“Welcome to the battlefield,” writes Ross Douthat in the New York Times yesterday. That sentence concludes a piece in which he responds to a letter sent to the Times by a sizable group of Catholic scholars, and that letter, in turn, was written in response to a series of columns by Douthat, particularly one two weeks ago.

I find the “battlefield” image inappropriate for a dispute over what God asks of us. Have we not had enough of killing as a response to religious difference? Nevertheless I am finding myself fascinated by the disagreement Douthat has waded into.

Christ_Pantocrator_mosaic_from_Hagia_SophiaThe substantive question at issue is whether divorced Catholics can be allowed to take Communion, or whether, as is the current posture of the church, those once ostensibly married have to have their marriages annulled before Communion is again available to them. Pope Francis recently convened a synod of bishops on the family. Douthat has written that Pope Francis wants to move the Church in a more liberal direction on the question of divorce. “[He] deliberately started this civil war,” Douthat wrote in September. (Again with the inappropriate military metaphors.)

That question of divorce has some interest for me but only a little. The annulment process in Roman Catholicism has long seemed to this outsider a convenient workaround for the New Testament’s bracing clarity that divorce is wrong (Matthew 19, 1 Corinthians 7, etc.). I have focused more on those evangelicals who decry homosexuality as a sin (a topic on which Jesus is silent and Paul unclear) but who pass over divorce in silence (where clarity abounds in the New Testament).

Much more interesting to me is where we look for authority about what God asks of us. I know this question makes some people uncomfortable. But if you believe that there is right and wrong in the world (you do, don’t you?) and that you should try to do right things, you have to ask (don’t you?) who or what has the authority to say what is right and what is wrong.

For many Evangelicals, the answer is the Bible: that’s the sole source of authority. For me, that answer has two huge problems. One is that even a cursory look at how the Bible was assembled in the centuries after Jesus shows a deeply political process among human beings. I love politics as a way to work through disputes but I don’t look to it for Final Answers to Life’s Big Questions. The other problem is that as soon as Protestant reformers begin insisting on the Bible as the sole source of authority we have an explosion of schisms.

The Protestant Reformation’s insistence on the Bible alone as a source of authority was a challenge to the Roman Catholic view that authority is a three-legged stool resting on scripture, tradition, and the church. Ross Douthat is writing about how the Roman Catholic Church draws on these three sources in developing doctrine and teaching its members.  (I think he undervalues the Pope’s interest in keeping the church’s teachings vital and fresh.) The Catholic scholars are saying in their letter that he doesn’t really know understand enough to plunge into this matter. Generally I dismiss out of hand public arguments that someone shouldn’t offer an opinion because s/he doesn’t have the right credentials. In this case I think the Catholic scholars wrote their letter because they took Douthat to be hurling around charges of “heresy,” which considerably ups the stakes and can put people at risk.

On the question of sources of authority, I’ve come to prefer the Roman Catholic view to the Reformation view. Insistence on the Bible alone is a dangerous turn, I believe. (I do nevertheless understand how early Protestant reformers believed the Church had drifted a long way from Bible teachings.) Both the Catholic and the Evangelical answers put the sources of authority somewhere in the past and come dangerously close to saying that we in the present can only mess things up.

For this Quaker (and for many Quakers) there is a sturdier source of authority in the present: in waiting worship to listen for God speaking to us now. The Bible, tradition, and religious figures from the past and present can all prepare us to hear God. These are not to be cast aside. But they are not final sources of authority. Putting weight on waiting worship leads us be reluctant to crystallizing doctrine in creeds, and it leads us to teach through advices and queries rather than long declarative affirmations that some write for others.

The past may have gotten it right about many, many questions, and we’d do well to embrace those answers. Just maybe the past has got it wrong on some questions, however, and we need to find ways to go forward to a better place. I believe God is speaking to each and to all of us, today, and that this is the best source of authority.

[also posted on River View Friend.]

Views: 982

Comment by Keith Saylor on 11th mo. 7, 2015 at 11:56am

Yes Adria. There is a love established in the bodily natural, a conscious anchored in and a conscience informed by outward forms  (including scripture and people), and that love is insufficient. However, there is another love, a love experienced at the core of the very essence of our conscious and that informs our conscience in itself and without condition and mediation. There is no middle step to take in knowing this Love.  The experience of the inward Light illuminating our conscious and informing our conscience so that the very foundation of human being is transformed and redirected and is with us in all circumstances in the life is love lived directly and unmediated. It is not thought about, conceptualized, reflected through outward forms like scripture, approached through outward representations,  it is experienced as being in itself. This Love is sufficient in all things and in all circumstance. I am so thankful and grateful for being born again in and by the indwelling of the Light  re-directing my conscious and conscience in a  Love that sustains and shapes my sensibilities through the direct and unmediated guidance of the Light itself  (not outward forms). Adria, this Love and Light is sufficient guide against the "Adversary." Its sufficiency is known in the act of living , Being,  in that Love and its guidance is known through the direct experience of the dimming and increase of the inward Light illuminating the conscious and guiding the conscience. The mystery of the conscious anchored in and conscience informed by unmediated experience of inward Light and Love of Christ is the mystery of the tongues of fire descending upon men and women in the coming again of the Spirit of Christ within the conscious and conscience of human being and the knowledge and experience of the sufficiency of that Fire is eternal Love sufficient in all things and all circumstances.

The Spirit of Christ is not sufficient for many people in this world; both religious and secular. It is the way of most people living in this world today, although some are not specifically religious, they still seek meaning and purpose through identification with outward forms. The commonality is needfulness of outward ideological, representational, institutional, ritual, and scriptural or codified forms to anchor their conscious and inform their conscience. There are also those of us who know, experientially, the sufficiency of the Being/being anchored in and informed directly, without the mediation of outward forms, by the Light and Love of the of the inward Presence of Christ Himself anchoring our conscious and informing our conscience through focus on the living Light itself, beaconing us along our journeys in every moment of our lives; whether sweeping the floor or working to save a natural area from development. If the Light shines in the sweeping we keep sweeping, if it dims we correct our actions according to the Light and Love guiding us. We affirm the sufficiency and the prerogative of inward Love itself to guide the conscious and inform the conscience in the Light. This Sufficiency is the unique message redemption and restoration in the spiritual Love of Christ himself. 

This Sufficiency is open to all people who simply wait patiently upon the deepening revelation of the inward Light filling their conscious and informing their conscience. Grace manifests in the waiting. 

Comment by Howard Brod on 11th mo. 7, 2015 at 2:21pm

I believe, Adria, what Keith is outlining is that 'just love', a feeling in the moment, is not what we are speaking of.  We are speaking of the same Holy Spirit that is the essence of the God of Love; the same Spirit that Jesus said would be present to guide us and make us One with him and 'the Father'.  Jesus words on this are very clear for those of you who idolize his words in the Bible.  Please note, he did not say this Spirit would interpret the Bible for us.  And he did not say that in lieu of his physical presence, we should read the Bible regularly to find the right way to live.  In fact, the early history of the Christian disciples was a continuous effort to reject most of the known Bible because it did not line up with that Holy Spirit commended to us by Jesus (I could site many examples where Jesus and then the disciples overturned rule after rule in the Old Testament - but I am certain you are aware of these).  The Light within took those early Christians to a place of rejecting much scripture; and instead to a new heavenly place filled with Light and Love. 

Soon however, the Golden Calf of the Bible began to be constructed, first just to deal with realities of first and second century life.  And the apostles gave practical advice in a few letters for living lovingly in that time with the realities of that day.  Does that mean we are beholden to those ancient realities in the twenty-first century?  My walk in the Light tells me that Jesus would advise us to instead turn to the Holy Spirit that we are ONE with to find our way as Loving children of God in our modern daily life - not turn for direction to ancient historical accounts and letters that have become to many an idol as real and distracting from the Light as the Golden Calf was to Israelites who wanted to use it as a representation of God on Earth.

The big problem with a book that we read the words to direct our path, is that it requires us to zero in on human reasoning from the ego - an excuse not to let our hopes and our being reside exclusively in the Spirit that Jesus so lovingly prayed would be our Source for existence as it was also his.  Turning to the same Light that was within Christ from which we are One with him and everyone else guided by that Light, requires us to identify fully with the eternal being of our Source of existence along with all his/her manifestations.  And it was Jesus' hope that we would do so, even though doing so would cause us to reject scripture written by men, just as Jesus found himself having to do.

Comment by Jim Wilson on 11th mo. 7, 2015 at 3:39pm

Friend Howard:

Just because someone uses the Bible differently than you doesn't mean they are 'idolizing' it.  I suspect that you don't mean to sound this way, but your posts read to me that you think many generations of Christians, and many generations of Quakers, have had a misguided understanding of the Bible which only those fully up to date in the 21st century have managed to see accurately.  That doesn't strike me as likely.  But perhaps I am misreading you.

There are frequent occasions when Jesus leans on the Bible, or uses the Bible to communicate His teaching.  For example, when he is tempted by Satan, he resists the temptations by citing scripture, using those citations as a means of deflecting the temptations.  And when Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment, He responds by quoting from the Torah.  And His disciples followed suit, frequently referencing the Hebrew scriptures in their letters.

Personally, I don't think the human condition has changed that much and the advice and methods used in the first centuries by the early Christians are as applicable today as they were at that time.  In some ways I think we today are at a disadvantage and know less about the reality of Spirit.  Because of this, I do think we should be beholden to those ancients and their understandings in the sense of being inspired by them to walk in the way.  If you think this is idolatry I can only say that perhaps we should discuss what idolatry means for you; clearly we have different understandings.

Finally, I don't agree that using a book requires us to exalt human reasoning.  It depends on how you read.  Fundamentalists and modernists share a literalist view of scripture; but that is not the only way to read scripture, nor even the primary way.  I know you don't like to take advice from those who lived more than 20 years ago, but Augustine has some very profound things to say on how to read scripture in his work 'On Christian Doctrine', exalting the allegorical approach.  And Philo of Alexandria (another ancient, oh well) also wrote significantly on a spiritual/ allegorical approach to scripture.  This can be found fully functioning in the commentaries by Madam Guyon (17th century -- I know, hopelessly dated!).  Jesus did not reject scripture; He used scripture, and the way he used it is a guide for how we can approach scripture as well.

Again, I see there is a gulf in our views -- I suspect that is a good thing.

Comment by Howard Brod on 11th mo. 7, 2015 at 3:57pm

Yes, Jesus used the Bible to reach people who are steeped into it to the point of thinking it is necessary to please God.  I use it similarly.  I also read it for its inspiring passages that spur contemplation; but I put equal value on other inspiration from many other spiritual (and secular) works.  So, please do not mistake my rejection of an idolizing of the Bible as a rejection of it.  I just reject those portions that do not represent the Light - just as Jesus saw fit to do.

Comment by Howard Brod on 11th mo. 7, 2015 at 4:13pm

By the way, Jim, I'm not so sure there is something as large as a "gulf" in our views.  Perhaps, just a difference in approach, perception, and implication.  I view you as a brother in the Spirit and wish you (and others) all the love that the Spirit has to offer each of us to the best of our understanding.  And its nice to have this venue to share how we each view and process things.

I tend to speak directly with a genuine rendering of my thoughts so that I do not mislead anyone reading my words.  And a prefer others to do likewise.  I do apologize if my style is offensive in any way.

Comment by Kirby Urner on 11th mo. 7, 2015 at 4:23pm

According to Wikipedia, Friends stand out, along with LDS and Pentacostals, in being a Continuing Revelation type lineage.  That means we see revelations continuing to inform us to this day i.e. the period of revelations did not somehow come to an end with the Book of Revelation or whatever is deemed to be the last book inside that collection of books called the Bible. 

The original blog post on which we're commenting here was about marriage and the rules around it, the code of conduct.  The Catholics are thinking about changing the rules, somewhat.

LDS has considered itself to innovate beyond just the nuclear family model, whether based on Biblical precedent or later thinking I don't know (I'm no authority). 

Many Quakers likewise do not consider themselves bound either by Protestant or Catholic strictures, when it comes to how to organize their personal relationships.  Many would claim their wisdom on how best to live was revealed to them, and being Quaker, there's no waiting for some Pope to sign off.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 7, 2015 at 5:57pm

"And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes."

Now that's quite Biblical, and very much turns on "What does one mean by 'authority'?" -- that sort of authority in particular -- so it does seem quite relevant to me, but where are all the comments?

Comment by Keith Saylor on 11th mo. 7, 2015 at 7:27pm

Jim, wrote:

"Just because someone uses the Bible differently than you doesn't mean they are 'idolizing' it."

There is a way of being that experiences teaching and guidance from inward Presence itself founding the conscious and informing the conscience. This way is essentially different from a conscious anchored in and a conscience informed by outward forms, representations, teachings, traditions, etc. The former way experiences or participated in the unrepresented directly without mediation from representations. The latter experiences or participates in the unrepresented through outward representations and some of the latter forget about the unrepresented altogether and focus solely on the representations as things in themselves. 

The first covenant challenged those who used "graven images," that is, representations, to no longer use them to anchor their conscious and inform their conscience ... worship God. However, the first covenant did not challenge human being to turn their gaze from outward principles, rules, rituals, temples, etc. Human being was to participate representationally with the unrepresented through adherence to outward forms. They were required to no longer to worship or participate in the unrepresented by approaching graven images. 

With the second covenant in the Spirit of Christ, human consciousness was further gifted with the indwelling of the Spirit into conscious and conscience so the human conscious and conscience is established in the direct experience of inward Presence itself. This new evolutionary impulse (the second covenant)  away from being established even in outward rules, traditions, ritual, etc., and toward a conscious and conscience established and informed by inward Presence itself ... the inward impulse of the indwelling Spirit of Christ ... is iconoclastic and heralds an essentially different way of participation with the unrepresented. This different way is not established in icons. To seek outward forms of worship to participate in God is to use idols (representations) to approach worship of God. This is not essentially different than fashioning a graven image to worship God.

Jim also wrote:

"Personally, I don't think the human condition has changed that much and the advice and methods used in the first centuries by the early Christians are as applicable today as they were at that time."

With the coming of Christ in the conscious and conscience human being is gifted a different way ... a way that is different in essence, wherein human being is taught and guided by direct experience of the Spirit of God anchoring the conscious and informing the conscience. It is true, as a whole, the human condition does not manifest much change since the coming of the Spirit of Christ within the conscious and conscience of human being.  It has only been a mere 2000 years. However, many men and woman have experienced a essential change in their condition by the indwelling of the Light itself in their conscious and conscience. And time will witness the further evolution of human consciousness away from being that is established and participating in outward forms to being established in the inward impulse, participating in Presence directly without mediation and knowing eternal life.

Comment by Howard Brod on 11th mo. 7, 2015 at 8:19pm

Forrest, my opinion on the biblical verse you quoted:

The Scribes were knowledgeable interpreters of the then known scriptures and other Jewish tradition; they knew these well and could quote them easily and apply them to Jewish life.  Most people, who could not read, depended on them to provide them knowledge of "what God required", often through Jewish Rabbis (or Teachers).  Jesus, on the other hand, was different from these doctrinal espousers.  He spoke from the authority of direct Oneness with the Spirit or God (choose your favorite label).  His words were piercing into the heart and Spirit of his listeners; Jesus was truly speaking in order to seek that of God within them.  And they could feel it.

I do see this dichot0my still playing out today.  When we read the words of a mystic we feel we are listening to one who is speaking from direct experiential knowledge of God (or Spirit) due to hours of contemplation and prayer, similar to the nature of Jesus' experiences with God.  When we read or listen to the words of a biblical scholar or typical minister in our day, we experience what it must have been like for first century Jews when they did similarly.  It is 'head knowledge' based on human intellectual reasoning (brain power) instead of the Presence of the raw Spirit experienced by a mystic or one who is speaking from authority due to their direct, unmediated experience with God.

Now, surely many (if not most) of these Scribes were good, righteous people.  But they extracted a heavy burden on their listeners and a dependence from them.  Jesus, on the other hand, held this 'head knowledge' of little import.  Instead he wanted his listeners to join with him in the direct Oneness with "the Father".  Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, this choice of Oneness has not been easily embraced by most followers of the teachings of Jesus.  This is partly due to the idolization of the Bible to the point that it takes the place of the direct Oneness with the Spirit that Jesus advocated for.  The canonization of the accounts and letters of early Christians by the Catholic church was an unfortunate step to the idolization of this human 'book'.  Then, the unique and singular deification of Jesus, excluding everyone else from his same Oneness with God - sealed the fate of Christendom to become dependent on idols to represent God to them instead of a direct union with God as Jesus advocated and hoped for his followers.

Comment by William F Rushby on 11th mo. 7, 2015 at 9:33pm

Howard Brod wrote: " When we read or listen to the words of a biblical scholar or typical minister in our day, we experience what it must have been like for first century Jews when they did similarly.  It is 'head knowledge' based on human intellectual reasoning (brain power) instead of the Presence of the raw Spirit experienced by a mystic or one who is speaking from authority due to their direct, unmediated experience with God."

Howard: are you able to "read" the mind and/or spirit of the minister whose words are at issue here?  You are assuming way more than you know!

Howard also wrote: "The canonization of the accounts and letters of early Christians by the Catholic church was an unfortunate step to the idolization of this human 'book'."

The Protestant Old Testament is approximately the same as the Hebrew Bible, though the books are arranged differently.

Concerning the New Testament, Amy Peeler writes: "...the canon is not an elaborate conspiracy designed to suppress tantalizing and illuminating tales.  Instead, we might come to see the canon more deeply as the wisdom of the church and the wisdom of God to privilege the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, four awesome and inspiring narratives whose treasures are inexhaustible. *Books and Culture*11/12/2015, p.17. 

Howard, I think you are so convinced that your narrative is the only legitimate one that you are incapable to looking at the facts from any other point of view.  I wouldn't call this idolatry, but it looks awfully much like dogmatism to me;  "there just happens to be only one correct point of view and, surprisingly, it happens to coincide with my opinion!" 

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