WHAT CHRISTIANS SHOULD BELIEVE: HISTORY BOOK

Note: This is a chapter out of my novel, If God is God (Symbios 1996). I don't agree with Pastor Josh on everything he says, but I think he is very accurate in his explanation of what Christians should believeI'm not seeing that, folks; I wonder why.

 

Chapter 36 - History Book

Saturday went by with a lot of comings and goings at the Felton house. Some were somewhat anxious tos and fros, just because no one knew what to anticipate in the days ahead, but mostly it was an exciting, happy day. Josh's sermon preparation turned into Bible study. Prayers were prayed, and many subjects were discussed by whoever was around at the time. Hard questions were asked, some of which could be answered and some of which couldn't. No one seemed to care what might be going on elsewhere. This was their time to get to know one another, and to grow as they learned.

The Sunday morning service was full, but not unusually so. Only the board members knew about the upcoming "information gathering" session, and Josh's unusual antics were old news by now, so there were few curiosity seekers. It was mainly the regular congregation come to hear the regular inspirational message. Many were going to be surprised.

Josh let Emily play, and the choir sing. He let the offering be taken, and let the usual announcements be given. When the time came to step to the pulpit, he was both anxious and excited. The excitement was inevitable because he felt he was stepping out into new territory. He knew he had something extremely important to say. The anxiety was less easily explained. It was present merely as a nagging question about whether or not he was doing the right thing. No, he knew he was doing the right thing. Only... He stepped forward.

"Those of you who have been coming Sunday evenings have been sharing with me a study of the life of Jesus, as we know it from the Bible. It's clear that we don't really know that much about Him, if we're speaking  in biographical terms, but we do know a tremendous amount about what He did, what He thought, and what He felt in those last few years.  Of course, those last few years are the real key to what we as Christians believe.

"So, it's in the Bible, but where? The Bible is a big book, if you try to read it from beginning to end, but think of how much of it is just history. The entire Old Testament is the story of mankind losing touch with God, and of God trying to reestablish contact. If we had to, I think we could sum up the really pertinent message of the Old Testament in just two thoughts.  The first is in First Samuel 8, and covers a time period when God was dealing direct with men and women - and liked it that way. The people of that day - let's think of them as 'we', because it's a continuing story from them to us - were afraid to deal one-on-one with God. 'We' thought we needed an earthly ruler and a prescribed set of rules to live by. God granted our request, but He told us four things. First, that wasn't the way He wanted it; He wanted to deal direct on a day-by-day, case-by-case basis. Second, He guaranteed we wouldn't like it. Third, He said we wouldn't be able to live with it. Finally, he said that after He showed us that there was no way humans could live under a fixed code of law, He would give us one more chance to get back together with Him. The way He would reestablish contact is spelled out in Isaiah 53, and it's what we Christians base our whole faith on: on Jesus Christ coming to live as a human being and dying to take away all the sins that we have committed, and will commit, so that we can have access to God again. That's it, folks; that in one long paragraph is the Old Testament!

"Now, that doesn't mean you shouldn't read the entire Old Testament. If you do,  you can get to know the history of God's dealing with us. It's good reading, as you know, and the Holy Spirit can teach us a lot from what has been written. But, plain and simple, the Old Testament is the history of how we were given the opportunity to become Christians.

"I've realized just lately that most of the New Testament is also 'just history'. What I mean is that, just as the Old Testament tells how people dealt with God and God dealt with people prior to our reconciliation with Him through Christ, the New Testament except for the four Gospels is a partial history of what happened after the reconciliation. I say 'partial history' because we're still making and writing that history day by day. The New Testament records for us how those closest to Him - both in time and space - reacted to Jesus' time on earth, and what they heard Him say, what they saw Him do, and what they heard others say about the Gospel message.

"I find this concept of New Testament as history to be very freeing, in two ways. First, it explains a lot of the things in the Bible that don't seem to agree with what Jesus said, as recorded in the Gospels. Now, I believe in the infallibility of the Bible, meaning that I don't believe that there are any errors in it. However, to believe that in my heart, my head has had to ignore some things in the Bible that really haven't made sense to me, because it's very obvious that Peter, Paul, and others were not always saying the same things that Jesus said. Very shortly after the Resurrection, church leaders were already bringing Christians back under the law - parts of the Mosaic Law, but also a host of new rules and regulations. For example, Paul was making pronouncements about women and slaves that seem far out of touch with the freedom and equality that Jesus preached. How can this be, if the Bible is true and infallible? Well, here it is, folks: the Bible is one hundred per cent true, in regard to what happened. But it is history, not a primer for Christians, so what is true is not necessarily right. What I'm saying is that the New Testament from 'Acts' on is a record of what people did with Jesus' teachings, not always what He wanted them to do. What He's given us in the New Testament are examples - both bad and good - of what we did with our new-found freedom."

Josh paused to see if the congregation was as excited as he was. He couldn't tell. The church was very quiet. For a moment, his mind went blank, and then the thought came to him again that he might be getting himself in trouble. Part of a scripture came accusingly to his mind - these  are babies who need milk, and you're force-feeding them meat! But, on the heels of that thought came another: yes, but all babies must eventually eat solid foods, and some of these babies are ready! His mind cleared. He felt that a thirty-second battle with powers and principalities had been fought and won by "the good guys". The congregation never even noticed the pause.

"I said that there were two reasons that I find the concept of New Testament as history (rather than as right or wrong) to be freeing. This second reason is that it means we have to focus on the four Gospels as being the part of the Bible that has the real meat and the real message for us as Christians. This is as close as we get to Jesus talking to us directly and telling us what life should be all about. This is the place where we get Jesus' words and deeds recorded just as precisely as the authors of the Gospels could remember them. This is the part of the New Testament by which we judge the rest. In other words, if something Paul says seems off base, judge his words against Jesus. Are they right, or are they just history? Is it Peter just muddling along trying to do the right thing, or is it the Holy Spirit giving us the straight scoop through Peter?"

Josh paused again. His mind flashed back to the words he had just spoken, but now they were different. Is it live, or is it Memorex? a stray thought asked him. He grimaced. That's wrong, but for the life of me... Get thee behind me, Satan! A bright light flashed in his mind, and another thirty-second battle had been won.

"This might cause us some concern at first glance, because right away we have to ask ourselves how we can be sure we know the difference between right and history - between good intentions and Jesus' best way - when the Gospels don't treat the subject exactly. This is where one of God's best promises comes into play. He's told us that we have immediate and continuous access to all His wisdom by asking the Holy Spirit, that 'comforter' that Jesus said would be here with us, and for us, until He returns. He's said that we can have 'the Mind of Christ' in all matters, just by asking for it. Think about it: this is vital to Christian life! If you don't know those scriptures, look them up. Try John 15:24: the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, shall teach you all things.  Matthew  10:1 8-20:  don't worry about what you'll say when challenged; God will give you the right words. How about James I:5: if anyone lacks wisdom, call on God, Who gives wisdom liberally. Or First Corinthians 2: 16: we possess the mind of Christ! Read them for yourselves; look at them in context. These are terrific!  There is no reason for a Christian to be confused or in doubt about what is right and what is true, but we need to practice asking for and listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit every day.

"A few weeks ago, some of us accepted a challenge to always ask ourselves (and the Holy Spirit, of course) what Jesus would do if He was faced with each of our daily challenges and circumstances. When we started, we didn't know how to ask that question and get the right answer, but I'm convinced we know, now. Listen to me, people! Christianity isn't just  going to church, or looking forward to going to Heaven.   It's a full, every day, every minute, every second communion with God through His Holy Spirit, if that's what we want. God said, if I am God, then let me be God. Folks, we are missing so much by not taking Him at His word! ·1f you haven't accepted the challenge - not as a game, but as a commitment to really take God at His word - I urge you to start right this minute to let God be God in your life."

Josh felt that people should be leaping to their feet, that heavenly singing should be breaking out all through the congregation, and that they should be feeling the physical presence of God like tongues of fire or a mighty wind. But, when he stopped talking, the church was still. No one stood, and no one was singing. In fact, no one seemed visibly moved by anything that he had said, or by any feeling of God there in the congregation. For a moment, he felt deflated. He had the urge to exhort them to come to the altar, to feel what he was feeling. But he didn't. He closed with a hymn and a brief prayer that God's Holy Spirit would use the words he had spoken to reach each person individually.

The only outward evidence that God had been in the church was a few warm handshakes and "thank yous" as the congregation filed out. And these seemed to him to be outnumbered by cool handshakes and no words.

* * *

"I never had so much trouble with a sermon in my life!" Ev rested her hands briefly on Josh's shoulders as she headed back to the kitchen. "Well, it sounded great. I don’t know what your problem was, but it certainly didn't affect what you were saying or how you said it."

Josh shook his head. "Really! Well, that just goes to show what we've been saying, that the Holy Spirit looks out for us and causes things to go right, even when they' re wrong." He shook his head, again. "I just kept spacing out. This was such an important sermon, and yet my mind kept wandering off into the blue right at the most important times."

"Really?" She came back from the kitchen, wiping her hands, and sat in the other recliner. "Like how, for instance?"

"Well, for instance, I had just said something about what kind of message we' re supposed to get from the New Testament - something like, is it true or is it history? All of the sudden, my mind was saying, is it live or is it Memorex. You know, the commercial!"

Karen had come into the room as he was speaking. "You thought about a TV commercial in the middle of your sermon?  Daddy, you're weird!"

 He pulled her down on his lap as she walked by.  "Maybe so, but if I'm weird I got it from my kids." 

"Daddy, that's not the way it happens!"

"Returning to earth for a minute, children," interjected Evalyn, "Tell me more about these memory lapses."

He dumped Karen on the floor. "Well, it happened twice. It was just a second or two each time, but I got disoriented to the point that I wasn’t sure what I'd just said, or what to say next."

Evalyn was getting more interested.  "So, how did you get back on track?"

"That's the interesting part. I didn't. As I said, this was all in my mind and was only taking seconds, but each time I got a confusing thought it was followed by a clarifying, comforting one."

"How did you get out of the Memorex mode?"

He laughed. "That was just 'get thee behind  me, Satan'."

"The author of confusion," mused Evalyn. "I was just thinking: you were confused, and Satan is the author of confusion. The right response to Satan's confusing tricks is to tell him off. The Holy Spirit fought and won a battle in your head!"

Josh looked at her with respect. "Clever woman! I'm sure you're exactly right. And that fits in with my first lapse, too. I was beginning to worry that maybe I was getting too deep into my teaching, and right away I seemed to hear the scripture about people needing milk before they can eat meat."

"Which is true, or at least half true. I bet I can guess how the Holy Spirit handled that one."

"Be my guest."

"Satan used a scripture that seemed to invalidate your sermon, just like he misused scriptures with Jesus in the wilderness.      Knowing  what   we   know   about   this congregation, the scripture could be true.  But the Holy Spirit said yes, that is a true generalization, but Christians can't drink milk all their lives. They've got to get on solid food some time, and there are some people here who are ready today."

Josh moved from his chair to kneel by Evalyn. "You are very wise, my love. I've known that, but I don't think I've told you. I'm very lucky to be your husband."

"Thanks," she said, teary-eyed as she leaned down to kiss him.  "I've needed that!"

 * * *

"I think Josh may have added some fuel to the fire today," said Paul, half to Jenny and half to the Sunday paper.

"You mean that his sermon will anger some people?"

He lowered the paper to his lap. "Well, the ones who would get angry are already angry, so I don't think there'll be too many new recruits against him. But he has given the Whites and the Herb Currys of the world one more grievance to bring before the board and denominational headquarters. After all, he did say that the New Testament was just  a history  book, didn't he?"     He  picked  up the paper again, and disappeared behind it.

Jenny got up from her chair, and pulled the paper aside. "No, he didn't, Paul. He said that he thought... " Then, she saw that he was grinning at her. "All right, smarty, you got me!"She pushed the paper back up in his face, and sat back down with her needlework. "Anyway, what he said is that he thought we should read the New Testament the same way we read the Old Testament, both as what God wanted and what He got"

"Very well put, Jen.  I think that's exactly what he said and meant.  But I think some people will still complain that he talked against the inerrancy of the Bible."

"You don't seem very worried about it."

He put the paper aside. "I'm worried, but only because there will be more confusion to sort through. But, if anybody asks, I'll say I agree with Josh one hundred per cent - or at least ninety-nine per cent. You know, I've always had trouble with certain parts of the epistles because what was said and done wasn't what Jesus seemed to want done. Saying that we'll understand it better by and by always seemed a little simple to me. Josh's explanation rings true."

"It does to me, too."

He started to pick up the paper again, but stopped and leaned back in his chair, pensively.

"Something wrong,  Paul?"

He shook his head. "I was just thinking about Betty. She's worked for me for over five years, and I can't say that I ever had a clue that anything like this was happening. She can be pretty remote at times, and so apologetic it drives me up the wall, but I just thought those were personality quirks."

Jenny put down her handwork. "I can only believe it even now because God seems to be letting me put two and two together to explain some things I remember from the past. I think it's been going on as long as we've known her. Poor woman!"

"Poor woman, indeed. And - don't hit me, now - I think we have to agree with Pete, and say 'poor man', too. He must be in real trouble with himself, to have to do such things."

"No, I won't hit you. I agree. What do you think, is there anything we can do?"

He sighed, and shrugged his shoulders. "We can keep praying, for sure. But now that we know, I think we have to do something more active, too. We can't let it keep happening, if we haveany choice."


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