Lesson 44: Conversation as Discernment

As Bob makes clear it is easier to make conversation around the meal a symbol than to implement it as an activity in any large gathering of the Church. However, I still think it deserves to be considered in our time.

The Bible presents Christianity as an ongoing conversation between God and his people. God communicates through words, so much so that Jesus is portrayed as the living Word.

Prayer makes clear faith is a two way conversation. Even more extreme examples are Abraham (Genesis 18: 22-33) and Moses (Exodus 32: 11-14) reasoning with God and the Canaanite woman teaching Jesus (Matthew 15: 21- 28).

Traditionally God has spoken through selected leaders in the Bible and in our parishes. I can see many reasons for changing that symbol from the pastor proclaiming God’s Word for a gathered congregation to the community sharing the Word with the pastor’s help. First, as Bob also observes “the pastor talking at the congregation has not had a lot of effect”. Second, there is question whether a lot of the leadership is equipped to be the only authentic voice in our time. Although we all know education does not make a person religious, there are still good reasons to expect adequate training if people act as experts in specialized areas. “The Christian Century” recently published statistics that show only 58% of pastors speaking to groups larger than 4,000 a week have advanced theological education. I noticed this trend when doing research on The Power of Positive Thinking School. The founder, Norman Vincent Peale, had very respectable seminary training. Joel Osteen, the present major spokesman was an undergraduate at Oral Roberts University for only two years.

A third reason is the role of many pastors as celebrity in our day. Increasingly, we find religious celebrities speaking as experts on political, social, and financial issues. I just finished reading a news article citing Franklin Graham, the CEO of Billy Graham Evangelism, making awful claims about Islam. Graham hardly qualifies as a scholar of that religion. He had a very difficult time even getting an undergraduate degree.

It reminds me of a member in my congregation, who wanted in the worst way to get into seminary. Although he was rejected a number of times, he sometimes wore clerical clothing when out of town. On one of those occasions, he was watching Bill Clinton’s inauguration parade when CNN interviewed him as a voice of he church.

And maybe a fourth reason is the democratic culture in which we find ourselves. Parishioners already listen to the sermon or church teachings and then decide for themselves what they shall practice in their religious lives. Making the community conversing around the meal a symbol of the modern church would simply acknowledge what has already taken place.

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