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Epiphany—Responsibility of Revelation

Ascension Epiphany RevelationThis week in my reading I became incensed by a letter to the editor in Anglican Life, the newspaper for the three dioceses of Newfoundland and Labrador. In it the author gives a literal interpretation of I Thessalonians 4: 13 – 18 and then proceeds to give a graphic account of his understanding of ‘rapture,’ and the necessity of persons to make decisions about belief and practice.

These words influenced my entire day. I fail to understand how persons, in explaining their beliefs and points of view, omit to realize the potential hurt and concern that might be raised. In addition, we are called to reveal the light of Christ in the world, and as church, we have to present the love and word of God in a responsible manner. We must be responsible in our theological reflection, in our interpretation of the Scriptures, and in our sharing of the Gospel, such that we do not become a stumbling block for others. The words and themes that the author of this letter to the editor offers in relation to the rapture have the potential to bring much distress to vulnerable persons, those with mental instability, and young children. If we are called to protect the vulnerable, and support and uphold the weak, then this letter is flying in the face of the Gospel message, no matter what theology it espouses. For much of the church’s history, the interpretation and theological reflection of the Holy Scriptures have been off-limits to much of the Christian community.

Interpretation, reflection, and theology has been the work of priests, pastors, and scholars. In many ways I have challenged this, given my belief that the Scriptures and their reflection need to be open to all. Now, as I face the challenge of this letter, I am reminded that all Scriptural interpretation and reflection need to be completed in a careful and responsible manner. The Anglican expression does not espouse nor emphasize a theology of rapture, and reflections of this manner produce hurt and concern, or dismissal and disregard by those both within and outside the community of faith. We have individuals of all types that have opportunity to interact with our faith community, both within the wider society, and those who would approach our doors. Letters such as these serve to prove that the Anglican church can be seen as irrelevant, outmoded, and dismissed by the wider world. We have a responsibility to uphold Holy Scripture, and offer interpretation and reflection amid the light of reasonable understandings of context, history, tradition, and experience. The Word of God cannot be manipulated and offered outside of the context of its writing and setting.

Also, it cannot be offered as the ‘answer’ without a proper examination by the faith community as a whole. We are a community of Christians, inspired by the Holy Spirit, that interprets Scripture in light of reason, tradition, and experience. We have a duty to love God and care for all, most especially the vulnerable. We must take seriously the words which we offer and promote, and how these words may dishearten and dismay, further alienating persons from the community of faith, and God who sustains us in Christ Jesus.

David Burrows

About David Burrows

David Burrows is a priest of the church, currently serving in parish ministry within the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, a place he has called home for the past fifteen years. He consistently engages dialogue and action with the wider community through creative outreach projects. Cycling, kayaking, writing, and driving fast cars are distractions in his life.
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6 Responses to Epiphany—Responsibility of Revelation

  1. David, I’m glad you voiced these concerns. I’m afraid situations like this are not uncommon in today’s Church, despite the fact that “Left Behind” theology is a relatively new development. In one sense, I wonder if we can blame people. After all, the dominant voice in Christian culture/media is, unfortunately, one of fear (2 Tim 1:7 much?). And I know very few who bother teaching an interpretation of prophetic/apocalyptic literature that is in line with the historical tradition.

    One book I found helpful in parish ministry was Roland Faley’s Apocalypse Then & Now: a Companion to the Book of Revelation. The text is examined in its historical context, chapter by chapter, and presented as a message of hope for both the Early Church and for Christians today. And while the book is interpreted through the lens of Roman Catholicism, I found that most references to Vatican II could be re-interpreted through our own changes around the development of the BAS, etc. In any case, it’s worth a peek. People have fears and questions. Where else will they find answers?

    • David Burrows

      Jesse, you always provide a helpful statement along with required reading, reminding me that each and every day I need to grow and be open to the voice of the church as offered in the scholarship of others. Thank you. It does help to couch my statements and feelings, such that others may look to issues of apocalypse and revelation without fear.

  2. Kyle Norman

    David
    Oh how I love a good Letter to the Editor! I can’t wait to look next month at all the responses! One of the things that I find interesting is that as time goes on, people’s denominational affiliations get more relaxed. We frequently find people in our Anglican churches who have grown up in other denominations – some with a very different ecclesiology or eschatology. Part of me sees this as a wonderful thing. Sometimes I think we in the church need to be pushed out of our sense of Anglican orderliness. I would argue with your statement that the Anglican expression does not espouse a theology of rapture. We believe as part of our creed that the Christ will come to judge the living and the dead. It’s just that the manner in which we talk about this is not done with statistical insights into future plane crashes.

    Still, I must confess that while there is much I disliked about the letter, I liked his sense of urgency. After all many of the reformers, even Paul himself, had a sense of urgency within the proclamation of the gospel. They firmly believed that Jesus could return at any moment, and that it mattered how one received him.

    By no means am I arguing for a ‘turn or burn’ theology – but one has to wonder, do we in the Anglican church cultivate that same sense of urgency when we worship, pray, or proclaim the good news?

    • David Burrows

      Kyle – you do read my words and others’ letters quite carefully. Thank you for pointing out the benefit of the overall tone of the letter – that of urgency. I do agree, there are blurred lines between denominations, which is further revealed this week, as we celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Yes Kyle, we do hold on to the belief about Jesus’ coming to judge ‘the quick and the dead”, ‘ and I am thankful and reminded of this belief as we move through Advent each year. Rapture, however, I do not believe to be a part of our parlance, especially in the literal ways that some (including in the letter to the editor) espouse.

  3. As one who feels hurt and concerned by the statements you make here, I think you may understand perfectly well “how persons, in explaining their beliefs and points of view, omit to realize the potential hurt and concern that might be raised.”

    • David Burrows

      Stephen, Thank you for your words and your concern. I recognize the concern and hurt they raise, yet I feel it my responsibility to share another side from that which Eldridge Thorne has stated. He and I differ, as you and I differ. I realize the potential for hurt, yet I feel ignoring the letter to the editor could most probably create much more hurt.

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