Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Constitutional Monarchy that is the Church

I have been thinking about something I heard in a conversation Sunday. It went like this...

If I am a part the Kingdom of God, then I am part of a monarchy, not a democracy. What the King says goes.

I have been pondering the implications of this for a little less than 48 hours. Of course, a monarchy is a bit of a foreign word for most of us in the States... or really, most of us that are even in constitutional monarchies... those are what I would call a 'soft monarchy' where the monarch is not really the authority, but rather a figurehead.

I think that Jesus probably used the notion of Kingdom (as opposed to the Platonian Republic or the Roman Empire). You see, even in the Jewish context, the other governments would have made sense in the metaphor, but the ultimate authority came from the King, hence a monarchy.

I think what began as a Monarchy of God (does this sound archaic or what?!?) has turned into the Constitutional Democracy... or a Constitutional Monarchy at least.

You see, in this kind of government, a constitution or a document rules a people. There is no person that can rise above the text that is the constitution.

In a Monarchy, the King is the rule... which, of course, can be very dangerous if the King is not looking out for the good of the people. But in the economy and government (metaphors, mind you) that Jesus was speaking of, there was no text that the King could not rise above.

I think of this in the way so many folks 'worship' the Bible, almost as if God is bound to the stories in those pages and cannot exist elsewhere... nor can s/he have any different aspects of character that are not covered in the Book. So, it's as if the King is bound to a constitution.

Do you ever wonder how our world/culture/whatever shapes what we think and how we think things should be? Like the fact that I am questioning power structures probably is because I am at least somewhat informed by other question-askers and that sort of skepticism is valued in the circles in which I run. But also, living in a Constitutional Democracy (or is it a Monarchy? I forget.), some people might not realize what they are adopting in other social structures, like the church. The metaphor of God as President is very different from God as King. Do you see?



Brian Aaby said...

(After reading my post before publishing it, I must say that this is less of a response to your post and more of a response to several posts...thanks)
While I believe God to be much bigger than the Bible itself, and understand what you say with people "worshipping" the Bible rather than right worship of the complete God, I must state my concern with the view you seem to be stating. I believe the Bible to be God's Word (and the Word itself makes this claim). The Bible is certainly not all of His words, but all that He desired to give us as human beings (on this side of eternity). I do not believe we as falible man can have a complete inerrant way of understanding it (but are to strive to understand it), but still believe that it IS the inerrant Word of God.
It seems as if you may be saying that God's instruction, way of life, plan for us, etc. is found in other sources than Scripture. I read in 2 Timothy 4:1-5 that Christians are to preach the Word (verse 2). Earlier Paul states that Timothy is to pass on the things that Paul has taught him and entrust to "reliable men" who will also pass it on (2 Tim. 2:2). The biggest warning that I see though is specifically in 2 Tim. 4:3 which states, "for the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths."
My feeling is that is what is happening in the pomo movement, and to be honest in what you are writing. What started, as what I think, a great thing (the desire to be a new kind of "Christian"), has, in many ways, become a desire to be "a new kind of human." Where Jesus' human status is the standard of what is to be strived for (living out the Kindom of Heaven on earth rather than in eternity). Everything you state in terms of our "human acts" is not contrary to how Jesus acted, however, I am continually sensing you straying from what Jesus said (I am the way the truth and the life, etc). Does that make sense?
What is happening today is much like what happened in Corinth. Paul confronts the Corinthians because the Jews wanted to add Law to Christ, the Greeks wanted to add their philosophy to Jesus. I think that same thing is happening with the Modern and Pomo church. Legalist (and/or Conservatives) want to keep tradition (law, often not even "Biblical") and Postmoderns want to add ethical, moral humanism. Paul warns of this in 1 Cor. 3 and says that our foundation must be Jesus Christ. What I like about that is our building can be built a little differently, but our foundation must be Christ. The Wisdom of this age is different than the widsom of the Spirit (1 Cor. 2).
Again, I am intrigued by this dialogue and am thankful that you welcome it. I desire to be balanced, but with a balance there needs to be a center... I believe that "Center" to be God's written Word revealed. If it isn't, then what is? And if there isn't one than aren't we all just doing what is right in our own eyes?
Would love to hear your response...if you took the time to read this pickin' novel I just wrote).

Ryan Lee Sharp said...

Hi man. Again, appreciate your thoughts. Always a different angle, and that is good for me (and probably any readers here) to read as well.

I think the mistake is often made with equating Scripture with the Word of God. This to me seems a bit hasty and quite a leap. I do believe in God's Word, and I think I believe that it is still 'speaking into existance' things today, but equating it with the 4th century cannon of Hebrew Scripture, gospels, and letters is a bit of a jump for me.

In regards to a new way of being human, yes, this is precisely it. It is not just about a new way of being Christian in the world. Being that Jesus was the Ultimate Human Being, it is a re-exploration of humanity.

I do not seek to make people into Christians, I desire to help people follow Jesus in their lives... and that can be in a great many contexts including Christianity.

Brian, if you have the time, you oughta listen to the NT Wright and Bruggemann links that I posted up. They are very insightful.

Hope you can continue to pray for those of us who are asking these tough questions that God will direct us toward truth and beauty and life in Jesus.

Anonymous said...

Well said Brian,
You were able to put to words many of the thoughts that i have had while reading ryans posts...

i was wondering if you've read Carsons book on emergent... I'd like to hear your response....

Ryan Lee Sharp said...

No, I haven't read Carson's book, and honestly I probably won't. I have heard to much criticism from those I respect, saying that he refused dialogue with other emergent voices and would not take any sort of critique or correction. A great many things that he attacks in the 'emerging church' would probably be, to me at least, not the point.

I am not saying that he might not have some good points, but this blog is not a place for me to defend my ideas to people who disagree with me. It is simply a place for me to think out loud.

I appreciate your encouragement to Brian (he is a good guy), but I am quite confused on why you guys even read my blog. It seems pretty clear that you disagree with me on what you would call fundamental issues, so why torture yourself? Just curious.

Brian Aaby said...

I certainly am not torturing myself in reading your blogs... not in the least... I am more interested in why you think what you think, I desire to stay engaged in/with the pomo thought...If you would like for me to stop posting I will do so, but I really am enjoying some online dialogue, it is a good break from dealing with the very much mainline, conservative thought we are "supposed" to have in our conservative churches today...So, something you said in your last response to mine, that you see Jesus as the ultimate human. I am wondering where/how you come to that conclusion? I do believe that through reading the Bible you can come to that conclusion, but do other texts (specifically other "words of God" that you are reading/experiencing) lead you to believe that?
I will listen to the conversations. In fact, NT was just up here yesterday (or maybe today?) unfortunately my schedule has been too full to make it to the seminar.
Last, if Jesus is to be followed, or we are to try to be like Him in our humanness, what do we do with the great commission where He instructs us to "make disciples?" In your view of this, is it that Jesus was instructing people to get others to walk like he walked or usher people into the kingdom? In my view it is both...
Again, thanks for your thoughts.
And if you are frustrated by my dialogue just let me know and I'll stop.
Grace to you and Holly,

Anonymous said...

you and i are asking a lot of the same questions, ryan, only we're coming up with different answers....

i dig your blog, i'll continue to read it...
its not torture... its challenge, it makes me think... i would actually expect you to embrace the fact that those of us who see things differently are trying to enter into the conversation....

i hope you're not confusing my disagreement for disdain... perhaps the distinctions are blurry when we're communicating with a blog and not with words...

anyhow, i enjoy this... dont stop

Ryan Lee Sharp said...

Well, I really appreciate y'all's thoughts and words. Good to know we are on the same page regarding conversation versus debate. I really do value your thoughts... it provokes thought.

In regards to making disciples, I think it is so important and am trying to come to grips with what that looks like. Whereas it used to be a sort of 'agreeing with certain propositional truths', I think it's time to rediscover what Jesus might have meant in a 1st century Jewish context and how that translates to us.

For as much good as the Protestant Reformation brought, there is a great deal of baggage that is hanging around: a Pauline Christianity instead of a Christ-ian Christianity, a Euro-centric approach versus a near-east approach, a sort of 'hermeneutically-sealed' Scripture versus an evolving Grand Story. These are some of the things that I am (in community, locally and nationally and internationally) trying to rediscover and re-imagine.

As far as 'other words of God' I did not mean other sacred texts per se... although I do wonder about their importance to us... I mean the Logos which is the creating, sustaining 'speaking into existance' of God. More on that perhaps another time. NT Wright definitely has informed many of my thoughts on that.

Okay, well I am off to my world religions class. The prof is cramming Islam into one day... that's a real bummer. Talk about some brothers and sisters that we need to learn more about. Have a good one boys.

Anonymous said...

where do you go to school?

Ryan Lee Sharp said...

I'm just at a jc...

BTW, here is a response of sorts to the carson book.

bthayer said...

I guess my question, not a concern at all because I fully get what you are talking about. But I am wondering If you are asking th equestion of whether or not we worship and serve God or worship and serve our Bible? Or am I way off?
I would like to worship and give authority to the God behind the Scripture simply because I don't want that kind of stress.

Mike DeVries said...

Ryan! Thanks for your thoughts, bro. I always appreciate you and your thinking. I think you're dead on. I wanna go back to something you said in your blog that I think some people are missing - our view of the Scriptures.

I was at a "evangelically conservative" church for a bit and I was appalled at how the Bible was talked about. I think bibliolatry, or "biblicism" [which is the technical theological word for a literalist reading that borders on "worship" of the text] is very dangerous. I hear so many people talk about something being "biblical"... I wonder, what do we mean by that? I've come to a realization that often we use that word to add authority to something. As I was listening to people use the word, what they were talking about was not the text itself, but their hermenutical take on the text. In effect what is "inerrant" is not the text itself, but the interpretation that we have adopted towards a particular text.

You also bring up a great point, as well. We need to remember that the text was written and conceived in a particular socio-religious culture. To devoid it of it's context is to rob the text of the richness of the message. Often I hear people say, "We need to look at the text in context." I agree. Only what is often menat by that is to see it in the context of the other words on the page, or bound in the book - rather than in the historical, social, and religious climate of the day. The risk we run of not "doing our homework" on the text and the day of Jesus is that we begin to rip the words of the text out of their context that they were given.

I think this plays heavily into the discussion about what "the word" is. When Paul charges Timothy to preach the "word", what is he really talking about? At that point, the NT is not fully comprised, especially not the gospels. The "word" is bigger than merely the text. Jesus was noted as being the word. The "word" is the creative force that brings forth creation and life. The "word" existed before the world was created. The "word" existed before any text was ever written. The "word" is the message of Jesus and the message about Jesus. I think that it;'s for that reason that I do not like speaking of the Bible as the "word". I think that it may in actuality hinder people's perception of the fullness of "the words of God".

So let's be careful not to worship the means as an end. Let's not place the Bible above God. The Bible has authority because of God - because he breathed them into existence. It has no authority on it's own. If it did, it would be a book of magical incantations. The Bible is not life, God is life. He uses the Scriptures to communicate to us. We should never worship the messenger - we should only worship the author of the message.

That's my 2 cents.

Ryan Lee Sharp said...

Great thoughts Mike. Wow.

Brad, to answer your question: yes. I am not saying that we ought not worship the God behind the Bible, and yes, as I posted previously, I believe that the Bible was inspired by God.

I am not talking about a God that is 'other than YHWH, uniquely displayed in the person of Christ'. I am just talking about a view of God that is larger than just that.

I think part of the residue from the whole Enlightenment Project is that we think we can reduce any large mystery into a knowable formula or process or list of attributes. I disagree with this. I believe God is both in the Scriptures of our tradition and outside of them as well... and how that fleshes out in other sacred texts, I am not sure.

Good thoughts folks.

Brian Aaby said...

Mike (and Ryan),
Intrigued by much of what you said, in fact, agree with a lot of it. Have seen "worship of the Bible" in most conservative churches.
My study of the Bible leads me to the full context of the Word, not just the hermeneutic in which I read it now, but I do my best to study the original language, the historical setting, etc. Some of my interpretations end of being different than what I have been told in my years of being a Christian. I believe most of the Bible read in western culture will take on a western interpetation (having been to India, I saw India's Christians taking the text quite differently than westerners do).
Still, here is my question... if it is not the Bible, what is it? If I do not have a lense in which to measure things it ALL comes down to interpretation of our own moral code. We can point to "walk as Jesus walked," and I agree, in fact the Bible itself says to do this (1 John 2:6). However, if we do not take the Bible as HIS Word, we will all "walk as Jesus walked" just based on our own interpretation. So much of this still comes down to "Faith." You are right that Pauls instruction to Timothy to "preach the word" was before The Bible was complete. Timothy was to preach the message of Jesus. However, Paul had previously said, "that which I have taught you, pass on to reliable men who will also be able to teach others..." It is a "faith" issue, I faithfully believe that God big enough to raise His Son from the dead is big enough to put the Scripture together through men. This same Big God is big enough to use us to bring others into a relationship with Him.
My suggestion (or at least my aim) is to re-examine the text. To not westernize it and to embrace those of other beliefs the same way that Jesus embraced. However, Jesus still looked to lead those very people into His Kingdom (not on earth... Keep in mind the Thief on the cross who was hours if not minutes away from his life on earth ending--why would Jesus say "today you will be with me in paradise" if it were still on earth?).
I believe in living out Jesus on this side of eternity. I desire to live in harmony with others and I believe in the eternal and desire for men/women not to perish. This is why I desire to "make disciples" not because "I am right" but because He desires His children to know HIm (for eternity).
Thanks for the great discussion guys!

Mike DeVries said...

Brian, absolutely agree. I don't think I hear Ryan or anyone else saying "it's not the Bible." I think what we're wrestling with is exactly what you're talking about - not reading the text through a western, Greco-Roman, imperilaistic, consumeristic, individualistic lens. The text was written with a Hebraic and eastern mindset, which is a radical depoarture from the western mindset. All that being said, it was Leslie Newbigin that said that we cannot proclaim the gospel or understand it apart from culture, so getting away from the western lens is tougher than we all think.

Anyway, I hear ya on the Kingdom thing, but I think we cannot relegate the Kingdom to the future alone, or top heaven alone. That would be to misinterpret the tenor of the day of Jesus. When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom it was a present reality that had it's final consummation in the future. It was a reality that the disciples could enter into in the present. I think that's hard for us to understand because we carry a vision of a "kingdom" as a location. The Hebraic understanding of "kingdom" was about rulership, not location. Where God ruled, there was his Kingdom. That's how Jesus could say in Matthew 4.19 that the Kingdom was "here" [not "at hand" like just around the bend, but literally "to be where someone or something is at".]. This also leads to the sense that the Kingdom was "breaking into" this world - another way that Jesus spoke of the Kingdom.

So it's weird. The Kingdom is, but is not consummated yet. It's consummation will not come about by the efforts of humanity, yet the efforts of humanity have a profound impact on the spread and the realization of the Kingdom in this world.

chris said...

I like that you emphasized BOTH the present and future realities of the kingdom... it seem that many have shifted too far to one side over the other... the kingdom issue seems to be big point of contention nowadays, but i have a hard time seeing why... prolly bad communication....

while i might not be able to throw out traditional views regarding atonement and propitiation of sin, i can still embrace the notion that the kingdom is here and now, that it is a vital part of the gospel message... i have a hard time figuring out why it has to be one and not the other...

while some are guilty of downplaying the role of Christ's death in salvation, others are too quick to reduce the gospel to an eternal insurance policy.... this isnt really a new problem i guess....

just something ive been pondering.. i'm wondering if there's more middle ground than both sides are willing to acknowledge...

Brian Aaby said...

This discussion leads me to a direct question to Ryan, because I am unclear on what you believe right now... though simplistic, this is a real question... "what happens to a person when s/he dies?"

Ryan Lee Sharp said...

Not sure what you are getting at Brian. I don't have a water tight theology on the afterlife. The gospels are kind of messy, and history adds to that with Darby's dispensationalism and the fanatical followers of that.

Jesus said to the thief, "Today you will be with me in paradise" and to his disciples something about many rooms.

One thing I can say with some clarity is that heaven is coming to earth in the ultimate fulfillment of Jesus' prayer, "On earth as it is in heaven."

Who's in and who's out? No sé.

If you mean my eschatological views on what God is doing with this world... then I'd say, the Kingdom of God is slowing breaking from God's future into the now. This will eventually culminate in the reign of God in the cosmos as it is in heaven. Of course, alot of that is just rehashed Wright.

Seriously, listen to those talks. They might be a wonderful guide.