« Emergent is...(revisited) | Main | The Canon & Tradition »

January 13, 2005

Comments

dave paisley

Interesting.. This has been a thought buzzing around my head for a long time.

The canon we have was pretty much closed with the writers with personal knowledge of the formation of the church, right? And even then it was kind of hit and miss for 300 years or so before Athanasius' NT list was adopted.

Wikipedia puts it thus on canonicity from a variety of faiths:
"Generally, the closure of the canon reflects a belief from the faith community that the formative period of the religion has ended, and that texts from that period can be collected into an authoritative body of work. "

Fair enough maybe, if we call the NT the "formative period".

Just as a sidelight on the development of the canon as we know it. From:
http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~gavinru/canon.htm

"...one has to wonder also, how Christians who vehemently reject Catholic tradition and authority in all other matters, can be so dogmatic in their agreement with this particular tradition. The events surrounding the creation of our New Testament can give little support to those adhering to a strict biblicist view. "

But as you ask, why stop there?

Throughout history there have been numerous saints/writers/poets who should be eligible for a new canon - sort of a post-incarnation Christian writers hall of fame. Could be based on individual writings or maybe an entire career's worth of work.

Like the baseball hall of fame there would have to be a suitable waiting period before enshrinement (maybe 50 years after death rather than baseball's five years after retirement).

Maybe the biggest problem these days is who would get to decide...

Uh, scratch that maybe - that *would* be the biggest problem.

Bill

"Throughout history there have been numerous saints/writers/poets who should be eligible for a new canon..."

That's quite possible. You ask who would get to decide? I think that's where tradition comes in. The various writings which have been deemed canonical were consistently understood as authoritative (with some exceptions, i.e. James). I really think Protestants have come to undervalue tradition in a dangerous way, which I think will be the subject of my post tomorrow.

As you say, inclusion in an "open" canon would demand that a work withstood the test of time. I think the reason why people feel uncomfortable with such a notion is that it seems to "subjective." My answer is that such a process has always been subjective, at least from a human standpoint. It was subjective when the Jews decided what to include in the OT and it was subjective when the various councils decided what to include in the NT. What's so different now? Is God no longer speaking?

Your citation about a Catholic view of tradition is apropos. That's why I want to investigate how the Catholic view differs from the Protestant view. From what I understand at present, I would tend to side more with the post-Vatican II, Roman Catholic view. I wonder if that sort of view would lend itself to a more "fuzzy" boundary for what gets to be called "canon."

Bob

I think that the canon is closed. Here's why:

1) The case of Salvation-History. Jesus Christ and his hand-picked Apostles represent the eschatological fullness of divine revelation. The early church, when facing new teachings that seemed to conflict with the apostolic teaching that was handed down to them were right in limiting the canon to the documents that the church had experienced as foundational to its own existence. The apostles were the pillars and foundation stones of the church (Mt 16:18; Gal. 2:9; Eph 2:20; Rev. 21:4) and therefore their function was unique and was restricted to the first apostolic generation. The church always recognized there was such a limit on apostolic authority—they saw a difference between the apostolic age and the church age. This distinction remains today.

2) The case of the Early Christian Community. The early Christian church was in a better position than the church is in later centuries to acknowledge which documents de facto constitute the grounds of its existence. This is different than our trying to figure this out a posteriori. USAGE was the determining factor for canonicity—did the early church use these documents as authoritative Scripture? Which documents were foundational to the existence of the church?

3) The case of Apostolic Authority. The canon exists because of the conviction of the church that these documents are nothing other than the redemptive-historical canon given by Jesus Christ through his Apostles (Jesus told them, “The one who listens to you listens to me.” [Luke 10:16]). This conviction, of course, arises from a presupposition that the Bible is a result of divine intervention in the work of these men (which, I admit, is something that I choose to believe!).

So, maybe there is a “Hall of Fame” of great Christian writings throughout history. But that begs the question—by what standard? That is exactly what the early church was wrestling with in the 4th and 5th Centuries when they were forced by deviant writings to officially determine the canon!

Bill

I'm not saying I definitely disagree with you, but I'm not sure your answer is sufficient.

1. As I eluded to, some of those writings were not written by so-called apostles. I'm not so sure that the task of "apostle" is a closed thing either. I have nothing scriptural that confirms that for sure. I don't know if I just want to take it from you that the church "has always known" such and such. I hear plenty of arguments against beliefs and doctrines that are very traditional, but sometimes misunderstood.

2. I don't know why your "usage" factor would only apply to the early church. What about what I "use?" The Jews who lived before Christ didn't have the gospel of Matthew to use, right? In the same way, the early church didn't have whatever document we might consider to be canonical today. I'm not thinking of any, I'm just arguing theoretically. Do you see what I'm getting at?

I'm sure that some books (or letters) were foundational to the church decades before others were written. Where do you draw the line? It seems to me that the line was drawn to fight heresy. But was the heresy that there could be new revelation? Just because the writings of Montanus were problematic doesn't rule out the Spirit could truly speak through someone else (and agree with the rest of Scripture).

3. I'm not sure why Luke 3:16 would not apply to any Christian's words. It's probably safe to assume that not everything those men wrote was considered scripture. The same could be true today.

I don't want to just throw out the traditional canonization of scripture, but I think I have every right to question it. After all, John didn't finish the book of Revelation by saying "All of these writings, Genesis to Revelation should be set down and pulished as a book called the Bible and nothing should ever be added to it." In other words, I don't think the canon is strictly scriptural, despite what you've written above.

Bob

All good points, Bill.

This is a good conversation, I guess. It's just been my experience that I've been mighty blessed through my study of the canon of books that are in my present Bible.

I think we both agree that the Bible we have in our hands is an incredible gift from God, yes?

Bill

Yes, I would agree to that. I'm not really questioning the establishment of the canon per se, but the fact that it was "closed." And I have to say that I'm not really sure how an open canon could work beyond the realm of theory. It just concerns me that one day people decided it would "protect" the church if the canon was closed. Know what I mean?

I'm teaching through 1 Samuel right now and we just covered chapter 8, where the people ask for a king. I wonder if that was basically a security issue for those people. Yahweh, as their only "sovereign" was not enough for them. They wanted a king to "go out before us and fight our battles." (1 Sam. 8:20) This reminds me of the U.S. and the war in Iraq. It makes me nervous that maybe we've caused all this bloodshed because we just didn't feel as secure anymore. I'm not saying that security never matters, just that I wouldn't kill for it. So Montanus comes along and the church doesn't feel secure because this guy is suggesting that the Holy Spirit is saying something new. Couldn't they have just fought to prove him wrong in another way? Maybe not.

Again, I'm not trying to tear this idea of a canon apart. I've had questions lingering for awhile and I'm trying to air them out a little. I definitely don't mind any contrary thoughts you, or anyone, might throw my way. My purpose in blogging about this is to get some dialogue going.

So thanks, Bob!

Jake

Bill, I like your thoughts. Richard Hays, in his Moral Vision of the New Testament, offers a helpful proposal of how to integrate the polyphonic voices in the NT(p.187ff). Perhaps we could appropriate his methodology to this problem of 'canonicity' in our own day and age. I personally do not want to supplant Scripture with any modern text, yet that does not mean that we should exclude other voices en toto. Joseph Smith claimed that his visions were on par with canonical Scripture and I don't agree with him. A great deal of ink has been spilled recently on the DaVinci Code and the works of Elaine Pagels and Karen King pertaining to the Gnostic Gospels. All of these discussions seem to go back to one's view of Scripture. Some people like clearly delineated boundaries and hence avoid the opacity that can emerge when we call such 'foundations' into question. I tend to view Scripture as pointing to God's on going revelation of God's love and redeeming grace to humanity rather than being the Truth itself. Because Scripture is the means by which we learn of God's ultimate revelation of God's self in the person of Jesus Christ, it does deserve a place of primacy in the life of the church. It seems that our Orthodox and Catholic brothers and sisters have a healthier understanding of God's unfolding revelation to us. These variegated pictures help us to understand God more fully and worship God with greater fidelity. Peace.

Bill

Thanks, Jake. I think that others' claims to canonicity scare people because of the subjective nature involved, but I don't know if that should automatically rule out the possibility of new scripture being written. If that were so, we might not have the gospels, which, at least on the face of them, are a radical departure from earlier scripture. Of course, we believe that said "departure" is not really a departure at all, but instead, the continuing revelation of God's will/plan. My question is, "If he did it once, then why couldn't he do it again."

I've written another post about the subject today which has helped me to further clarify my own thoughts on the subject. I hope I will achieve more and more personal clarity as I continue to investigate this.

Meanwhile, I do not doubt the place of primacy that the Bible rightfully holds in the lives of Christians. Well, okay...maybe I doubt it a little bit, but I am by nature a doubter! The point is, I understand why the present canon is meant to be authoritative in my life.

Also, I think I agree with you about the healthiness of a more "variegated" concept of scripture.

Jack

I think you are asking a much more profound question than you realize, and one that the traditional church is unwilling to deal with. The problem is this: How can we know that what is in the canon was placed there for all the "right" reasons (for example, the most accurate representation of the teachings of Jesus, or the ones most truly beneficial to lead Christians down the correct path) as opposed to bad reasons (the writings that would permit one small group of people to have control over a much larger group of people)?

Had the canon been set in the first century, or even the first few years of the second century A.D., one might have been much more confident that they got it right. But the problem is that the canon wasn't decided on until after the time of Constantine. To my way of thinking, when Constantine made Christianity the "state religion", what he really did was to irretrievably mix paganism with Christianity. Bear in mind that in those days, in many cases the government and political leaders were one and the same. So if a government official wanted to keep his position, he had to convert to Christianity. Only, of course, in many cases it wasn't so much a true conversion as an amalgamation of beliefs. This pollution of Christianity by paganism is why, even today, there is so much pagan symbolism in our Christmas and Easter traditions.

So now we go forward yet another century or two and these people, who practice this "blended" religion and have long since moved away from what Jesus taught on the Sermon on the Mount or anything remotely close to it come up with the idea of making the canon, to suppress "heresy"? And what is heresy? For the most part it is any belief that challenges their authority, or that tells people that they don't need a priest or a religious structure as a mediator between them and God. Nowadays, with the Internet, it's much easier to discover the books that might have been candidates for canonization but were left out. In many of these, things are said that would literally blow the roof off of traditional religious teachings. Just last night, someone in another forum mentioned the "Secret Gospel of Mark", of which we only have a fragment, but what an explosive fragment it is. Google on that phrase, but only if you are willing to have your view of reality shaken a bit. Note in the context that the Catholic church acknowledges its existence and presumably has the complete document locked away somewhere, but their attitude has always been that we are not smart enough to read such documents and decide whether they are true or not - they will tell us what to believe, and that's all there is to it.

Just to expand your thinking a little with something that may not be quite so controversial, I would suggest you read the document, "State Church Of The Roman Empire - A Summary Chronology" at http://www.bswett.com/1998-05Church300.html

This document is one of the best I've found for explaining where the church went wrong. And the scary part is that the canon was formed a few generations AFTER the events described there.

In closing, I will leave you with one other thought: Isn't is strange that protestants rightly reject the concept of papal infallibility, yet many fundamentalists doggedly hold to a doctrine of infallibility of the scriptures. This is true despite the fact that there is only ONE verse that can remotely being interpreted in making this claim, that it is in the writings of Paul (that is, it was never taught by Jesus), and that when Paul wrote to Timothy that all scripture is inspired by God, he was referring to the temple scrolls, not what would become the New Testament, and definitely not his own writings (which in one place he even admits is his own opinion, to distinguish from that which he feels was given him by God). Furthermore, the word "inspired" does not mean "dictated", in other words, for the most part (with a few clearly identified exceptions) the writers of the books of the books of the Bible (and especially the New Testament) were not acting as stenographers.

Many authors today claim their writings are inspired of God (ever hear the phrase, "God gave me this book/song"?), why would we believe that Paul's writings are any more "inspired" than those of more modern people who've had deeply spiritual experiences (note that many people who've had near-death experiences report having met Jesus or God; are their experiences less valid than Paul's? ALL of them?). Yet the church gives the writings of Paul a highly elevated status, and why is that? Could it be that Paul had not completely abandoned his legalistic views on how things should be done, and therefore his writings were the ones most useful for imposing the top-down control structure that they desired to impose on the people?

I just think that the biggest part of what Jesus came to teach us has been totally and completely lost, at least so far as traditional Christianity is concerned. In effect, starting in and around the time of Constantine, the religion was "hijacked" and used as a way to control people, rather that showing them why Jesus came to earth, which was to show them how to enter the "kingdom of God" and to do all the things he did while he was here, and even greater things (and that includes healing the sick, raising the dead, and truly loving your neighbor as yourself even if you think he's living in some form of sin - and for most of us today, the latter would be the most difficult thing to do!).

I know some people will totally reject everything I've written here and I can understand that; I probably would have done the same ten years ago. But at some point your eyes are opened and you realize that love - the type of love Jesus preached - is in very short supply in most churches, and even what love they show is highly conditional - if actually use your brain and notice some of the inconsistencies in what is taught, and then dare to start questioning the teachings (or worse yet, say you just can't believe some particular teaching of the church), usually you'll find that their "love" disappears like alcohol wiped on warm skin. The church that can love as Jesus taught is very, very rare, and that is because most of them are still retaining most of the doctrines that were filtered by the Roman Catholic Church, which has never tolerated dissenters very well. Sure, Martin Luther got rid of a lot of the worst of Catholicism, but it was like cutting only the most visibly rotten spots out of an apple and then pronouncing it fit. We may not believe in selling indulgences and papal infallibility and the worship of Mary and/or statues/relics, but there's a lot left that we didn't get rid of and that isn't good.

Bill

Jack, I agree with you that many are unwilling to think in depth about the canonization of scripture, but I have to disagree with a lot of the points you're making. What you have to understand is that part of the reason why books were chosen for the canon is that they were already in proliferation at that point. They were widely used and widely agreed upon.

We would probably agree that not everything that came out of Constantine's conversion was good, but I don't know that we should overestimate the damage that was done. I don't know that I would agree with you about the mixture of paganism in Easter, for example. I think Christianity has always been redemptive of culture. This is part of what I am going back to school to study.

I think the issue here is not what is inspired, although that would be an interesting discussion. I think the issue is what should be normative for Christian life and practice. I argued in the post I wrote today that perhaps there is more to revelation than just the canon. I think we have to be careful, however, in saying something is God's revelation if it disagrees with scripture.

You have a good point about infallibility/inerrancy. Karl Barth said that we have constructed a paper Pope. While I count the Bible as authoritative in my life, I think that the "doctrine" of inerrancy is an unecessary distraction.

I can't agree with you that we've lost much of what Jesus sought to teach. I think his gospel has remained all throughout the past 2,000 years. Some awful things have happened, but some wonderful things have happened, too.

I can sympathize with your experience with the church. I've had plenty of frustrations myself. But even in a church such as the one I am currently involved in, which has a lot of roots in fundamentalism, there are people who really love Jesus and love his message. I may disagree with them on many points, but they have shown me that love can prevail.

God bless you on your continued journey. I don't know if you're aware of any of the conversation that is going on amongst what is called the "emerging church," but you might find some of it helpful. If you're interested, I can think of two places you could start out:

1. http://www.emergentvillage.com/
2. http://www.planetemergent.org/

Jack

Bill, I respect your beliefs and honestly would have been surprised if you had said you agreed with everything I said. Just so you know where I am coming from, I spent probably somewhere between 20 and 25 years in and out of various fundamentalist churches, mostly Assemblies of God. Unfortunately I think it was fear that kept me going to those churches rather than love. Just about the final straw for me was when I went to a church that was charismatic but not AoG, where the pastor basically said things like "if you want to attend this church you need to become a member" and "if you believe in the 'invisible church', next time you're sick in the hospital, go call the invisible pastor." By the way, joining the church entailed signing various papers that said you agreed with all of their beliefs, which I really felt uncomfortable about.

For some reason something finally clicked (and I still wonder why it took so long) and I realized that I had heard this same sort of unloving, judgmental preaching in almost every church I had been in. Well, once you can get over the mental hurdle that the church just might be preaching and teaching things that aren't right, it opens your mind to other possibilities. Not everyone reaches that point at the same time in their life, and maybe it's a disservice to someone to attempt to move them to that point before they are ready.

At this point in my life I honestly feel as though I don't want to be part of "organized religion" ever again. I am really turned off on church, it seems to me like there are really bad churches, and then those that are a lot less bad. Note I am talking about things like the structure and teachings of the churches, not individual Christians (although I do wish that most Christians would actually use their heads and not just believe whatever their favorite preacher or televangelist tells them). Were I to ever decide to try a church again, it would probably be as far from a fundamentalist one as I could find, and possibly even something like a Unitarian, although I have a suspicion that I wouldn't like that much either. But at this point, my feeling it would be better for me to stay away from organized religion, and indeed, I'd probably be considered a "weed in the garden" in many churches.

One book that helped change my life, by showing me that I am not the only one to feel as though I had been "used and abused" by the church, was "Twisted Scriptures" by Mary Alice Chrnalogar. I think this book is now out of print except from the author's website, but my local library system had a copy which I obtained through interlibrary loan.

I just believe that at some point, everyone has to decide whether they want to be a mindless sheep, and just go wherever they are prodded (and unfortunately, I don't mean by the Great Shepherd; I mean by all the wolves in sheep's clothing and the "hirelings"), or whether they want to be like the Bereans, who were basically commended by Paul for questioning everything. Many are happy to be sheep, and it's not our place to sit in judgment of them, even though many of them would be quick to throw stones at those of us who do reject many of the traditional teachings - even those that cannot be supported except through a very tortured interpretation of Scripture.

(If you want a real eye-opener, do a study on the subject of tithing - be sure to visit some of the web sites on both sides of the issue - and see how it compares with what is taught in most churches. If you are honest, you will probably have to admit that one could question the integrity of those who teach it the way it's taught in most churches. In particular, meditate on 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 and note the phrase, "not reluctantly or under compulsion", and then ask yourself if you know of any preachers that lay a great deal of compulsion on churchgoers to tithe. But more to the point, find just one instance anywhere in the Bible where the common people were instructed to give 10% of all of their income to support the clergy class. You have to admit, though, that if church and state were mixed, that would be a very easy way to extract a 10% tax from everyone, with the threat that God himself will punish you if you don't pay up!)

I realize we're coming from much different places and hopefully you will find the right path. But personally, I do believe that most of what Jesus really wanted to teach us was lost the first time around, due precisely to the "wolves in sheep's clothing" that he warned would come.

Bob

Jack,

Bill and I are a part of a group of Christians who are trying to find solutions to the very issues you raise. Our blogs (as well as the other two that Bill mentions above and many others) are a part of "Emergent", a group of people and churches who have seen (and EXPERIENCED) the same kind of abuses in the church as you have. (A book that might be of interest to you is Stories of Emergence: Moving from Absolute to Authentic).

What is REALLY exciting is this: We are not ditching church or the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and the Scriptures! Instead, we are trying to move the church in a positive direction, one that is less based on power, more based on comapassion; less based on "we absolutely know the truth," more based on "let's realize that truth-finding is a journey"; less based on "reason alone", more based on "exerience too"; less based on "become a member and then we'll accept you," more based on "we accept you and we hope you'll feel you belong."

For instance, the church I lead is one in which we encourage people to "BELONG" before they have to "BELIEVE," and we think that when you "BELIEVE," it is then that you will "BEHAVE" as the Spirit of God in you leads you toward His will for your life.
This is different from your expereince (and my previous expereince as well)--which said, "We want you to 'BEHAVE' so that you can prove to us that you 'BELIEVE' the same as us, if that happens, then (and only then) will we let you 'BELONG."

Another for instance, our church teaches giving straight out of 2 Cor 9-10 (and I know a LOT of churches like us, that teach that 'grace-giving' is the New Testament replacement of the strict tithe of the Old Testament!).

Anyway, I guess my point is this: We (that is Emergent) are committed to the church, because we honestly believe that the church is the COMMUNITY of FAITH that Jesus started for the purpose to Love God, Love Others, and Help Others in the World Meet God through our Loving Actions.

I personally have decided not to ditch Jesus or the Gospel or the church (as many who have been turned off by the church have done). Instead, I have determined to go back to the Bible, and interact with other Christians as I do so, in order that I can get a clearer picture of Jesus and the Gospel and the Church.

Bill

Thank, Bob. You're saying basically what I want to say.

Jack, I hope I was clear, in my last comment, that I think fundamentalism has been a negative force overall. It sounds like your experience has been a little worse than mine, although it might not be worth trying to compare. Nevertheless, Bob is right. Check out some of the Emergent conversation. We're certainly not the only ones addressing the problems you speak of, but it's possible our conversation might be helpful to you.

There's always the danger of following something mindlessly, but I think one of the beautiful things about the Emergent conversation is that healthy dialogue is welcomed.

Another author you might be interested in is N.T. Wright, who has done a lot of writing on the historical Jesus and on Paul's writings, too. I just read "The Challenge of Jesus," which is a good summary of some of his views. In the end, I personally might not agree with everything he says, but he might be right up your alley. He talks a lot about how we've misconstrued Jesus' message without ditching everything, as Bob put it.

Anyway, feel free to keep the comments coming. I will be posting more on similar subjects.

Jack

Bill and Bob, I appreciate your comments and what you're trying to do, and I just hope it's not "too little too late", as the saying goes.

I guess because of what I have been through that I'm almost to the point that even the mention of the word "church" evokes a strong negative reaction. I have no problem with individual Christians; I think most "lay" people are basically decent people whose minds are being manipulated (although there is that other group, the sort that need something or someone to hate, and unfortunately find an acceptable outlet for that within the church!).

As far as the "gospel message" goes, I have real mixed feelings about that, because again I feel it has been changed somehow but I can't exactly put my finger on how. I will just say this much, though - I no longer believe that if a person is not "saved" at the time of death, there is no further hope for them and they are immediately consigned to the fires of Hell. I say that for two reasons: First, in reports of near-death experiences, there are people who died as atheists yet had just received just enough of the gospel message to realize that, as they were entering into what appeared to be an undesirable place, that they should call out for Jesus - and in such cases, Jesus came and lifted them out of that realm. Now I grant that one could argue that, since in all such cases the person didn't really die (otherwise it would not be a "near" death experience), that they still had the opportunity for redemption. But on the other hand, if Jesus is really not willing that any should perish, as the Bible says, then why would the moment of physical death be an absolute cutoff point, beyond which Jesus would refuse to hear the cries of those calling out to him? This is one of those cases where, if you are intent on re-forming a religion in order to exert the maximum amount of control over people, you can pick various scriptures and make it appear that you only get one life and that you'd better follow all the "rules" in that life or you'll pay for it throughout all eternity.

As many non-Christian writers have pointed out, this is the thing that probably makes the least sense about the Christian religion. We are told that God is love, and yet because we did not believe correctly in a single lifetime (barely a moment compared to eternity), we must suffer forever. Even many earthly people would be more compassionate than that. The vilest murderer can be forgiven (which is indeed good news), but all it takes is wrong belief to doom you forever - and this in a world where there is a sea of beliefs and, for many people, no compelling reason to believe that one group has the correct belief to the exclusion of all others!

So either the church has that part of the gospel message twisted, or our God isn't as loving as we portray him to be, and given that choice, I for one would prefer to believe that God really does love all of his creation, and is not nearly as willing to send multitudes of people to a fiery hell as some of our modern preachers are.

But then, beyond that, there are a couple other fundamental questions that challenge church dogma. One is whether hell, as it is preached in the churches, even exists. Yes, I know, it is said that Jesus talked more about hell than heaven (a common fundamentalist saying, I have no idea if it's really true) but is our concept of hell more from Dante's "Inferno" than the Bible? Part of the confusion is because there are three different words that are all translated into "Hell" in our English Bibles (particularly the KJV) yet are used interchangeably in sermons and various literature. And none of them really embody our concept of hell. One of the easiest to read treatments of this subject, though perhaps a bit irreverent, is "Those Lazy Old Blokes of 1611" by Jeff Priddy.

And then there is the other question, which is way too deep to thoroughly examine on a message board like this, but basically the question is, do we really only live once? The church bases that belief on a single verse, written by Paul, which could be interpreted in several ways. Near-death experiencers often report that after death there is a "life review", in which they feel every negative action from both their own point of view and that of others that were affected (Example: If you kill someone else you will not only totally experience the pain and anguish they felt at the time of their death, but also that of their family and friends), and that we actually judge ourselves. Now I don't know if that's the "final judgment", but it IS a judgment that follows death. Therefore it is quite possible that a man could die once, have a "judgment", then be reborn as another "man" (in other words, the soul could inhabit several individuals in several lifetimes).

The traditional church vehemently rejects reincarnation, calling it "New Age" and "Eastern religion." But one small problem, there is at least some scientific evidence that people have indeed been reborn (Google on "Ian Stevenson" - he's one of the primary researchers on the subject, and note that he never claims to have "proof" of reincarnation, just evidence that strongly suggests the possibility), or for a less scholarly treatment, visit the Children's Past Lives web site. As it turns out, reincarnation is not inconsistent with first century Christianity; many early believers had a belief in it including the early church father Origen. Further, reincarnation was implied by the disciples' question in John 9:2 - "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Obviously the man himself could not have sinned prior to birth if he had not lived a previous life, and when Jesus answers the question, he says nothing that would refute their belief. There's a forum where this is discussed here.

The problem to me is that most Christians won't even consider the possibility that they have been lied to about important concepts like hell and the possibility of salvation over multiple lifetimes (just to name a couple of things, and there are many other teachings that are similarly suspect). They take the position that my church teaches thus and such, I believe it, and anyone who teaches or believes anything else is probably possessed of the devil or some equally evil thing. This is great if you don't mind ignoring a lot of research and just want a prepackaged religion where someone else essentially tells you what to believe, but it makes things very difficult for those of us who are seeking the truth and are willing to consider additional sources of information besides those "approved" by their church leaders.

Note that nothing I have said above in any way tears down the Gospel message. There is still the possibility of a final judgment, as mentioned in Revelation. There's also the possibility that belief in Jesus may be what takes us out of the cycle of repeating lives. And it certainly takes nothing away from the sacrifice of Jesus if we are able to cry out for his mercy just after the moment of physical death. But all of these concepts upset the applecart of those who would use religion as a method of control, or for their own financial gain. For example, a person who truly believes in reincarnation would have no fear of death (unlike many professed Christians!) and therefore would have no fear of those who could kill the body, but not in any way harm the soul.

Bill

Jack, I appreciate your comments (and my wife said the same thing I'm about to) because you have a lot of problems with the "church" but you're still interested in the truth about God, Christ, etc. I just want to encourage you on your search.

I think maybe it's hard to believe for you at this point, but there are plenty of people who are willing to ask some of those very same questions. We might not all be asking all the same questions, but you know what I mean. I'm thinking particularly of this group we've been mentioning called Emergent. I feel like I'm trying to sell something...sorry if comes off that way! Just trying to help.

One of the best books you could probably read to get into this conversation is "A New Kind of Christian" by Brian McLaren. It's the story of a pastor who's basically burnt out and asking a lot of questions. He meets an ex-pastor turned science teacher and they begin to dialogue about a lot of the things that bother many of us about what Christianity has become.

Meanwhile, I'll be blogging again tomorrow or the next day. Hope to hear from you again.

The comments to this entry are closed.