Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Children Interpreting the Bible

I remember when I was about 10 year old asking a Sunday School teacher if "Thou Shalt Not Kill" meant animals. She said she did not know. I also remember very clearly someone telling me about the veil between the main section of the Temple in Jerusalem and the Holy of Holies. The teacher said that people tried to break that veil using oxen and other animals so they could know God. The seperation between the God and man was broken when Jesus died on the cross; there was an earth quake that broke that curtain giving mankind access to God I also remember a Vacation Bible School lesson how each one of us is unique and we are not a number. I did not get it. I was being raised in a rural farm community and computers were a novelty, not a force for making the world impersonal to me.

Here are three clear communications from a good church with good teachers that simply missed the mark in Bible interpretation, missed the mark on the facts of the Bible and missed the mark on application of the Bible.

Why did these lessons go wrong? I think pure and simply that there was a lack of concerted effort to train the teachers.

When one gets the same message from two different places in a short amount of time, one should pay attention, perhaps God is trying to say something. The first time I got the message was reading my text book for class called "Creative Bible Teaching" by Lawrence O. Richards and Gary J. Bredfeldt. The authors have a whole chapter on how the church does a poor job of teaching Bible to children when the point of Cain and Able is that God gives us bodies. It is true that he does create our bodies, but I think the story of Cain and Able is about those who do not worship in faith hate those who do. The story of Noah is not about cute animals being gathered into the first zoo with a back drop of a beautiful rainbow. It is about God moving sovereignly to judge sin and you and I should not fall into the same type of sin. When Jesus feeds the 5,000 using a boy's lunch, it is not a story about sharing, even though sharing is a very good manners. (We all should have good manners, but good edict is nice but one does not need divine revelation to nice.) We spend years and years misteaching the Bible that is it any wonder that people who have been raised in the church miss the point of a simple story.

The second lesson comes from the Jollyblogger who also has an article on this same theme. He quotes John Walton who says that often children's lessons....

1. Promotion of the Trivial

2. Illegitimate extrapolation

3. Reading Between the Lines

4. Missing important nuance

5. Focus on people rather than God

You may need to go to follow the link to jump to Walton's expanded version to get all of that.

In one sense it is understandable that people who write lessons for children try to meet them where they are. That is a good thing however, we should not think of the Bible as a book that says what ever we would like it to say. It says what could not be known without revelation from God. It does not teach us good manners. Mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, and a host of other people are qualified to teach a child to be polite. (And again it is good to be polite.) But teaching children that their ultimate purpose is to worship God, that is not intuitive and must be learned from God revealing himself through his mighty deeds. The first commandment is that we are to worship God who defines himself and says how he desires to be worshiped. Are we teaching our children to break the first and most important commandment when we substitute new meanings to lessons from the Bible?

Comments are welcome.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Church Review: Reformed Church of Canberra

Another in my series on reviewing churches. The Reformed Church of Canberra is a gem. Perhaps in some ways one of the most friendly churches I have ever visited. I ask for the bus number that runs close to their church, they volunteer to have someone pick me up. I come as a visitor, they treat me like an honored guest. I come as a stranger not knowing anyone, I am celebrated as a brother in Christ from a far away land. After church meals are a big part of church life at the Reformed Church of Canberra, at least that is what it seemed to me. I was invited to the home of a warm couple in the church who also invited a family seven to their table. The conversation was lively and diverse. I can't say enough about the hospitality of the church, on a scale of 1 t0 10 with 10 being the best, they are a 10 on hospitality.

Pastor Peter led the worship service and preached in a compelling fashion. There was not a disconnect between the music and preaching, instead this was a worship service. While the service was quite formal, I also found it refreshingly, a spiritual time of meeting God instead of music set to re-enforce the preaching. There were responsive readings and prayers that felt appropriate to the worship atmosphere. There were a variety of passages read as the public reading of the Word of God, but the passages were not too long or short.

I was impressed with the way the Lord's Supper was conducted. Fencing the table was done before the worship service even officially began. An elder read an announcement about the seriousness of taking the sacrament and how one should not take it if he is not a believer. The pastor also explained their views on the subject to me before the worship service even began and made sure I knew that as a member of a sister denomination I was welcome. I think their up front fencing of the table actually made it easier to concentrate on the meaning of the Lord's Supper. I also enjoyed how those taking communion came forward to a table, sitting on both sides of it. There was more of a feel of a meal than something being done for us. We were participating there together. A Lord's Supper order of service was taken from a book used by the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia. I thought the use of the book helped guide the service.

The music of the worship service was hymns in style but metrical Psalms were a good number of the hymns we sang. I have not attended many churches which use metrical Psalms but the Reformed Church of Canberra does it well.

Over all, I was blessed by these brothers and sisters in the Lord.

A Short Reveiw of Gary Chapman's book on Anger

Anger: Handling a Powerful Emotion in a Healthy Way by Gary Chapman is a must read for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike, even though it comes at the issue from a Christian perspective. If you have ever hear some of the anger management type psychology stuff going on out there (or seen the movie Anger Management) you may not see the value in examining the topic. Chapman however does do a good job of talking about real situations, and is realistic about solutions. (He does not expect that rephrasing the problem in trendy psychological terms to abolish ones anger issues.) Probably the most two surprising things he says in the book is that anger by itself is not sin and that if someone does not apologize, one need not forgive the offender. Both he backs up as a Christian point of view. There is more to it than that, but I will allow your curiosity bother you a bit so you read the whole book. It is worth the read. The strength in the book is in the pragmatic explanations of what to do. The weakness of the book was the lack of cartoons.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Moving from Snail's Pace to a Turtle's Pace

I have been in seminary for over 12 years off and on. I have thought that going to seminary should be done with real ministry going on so that the education is connected to the real world. However, taking one class at a time most semesters has meant progress toward my degree has been at a snails pace. My boss at my day job mentioned last week his plans for my departure after I graduate from seminary. It sort of got me thinking, I certainly am not making the progress that I had envisioned. I am over half way to my degree but at the rate of one class per semester, I still five years from finishing. I have prayed about it and I am cutting back on ministry and diving into more studies. Okay, I still can not take but perhaps two to three classes per semester, but that will speed things up to twice the rate as before. That will move me from snail's pace to turtle's pace. I was praying about this and a brother at the church called to encourage me. I have had that happen very infrequently. I believe God providentially had him call. This phone call helped me with the decision.