….and another thing

By John Stettaford

It’s been a strange week. For instance, with so many being away at the autumn festival sites, I expected it to be quiet, with me being left largely on my own. But the reverse has turned out. I have had more telephone calls, text messages and emails than usual. Some encouraging, some disquieting, others posing questions for which at present I have no answers. An instance of a disquieting message involved two of our local congregations having, apparently closed down. Since I don’t have confirmation that this is true, I’ll take that no further.

More stories about people teetering on the cliff whether to leave or stay. And even two personal invitations to join a proposed breakaway group. Let me make my position very clear. I do not have any permission to leave this fellowship. When I was told that I would be forbidden to preach or teach on future holy-days based on the so-called “Leviticus 23 outdated” days, I made the decision to forebear preaching and teaching on those seven days so as to be of continuing service to Reading and other congregations on the remaining days. As one of my correspondents was pleased to say of me, “It appears that God hasn’t finished with you yet.” And since that appears to be true, in that in preparing the few messages I have given since that draconian edict was pronounced, I have experienced the same buzz of inspiration which I believe is directly from the holy spirit, and is taken by me as an assurance that I should continue to teach as God wills and directs. That doesn’t exclude the lectionary which we are now to use.

But I only use that as a starting point, since it seems so shallow and naïve, such that it seems an insult slavishly to stick to its guidance with a sophisticated congregation that is over 40 years in teaching and instruction. For a young congregation and a new speaker, the lectionary answers many questions. Where are ideas to come from? How to use scripture to prove the point being made? How to avoid heresy or innuendo that undermines stolid instruction. The new speaker may also have daily work, a young family, other pressures of life, and doesn’t have all the free time to research and solidify biblical teaching. The only problem I have with our lectionary, is where speakers stick slavishly within what it says. Then it clearly shows how shallow it is and how rooted it is in orthodox understanding. That is, to elaborate, most Christian churches have ‘consensus’ teachings.

This is particularly true of biblical exegesis. When a difficult Old Testament or a New text obtrudes, scholars and Christian divines have come to a consensus as to what the passages mean. Woe betide any translator or preacher who questions the consensus, even though there are many who have legitimite questions about consensus passages. Joseph Lightfoot in the 19th century, for example, tentatively proposed that the Psalms, although written by David and others, was really the mind of Christ exhibiting what lay behind some of his public statements. But that wasn’t the consensus at the time, so he never dared to defy the convention carried it forward. It took a retired school-teacher in the 1920s, Ethel Grey, boldly to elaborate the idea, and clearly to show the truth of it (“The Portrait” by Ethel Grey. A free .pdf version will be found on our website). Understanding that at least in the Psalms, book one, unlocks great meaning for the summary statements Christ publicly made, has become key to enlarge Christ’s thinking for us. It was always there but not revealed. The age of inspiration is not yet passed. Let me conclude—and I promise not to dwell on this subject again for some time—may I stress to you that whatever you feel concerning the changes being introduced in January, please take time to consider any action. Nothing changes until Passover/Easter time. I hope in the interim months that explanation might be forthcoming.