If you blog long enough, someone will eventually call you a heretic. Self-appointed orthodoxy watchdogs plague the internet almost as much as porn. Say something outside their particular theological tradition and they’ll damn your soul to an eternity in hell as fast as you can click “publish” on your blog post.
My latest accusation of heresy came last week on Twitter. My theological crime? I don’t believe in Biblical inerrancy. I tried pointing out to my inquisitor that Biblical inerrancy is a 20th century fundamentalist invention, not something which is actually intrinsic to the Christian tradition, but things like “facts” and church history are but minor inconveniences to the religious zealot….
Biblical inerrancy is certainty grounded in fear and the need for control. Allow for any “error” in the Bible, so the inerrantists claim, and how can you trust any of it? The answer to this supposedly challenging question is actually quite simple.
SOURCE: The Bible Isn’t Perfect And It Says So Itself – Zach Hunt – Red Letter Christians.
The word might not have been thrown at me but I have been called a heretic several times in my life as being a follower of Christ and the primary reason is biblical inerrancy. Over my ten year diligent study of theology I have come to understand, as Zach Hunt in the quote above, that inerrancy is grounded in fear and the need for control and that it is very much a 20th century invention. Scientific findings, among many other things, have been invading theological thought too much to be comfortable to many.
Biblical inerrancy has come to mean that if you don’t interpret the Bible the same as I do then you are simply wrong. Being that there are more than 40,000 versions of Christianity around today there are also 40,000+ versions of biblical thought. Each claims to have the truth but which is the correct one? After my study I can say probably none of them. They each take a verse or two out of that document and form their beliefs around those few words. They, like Martin Luther who grabbed Ephesians 8-9 as the reason to treat Christianity as a something for nothing religion, find a particular verse that totally aligns with their view of God and cling to it with almost total ignorance of everything else.
In reality everyone of us who claims to be Christian is a heretic to others who don’t believe as we do. I have been in a very reflective, maybe even melancholy, mood lately. In some ways I am just not sure of my purpose for continuing on with this blog with any seriousness. Looking over this decade long search for the “truth” has led me to some basic conclusions about our search for God. I will be presenting them in the coming posts. Since I am just starting this particular line of thought I really don’t know how long this series will last but I am sure that I will be called a heretic by some for even bringing up the questions and thoughts that I have on this topic. As is typical of me I will not hold back because of that threat….
In 1997 Richard Carlson wrote a very popular book entitled Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff…. and it’s all small stuff. In that book he listed one hundred things to make our lives more peaceful. Some of those topics that I took to heart included:
- Let Others Be “Right” Most of the Time
- Learn to Live in the Present Moment
- Surrender to the Fact that Life Isn’t Fair
Most of the things we worry about the most have little real impact on our lives. They are just clutter that gets in the way of having a happier life. As I have come to “not sweat the small stuff” I also come to realize that most of what I was told I must believe as a Christian is also small stuff!
I know this sounds like a rather shocking statement to hear that many of the things of the present day church are just small stuff. But, the more I studied the more I found that to simply be the case. It seems that Christianity has become a recitation of creeds about Jesus rather than taking to heart the actual messages he gave us. There have been literally hundreds, if not thousands, of creeds put out by various leaders and councils of Christian churches and all believers were then expected to automatically pledge allegiance to each of them. In studying them they almost all include things to believe instead of things to do.
The creed that is recited weekly in most liturgical churches today is the Nicene Creed (click on this link to see the words). If you take the time to actually look at the content of this creed you will see that they are all about what to believe instead of what to do. The messages of Jesus were actually the reverse of that. He spent much of his ministry teaching us how to live together and how to please God. Almost nothing from the text above actually came from Jesus.
When I started studying the practices of the Quaker faith is when this realization came to me. Quakers are very creed averse and I came to find for a very good reason. They believe in acting out faith instead of proclaiming beliefs. When we realize that what we do matter more than what we believe it changes everything. It was an epiphany for me personally to finally realize that fact.
The Christianity of belief in creeds is small stuff compared to actually acting on the words Jesus spoke. Where did we lose this critical understanding? When did Christianity become a “sit back and wait” instead of “acting out our faith” religion? It certainly wasn’t that way in the early church.
Lets get our attention off the small stuff and back to the true messages of Jesus. One of the emergent movement’s focuses is to get back to the true meaning of the Bible as a whole and the gospels in particular. That true meaning is enveloped in the words of Jesus. They must take front and center over absolutely everything else.
At the bottom of this post is a link to a heartfelt post by a convinced Quaker. A convinced Quaker is one who has come from outside the sect. In this person’s case it evidently was from Catholicism. This post struck me deeply as I saw myself in much of Laura’s writing. For those not going to the original post here are a couple of quotes that I want to comment on:
“Hard” was life before I learned about Quakerism. “Hard” was wondering how to handle a violent situation in a compassionate manner and thinking I was the only person in the world who had grappled with such an issue. “Hard” was feeling completely alone amongst friends, unable to shake the conviction that something was wrong with spending hundreds of dollars on entertainment and thinking I was doomed to be a social outcast forever because I felt that way. “Hard” was taking every word that came out of my mouth seriously, really thinking about speaking the truth and speaking kindness, and believing that I was peculiar and alone for being so serious about everything.
“Hard” was trying to live up to the light in me without even knowing that the light was there. Without knowing that others were on the same path as me, that there was a meeting of people who sought the same things I sought, who could comfort and support me in my time of need. Without knowing there was a long, rich tradition of writing about the very questions I had. Without a weekly meeting to be enveloped and nourished in corporate worship. Those days were very hard indeed, and I don’t want to go back to them.
I, like this convinced Quaker, have struggled with some of my feelings about violence in all its forms, extravagant spending on “entertainment” , Christian organizations that spend almost all their resources on themselves, and other such things. It seemed like the Christian organizations I was in for some time were more focused on a future life in heaven than one here or earth. So, to my total disappointment these types of matters did not come up very frequently.
One of the foundational concept of Quakerism is “living up to the light” this comes from the words of Jesus at Matt 5:14-16
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
Quakers believe that everyone has light from God shining in their lives. Some never allow it to even get to the surface but it is there none the less. I have come to be very much aligned with the concept of the light within each of us. It should be our task everyday of our lives to let the Lord’s light shine in our lives so that others can realize what being a Christian is really all about. It is not about hunkering down in our churches waiting for the end. It is about living day-to-day. Living my life in a Christian organization that did not follow through on that very basic concept was indeed a very hard thing.
Should this be harder? – QuakerQuaker.
Sometimes a burst of questions comes into my mind. They usually come and go before I have time to even put them on a Post-It for further study. This time I was at my keyboard. Here is what I have been thinking of this afternoon.
In the past I have been a member of different Christian denominations who say we must go out and save the rest of the world by telling them about Jesus.
- Is it possible to be Spiritual without being religious? If being religious means going to church every Sunday (or Saturday) then I don’t know? But I believe I have found my path to the Lord. It is studying the red letters found in the Bible. All of the Bible contains some degree of inspiration from God. All of its many human authors believed they were speaking for Him. But if I really want to know from a firsthand account what God is all about then I must concentrate on those words that came directly from His lips. All the other words found in the Bible at best just reinforce those words. Jesus’ ministry lasted three years. He had enough time to personally tell us what God is all about. I believe he did just that. Study the red letters if you want to know the real messages of God.
- I know the words of Jesus known as the Great Commission tell us to go out and make disciples but he did not give us a laundry list of just how to do that? I think he chose to leave the details up to each of us individually. I chose a way that is best for me. That is to listen to the last half of that message which is to obey all that he has commanded. That part of the Great Commission seems to have been lost in much of today’s world. In order to know what he has commanded we need to study his words on a daily if not minute by minute basis and to make every attempt to obey them. We will lead people to Christ by our examples, not by our words. And no, I don’t obey his commands perfectly; that is just not possible for us human beings but that does not excuse us from even trying. Giving up even the attempt is a total cop out.
I don’t believe that the collection of documents put together in the fourth century by Emperor Constantine’s council which is known today as the Bible was one hundred percent dictated by God. Because I believe there is a human element to it some say that I surely must therefore deem it all worthless.
No! No! No!
I really tire of saying this but I must repeatedly explain to them that that is absolutely not the case!
I am unlike most of the inquisitors on this topic in that I am not an all-or-nothing person. I am instead like the most people in that I believe that almost everything, theology included, is shades of grey.
- Yes, I recognize that many of the documents that made it into the final version of the Bible were ancient texts probably go back the 400 years to Christ’s times on earth.
- Yes, the four Gospels are valuable resources in learning the messages of Jesus as understood by his immediate followers.
- Yes, I believe that the authors were inspired by God to wrote down their accounts. I believe this is particularly true of the twelve apostles. Even though almost all of them were illiterate they managed to get their messages into written form. Some through Mark and Luke in particular
- No, I don’t believe that every word, letter, punctuation mark was directly dictated by God.
- No, I don’t believe that just because of the above that I must therefore throw out the Bible as worthless. To me that is the epitome of irrational thinking.
- No, I don’t believe that God quit giving us messages once these authors had completed their works. He told us that he was giving us the Holy Spirit to eventually learn things we were not ready to learn during those biblical times. I believe he continues to do that through others and from scientific knowledge of his kingdom on earth. He told us to believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Some have chosen to substitute the “Bible” in place of the “Spirit”. I am certainly not one of those.
- No I don’t believe that the Bible is the word of God, that title is reserved solely for Jesus. But I do believe that the Bible contains many inspired words from God.
- No I DO NOT believe that the Bible is full of errors! The vast majority of what I read in the Bible I will take as truth. What I do believe is that some people’s interpretations of the Biblical messages are full of errors. They take fables which are only meant to teach us lessons and turn them into literal events. They then wrongly take that literal interpretation and use it as a corner post for their stands on institutional purity. This same group would have very likely turned Jesus’ parables into literal events if Jesus had not directly told them that they were just stories to relay his message. Too bad the other stories were not as clearly labeled.
So, do I think the Bible is a useful document? I can give you an emphatic YES to that query. In fact it is a totally awesome collection of works! It would have been wonderful beyond belief to have been one of those who actually sat at Jesus’ feet for the three years of his public ministry. The closest we can come to that now is to read the words of those who did. And many of those words are recorded in the Bible. Maybe someday some more Dead Sea type Scrolls will show up giving us more insight into those early accounts. But, until that time the Gospel text are the best we have. They are in my study on a weekly if not daily basis.
I want to bring some comments from a previous post entitled The Right of Passage to the forefront so that the issue is clear. It has to do with my leaving my church home of the last eight years. As pointed out below I did short circuit the formal process at it’s beginning stages by volunteering to leave. I chose to take immediate action rather than to pursue it through it’s formal stages.
Here are the comments from that blog thread:
From Dan Martin
RJ, I’m sad to learn of this. I have another close friend that has just been stripped of his teaching responsibilities because he dared to bring a discussion of the Open View of God into a sunday school class he was leading. This led to a doctrinal inquisition that concluded (without ever addressing his biblical and hermaneutical questions directly) that this man did not hold doctrines in harmony with the church and he could not teach.
He, too, has felt he must move on in that a church where one is not permitted to contribute is no fellowship.
This is wrong and unbiblical. In fact the church leadership blatantly violated the procedure Jesus laid out in Matt. 18 while dealing with this friend’s situation. They never acknowledged that problem, either.
The wind of God is moving among the dry bones of the church. Unfortunately, some are so afraid of the rattling of the bones, that they can’t receive the breath of new life.
“Can these bones live? Lord, thou knowest.”
Dan, I must tell you that in reality I short circuited the process and volunteered to leave upon notification of the proposed formal action. So technically I was not “officially” sanctioned or asked to leave. I think they had intended to comply with Matthew 18 but I chose not to go through that painful and inevitable process.
As I have already said I feel much more saddened by this than angry. Why do we let such things come between us Christians? I truly love my pastor of the last five years and I realize that he was just initiating this action as a result of denominational edicts. He is following the institutional line that was laid out for him by the church hierarchy. So I really put this on myself as maybe forcing this issue. But I could no longer pretend that I believe the earth is 6,000 years old and ignore all the scientific info that the Lord has given us. I was just tired of turning my back on this issue. It was time to take a stand. But I am really sorry that I have brought this situation upon my wife. She was very painfully collateral damage as a result of my public actions.
Some people probably think that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy applies only in the military. In reality it applies in several places in our lives. One of those is our local church. That is if you are a member of one of the churches that demand a high level of compliance to their beliefs. I was up until recently a member of one of those churches. They dictated what I was allowed to believe. Any variation of those allowed beliefs sometimes had consequences.
That gets us to the title of this post. Most everyone is familiar with the term “Cafeteria Catholics”. This term is used to describe Roman Catholics who pick and choose which Catholic doctrine they want to believe. Most Cafeteria Catholics are pretty safe in this practice as long as they don’t actually admit that they are picking and choosing among church doctrine . If they don’t directly tell others of this fact then the church authorities usually don’t ask them about it.
Is this practice limited to Roman Catholics? I think it takes place in many of the other Christian denominations. As long as you appear to go along with all the doctrine you are safe. I believe many in a congregation either are ignorant of the purity rules or choose to just ignore them; many more than their leadership could imagine. But, if you publicly admit that you don’t believe something then your might be “asked” to leave or at least stripped of your membership status. I know this personally happened to me. I suffered the consequences of publicly stating that I believe the earth to be more than 6,000 years old and therefore the Bible is not totally inerrant.
Being expelled from membership in a local Christian church, or any other club type organization for that matter, has its consequences. I am pretty much like other Christians in that the vast majority of my social life was based on my church membership. When that membership ends the social fabric of my life suffered a severe tear. I regret that consequence more for my wife than I do for myself. She is collateral damage in this holy war. I deeply regret that. That tear in the fabric is mendable but it will take some time to do that. Since we are older it will be even harder to repair.
If I had it to do over again would I be a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” person? When it comes to Jesus Christ I believe I must follow where my heart and soul lead me no matter the consequences. But I do regret the collateral damage. That saddens my greatly. The morale of this story might be “Be careful what you say; your church authorities might be listening” 🙂
Here I am a senior citizen so I thought I had completed all of life’s rights-of-passage. But I was recently proven wrong. Because of my stand, here and elsewhere, that I believe that the earth is more than 6,000 years old I have been asked to refrain from some worship activities at my current church! It seems I am not allowed to believe the age of the earth according to God’s laws of nature; instead I must believe that the Bible is literal and absolutely true in every respect. I am not allowed to believe that the story of Jonah and the whale was a fable to teach us a lesson; instead I must believe that he did indeed spend three days in the intestines of a whale.
The church pastor has basically said because I believe things I am not allowed to believe that I am now only welcomed as a guest in the church as I am no longer a member of that club. Obviously my beliefs in the validity of God given science confirming that the earth is millions of years old and that dinosaurs are not a myth but reality go contrary to what I am allowed to believe. I guess if I had not made such a public stand by saying so on this blog maybe they could have continued to ignore our differences but I chose to go public with this belief and I am glad that I did. More on that later.
The threat of being expelled from my church was probably intended to shock me in to refuting these “faulty” science based beliefs but in reality it came as more of a relief. It will allow me to no longer have to publicly pit God given scientific discoveries like DNA and carbon dating against their view on an inerrant and literal bible. The all or nothing attitude of this church when it came to be Bible has been something I have been struggling with for a number of years. I thought that since we are in total agreement on the foundations issues such as the means of grace, salvation, and the deity of Jesus that would be enough. But I guess this secondary stuff is just as important to them. As I mentioned many times before I am just naturally a person who has questions. I am just a person constantly seeking the truth. I have always known that this church is not one that willing accepts many questions, especially about their traditions. I should have seen this coming before now.
I really don’t know why I have stayed there as long as I have. I think mainly it is because my wife, even though she like me was not attending church during her middle thirty years, considers herself a life long member of that strain of Christianity. For her sake I have tried to downplay my differences with them. Stepping back now,I am amazed I lasted as long as I did there.
It is refreshing to finally not have to pretend to anyone that the Bible is the say-all and end-all for God. Jesus clearly told us that the Holy Spirit would give us more info when we were ready for it. I can now say that loud and clear without facing any further retribution! God’s revelations did not abruptly end when Constantine assembled our Bible. God continues to this day to give us both general and personal revelations. They can come to some at a personal level as I have witnessed a few times or they can come through things like scientific discoveries he allow us to make. For instance, while knowledge of DNA would have been totally worthless to the first century inhabitants it will soon prove to be life changing for us in the twenty-first century. Thank you Lord for giving us this revelation.
So, here I am churchless. But I must admit that I am the second one in recent weeks to be excluded. I don’t know if or how many others are on the list for this action. Maybe they are trying to purge the perceived dissidents from the congregation. Things go much easier if no one is asking any serious questions.
I will probably stay away from doing church for a while. I need to decompress some. I need to listen for the Holy Spirit and consider my options. I probably should have moved on myself some time ago but I was just too comfortable where I was. Good friends made over an eight year period are hard to leave. Especially at this point in my life. I also know that my wife will probably suffer the brunt of the consequences as a result of this action. She was much more embedded there than I was. I sincerely apologize to her for that fact.
Instead of treating this event as a negative one I choose to treat it as a right of passage to the next level of my journey with Christ.
Do I come to Jesus because I am a sinner or because he is Lord and has agape love for me? That question is central to me at this point in my life. Another way of saying this is should I cling to Jesus because of all the bad things I have done in my life or because Jesus, being Lord, has much to teach me about living and about love from this day forward.
I just don’t see much point in constantly harping about what a miserable person I am. That seems to be the central theme of the epistles of Paul and many Christian denominations today. Instead of constantly focusing on my sinfulness I choose to focus on the fact that Jesus loves me and that through Him I can do anything. That is if I have faith even the size of a mustard seed. I am not discounting the fact that I sin daily because I absolutely do. Nor am I disregarding the fact that I need Jesus to get to heaven. Indeed if Christ had not died for my sins I, like all other Christians would be doomed to hell. But to fixate on these things as the reason to come to Jesus is just not me. Jesus teaches us many things about living in the here and now, the most important being loving God and loving others. He told us not to worry about the past or the future but to stay in the here and now. Being fixated on past sins is not the here and now. And totally concentrating on being in heaven after this life isn’t the here and now either. We are to focus on each and everyday and live it as Jesus taught us.
But there is one type of sin that I do think about often. This type of sin is generally called sin of omission. Some say that this type of sin is uniquely Catholic but I think not. Jesus gave us numerous lessons while he walked this earth and it is up to us to use them to follow through on his ministry by doing what he taught us to do. These basic thing are to love God above everything else and to love our fellow men as we selfish people tend love ourselves. I, and all Christians, fall far short of even these two. Yes it is a sin if I have a fleeting adulterous thought during the week but in my mind it is much worse when I fail to be my brother’s keeper now and in the future. I have much more remorse for this sin than for an occasional unclean thought I might have. I want to bring back the words of the Apostle John in the following verses:
1 John 2:3-6
We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
If you don’t do what Jesus commands then you are a liar about knowing him. Those are powerful and condemning words for all of us. The love of Jesus for others depends on us showing it in our daily lives ourselves. When we fail to do that, or for that matter not even making an attempt to do it, then we are indeed miserable sinners.
THE central tenet of my life is that I love Jesus because he loves me. One of the very beneficial offshoots of that love is that he assures me a place in heaven. I will spend what is left of my life trying to do what he commands and in my modest way try to live as he showed me. I will do this each and every day without be fixated by either my past or my future in heaven. All the glory be to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The two groups mentioned in the title of this post are indeed on the very opposite ends of world views. But I also believe that they have much more in common than either group would like to imagine. Let’s discuss some of their commonalities.
Both groups are very rigid in their beliefs; some would say closed-minded to any other possibilities.
Both groups will totally discount any possibility that they may be wrong about anything.
- The atheist scientist believes lock, stock, and barrel in the theory of evolution. To them it is not a theory at all but a well established fact. Although they admit that they haven’t found the so-called missing link, they say that is only because we have not looked hard enough yet. They often say that if they can’t personally observe something then it is not true.
The puritan Evangelical believes lock, stock, and barrel that everything in their version of the bible, is totally 100% true and factual. They will not accept that some of the Bible was probably exaggerated as it was verbally passed down from generation to generation during the many centuries before it was put to paper. They totally discount the possibility that some of it was meant just for the times it was written. They stubbornly stick to the belief that every word of it is meant to apply to all the ages. They say that if it is not in the Bible then it is not true.
Are all scientists in the first group and all Christians in the second? Absolutely not!! As is typical of many things in the world the two groups cited above are at the very edges of their respected populations. Yes, there are even people, including me, who are actually in both broad categories but are not in either of these groups. I spent thirty years in the corporate world immersed in science. I have spent a like period of time immersed in the Christian world. To me the two worlds are not as diametrically opposite as indicated above.
I do believe in carbon dating and dinosaurs. The physical evidence is just too overwhelming to deny that this is indeed information that God has allowed us to gather at this point in human history. I believe that the Bible is doctrinally inerrant but I also believe that much of it is just an historical account of the times and is not meant for the ages. If we take the absolute literal view of the Bible and the absolute truth of the “Theory” of Evolution off the table then I have little trouble reconciling most of scientific fact with biblical text. The two are at least in my mind beautifully intertwined. God gives us science so that we can have an increasing insight into the world he created for us. He gave us much of the Bible, and particularly the words of Jesus, to spiritually guide us through that world. I am not alone in the cross category or in the beliefs that science and theology can co-exist. Francis Collins, who was the leader of the Human Genome Project that decoded DNA, has written a book about this entitled The Language of God. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the topic. While I don’t agree with everything Mr. Collins says the book it does a good job of interweaving science and Christianity into one coherent reality.