Friday, February 08, 2008

Knowledge, Love and the Building of the Church

This post was inspired by a number of circumstances in my life, as you may observe--the last being a call from my daughter, telling of a prominent Christian speaker who was tearing down the beliefs of other Christians, even calling their salvation into question, based on his view, which they don't share, of the Scriptures.
Tim will often ask me, pondering the thought processes of some animal that has caught his attention, how smart that animal is. "Mom, how smart is a barnacle?" And not knowing of any way to assess the intelligence of such an animal, even though I suspect its intelligence to be quite limited, I don't know how to answer him. So I say something to the effect that, "It is just as smart as God intended it to be--it has all that it needs to live its life in its particular surroundings." It's true. It's smarter than I am about how it needs to go about living its life--I would never know how I could fasten my head permanently to a rock and shovel food from the ocean into my mouth, as I recall being told they live their life. (How anyone knew that the glued-on part was the head or that the feathery part that came out was the foot, I remember wondering at the time that someone told me that at an oceanography camp I attended as a kid. I think someone must have assumed something along the way about these strange animals.) The important thing is, the barnacle knows what it's doing and can survive the toughest storms because it does just exactly what God intended it to do--no more and no less.
In my last entry I blogged about joy and how my emotions seem to outpace my knowledge or wisdom; just lately I have been reading A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, by Eugene Peterson. It's a book covering the Song of Ascents, the Psalms that the Hebrews sang as they would go up to Jerusalem for the feasts. I find many of these psalms amazingly comforting, something in which the soul can rest--and the further explanations given expand on this, such that I often have to pause to ponder and pray, because they address an issue of one kind or another in my life. In fact I'm wondering whether that has been the catalyst that has brought the joy that I've been experiencing lately; probably so, because even in the reading I feel it.
The latest psalm it has covered is Psalm 131; in NASB it says, "O LORD, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; Nor do I involve myself in great matters, Or in things too difficult for me. Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD From this time forth and forever."
The writer is, forgive me for the simplicity and perhaps seeming insult, like the barnacle I described above. I don't mean it as an insult, but as an illustration of a proper response to God's design. The writer is submitting himself to just what God designed for his life. He's not seeking out knowledge or wisdom that is beyond God's design for his life, beyond his functioning point. He finds contentment in knowing enough, in being what he is supposed to be, and he rests.
I realize that in my blog entries, sometimes I grapple with things that are on the edge of (or maybe beyond) my understanding. I am inclined to ponder them to a point and realize that there's much beyond what I can fathom, but what God gives me is useful for my life. It's important to ponder God, to wrestle with the truths that are in His word such that a person can properly apply the Word to his life and live it out in obedience. But I don't know that we are all called to be much beyond that, theorizing and concluding things that aren't necessarily specified clearly in the Scriptures.
In John 17:33, in Jesus' High Priestly prayer, one of the priorities that is uppermost in His mind is that we as believers are unified. It is one of the things He most cares about when He prays to the Father, or else in that prayer He no doubt would have said something that mattered more. He wants us to know it, too, or it wouldn't have been included in the Scriptures. Unity is of uppermost importance to God. In Ephesians 4, the unity of believers is described as imperative for the building of the Church, which I believe is central to the will of God. When we wrestle beliefs out of the Scriptures that aren't clearly there, and those beliefs separate us from other believers, that tears down the unity and is destructive to the building process. Not only is the building of the Church described in Ephesians, one of the great things that Jesus has accomplished that is described there is the tearing down of the dividing wall between the Jews and the Gentiles, before the start of the building with Himself as the cornerstone is even mentioned. What we need is to function the way God wants us to, basing all that we believe on what the Scriptures clearly say and allowing for the different interpretations that don't conflict with these. To separate with other believers based on our own unsubstantiated theories is to build up a new dividing wall; it appears to me that it smacks directly against the will of God. "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up"--and it's vital that we love and build up others, and work toward building up the Church as a whole, rather than let ourselves be puffed up to our own glory.

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