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Reason & Revelation - Welded Back to Back
on the Offensive
See also Addenda:
The Last 6 Seconds - by Lt
General John Kelly, USMC
& follow up sermon on spiritual warfare
F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Epiphany II - 1/16/11 Zech 8:1-8, 20-23; Ps. 99; Rom. 12:6-16; Mk. 1:1-11
We at St. Luke's are in the middle of a discernment process on a couple of important issues, and so I want to talk with you about what I think God wants me to accomplish during my tenure as your priest-in-charge. That might help clarify in your minds, as well as in mine, how we can best work together.
I have previously related how I was a student at Trinity College in Hartford, CT, in the middle 1950's, majoring in philosophy. I had been a convinced Christian since 7 years old. At about the beginning of my junior year, I was walking down the walk thinking about life, and stopped in my tracks. I told the Lord, "I want to be a Christian, but You will have to make sense." I had never thought that God did not make sense, but the world around me was saying that God was short in that department, and I was a bit worried at what my philosophy professors might come up with. I paused for a minute to see whether I had offended God. But my distinct impression was that God said, "Go for it!!" Two thumbs up.
There cannot be very many persons in the whole world who are saying that the Biblical view of life is the only logically consistent way there is. I have met only one. That one, Edmond Cherbonnier, showed up shortly after that conversation with God to found, of all things, the religion department. He was saying exactly that. The odds of my meeting, so far as I know, the only person in the world who not only held that view, but could prove himself capable of defending it, were about zero. That had to be an answer to prayer. God soon showed me that He, God, was not the problem when it came to respecting truth, I was. There were many places in my life where I fudged on the truth.
But that experience set me off on my life's journey as a Christian apologist, that is, one who teaches how to present the Biblical worldview and Gospel reasonably and gracefully. The way God does. With love, but it is a tough love.
We Christians have had a serious problem going back several centuries, which began to show in earnest at least by the 1700's. We were losing our ability to talk intelligently about our faith. And when you lose your ability to talk intelligently about something, you will lose your ability to talk gracefully and helpfully about it. When you lose your intellectual credibility, you begin to lose also your moral and spiritual credibility. That is because both moral and spiritual credibility depend on having a grasp of the truth. They depend on our being committed truth-seekers and truth-speakers. If you cannot tell people reasonably why you believe something, they will soon stop paying much attention to you.
Christians have tried to overcome this problem by concluding that if you have revelation, you do not need reason. Just read the Bible and that will do it.
But that does not work. If we Christians do not read the Bible reasonably, we will splinter into a thousand different competing positions, and defend those positions -- unreasonably. That is exactly what has happened, and so, predictably, people are not listening much to us. We have stopped being truth-seekers and become a bunch of position-defenders.
But truth-seeking is the only way to build an honest position. That is why God tells us, "Come, let us reason together.... I will show you how to build an honest position about Me and about life." Can you imagine yourself after the resurrection, walking on the road to Emmaus with the two disciples as the unrecognized Jesus was explaining to them about the Law and the Prophets, and how they applied to Himself? Reasoning together... Must have been some Bible study.
"Reasonably" means two things -- a position must be consistent with itself, and it must be consistent with the known facts. If Jesus had not done that, His teaching would have been of little value to the disciples. But we Christians have often been unwilling to engage in an open discussion about our differing denominational views with the aim of sorting out the truth of Christian faith.
Reason and revelation always go together. Neither one will survive without the other.
Reason without revelation can tell us nothing of what God has in mind. Reason without revelation cannot tell you what is on my mind, or anyone else's. We persons must reveal our inner thoughts. There is nothing especially mysterious about revelation. We all do it all the time. God has to tell us what is on His mind.
And, revelation which becomes unreasonable is unable to be used. You cannot meaningfully act on an unreasonable assertion, one which is either self-contradictory or asserting something known to be untrue. So revelation and reason require each other.
Jesus had to speak reasonably to be understood by the disciples, and the disciples had to hear him with their reasoning powers intact, or they would not get His point. They would misunderstand and misuse His words.
I had to unlearn just about everything I learned as a growing Christian. Even by high school, I knew that something was very wrong within the Church. You might think that Christians today are on the defensive, but that has been true for several centuries. Secular writers were openly challenging Christians during the 1700's, pointing out that the Christian religion had become a form with no substance. Lots of talk, but no spiritual power. The lives of people were not changing for the better, they were not getting healed of their sicknesses by God, they were just getting locked into a formalism. And, sadly, to a significant degree, that was true. And it is true today.
My experience at Trinity College, then at General Seminary in New York City, followed by Oxford University -- and including almost a half century of digging into the hardest issues we face -- has told me, and continues to tell me, that Edmond Cherbonnier was exactly right. The Christian worldview and Gospel are the only way of life that makes both logical and empirical sense. The Biblical worldview and Gospel of Jesus Christ, by a wide margin, make more sense than anything else available. That is my testimony.
But my testimony is also that I have found very few Christians, including conservative leadership, who are willing to deal with these issues. They seem to be locked into their various denominational boxes, or have abandoned those boxes for the free-wheeling world of relative truth. Few will take the step to which God calls us -- to make truth-seeking the first step of faith. The first step of faith is to believe that there is a truth, and that careful observation of the facts, and clear logical thinking from those facts to our conclusions will lead to the truth. That weds revelation to reason, it weds science and faith.
There is a truth, and we can know it. The Bible asserts that over and over. We can know the truth about God, as much as we need to know to engage in the Kingdom relationship, the Church, the family of God, which is being offered to us.
We need each other to accomplish that. We need each other in a community committed to the truth to keep honest ourselves. We need people who will critique our lives for us. We need, that is, to learn to live in the light with each other. Most of all we need to live in the light with God. If we can do it with God, we will be able to do it with each other.
It begins in family, in being raised by truth-seeking parents who pass that passion on to their children. We need parents who reflect that truth-seeking and truth-speaking that comes from God.
When we do that, truth-seeking becomes the royal road to God -- who is the Way, the Truth, and the Light.
But I fear that you will find very few churches where these kinds of things are being taught. They are all right there in the Bible if you know where to look, all clearly illustrating the point. Jesus was constantly proving His case, trying to get His listeners to listen to Him with open ears. That does not mean with gullible ears, or with mind-controlled ears. It means with ears that want to know the truth of the matter, and have some idea on how to discern truth from falsehood.
More than any other failure we have had, it is our failure to be open and honest truth-seekers and truth-speakers -- which has done two things. (1) It has alienated us Christians from many out there who might be open to the Gospel, but who disrespect us for what they see as intellectual incompetence, so that they do not trust our testimonies about salvation. And (2) it has set us up for failure in the public arena. Who would want persons in government who were unwilling to have a reasonable conversation about the issues?
The public rightly rejects us. And we fail in our service to God, the Lord of truth.
Truth-seeking, being open to the truth of a matter, is right at the heart of Gospel message. God is the God of reality, not of unreality, not of pretend reality, of the living, not the dead.
So a part of my task is to help you find the language by which we can communicate the message of Jesus Christ, of salvation, of the Kingdom of heaven. Some might ask, "What's the matter with Biblical language? Why do we need a new language?" To which the response is, "Nothing at all is wrong with Biblical language." But we are talking to a society which does not know Biblical language, and we must, just as with any other foreign language, learn how to translate from one to the other.
People today often do not know what we mean by "salvation" or "grace" or "sin". So we need to find words in their language by which we can say what we mean in Biblical language. For many today, Biblical terminology smacks of being outdated and irrelevant. But there are certain questions and issues which are universal to the human condition.
1. Everyone wonders about truth, and what it might be. Some wonder whether there is a truth -- but they always have a truth of their own which they think to be objective and real.
2. Everyone feels a dependency. Some feel secure in their dependency, they feel securely dependent upon something or someone dependable. Others feel a deep yearning for something on which to rest their dependency, or resent being dependent and work to be independent -- to be "as God". But we all deal with dependency one way or another.
3. Everyone seeks to be an integrated human being rather than dis-integrated, at war within oneself, or split off from aspects of oneself. Everyone wants to be open and free -- unless they have been badly hurt, or been badly misled about life.
4. Everyone wonders whether there are moral obligations, and what they might be, some resenting the possibility of being morally obligated at all, others finding fulfillment in their doing what they know to be right.
5. And everyone looks for a heavenly situation, even if not the kind of heaven that God offers.
These are universal issues, and entail decisions which we must make, one way or the other. So they are universal channels by which we can present the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Every religion or philosophy or way of life will have its own answers to these issues. We can give them the Biblical answer, and show why it works and the others do not.
Every person wants a life that "works". Another universal condition.
Take, for example, the notion of salvation which in the traditional Biblical manner is defined in terms first of our ontological relation to God, that we are His creatures, and secondly our moral relation to God, that we owe Him obedience, but are sinners in need of forgiveness.
In the secular/pagan world, there is no moral order. There is no creator God, and thus no reason for existence, no meaning to life, and thus no moral order. That is easy to show if you explain the two worldviews, the Biblical and the secular/pagan.
We can give concrete and reasonable meaning to the notion of the "Fall" -- we fell out of relation to God -- into the secular/pagan world of the closed circle, in which there is no possibility of either a meaningful life or of eternal life. We are born an accident, live an accident, and die an accident.
That gives a concrete meaning to salvation. We are saved out of the secular/pagan world into which we fell, to live with God who created us and who gives power and meaning to our lives. We are saved by a restored ability to be fully and openly ourselves and by forgiveness of sins. New creatures in Christ.
That will be a new thought for many, that the secular or pagan world in which they live is the fallen world, which is incapable of providing either a moral order or secure personal stability. And we all die. The end.
You have called me, and the Lord has sent me, here to be your priest. I hope that you will not be merely passive recipients of what God is doing among us, that you will put to work what He gives you through me and through each other. Actively ask yourself what God wants you to do about what happens here as we worship together, as the Scriptures are read, as the sermon is preached, as we pray, and receive Holy Communion together. Each of us needs to respond creatively to what God is doing in our lives. If we do not, we stagnate.
Jesus was the aggressor, not the victim. He forced the issues, and made things happen. The prophets were on the offensive. John the Baptist whom we celebrate today, with the baptism of Jesus -- both were on the offensive. When they sought to crucify Jesus, He knew that He had them on the ropes. In a cowardly way, they killed Him out of their weakness and fear, not out of their strength.
The Lord has given you a priest who believes that we are in a winnable war. The victory will not be final and complete until the Lord returns, King of kings and Lord of lords. But we have been given all the equipment we need to make a sizable difference in our own range of affairs. When truth is spoken, the forces of darkness must either hide under the rocks, or they will seek to destroy the truth-speaker. We must be prepared for either.
Because we Christians have been increasingly inconsistent and unfaithful in giving a credible testimony in the public arena for most of the last five centuries, we find ourselves in a very difficult situation, which grows darker the longer we sit back and do not go on the offensive. Because of the failure of Christian witness for so long, we have become apathetic and frightened, and worse, accustomed to being on the defensive. The logical end of defensive warfare is surrender, said Napoleon. That is just as true in spiritual warfare as in military war.
St. Paul tells us to put on the armor of God. That necessarily includes, not only the defensive armor like the shield of faith, but especially the offensive two-edged Sword of the Spirit, which I take to be Reason and Revelation welded back to back -- an invincible weapon.
So our task is not to learn how to survive here at St. Luke's, it is rather to learn how in a Godly way to go on the offensive. I hope that you will personally make that a center point of your prayers from now on. "Lord, how can we go on the offensive? Show us how!!!"
When we Christians learn that lesson, and put it to work in our relationships, we will begin to change the whole course of civilization from one of continuing degradation to a resurgence of Godly living, private and personal as well as public and social. It will be costly, and require willingness to suffer greatly. But the longer we wait, the greater the price our children and grandchildren will have to pay. We have put off going after the enemy much too long, and the enemy has nearly taken over our society on every front.
But there is no enemy of God which can stand long in the face of a mature, trusting, and obedient Church. So, let's get on with it.
See also Addenda:
"The Last 6 Seconds" - by Lt
General John Kelly, USMC
& follow up sermon on spiritual warfare
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