Do we need new structures for the new thing God is doing?

img_4328In all three Synoptic gospels, Jesus concludes a conversation about the contrast between his teaching and practice and that of the Pharisees (and John the Baptist) by means of a parable about wine and wineskins.

No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out, and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved. (Matt. 9:16–17)

No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If they do, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And people do not pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins. (Mark 2.21–22)

No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. If they do, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And people do not pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And none of you, after drinking old wine, wants the new, for you say, ‘The old is better.’ (Luke 5.36–39)

The reference of the two parables is fairly straightforward. In most cultures, cloth shrinks when it is washed, and it you put an unprewashed piece of material onto cloth that has already shrunk, when it is washed it will itself shrink and tear a hole. Partially fermented wine (the ‘must’) was stored in wineskins, but as the fermentation process continued, it produced more gases and so stretched the wineskin which was made from the hide of a goat. An old skin which was no longer elastic could not stretch for this new wine, so you needed to use new skins for the current years’ wine production. As with most of Jesus’ parables, the information that it drew on was relatively mundane. But what is its significance? What is Jesus referring to?


The most common interpretation of this is the Jesus is showing the superiority of his teaching, and rejecting the Pharisees’ approach to religion—and more broadly, establishing the grounds for the rejection of Jewish belief and practice and the establishment of a new religion of Christianity. Here is a typical expression of such a view:

This, then, is the meaning of Jesus’ parables of the patched garment and the wineskins: the gospel of the Kingdom which Jesus brings cannot be fitted into the the Pharisees’ paradigm or way of living, for “by a mongrel mixture of the ascetic ritualism of the old with the spiritual freedom of the new economy, both are disfigured and destroyed”.

This was the use made of the parable by Marcion to establish a complete separation between ‘the religion of Jesus and Paul’ and the belief taught in the Hebrew Scriptures, which Marcion himself rejected along with most of the New Testament except Luke’s gospel. It has been used more recently to justify the establishment of new ‘churches’, since the new thing God is doing cannot be contained within the structures of the existing churches, which are not flexible enough to contain this new wine.


There are a number of problems with this way of understanding the parable. The first is Jesus’ general attitude to the Pharisees and the law. For one, Jesus at points appears to have no problem with the teaching of the Pharisees; it is their lack of living it out that he has a problem with (Matt 23.1–4). In other words, it is not that they are too ‘Jewish’ that bothers him—it is that they are not ‘Jewish’ enough. This fits with his wider attitude to the law: it might need reinterpretation in the light of his own ministry (and ultimately in the light of his death and resurrection, on which see Luke 24), but he has not come to ‘do away with it’ (Matt 5.17).

The second major problem is the language of the saying itself—at least in Luke’s version. Mark’s saying draws an absolute contrast by which we might think ‘new good; old bad’. Matthew introduces a hint of ambiguity; when he comments ‘both are preserved’ is he hinting that both old wine/skins and new wine/skins are kept? If so, this is made more explicit in Luke: people prefer the old wine, so perhaps the new is for a different purpose. In his NIC Commentary, Joel Green locates this in Luke’s emphasis on the rooting of this new movement within the expectations of Judaism.

The burden of the birth narrative, the genealogy, the temptation account, and the inaugural sermon in Nazareth (i.e. the greater part of Luke 1.5–4.13) is that Jesus is doing nothing more than bringing to fruition the ancient purpose of God. (p 250)

Matthew reinforces this idea explicit in his unique saying of Jesus, which he possibly sees as autobiographical:

Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old. (Matt 13.52)

We might also add that there is an underlying theological problem that is much more significant. If God is doing a new thing, and if ‘there is no shadow of turning’ with God (James 1.17), how is it that what God is doing now contradicts what God did before? Has God changed, or is God inconsistent? Explanations in terms of a change in context are not enough to account for the kind of discontinuity that is often assumed in this interpretation.


But the major problem with this ‘new structures/religion’ interpretation comes from the setting of the passage within its narrative context. In all three gospels, the parable follows the same sequence of conflict stories, though Matthew varies the stories that come after it:

Matt 9Mark 2Luke 5
Healing the paralyticHealing the paralyticHealing the paralytic
Dinner at Levi’s houseDinner at Levi’s houseDinner at Levi’s house
The question about fastingThe question about fastingThe question about fasting
Cloth and garmentCloth and garmentCloth and garment
Wine and wineskinsWine and wineskinsWine and wineskins
Synagogue leader’s daughterGrainfields on the SabbathGrainfields on the Sabbath
Woman with issue of bloodHealing on the SabbathHealing on the Sabbath

(Note that, as ever, Luke and Matthew never agree against Mark, which is a key argument for Marcan priority.) So the parable needs to be read in the context of these stories, and in particular the teaching about fasting. The argument I mentioned above continues thus:

These parables came in response to the Pharisees’ question about Jesus’ practice of fasting compared to their own and John the Baptist’s. Hence this parable also apparently applies to John the Baptist’s asceticism, which Jesus seemed to view as good but passing away, since it was part of the Old Covenant which he was fulfilling and renewing.

The problem here is that this assertion completely ignores Jesus’ actual teaching about fasting: ‘But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast’ (Luke 5.34). This is supported by the Didache, and by the teaching of Christian leaders down the centuries (Wesley is a good example). In other words, Jesus is not rejecting ‘the Pharisees’ paradigm or way of living’ in any simple way since he assumes that his followers will indeed revert to this pattern once he has gone.


So if the parable is not about new structures, what is it about? An intriguing insight comes from the teaching of Elisha ben Abuyah (a near contemporary of Jesus) as recorded in the Talmud.

He who studies as a child, unto what can he be compared? He can be compared to ink written upon a fresh [new] sheet of paper. But he who studies as an adult, unto what can he be compared? He can be compared to ink written on a smudged [previously used and erased] sheet of paper. Rabbi Yose ben Yehudah of the city of Babylon said, “He who learns from the young, unto what can he be compared? He can be compared to one who eats unripe grapes, and drinks unfermented wine from his vat. But he who learns from the old, unto what can he be compared? He can be compared to one who eats ripe grapes, and drinks old wine. Rabbi (Meir) said: Do not pay attention to the container but pay attention to that which is in it. There is a new container full of old wine, and here is an old container which does not even contain new wine. (Pirkei Avot 4)

This offers a striking parallel not only to the parable but to Matthew’s comment about ‘treasures old and new’. And it makes common sense as well. After all, what functions as the ‘container’ for Jesus’ teaching—religious structures or religious people, in particular, his disciples?

In other words, the parable is not about creating new structures or institutions (which surely themselves, over time, will become rigid as the old wineskins have done) but about people who are willing to receive the teaching about what God is now doing. We don’t necessarily need to scrap the patterns created in response to earlier teaching (though we might be interested in reforming them). Much more important is whether, as people listening to this teaching, we enact the traditions we have received with flexibility, compassion and grace. It was this that the Pharisees lacked.


Two observations about the use of this term in the contemporary C of E. First is that the movement which derives its name from this parable, New Wine, has never called for new or separate structures within the denominations in which it works (principally but not exclusively the Church of England.) Secondly, David Pytches, the founder of the movement, famously called the parish system the ‘prophylactic of the Church of England’. But this structure has not been scrapped. Instead, partly through Bishop’s Mission Orders, and more recently with support from the Strategic Development Fund, church planting has been allowed to happen flexibly within and across this parochial structure without the structure itself being scrapped.

So, what is the ‘new wine’ God is pouring into your life at the moment, and are you being flexible like ‘new wineskins’ into order to receive it—without scorning the old thing that God did in your life yesterday?

(published previously)


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111 thoughts on “Do we need new structures for the new thing God is doing?”

  1. New Wine is a euphemism for the Holy spirit.
    A fortnight ago I met up with the men’s group at church for the first time (just 5 of us). Someone’s testimony made me remember how receiving Christ for the first time was put to me; nearly 50 years ago. Like this: It is like drinking for the first time. When you do it in faith it feels like something natural that for some inexplicable reason you have never done before.

    I picked grapes in Bordeaux once. The sauterne first. They were left for a few days until they were fizzy. Made a wonderful cloudy drink, like 7Up. After pentecost the feeling must have been similar to the drinking ceremony of new Sauterne.
    The Spirit of Jesus is the New Wine bursting the old you. The new skin is Christ himself who will contain and direct the new.

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  2. What bothers me is not so much about new structures: to my way of thinking, that’s putting the cart before the horse. I’m ever more concerned about the headlong rush to get back into the church buildings, as if this was the most important thing for us to do. It seems to me that, by doing so, we are looking backwards, away from the new thing God is doing amongst us and for us. This entails the church thinking outside its buildings, looking at the greater liminal spaces created by worship and teaching on zoom etc, and asking ourselves ‘what does God want us to do in these spaces?’ It also entails our looking at, and talking to, and especially listening to our communities. What can we do together? Where are the needs? Where are the felt needs? What part does God want us to play in the way we respond to this? If we head in this direction, we’ll find ourselves much more aligned to the way Jesus did his ministry. If we don’t … it will be hard not to despair of the CofE altogether.

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    • Within the C of E, what proportion of Christian energy and finance is devoted to keeping the buildings going do you think? In your view, is that energy and money being wasted? If yes, do you want us to abandon our buildings now and who do you have to persuade to achieve that?

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    • Agree in so many ways. I think the new wine is Jesus himself, the Church’s functional head. Imho we need a grassroots understanding of Church, including practicing the real priesthood of all believers. Thanks.

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    • Jesus did all of his ministry in person. That cant be done at the moment so Im not sure what these so-called ‘new’ ways would entail. Im not convinced God is doing a ‘new’ thing simply due to a virus that has not limited itself to a few poor countries unlike before.

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  3. “What functions as the ‘container’ for Jesus’ teaching—religious structures or religious people, in particular, his disciples?”
    Answer: the Church – the single Body of Christ. And to that end the individual denominations, at least in the US and the UK, need to rediscover a radical theological critique of the theory and practice of denominationalism – the notion that “the more the merrier” and that God’s battles can be fought effectively by multiple battalions operating on the same battlefield under independent and uncoordinated commands. Denominationalism says that “my choice is as valid as your choice” and so within itself denies the universal authority of God’s message to his world.
    References: Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks, chapter 6, and Colin Buchanan, Is the Church of England Biblical? chapter 13.

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    • People will always disagree, not only on specific beliefs but on practice (sing with music/without music, stand up when praying/sit down etc etc). Denominations will continue on and on and on. It is, as Agent Smith would say, inevitable.

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  4. Reading John Stott this morning – he wrote: ‘God has bound himself to his Church and to his Word. But God’s church means God’s people, not buildings, and God’s Word means Scripture not traditions. As long as these essentials are preserved, the buildings and the traditions can, if necessary, go. We must not allow them to imprison the living God or to impede his mission in the world.’ I thought a real word in season!

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    • Yes… Though I was a tad disappointed that ++Justin seemed to campaign for the reopening of church buildings on the basis that “worship is the work of God”. It just conflated worship with being in a building….and reinforced (IMHO) views many of us have been trying to counter for decades… Centuries even. I hoped the pandemic would push us out of our comfort zones…

      I’m not anti buildings (I’ve led more than one building project) . But they are tools not the place of God’s dwelling even though a permanent building can be a great asset.

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        • That’s right I’m sure…. But the conflation still stands. Yes… God (below) did design a building but then he moved it on on construction to Living Stones… “Elvis has left the building”

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    • I find John Scott’s distinction between scripture and tradition far too simplistic. For much of it, scripture is describing the traditions of God’s people, not least Paul alerting us to the traditions of the earliest churches. What was it Pelikan said – “ Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition lives in conversation with the past, while remembering where we are and when we are and that it is we who have to decide.”

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      • Andrew – sure – it was the briefest of comments – but one I agree with. Traditions and buildings may be useful but are not essential. Covid has shown us this. In this shaking period we have been challenged with the use of our buildings & following some of our traditions, but the essentials remain, as Stott wrote: God is with us and we have his Word to guide us.

        I agree with Ian Hobbs above, the equating of worship/the work of God with a building by the ABC was unhelpful – for months God’s work & our worship had continued in and through the church, outside the ‘building’ and laying aside some of our ‘traditions’.

        This Covid crisis has in the words of Hebrews 12: ‘removed what can be shaken–that is, created things–so that what cannot be shaken may remain.’ I hope before we all rush back to our buildings and traditions we do ask what it was that remained for these months.

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        • Thanks Simon. You are simply pointing out the difference between tradition and traditionalism, which is what Hebrews refers to as well.
          I don’t disagree with Stott. But neither do I think God stopped speaking when the canon of scripture was settled. New things are always possible.

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          • But the people of God do think that there is a difference between the authority of Scripture and the authority of tradition.

            That is the meaning of the closing of the canon.

            If you think tradition has similar authority to Scripture, then you think the canon is not close. I think it is, because the texts within the canon are all connected directly to the person of Jesus.

          • Hi Ian
            I think you conflate and confuse two things.
            Firstly, I’m not sure who you mean by the people of God when you assert that. The Roman Catholic tradition clearly think their tradition has authority at least on a level with scripture. And the Charismatic Movement likewise. Those two groups represent well over half of the people of God.
            Secondly, your suggestion that God suddenly stopped speaking with any kind of authority on the random day the canon of scripture was fixed is just absurd. Why would God speak for thousands of years and then suddenly stop?
            Of course people will vary as to whether they ascribe authority to the various traditions. But to suggest that the people of God think that there is a difference between the authority of Scripture and the authority of tradition is without any evidence. You are simply putting a Protestant a posteriori point of view.

          • We discussed that before S and no point in doing so again. If you mean the communion of saints then there is no confusion, but of course you don’t mean that. What you mean is some way of pronouncing who is in and out of some exclusive secret club. I don’t subscribe to that heresy and would not wish to waste my time discussing it.

          • What you mean is some way of pronouncing who is in and out of some exclusive secret club. I don’t subscribe to that heresy and would not wish to waste my time discussing it

            I think the question, then, is, how do you define ‘the people of God’ then?

            Because to be able to say ‘Those two groups represent well over half of the people of God’ you must have some definition in mind, as well as a rough idea of its size.

            So what is your definition of ‘the people of God’?

          • S: I define the people of God in this context as those who know their need of God and seek to follow God through Jesus Christ with the sustaining of the holy spirit.
            I’d like to know how Ian defines the phrase.

          • I define the people of God in this context as those who know their need of God and seek to follow God through Jesus Christ with the sustaining of the holy spirit.

            Right. So, nothing to do with membership of any Earthly body, then. According to your definition, being a member of the people of God is to do with one’s inner attitude, something which in invisible from the outside (except to God, obviously).

            So how does that square with your claim that:

            ‘The Roman Catholic tradition clearly think their tradition has authority at least on a level with scripture. And the Charismatic Movement likewise. Those two groups represent well over half of the people of God.’

            … which seems to use a definition of ‘the people of God’ which is to do not with people’s inner attitudes but rather with their membership of particular Earthly bodies, such as the Roman tradition or the Charismatic Movement?

            If being a member of the people of God is to do with inner attitudes that are invisible to everyone but God, then you clearly can’t be sure (a) that everyone in the Roman tradition and the Charismatic Movement (same as with every denomination) actually is a member of the people of God; and (b) you can’t be sure that there aren’t lots of members of the people of God who aren’t in any recognised denomination. Either one of which would render your claim that those two together represent more than half of the people of God completely unsound, the first by reducing the numerator and the second by increasing the denominator.

            Could you explain the discrepancy there? Is being a member of the people of God in your view a manner of inner attitude or of membership of an Earthy organisation? If the former, you must surely realise your claim that ‘Those two groups represent well over half of the people of God’ is insupportable so would you now like to recant that?

          • S: I’m sure large numbers of people express their following of God through Jesus Christ in the power of the spirit by belonging to a church. So no discrepancy at all. I’m just not prepared to exclude people who find belonging to a church too difficult.

          • I’m sure large numbers of people express their following of God through Jesus Christ in the power of the spirit by belonging to a church. So no discrepancy at all.

            But for your statement to be true it requires:

            (a) all (or at least the vast majority) of those who belong to a church to have the correct inner attitude; and

            (b) all (or at least the vast majority) of those who have the correct inner attitude to belong to one of the established churches.

            Your ‘large numbers of people’ is not all, or even the vast majority, of either of these groups.

            So yes, discrepancy.

            I’m just not prepared to exclude people who find belonging to a church too difficult.

            That’s not the issue. In fact, if we were to assume that there were large numbers of people who have the correct inner attitude, but who find belonging too a church to difficult, then that would certainly make your claim that those in the Roman tradition and those in the Charismatic movement together make up all the people of God even more of a nonsense.

            So, again, would you like to explain the discrepancy or would you like to recant your unsupportable claim?

          • S: I can only go by evidenced numbers. You easily see the numbers of Roman Catholics worldwide. 1.2 billion. If you can produce the evidenced figures of those who have a particular inner attitude, then please do so.
            No further point in this line of conversation I’m afraid. If you believe that there is no salvation outside of the church, then be my guest. I don’t believe that. But many RCs will do so.

          • I can only go by evidenced numbers. You easily see the numbers of Roman Catholics worldwide. 1.2 billion. If you can produce the evidenced figures of those who have a particular inner attitude, then please do so.

            Of course I can’t, and neither can you. But the point is that you have said above that being a member of the people of God is about an inner attitude, not about being a member of any particular tradition, and therefore:

            (a) you can’t know that everyone in the Roman tradition is a member of the people of God, or how many of them are, and

            (b) you don’t know how many members of the people of God wouldn’t show up on the rolls of any established denomination.

          • Put those together and you can see, can’t you, that you can have no possible epistemic basis for the claim that:

            ‘The Roman Catholic tradition clearly think their tradition has authority at least on a level with scripture. And the Charismatic Movement likewise. Those two groups represent well over half of the people of God.’

            This is because making such a claim requires you to know, at least roughly, how many of the people in these traditions are actually members of the people of God, and how many members of the people of God there are in total (in order to be able to claim that the former number is ‘well over half’ the value of the latter)

            But — by your own definition — you can’t possibly know either of these numbers, can you?

            So therefore you cannot possibly make that claim, and you should recant it forthwith.

          • S: I can’t possible know what inner attitudes people have, as you rightly say, and it isn’t for me to question. But neither can I think why people would bother belonging to a church if they had no desire to follow Christ. That would be absurd.
            Of course, all of these followers fall short in their desire. We all do. We are human. But it is not for me question that.
            So the only evidence we can go on is numbers given by the various churches. And we assume (because there is no other choice) that people are sincere in their membership.
            Or do you have a way of judging who is and isn’t sincere?

          • I can’t possible know what inner attitudes people have, as you rightly say, and it isn’t for me to question. But neither can I think why people would bother belonging to a church if they had no desire to follow Christ. That would be absurd.

            Really? I can think of all sorts of reasons. To get on in society, in places where that’s still a thing. For the social aspect. Because they think that the church does good in society even if they don’t believe the dogma. Because they grew up in the church and they still consider themselves ‘members’ even though they don’t believe in any of it and haven’t actually entered a church building in years.

            So the only evidence we can go on is numbers given by the various churches. And we assume (because there is no other choice) that people are sincere in their membership.
            Or do you have a way of judging who is and isn’t sincere?

            You don’t have to be able to judge exactly who is sincere and who isn’t to realise that the blanket assumption ‘that people are sincere in their membership’ is not valid. There are some people who are on the rolls of these churches who aren’t actually members of the people of God, that can’t be in doubt, even if we can’t identify which ones or (and this is the crucial point) can’t know how many there are.

            Besides you’ve totally ignored the second half of the equation, the numerator: the number of members of the people of God who aren’t counted on the rolls of established denominations. According to you there could be hundreds of millions or billions of those, well enough to mean that the members of the Roman tradition added to the Charismatic movement no longer number ‘well over half’ of them.

            So surely you see that, by your own definition, you cannot know that this claim is true:

            ‘The Roman Catholic tradition clearly think their tradition has authority at least on a level with scripture. And the Charismatic Movement likewise. Those two groups represent well over half of the people of God.’

            Because you cannot know either:

            (a) how many members there are of the people of God, in total, or

            (b) how many members of the Roman tradition and the Charismatic Movement are actually members of the people of God.

            Surely you would agree that only God knows the answer to either of those questions? And therefore you have no basis for your numeric claim and you should recant it immediately.

          • S: I don’t think we can know, and I am not prepared to judge, who is and who isn’t sincere in following in the way of Christ.
            What we do know is that there are approximately 2.5 billion Christians in the world and over half this number affiliate with the RC church.
            For your theory to work more RCs than others would have to be lacking in sincerity. Why would that be the case? The inner attitude of people is not going to be proportionately different according to denomination is it? If you think it is, you would need to evidence that.
            So of all the Christians there are in the world, it would still be true that the majority affiliate with the RC church.

          • I don’t think we can know, and I am not prepared to judge, who is and who isn’t sincere in following in the way of Christ.
            What we do know is that there are approximately 2.5 billion Christians in the world and over half this number affiliate with the RC church.

            You’ve just contradicted yourself. You just said that we can’t know who is a Christian, and then that we know how many Christians there are in the world. Contradiction.

            For your theory to work more RCs than others would have to be lacking in sincerity.

            Not necessarily. It might also be the case, for example, that the Roman church is more likely to continue to count as a member anyone who was born into the church and baptised as a baby, even if as an adult they no longer attend.

            In fact I believe that is the case, is it not? In which case the Roman church’s numbers would be highly inflated compared to other denominations which, for example, require people who were baptised as babies to make an active commitment in their own right when they reach adulthood.

            And yet again you still ignore the second half, those members of the people of God who are not members of any of the established denominations (and if you are defining ‘Christian’ as something other than ‘member of the people of God’ you need to say now, because if you’re not defining the two terms identically then you’ve just shifted the goalposts and you need to stop doing that, because your original claim was about ‘the people of God’ so that’s the terms we’re going to stay on).

            So again you must see that you can have no basis for knowing the truth of the claim:

            ‘The Roman Catholic tradition clearly think their tradition has authority at least on a level with scripture. And the Charismatic Movement likewise. Those two groups represent well over half of the people of God.’

            and if you are at all honest you must recant it immediately.

          • We can only know what we have evidence for.
            Statistics count as evidence.
            You can believe other things. You can think other things.

          • We can only know what we have evidence for.

            So given that you have no evidence for the statement:

            ‘The Roman Catholic tradition clearly think their tradition has authority at least on a level with scripture. And the Charismatic Movement likewise. Those two groups represent well over half of the people of God.’

            …you’re saying you don’t know it’s true, and recanting it?

            Great. Thanks. That’s all I asked for.

          • Thanks for your concern S, but no I don’t need to recant anything here and will leave the matter as it stands.

          • This appears to be a reply to Andrew rather than to Ian. But here goes: do you (Ian) believe in a simple binary between scripture (good) and tradition (bad), with Protestants being biblical and Catholics not?
            Don’t Protestants have their own traditions?
            What about the 39 Articles?

          • ‘Correct inner attitude’. Says it all really

            Does it? It was Andrew who said that to be a member of the people of God you had to have the correct inner attitude, not me.

            I mean, I agree with him on this, which is rare. But your disparaging comment sounded like you thought it was just me.

          • Nice try ‘S’. Andrew’s reply on 23/9 at 5.27 says nothing about correct beliefs.

            Who mentioned beliefs? Nobody mentioned beliefs. Andrew’s definition was:

            ‘I define the people of God in this context as those who know their need of God and seek to follow God through Jesus Christ with the sustaining of the holy spirit.’

            ‘Know[ing] their need of God’ and ‘Seek[ing] to follow God through Jesus Christ with the sustaining of the holy spirit’ are clearly aspects of an inner attitude towards God, themselves, and life in general, aren’t they?

            So Andrew’s definition of those who make up the people of God is, those who have the correct inner attitude towards themselves, God, and life in general. That is, they ‘know their need of God and seek to follow God through Jesus Christ with the sustaining of the holy spirit’.

            Something, incidentally, I agree with him on.

          • S: I nowhere use the phrase correct inner attitude. You need to look carefully at what I said about the notion of an invisible church up above.
            You then asked me for a definition of the people of God – a phrase which Ian used. What I replied was
            “S: I define the people of God in this context as those who know their need of God and seek to follow God through Jesus Christ with the sustaining of the holy spirit.”

            Nothing about correct inner attitudes.
            It’s about people reaching out to God and God responding with grace.

          • What I replied was
            “S: I define the people of God in this context as those who know their need of God and seek to follow God through Jesus Christ with the sustaining of the holy spirit.”

            Nothing about correct inner attitudes.

            So you’re saying that, for instance, ‘know[ing] their need of God’ isn’t an inner attitude? What is it then?

            It’s certainly ‘inner’, as it relates to someone’s internal thought processes, rather than their actions, which would be visible form the outside.

            And it’s certainly an ‘attitude’, because it’s an attitude one can have towards God. For instance the opposite attitude would be thinking that one didn’t need God (lots of people have that attitude, don’t they?).

            So given it’s inner, and it’s an attitude, how is it not an inner attitude?

          • ‘S’ as I remarked, Andrew said nothing about a ‘correct’ inner attitude. This is simply your interpretation of his words. Which rather goes to show how subjetive and biased interpretation can be!

          • Andrew said nothing about a ‘correct’ inner attitude. This is simply your interpretation of his words. Which rather goes to show how subjetive and biased interpretation can be!

            Andrew said that this inner attitude was what defined members of people of God, so clearly he thinks that if someone wants to be a member of the people of God then Andrew thinks that that is the correct inner attitude you have to have.

            Of course if you don’t want to be a member of the people of God then you can have whatever inner attitude you like.

  5. Is there a difference between the authority of scripture and the authority of tradition? A good question. Are they the same, can each be appealed to as definitive guidance? Is there something special about the canon or is it just a marker on the way? A way to what? They ae troublesome questions.

    Reply
      • Thanks for Don Carson’s article, he is always worth listening to but still doesn’t deal with the subject of different canons. Are canons to be viewed as authoritative but if so, which?

        Reply
    • For me, the authority of scripture is just the authority of a particular tradition at the time the scripture was written. That doesn’t mean we can just abandon it, but need to look at the way that tradition came in to being and look at in the context of other traditions in the scriptures. Scripture doesn’t have just one tradition. But see my other comment below as well.

      Reply
      • Andrew, re your comment above (I think you and ‘S’ should get in a ring sometime and box it out!), Im pretty sure charismatics dont view ‘words’ etc as on the same par as scripture. Indeed they are typically told to measure any such words against scripture, thus showing it is scripture that has the actual and final authority. But that, of course, doesnt mean that God stopped speaking 2000 years ago. What a boring God he would be if he had. Ive had one or two words in my time from others, and I have little doubt they were from God. But if they had said something that contradicted scripture, I would have ignored them.

        Peter

        Reply
  6. Perhaps I can add something to my last comment, something for Ian and something for Andrew.
    Ian: there are different canons, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Western Protestant. How do we manage our way around them where authority is concerned?
    Andrew: what do we do if scripture and tradition do not speak with the same voice? That is, disagree?
    I’m not trying to trip either of you up.

    Reply
    • Thanks Leslie. My view is that four things can help us – scripture, tradition, reason and experience. Where three things agree, then things seem clear enough to me. If reason and experience suggest very strong reason for thinking something might be right, then I think we have to look very carefully at scripture before changing our tradition. An example of this has clearly been the decision to ordain women. The C of E took the view that the verses in scripture which seemed to deny that possibility could be interpreted and viewed in a different way.

      Reply
      • Hi Andrew. What you said struck a chord with me. I once pictured the Church like a raft floating on four oil drums with four different Churchman on each. The Scriptural would be the evangelical holding his Bible in his hand , the Traditional would see the formal cleric with his robes and service ordinal, Reason would be the liberal pointing with spectacles in hand, Experience would be the Charismatic with eyes closed and hands in air.
        Over the centuries it has found itself tipping one way and the other on a sea of contemporary life trying to stop sinking but has not uncommonly tried to puncture the others drums.

        Reply
          • I like the image you portray. What would happen if they were wrecked on an uninhabited island with amnesia? No memory of being Christian or tradition and no scripture to bring to mind. Who would be the first to dream or see a vision? After a few years somebody would collate the records and redact their experiences for practical use. I imagine the visionary ones would forge ahead. The practical ones would keep the records of failure and success. The traditionally minded would endlessly reinact their history and insist on ceremony. Eventually they would be back where they started.

        • Thank you Leslie. I find that analogy, and your reflection on it, very helpful.
          I strongly believe that these four traditions need each other and that dialogue between them is really fruitful.

          Reply
          • Yes, thanks and quite agree Andrew, though it’s not the easiest thing to do. All four sometimes spring leaks and need the flotation resources of the others to help.

  7. Andrew,
    What is your a posteriori point of view? The solely human handed- down tradition from which you view and judge scripture with such absolute certainty?
    While you employ the Catholic Church purely for the purpose of your argument, I doubt that you’d fall in line with their beliefs, doctrines, creedal espousal; a church that doesn’t embrace the contemporary liberal clamour.
    As far as the Charismatic Church is concerned they, in general, accept the closed canon and preach from the old and new testament, testing words of knowledge, wisdom and prophecy against scripture

    Reply
      • Andrew,
        Authority of scripture is not subsumed by interpretation. But of course you don’t accept that scripture is revelation of God, by God, but a mere human construct.

        Reply
        • Ah not correct Geoff. I think it’s the writers understanding of God’s revelation. But as the writers were human they were susceptible to human error.

          Reply
          • An a priori, presumption Andrew from your human liberal tradition.
            It does not see, nor can it, interlocking big picture themes through the whole canon, nor that it centres on the person of Christ in his full, but sinless humanity, and fulness of deity and knowing God in and through him, his incarnation, life, death, bodily resurrection and ascension and return, and exclusive oneness of the triune God of Christianity

            We come back again as we always do to who God is and which God you believe, not just believe “in.”

          • I don’t believe a God who makes human beings puppets.

            There’s a big difference between a God who acts to ensure the integrity of His written word, and one who ‘makes human beings puppets’.

            But you have at that straw man there. Stuffing flying everywhere.

          • How did God act to ensure the integrity of his written word please? What was the process of that?

            I don’t know. My mortal mind cannot possibly comprehend how God works.

          • Exactly so! So no mortal mind can possibly know whether God ensured the integrity of the written word at all, can they. You can believe that. But as you rightly say, you can’t know it because you are human, and not God.

          • That’s exactly so S! So no mortal mind can possibly know whether God ensured the integrity of the written word at all, can they. You can believe that. But as you rightly say, you can’t know it because you are human, and not God.

          • That’s exactly so S! So no mortal mind can possibly know whether God ensured the integrity of the written word at all, can they. You can believe that. But as you rightly say, you can’t know it because you are human, and not God.

            By the same token, of course, you can’t know that God didn’t act to ensure the integrity of His written word either, can you?

            So we’re down to looking at the evidence and using our reason to work out which is more likely on the balance of probabilities.

            Given the importance of God’s communication with the world, it seems clear to me that if God was capable of ensuring the integrity of His written word, He would certainly do so.

            Given that God is omnipotent and created, sustained, and can intervene in the world, it seems clear that God is capable of ensuring the integrity of His word.

            Therefore it proceeds from those two premises that God would act to ensure the integrity of his written word.

            The logic is unassailable, so if you disagree you must dispute one of the premises. Which?

          • It’s not possible for God to give people freedom in theory but not in action. If people have freedom, then they have freedom to get things wrong. That is the only logic here.

          • It’s not possible for God to give people freedom in theory but not in action. If people have freedom, then they have freedom to get things wrong.

            They do. But it would obviously be possible for God — being omnipotent — to, for example, make sure that their mistakes were not preserved, while the things they got right were.

            I assume you agree that God does act in the world? And does so without negating human freedom? So if God can act in the world to — for example — miraculously save someone who is being hunted by people who want to kill them, by providing them with a place to hide, leading their pursuers astray, etc, without negating the human freedom of either the pursuers or the prey, then God can clearly equally act to preserve the integrity of His word, a far more important task.

            So again we come back to:

            Given the importance of God’s communication with the world, it seems clear to me that if God was capable of ensuring the integrity of His written word, He would certainly do so.

            Given that God is omnipotent and created, sustained, and can intervene in the world, it seems clear that God is capable of ensuring the integrity of His word.

            Moreover, God — being omnipotent — is obviously fully capable of ensuring the integrity of His word is a way which does not rule out human freedom.

            So. If you agree the logic is valid, which of the premises do you dispute?

          • I’m afraid I don’t see God acting in the way you suggest

            Well of course you don’t see it. He’s God. He’s perfectly capable of being subtle.

  8. Andrew,
    This is unbelievably callow of you, so intellectually void. You are better than that.
    Your comment could be view as evidence of what you claim not to believe; evidence that God does create robots, robotic responses! Especially when it it difficult to find anything which supports a view that you believe God created anything at all.

    Reply
    • Especially when it it difficult to find anything which supports a view that you believe God created anything at all.

      Actually Andrew’s ‘god’ seems quite like that of the Deists: created everything and then stepped back to let the universe run itself.

      Reply
    • Grace and peace Geoff. There is no more I can say if you wish to make very absurd accusations. I can’t see anywhere that I have expressed a view that God didn’t create anything.

      Reply
  9. David.
    Please follow the flow of the ” discussion”, especially the response of Andrew to my comment of 23 Sept 6:35 pm, which is no answer to the substance, but another negation by negative avoidance of the irreducible tenets of Christianity.

    Reply
    • Geoff. I am writing about your tone – which is making respectful discussion very difficult. I think it is possible and right for Christians to disagree, and robustly. But without descending to rudeness.

      Reply
      • David,
        We disagree about rudeness and tone, what it is, and what may be read as such from a partisan perspective.
        Andrew, it has been said is a one with a sense of humour, But it doesn’t seem to extend ridicule. It seems he is a sensitive soul with partisan rescuers.
        But you too, do not address the substance of the discussion.
        How do you think Andrew answered? In a derisory way? That is the tone I picked up.

        Reply
        • Geoff. I have not joined in the discussion at all actually! But for what it is worth I find think Andrew completely orthodox on this. I recall John Stott saying many years ago, ‘the Bible is the Word of God and the word of man (sic)’. That is what I read Andrew saying too.

          Reply
          • I recall John Stott saying many years ago, ‘the Bible is the Word of God and the word of man (sic)’. That is what I read Andrew saying too.

            If you think that then you obviously haven’t been reading Andrew every carefully. Andrew has been clear that he does not think the Bible is the Word of God at all (at last, not any more than any other book of theology).

            Andrew thinks the Bible (and, tellingly, he will refuse even to write it with a capital letter, which yet again shows his disagreement with your quotation) is merely the word of some men about God.

            If you disagree with me I suggest you quiz him on the matter. If you do so in a way designed to tease out exactly what the differences are in the the things you think are true, rather than in an attempt to execrise constructive ambiguity to find a form of words to which you can both assent, I think you will find that your belief and Andrew’s about the nature of the Bible are as different as night and day.

          • Quite wrong S. I have been clear, always, that the bible is inspired by God – and I mean that word literally. God put the spirit of God into those who wrote. But, he did not take way their humanity.
            The scriptures are our title deeds, our faith history. But I am clear that they can’t not be without error.

          • I have been clear, always, that the bible is inspired by God – and I mean that word literally. God put the spirit of God into those who wrote. But, he did not take way their humanity.

            But you don’t think the Bible is the Word of God in a way that makes it unique in all human writing, do you?

            Or do you think that there is something unique about the Bible, which sets it apart from every other piece of literature in the world, and if so what do you think that is?

          • Oh its unique because it tells a unique faith story.

            But every ‘faith story’ is unique. So that doesn’t make the Bible unique, does it? Are you saying that every written ‘faith story’ is just as much inspired by God as the Bible? If I were to write my ‘faith story’, would that be just as inspired as the Bible?

            If not, what exactly do you mean? What do you think makes the Bible different from my ‘faith story’, or yours, such that it can be described as inspired by God in a way yours or mine wouldn’t be?

          • (David Runcorn, are you convinced yet that Andrew does not mean at all the same thing as that Stott quotation does by ‘the Bible is the Word of God and the word of man’?)

          • “What do you think makes the Bible different from my ‘faith story’, or yours, such that it can be described as inspired by God in a way yours or mine wouldn’t be?”

            Because you or I are not the God incarnate S.

          • Because you or I are not the God incarnate

            The Bible wasn’t written by God incarnate, duh.

            Above when trying to claim what you meant by the Bible being the Word of God was: ‘I have been clear, always, that the [B]ible is inspired by God – and I mean that word literally. God put the spirit of God into those who wrote.’

            Nothing about it being about God incarnate.

            So are you saying you think that no other writing in history has ever been inspired by God, other than that which is about God incarnate?

          • S: you asked what made the bible unique. My reply was that the scriptures are about God incarnate, not that they were written by God incarnate.
            And no, I don’t think any other collection of writings give us that faith history and record of those who came to know God in this way.
            They are our title deeds.

          • And no, I don’t think any other collection of writings give us that faith history and record of those who came to know God in this way.

            Indeed not. But there are other collections of writings which give us other faith histories and records of others who came to know God in different ways, aren’t there?

            Do you think those other collections of writings could also be inspired by God, just like the Bible?

          • It’s unique because it tells us the good news of God with us. It bears witness to this news. It tells us how lives were changed by this good news. It is good news for all ages and for all human kind. I know of no other collection of writings or testimony that does this.

          • It’s unique because it tells us the good news of God with us. It bears witness to this news. It tells us how lives were changed by this good news. It is good news for all ages and for all human kind. I know of no other collection of writings or testimony that does this.

            But that’s all to so with its subject. Surely you don’t think the only special thing about the Bible is its subject?

            Above you wrote:

            ‘I have been clear, always, that the bible is inspired by God – and I mean that word literally. God put the spirit of God into those who wrote.’

            I want to know what you mean by that. Not about the subject of the Bible, but about what you mean when you say it was ‘inspired by God’, and whether you think that makes it unique.

            That question isn’t answered by you saying the Bible is unique because of what it tells us. What it tells us is totally independent of how it came to be, ie, whether it was ‘inspired by God’ and what you think that means.

            Is it the only collection of writing which you think was inspired by God? Or could there be other collections of writings out there, on other subjects, which were also inspired by God, just like the Bible, but which tell us different things?

          • S: I’m flattered that you want to know so much what I think. But this is not very edifying for others and outside the topic of this post. As always, you are welcome to write to me and continue discussion. For now, every good wish.
            Andrew

          • I’m flattered that you want to know so much what I think. But this is not very edifying for others and outside the topic of this post.

            On the contrary, I think the contortions you are wiling to go through to avoid having to state plainly in public what you think of the Bible will have been very revealling for others who are reading.

  10. David.
    While you’ve not set Stott in context, I’d be extremely surprised that Andrew’s view of scripture is the same as Stott’s which would probably be in line with 39 Articles.
    I’ve little doubt that Stott believed and accepted that they are God breathed, likely akin to the position set out in the essay, I linked above.
    Sure, you didn’t join in the discussion but chose to join in my discussion with Andrew, with a one-sided judgement on my tone while continuing to avoid my question to you about his.
    But enough.

    Reply
    • Geoff. I was not saying their doctrine of scripture was the same. Just that John Stott would agree, as most do, that scripture is truth divine mediated through the human. Only the most conservative believe the bible was verbally dictated by God and by-passing any human involvement except (presumably) holding a pen. Only the the most extreme liberals believe that humans made it all up. But enough.

      Reply
      • Just that John Stott would agree, as most do, that scripture is truth divine mediated through the human

        But that is a very vague, ambiguous statement that, as you suggest, covers a vast range of positions — all but the most extreme on either side, indeed — many of which would be mutually exclusive. It’s not totally meaningless but it’s well over halfway there.

        The only reason to put that over-vague position out there, and not dig further to discover if the agreement is real or merely illusory, would be if you were more interested in using constructive ambiguity to come up with a form of words that you could all sign up to (while meaning different things by them).

        But as that sort of papering over of real differences in the interest of superficial agreement is fundamentally dishonest, that couldn’t possibly be what you are interested in doing.

        Could it?

        Reply
      • But I think Andrew’s argument is that as humans there is inevitable failure and mistakes. But I dont see it like that. Humans can in fact do things completely correctly with no mistakes. So I dont think if God communicated with humans (however he does that) that inevitably they would misunderstand or write the wrong thing.

        Peter

        Reply
        • Peter – this is a very important point you make. So often Scripture is downgraded based on people’s notion of the imperfection of the scribe or witness. However, as you say, imperfect humans can do perfect works. And if a Perfect God choses to work through imperfect humans to produce a perfect work, we should not be so quick to look or assume imperfections.

          Reply
          • Sorry but I find that just too simplistic. Things always get lost in translation. There are many different translations even in English. Things are copied down wrong. There were many different copies.
            What if you read GODISNOWHERE
            50% will see it one way and 50% the other. And it means totally different things depending upon the way you view it. Interpretation then comes in to play. And that’s a complicated matter.
            I don’t think any human can produce something that is perfect.

        • Peter,
          It turns on who God, is-which God, as I mentioned above.
          Stott’s God the God revealed in the Holy Bible, who became incarnate, lived a sinless human life, fully God, fully human, was crucified died was bodily raised, ascended and will return, that is the Triune, Father Son and Holy Spirit God Andrew doesn’t believe or find it possible to know, so far as he has made it possible to ascertain from the collection of his comments on this site, from what he has revealed, drawn back the curtain on his veiled beliefs.
          As always, I stand to be corrected, with some clear statements of belief from him.
          To emplo a blunt instrument the question is this; could such a God, who is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, in short, infallible, communicate truly, reveal himself, without error, to fallible human beings?
          Stott would say, “yes, and he has,” I believe.

          But as you know this a topic that is central to Biblical Christianity and study, and throughout Christian history,
          the Holy Bible has been undermine and attacked, burned even , martyrs killed in England for translating into Englished to be reads by the common (if literate) people, moving into times of historical, higher and form criticism, which extended to a clogged tributary known as the “Jesus Seminar”.
          It other ways the integrity of the Christian Holy Bible is continued to be undermined and attacked by neo- Marcionism in its various forms.
          Last, the God of the Holy Bible is not the God of the Quran – a different person, yet following the line of the exchanges between Andrew and S above the Quran is a unique faith statement.
          I wonder if he would be so prepared to say that Mohammed got it wrong on Islamic sites.
          But maybe he’d find some creative syncretism to include all faith systems and books.

          Reply
          • “Andrew doesn’t believe or find it possible to know”
            Geoff: I would be glad if you refrained on commenting about me without any real knowledge. Please don’t do it. It’s rude and actually rather offensive and completely lacking in any Christian charity.

          • Andrew,
            You continue to ignore key points, and overall burden of the comment) this caveat for example:
            “…Andrew doesn’t believe or find it possible to know, so far as he has made it possible to ascertain from the collection of his comments on this site, from what he has revealed, drawn back the curtain on his veiled beliefs.
            As always, I stand to be corrected, with some clear statements of belief from him.”
            You are in the “room”, as it were, of the comments section.
            Let’s have your clear detailed response to the points I made.
            I find your use of rude, rather twee, in the light of your ping- ponging, particularly your contributions on sexuality.

          • Geoff: this is not about some investigation of what people believe, or whether they believe the same way that you do. If you would like to e mail me, then I’d be happy to continue the conversation more personally.
            I have answered you on this point on a number of occasions before and I am sure if you search the threads you will find that. But I continue to find you rude and offensive here and ask you, please, to cease and desist.

  11. Was it not that because the Koran was put forward as directly transmitted from Allah that Christians had to counter it by insisting that the Bible was inerrant? This overstatement by Christians was supposed to counter the spread of Islam but the unseen consequence was to cause endless dispute about scripture, authority, the cannon etc. Since the exercise was unessesary, because Jesus is The Word Incarnate, we can allow scripture to show us the Word in scripture. We do not need to qualify what we mean by the inspiration of scripture. If we just say Jesus is Lord we pass on the Seed. He does the rest.

    Reply
  12. Andrew,
    The threads of your comments are the source of the my conclusions, which you are free to correct, if so minded (but evidently not) as to what you believe, which God you believe and how you approach and study the Holy Bible and any other faith systems and their books.
    Shalom

    Reply
    • Geoff – I have asked you, please – twice now – to cease and desist with your comments about me.
      I have corrected your accusations several times on other threads and you will need to look at those, or, as I say, you are free to e mail me.

      Reply
      • I have corrected your accusations several times on other threads and you will need to look at those

        Readers are free to read those threads and make up their own minds about whether Andrew has openly and straightforwardly answered the questions put to him, or has instead prevaricated, changed the subject, talked around the points at issue, and generally been disingenuous in order to avoid being clear about what he really believes.

        Reply

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