Now let’s talk about presence.
Scripture is the teachings of the apostles and the whole witness of Israel as well as the faithful proclamation of the Church fathers to provide the texts that form an authoritative witness that speak to both myself and my community. It is an address to the Church, no, I am not part of the church at Corinth or Galatia, or Laodicea, but I must take seriously that these texts speak to me despite my removal from them. The problem with modern scholarship is the overemphasis on the absence of the text from us, where Paul’s address to the Galatian church is so historically conditioned that it has little relevance to me.
The presupposition of many scholars, liberals and conservatives, often is that there is no one diachronically united universal Church gathered throughout time space and history as the one people of God. However, we must recognize that St. Paul’s church still lives today. Paul’s church is the one that believing discipling scholars, parents, brothers, sisters, families in Christ adhere to not only in name but in living tradition.
Wherever Christ is central, the Eucharist is celebrated faithfully and the people are being shaped into the form of Christ, that is the Church of Peter and Paul. Wherever there is a subversion of the powers, and a continuity with the ecclesial witness, where the people are in the Spirit of New Creation making manifest an icon of the coming kingdom and live out their faith under the authoritative experience of the apostles, walking humbly, doing justice and loving the power of mercy to transfigure the world as we know it, it is there that the true authority of the scriptures is being exercised.
The scriptures are present to us as a written account of an ongoing conversation between God and His people. They’re preserved not as a perfect fossil record of some long distant quibbles in a fringe sect of Judaism, they’re present to us as our instruction and conversation partner in a community that has existed since before these letters were composed, and has affirmed them because they contain the written witness to what this community has been saying all along.
Understanding the text isn’t something i can do with scholars alone, it isn’t something I can garner for myself without coming to participate in the tradition that the scriptures are a record of. The thing about this text is that from its very foundations it is written to draw me into the people of God. Without this participation I cannot possibly understand it. The strange stories and metaphors aren’t completely shut off to the interpreter because they’re part of the very formation in the tradition that the scriptures are part of.
The Scriptures albeit removed from us in many ways are still serving as or instruction and our wrestling to grasp them, or rather to be grasped by them and to let their words fill our mouths and lives and our bodies is imperative. Those who interpret scrpture in and for the Church must always try to be saying what the scriptures say, and what the ongoing tradition that produced those scriptures says.
The reason protestantism got off on the wrong foot was assuming that the text made sense apart from the church fathers and the apostolic witness. The scriptures do not witness to themselves, but to Christ. In our faithfulness to this Christ, and in unity with the Church’s proclamation, He Himself is in some ways present to us. The wrestling to say what scripture says is our task, and in that wrestling it makes itself present to us. However, we ourselves must work to make ourselves present to the text, and we do this in and through the Church’s dogmas as a framework for our unity with the Faith. We are not inventors, we are communicants in an ongoing proclamation, a communion across time and space. We do not need to invent doctrines, either prosperity on the one hand, or excessively inflammatory, sometimes bombastic, or problematic dogmas on the other.
If we abandon the rule of faith, the dogmas of the Church and the historical foundation for interpreting these texts, we will fail. We must set ourselves open to the historical reality of the texts by putting ourselves in historical unity with the community it has created. Even if this unity does not mean full communion with the Roman congregation, it must at least recognize an equality if not primacy of Rome. If we read the scriptures apart from the dogmas of the church, then it really doesn’t matter what the text says, because we’ve cut ourselves off from its authority before we began. The witness of the Church is foundational to our understanding of this text, the early Christian witness found in the mothers and fathers of the Church need to be present as living realities in some form in any community that claims the name Christian.
Scripture and Tradition are as I mentioned before the two ventricles to the heart of the Christian’s devotional life, because when taken rightly they inspire prayer, and show us holiness and service unto God, both i the life of Christ and those who have followed after him. Scripture reminds us that we are still the Israel of God, and that if we have received salvation it is only because we have become an offshoot of the branch of Jesse, an addendum to the kingdom of David. The tradition shows us our place of unity with Christianity, and we must take seriously Jesus’ call that the church be made One as He and the Father are one. Scripture is present to us as the witness of one united Church’s proclamation, and it deserves our attention, our respect, our scholarship, and our reverence, even when it is broken, imperfect and challenging.