The Fiddler on the Roof

Caraboska's Theoblog

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That the life of Jesus may be revealed in my body
Praise the Lord.

This is a response to the ongoing discussion here. My comment about complete abstinence was in response to the person who observed (rightly, furthermore) that the only 100% certain means of preventing pregnancy is total abstinence, basically indicated that if the risk is that high, then why would anyone want to expose their potential unborn child to any risk whatsoever, and finished with the thought that 6 weeks of abstinence was not too long.

As far as other solutions go, I personally see no difference in moral value between NFP and barrier methods (obviously abortifacient hormonal means are a different matter). There are, however, some people for whom NFP is going to be less effective or even unusable: people who are perimenopausal and therefore have extremely irregular periods, and people in whom ovulation is triggered by the physical stimulation inherent in sexual activity.

But I cite all of this only as thought provoking devices towards the point: what about tradition? I base my claim that Jesus taught that Scripture has to come first on such texts as the Sermon on the Mount, or Mark 7. There are others. I don't want to proof text here, so I'm not going to give more exact references. I come from circles where we were carefully instructed that we must in fact read all of the Bible before we try to come to a conclusion about what it teaches.

Notice who the New Testament writers are: either apostles (Matthew, John, Paul, Peter), or first degree associates of apostles or Jesus Himself (Mark, Luke, James, Jude). These people's letters were in circulation long before the New Testament was codified and compiled in its present form. The fact of the matter is that in Jesus' day and for at least a portion of the apostolic era, 'Scripture' meant the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). This is why Protestants only accept the books of the Tanakh as comprising the Old Testament.

The New Testament books, like the books of the Tanakh, did not exist in a vacuum. There were other books that did not make it into the canon. Protestants accept the same New Testament canon as Roman Catholics not because of tradition, but because while the New Testament books are demonstrably organically related to the Tanakh and in mutual agreement with each other, the other books in some way deviate from this standard - most commonly by introducing Gnostic elements. So that Protestants, likewise, exclude the other books from the canon.

The problem of different interpretations will continue to exist even if we allow for tradition - because there are all different traditions, and how do we know which one is correct? Well, John tells us very clearly in his first letter that we are the ones ultimately responsible for making a determination concerning the correctness of a given teaching. If we have the Holy Spirit and are true believers - both believing and living the commandments to love God with all our heart, soul and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves - then in principle we have all that is needed to make that discernment. Jesus Himself says that His sheep will know His voice.

I once read a commentary by a Roman Catholic priest which observed (rightly) that this places a huge responsibility on the individual to do their own studying of Scripture and verification of their beliefs. It is a responsibility which is taken deadly seriously in the circles I have traveled in over my life time. We are talking about people who come to church precisely in order to hear the hour-long sermon on one verse (the pastor took over 6 years to preach through the book of Romans) - which covers the material infinitely more thoroughly than it would be even in a seminary class.

We are talking about people who start their kids on Scripture memory at age 2. Who start looking for opportunities to lead their child to a personal decision to receive Jesus Christ at as young an age as possible. I've heard of it happening as young as age 3. And these kids' Sunday school teachers report that there is a clear difference in the way the children pray after as compared to before - the child now in an evident manner knows God. And when these kids grow up, few if any will ever commit immorality or get divorced. Few if any will turn away from the faith in which they were raised. At least 1 in 10 of them will be in full-time missionary service - and of those, half will serve in a foreign country.

And none of them will think that their own works or any ecclesiastical ritual contributes materially to their salvation, for they will all have been taught from little on up that salvation is by grace, so that no one may boast. They will understand that works are an effect of salvation, not a cause. And that thinking otherwise amounts to putting those works in a position meant to be occupied only by God.

And to me, that is the litmus test: does the person *truly* have only one God in their life? In all the microdetail? I recommend Anthony DeMello's 'The Way to Love'. He speaks much of 'attachment' - if you substitute in 'idolatry' or 'idol' (depending on the context), you'll get what I mean by the 'microdetail'.

Looking at the problem from that angle, for me, the problem with adherence to tradition is that people are giving over responsibility for a certain part of their lives which properly is to be held between them and God. They are setting that tradition up as an idol, allowing it to occupy a place that is meant to be occupied only by God. It may be comfortable to give up responsibility, but godly - it is not.

And likewise: if we read the Bible, compare what it says about things like the priesthood, confession, baptism, communion... with tradition, we can see that tradition leads us to 180-degree opposite conclusions. These are all items which impact on the doctrine of salvation, so they are really important. The difference between them is that tradition places a certain set of authority figures and a certain system of... control over the faithful.

Unfortunately, I don't think this is at all accidental. I see these authorities as setting themselves up as idols in people's lives, to the eternal peril of all concerned. And I am no idolater, so as long as I remain convinced that this is the case, I will in no wise have any part in this system.

It is a very lonely path I travel. I feel like I have less and less in common with the world as time goes on, that I am slowly being squeezed out of this world entirely. 'I always carry the death of Jesus around in my body, that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in my body.'  (II Cor. 4:10).

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1. Jesus sent his apostles to preach His teachings. He did not specify whether that was to be done only by speaking, or also by writing. The fact of the matter is that they (especially Paul) did both.

2. As I have mentioned above: in the early Christian era, especially before the gospel went to the Gentiles, before the letters were written, 'the Scriptures' meant 'the Tanakh'. They referred to the Tanakh.

Once the letters were written, they were circulated among the churches - not only to the specific church to which they had been addressed. By the time Peter wrote his letters, the writings of Paul were considered to be Scripture (II Peter 3:14-18, esp. v. 16).

But other than that, the Scriptural evidence shows that they did exactly what God's people do to this day in places where the Bible is very hard to find because of legal restrictions in their country - they had access to spiritual gifts of various kinds, especially prophecy.

3. Neither our own knowledge nor tradition can be the basis. You rightly point out that people come to different conclusions. This is an issue with tradition as well - because there are different traditions, all of which claim to be normative, but which differ from each other.

Even 'apostolic succession' won't do the trick, because there are several churches whose teachers claim to be able to trace their succession directly back to the apostles: at very least the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran Churches.

Not to mention that Paul tells us that we are to measure even what is taught to us by the apostles themselves. If they themselves were ever to come with some other gospel, Paul tells us not to listen even to them (Galatians 1:8-9).

So as I have mentioned above, the only way is to do what Jesus said, namely obey His teaching (John 8:31-32), which is detailed in various places, e.g. Matthew 22:34-40; I John 2-3, esp. v. 3:23).

And we have Jesus' promise that if we do this, then we shall know the truth (John 8:32). We have His promise that 'I am the Good Shepherd and I know those who are Mine, and those who are Mine shall know Me... they shall hear My voice' (John 10:14-16).

Paul confirms this in his letter to the Romans, saying, 'Therefore I admonish you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a holy living sacrifice pleasing to God - your reasonable act of worship. Do not be conformed to this world or age, but rather be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you discern what is God's will - good, pleasing and perfect.' (Romans 12:1-2)

And again: 'Do not lie to each other, having taken off the old humanity with its practices and having put on the new which is being renewed into knowledge in the image of its Creator' (Colossians 3:9-10).

Even good works, even ecclesiastical rituals and teachings - doctrine - can become idols in the perverse heart, as it is written: 'All is clean to those who are clean; to the corrupted and faithless, nothing is clean, for both their mind and their conscience has been corrupted.' (Titus 1:15)

The point is that there are no shortcuts. We must live what we learn, starting with the most important: to love God with *all* our heart, soul and strength. Apart from situations where our knowledge is simply limited, so that in the end we would find that both apparently opposing viewpoints turn out to be correct, when there are differences of opinion, it nearly always turns out that one or both of the parties is holding onto some subtle idol.

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