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Thought for the weekend


By Allen Sleith

When people try to offer a succinct summary of the Bible's message or the Christian faith they often light upon Jesus' great commandment, "love God, and love your neighbour, as you love yourself" as their answer.

Two corollaries: first, your neighbour is not just the person next door, or even any person you might meet, they're actually each being within God's good creation; and second, the love of God is prior to our response.

The key concept here is relation - the relations between God, self and neighbour, in the same expansive way that Jesus embodied and taught. Or, to put it another way, the living of the Christian ethic is about making the connections thus involved or implied. But to argue that the making of such connections is of the essence of our faith is, of course, only the start of the matter; it's how we make those connections that really counts in the long run.

Some churches argue that the Bible alone provides the answer to our questions and makes the connections infallibly clear. Others state that the church itself, through its teaching office, is the final arbiter on how such connections are made in face of life's challenges.

Still others hold several factors in play: scripture, church tradition, human experience and contemporary knowledge all provide necessary resources to help us decide what to do. And yet others tend to rely on their own version of inspired insights or special revelations to guide them.

To briefly refer to the first of those methods, the one that claims, in good Protestant fashion, that the Bible alone is our authoritative guide, it's worth considering this. There are numerous such denominations worldwide, who all claim this formal authority for the scriptures, yet far from having a uniformity of theology, polity, spirituality or ethic, they demonstrate, at best, a tenuous unity or extended family resemblance. Whence the differences? Why their distinct ways of being? A suggested answer, perhaps because God doesn't so much dictate propositional truths as indicate coherent reality.

By all means talk about the sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Christ but less in terms of a controlling accuser and more as the One who creates in love, guides towards wisdom, inspires faith, encourages hope, and judges by the criterion of grace.

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