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Back to Basics: The Bible

September 8, 2019 Sermon
Back to Basics:
The Bible

First Scripture Reading:  Exodus 3:1-6
3 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4 When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Second Scripture Reading:

2 Timothy 3:16-17
16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

 2 Peter 1:20-21
20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Message – “Back to Basics: The Bible”

“Revelation.”

Just say the word, and all kinds of things pop up inside people’s minds.

  • Golden lampstands;
  • A man with hair as white as wool, as white as snow, and with eyes like a flame of fire and skin the color of bronze;
  • A heavenly throne surrounded by 24 more thrones;
  • Four strange creatures, each filled with eyes in the front: one like a lion, the second like an ox, the third with the face of a human, and the fourth like an eagle;
  • Scrolls, a lamb, seals, 144,000 of Israel, a multitude from every nation, even a war to end all wars;

Revelation.  Just say the word and all kinds of things pop up in people’s minds.

BUT…when I say the word this morning, I’m not speaking of ANY of those things from a book in the Bible called The Revelation…perhaps more accurately called the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John of Patmos.

No, when I say the word “revelation” this morning, what I’m talking about is communication from God to people…God REVEALING God’s desires for people and from people.  That’s the kind of revelation I’m talking about today.

Today, we begin something new.  Typically, on Kick-Off Sunday, I start consulting what’s called a “lectionary” to find the scripture readings that will guide our messages when we meet on Sunday mornings between September and May.  Most recently, I’ve been consulting the Narrative Lectionary, which is an effort to take us through the Bible from the first book to the last book during these nine months. But…not this year. This year, I will continue with the sermon series of the summer months…at least for a while.  I’m prayerfully seeking guidance from God for topics of critical importance to the Church in the 21st century, here in the USA.

And the very first of these series, the one that begins today, is entitled “Back to Basics”.  In these sermons, I’ll be exploring the most fundamental aspects of Christian faith. I won’t be telling you what to believe; rather, I’ll be pointing out the big topics – things like God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Church, God’s ultimate purposes, evil, and even something I’ll call “the end” – I’ll be pointing you in the direction of these big topics and talking about how and why these topics are important to life, not just faith life and what happens inside these walls but LIFE…out there, beyond the walls of the church building.

By the way, I firmly believe the sermons of this series will be great sermons for you to invite your friends to experience.  If you know someone who’s curious about faith but wonders why faith matters in a world of computers and cell phones and space exploration and virtual reality and incredibly rapid technological advancement…this is the sermon series for those folks.  AND…the topics of this sermon series will be the very same topics as my discussion Sunday School class that began this morning. So if you…or anyone you know…would be interested in discussing these topics in addition to or in place of experiencing a sermon series about these topics, our conference room is the place to be on Sunday mornings at 9:30am between now and the end of October.

OK…back to today’s topic: revelation.  If we’re going to be talking about some of the basics, the essentials, the fundamentals of faith for the next couple of months, we probably need to figure out where we can learn about these things.

And, I would imagine, if you walked into a room filled with 100 mainline protestant Christians and you asked them to tell you how God reveals stuff to us, most of them would provide the same answer: The Bible.  And yet, if you asked the same 100 mainline protestant Christians a slightly nuanced version of the question, like, “If you want know what God wants you to do 10 minutes from now?”, you’d probably get some very different answers.  Some might respond with the Bible, but others might say prayer, while still others might say something about the urgings of the Holy Spirit. Some others might say they wouldn’t even consider consulting God for such a question…but that’s a topic for another sermon series (in fact, the series we just completed.) 

What’s important about the different answers between these two questions is that we discover a couple of things about God’s revelation to us:  (1) God provides MORE than one source of revelation; and, (2) different sources of revelation are better equipped to handle certain types of inquiries than others.  I’ll spend the rest of our time together addressing these two things…with special attention to why and how revelation from God is meaningful to our lives.

Let’s start with TYPES of revelation.  You might even hear this by other names, like “sources of authority.”  While many Christians might assume when asked that there’s only one source of authority – the Bible – they know that’s not the case:

  • Otherwise there would be little to no point in praying…other than to talk TO or AT God;
  • Otherwise we would take every question of Christian faith and practice to the Bible…but we don’t;
  • Otherwise we would NEVER disregard the apparent revelation of the scriptures in ways so many Christians do;
  • Otherwise there would be little point to having a sermon, an interpretation, be part of every Sunday morning worship service…because all we’d need to do is read the scriptures to know God’s will;
  • Otherwise we would be absolutely helpless with regard to knowing God’s will about things the biblical authors never even thought to write about…like cell phones, televisions, computers, and pretty much anything invented AFTER the first century;

Even if your initial answer to the question of how we know what God wants is “the Bible”, I hope you now realize that we ALL consult more sources than just the scriptures…and that’s OK.  Just like God spoke directly to Moses, no scriptures required (because there were no scriptures…yet), God can and does speak directly to people today. Just like God’s Holy Spirit spoke through the prophets of old, God sends God’s Holy Spirit upon all followers of Jesus to know the urgings and desires of God’s will…even today.

It might interest you to know that there have been attempts to categorize the various sources of revelation.  One is called “the Quadrilateral.” The Quadrilateral places sources of revelation into four categories:

  • Scripture.  This one’s pretty obvious.  It’s the Bible. However, keep in mind that some Christians include more books in their Bibles than we do…and, there are a great many other books some people are inclined to suggest are God-breathed than just those that have been canonized…so, people cannot agree 100% regarding what constitutes scripture.
  • Experience.  Consider Moses’ encounter with God in our first scripture reading.  God revealed some things to Moses through that experience, and that experience shaped Moses’ understanding of God.  Throughout time, the experiences of God’s people – sometimes direct encounters with God and sometimes experiences that helped them better understand the scriptures – have provided great revelation to God’s people.  I consider spiritual practices, including praying, as well as encounters with God’s Holy Spirit, to be revelation in the category of experience.
  • Tradition.  From the moment God started interacting with people, those people began interpreting those interactions and passing those interpretations down to future generations.  Indeed, the teachings and customs of the history of the universal Church, and each individual branch, constitutes this kind of tradition. God has revealed much to God’s people through tradition.
  • Reason – The fourth and final source of revelation included in the Quadrilateral is reason.  God’s people use reason largely to help them interpret God’s revelation through other sources.  For example, if you ask yourself if your understanding of a teaching from one part of the Bible is consistent with a teaching from another part of the Bible, you are using reason to discover God’s true revelation;

Please do not consider this list exhaustive.  If you find that God reveals things to you in ways that cannot be placed in one of these categories, that doesn’t mean God is not or cannot communicate to you in that way.

(PAUSE)

Understanding that there is more than one source of authority, we should consider why.  The answer comprises the second thing I want to discuss about revelation: different sources of revelation are better equipped to handle certain types of inquiries than others.

Just out of curiosity, if you wanted to learn more biographical information about a famous person in history – take Abraham Lincoln as an example – would you consult the Better Homes and Garden Cookbook to find that information?  Or if you wanted to learn how to program a video game, would you consult an astronomy textbook? Or if you wanted to learn how to cook eggs benedict, would you consult the biography of St. Augustine?

We all GET that doing these kinds of things would be absurd, right?  And yet, thats’ what we all too often do with sources of revelation from God, ESPECIALLY the Bible.  We ask of them questions they never even attempt to answer…and then we get disappointed when they provide answers that don’t appear to make any sense.

If you ask a math book how to cook an omelette, and the answer you find is “4”…you’re not surprised or even disappointed, right?  But when you ask your Bible to answer questions about things that didn’t exist 2,000 years ago – like contemporary worship vs. traditional worship – someone is likely to get bent out of shape.

So…it’s a good idea to get a grasp regarding which kinds of revelation are offered by each source of revelation, and, indeed, by the component parts of each source of revelation.  I say “component parts” because the protestant Bible is comprised of 66 books and even more different types and sub-types of literature. Each book and each type of literature is equipped to provide different kinds of revelation.

Let’s bring all of this together into a practical sort of application by considering the single most important source of revelation for most protestant Christians:  the Bible.

In the letter known as 2 Timothy, Paul writes:

“16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”

So…what does this mean and what doesn’t this mean?  We pay quite a bit of attention to what Paul SAYS to Timothy, but we often overlook what Paul chooses to NOT SAY.  

Paul DOES say that scriptures are inspired by God.  He does not say God wrote the Bible with God’s hands.  He doesn’t even really define scripture or say what writings constitute scripture.  Presumably, since the only scripture of Paul’s time was what we call the Old Testament today, that’s all Paul was talking about (even though there’s not agreement that the books of the OT were even fixed by the time Paul wrote these words.)  If Paul also meant any future writings that some people might deem scripture – like the New Testament – does that also mean we could decide today to call some writings “scripture” and give them the status “inspired by God”? These are difficult questions…but something to consider the next time you’re inclined to tell your pastor she or he can only preach from the New Testament…or that the New Testament is somehow more revelatory than the Old.

But there’s more.  When Paul says that all scripture is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, Paul does NOT say HOW.  Think about it: letters teach one type of thing; gospels teach another type of thing; psalms teach yet another; and parables yet another. Most of these types of literature make zero attempt to try to teach in a literal, linear, scientific or historical type of way…yet that’s how SO many Christians insist we must interpret them.  But Paul never told us HOW to use the scriptures for teaching. Presumably, when we read that Israel’s greatest king, David, committed adultery with Batsheba, we are NOT supposed to receive a revelation, a teaching, that to be a great person of God we must commit adultery…right?

How, then, are we supposed to figure out how to use the Bible as authoritative revelation?  It all goes back to the many types and purposes of revelation. CHECK the scriptures against other sources of authority.  Even check the scriptures against themselves. If you go a little further in David’s story, you’ll find that God didn’t appreciate David’s indiscretion with Bathsheba.  So often, if we just dig a little deeper or check what we THINK God is saying through scripture against experience, tradition, and reason, we will discover God is revealing something quite DIFFERENT than what it appears God is revealing at first glance.  (In my experience, what we think God is revealing at first glance is too often what we WANT God to be revealing…not what God is actually revealing.)

One more thing about the Bible.  Even though we should, we MUST, check the Bible against other sources of authority to make sure we’re not abusing it, to make sure we’re actually receiving revelation from God through the scriptures instead of revelation from ourselves, the Bible should STILL be our primary source of revelation…but only for the kinds of things God reveals in the scriptures.

  • If you want to know how God wants you to treat other people – hint: the answer is “with love – the Bible is the place to go;
  • If you want to know how God has worked in the lives of people in the past and how God is likely to work in the lives of people in the present and future – the Bible is a good place to go;
  • If you want to know where you can turn for purpose and love in life when you feel lost and alone – the Bible is a good place to go;

I think, I fear, we’ve let the Bible slip as a source of authority because we’ve sought revelation from the Bible about things God does not reveal through the Bible:

  • If you want to know if movies, television shows, or video games are inherently good or evil – don’t consult the Bible;
  • If you want to know how to get really good at getting revenge against people who’ve wronged you or silencing people you don’t like – don’t consult the Bible (you could probably learn a thing or two from some of the evil folks in the bible, but God was most definitely NOT trying to teach you how to hate in the Bible);
  • If you want to know the scientific happenings of the origins of the universe – don’t consult the Bible;

As we continue together in this journey of rediscovering the basics fo faith, let’s keep the Bible at the forefront of our sources of authority, let’s even reclaim the Bible as THE primary source of revelation from God for our lives…but let’s do our best to take it only as far as God intended.

Amen.