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Contend for the Faith, Part II

Anti-Traditionalism and Ahistoricalism by T.M. Moore

The summary of this article could be the sentence near the end:
How much do you know about the history, traditions, and practices of your church?

How much does a Christian know about the history of the Church? How much does one know about what else was happening in the Middle East during the events recorded in the Bible? The book Worlds in Collision (published in 1950) attempted to relate ancient writings among different cultures around the world to common events. The Old Testament stories take on new interpretations when the context changes from a Bible-only story to one encompassing different cultures. Reading the Bible to the exclusion of all else provides the reinforcement that the Jews are God's chosen people because the Bible is a mythical record of Jewish ancient history so as they survived their catastrophes the inclination is to believe that God's hand was guiding and protecting them. However when other cultures also recorded their survival of similar catastrophes the tendency changes to interpreting those common events as having natural causes, rather than supernatural influences.

How much does a Christian know about the traditions of the Church prior to the 1st Century? Jesus was born the King of the Jews and yet, once the home of the Church leaders moved from Palestine to Rome, Christians stopped following many of the Jewish traditions. Even such a simple Jewish tradition as celebrating the Sabbath, the holy day of the week, on Saturday rather than on Sunday is not followed.

The oldest books of the Bible, when the culture of the Jews was the least mature, contained mythical stories of direct conversations with God and the cultural leaders. God even walked in the Garden of Eden. Culturally the early Jews were probably less literate and apparently more superstitious. Later books in the Old Testament have God working in other mechanisms, like a burning bush, and is no longer directly seen, perhaps because the Jews were interpreting natural events as following a presumed supernatural direction. The early Books of the New Testament involved the life of Jesus, the man apparently born to be the King of the Jews (because through the bloodline of this father he was a distant 'son' of David), but whose life was later interpreted as being that of the Son of God. The last books of the New Testament involve the teachings of others in the early Church; some probably knew Jesus (if the true author a book is the same as the person of that name in the main four Gospels, like Philip or Judas) while others certainly had never met the person of Jesus (like the apostle Paul).

How much does a Christian really know about the life and times of Jesus? In recent years, other writings of the time have surfaced. Most recently there was news of the Gospel of Judas (that suggested Jesus and Judas were scheming together to fulfill an assumed destiny) and the Gospel of Philip (that reported Jesus kissed Mary Magdalene, suggesting a intimate relationship not revealed in other writings). It has been reported (like from PBS) that there were other written works circulated among the early Church members but many were discarded when the official Bible was assembled in the 4th Century. Those other books, many now irretrievably lost, could have presented a different view of the various participants of the New Testament drama. There must have been reasons why those Church leaders chose to drop some books and to keep others.

The presence of the Gnostic Gospels reveals that even after Jesus died many still did not consider him God. It was only many years later that in retrospect some developed their own interpretation that Jesus had been God and so any conflicting writings must be in error. For those that believe the Bible is the infallible word of God, what can be said of the Christians for the first few centuries of the Church? Was their Bible the infallible word of God? Apparently not because some of those writings were later discarded so they must not have been correct, as judged by the Church leaders years later. At what point does the Bible complete its transition from a collection with invalid writings to one with none? With this mess, I can see why the teachings of Mohammed could establish a following because it was based on new writings from Mohammed rather than trying to merge new with old. The fresh start could avoid such obvious problems of interpretations and selectivity (whether justified or not). John Smith started the Mormon religion with a Book of Mormon, kind of an addendum to the Bible.

With such discord apparent in the ancient times, contemporary Fundamentalist Christians sought to solve the problem of confusion by setting down the 'acceptable' rules of interpretation so all conflicting interpretations are suppressed. Instead of teaching an understanding of the history and traditions of the ancient Jews, the teaching consists of emphasizing a particular interpretation of the Bible. Rather than fostering honest research and independent thought this fundamentalist approach is the very opposite.

The answer to the question posed in the article appears to be: What you know should be what you have been taught. If you do not know and appreciate this knowledge of the Biblical worldview then you must work with your church so that you learn just what you should know.

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created - May 2006
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