Wednesday, October 28, 2009

David Scholer on Hebrews Part 5: Pilgrimage of Believers

David M. ScholerWhile the Revised Common Lectionary continues its triennial journey through the book of Hebrews, I'm working through a series of lessons from 2001 taught by the late David M. Scholer.

This week's lesson: "The Pilgrimage of the Believers in Hebrews" (File uploaded by Larry Harnisch)

My observations:
  • Dr. Scholer mentions during his introduction that some of what Hebrews has to say about salvation may make many Baptists uncomfortable, because it sounds at times like one can lose his/her salvation.  It is important to remember that Scholer, an American Baptist, is teaching a group from his home church.  Since Scholer notes that Baptists have been more or less "Reformed" since 1660, I expect the issues would pertain equally well to Presbyterians (my own tradition).
  • If Christians are said to be on a journey (emphasized often during this lecture), Christ can be said to have made that journey, as well.
  • Scholer suggests that the message "delivered through angels" is the giving of the law itself.  There was apparently a tradition that Moses was surrounded by angels, referenced in other New Testament works, as well, but I don't see any references to angels in the Mosaic texts, even in Deuteronomy, which Scholer specifically cites.  I can only assume that there is a translation issue, here, and that the word translated "angel" in some English versions is translated as some other word in the version I'm consulting.
  • Scholer relates an account that he had shared with some reporters in then-recent past, reflecting on the significance of the 9/11 terrorist attacks (barely more than a month previously).  He suggested that the attacks could be seen as a "wake up call" to return to God.  Hebrews seems to arguing something similar to that audience.
  • Hebrews 11 gives a long list recounting examples of people who lived by faith.  People who endured while on "the journey" before the coming of Christ.  The author suggests that Abraham (and, perhaps less explicitly, the other figures mentioned) was looking forward to God's eternal city.  This is not explicitly mentioned in the Old Testament text, but Abraham is depicted as a person who "believed God," and thus is suggested to have taken part ("deep down") in promises of God that have been made known in the centuries since.
  • Scholer counts 32+ figures mentioned in Chapter 11.  Hebrews says that none of them got the promises God had made to them, but that they would get them when the Christians get them, too.  ("So don't let them down!" Scholer suggests the author is saying)
  • Five characteristics that should be true of people on the journey:  
    1. The pilgrim believer is not to neglect the salvation offered by Christ (the price of neglect is high).  That's why there are so many strong warnings in Hebrews.  (Next week, we'll get to how serious this warning is.  Can you lose salvation?)
    2. A believer ought to grow toward maturity.
    3. Pilgrim believers must engage in mutual support.  You don't care just for yourself, but try to make sure that everyone else makes it.
    4. The pilgrim believers are encouraged to accept discipline and suffering, because Jesus did.  This is difficult, not just because we don't like to be disciplined, but also because we know about issues of abuse and oversimplification when this teaching is cited.  But the fundamental idea of this teaching holds--God will make us stronger, and more able to cope.
    5. Believers must have perseverance and a clear focus on Jesus.  Related to this is the call to "go outside the camp," a reference to Christ's death on the cross (which could not be done within the city itself for religious reasons.  Sacrificial animals were slaughtered outside the city walls, as well, and the blood then brought inside for offering in the temple).
  • In the question and answer session at the end of the lecture, Scholer is asked how he might apply some of the lessons of Hebrews discussed in this lecture (specifically, the call to "go outside," mentioned above) to their congregation.  I expect some of these ideas will work for other congregations, as well, and I appreciate Scholer's suggestion that people need to learn about cultures and ways of living that are different from one's own.
Next Week: salvation and perfection

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