Thursday, October 31, 2013

Reformation's blunder: Proliferation of dissent and disunity?

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Update (11 February 2014): Includes the Univision survey that estimates how many Roman Catholics disagree with Vatican's teaching.

Today is Reformation Day. It's important to commemorate this remarkable movement. Reformation doesn't belong only to Protestant churches but to the universal church as much has been accomplished through the movement. For one, the retrieval of the pivotal epistemic and hermeneutical consistency that people can read and understand Scripture unmediated by a group of interpreters or line of post-apostles interpretation tradition. This epistemic consistency was lost or suppressed by the church authority until the Reformation. 

However, like all movements, the Reformation is not without its critics. One of the most popular comments is the charge of the proliferation of dissent and disunity among Christians: the Reformers, in defiant against the popes and cardinals of that time, have established their own churches and develop their own dogmatics, and so also have set an example for others to do likewise. As a result, there is a crisis in ecclesial and theological authority---there is a lost of reference to decide which church and theology are more faithful to the apostolic teaching. And so we have many denominations. 

In Singapore alone, we have Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, Bible-Presbyterian, Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, Lutheran, Baptist, Reformed Baptist, independent Baptist, Reformed Evangelical, independent evangelical, Pentecostal, independent Pentecostal and Charismatic, Brethren, Evangelical Free Church, Church of Singapore and all other independent churches, and different congregations of Eastern Orthodoxy. Although there are individuals within these churches who are more ecumenical, yet each group claims (some implicitly, while others explicitly) its institution's official teaching as more faithful to the apostles than other churches. 

This alleged lost of an objective reference to adjudicate which theological claim is more valid than others is seen as a huge lack by the Vatican. This is also the reason for some Protestants to join the Roman Catholic Church. As the former theologian of Reformed Theological Seminary, Kenneth Howell, said of his own transition
I have always wanted to know the reasons why I must believe something. I had always thought that the Reformed faith represented the teaching of the Scriptures and the ancient Church. When I had to teach the process of biblical interpretation — as opposed to teaching what I thought the Bible taught — I realized that the only way to agree on a proper interpretation of a text is to have a living Magisterium in the Church.

The reason that there are so many Protestants who can’t agree on what the Bible teaches is that they have no authoritative interpretative body.
Or in the words of Francis Beckwith, who joined the Roman church when he was the President of the Evangelical Theological Society,
Luther himself, though excommunicated, never saw his movement as anything more than a renewal movement within the Church. We, of course, know now that the movement he started had a life of its own, resulting in scores of different and often conflicting understandings of Scripture, sacrament, and Church, and each finding something in Christianity’s traditions to challenge.

But in order to arrive at this present state of theological diversity and ecclesial fragmentation, you needed more Luthers, of which there has been an endless supply. His success made Luther a towering example to emulate.
I think whether is the proliferation of dissent and disunity brought about by the Reformation a problem or not depends on this question: Assuming the universal church is manifested fully through a concrete institution (as taught by Vatican), can a visible universal church be the effective objective reference that prevents dissent and disunity? 

This question is not asking if Vatican has official teaching or not; obviously they do, just like every other churches. This question is asking whether is there theological dissent and ecclesiastical disunity within the pre- and post-Reformation Roman Catholic Church?

The answer is 'Yes' for both pre- and post-Reformation Roman Catholic Church. We see this in Augustine of Hippo's disagreement with the Donatists, John of Damascus and the iconoclastic controversy, and the 'great schism' between the Latin west and the Greek east churches. In the case between Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage, and Stephen, the bishop of Rome, the former charged the latter as a person who "would rather maintain his own evil and false position, than agree in the right and true which belongs to another."

Another example is the condemnation of Thomas Aquinas by Stephen Tempier, bishop of Paris. The bishop's condemnation listed some articles that are taught by Aquinas. Drawing from his detailed study on this, John F. Wippel, a Professor at the Pontifical Academy of St Thomas Aquinas, commented,
...since a number of these articles were thought to be aimed at Thomas by informed contemporaries such as William and Godfrey and apparently in some cases, Henry of Ghent, I am inclined to take their testimony very seriously. In a number of these instances the propositions in question were known by Stephen and his Commission to have been taught by Thomas and in many cases also by one or other Master in Arts. Stephen and his Commission condemned them nonetheless. Hence it seems clear enough to me that in those cases they intended to condemn Aquinas's doctrine directly, not merely indirectly.
('Thomas Aquinas and the Condemnation of 1277,' in The Modern Schoolman LXXII, January/March [1995]:269-270.)
However, the following bishop of Paris, Stephen of Bourret, dissented from his predecessor,
...in 1325, some nineteen months after Thomas's canonization, the Bishop of Paris of that time revoked the condemnation of the Paris articles insofar as they "touched on or were asserted to touch on" Thomas's teachings. One could hardly continue to condemn at Paris the views of a recently canonized saint!
(Ibid, 239.)
In the present post-Reformation time, we are still witnessing much dissent and disunity within the Roman Catholic Church. Besides the big names such as Hans Kung, Charles Curran, and Edward Schillebeeckx, there are recent cases of Jacques Pohier, Jacques Dupuis, Leonardo Boff, Anthony de Mello, Roger Haight, Mary Agnes Mansour, Richard McBrien, Theresa Kane, John McNeill, Jon Sobrino, Anthony Kosnik, Aloysius Bermejo, and Elizabeth Johnson. The latter is the Distinguished Professor of Theology at Fordham University, a Jesuit institution, whose book Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God (USA: Continuum, 2007) is condemned by the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. In Johnson's defense are other Roman Catholic theologians such as Stephen J. Pope of Boston College and Mary Catherine Hilkert of Notre Dame University. 

Just last year the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith denounced the work of Margaret Farley, a Catholic nun who is also a Professor Emerita of Christian Ethics at Yale Divinity School. The Vatican stated that her book Just Love: a Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics (USA: Continuum, 2006) poses "grave harm to the faithful". In her response, Farley acknowledged her dissent, "I do not dispute the judgment that some of the positions contained within it are not in accord with current official Catholic teaching."

For an overview of recent cases on dissenting Roman Catholic theologians, see Braford E. Hinze's essay, 'A Decade of Disciplining Theologians,' in When the Magisterium Intervenes: The Magisterium and Theologians in Today's Church, ed. Richard R. Gaillardetz (USA: Liturgical Press, 2012). On top of those mentioned above, there are many dissenting groups and organizations identified as Roman Catholics. Here and here.

A recent survey conducted by Univision--across 12 countries with more than 12,000 Roman Catholics--have shown that the Vatican does not command theological unity among its own members. As reported in The Guardian:
78% of respondents worldwide supporting the use of artificial birth control.

More than half (58%) disagreed with the church's stance that divorcees who remarry are ineligible for Communion. And 65% of the respondents said abortion should be allowed – 8% in all cases and 57% in some.
If there is dissent and disunity within the pre- and post-Reformation Roman Catholic Church, then dissent and disunity happen regardless of the Reformation. Yes, Vatican can claim itself to be the objective reference. Yet, so are those Roman Catholics who dissent from Vatican and from each other.

To say that there is a proliferation assumes an ideal past when dissent and disunity were lesser. Yet such assertion need to be shown, and not simply asserted. One must be able to show that there was lesser disagreement in the past than in the present, assuming such study is possible in the first place.

Dissent and disunity will always be found within the Roman Catholic Church. This is because they are found in the one invisible universal church of which the Roman church, a visible institution, is part of. For this reason, it's a mistake to see the present dissent and disunity among churches as the blunder of the Reformation.

Of course, this betrays the difference between my understanding of the church and that of Vatican. And I hold on to my view not only because of Matthew 13:24-30, 33-43, but also for its testimony to the plural state of the church. This ecclesiology inspired by the Reformation is a window into the reality of the pluralistic condition of the universal church.

So, can the visible universal church (as how Roman Catholic Church believes it is) be the effective objective reference that prevents dissent and disunity?

Yes, of course it can. The fact that there are adherents (followers) who say 'Amen' to all its teaching says more than that; it says it is. Just that this is the same with every other churches and those who adhere to the dissenters within the Roman Catholic Church.They too have followers who say 'Amen' to all their respective teaching.

Does this mean that we should stop working for unity among churches and Christians? Definitely no. What shape should such unity have is another discussion altogether. Suffice to say that ecumenical work has to continue (John 17:20-23).

What about those Protestants who have transited to Roman church and those who are thinking of transiting because they feel that Protestant churches can't give them an objective reference?

I would encourage them to think about this: Desiring an objective authority and throwing oneself to an entity that claims to satisfy that desire says nothing about the truthfulness of the claim. The Magisterium can claim to have the objective reference to decide what is true. But the dissenting Roman Catholics as well as Protestants and Eastern Orthodox can claim likewise for themselves. Having one authority to rely on says nothing whether that authority is true or not.

The upside of the Reformation movement is the consistency they have in their epistemic and hermeneutical framework. It is this consistency that enables people ranging from a pew warmer to a Church Father to interpret the scripture in the first place. This is the hermeneutic of sola scriptura. A jewel recovered through the magisterial Reformers. Happy Reformation Day!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Prof. Ho Yew Kee's nuance understanding of ‘prosperity gospel’

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Prof. Ho Yew Kee, the Head of Department of Accounting at National University of Singapore and an active churchman, has written a good explanation of prosperity gospel. His view ably summarizes Lausanne Theology Working Group's 2009 statement on this matter. With his permission to post it here:
What is this "prosperity gospel" and what is wrong with it or is our understanding correct? Is it because the conservative churches do not believe that God will reward us for our faithfulness and obedience? Or is it because we are jealous of the prosperity and growth of these "prosperity gospel churches"? 
Why is it that a "prosperity gospel church" can raise millions of dollars for a weekend of service while the conservative churches struggle just to raise enough to buy a land and build a church? We claimed that there is something wrong with them but not with us! There is a great need for us to do introspection as to why we are seeing such great discrepancies.

I think the truth in God’s word is somewhere between these two extremes of the conservative and the "prosperity gospel churches". 

Here is an attempt to unravel this seemingly opposite positions on the prosperity gospel. The word of God is very clear.  Having the positional reference in Christ is the starting point and thereafter a life time of obedience and as we are found faithful and in obedience, God’s word says that He will pour forth His blessings on us according to Deut 28. We are not working for our blessings. We are not being obedient and faithful because we work for the blessings. We are obedient and faithful because we have Christ as the centre piece of our lives. Obedience is independent of the blessings as an end goal. We are obedient because God is the centre of our life. If we are not careful, this is where the prosperity gospel can get a hold in our lives.  

The prosperity gospel basically says that we will be blessed when we are obedient and when we do the good works and acts. This is half truth. This understanding means that the basic motivation of our obedience and faithfulness is because we want the blessings in return. The blessing is the ultimate goal of our good works. The obedience and blessings did not come from our desire to serve God as the centre piece of our lives. 

The difference here is very subtle. Take the case of offerings and givings. Under the prosperity gospel's teaching, one gives because he is expecting God to multiply his gift so that he can obtain many more folds in return. He gives because he wanted the returns. The return or blessing is the sole purpose of his giving. For example, a businessman gave a large sum as offering expecting that God will help him to win the contract. If this is the case, then this is no different from religious belief through good works as the outcome of the good works is to obtain a good and blessed life. We do good because we want a good life. Our obedience and good works are not about God but about what we get back in return. This is the prosperity gospel in all its humanity! At least this is what I understand.

The biblical giving is that we give unto the LORD because He is the centre piece and deserving of our gifts. The sole motivation is giving to the LORD. As to how God will give us back in blessings, we leave it unto the LORD as we have discharged our faithfulness and obedience in giving. The sole purpose in biblical giving is unto the LORD and with no expectation as to how God can or will give us back in return. The blessings of God is absolutely and totally His prerogative. God promised that He will bless and how He will choose to do it, He is God and He can decide. Giving is about Him and not about us.

Allow me to use one teaching of Jesus to support my reasoning.  Jesus said in Luke 14:12-14, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."  

Here in lies the practice of the normal people or the normal rich. Jesus is not saying that you should not invite "your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours" to dinner.  In hosting a dinner, Jesus said that the ordinary calculative man did the calculation and invite those to the dinner whom he thinks and believes will be useful to him. The sole intention of the dinner invitation is what he will get back in return – friendship, connections and even business dealings. Jesus teaching here is not literally saying that we should then invite "the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind" to our place for dinner but we invite those whom God can use us to bless with no expectations that these guests will ever be able to repay us with their influence, power or blessings. We make the invitation because it pleases the LORD. We invite these to our dinner because we believe God wants us to bless them and we are acting in obedience. The dinner and invitation may be the same but the motivation behind the invitation is totally different.

The takeaways from this are two:

1) We need to know clearly the motivation of our works. Why are we doing what we are doing? Why do we remain faithful unto the LORD? 

2) We need to know that as we put God as the centre of our lives and expressed this in obedience and faithfulness through words, thoughts and deeds, we need to know that God promise that He will bless us. We don’t work for the blessings. We work for God and God will repay us in due time.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hermeneutics through sola scriptura

Last week, I was caught up in a discussion on the topic of authority in doctrinal discernment: What are the criteria that define the orthodoxy of a doctrine?

Most Christians, if not all, hold that the scriptures is the final authority. This far is clear. What's challenging is how do we deal with the multiple interpretations on so many issues with every one claiming to be faithful to the scriptures and guided by the Holy Spirit?

One of the participants in the discussion strongly suggests that the best way is to interpret the scriptures through the Church Fathers. To him, the Church Fathers are more reliable than us in the present time. So if the Fathers thought that the bread and wine are transformed into physically real flesh and blood of Christ during the eucharist, then that is really what happens every time the Lord's Supper is celebrated.

I have to disagree on this point. The Church Fathers are valuable to us like every other great theologians, but this does not by default means other Christians' interpretation of the scriptures is less reliable. 

Here is the reason why the Reformation's cry for sola scriptura (by scriptures alone) makes so much sense: Every humans can read the scriptures and understand it for one's own conduct and growth as Christ's disciple. If this assumption is questionable, then even the Church Fathers' interpretation cannot be reliable (unless one thinks that they are supra-human or somehow arbitrarily are reckoned to be more illuminated than other readers). 

The Church Fathers' ability to interpret scriptures has to be engaged with in the same way as how we engage other authors.  This is not to say that the Church Fathers have no special authority in interpretation. Rather, their authority is as valid as any other great theologians of the church in the past and present, as long as they are in accord with the scriptures.

Ultimately, only the apostles and prophets in the New Testament era have special authority. This is due to their close proximity to Jesus. Their historical and physical closeness to him is something which the Church Fathers and the Reformers don’t share. These first century's Christian leaders served very different function from the Church Fathers solely on the basis of their historical proximity with Christ. We can read the New Testament and draw our doctrinal truths about God and the world without referring to the Church Fathers. Whether what one draws out is true or not is another matter. The point is that the sola scriptura assumption serves as more coherent basis than the appeal to Church Fathers, or the Magisterium for that matter. In other words, sola scriptura provides a more reasonable epistemological basis (or in Herman Bavinck's phrase "epistemic source") for hermeneutics.
 
The assumption that the best way to interpret the scriptures is through the Church Fathers begs the question on what if they got it wrong? If they got something wrong, and if we insist on following them even if they are wrong, then wouldn't that betrays Christians' emphasis on truth?

Case in point is the Church Fathers' theologically-constructed discrimination against the Jews. Their religious stigmatization of the Jews had so pervaded the imperial power and fueled the populace's prejudice that laws which placed the Jews as second-class citizens were legislated. For instance,
"...the Church influenced the imperial government to exclude Jews from military rank and its accompanying privileges. Throughout the Roman Empire, with the possible exception of Italy, many Jews had served in the Roman Army. So many Jewish soldiers served the Romans that, by the end of the fourth century, the Church had become alarmed. In 418 the Church succeeded in having a law passed that excluded Jews from the army, although they still could serve in the defense of their towns. For a Jew to serve in the military, the law required that he have himself baptized as a Catholic."
(Robert Michael, A History of Catholic Antisemitism: The Dark Side of the Church [USA: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008], 36.)
Here are some references from primary and secondary sources:
"And we say with confidence that they will never be restored to their former condition. For they committed a crime of the most unhallowed kind, in conspiring against the Saviour of the human race in that city where they offered up to God a worship containing the symbols of mighty mysteries."
(Origen, Against Celsus, 4:22)

"Tertullian gloated and exulted when he imagined how Christ would punish the Jews for having “thrown God, i.e., Christ, out.” Israel was not merely extra ecclesiam (outside the Church); it was “extra Deum” (outside of God)."
(Robert Michael, A History of Catholic Antisemitism: The Dark Side of the Church [USA: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008], 28, quoting research from David P. Efroymson, Tertullian's Anti-Judaism and its Role in his Theology, (Temple University Ph.D. thesis, 1975), 125.)

"Although those Jews had been called to the adoption of sons, they fell to kinship with dogs; we who were dogs received the strength, through God's grace, to put aside the irrational nature which was ours and to rise to the honor of sons....But see how thereafter the order was changed about: they became dogs, and we became the children....Where a harlot has set herself up, that place is a brothel. But the synagogue is not only a brothel and a theater; it also is a den of robbers and a lodging for wild beasts....Certainly it is the time for me to show that demons dwell in the synagogue, not only in the place itself but also in the souls of the Jews."
(John Chrysostom, Against the Jews, 1)

"Now then, let me strip down for the fight against the Jews themselves, so that the victory may be more glorious—so that you will learn that they are abominable and lawless and murderous and enemies of God."
(John Chrysostom, Against the Jews; 2)

"[Jews are] Murderers of the Lord, killers of the prophets, enemies and slanderers of God; violators of the law, adversaries of grace, aliens to the faith of their fathers, advocates of the devil, progeny of poison snakes, . . . whose minds are held in darkness, filled with the anger of the Pharisees, a sanhedrin of satans. Criminals, degenerates, . . . enemies of all that is decent and beautiful. They are guilty of shouting: Away with him, away with him. Crucify him. He who was God in the flesh!"
(Gregory of Nyssa, In Christi Resurrectionem, in Patrologiae, Cursus Completus, Graeca, ed. J. P. Migne, [Paris 1863], 46:685–86, quoted in Robert Michael, A History of Catholic Antisemitism: The Dark Side of the Church [USA: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008], 26.)

"Wasn’t it the Jewish people in the synagogue who are possessed by the unclean spirit of demons—as if bound fast by the coils of a serpent and caught in the snare of the devil—and who polluted its pretended bodily purity with the inner filth of its soul?"
(Ambrose, Commentary on the Gospel according to Luke, quoted in Robert Michael, A History of Catholic Antisemitism: The Dark Side of the Church [USA: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008], 23.)

Jerome sermonized that “Judas is cursed, that in Judas the Jews may be accursed. [Just as] you see the Jew praying; . . . nevertheless, their prayer turns into sin. . . . Whom do you suppose are the sons of Judas? The Jews. . . . Iscariot means money and price. . . . Synagogue was divorced by the Savior and became the wife of Judas, the betrayer."
(Jerome, The Homilies of Saint Jerome [Washington, D.C., 1964], 1:255, 258–62, quoted in Robert Michael, A History of Catholic Antisemitism: The Dark Side of the Church [USA: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008], 24.)

"On you, on you, false Jews and princes of a sacrilegious people, weighs the burden of this crime [of deicide. It] makes you the more deserving of the hatred of the whole human race."
(Pope Leo I, Sermon LIX: On the Passion VIII:3, quoted in Robert Michael, A History of Catholic Antisemitism: The Dark Side of the Church [USA: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008], 76.)

In pope Gregory the Great’s writings, both public and private, described Judaism as “superstition,” “vomit,” “perdition,” and “treachery,” and the Jews as “enemies of Christ.”
(Shlomo Simonsohn, The Apostolic See and the Jews, Documents:492-1404 [Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1988], 5,12–13,24–26.)

"In his reply to Faustus the Manichaean, Augustine continues his analogy between Cain and the Jews, arguing that the Jews were materialistic and evil deicides who will be punished forever, until they see the light and convert to Christianity. “Not by bodily death,” Augustine wrote, "shall the ungodly race of carnal Jews perish. . . . To the end of the seven days of time, the continued preservation of the Jews will be a proof to believing Christians of the subjection merited by those who, in the pride of their kingdom, put the Lord to death. . . . “And the Lord God set a mark upon Cain, lest any one finding him should slay him.” . . . Only when a Jew comes over to Christ, he is no longer Cain." By identifying the Jews with Cain, Augustine turned the Jewish historical and moral mission on its head. The Jews were no longer the divinely chosen witnesses to God’s moral message, they instead were now a sinful “Witness People” who would prove to the pagans the melancholy fate that awaited those who opposed Christ—a concept that legitimized and sanctified the suffering enslavement of Jews to Christians."
(Robert Michael, Holy Hatred: Christianity, Antisemitism, and the Holocaust [USA: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006], 30.)
John Chrysostom stood out among the Church Fathers in condemning the Jews. Robert L. Wilken, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of the History of Christianity at University of Virginia, commented that John was applying a rhetorical method known as 'psogos' that demonizes the object: "In psogos, the rhetor used omission to hide the subject's good traits or amplification to exaggerate his worsts features, and the cardinal rule was never to say anything positive about the subject." (Robert L. Wilken, John Chrysostom and the Jews: Rhetoric and Reality in the Late 4th Century [USA: University of California Press, 1983], 112.) 

That was how far a Church Father would go to caricature the Jews. Such theologically motivated discriminatory rhetoric eventually evolved into modern form of western antisemitism which contributed to the holocaust. Those who think that the best way to interpret the scriptures is through the Church Fathers will have to see the Jews likewise. 

To those who adhere to sola scriptura, we are obliged to interpret the scriptures according to the best historical understanding of the biblical context. Therefore we can disagree with the Church Fathers. Sola scriptura enables us to examine how the 'Jews' were understood by the apostles and prophets who were Jews themselves

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Brief Reflection on Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, Chapter 1: The Science of Dogmatic Theology

This is my first brief reflection on Bavinck's highly acclaimed Reformed Dogmatics. There are altogether 4 volumes. I only have the first volume and I hope I can finish reflecting through them all---If God willing. I'll be reflecting as a pastoral staff of a local church in Singapore. That's my lens to filter and draw out relevant concerns that are applicable in my context.

The sub-categories in this chapter are:
  • Terminology
  • Dogma, Dogmatics, and Theology
  • The Content of Theology
  • Is Theology a Science?
  • Theology and Faith
  • The Science of God
  • The Encyclopedic Place of Dogmatic Theology

Bavinck defines dogma as the articles of faith based on God's Word while dogmatics is the system of the articles of faith (p.34). "The imperative task of the dogmatician is to think God's thoughts after him and to trace their unity. (p.44) "Dogmatics is the knowledge that God has revealed his Word to the church concerning himself and all creatures as they stand in relation to him" (p.38). "For dogmatics is a positive science, gets all its material from revelation, and does not have the right to modify or expand that content by speculation apart from that revelation" (p.44). Dogmatics and ethics are "related members of a single organism. (p.58)"

This chapter strongly reminds us that the Christian way of life requires the objective reality of truth. Ethics and truth are two sides of our life under God. In cell group or Bible study group, we tend to be either preoccupied with catching up with one another over the week or we focus only in answering our study material as if we are sitting for exams. This would result in us feeling there is still something missing in our Christian fellowship. Either we are missing the life part or the truth part. This often translates into a lack of transparency felt between members. In more serious cases, people feel superficial towards one another, which is something undesirable for a community of believers.

Bavinck would point us back the resources in revelation, God's  word. This is where our dogmatics come from. This is where the focus of our fellowship life should be. Cell group or Bible study group is the united effort of God's people to think God's thoughts after him. What happens in our respective weekly fellowship is the deepening of our dogmatics and ethics. Our "single organism" being nurtured. 
  
Therefore cell group cannot be merely about catching up with one another over what took place in the week without reference to God's word. Life experience left untouched by dogmatics is ethical reflection that is without unity. The story of our week becomes fragmentary. Unless we understand our experience through the scriptures' resources, what we share about our week would be less of the organic whole. Likewise, Bible study cannot be like sitting through exams. We are not primarily answering Bible study's questions. Rather, we are to think God's thoughts after him along with those in fellowship with us. The Bible study material is a platform to facilitate this fellowship-thinking, this collaborative scientific learning of God, the world, and ourselves.

This is where daily Bible reading can help. The passages we read keep our daily encounters connected with dogmatics reflection. Or at least it reminds us to think God's thought after him through the way we live.