Here are the preceding posts in this series: I, Can adults be saved? ; II, Word or the Church? ; III, The unattractive body, IV, Miraculous, ordinary, conversational experience ; V, The arrogance of the infant (a) ; VI, The arrogance of the infant (b) ; VII, The “Church-speak” that we need ; VIII, Judge your mother, o child (the tragic necessity of the Reformation) ; IX, Divine revelation and infallible human opinion [!?] ;
Jesus said to His Apostles, “He who hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16) – and we know we are to not doubt God’s words. Just because some who are put into positions of authority by God get terribly “off message”, flying “off the rails” (see Matt 5 [“you have heard” and “but I tell you”], 16, 21:25, 22:29, 23:16-22 ; Mark 7:11-12 ; Luke 6:1-11 ; John 5:33-34,39), does not mean that we should think God has no interest in using formal offices – even in spite of their misuse! (see Matt 23:2) – and has not set up a very structured way of handing on testimony that can be relied on.
For in these persons – in whom God has put His trust – we find the preferred way of “verifying” the Church’s claims for ourselves. In other words, we should, first and foremost, be talking with these persons in authority, who in fact will often be aware of objections to the historical testimony that they bring (having perhaps doubted it themselves)! When we find ourselves confronted by factual evidence, which on the face of it at least, looks like it should throw our current understandings of our heritage into doubt… the wisdom and discernment of these persons is needed as these facts and accompanying claims are honestly weighed and dealt with.
Now, it is true that – in reaction to the claims of “Enlighten[ment]ed” man – we might be tempted to see this whole matter of God’s divine revelation as not being so grounded in “human” and “earthly” (“worldly”?) things. Is not the reliable knowledge that we have about math, some science, and certain historical events, for example, at the very least distinct from the reliable knowledge – the divine revelation – that comes from above in the power of His Holy Spirit? Are not such distinctions absolutely necessary in order to safeguard that which we hold precious and true?
But we must remember what it is that God has safeguarded for us to know (see Luke 1:4, see Phil. 3:1 as well). In history, he has simply safeguarded the Apostolic deposit –which is simply knowledge – by causing His Church to write the Scriptures, and to further recognize these as His own words (there are key books we know the *entire early church* to have recognized). Therefore, we must be careful here, for just because something that was revealed by God Himself in an unusual course of human events (for example, as He did with the disciples with His miracles, His transfiguration, His resurrection and the meaning of these) – as opposed to being the kind of knowledge that is gained during the regular course of human events – it does not make it anything different in terms of it being real knowledge that all men can, should and must know.* For example, the resurrection, after all, would seem to be the ultimate way the true religion is “materialized”, following closely on the heels of the incarnation (again, see Acts 17:31)
No – we cannot fail to realize that faithful people go hand in hand with the evidence – in that they reliably bring forth the objective “good news” (the faithful /true/trustworthy sayings and reports!) – that which comes to us from outside of ourselves – into the present day. They do not give the Word its power, but their presence is important and cannot be separated from the message’s proclamation: “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (II Tim 2:2) and “just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts” (I Thes. 2:4 ; see also I Timothy 1:12, 3:11 ; Isaiah 8:2 ; I Cor. 4:2 ; II Peter 1:16 ; Proverbs 12:22, 13:17, 25:13 ; Daniel 6:4 ; Luke 16:11, 19:17 ; Titus 1:9 ; Acts 16:1).
Evidently, Jesus, for example, was at times exempt from this otherwise unavoidable reality (as He did not receive all His divine revelation from parents and teachers): “Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved” (John 5:34) – while others were to hear John the Baptist – “unauthorized” though he may have been! – as we are to hear others today (see John 5:33)
And by the grace of God, among men, those Christians who spend much time learning the Word of God and the Church’s past are the most reliable of men.** These are the persons we look to when we know we are in desperate need of help. We look to those who speak the truth and also “speak” the love that God gives them to share with their neighbor. We look to men who are honest about the “little truths” of everyday life and about their own sin in particular – and, fearing the Lord, are ready and eager to be corrected when wrong. We look to those who are honest about human nature in general (and if blessed to have such knowledge, honest about the very real helpfulness and real limits of various kinds of scientific methodologies). We look to persons who are very aware that it is their responsibility also to humbly, patiently, and firmly correct the errors of others – and that repentance and reformation are always needed among God’s people, starting with themselves. We treasure and pursue those who welcome “interruptions” from those in need and are eager to forgive and give persons the grace of God. And we look to people who are willing to seriously listen to those who do not embrace them, who try and understand what they say, and do their best to accurately represent the views of these to others. We are drawn to those men of God who are honest about the challenges they see with God’s words and events from the past that deeply disturb them and all human beings sensitive to the value of human life. We are especially impressed when we find people who seem to embody all of these traits. We are attracted here because we know that the wisdom found among the godly is wisdom more profound or reliable than that of the worldly wise. “Wisdom is justified by all her children” indeed – God is most definitely not blasphemed because of them (see also this post from Rod Dreher from yesterday, which dovetails nicely with this post. Update: and this one)
And like children, we to can recognize this character and love – this love of the Truth, truth, and each human being (see here, which I linked to in the beginning of part I). For every one of these that falls into sin and doesn’t get up, there are many more we are confident will never surprise us and never do – because we know and knew them to be those whom we can trust (imperfect though they be – see the “Cretan’s paradox” issue dealt with here) as regards important matters current and past. And even as some amaze us, we come to be amazed still more by others – and in turn trust them even more than the others.
To be a Christian is in fact to trust in men more than one’s non-Christian fellows. In trusting in those who trust the Father, we trust in the Lord indeed – and we are blessed in realizing that authority ultimately goes hand in hand with love, faithfulness, service, beauty, and all things.
*-I note that the world is *very confused* about what knowledge is. Among the elites, there exists an unwarranted trust in many kinds of scientific “knowledge” that are anything but. On the other hand, their conceptions of what knowledge is are very constrained, anemic, and impersonal. For example, they might not think that your knowledge of your family’s history is really knowledge if you can’t prove what you know to them (perhaps you even have some tangible evidence but it does not satisfy them). Nor would they consider your knowledge that you are in a stable marital relationship with a spouse, for example, to be something that you or anyone else can rely upon to any real extent – it is not something that qualifies as knowledge. Further, we should also point out that some knowledge is dangerous – and some things need not and simply should not be doubted. Truly, while some knowledge can be created through doubt, much also comes through and from persons we trust, present and past – and which often is able to be backed up with good evidence and reasons (when do new methods and principles that seem to “work” trump what we know from persons and their purposes throughout time?)
**-There are those who have a lot of knowledge of the Bible, but not a living knowledge, formed by trust. In other words, having the most basic outlines of this knowledge in embryonic form is necessary but not sufficient.
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