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Monday, January 1, 2018
Ask, Seek, Knock Carefully in the Churches of God
If you wish to see the good, the bad and the ugly side of people of faith, just question what you can plainly read on the Bible or how churches arrive at the conclusions they do about how you ought to live and how much to give.
As a pastor soaking in Christianity and the Bible for three decades. I heard, read and studied all the plain and simple truth in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. I can tell you the truth is neither plain nor simple and I rather liked Paul's description of it all as being "the present truth." At least calling truth something that is currently understood gives some wiggle room for those times which shall come to grow a bit in the grace and knowledge that most Christians think they are open minded enough to really do.
Most I know grow neither in grace, unless they attach a few dozen laws that you must keep to be one of the good people, nor knowledge which seems to scare the bejesus out of them when they really run up against it.
The story of Annias and Sapphira in Acts 5 is not a story about Peter killing two church members for not coughing up all the money they had "pledged" to the church. The Romans would not miss that crime. It is a spoof that the readers of Luke and Paul's community would understand of the buffoon Peter who, like the two church members who said they would give something to the church and didn't, said he'd never leave Jesus and fled. Peter who said he'd do one thing and did another is now punishing a couple who said they'd do one thing and did another. It was hilarious and a poke at Peter the Pathetic according to Luke and Paul. It was a message to just not follow Peter from Paul and Luke.
John mentions Peter three times in his Gospel and each time sandwiches (technically called "Intercalation") Peter stories between two comments about Judas. The point is not missed on the original audience. Judas betrayed, Peter denied. No difference. Don't follow Peter.
(Side note: A really fascinating possibility is that the 21st chapter of John is the Missing ending of the pro-Peter Gospel of Mark. Someone needed to damp down John's actual dislike for Peter, in John, so added Mark's real ending (John 21) to show Peter was forgiven. Original John ended with Chapter 20. It was noticed that Mark has no good ending, no Jesus, no Resurrection, just scared women running and telling no one anything...well except "Mark" evidently, and John had two endings. So they asked about that.
Some wonder if Bar-Abbas (Son of the Father) was really a person being given freedom when in reality the Romans never did this at Passover, or was it a Title for Jesus , just as "King of the Jews" was. Was Pilate testing the crowd...yes...as to their loyalty to Rome? Was he simply asking if this Jesus is their King or their religious leader? "King of the Jews" or "Son of the Father", which Barabbas means. In older versions of Mark Barabbas has the first name of "Jesus" thus being "Jesus, Son of the Father" These are titles not two men. The fate of the crowd depended on the answer evidently as this one man Jesus was toast no matter and was crucified as "King of the Jews" with the crowd assuring Pilate they had no King but Caesar. Good answer ..... Or just an amazing coincidence that these were two literal men. One named Jesus King of the Jews and one named Jesus Son of God. Uh huh....
At any rate, to question the story is to run great risk of abuse at the hands of the faithful who need the stories to be literally true as they learned in Sunday School and that all the characters of the New Testament Church loved each other in Jesus and got along famously in the faith. That is very far from reality, but don't question it.
I can't tell you how many, while not near as many as those who appreciate the inquiry, take the time to write and remind me I will change my mind when I am frying in the fires of Hell in the judgment. No one has bothered to answer one question posed, but they just know I should go to hell for asking it. Some who write are subtle in their warnings to me. Some sound like a human form of God who will warn me to "gird up my loins" (my loins are just fine) and get ready to answer, but that's where it ends. I guess they feel God himself is about to break out upon me for asking questions about the faith. So far so good. Some talk to me like I imagine Moses talked to the Children of Israel when he was really angry at them in God's name. Some are not so subtle as one reminded me that "Dennis, words can get you killed." Well the history of religion that does not appreciate questions proves that!
Is it wrong to notice the inconsistencies, errors, goofs, bad science, poor examples, contradictions, animosities, politic and real history of the Bible? Depends who you ask. Those who believe that none of those things exist in the Holy Book would shout "yes!" In my view, the answer is "no it is not."
Why is it OK and even something one should demand of their honest selves? Because ideas have consequences. Because the stories and ideas expressed in the texts are used to control people in various life circumstances. Because some use the mythologies of the Bible to make up literally real laws that effect women and children, and generally not in a good way. Because many are kept in fear, guilt and life long shame being reminded way too often that they, as a human, are worthless without divine intervention. Being born right the first time, as I have said in the past, is a truth that is kept far from their consciousness.
It is always right to ask questions about that which seems like it deserves to have a question asked. If you can't imagine Joshua raising his hands and stopping the earth from rotating (which is what stopping the sun actually is) without planet wide consequences...just ask your Pastor how can that be. Of course be ready to hear, "with God all things are possible," which is not what you asked.
If you can't picture penguins and polar bears ambling down to the middle east to get on the Ark, just ask your Pastor about that. If you wonder where dinosaurs or Homo Erectus fit in, just ask your Pastor. The answer might be ill informed, but it's OK to ask.
If you notice that Paul never quotes Jesus, yet gets to write most of the NT heavy meaning of Jesus, just ask. If you notice that Paul thinks Peter, James and John, the disciples of Jesus don't seem to have anything Paul needs (Galatians 1-2) to learn from them and he learns nothing from them, and think that's kinda strange...just ask. If you notice the Birth or Resurrection of stories as written in the Gospels don't match very well and seem contradictory, just ask. If you say "they seem to be contradictory," be prepared to have the word "seem" jumped upon, but you still have the right to ask. I'm not saying you'll get a good or correct answer. You might, but probably not. But you have the right to ask. And you certainly have the right to notice the many problems in the Bible if you know the Bible well enough to notice in the first place.
One thing is for sure. If you are a genuine seeker and you truly notice that the Bible has some real problems with what we truly know today about many topics and even within itself in the form of many contradictions and editing done by one to correct the problems of the other, it's OK to ask. A real seeker cannot not notice what they notice. You can't go back to the lame apologetics that many offer to explain away the problem as if there is no problem. You can't unsee what you do see. You can't unring a bell. Oh..you also have the right to expect not to be penalized for asking in the first place. Just don't count on it.