When the Bible becomes a weapon….

Although I don’t focus very much on the Old Testament I have always been troubled about how it seems to condone slavery. There is an interesting article in USA Today about  this topic.  See it at  In Civil War, the Bible became a weapon – USATODAY.com.  Here is a little bit of it.

God said so

In the 1860s, Southern preachers defending slavery also took the Bible literally. They asked who could question the Word of God when it said, “slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling” (Ephesians 6:5), or “tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect” (Titus 2:9). Christians who wanted to preserve slavery had the words of the Bible to back them up.

The preachers of the North had to be more creative, but they, too, argued God was on their side. Some emphasized that the Union had to be preserved so that the advance of liberty around the world would not be slowed or even stopped. One Boston preacher, Gilbert Haven, sermonized, ” If America is lost, the world is lost.”

Historian James Howell Moorhead of Princeton Theological Seminary points out that other ministers drew on the Book of Revelation and suggested that a Northern victory might prepare the way for the Kingdom of God on earth. Still others preached that God would not allow the North to win until it ended slavery. The Battle Hymn of the Republic poetically summed up such Union beliefs:

When we take the Bible literally and for all time the above type mentality often prevails.  St. Paul told slaves to obey their masters so God must condone slavery.  This type of logic did not go away after the Civil War. It is still very prevalent today amongst those who take the Bible literally.  Sad as it is I imagine that there are still many around that believe that slavery was instituted by God. When you take the Bible literally you are stuck with all the verses being literal.  That is a very hard thing to cope with.

Of course many Christians know that much of the Bible was written around the  circumstances of the time and not meant for eternity. If St. Paul had said that slavery was an abomination before God he would have been run out of town on the preverbal “rail”. We must understand that some of the Bible simply reflected the times; some of it was allegory; some of it was just giving historical evidence.

Ending this post on the Civil War topic I very much admire these words of Lincoln:

“My concern is not whether God is on our side,” he said. “My greatest concern is to be on God’s side.”

Many throughout the ages claim God is on their side. Hitler used that logic and so did the KKK amongst many others. But we should all ask the question “are we on God’s side?”

Intrepreting the Bible….

As I have mentioned in the recent past I have disassociated myself with the Christian church that I was part of for over nine years. I have always tried to not mention what my religious affiliations were on this blog but now that they are severed I will say it was with a LCMS Lutheran church.  The pastor of the church was a regular viewer of this blog and gave several often opposing comments which I welcomed. I thought we had agreed to disagree on some of the secondary issues surrounding our individual faiths. That was fine with me. But then I was given notice that since I had among other things so publicly stated that I believe in the “day age” version of Genesis instead of the seven-day 24 hour version he would be taking my case to the elders to get my communion privileges revoked and therefore effectively removing me from membership! If I had not short circuited the process by voluntarily leaving it this would have resulted in a formal inquisition where I would be asked to disavow these false beliefs.

During our discussions on this topic the statement was made that we cannot each decide what to believe about the church or the Bible. Instead we must all believe what the church leadership tells us is the truth. To do otherwise, I was told, would result in mass confusions. In afterthought it seems very ironic to me that I was chastised for trying to understand the Bible on my own terms, especially by a Lutheran church.  After all isn’t that what the founder of the Lutheran church actual did! He dared to go against current church beliefs and especially their practices.

But I have to admit that this type of thing probably goes on in almost all Christian denominations today.  If you don’t tow the line and believe what you are told to believe then you are chastised in one form or another.  In my studies of different Christian organizations about the only one I have found that does not do this are the Quakers. They basically allow any of their members to believe just about anything they want.  I think they go too far in the other direction. There has to be some very basic core beliefs in order to call yourself a Christian. But most denominations today go way beyond that set of core beliefs and instead base their membership qualification more on church tradition and practices than anything else.

So here I am  trying to understand the Bible on my own and not rely on someone else to tell me what each verse means. Maybe I should post my 95 theses on my old church’s doors. Who knows what might happen. (ha)  I will continue to be a very fervent follower of Jesus Christ but not a member of any particular current day denomination. At least for now.

Virgin Birth…

Here we are in the Christmas season so the virgin birth will be mentioned many times in the coming weeks in both our Bible readings and our hymns and songs. Let’s take a 21st century look at this phenomenon and also ask some first century questions about it. Let’s start with the first century questions.

There are some things in the bible that require us to look at them with first century eyes. I am currently reading a book about the nativity story and how that looks quite different when you view it with first century eyes. The book is very insightful and reminded me of the difference that twenty-first century views can mean in reading various stories. I will be relating that story soon but only choose to mention it here as an example of different meanings to different people. We will get into more of this in a couple of paragraphs here.

Getting to the point at hand, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke start their documents with a genealogy leading from Abraham to Joseph. Matthew calls Joseph “the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called the Christ”. Luke gives a different genealogy than Matthew. Scholars differ on which of the two if any is the legal genealogy via Joseph and which the possible physical descent via Mary. This brings up my first century question. If as it is proclaimed that Joseph had absolutely no biological link to Jesus then why would they trace Joseph’s line in order to determine Jesus’ ancestry? Was this train of thought different to the first century Christians? Can someone be linked to someone who has no biological connection? I know DNA wise there is no link between them. I also know from my limited study of those early times that in the Jewish tradition the man was the patriarch and the woman played a very subservient or even non-existent role in public affairs. It is very confusing to me why Joseph’s line was even linked to Jesus?

We are told that Jesus was a virgin conception in Mary (virgin birth to me is really a misnomer). That is as I understand it no human sperm was involved in Jesus becoming human being. The Holy Spirit accomplished that fact by some other means. Now on to the twenty-first century question. Was Mary’s DNA associated with Jesus or was Jesus not biologically linked to her either? To say it another was did God use one of Mary’s eggs in creating Jesus or not? Of course this question would not have come up in the first century as God had not revealed this scientific knowledge to that generation. As with many other scientific laws of nature He chose to wait until we were ready to receive that knowledge before revealing it to us. If anyone cares to try and answer this question I would certainly be interested. Of course without having a sample of Jesus’ DNA this question is not answerable. Wouldn’t it be interesting for us to be able to study Jesus’ DNA. Wow!

In closing I recently read where St. Paul never mentioned that Jesus’ mother was a virgin. If fact some say he, by some of his words, discounted that fact. Christianity is if nothing else full of seemingly unanswered questions. At least when you look at it with twenty-first century eyes.

10% Tithe??

I know the Old Testament talks about a 10% thithe in several places but is this also applicable to Christians in the New Testament age? Some say yes and some say no.  It always impressed me when I read in the book of acts how Early Christians sold everything they had and gave the money to the Apostles for the community good.  Here are those verses:

Acts 4:32-35
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.  There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

It is amazing to me that this happened. It would be totally unfathomable for this to occur in today’s world. The closest we probably came to this was the hippie communes of the 1960 :). But almost as amazing is the total turn around that occurred just a few verses later. Here is that story:

Acts 5:1-11

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property.  With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.  Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.” When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.” Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.” At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.  Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

I guess Ananias and his wife Sapphira missed the orientation meeting that said you have to give everything. Having held some back (we don’t know how much?) they were struck dead!  I can certainly see where great fear struck others in the church!  I suspect it also drove many out.  I really don’t understand this story. Some say it is simply to make people aware that everything you have comes from God.  But that was a harsh lesson for poor Ananias to learn.

Do we need to feel obliged to give 10% of our income to the church?  From the latest data it seems that most Christians give less than 3%.  Where is that thunder bolt that should be striking them dead (ha). Aren’t we lucky that the Apostles are still not around. I’m afraid that the church population would be approaching zero if this event were repeated many times. Is this story a reporting of an historical event or is it just a parable/myth to teach us an object lesson?  I just don’t know but killing people because the didn’t give everything is a little troubling.

A Look at Sin and the history of the world….. (Part 1)

Most of the Christian churches today spend quite a bit of time focusing on the fact that we are all miserable worthless sinners. But just what is sin? I will spend the next few posts on that topic. Of course the first thing that comes to mind for Christians and Jews when the topic of sin comes up is the ten commandments. These came from the Torah and the Jewish tradition. Other lists of sins have popped up from time to time throughout human history. Jesus even gave his version of the ten commandments. I will investigate these different lists to see what they have in common and how they are different.

To start off I am going to try and give you my very condensed version of the history of sin according to my view of Christian theology. I might entitle this series “A Complete Idiots Guide to Sin”. But since I am not trying to sell you a book on the topic this discussion will be measured in words , not pages. I know this is a big task but being an ignorant layman I will go there anyway 🙂 . What is the old saying “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”. Well this fool is rushing in on this topic. So here goes.

In the beginning Adam and Eve did not trust God as to what was good for them. He gave them everything they needed but it seems they were just not satisfied with God’s choices. They wanted to know what “good” and “evil” were that God told them they didn’t need to know. Even at this very very early point in human history I guess man had a driving desire to become gods themselves. This fact was the core of the first sin. I am not going to try and put the blame on anyone here; I will just say against God’s desires they obtained this knowledge of good and evil. Once they had this knowledge it was impossible for them to go back to the way it was. This desire to be like God was deemed the “original sin”. As a result of this sin God became very angry and basically told them “you are on your own”. They had to leave God’s estate and start life elsewhere. You might say this was the first act of tough love. God never stopped loving his creation but since they went against his will they had to suffer the consequences. When they were forced out of God’s house they also had to give up a lot of perks. Life would never again be as easy as it was for them or for any of us descendents.

Next time we will continue our journey on the question of sin.

Finding our niche…..

We seem to constantly fragment ourselves in order to make us unique. We are not satisfied with just being one of many in a common boiling pot. We have to think of ourselves as someone like no one else.  My father’s generation was not like we are. Many, if not most of them, took pride in the fact that America was a fabulous “melting pot” where Italians, Irish, Spanish, etc people came to the United States and became “American” (no dashes were included for them). Now we have to add several dashes due to our ancestry. We can’t just be an American. We have to be a African-Native-Mexican American or whatever the case may be. In my case I am a British-Scottish-Native- American. Several other dashes should probably be included as I’m pretty sure I am a mutt as these things go 🙂 .  I don’t know if that this is a good or not. It is nice to celebrate the different heritages and cultures of our ancestors. But when that keeps us from recognizing our common bonds it can be terribly detrimental. I think part of the fracturing we seen to be facing as nation today is a result of this need to be unique or at least see others, many of who we perceive as enemies, as different from us. The most damaging thing is the hate and disdain for others that some in these groups seem to have.

 I also think this is one of the reasons we have over 35,000 different versions of Christianity in the world today. We have to make our religious journey as personalized as possible. I know I fall into this feeling oftentimes myself. I want to believe that my version of Christ is the “true” one and everyone else just has it wrong to one degree or another. I just can’t seem to fall into lock steps with any of the existing versions.

I don’t know if there is anything we can do to change this trend or even if it would be beneficial to change it. But it just seems wrong to me that we have fractured ourselves to such a degree. We seem to almost be at a personal level of an “us vs. them” mentality in that it is now probably a “me vs. them”. In the U.S. that things always seem to swing from one extreme to another. One of the miraculous things is that we have, at least in the past, the uncanny ability to swing back toward the center rather than go over the edge. Lord help that be the case with this also. Maybe one day Christian groups will start integrating with each other instead of splitting.  But I imagine this is wishful thinking on my part.

Taking America back for God — Part 3

In the last post I brought forth the proposition that God loves all of humanity and does not particularly bless one world government more than another. I also pointed out that many today think that if we could just turn the US into a Christian theocracy everything would be wonderful. I pointed out that we have had Christian theocracies in the past and they were no more like Jesus (i.e.. The kingdom of God) than those pagan governments around them. And many times even worse!

This post I will spend some time talking about how I believe that a follower of Jesus should interact with kingdoms of this world (the United States in particular). Jesus made it clear that we are to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. To me that means keeping the two somewhat separate but that does not mean Christians should have total indifference to world kingdoms?

In the early centuries of the Christian phenomenon government officials were actually told to find another profession after they converted to the “Way”. The same went for soldiers. But, I don’t think that meant that we Christians were meant to stay out of the politics of this world entirely. Obviously Jesus said leave to Caesar what is Creaser’s and to God what is God’s. I earlier stated that I don’t think Jesus was political but you should not infer that he was not interested in things that are handled in the political sphere. John Howard Yoder in his book the Politics of Jesus does a good job of pointing this out. The problems we Christians get into today is that we latch on to some kingdom issues in politics and then somehow buy the whole package of that political party. For some it is abortion and therefore the Republican party. For others it is issues such as healthcare or safety net issues and therefore it is the Democratic party. We have to be very aware of such allegiances of accepting the bad with the good. It reflects poorly on the Kingdom of God and possibly drives many away. We should not be strict Republicans or Democrats but should instead back Kingdom related issues in whichever party they occur. As Jim Wallis and Sojourners bumper sticker says “God is NOT a Republican, or a Democrat”.

 But Jesus also indicated that where Caesar conflicted with God, God must win out for all Christians. In my mind it is kind of tricky just how involved we Christians should be in political affairs. The two extremes seem to be to stay out of it entirely or to reach for a Christian Theocracy. The optimum point is obviously somewhere between these two extremes. I don’t know personally where the ideal point is so I tend to try to stay closer to the non-involvement end but where safety net issues are concerned I tend to be very active.

Greg Boyd’s post on his blog entitled “The Patriot’s Bible – Really” is very insightful in this area. That is why it is in the “inspiring” block on the right side of this blog”. Just click on that link to see the text. One ironic point that Dr. Boyd made is that the early Christians were persecuted for being unpatriotic. They would not bow to Caesar or other such things. That seems to be the opposite of today where so many Christians are thoroughly attached to world kingdoms and not so much to the Kingdom of God. At least that is how I see it.

The book “The Myth of a Christian Nation” by Pastor Boyd did a lot in shaping my thoughts in this area. I would highly recommend the book to anyone. But, if you are one to believe that Jesus particularly blesses America then be prepared to have that myth thoroughly destroyed by his biblical insight. To some it will be uncomfortable reading but well worth it if your current worldview eventually gives way to the kingdom of God view.

Taking America back for God

The title of this series of posts is a popular mantra for a fringe wing of one of our political parties in the United States but is it really true in reality?? I am going to break down my opinions of this topic in next three postings on this blog.

 Using the word “back” implies that the United States was once a country that followed kingdom of God principles. I am a life long avid reader of US history. I love my country and we have done some great things but I don’t recall a single period of time that the country was ever aligned to any degree with the kingdom of God. And it was definitely not established by people who called themselves Christians. There was only one of the ten most important founders of the US who even called himself a Christian. Many were deists; that is people who believed in some divine inspiration but not particularly Jesus.

I personally don’t see how any worldly government can be aligned with Jesus’ teachings. Yes, Jesus is the epitome of the Kingdom of God. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. If it is not aligned with the teachings and words of Jesus then it is NOT about the kingdom of God! Unfortunately, for every bright period in our history there are usually corresponding dark periods. We often speak out against some African nations for the genocide that they are presently doing but don’t recognize the genocide that we did against the Native Americans who were here thousands of years before we were. We passed Social Security in the 1930’s that put a much needed safety mat under our senior citizens but at the same time we were calling our African American citizens less than human and lynching many without any criminal reprisals. And then there was the Civil Rights movement; how many Christian churches were camped on the segregation side of that issue. I could go on and on but I am sure you see the point.

Now on to a secind point in this arena. Was Jesus political? That is was he concerned about the Romans not having public prayers or not allowing the ten commandments to be publically displayed. The Jewish nation, whom Jesus was a citizen, was fully expecting the Messiah to come and put in place a political solution for all their problems. They were convinced that the Messiah would defeat the Romans who were currently running rough shod over them. Clearly Jesus had something else in mind. He made it absolutely clear that he was not at all interested in a political solution. He did not come to establish a dominant government that would rule “over” all people. Instead he had in mind a kingdom that  would  serve everyone including Israel’s enemies. The Jews didn’t that all like then and I am afraid many Christians today don’t at all like that idea now. Jesus did not come to form a perfect political government and he certainly isn’t looking to us to make it so either.

On my next posting I will put out two additional points on this topic. In the mean time feel free to comment with your own list or rebuttal of mine. God bless us all; not just America

The Kingdom of God Study 1

Crown and Cross Graphic 219x321

Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God more frequently than any other topic, and it pervades all his actions as well. He mentioned the kingdom of God more than 70 times in the Gospel texts and it is mentioned by his disciples more than 30 times. Since I haven’t done so yet I thought I would spend the next several posts trying to discover just what is the “kingdom of God”? I will do that primarily through studying the red letters. Let’s start out with this post covering some of the higher levels of this topic and then in the coming posts we will address where Jesus mentioned the kingdom of God.

To me the kingdom of God is all about whether we are loving as Jesus loved? That is, the kingdom of God is an action oriented place. Jesus’ love totally encompasses the kingdom of God. Many of the verses that Jesus quotes show that it is literally impossible for any kingdom of earth to even remotely approach being like the kingdom of God. There is no such thing as a Christian Nation. Just as we are all sinners and therefore totally fail live up to God’s expectations all nations on this earth are totally incapable of meeting God’s kingdom standards. Not even one! We in the U.S. have the largest military complex in the history of the world. The Kingdom of God has NO military but instead will love their enemy and even die FOR them. How ironic!

This study is all new to me so please chime in with your opinions, whether they agree with me or not. I don’t claim to have all the answers, or even any for that matter. I’m just a guy trying to understand the concept of the kingdom of God. Let’s enjoy this coming study and please provide any input you can. Due to some side issues I will be posting twice a week, instead of three times, for the next month or so. I just need to back off for a little while to spend more time on some other issues.

The Present Future

 I want to close out this outreach series with a review of a book by Reggie McNeal called “The Present Future – Six Tough Questions for the Church”. Actually, the book should be entitled “Six Realities that need to be overcome”. Mr. McNeal is the director of leadership development for the South Carolina Baptist Convention. I want to up front admit that this is not a comfortable book to read if you are a North American practicing Christian. So I guess it is appropriate that my review of it comes out an uncomfortable day (Tax Day). I think Mr. McNeal’s purpose in writing the book is to try and shake to the core our being comfortable with how things are with the church. But if you are willing to sometimes see yourself in a not very Jesus like light you should read the book. While I do not agree with all the logic he uses to make his points, the book is worth reading because there are valid issues raised by his list. Here are the six realities that he presents:

  1. The Collapse of the Church Culture
  2. The Shift from Church Growth to Kingdom Growth
  3. The New Reformation: Releasing God’s People
  4. The Return to Spiritual Formation
  5. The Shift from Planning to Preparation
  6. The Rise of Apostolic Leadership

I will spend the next couple of post going through some of this list. Let’s do the first one now.

The Collapse of the Church Culture
This Chapter starts off with the following statement:

 “The current church culture in North America is on life support. It is living off the work, money, and energy of previous generations from a pervious world order. The plug will be pulled either when the money runs out (80 percent of money given to congregations come from people aged fifty-five and older) or when the remaining three-fourths of a generation who are institutional loyalists die off or both.”
  These are indeed pretty blunt statements. But I think, if we really face it there is an agonizing ring to these words. He goes on to say that he is talking about the church culture, not the death of the church that Jesus founded. The church established by Jesus will indeed be there when he returns. What he is really talking about what he calls the unique culture in North America that has come to be called the “church”. He goes into quite a bit of statistics to show the above point. I will not cover those as some are the same as I have given in previous posts.

In solution to this diminishing attendance in church he goes on to say that the wrong question is: How do we do Church better? He basically makes the argument that when a church get larger the pastor, or pastors, have to spend so much time on non-spiritual matters that the true meaning of being a disciple of Jesus Christ is lost in the process. Many American congregations are more fixated on growing their “church”.

Here is another striking quote from the book. “Church leaders seem unable to grasp this simple implication of the new world — people outside of the church think church is for church people, not for them. We may have saturated the market of people who want to be part of the church culture, who want church the was we do it in North America.”

The basic point I think he is trying to make is that many churches in this country have lost the reason why they are supposed to exist. The missional fix as he calls it is as follows:

The appropriate response to the emerging world is rebooting of the mission, a radical obedience to an ancient command, a loss of self rather than self preoccupation, concern about service and sacrifice rather than about style.
 While I don’t agree with everything here I do believe that the “church” is too fixated on their traditions and current practices instead of the service and sacrifice that Jesus clearly show us. Jesus truly had the service mentality. We need to get back to some of the practices of the early church. That is taking stands that are not very comfortable to our current members and totally uncomfortable to the current cultural trends of  today’s world.