What if the Bible Is Not Our Guide?

This Book Doesn't Have Any Answers

Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth – the B.I.B.L.E.  Have you heard the Bible explained that way?  It’s clever.  But is it accurate?  

I said in my teaching Sunday that I used to think the clever acrostic is accurate.  But not anymore.  Let’s be honest.  The Bible isn’t really a very good instruction manual or guide book.  

I know.  That rubs us the wrong way.  But, as Billy Sunday said, and I paraphrase:  “If something rubs you the wrong way, maybe you need to turn around.” 

I needed to turn around.  Maybe you do too. 

Think with me:  The Bible tells us, for example, to “Be kind to one another,” “Love one another – even our enemies,” “Give generously to the poor.”  All good. 

But next to these good things are some bad things- really bad things:  

Rape (Deuteronomy 21:10-14; Numbers 31:15-18); 

Slavery (1 Peter 2:18; Titus 2:9) 

Genocide (Deuteronomy 7:1-2; Deuteronomy 20:15-17) 

…are all commanded – by God.  At least the writers pass the buck to God for these commands.  Are those instructions ones that we should follow?  I hope you’’ll answer “No”.

One more thing. It doesn’t make much sense to claim that the Bible is an “infallible” guide in what it says if we cannot agree on what it says.  “But we agree on the essentials,” I hear someone saying.  We really don’t.  Go to amazon.com  and type in “four views” in the search bar and get ready to “turn around.”  We’re given page after page of books about various ways of interpreting key Christian doctrines:

Four Views on Hell

Four Views of Atonement

Four Views on Divine Providence

Four Views on Eternal Security

These are not peripheral issues.  These are some “big rocks” of Christianity.  In each book we find opposing views in which each proponent is absolutely certain that their particular interpretation of the Bible is the right one.  

If the Bible spoke clearly on these issues then why isn’t there a “The Only View” series.

So, if we remove the Bible as our guide, what do we put in its place?  Are we just free to do whatever we want – to do what is right in our own eyes (Judges 21:5)? 

I offered, Sunday morning, an option given to me by mother throughout my junior high and high school years.  Here is the question she told me to ask myself when considering the rightness or the wrongness of an action: “When you consider this action, ask yourself, ‘does the life of Jesus well up inside of you?’”  

That’s good.  

Denise and I went to Little Rock after Sunday’s service to see my dad.  Drinking a glass of wine and eating Girl Scout cookies, (what are the rules for pairing wine with Girl Scout Cookies) with dad, my sister and Denise, around dad’s kitchen table, I asked dad about mom’s counsel to me.  He told me mom read that in a book by Watchman Nee, an author that greatly influenced my parents.   

For 52 years I’ve been under the impression that mom came up with that on her own!

So, this morning, I did a quick Google search trying to find the exact quote.  I didn’t find mom’s version of it but I did find the following statements by Watchman Nee.   

Read them with an open mind.  Contemplatively. And get ready  to “turn around.”  

“Brothers and sisters, as we live before God, our actions must not be determined by good and evil, but by the life within.”

Hmm. “Actions determined…by the life within.”  Let’s go on…

“When we have the life within and feel life rising up, we are doing the proper thing.” That sounds a bit like Mom’s version. 

Then there’s this from Nee: “Many problems arise because we only have a standard of right and wrong.  Many mistakes are made because we do not have the standard of life.”

Then Nee, a mystical Christian,  offers this prayer,

“Grace me so that I live by the tree of life, not by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  I want to constantly pay attention to life…”

Mom was telling me, and I’m just now really hearing it: “Don’t live by an external rule book (the Bible), instead, live by an internal life – the life that is “graced” by  the Spirit of Christ.  

Have you been indoctrinated into seeing the Bible as your guide?  

Yes.  We need a guide.  No doubt about that! 

But have we settled for an external law when we have within us an internal life?  

“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives and you will not obey your selfish desires (Paul to the Galatians, found in 5:16).

“And when that one comes, the Spirit will guide you into all truth” (Jesus, to his disciples, recorded by John, in 16:13).  

“Pay attention to life” the Christ-shaped life within (Watchman Nee to Mom; then Mom to me).  

I will live in the awareness of the presence of life in me and I will pay attention to it.

That will be my guide.

Testing Our Traditions

Shiraz on the Shelf.jpg

“But we always have turkey for Christmas dinner!”

“But we always have pistachio pudding salad (the traditional dish when I was a kid) for Christmas dinner” 

“But we always open one present on Christmas Eve!”  

“But we always go see Christmas lights on Christmas Eve!”

Whenever someone tries to replace, remove, or reform a tradition, the change is probably met with a “But we always…”

What is your “always”?

Do something two years in a row and you’ve got a set-in-concrete tradition. 

Traditions are not just a holiday thing. They are a theology thing. 

Tradition. There’s a whole song devoted to it in Fiddler on the Roof.

Tradition.  It was the context of many of Jesus’ collisions with the Pharisees (Mark 7:1-8).

Tradition.  It has been the context of many of my own church collisions in my early years pastoring:

*Singing songs that weren’t in the Baptist Hymnal.

*Bringing a guitar and drums to the Sunday morning service.

*Replacing the denomination’s Adult Sunday School curriculum with a study of Charles Swindoll’s “Improving Your Serve.”

I could go on…

More recently, and more importantly, I’ve been dealing with traditions of what to think, what to believe, how to see God, how to see others, how to see myself.  

There are traditional ways of doing and there are traditional ways of thinking.  

 Both need to be “examined.”  Hold on to that word – “examine.”

First, let’s examine why we hang so tightly to traditions.  Why does the mantra, “We’ve always done it that way” fit so many so well?  There are two reasons:

 1.  We are copycats.   We tend to follow the crowd in both doing and thinking.  Instead of thinking for ourselves we want to be told what to think.   “Welcome to church.  Leave your brain at the door,” is the culture of many.   We count on pastors to tell us what to believe.  We follow their words in an automatic and robotic way. Pastors count on people to not question what they’re told.  Pastors can have an exalted opinion of themselves.  

Be a free-thinker!  Jesus told his followers that the Holy Spirit is their teacher (John 14:26). You’re walking around with the teacher within!  Listen to the Spirit.  

John writes that “the true light gives light to everyone” (John 1:9).  Did you catch that? “Everyone”  Yes, me.  Yes,  you.  Wake up to the light.  Be aware of the light.  You have in you the light of understanding. 

2.  We are scaredy cats.   Our world can be scary, stressful, uncertain.  Having traditions, when we do the same things over and over – like shampoo, “Rinse and Repeat” – we know what to do, when to do it, how to it, gives us a comforting sense of control and stability.  But is the comfort an illusion? A shadow?  Is there something more solid to which we can hold?  

Let’s examine the traditions themselves – not just the traditions of putting trees in our house or hanging our socks on the fireplace – but the tradition of thinking a certain way, of believing a certain thing. 

Ask questions about, critique what you believe and what you have been taught.

Paul tells us to “examine the preaching” (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21).  

Does it pass the test?  
Here’s the test:

When it comes to hearing a sermon, Paul says,  “Examine it and hold on to that which is good.” 

Listen carefully.  Listen critically. Give it a test. A beauty test.

The Greek word translated “good” (kalos) means “beautiful.”  

Does the preaching pass the “Is it beautiful?” test.  The test is not, “Is the preacher beautiful?” (I’m glad because there’s not much I can do about that!),  but is the preaching “beautiful?”

Kix Cereal is “kid tested and parent approved.”                                                              Preaching is to be “beauty tested.”

When listening to teaching/preaching, if it’s beautiful, hold on to it. If it’s not beautiful, let it go.

Traditions are about:

  • Priority – what/who is first in my life?
  • Authority – what/who will have authority over my life?
  • Beauty   

Jesus calls us to connect with something bigger than our traditioins.  He calls us to connect with love.  When traditional thinking, traditional views, clashed with love,, Jesus always came down on the side of love. 

Healthy religion always pulls us away from traditions of exclusion to inclusion, from scarcity to abundance, from a God with only enough love for my group to a God for the universe.  

Lessons In The Leaves

Leaves

I spent this afternoon engaged in a typical fall activity – raking, mulching, bagging leaves.  I did it all. While doing so I thought of a couple of “Lessons in the Leaves.” 

The first lesson was “Gratitude.”  Gratitude has never been my response to the chore of “leaf maintenance.”  I’ve been grateful for the brilliant red leaves falling from our maple trees creating a soft carpet on our ground – until it was time to bag those leaves.  Then my gratitude quickly turned to complaining.

But not this year.  For some reason, each sweep of the rake brought with it a breath of thanks…

Thanks for the beauty of the leaves.

Thanks that I’m still able to rake and bag. 

Thanks for the change of seasons…

How’d I make a switch from griping to gratitude?  I wish I had a simple recipe to share. I think it’s just about being present.  “What is there right now that shows me the beauty of love?  The beauty of God?”  

Which made me think of the second lesson: Change.

Things change.  Seasons change.  I change.  You change. Methods change.  Theology changes.  I may have lost you with that last one…

It’s a common understanding of conservative Christianity that theology never changes.  Progressive Christianity understands that theology is fluid, never static.  

I guess that makes Martin Luther a progressive.  We celebrated last week on October 31, not just Halloween, but the beginning of the Protestant Reformation – the day Martin Luther nailed or mailed his 95 thesis to the church in Wittenberg Germany.  

Martin Luther and the other reformers – re-formed – the church’s theology.  

They changed it.  Drastically.  

Yes, theology has changed.  Is changing.   Will change.

That fact scares some people.  I get that. I mean, where do you stop changing? It’s the slippery slope argument.  Change is hard because the things we are asked to let go of have been important to us.  It was hard for Peter to let go of the Scripture’s prohibition against eating certain foods.  Yet, who can deny that God changed?  At least God changed his word (Acts 10:9-16).

There are things I believe today I didn’t believe a few years ago.  And there are some things I believed a few years ago that I don’t believe today.  How about you?  I wonder if a lack of change reflects a lack of thought?  That was true for me.  

One thing hasn’t changed:  Love.  

I wonder if the way to tell if one’s theology is “right or wrong” is to observe if it leads or doesn’t lead to being more loving?  Paul is talking theology in Galatians 5 – the theology of circumcision.  For centuries the theology on circumcision was set – Any true follower of God had to be circumcised.  Period.  

But Paul’s theology changed. And he challenges others to change, to allow love to shape their theology:   “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.  The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love” (Galatians 5:6).

If my theology doesn’t make me more loving, maybe I need to change it.  Maybe I need to change me.  

Changing leaves.  Changing theologies.  Changing people.  

Trying to Keep Up

Can't Keep Up 2

The above pic is from a classic episode of the classic “I Love Lucy” TV show in which Lucy and Ethel take a job in a candy factory. Watching them trying to keep up with the conveyer belt is hilarious.  
Watching John MacArthur’s response to a question at the “Truth Matters Conference” held at his church October 16-18 is distressing.  

The very influenctial pastor, leader, author, was asked to give a gut reaction to a one- or two-word phrase.   The phrase was “Beth Moore,” the name of a well-known Southern Baptist Bible teacher.  MacArthur’s response was “Go home. ” 

The attendees at the conference “Amened” applauded and laughed their approval of his response.  

MacArthur went on to accuse the Southern Baptist Convention of no longer believing in biblical authority because they were, in his opinion, taking a “headlong plunge” toward allowing women preachers at its annual meeting this summer. 

Oh my. You can read more about his statement here.

Christians have been beating up each other and others for centuries. But for MacArthur to pick a fight with the SBC kind of makes me laugh – maybe to keep from crying.  The SBC and MacArthur’s organization are two of the most conservative Christian groups on the planet.  I guess the SBC isn’t conservative enough for John MacArthur.  

I don’t see the SBC allowing women preachers. Maybe I should not be so pessimistic.   They did, afterall, abandon their views on slavery.   On the matter of women-preachers/pastors, right  now, the following views of these SBC leaders represent, I think, the view of the SBC.  

“For a woman to teach and preach to adult men is to defy God’s Word and God’s design,” wrote Owen Strachan, professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. 

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky, piped in with, “There’s just something about the order of creation that means that God intends for the preaching voice to be a male voice.”  

So, I don’t get the beef MacArthur has with the SBC.  I guess he just really, really, does not like Beth Moore preaching.  

From this whole, sad mess, let’s create something happy and helpful. Let’s approach it with the philosophy of Bob Ross: “We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents,”

The “happy little tree” that comes out of this for me is a new way of determining my ethics. 

Some friends and I were discussing this morning through our “Theology through Texting” group my teaching from yesterday in which I spoke of the evolved ethics regarding Domestic Violence.  I showed pictures of print-advertisements that were horribly offensive yet, in the 50s, must have been perfectly acceptable.  

We’ve evolved. Thankfully.  

Tragically, much of the misogynistic views and subsequent treatment of women came from a “biblical ethic” – an ethic that sees women as property, as “under” a man (1 Corinthians 11:3), who is to “obey” her husband (1 Peter 3:6) in the same way that slaves “obey” their masters (Ephesians 6:5) or children “obey” their parents (Ephesians 6:1). It is a view that women are “not to have authority over a man” (2 Timothy 2:12).  

Most of culture has evolved beyond this ethic.  Much of western Christianity has not.  Why not?  

Why have Christians been so slow to evolve in regard to science, in condemning and abolishing slavery, in embracing the equality of the races and gender equality?  

Here’s a thought.  Just a thought.  Christianity – at least the Protestant version of Christianity – has been shaped by a book more  than a spiritual connection with God within, the spirit.    We see it in phrases such as “Biblical worldview” “Biblical authority” and so many other things to which the prefix “biblical” is attached.

Maybe there’s a better way.  The way of the Spirit.  

In his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus tells him that “the spirit moves (blows, changes) where it wishes (wills, desires, wanting what is best)” – John 3:8.  The Spirit moves –  is fluid – is active.  The Greek of John 3:8 is literally, “The pneuma pnei.”  “The spirit spirits.”  “The wind winds.”  

The spirit (wind) moves.  

A book is stagnant.  It sits on a shelf.  

Maybe that’s why the writer to the Hebrews says the Word is active – living (Hebrews 4:12).  The “word” here is not a book.  It is the Christ of John 1:1.  Still speaking of the “word” in 4:13, the writer uses the masculine pronoun and says, “no creature is hidden from him.” The word is not a book.  The word is Jesus (see also 4:14-15).

If Christians took their cues from the spirit rather than a book, maybe we’d be quicker to evolve (move, blow, change).

 I have 7 of MacArthur’s books in my library that I purchased, read, and from which I preached in what seems to be another life.  I liked him.  But today, I’m sad. I’m sad for him. I’m sad for the state of Christianity. 

I want to evolve.  To move with the spirit.  To change with the spirit.  To, as Paul says to the Galatians in 5:25 of his letter, “keep in step with the spirit.”  The spirit is moving.  Am I keeping up?   

A Wrinkle in the Sheet of Immigration

Fitted Sheets

Did you know that Ruth, the lady whose story is told in a book in the Hebrew Scriptures that bears her name, was an illegal immigrant?

How does that fact affect your view of the immigration issue that heats up our country?

I talked about Ruth in my teaching last Sunday in our series “What Would Jesus Say About…”. 

The issue about which we tuned our ears to Jesus was immigration.  Christians often agree with the many  “be kind to foreigners” verses in both the Hebrew Scripture and Christian Scripture, but they also often add this caveat: “Yes, but those were legal immigrants.  Since illegal immigrants are lawbreakers they shouldn’t have any rights.”

Then, we read the story of Ruth.  And she throws a wrinkle in our position (Have you tried to fold a fitted sheet?).   People think they have a Biblically wrinkle-free position on immigration until they read the story of Ruth.  

Ruth was an illegal immigrant.  She’s from Moab.  One of those countries.   Check out Israel’s policy toward immigrants from Moab:  

“An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord forever” (Deuteronomy 23:3).

“Forever”  is a long time.  

Still not convinced that Moabites were excluded…that Moabites were to be kept out? 

Look at Deuteronomy 23:6: “You shall not seek their peace nor their prosperity all their days forever.”  

There’s that word “forever” again.  

The Hebrew of this verse is colorful.  Check out these different translations:

Never pursue their welfare or prosperity – CSB

Never promote their welfare or prosperity – NRSV

Never seek a treaty of friendship with them – NIV

Never seek their peace or their prosperity- NASB

Don’t wish for their peace or success – NCV

Don’t be concerned with their health and well-being – CEB

 Ok.  I get it.  The message is clear.  Don’t give a hand to help the Moabite and Ammonite.  They’re not good people. 

Here’s the wrinkle.  Boaz, the hero of the story, flagrantly disobeyed Moses’ law.  He showed Ruth, and her mother-in-law Naomi, kindness, provided food for them, pursued their welfare, helped them succeed.  And friendship?  

Oh, Boaz went way beyond friendship and got intimate with Ruth.  

Follow that intimacy down the family tree and we arrive at Jesus – Jesus, the Son of David (Matthew 1:1).  Ruth and Boaz were great-grandparents of David.  Jesus was the “Son of David”, and David was the great-grandson of an illegal immigrant mother and a law-breaking father.  

Boaz, like his descendant, Jesus, chose love over law.  Kindness and compassion over keeping the rules.  

What would have happened had Boaz obeyed the law?  

He wouldn’t have been kind to Ruth.  He wouldn’t have provided care for and to them. 

He and Ruth would not have fallen in love.  They would not have had sex and conceived a child, a grandchild…and if you keep going, Jesus would not have been born.  

That was my point in the sermon.  Afterwards, a good, wise friend pointed out to me another way to look at it: If Boaz had kept the law, God could have found another way to bring Jesus to the world.  True. Then my friend said,  “But isn’t it cool that God chose to use an illegal immigrant to bring Jesus to us?”  Cool indeed. Thank you friend!

I get that nations have a responsibility to protect their borders.  I’m not campaigning for illegal immigration.  Here’s what I’m thinking:

* Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world.  As a follower of Christ, I am, foremost, a citizen of that kingdom. For me, that citizenship takes precedence over my U.S. citizenship.  I am to embrace and express the values of His kingdom – values of love and service to the least of these.  How can I live in the  kingdom of the U.S. and live by the principles of the kingdom of Heaven?

*What should be my motivation?  Respect for the law or love of people?  Let’s not forget that it was famine and death that compelled Ruth and Naomi to migrate to the land of Israel.  The same story can be told millions of times today.  Think about the words of an immigrant from Kenya, Warsan Shire,

“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”

Maybe I should have more compassion for people in horrible situations?

So, if God broke the Mosaic law, or used a law breaker and an illegal immigrant to bring Jesus to us, lifting love and compassion over law-keeping, what might God think of people today who challenge the law for the cause of love?  Think about it.  

Kissing Goodbye…

Joshua and Shannon

I read with sadness last week that Joshua Harris and Shannon Bonne were splitting up (I didn’t see the word “divorce”in their announcement).

Joshua is the famous author of the influential book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”

The mega-hit had mega-influence on teenagers and college students.  The book, a love manual for a generation of conservative Christians, was foundational in youth and college ministries as leaders sincerely worked to help those under their care to build healthy relationships.  

It didn’t work out so well.  Josh began to have regrets about the advice he had offered.  In 2016 Josh participated in a documentary called “I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”  In 2018, Josh released a statement disavowing the concepts in the book and calling for a stop of its publication. 

This morning, I read this from Josh, 

“The information that was left out of our announcement is that I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus.  The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away’.  By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”  You can read Josh’s full statement here. 

I kissed dating goodbye.

I kissed marriage goodbye.

I kissed Christianity goodbye.

While these announcements have sent shockwaves through the evangelical community (and garnered a lot of criticism) the waves I’m feeling are ones of understanding and sadness.

I understand the deconstruction. It has been a necessary but sometimes painful part of my spiritual journey.

I am sad about their break-up but absolutely respect their decision and approach to their future relationship. I don’t know them.  I don’t know their story.  I don’t judge them.  I am for them. 

Maybe Josh, Shannon, my wife Denise and I are learning some of the same things – we’re just taking different paths in the education process.  

*I’m learning that “formula faith” is empty and dangerous.  You know, the “if/then” formula.  If you do this, then you will get this.  If you put a $100 bill in the offering plate then you will get $1000 back. That’s called the “prosperity gospel.”

Well, there is also “prosperity dating”.   If you stay a virgin until you’re married (Josh took it further by suggesting boundaries of no kissing, no holding hands, no being alone together before you tie the knot) then God will bless you with a good spouse, great sex and a lifetime of marital bliss. 

When the “tit for tat” way doesn’t pan out, we not only question the “way” but we question the goodness of God.  

*I’m learning that legalism is lethal and fear-based faith is scary.  Josh relates in an interview with SOJO that he and his staff started to “recognize a lot of legalism and really unhealthy patterns.”  

*I’m learning to trust the inner voice of the spirit within. Shannon puts this so well in her Instagram post when she says she was taught in her fundamentalist conservative church  “that my heart was deceitful above all else and therefore, someone else knows better what’s best for me” – describing a culture of authority figures knowing more….

We’ve been taught to listen to others but not taught very well, if at all,  how to listen to the divine image of God within us (1 Corinthians 2:11-13, John 10:27).

*I’m learning that deconstruction is not just ok, it is good.  Is deconstructing what Jesus did?  “You’ve heard it said…but I say to you.”  Or, exchanging old wineskins for new ones that can hold the new wine of his way? 

But deconstruction is hard. Do you know how hard it is to question and challenge what our culture of family and church has taught?  It’s gut-wrenching stuff.  Our world seems to collapse.

Josh says that he’s no longer a Christian.   Josh goes on to say that “by all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not not a Christian.” I so get that.  I have felt the same way.  How many times have I said, “Well, if that’s what being a Christian is, I’m not one.”  

What is the measurement of being a “Christian?”  Is it Christ? Maybe? That kind of makes sense.  The early Christians were “followers of the way” (6 times in the book of Acts).  

Maybe a Christian should be defined as a person who follows in the way – the pattern – the values of Jesus? 

I admire Josh and Shannon.  They are expressing publicly, at high risks of being judged and ostracized, their spiritual and relational journeys. They didn’t have to do it.  They could have kept it to themselves.  But by doing it like this, they are helping others like us. 

I hope for Josh and Shannon a steady move through the process of de-construction toward re-construction in which they discover a religion that indeed “re-aligns” them with the God of love in them.  

 

Thanks Mr. Sessions and Ms. Huckabee Sanders for the Bible Quote

Jeff Sessions

“The Bible says…”  We’ve heard that phrase in Sunday School, youth groups, and sermons.

Now we’re hearing it in the White House Press Room from the Press Secretary, and in a speech from Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  

The issue to which the Bible was being applied was immigration,  specifically, the practice of separating children from their parents who have entered the United States illegally.  

Here are Mr. Session’s words, “Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution.”  And then he brought Paul into it, “I would cite to you the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.  Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.” 

The Bible made another appearance in the press room when Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about the Attorney General’s use of the Bible.   She said, “I’m not aware of the attorney general’s comments or what he would be referencing.  I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law…That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.”  

The purpose of this post is not to address the present immigration policy. I have an opinion.  You probably do as well. I want to think about how the Bible was used to justify the present policy.

 

Ours is not the first government to use Romans 13:1 to justify an action and to compel obedience to a law.  

*Loyalists to King George III and his government used Romans 13 to oppose the American Revolution.

*During the years leading up to the Civil War, defenders of slavery used Romans 13 against the Northern abolitionists.

*And then there’s Hitler.  Yep.  Hitler was a professing Christian, influenced greatly by Martin Luther’s anti-semitism.  He hated Jews but he loved Romans 13:1.  

Read carefully this quote from a Nazi book, “Life and Doctrine: Christian Teaching with Study Questions,” used by the Nazi regime:  

“What are those called in Romans 13:1 who God has set over us?  Have you considered that your parents, your school teachers (your principal), policemen, police chief, judges, the priest, the bishop, the county commission, the state government, are the authorities who are installed by God, and that you owe them obedience?…Over all, we owe the Fuhrer and the government obedience.  If you set yourself up against the authorities and against the state, you are standing against God’s structure and are subject to punishment.”  

 Hitler’s government used Romans 13:1 to squelch Christian resistance to his horrific policies.

Here’s the deal.  People on each side of the above issues could appeal to the same Bible as support for their particular positions.  And they have.  

Anyone wanting to enter a Bible debate with Sessions and Sanders could cite these verses:

Exodus 23:9 – “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.”

Matthew 25:44-46 – “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.  They they will go away to eternal punishment but the righteous (just) to eternal life.”

Proverbs 14:31 – “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”

Isaiah 1:17 – “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.  Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”

James 2:13 – “…judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Mark 10:14 – “When Jesus saw this, he was indignant.  He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’”  

One group has its verses.  The other group has its verses.  Same Bible.  Different views.  

What does this do to the understanding that the “Bible is Our Guide”?   

What kind of guide leads you in two different directions? 

Maybe the Bible itself has the answer!

I appreciate Mr. Sessions trying to base his decisions on an understanding of a higher truth.  But, if Mr. Sessions would have quoted Paul a little further, he would have said, 

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The law, ‘Don’t commit adultery, don’t covet, don’t steal, whatever other commands there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law’” (Romans 13:8-10).  

Paul just quoted the only Bible they had – the Old Testament – and then says, “It’s really about love.”  Is Paul saying, “Instead of getting hung up on different laws, just love.”   It’s not the only time Paul sings “Love is the theme.” 

“Make love your aim” (1 Corinthians 14:1).

“Do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).

“The goal of this command is love…” (1 Timothy 1:5).

And from a book my mom gave me to read in high school, Situational Ethics by Joseph Fletcher, 

“Only one thing is intrinsically good; namely love and nothing else at all.”

“Love and justice are the same, for justice is love distributed.”  

Should love be our ethic?

The right thing is the loving thing.  The loving thing is the right thing.  

What if all of asked before making a decision, setting a policy, saying a word, taking an action – “What is the loving thing?” 

I know I’d be a better person, husband, dad, pastor, and driver.

The Church, #metoo, #timesup and Me

ChurchToo-Photo_web

 

2017 was the year men learned that they can’t mess with women anymore. That’s a good thing.  Does anyone else remember the line from “Network:” “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

That’s what we’ve heard from women assaulted by:

Harvey Weinstein

Larry Nassar

Bill Cosby

Travis Kalanick -Uber CEO

Bill O’Reilly

Roger Ailes

Matt Lauer

Charlie Rose

Louis C.K.

Bill Hybels

Roy Moore

Bill Clinton 

Donald Trump 

Now we can add Paige Patterson to the list.  For those who don’t follow news from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), check it out here and here. 

Dr. Patterson is a giant in the SBC.  He, along with Judge Paul Pressler, orchestrated the fundamentalist take-over of the SBC and has been a strong voice for fundamentalism in his position as a two-time President of the SBC, as President of two SBC seminaries, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Wake Forest, NC, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), in Ft. Worth, Texas, the school from which he has been fired for his misogynistic views and statements.  

Dr. Patterson’s removal came only after women stood up and spoke out.  It started with Megan Lively, a former student at Southeastern Seminary who was told by Patterson not to report an alleged rape to police.   It was then discovered that Dr. Patterson advised an abused wife to return home and pray for her husband.  When she came back with two black eyes, he told her he was “happy” not because of her bruises but because her husband felt guilty after beating her and had accepted Christ. (I know so many pastors who have given similar advice to abused women. “Submit” to your husbands and all that…). The discovery of other incidents led the board of SWBTS to fire Dr. Patterson on May 30, 2018.

My interest in the story of Dr. Patterson stems from my roots in the SBC.  It was the denomination of my birth, childhood, and higher education.  I graduated from SWBTS under the Presidency of Dr. Russel Dilday, who was, ironically, fired by the very fundamentalist ideology represented by Dr. Patterson.  Dr. Dilday was fired for not being conservative enough. I first met Dr. Patterson when he was preaching a revival in the First Baptist Church of Batesville, Arkansas and the youth choir from First Baptist Church in Little Rock, of which I was a member, was singing.  Dr. Patterson was a good preacher.  I liked his sermon.  It kept my attention.  Very persuasive.  He could not, however, persuade the board to retain him.  

The #MeToo movement has reached the church.  

The word misogyny was coined by the Greeks because they needed to describe what was happening to women and girls in their culture.  We’re finally coming to grips with with what is happening to women and girls in our culture.  The realization did not occur because the men have stepped up, but because the women have come out – standing up, speaking out “We’re not going to take it anymore!”  

Here are a few things I’m pondering: 

Misogyny is not a problem in just one group.  We find it with conservatives and liberals.  We find it in Hollywood and in the church.  We find it with people who don’t read the Bible and with people who make studying the Bible their life’s work.  

As a Bible student and spiritual seeker, a Christ-follower,  I have to put it out there for us to consider:  

Is misogyny a direct, logical outgrowth of the patriarchy and sexism inherent in certain Biblical writings?  

Here’s what I’m talking about: 

The very first story.  Adam and Eve.  Adam is presented as the apex of creation.  Eve? An afterthought. Eve is pictured as morally weak, responsible for sin coming into the world.  Adam was even reprimanded by God for “listening to his wife.”   Then there’s the whole “he shall rule over you” statement to Eve.  Right out of the gate, the order is established:  Man is the ruler.  Woman is the subject.  

 Does this story reflect the heart of God or does it reflect the religious understanding of an ancient people?

Move on to the Ten Commandments which is, to many, the foundation of their ethical and moral lives.  Check out the “Covet” command.  Don’t covet the possessions of your neighbor – things like his house, his wife, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.  A wife is one more piece of property – listed between a man’s house and his servants.  

According to the law, recorded as given by God, if a woman is not a virgin at the time of marriage, she shall be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 22:20-21). The guy? No big deal.  It’s a double standard.  He doesn’t have to be a virgin at the time of marriage.   

Wanna New Testament example of misogyny?  1 Corinthians 11:7-9 tells us, in case we didn’t know, that a man is the image and glory of God, but not woman.   Woman is the glory of man. Sorry, women, I guess without us men, you’d never be able to reflect God.  

A particular reading and understanding of these and other passages can create a misogynistic view and treatment of women. Has it?  I think so.  

The Bible presents an ethic of progression…a trajectory.

The Bible does not always give us the last word on an issue.   Instead, it initiates a trajectory that leads to an ultimate ethic.  It’s true with slavery.  The Bible condones slavery – pure and simple.  Yet, we condemn it.  Why?  We recognize an ethic that goes beyond the Bible.   It is also true with women.  So, will we live out an ethic that men are superior to women or follow the trajectory of the Bible that leads to an ethic of absolute equality?

#timesup = “repent for the kingdom of heaven is here” (Matthew 4:17)

Change the way we think, the way we see.  The old paradigms are gone – “old wineskins are replaced with new ones” (Luke 5:36-39) There is a new way to live.  A new way to see people.  A new way to treat people.  The values of the kingdom – love, justice, kindness, humility, replace the values of control and dominance.  

Thank you women for standing up and speaking up.  We’re listening. 

 

Jerusalem: Politics, Peace or Prophecy

Jerusalem2

The US officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Monday, May 14, and opened there the US Embassy.

On hand were two preachers:  Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, and John Hagee, pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, both asked by President Trump to offer prayers at the Embassy’s dedication.

The preachers were bookends to the event – Jeffress doing the invocation and Hagee the benediction.  

A political event?  A church event?  Which one was it?  

Confused?  The flash-back in my mind upon hearing the news may clear it up. It was a conference room at Forest Park Baptist Church in Joplin, MO.  Wednesday night – Church night. Youth Bible Study.  Our Youth Minister, as they were called then, was George Jones. 

The book we were studying?  The Late Great Planet Earth, by Hal Lindsey. The book had just been released (1970) and it was hot.  It remained hot, selling more copies in the 1970s than any other work of nonfiction in the United States.  It’s still in print.  

The youth group, of which I was a part, was really into it.   There’s nothing like end times, mayhem, judgment, escape, to grab your attention; to build a crowd; to get people “saved” as the only way to escape the coming Tribulation.  

We saw the “end times” in terms of 5 events: 

First, Jesus will “rapture” the church – His true followers (which was basically defined as members of our church and churches like it) will be “caught up” with Jesus and swooshed off somewhere to be with Jesus where, from that vantage point, we will watch the:

“Tribulation,” the second event.    The Great Tribulation is 7 years of global chaos where all those who were “Left Behind” because they did not accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior will go through unimaginable horror. The Tribulation ends with:

the third event: The Second Coming of Jesus.  At this event, Jesus bursts through the clouds on a white horse ready to give Satan, and everyone who didn’t become a Christian during the Tribulation, what’s coming to them in the epic Battle of Armageddon.  At the conclusion of the battle, Satan is put in chains, thrown into a bottomless pit for 1000 years, ushering in the 4th event:

The Millennium. With Satan locked up, and Jesus ruling from a Throne in Jerusalem, kids fly kites all day, lions play with lambs, Republicans hang out with Democrats, Cardinal fans sit next to Cub fans.    There is peace.  After the 1000 years of peace, God cuts Satan loose for one last hurrah to see who will follow him and who will follow God.  Finally, there is:

The Great White Throne Judgment.  “Here comes the Judge.”  After a big courtroom scene, Satan and all the non-Christians will be thrown into a lake of fire where they will be tormented night and day, forever, for eternity, no ending.  

That was the view we were taught.  That is the view many if not most Evangelical Christians still hold.  Not me…but that’s for another time.  What does the U.S. Embassy moving to Jerusalem and Jerusalem being recognized as Israel’s capital have anything to do with this view of the “end times”?  

Back to Hal Lindsey.  In Lindsey’s drama, Israel played the leading role.  He believed that as the world moved toward the end, three events would occur:

1.  Jews would retake Palestine. That happened 70 years ago this week – May 15, 1948.

2.  They would repossess old Jerusalem and its sacred sites.

3.  They would rebuild King Solomon’s temple on its original historical site, where the Dome of the Rock stands presently.  

The role of Israel in making the “end times” happen is expressed by John Hagee – the guy who said one of the prayers at the Embassy Dedication, “I believe at this point in time, Israel is God’s stopwatch for everything that happens to every nation, including America, from now until the Rapture of the Church and beyond.”  

The other pray-er, Jim Jeffress, said this about Jerusalem: “It is the place where Jesus, a Jew himself, was crucified and where he was resurrected, and the place where he will set foot again on earth at his second coming.”

The thinking is: the more established and recognized the government of Israel is and the more closely its borders resemble the borders of biblical Israel, the closer we get to the Rapture.  

The motivation of many Christians is not a desire to bring peace to a turbulent region, but a belief that moving the capital to Jerusalem will hasten the end of the world. 

It’s not about politics.  It’s not about peace.  It’s about prophecy.

Judge Jeanine, a commentator on Fox News, said on her broadcast last Saturday that by moving the Embassy to Jerusalem, President Trump “fulfilled Biblical prophecy.” 

At a rally on December 7, 2017, Florida State Senator Doug Broxson introduced President Trump to the crowd and spoke of the President’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as a win for people of faith, declaring,  

“Now I don’t know about you, but when I heard about Jerusalem – where the King of Kings, our soon coming King is coming back to Jerusalem, it is because President Trump declared Jerusalem to be capital of Israel.” 

How much influence did the “praying preachers” have on the decision of the United States government to move the embassy to Jerusalem? 

How much influence does a certain “end times” view have on the policy of the United States?  

What should be our concern?  Peace or Prophecy?

Where is God’s temple today?  It’s not on a rock.  Not in a building.  Not in a city.  It’s in us: Acts 7:48, Acts 17:24, 1 Corinthians 6:19, 1 Corinthians 3:16, Luke 17:21.

The two preachers are living out their beliefs.  I guess I need to be careful what I believe.

“God Helps Those Who Help Themselves” Part 3 of “Shoot Christians Say”

I-NEED-HELP-GUYS-meme-29959

 

“God helps those who help themselves.”

Most frequently, I hear the phrase from people in relation to the poor and/or homeless.  “Well, as the Bible says, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’”

Except it doesn’t say that.

Benjamin Franklin said it.  And others before and after him.  But Jesus didn’t.  No one in the Bible did either.

Paul did say something like it.  What he said is recorded in 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “If anyone is not willing to work, he should not eat.”  

In some people’s minds, the two phrases go hand in hand.  Paul’s words to the church in Thessalonica are even heard on Capitol Hill in debates on funding for the poor.  

I get amused by those debates.  People use the same Bible to support their completely contradictory views.  A person who wants to cut aid to the poor quotes the “don’t work don’t eat” text.

A person who doesn’t want to cut aid to the poor quotes verses like Leviticus 23:22.

Using the Bible can be so confusing!    

Back to Paul.  Obviously, Paul wasn’t writing to Americans.  He didn’t see a homeless person on the street and say, “If you don’t work you don’t eat.”  What he did see were church members not working because they thought Jesus was going to come back any minute.  “Why go to work when Jesus might come back?”  

I like N.T. Wright’s take on that:  “Jesus is coming- plant a tree!” 

Back to “God helps those who help themselves.”

Using this phrase to avoid helping the poor misses the whole point of Jesus and the Scripture.

Those who enact unjust polices are as good as dead, those who are always instituting unfair regulations, to keep the poor from getting fair treatment, and to deprive the oppressed among my people of justice (Isaiah 10:10-2).  Let’s put that on a plaque and hang it in the halls of Congress!

Don’t mistreat widows or orphans or foreigners or anyone who is poor…(Zechariah 7:10).

If you don’t help the poor, don’t expect to be heard when you cry out for help (Proverbs 21:13).

The Lord’s Spirit has come to me…to tell the good news to the poor…to free everyone who suffers (Luke 4:18).  

Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well” – but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing.  What good does that do (James 2:15-16)?

So, let’s forget about this phrase absolving us of our responsibility to help the poor. 

Let’s feed and clothe. 

Let’s challenge and change unfair legislation and structures.  

Let’s identify with the poor. 

What’s good about the phrase?

*It reminds us that God uses people to change the world.  We’re partners.  ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).  It’s a “God plus us” thing.  

*It reminds us that we do have some responsibility.   It doesn’t make any sense to ask God to help me not eat so many potato chips unless I quit buying potato chips.   

“There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.”  J.K Rowling

Here’s my biggest problem with the phrase:  It seems to me to go against grace – you know,  “unmerited favor” – as I learned in Sunday School.  

God gives me love and acceptance when love and acceptance are undeserved.  

“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” Paul writes. 

I love this from Philip Yancey, “There’s nothing I can do to make God love me more.  There’s nothing I can do to make God love me less.”  

Now that’s something we should be saying!