With as much regularity as my schedule allows, I attend a Sunday morning adult education class offered by my congregation. It's called "The Bible Speaks Today," and we look at our reactions to the previous week's sermon while also trying to take a look at the biblical texts on which this week's sermon will be based.
This past Sunday, as he does now and then, our pastor, Paul Rock, dropped in on the class about halfway through. Because his sermon the previous week was about so-called heresies, I asked him if he'd share an example of a church teaching or position with which he struggled and how he came to resolve it.
He said that when he was attending Fuller Seminary in California, the teaching of the Presbyterian Church (USA) was that homosexuality was sinful and that there was no place for such expressions of it as gay marriage. Without doing a lot of deep study and reflection about that, he simply adopted that position.
But, he said, later experiences opened him up to the reality that he had faithful gay people as members of the congregation he was leading, and he had to re-engage the biblical passages that were the basis for the church's condemnation of homosexuality. (I had to do the same thing, and some of my struggle is found in this essay.) That re-engagement, he said, caused him to change his mind.
One of the roles of pastors such as Paul is to be our congregational theologians, which means to help us work through doctrines and dogma and to reconnect it with a thorough and reasonable reading of scripture.
In fact, as pastor and theologian Bruce Epperly argues in this engaging piece, one of the roles Christian pastors are called to is to be the rabbis of the congregation.
He puts it this way: “Your calling is rabbinical. You are called to be the primary theologian of your congregation. Even if your church has a handful of seminary professors as members, you are still the theologian of your church. You can’t avoid this calling, but you need to be a good and thoughtful one!”
Although it's often expressed in indirect ways, members of any faith community have a theological hunger that sometimes doesn't get addressed. Without thoughtfully led discussions about such issues, people can find themselves adopting positions that are quite out of touch with that community's positions.
So if your religious leaders aren't helping you find at least provisional answers (perhaps the best we can expect for now) to the prickly theological questions, they aren't doing their jobs. Ask them to.
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IN SEARCH OF THE GARDEN OF EDEN
If you wanted to visit the Garden of Eden, where would you go? Over the centuries lots of different locations have been proposed for the original one (if any), but today in Iraq, as this fascinating piece reports, two competing sites continue to draw tourists, despite ISIS and lots of other troubles. I wonder how many tourism dollars around the world are spent to visit mythical sites with almost no connection to reality. I'd start that count with Disney World and Disneyland.