questioning the Bible and stuff

OK, here is the scenario. We have a bunch of ordinary men following Jesus, men like Peter who doesn’t exactly cover himself in glory in the Gospel accounts but are still men of faith.
Then years down the line they are the leaders of the church, men who write letters that are more than letters but scripture and God’s Word. The memory of Peter the bumbler seems long gone when we read 1 or 2 Peter, almost as if a different man has been writing the book.

There is an authority in his words that is used as the measuring tool against which Christians 2000 years later still measure their lives by.

But there is something in this all that doesn’t measure up.

Yes, Peter was older and wiser and far more importantly he had witnessed the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. He had changed. Who wouldn’t?

Yes there was something profound that happened but did  Peter the bumbler still exist after all that or did he become (for want of a better description) ‘super-spiritual‘?
I expect that as Peter got older and older he did become more and more like Jesus, but did he become so like Jesus that the impulsive, ‘speak-before-you-think’ type of guy completely disappear?

The impression I’ve gathered over the years are that there are two Peter’s.  The  ‘get behind me Satan’ fisherman Peter of the Gospels and the eloquent church leader Peter.

I guess this is all coming from thinking about the character of any Christian leader I’ve encountered.
They are far from perfect men(like us all!),
they all have deep character flaws even if they’ve been Christian’s for decades. Of course those character flaws might be less pronounced than when they started following but still, they persist (like us all!). There are human and sinful and it’s to be expected. Nobody is perfect.

Yet they are also adopted into the family of God like Peter and Paul, the same Holy Spirit who was in Paul is also in their lives and the life of any Christian you know.

So should we expect the leaders of a church to be any less holy than the Apostles?
Should we expect the Apostles to be any more Holy than our church leaders or Christians we know?

Or as I should have put this at the start and saved out wading through all that, where the Apostles special?

Of course they where in a way because they witnessed Jesus and all that happened back 2000years ago which I certainly didn’t.
In the regard they are special.

And yet they were also men like me.

The reason I’m struggling with this is (once again) reading church history.

There is so much in the way that we do church that isn’t in the Bible but has been the work of early church leaders or from tradition and what has ‘worked’.

To pick one example ‘The Holy Trinity’ isn’t mentioned in the Bible.
To pick another the way that a church might be organised with bishops and archbishops being more powerful(?) than those priests or vicars below them doesn’t really seem to be in the Bible.

Or to pick another the books that made it into the New Testament where not decided by someone in the Bible, but by early church leaders centuries afterwards.

I find this lack of acknowledgement of the early church leaders and their reasons for closing the canon of scripture or for saying ‘Yes, the book is divinely inspired and should be in while this one isn’t‘ a bit disturbing or dishonest, or maybe false?
I’m not trying to go all da Vinci code with conspiracy theories either, just that it doesn’t seem to me to be as simple as some pastor saying that everything you need to know about life is in the Bible as it’s divinely inspired by God. That’s not to say that isn’t true either, just that history is important as well. Especially history that makes a decision as fundamental as the formation of the Bible.

Bruce Shelly writes in his book ‘Church History in Plain Language’
‘To this day we find it almost impossible to think of the Christian faith without the Bible. It is the foundation of Christianity’s evangelism, its teaching, its worship, and its morality. When we look over Christian history, we find few – if any – decisions more basic than those made during the first three centuries surrounding the formation of the Bible….We need to ask, then, how did we get the Bible?’

And that’s the whole problem there. Never once was it deemed important to question the Bible in my evangelical, Christian bubble.
In fact it was the opposite. You should never question the Bible, the Bible and Scripture should question you.
Much of my Christian bubble has been based on this premise that the Bible is God’s Word and that it’s our supreme measuring rod. You don’t question it, you obey it. Often it was a rod to beat down rebellion or to beat down those who might be homosexual or Roman Catholic or a woman in ministry.

Yet here is the thing just to say it again.
There is a history of the Bible that is vitally important yet is never mentioned or deemed important of mention. As Bruce Shelley writes
‘When we look over Christian history, we find few – if any – decisions more basic than those made during the first three centuries surrounding the formation of the Bible

The formation of the Bible isn’t deemed to be important even though few decisions have been as important to our entire faith. The decision of what should go into the canon came from church leaders who I know absolutely nothing about, as if what they did wasn’t really that important.

I’m not sure why this is disturbing me so much. I guess that it might have something to do with having to trust leaders I know nothing about, who if they are anything like the men and women I know will make bad calls even though Godly and expect that they made a decision that had immense importance (When we look over Christian history, we find few – if any – decisions more basic than those made during the first three centuries surrounding the formation of the Bible.) and that it was completely spot on and Holy.



skipping church and stuff

This morning I am skipping church. My legs are aching and my nose blocked but they are not life threatening and certainly not enough to stop me from making a public appearance at this morning’s service.

So why am I skipping church?

I don’t know. It is hard for me to put my finger on. There are many reasons. I will unpack them now over my coffee and aching legs.

1 I’m not a Marching Anymore

A few weeks ago the church choir sang this song

‘Will you ride, ride, ride with the King of Kings?
Will you follow your leader true?
Will you shout hosanna to the lowly son of God
who died for me and you?’

I think it’s that attitude of ride, ride, ride that’s a stumbling block for me in church, not just my present church but every church I’ve been  a member of.  Perhaps that is why I feel I should put the brakes on sometimes.

This ride, ride, ride attitude that I’ve heard from countless pulpits seems to leave no room for doubt or questions, for mess or grey especially during our traditional Presbyterian church service.
If you’ve ever been to one you will know that it’s your job to sing verse after verse of hymns like a metronome which contain aspects of doctrine and statements of faith that you don’t really have time to process.

You might be singing a hymn and the first verse hits you and you say  ‘Oh that is quite a bold statement of faith, do I agree with that?’ but already you are racing on to the next verse and sitting down and now the minister is praying and you’re confessing sins and listening to a children’s address and singing another hymn and riding waves of doctrine and faith and then maybe the pastor will be reading a chapter from Ephesians and you will be thinking ‘Oh, that sounds harsh’ or ‘Isn’t that wonderful?’ but there is no time to reflect on that either because the minister has now launched into his/her sermon and is hitting you with more spiritual truth or proclaiming words that aren’t actually his words, but God’s truth for us today and then it’s another hymn, a chat with someone over a cup of tea (in a cheap polysterene cup) and back home.

Basically you are expected to receive or give everything in faith quickly and without room in the service for working through issues or for having a discussion. And the nature of sermons seem to be to give an elaborate ‘Sunday School’ answer to grown-ups.

This is sort of related to the above but the main reason that I’m feeling guilty right now about not attending this morning’s service is because I feel as if I’m letting the minister down by not attending. This attitude of ride, ride, ride means that if I don’t ride,ride, ride I’ve let people down such as the minister and even the apostle Paul further back.

My minister has heard that I played guitar and has been determined that I should join the praise group over the past number of years. He has said the words ‘We need you in the praise group’ in a stern manner as if that is my preordained position in the scheme of things. I play the guitar therefore I should join the praise group.

It wouldn’t be such a big deal except I’ve seen it countless times over my years in church. The minister has a vision of the way he would like church to be and therefore it will be moulded that way. If someone is friendly they should be on the welcome team in the door. If the someone is young and trendy they should help out with youth group. If someone is a teacher they should be teaching Sunday school.

My dad was talking about this over Christmas in how the minister used to have incredible power over members of the congregation, probably as they  are seen as God’s spokesman and representative in the community.
And so your job isn’t to question your leader but to do whatever your leader says or thinks you should be doing as they know what God thinks you should be doing and God thinks you should be playing guitar in the praise group. Next thing you know you’ve been teaching Sunday school for 30 years or church organist until you die as you can play the piano.

Often the leader of the church doesn’t seem to be Jesus, it  seems to be the  church or whatever has been decided should happen at the church by whoever is ‘in charge’ of the church

Stepping back there is the whole truth that the pastor or minister isn’t supposed to be the head of the church or the brains behind the operation and yet it doesn’t seem to be that way.
The brains behind the whole church operation seems to be the minister with the elders as  supporting cast.
The church set up seems to be modeled on Jesus and the disciples with minister in the role of Jesus, the elders as the disciples (with an inner circle of committed elders) and the rest of the church as the crowds flocking to hear Jesus.

It is hard is hard to write these things about the minister as so many of my friends are ministers or training to be ministers and I don’t think they’re control freaks or craving power, they’re just ordinary men and women who are following Jesus.
But I guess that a part of my frustration is partly borne out of being a concerned husband to someone who is training to be a minister.
The attitude of the minister as  leader of the church puts unfair pressure on the minister to keep  standards up and not let the side down, to stick to the script and have all the answers. We don’t really like our leaders to be messy and unsure about the direction to take.

For instance it doesn’t matter if the minister is having a particularly awful week, their job is still to get up on s Sunday morning and deliver a sermon that speaks God’s truth in front of people whether they feel like it or not. |
Of course it is hard for many people in jobs having to do things they don’t feel like doing (a teacher who isn’t in the mood to teach  still has to teach) yet perhaps there is something particularly hard about speaking about God and those deepest parts of our humanity when our heart is in a different place.

3 There is one on tonight
This is the main reason.
We have a service tonight (for some reason). So there are two church services today. Should I be feeling guilt about not attending the service this morning while ‘only going’ to the one tonight?
I don’t think so, and yet somehow I do.



Last night I ended up in bed early reading (trying to read) 1st Timothy and finding myself told off, condemned and generally rebuked by what Paul was saying compared to some of the things I had been saying in those last few posts.

But then the feelings of anger and frustration started bubbling up as I just don’t like the tone of the letter on first reading. To be honest my initial thought was ‘Who is this man to be telling me what to do?’

Of course Paul was telling Timothy what he should be doing but some of those things do seem like general commands Paul tells everyone to do.

And that is the whole problem.
Here we have a man, writing personal letters to individuals like Timothy 2000 years ago yet we have to take it in faith that when Paul says something to Timothy in a letter he isn’t just writing a personal letter, he is speaking the word of God. It applies as much to me as it does to Timothy.

Sometimes this seems like a big jump to take, to stake your whole life on a letter like this.

I haven’t linked any of these recent posts up on Facebook as I’ve a feeling that some of my friends will think I’m going off the rails spiritually and that partly scares me, and partly annoys me.
I don’t want to try and pick holes in Christianity or the Good News, I just want to know it’s true. But Im afraid some of my more evangelical, reformed friends would say that I’m trying to undermine scripture or that I’m blaspheming. And when that comes into the picture the mental images from childhood of the devil and flames of hell start flooding back, of spending an eternity in eternal condemnation.

The basic thrust of their argument seems to be that you just have to submit and trust that the Bible is the Word of God and trust in that no matter what.

Yet if you know any church leader, even the the most Godly you know that they’re broken people who get things wrong. Even the very best theology books have errors and blind spots, the very best sermons might be incredible but it won’t be perfect.

So how could it be that a personal letter wouldn’t have some errors or be influenced by Paul’s personality for example or his passions, by the blind spots? Or do we just have to submit to the bible without asking any questions of it?