top of it, because he believed there was no other book as important as the Bible. I remember Dr. Leith telling me that you could always tell the difference between a person of Reformed faith and an Episcopalian or Roman Catholic for how they treated the elements after communion. The Episcopalian or Catholic would eat or drink it until it was all gone. The Presbyterian would put the bread in the trash (or out for the birds), and pour the drink down the sink. For Zwinglian reformers the elements were just reminders of what Christ had done. For Calvinists the elements were made real and sacramental by the Holy Spirit in worship- after worship they were just material things. The Reformed have similar attitudes toward the water used in baptism and the Bible. The element itself is not the important thing. The Holy Spirit is what makes the element holy and useful. It is the same with church buildings, church furniture, ministers, anything. I believe, however, when the Holy Spirit has used something so much, and has been in a place so much, there is a certain residual presence. There have been times when I have walked into a place and felt God’s presence there and I assume it is because of the Holy Spirit’s being there, and the prayers prayed and worship held. I don’t know if Calvin would agree with me, but that is my experience. I have on occasion picked up a Bible used by a great saint (usually a lay person) and had an experience of God’s Holy Spirit too. But this is not quantifiable. Certainly in scripture the ark of the covenant was holy and powerful. When I made the trip to Israel, I was surprised that the most moving place for me was the temple wall- the wailing wall. The Bible is a means of grace- similar to a sacrament. Popular theologian, Marcus Borg, speaks of the Bible as similar to a sacrament, but then he doesn't treat it seriously. We must take the words of scripture to heart, and not just write them off. Without the right preaching of the scriptures, the church does not exist (which, in my opinion, is why many churches are dying).
There is another sense in which scripture is limited for Calvin. It is limited by us. Not just the writers (many scholars today point out the human limits of the writers). Calvin spoke of the limits of the readers (us). God is limited in what He can tell us by our own lack of understanding and sinfulness. God accommodated himself to our own understanding and lifestyle in Jesus. Jesus limited himself to what he told his disciples because they weren’t “able to bear” the teachings. I have often thought if God told the smartest astronomer all about the stars, the astronomer wouldn’t be able to take it in. God cannot tell us his complete plan for us or we would be overwhelmed too. God is gracious, and goes easy on us. He does not seek to overwhelm us with his majesty or his knowledge. Rather God comes down to our level, and gives us just enough.

Prayer: Thank you Lord, for scripture that communicates what we need to hear and how we need to hear it. Help us to listen and apply it to our lives.

No comments:

Post a Comment