The version of Christianity passed along to me was based on a very narrow sort of primitivism.
Growing up and on into my college and adult years, the fundamental (no pun intended here) concept behind the faith tradition of my family was "restoration." The goal was to restore in word and practice the life and teachings of the earliest Christian communities. We wanted to be "1st century Christians," never mind that we found ourselves in the midst of the tumultuous twentieth century, a fact that we seemed to work hard to ignore.
As I slowly began to awaken to a larger view of my faith, it became clear that both our understandings of the earliest Christians and our selection of just which words and practices to restore needed serious reconsideration.
For example, I grew up convinced that instrumental music in worship was a heinous sin worthy of eternal damnation! Our list of practices, terms and methods to be "restored" was set out very clearly and in terms that made it easy to pass along to others. And, did we ever try! The "five steps to salvation," the proper organization of the church, the correct terms for labeling church leaders, the frequency of celebrating the Lord's Supper, the strict avoidance of the historic creeds of orthodoxy (afterall, the earliest believers had no such statements), refusal even to pray the Lord's Prayer since it was a prayer from the Mosaic dispensation (never mind who first offered the prayer!). . .the list went on.
I remember working my way through a book written by a famous preacher from a generation before mine. "Why I am a member of [my denomination]." We worked our way through that book again and again. I remember as a young minister in training that I led my country congregation through the book. Reflecting on that experience, I think it was then that the sharp turn in my own view began to become clear. Internally, the book's title changed slightly but significantly to "Why am I a member of my denomination?"
While the notion of restoration had much to commend it as a framing tool/principle for biblical interpretation and hermeneutics, the major challenge with the method had to do with the choices to be made as to what would be restored. The subjectivity of the entire process made for lots of really strange divisions and practices in our little corner of the Christian world.
My questions began to revolve more and more around what Jesus said and did.
The value basis of his words intrigued me greatly. Consideration of their application led me to listen to other voices outside my heritage. And, Jesus led me to rethink my approach to the Bible in general.
Not surprisingly, I found the same values expressed in the Hebrew Bible, values that clearly under girded those of Jesus. I remember vividly when it hit me that Jesus was executed for his value statements and for what they meant regarding how he and his followers treated others. It became clear that his values and actions, his lifestyle and sacrifices charted a course that made lots of sense in a world of pain, need, war, division and injustice like mine.
I suppose I'll never completely escape the interpretive paradigm of my youth. So, for me the question will remain, "Restore what?"
How about this for a start?
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you invited me in,
I needed clothes and you clothed me,
I was sick and you looked after me,
I was in prison and you came to visit me."
Here it appears to me that we hit upon the restoration of people and our world.
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