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flights of fancy?

September 14, 2011

Paul was an academic, he had been trained in the best school of the day, with personal input from the religious leader Gamelliel. From an early age he had learned to reason and quite clearly he had one of the sharpest minds of his day. So it’s a bit of a surprise that when he writes to the church plant in Ephesus he more than just down plays this – he tells the readers that his insight into this `mystery` has been shown (revealed) to him. The clear implication is that Paul would never have discovered this knowledge by himself.

Ephesians 3:1- 6 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

This raises a difficult question that the church over the centuries does not have a simple answer to. Is Christianity supposed to be rational or not?

On the yes side are many learned academics who point to the basic logical consistency of the gospel narrative (By that I mean the whole of the bible story from Adam to the new earth, and not just the Jesus story). They would argue that faith is rational and that as we worship God we are called to do so with all our heart, soul and MIND.

On the other side we have people who point to the dry and dusty academia which has led to a `faith` that while it may be logical and consistent, is not understood in the heart, not lived out and has not set the world alight! These people advocate that Spirit inspired revelation will connect heaven and earth and produce true Christianity.

I guess it is easier to weigh down on one side or the other, to choose between the options, but my hunch is that – as we so often find – truth is found at both ends of the scale, and we need to live in the creative tension of holding both.

In a sense this is the old Spirit or Word debate, and it is true that there are many churches that have been built by holding to one or the other, great Spirit encountering congregations with vibrant worship but with little depth of teaching on the one hand and wonderful teaching centres where people gather each week to hear the deep things of scripture unpacked but have little about them that looks like `life`

Of course we need both. Enthusiastic worship in Spirit and Truth and the church built up with knowledge and experience of truth. Neither of these is anywhere near enough to produce a church that can do what the church plant in Ephesus needed to do. To be a witness to a different way of living, counter culturally, to demonstrate the living presence of the risen Jesus was still able to make a difference to lives broken by the Roman empire, and to have a solid intellectual defence for the pagans who dismissed this new thing as “lightweight”.

Paul had direct revelation from God, he valued the prophetic, he worshipped in the Spirit “more than you all”, but his was a ministry that was also marked by profound thinking and logic.We need to have the same!

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