Practising Ministry 3: The Firmest of Foundations

In general, I think we would agree that anything we believe needs some sort of foundation. A very simply example could be: “Cars need fuel to work”. Whether this is petrol, diesel, or electricity, cars need fuel. This belief is pretty easy to back up: just wait until the fuel gauge on your car reaches empty and see if it keeps working!

This is a simple example. But, whether its a complex belief or a simple one, we must have something to back it up.

Why does this matter? Because, as a minister, I need a  foundation for what I believe and do. This should be beyond personal experience, because, as I have reflected elsewhere, the best basis for a belief is something objective and free (as far as possible) from the limited perspective of humans. That being said, my own experience of faith can be a powerful tool in ministry.

This foundation is offered to Christians through the Bible. God speaks to us through the Bible, revealing His character, His plan to save from sin, as well as revealing the best way for us to live with one another in this world. The Bible can be described as “God’s Word made flesh”, because God’s Word is available to us in this physical form. “God’s Word made flesh” also applies to Jesus Christ. We look at Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and teaching as the climax of all that God has to say to us about salvation and how to live.

God gives us this insight into his eternal perspective so that we can draw upon to shape our lives. This provides us with the objective foundation upon which we can build our beliefs.

This does not mean Christians believe things just, “because God says so”! The contents of the Bible can, by and large, be verified using other sources, like archaeological evidence, or records from other Ancient writers. 

The contents of the Bible also makes a great deal of sense when looked at either philosophically or epistemologically (this can get quite complicated, however, so I will reflect on them elsewhere). All of these things serve to make the Bible a reliable source which can give us a healthy and moral perspective on life, as well as connecting us to God.

It is also worth noting that, for the Christian faith to make sense, the Bible needs to be a foundation. I know it might seem odd for me to say this now, since I’ve been implying it all through this post, but for some Christians, the Bible is not the foundation for their faith. Instead, what they do is come with their own views and beliefs, and cherry-pick the bits of the Bible which suit them and back up what they believe, and chuck the rest. 

This is not an appropriate thing to do, because what you end up with is a belief system designed from the subjective point of view of the individual, and backed up by blatantly disregarding certain parts of the Bible. I would hardly describe this as a “solid foundation” for belief!

In order to have this firm foundation, we must take the Bible in it’s entirety, including all the bits which make us feel uncomfortable! We then wrestle with it in order to understand how God’s Word can impact and change us today, making us better people. 

As the Bible says about itself:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17 NIVUK)

Christianity 101: Moral Living? Says Who!?

To explore this topic in more detail, you can read another of my posts.

In Western culture, we are living with two equally held beliefs, which completely contradict each other. We are told that following certain laws, and respecting certain rights, will lead to a happy society. We are also told that everything is relative and subjective, and we can only make our own happiness.

In other words, the former argues we should live good, moral lives, and this leads to happiness. The latter questions the grounds on which we can actually know what is morally right. Historically, people have looked to the state or the “majority” to decide these things: this has tended to end in disaster. And you cannot have a structured society where everyone lives be their own rules: that’s called anarchy.

Many people conveniently forget that our “free” and “equal” society is actually founded on the moral beliefs of Christianity. This is important because it can be argued that God is truly the only means of knowing what is objectively and morally right.

If God really is outside of time, all knowing, created us, has revealed to us the best way to live in Scripture, then we can know truly objective moral truth, and try to live by it. Anything else is simply subjective, open to question, and cannot really be the foundation of a cohesive society.

Moral living! Says who!? Well…God, actually!

Practising Ministry 2: The Trouble With Truth

When you were young, you might have been told that it’s important to tell the truth. We are encouraged to believe that something is either true, or not true. That’s certainly what the definition would imply: truth is “that which is in accordance with fact or reality”. 

Truth is therefore something which is objective and can be acknowledge as correct. Two things which are completely opposite cannot simultaneously be true: only one can be the truthSeems simple. Unfortunately, not.

Your Truth, or Mine?
Western culture is steeped in the belief that truth is subjective. We cannot know something as objectively true because we are limited beings: we can only see things from our own perspective and this limits our ability to know truth beyond ourselves.

What is true for me, then, may not be true for someone else. And all claims of truth must be valued as equal, because we are not in a position to know which claim is better than the other.

While this sounds very fair, in practice it doesn’t work. We are seeing this already: there are plenty of examples of conflicts between competing viewpoints. Two contradictory “truths” cannot exist simultaneously: logically, one must gain dominance.

We cannot even rely on a majority view as a basis for defining truth. There are plenty of historical examples which show the dark places human beings can reach when we define truth by the views of the majority.

Can We Know The Truth?
In the second chapter of The Gospel As Center, the author addresses this very question. We know humans cannot know truth objectively, because we are
 limited by our perspective and experiences. In order to really know objective truth, we would need access to a much broader perspective, one which spans all of time and space. Thankfully: we do!

God. God is able to provide us with an objective view of truth, because God exists both within and outside of time (since He created it!). He knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). He also knows us individually and better than we know ourselves (Romans 8: 26-27).

These things, in addition to the fact that God is omniscient (all-knowing) mean He knows truth objectively, and is able to communicate that to us, so that we know the best way to live for ourselves, for others, and for our world.

Ministry of Truth
God communicates His objective truth to all of us through the Bible. This gives my ministry a solid foundation, because knowing God’s truth grounds what I believe and what I do.

From this comes the responsibility to share my experience of God’s truth with others, demonstrate God’s truth in my life, and let God’s truth shape my actions and thoughts. I need to listen to others who also believe God’s truth, so that together we can work out how it applies to us today. I  respect the fact that others can claim their own truth, but I still try and show them why God’s truth is better for them and our world.

For this reason, I hope my life and ministry is always founded on God’s truth, because, as Jesus Himself says:

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8: 31-32)