John Wilson responds to Andrew Malone’s introduction to Leviticus.
Andrew Malone in the last issue of Essentials has provided us with a helpful introduction to the book on Leviticus with the aim of getting it, along with other neglected parts of the Old Testament, back on the agenda. He sees it as fertile soil for nurturing believers in biblical theology. He has listed five possible themes to be explored.
‘Lectures for Lent’ assumed that Leviticus could form a sermon series in Lent. How will the congregation know what Lent is? How will they be reminded that the weeks of Lent have traditionally been set aside for congregations to do some extra study? Will there be a clear linking between Jesus’ 40 days being tested in the wilderness and the period between Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as the church has traditionally done, so that people see this period as an opportunity for reflection on their own progress and purpose as Christians and also the opportunity to do some extra Bible study?
Lent and the Gospels. Andrew has helpfully provided many links between the contents of Leviticus and the New Testament. In some churches there has been a tendency with such sermon series to concentrate the readings of Scripture on large portions of the book being studied (in this case Leviticus) and to put aside even the Gospel reading. But the reading from the Gospels has always been at the heart of the church’s teaching because its content is of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3–11) and it is considered impossible to develop a Christian life-style without reference to the person of Jesus himself (rather than a doctrinal teaching about Jesus). To neglect the Gospels is to neglect the narrative which lies at the heart of Christian faith. How will the readings from the Gospels each week be honoured in a way that is fully appropriate to their centrality? The actual Gospel readings have been designated traditionally in the church’s calendar. Will these readings be followed, or is it thought that others might be substituted?
It is very common for congregations to stand during the reading from the Gospels during the service of Holy Communion. In this way the congregation acknowledges that the events narrated in these books are central to Christian faith. In fact there could be no Christian faith without them. In no way does standing for the Gospel reading diminish the authority of other parts of Scripture. How will our congregations otherwise recognize what is of first importance in the reading of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:3–11)?
The Relationship between the Old and the New Testament. Andrew’s article raises this issue by the examples he gives of links between the two. His aim is to nurture believers in biblical theology. The question must be always: Is there ever a Christian biblical theology which is not closely integrated with the contents of the Gospels? If Jesus is ‘the pioneer and perfecter of our faith’ (Hebrews 12:2) is it really possible to be nurtured in a truly biblical way without absorbing what the Gospels have to teach us about Jesus?
The Sermon Series and the daily experiences of the congregation and its membership. Does the sermon series exist, as it were, in its own separate world as a general example of biblical theology? Or has the teacher attended to the actual pastoral situation of members of the congregation? Is the teacher also the pastor, the ‘pastor and teacher’ of Ephesians 4:11 or has the one ministry been separated into two?
Needless to say, what is advocated here is that those who have the responsibility for determining the preaching program give careful consideration as to how they will integrate it into such periods as Lent. They are also urged to give careful consideration as to how the centrality of the Gospel readings will be honoured appropriately and as to how preaching and teaching will at the same time be pastoral in its intent.
John Wilson was assistant bishop in the Diocese of Melbourne and is author of (among others) Christianity Alongside Islam (Acorn 2010). He died in January 2011.