Tuesday, June 25, 2013

You Got Questions. I Got Answers.

In our denomination there is an increasing divide between those who love to ask questions and those who love to give answers.

When looking to Jesus' example, either "side" might find texts that bolster their perspective. There were times in Jesus' ministry when he responded with a less specific response than his questioners (or the modern-day reader) desire. Yet there were other instances when he provided an unambiguous answer and commanded his disciples to believe in certain things about him.

Both of these principles are present when Jesus is teaching his disciples in John 8. Our Lord says to his followers in verses 31-32, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." Here Jesus turns our eyes to the inseparable link between truth and freedom. His teaching (which is all of Scripture) gives us answers. This statement excites those who prefer answers. Once you have those answers, Jesus promises that you will be set free. The promise of freedom makes the "questioner" giddy. For the sake of both sides, it is worth exploring what it is that we who have the truth are being set free from.

By Jesus blood we are set free from sin. With God's truth we are set free from dangerous wandering.

The answers provided in Scripture, the creeds, and the confessions of our church are like a guide book in the wilderness of life. David uses a similar analogy in the Psalm 119:105: " Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path." If you have a good map you are able to explore the trail and the wilderness with confidence. But the moment you lose the guide book the wilderness becomes dangerous. Berries that look delicious could be deadly. What looks like a shortcut might lead off a cliff. Those makeshift barriers built by previous hikers are easily disregarded if you convince yourself the destination is just on the other side. For anyone who has ever been lost in the woods, you know that the wilderness can feel like an endless prison where each step only leads to more doubt about where you have been, where you are now, and where you are going.

The mighty Holy Spirit and the infallible Word of God have guided the church throughout all times and places. Our denomination has a rich heritage of Spirit-led pioneers, who have each trekked their leg of the path with expertise and integrity. Men like Alvin Plantinga and women like Johanna Veenstra have been equipped to take risks because of their skillful and creative use of those indispensable guides.

Where do we go from here? First you need to realize if you're a questioner or an answerer.

I like answers. At the end of the day I want to know what a trusted source (like the Bible, the confessions, the "Contemporary Testimony" or a fellow preacher) has decided on an important topic. I like to give reasons for the hope that I profess. I like to be sure of what I hope for. This means I need to be intentional about having a gracious and hospitable attitude towards questioners. It's not wrong if people with big questions pursue them within the structures that our church has deemed appropriate. Under the God-ordained supervision of first the council, then classis, and finally Synod we can be free to apply biblical discernment to new ideas. An "answerer" like me needs frequent reminders of that freedom.

For those who prefer questions, you generally think of ideas as being near or far from the truth instead of right or wrong. This doesn't mean you reject absolute truth (you know there is a destination and a way to get there), but the amount of truth that you believe is knowable is less than the typical "answerer" would claim. You are more likely to probe the mysteries of Job, the startling emotions of the Psalms and the theological complexity of the incarnation. However, you may need to be reminded of Jesus' teaching that real freedom cannot be had without truth. In our denomination that translates into your need to embrace the confessions as the handy trail map that they are. It's not that this will automatically impede your inquiries, but it does hold your questions and beliefs accountable to the standards we have covenanted to keep.

Jesus and the Apostle Paul couldn't be clearer about the essential relationship between these different parts of the body of Christ. We need both. And that means we need questioners who love the truth as well as answerers who are willing to question. As we work together instead of against one another we take part in fulfilling Jesus' promise in John 8.

John Calvin, echoing Jesus' words, tells us that faith is based on knowledge, not ignorance. As Christian Reformed people who are outfitted with knowledge and the Holy Spirit we can be free to proclaim truth boldly and to ask questions about what each truth means for our lives.

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