Monday, January 07, 2008

Getting to grips with scripture and culture

I've had an interesting few days wrestling with 1 Corinthians 11-14 and how we do church in our world.

I remain convinced of two things. The first is that we need to read the New Testament more carefully against its social and cultural background, to mine it for resources to help us re-imagine the church in our own generation.

That sounds easy enough until you start asking questions about the domestic arrangements of the early Christians, their relative position in the social pecking order, their economic circumstances, the influence of other religions and philosophies and especially of the Imperial cult. And there's a stack of other questions that lurk behind them.

So are we able to recover the circumstances and meaning of our authoritative texts.

The second relates to that final point. Two thousand years of church history and our denominational backgrounds deafen and blind us to what the texts are actually saying. We cannot hear Paul above the cacophony of our own traditions.

Someone once described culture as 'the way we do things round here' and that pretty well describes the situation we find ourselves in. When I talk about 'church' in our setup, people immediately form a picture that involves our worship space (of which people are very fond as they invested cash and labour in creating it), our music (of which people are both proud and critical in equal measure), our preaching and teaching, Sunday School, groups and departments within church life.

Immediately we are thinking of something that Paul didn't know and never envisaged. More than that, we are interpreting Paul's words against the background of the church we know. So when I asked last night whether church should always involve food, the immediate comment was that it would be a lot of hard work for the catering committee because they couldn't conceive of church with food being something that happens beyond our building and present context.

For all these reasons, I have a feeling that last night misfired somewhat! Next week I need to be simpler and more direct - while hopefully being true to my understanding of what Paul is saying to us in 1 Corinthians 11-14. We'll see

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