I will admit here that I got a first time comment today that I immediately sent to the trash because I don’t have the energy to deal with it on a serious level right now. It goes like this. “I will ignore the needs of the 99 in order to prevent the 100th one from getting something he doesn’t deserve”. This comment also declared that social justice as he sees it is nothing but communism.
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard comments like this. But the truly sad thing is that it frequently comes from someone who declares themselves a fundamentalist Christian. A major premise of that version of Christianity is that we are all nothing but pitiful sinners and don’t deserve anything but Jesus died for us anyway. To turn around and not pass even a miniscule amount of the mercy that they received on to others quite simply makes me sick. But even the sadder part of this is that I’m sure the people who make these types of comments really believe them and just don’t see the correlation between giving and receiving grace. Whose fault is that?
The above words are mine. They were a response I gave a commentor about my post on Social Justice over at RJsCorner.
As mentioned I have gotten this type of reply frequently when I post about giving people second, and yes even sometimes third, chances. I have had a few days to think about that final question and for what it is worth here is my answer. I believe this very flawed logic is the fault of many of our church’s current spiritual leaders. They, like those who Jesus chastised so much in his day, have lost the true meaning of what being a follower of Jesus Christ.
Instead of looking at Jesus’ messages of love and grace they are fixated on guarding their version of God. In Jesus’ day much of the Pharisees attention was on dietary requirement and rules for Jewish living. Today it seems that “below the belt” issues overwhelm almost everything else in some Christian circles. That and defending things found in the Bible that have little or nothing to do with living today but are sacrosanct on justifying their paranoid belief of biblical inerrancy.
To one degree or another almost all Christian sects are guilty of subverting the Message of Jesus. They seem to concentrate more on “tithing” requirements and building more monoliths to God than they are about being our brother’s keepers. They have mortally wounded Christian faith by aligning it with radical right political themes. It seems like we need another “upturning of the money changer’s table” in the twenty-first century church. We need some group to take back the message of Christ to love God and to love each other. We need to get off the feeling that God has special love for that suburban middle class crystal palace with the U.S. flag prominently displayed behind the lavish altar than he does for starving kids in third world countries.
Jesus was a person of second chances. He even told us to forgive our brothers many time more than that. This message seems to be lost in many who call themselves Christians and I believe the fault of that, like in Christ’s day land on the current religious establishment. They seem to be just too afraid that if they make following Jesus too difficult no one will come. They need a serious table upturning….
What About The Bible… ? (Chapter 6)
This is the final post on my series about the Bible. It has been an enlightening time for me. This final post is about the history of Christianity and how it seems to stop with the establishment of the biblical text. But before I get into that I must mention that I have found that to really understand the Gospel text you must also understand the basic history of that region of the world during that period of time. To do that means seeking out historical records of the Roman Empire particularly in the Middle East.
There is virtually nothing about the person of Jesus found outside the gospel accounts. He just didn’t show up on the Roman radar screen. Historical text shows that there were many different people who took on the mantel of “son of God” during those years. Several names were found in Roman text with that claim but Jesus of Nazareth was not one of them.
To understand the part the Roman authorities played in the Crucifixion you must realize that Pontius Pilate routinely condemned Jews to death for a myriad of reasons. He had little regard for that population. You must also understand that the religious leaders of the times were very much in bed with Roman authorities. These sort of historical accounts help us to understand the gospel stories.
The Bible contains almost all of the accounted history of the early Christian church. As such it is a very powerful document. Shamefully any counter views of being a Christian were systematically destroyed when the Biblical version was adopted. As a result we don’t have the pieces necessary to see any different views or to maybe fill in some of the holes in the gospel accounts.
One of my biggest disappointments is that we haven’t put as much enthusiasm in to documenting Christian history since 300AD. Why haven’t we documented how well we are doing in living the messages of Jesus? Progress means monitoring where we are and focusing on where we are going. If as much enthusiasm were put into this task as is it in our reverence to the Bible think how much better the world would be today.
To know where the church stands today is to know how we got here. I think part of the problem with this is that Christianity has a very messy history since the Bible’s invention. We started out as a small group of followers of Jesus’ words and commands to being a State mandated religion that gain immense power in the world. We regularly killed those who might disagree with the established dogma of the times. The Inquisition was a sorry time in church history but it was not the only time.
In order to know where we are we must know where we came from. If the theologians of the church had spent as much energy helping us know how we are doing as they did trying to parse out a particular text in the Gospel to show us their version of God we would be a stronger and more diligent followers of Jesus. Sadly that has simply not been the case.
Most versions of the church today have a very pre-defined dogma and particularly beliefs that they demand compliance to if you want to be part of their group. The trouble is much of that dogma simply has never been justified by the words of Jesus.
I’m not sure who brought up the concept but it is about how churches are actually more like clubhouses than anything else. They are buildings that are built almost exclusively for their members comfort. Yes that comfort does bring in some to hear the message but that seems to be very secondary at best.
I had a recent round of comments on this topic over at one of my other blogs at RJsCorner and it stirred up some heated comments. It seems that calling a church a country club strikes the nerve of many Christians. I think the ounce of truth in it is the reason. Everyone wants to think that their church is somehow different from the others. They want to think that what they give in weekly donations is for the greater good of God. But, facts simply don’t bear that belief out. The vast majority of what they give stays within the church’s hierarchy.
When I was giving regularly to the small church I recently belonged to I never deemed that the money I gave actually went to God’s work here or earth. Being a regular member on the church board I realized that 99+% of what I gave ended up paying the mortgage, utilities and the pastor’s salary. Did I feel guilty about that? No, not really. I know that this small church was struggling, and still struggles after almost ten years, to keep the doors open. There is nothing wrong with needing a clubhouse.
But what is wrong is when we fail to recognize the fact that we are really not doing much in the community besides holding down a property. We try to rationalize that giving a few families a turkey and canned goods during the Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays somehow meets our community obligations. Being a church is supposed to be about showing God’s blessing throughout our communities. It is supposed to be about others and not ourselves. When we totally acknowledge that fact and diligently plan on making it happen is when we turn the corner from clubhouse to church. Sadly too many small churches fail to ever reach that point in their congregation’s life. Instead of saying we now have enough creature comforts they just end up building more and more.
I am often accused of painting with too broad a brush in these types of posts so I want to recognize that there are many churches out there that are very much valuable contributors to their communities. They run soup kitchens and food banks in the areas. They open their doors on cold and windy night for those who are homeless. In other words they act like they are followers of Jesus Christ. I celebrate every one of those churches. But at the same time even those churches must be on the lookout for their allocations of funds. It is impossible to give too much to your community instead of yourself.
Everyone needs a clubhouse that you can go to weekly. Where everyone know your name as the old Cheers TV show used to say. That is a valuable part of Christian fellowship but we must constantly remind ourselves that is very much secondary to being our brother’s keeper and helping God’s kingdom come to earth as it is in heaven.
What About The Bible… ? (Chapter 5)
I used to mourn the fact that there are almost 40,000 different versions of Christianity around today. But, in reality maybe I should celebrate that statistic. At least it shows that we are all trying to find the heart of God. But the problem with this is that we end up picking the type of God we want. I don’t think that is really how God wants it to be but it seems that is the way it is for most of us. Some choose to try to discover God on our own. Some take the lazy way of just latching onto a version that is close enough to their reality or maybe they choose the “easiest” God that doesn’t interfere with their current lifestyle. Some take it to a deeper and more personal journey.
Diversity seems to be the best we can do right now. For whatever reason God has chosen not to make his presence unquestionably known to us. But it sure would be nice to get a signal from him as to who among us has it at least a little right. He doesn’t have to turn off the sun as he supposedly did in the Old Testament. How about just sending a text message to every cell phone in the world all at the same time? That sure would be helpful in knowing what he wants us to do on this earth.
Yeah, I know there are some out there that are screaming “JUST READ THE BIBLE!!!” But what version of the Bible do I read? Do I read about the God who demands constant blood sacrifices. Do I read about the God who allows, some say even commanded, genocide? Do I read about the God who told us to pick up snakes as proof that we are true believers? Or do I believe the God of Love as personified in my interpretation of the Bible. Just reading the Bible is what got us in all these 40,000 versions in the first place so forgive me if I don’t think that is a real answer.
What it means to be a Christian is presently an open book with thousands of different paths. It seems the best we can do is to passionately search for God on a very personal level and live out our lives with that personal epiphany if we do find it. I personally choose to pick those words of Jesus about being our brother’s keeper and about loving God and loving each other as his message to me. To me all the other stuff around today is just smoke and mirrors that just blur my vision of him.
Others may choose a vengeful god who is looking for any reason to condemn us to hell. Others may choose a god who asks them to just say the right words and then get a fire insurance policy to redeem when they eventually die. Other may choose the god of infinite rules and regulations. But for me, I choose the God of Love….
But it sure would be nice to get a text message from God himself letting me know if I kinda got it at least a little right…..
Everyone from the day after Jesus ascended into the clouds has been seeking the essence of Christ. One of the first ones was probably Paul of Tarsus. Except for that brief encounter with the spirit of Jesus on road to Damascus a few years after he physically left us, he had no personal contact. Today there are 40,000+ different organized version of this essence and probably thousands of personal versions inside each of those. It seems that each one of these 40k groups are convinced that their version is the only real one.
We all want to know what the essence of God is. We think if we can just determine that then our immortality is somehow assured. We cling onto one version that most aligns with how we want God to be and then mock all the others. There is no way that each of us, let alone all of us, can ever really understand the essence of God. It is quite simply impossible. When we get over this almost god-like belief that we know God and others don’t then we can come to accept that everyone is the same as we are. We simply don’t have a lock on God.
I, like everyone else I imagine, have thought about just who God is? I think there is quite enough historical evidence that Jesus walked this earth and that many in those times were convinced that he was from God. That seems to be factual to me. But what about the essence of God.
Who is he and why does he seem to be so in love with us.
- Maybe he was an extra-terrestrial who came from a world much more developed than ours. Maybe he beamed down to give us knowledge that we needed to survive as a world.
- Maybe He is the very glue that holds our universe together and keep our earth spinning around one of the millions of stars in the universe.
- Maybe He is some wise old white-haired guy who sits in the clouds looking down on all of us to make sure we don’t screw up the world too much.
- Maybe He simply put the whole thing in motion and is watching to see how we handle his creation.
I don’t pretend to know the essence of God. That is just WAY WAY above my pay grade or anyone else for that matter. All I can do is to take the utterly simple message he gave us through Jesus to love Him and to love each other to be the purpose of my life. I think he made it simple so we could understand it. I think that is what he expects of us and if we do that then everything else will fall in place both personally and worldly. We don’t need all those thousands, if not millions, of rules and things built about around his image.
But we seem to be a very long way from even accomplishing that simple loving task.
What About The Bible… ? Chapter 4
When we treat the Bible as a history book we come to more thoroughly understand the varied opinions put forth. But I very much understand that a significant portion of those who call themselves Christians believe that every word, every punctuation mark came directly from God and therefore is literally true and without the possibility of any error.
It seems to me that this group of Christians actually put the Bible itself above Jesus’ messages and therefore have made it into an idol to be worshiped in and for its own sake. The inerrants, as they are often called, put forth an argument that if there is absolutely anything in the Bible that is not absolutely true then the Bible as a whole is worthless. This logic totally confuses me. I have never seen its application anywhere else in the world. Is there anything logic that even comes close to this type of belief?
There have been hundreds of different books written about Abraham Lincoln. It is absolutely certain that not everything in them is factual. Each book is for the most part one person’s opinions about this or that aspect piled onto the history of his life. Each book adds a little more insight, and probably a little more myth, into the nature of that famous person.
The U.S. Constitution written more than two hundred years ago is a very unique document in human history. It has allowed our country to flourish while many others wither and die. It is a very wise and amazing document. But even that document has somethings that are shameful by 21st century eyes. The establishment that some of its citizens are only worth 3/5 of others is an embarrassing part. Should we throw the whole think out and start over again because it contains some things that are just flat wrong by today’s standards? Of course not. We instead add amendments to correct previous wrongs.
The other part that some put on the Bible is that it is God’s total word for all time. That it answers all our questions and nothing else is required. In some ways that shows to me that these believers think that God is no longer necessary in today’s world. That he has been replaced by the Bible. That he has nothing else to teach us! He has nothing more to say to the 21st century follower than he did to the 1st century follower. That he is somehow now an absentee landlord replaced by a book!
Thank God (pun intended) there are also many others outside this inerrant belief system that think that God has given us revelation throughout human history. He give us scientific knowledge when He knows we can handle it. He gave us the key to DNA so that we can now start to solve health crises throughout the world. He has been giving us new revelations and discoveries for the last two thousand years and will continue to give us more in the future. God was not done giving out pieces of his omnipotent knowledge twenty centuries ago. Far from it!
Scriptures does not give us all the answers to life, reality, or the universe. But, it is the major source of the stories and fables around the times that Jesus walked this earth. We all gain valuable glimpses into the life and teachings of Jesus from those stories. For that reason the Bible is revered text but it should never never be idolized.
MIDDLESBORO, Ky. (AP) — A snake-handling pastor who appeared on the National Geographic television reality show “Snake Salvation” has died after being bitten by a snake during a weekend church service in Kentucky.
SOURCE: Snake-handling Ky. pastor dies from snake bite – Yahoo News.
While this is maybe of the extreme part of the spectrum it is still a typical example of how we pick and choose what we want to be the image of God. It takes one verse out of the tens of thousands found in the Bible and uses it for the main focus of spirituality. Examples such as this are used by the serious critics of the church to illustrate the absurdity of believing in God. Regrettably that is not without some degree of truth.
Yes, this is an extreme example but by no means the only one. There are literally thousands of groups, some small some very large, who take a miniscule piece of biblical text and explode it into a major belief system. To some degree even Protestantism is an example of this. Martin Luther, who is generally acknowledged as the pioneer of that version of Christianity spent years searching biblical text for something to ameliorate his enormous feeling of low self-esteem and utter worthlessness. When he discovered that single verse in Ephesians that said the grace is a gift and not from works he had is “aha” moment like so many others before and after him and found his version of Christ.
This is very much a forest/trees situation. We should be looking at the overall message of the Bible and particularly of the words of Jesus Christ to find our place in life. Instead we search and search for that one iota that seems to relieve our current conditions and then practically throw away the rest of the forest to only concentrate on that one tree of knowledge. From that point on our focus on the Bible is to find similar verses to the one we found to back up our new-found system of belief and there have been centuries of that very practice occurring.
I’m not sure if any of us are exempt from this phenomenon. Knowing the heart of God is just something that none of us are really capable of doing. God is just too vast for our puny intellect. It is kind of like us trying to explain our society and its inner working to the ant we are about to unknowingly step on.
Instead of looking for that single tree to latch on to we should all be forest watchers. We will never completely understand the ecosystem of the forest but we should try to see its overall beauty. During our journey into the forest we must also understand that others who are also searching might have a different current concept of the forest. That does not make them wrong or us right, it is just different. In fact not a single one of us will ever really get it “right”. Not one of us…
What About The Bible… ? (Chapter 3)
How did the Bible get so filled with things that have nothing to do with the messages of Jesus? That is one of many questions I have pondered over the last decade. I want to study more about King Constantine and how the Bible was put together under his watchful eye. Here is the crux of what I know now.
Constantine was a king during the age where the Roman empire’s power was dwindling. He was losing his grip over his kingdom. Some say that is why he grabbed on to the idea of making Christianity a mandated state religion. I know he was not baptized until soon before his death so that puts his sincerity at question. Was he just covering his bases? There is very little historical text now available that pre-dates the first compiled Bible so we really can’t be sure just what is not in Constantine’s Bible or what was added. These types of questions need to be understood in order to put the Bible in its proper sphere of influence. Was it written by God or redacted to meet the needs of the most powerful world government of the time?
I personally take the Jeffersonian stand of Christianity to at least one degree or another. That is Thomas Jefferson’s belief that Paul took the simple message of Jesus and made it complicated. I’m sure he was well-meaning but given his background it was inevitable that he would add rule after rule on being a Christian. After all he was educated and trained by the Pharisees of his time and if nothing else they were absolutely about rules. Upon serious reading of Paul’s many letter it is surprising how little his teaching overlap with any of Jesus’ word or messages. In fact he seemed to know very little about Jesus other than his brief personal experience on the road to Damascus.
We know that the documents that eventually made up the first Bible were generally not written until at least forty years after the events took place. Before that all the biblical stories were likely passed down as was very typical of the time via an oral tradition. We also know that except for Paul, who was not one of those who sat at Jesus’ feet, most of the other leaders of the early church were very likely illiterate. This necessitated that someone else would take their stories and put them into literary form. For the most part we still don’t know who those scribes or the authors actually were. Under these types of conditions it is very likely that myths and fables were included in the written text. Thomas Jefferson believed that is how most of the miracles of Jesus were established. It was just overzealous people adding a little bit to enhance a point. Those who study other historical sources know this is a very common thing of human nature. George Washington was almost a god in early America and many myths were generated and recorded about him. The most similar is probably about chopping down a cherry tree.
In closing I am not saying that the Bible is without value simply because human foibles are contained in its text but it is important to understand that possibility when trying to put this document into the proper perspective in today’s church. The messages of Jesus that are contained within these various writings, even though they were very likely tarnished by human actions, are what is paramount to our following Jesus. The Bible itself is just a means to convey those inherent messages.
The church frustrates me. I was once asked by a wealthy church what they could do to help end homelessness. I looked around and saw the thousands of square feet that lie empty every night, the dozens of toilets, the showers in the family life center, the full industrial kitchen and wanted to say, “It is a two step plan. 1) Read the Gospels. 2) Take it seriously.” I wanted to say that. But I didn’t.
Look, Jesus nowhere says to stamp out poverty. However, he does say, fairly often, to love your neighbor. And if you truly love your neighbor, then how can they sleep outside? How can they go hungry? How can we have an “other?” The church wants to work n the homeless problem, but before they can take that on, I think they need to deal with their “Not taking Jesus seriously” problem.
SOURCE: What Folks Who Live Outside Do Not Need: Hugh Hollowell is on the Red Carpet | Margot Starbuck | Red Letter Christians.
Not taking Jesus seriously is by far the biggest problem I have with the church. Jesus clearly told us again and again and again to love each other, even our enemies. Why has this message been lost to such a degree on today’s church?? That is the most frustrating thing for me right now. But I must admit that this problem is not a recent one. It has been going on for many centuries.
One example of this is why did the church spend so much of their resources building lavish cathedrals when so many were dying from starvation? I could point out hundreds of places in its history where the church just didn’t take Jesus seriously but I want to instead focus on the present and future, not the past. We can’t do anything about what has already happened. All we can do is to try to live up to Jesus’ words now and hopefully show them how to do it in the future.
The Bible makes it very clear that when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior that everything changes in our lives. We are dead to our previous life and will be born again into a life of following Jesus. A radical change of behavior is supposed to occur. While this idea is inspiring it is just not reality for the vast majority of us. Why is that? From my decade long study I believe a big part of that fault lies with church leadership. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time they have lost the true meaning of what being a Christian is supposed to be all about. The message of current church has simply been re-tuned into something not even remotely what it started out as.
This lack of leadership, of course, starts at the local congregation. I believe that there are many pastors, priests or whatever you want to call them, know in their hearts that they are not teaching their flock the true messages of Jesus. They know it but simply don’t have the courage to buck the rules and regulation of their superiors. They don’t have the courage to disagree with the most vocal in their congregations who have drifted into other agendas. Part of that is because they, like all of us, don’t want to be fired from their jobs.
Jesus made it clear that following him was not meant for the weak. It takes courage to stay on the message of Jesus….
What About The Bible… ? (Chapter 2)
I know that from all the rhetoric about this topic you are expecting the next word in the title to be “Clear” but actually for me it is “Fuzzy”. I don’t know how many times in my life I have heard the phrase “just study the bible for the answer to your problems. When a child dies from a fall in the bathtub the Christian answer to our total devastation is to “read the Bible”. It is as if we can just randomly open a page and then the tragedy in our life becomes clear.
Lets face it the Bible is simply not the homogeneous document that many want you to believe. When we realize that it is a collection of documents by for the most part unknown authors, who were recording events as they saw them or a story told to them. Does that mean that the Bible is not worth reading? It is very worth reading as long as we keep its origins and purpose in mind. Many of the people who wrote the various documents were, or at least they believed they were, inspired by God. They thought they were relaying God’s messages to those who read their words.
One of the major problems I have with the Bible is that you can take a stand on just about any topic and find some verses here and there appear at least on the surface to back up your position. If you were for slavery there are places where people are told to obey their masters, and therefore slavery must be condoned by God. Examples abound in this realm.
From a personal perspective I find the Old Testament very boring and even sometimes against the teachings of Jesus. In fact Jesus himself said as much when he mentioned that an eye-for-an-eye was wrong or when he rebuked the religious establishment of his day for all their food restrictions and other unnecessary rules. Instead he was replacing those rules with two simple commands. Love God and love each other. Catholics don’t seem to idolize the Bible to the extent that most Protestants do. But then again there is worshiping of Mary to replace it.
There is very little in the way of public documents to be found about Jesus. When the Bible was formed by the council under the tutelage of a Roman King many of the documents that they did not include in this compilation were purged as heretical. In fact just having some of those “other” words was often punishable by death! Fortunately some alternate views have managed to resurface after many centuries but most are gone from antiquity. While the Bible is anything but perfect it is almost all we have about the history of the early Christian years. For that reason alone it should studied and will justifiably be held in reserved reverence.