Monday, September 26, 2011

03.25.10 Faith Matters Part 1: Take (an informed) Stand

I enjoy a good debate.  I value listening to someone else's perspective, considering their viewpoint, reflecting on how that affects me, and responding appropriately.  I often replay such discourses in my mind until I am satisfied that I have thought through every point that was mentioned.  I think it is absolutely essential to human development to encounter and engage with different values, opinions, and beliefs. 

What is supremely frustrating to me, however, is when the person with whom I disagree has little to no support for her position.  Or, as the case may be, when her entire argument stems from an emotional reaction to the issue, rather than an objective consideration of the facts.  Emotions are important and invariably have an effect on the decisions we make.  But how someone else feels cannot persuade me to change my mind nor can it 'prove' in any equitable way that their position is more valid or more right than mine. 

I could continue down a myriad of paths here, but I want to specifically address any Christians who read this blog.  I regularly encounter Christians who do not agree, point by point, with some of my understanding of the Bible.  That isn't a problem.  What IS a problem - in my opinion, a VERY BIG problem - is when those Christians cannot give me any sound biblical rationale for their disagreement.  Sometimes they quote authors they've read, or sermons they've heard, but more often than not, the response I receive is that it just doesn't feel right to them. 

I am not going to mention a particular issue here, because my point is not to prove how right I am.  But I am going, in no uncertain terms, to plainly state that I believe that Christians must take the bible seriously.  This seems like a no-brainer to me.  If you claim to follow Jesus, if you believe that he is the son of the God whose Holy Spirit authored both the Hebrew and Christian bibles, which both testify to his messiahship, then I do not understand how you can dismiss the teachings within them.  I understand how you could feel challenged by them, how you could wrestle with them, how you could desire to resist them.  But to believe in the Christ and claim to submit to his lordship - and then ignore, reject, or dismiss his written word...this seems like a paradox to me.  The ultimate hypocrisy.    

So let me say again: Christians -  take the bible seriously!  This means, to me -
  1. Know what it says.  I am constantly amazed at how many church-attending Christians refer to the contents of the bible in the same generic terms as the twice-a-year (Christmas/Easter) average American.  I'm not proposing that all Christians should be able to spout off the perfect scripture verse at the perfect moment - but some kind of regular reading of the book that's supposed to be guiding your life seems reasonable to me.  
  2. Recognize its authority.  Is the bible the word of God or not?  If so, then what it has to say is more important than the teachings of culture, of family, of tradition, and even of our own experiences!  Too many Christians only want to obey the parts of the bible that sound good to them and explain away the rest.  But how is this different from non-Christians who like some parts of Jesus' teachings but completely neglect others?  We head down a dangerous path when we pick and choose what is 'truth' out of the bible or when we place our own human opinions above God's perfect wisdom.  
  3. Differentiate between interpretation and application.  Because of our emotional prejudices, Christians often miss the solid interpretation of the bible because we are too concerned with what we assume the practical repercussions will be.  Interpreting the bible requires us to understand the context of the original hearers but also to understand the purpose and the principle that is being expressed.  Sometimes, the bible is simply describing what took place, while other times, it is prescribing a timeless command.  In order to differentiate between the two, we must be familiar with the entire bible.  We must also simply read the text and ask, as objectively as possible, what is being said.  Without a proper understanding (interpretation) of scripture, we cannot hope to apply it well.  I find that when I try to discuss the interpretation of the bible, Christians often argue with me about the application instead.  For example, various churches differ on whether both men and women, or simply men, can serve as elders in the church.  Most Christians I encounter have made this a gender issue.  But I would argue that this is actually an issue of how one defines eldership; or, more exactly, how one interprets biblical eldership. Churches on both sides of the debate have been swayed by culture just as frequently as by biblical teaching; but more troubling is the number of Christians who have an opinion that is completely ignorant of any biblical influence.  If you are going to have an opinion on the application of the bible, then you better know what the bible says and have some intelligent interpretation of it! 
I could say so much more but ultimately, I just want to see people who say they love Jesus, love his words.  If we don't, who will? 

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