Come and sit a spell…

That’s how my Grandma used to say it.  And what I mean is, this could take a while.

A long time ago, I wrote a blog discussing my faith.  It was slightly controversial, and prompted some interesting comments from a guy I respect.  I spent some time writing up my responses.  And then I filed it away under “documents” and forgot about it.  Here’s the deal.  You know how some people really enjoy a good debate?  I don’t.  Not because I’m shy, or non-confrontational (ha!), but simply because most of the time, I think it’s pointless.  When it comes to my faith, I sometimes feel conflicted on the best way to share it.  I’m passionate about it, but I hate debating it.  I’d rather live it out.  I’d rather have enough credibility with people because I’ve shown them love, that they don’t think I’m Crazy Cathy when I tell them I’m a Holy Rolling, Bible Thumping, Jesus Freak.  heehee.  I just threw that in for fun.  I think if most people spent less time talking about it and more time loving people, Christianity wouldn’t look so odd..  In fact, wasn’t it Paul who said something to the effect of, “Be a witness for Christ at all times.  If necessary, use words.”  That’s paraphrased.  The problem I have with debating religion is that it is faith-based. If my beliefs could be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, they wouldn’t require faith.  In fact, one thing I’m sure of is that it is probably far easier to choose not to believe in anything, than it is to take the leap that faith requires.  I like the way the Bible defines faith in Hebrews: “Faith is being sure of what you hope for, and certain of what we do not see” Hebrews 11:1

Anyways, A.L., this is directed to you.  But really, it’s directed at anyone who cares.  Here were your comments long ago (this is long, so when I quote you I’m going to use italics to avoid confusion-when quoting scripture, I’ll underline):

Fair enough Kathy

I may be taking advantage by responding to a partial response, but you raise another interesting point. I submit to you that none of us are really living in full accordance with much of the guidance provided in the bible. And for good reason in some cases. Here are some examples:

“Whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” (Matthew 5:32, 19:9 & Luke 16:18). Translation – it’s a sin to marry a woman after she’s been divorced.

“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak” (1 Corinthians 14:34). Translation – women shouldn’t speak in church.

“And the swine…is unclean…ye shall not eat of their flesh.” (Deuteronomy 14:8). Translation: hold that bacon!

Let not yours be the outward adorning of braiding of hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of fine clothing” (Peter 3 :3). Translation – better donate those fancy clothes and earrings to charity, post haste!

and finally…

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room (or closet.) and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret…” (Matthew 6:5-6 RSV). Translation – according to the book of Matthew neither Gene Robinson nor Rick Warren should be praying at the Inauguration!

The point I’m trying to make here is that, while the Bible undoubtedly provides great insights into life, it’s also a very old document pieced together from numerous (sometimes contradictory) sources. So clearly even the most devout of us (except maybe Jesuit monks) routinely defy aspects of the Bible’s teachings in our modern society. We’ve come to accept that men and women are equals, for example, which is not a social concept that many of the writers of the Bible would have agreed with in their time. It’s OK to eat pork now because we now know how store and cook it properly (used to cause trigonosis, so it was best to avoid in those days). So this all begs the question – on what basis does one make the decision about what to follow from the bible and what’s to be ignored?

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Answering any of this in short-version would, in my eyes, be an injustice.  Let me say also that, although I am speaking particularly to one person, he has not in any way offended me or even annoyed me by asking these questions.  I’m glad he did, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to explain, in lengthy fashion (sorry!), my beliefs.

OK, the simple answer to your last question is, none of it.  None of it should be ignored.  It should, however, be looked at as whole-not chopped into pieces and taken out of context.  And the problem is, I can sit here and discuss each and every scripture you brought up (and will), but that is a game we could play forever, given the length of the Bible.  Every statement in the Bible is not necessarily written as a command. It is a massive, complex book full of stories, and history, and definitely commands and principles to live by.  If you truly want to understand it, you must put everything in it’s context.  Let’s start with this one:

“And the swine…is unclean…ye shall not eat of their flesh.” (Deuteronomy 14:8). Translation: hold that bacon!

It’s important to know what’s happening in Deuteronomy, God is giving instructions to the Israelites on how to live as civilized people, something they had never really been taught how to do.  They were wandering in the wilderness and didn’t understand what foods were safe, and how to stay clean and disease free.  Much of Leviticus and Deuteronomy is God speaking to the Israelite nation through Moses. These books also include meticulous instructions on how to atone for sin in those days, which involved sacrificing an innocent perfect animal-this is not an act we are called to today as Christians (and that is explained by the Bible-a fact that some people ignore when they claim that the Bible is contradictory). It was meant to symbolize, though, how severely God looked upon sin, and to drive home the point that there was always a price to pay for sin, there had to be atonement.  Can you imagine the practice of having to slice an innocent (not to mention valuable), animal’s throat in order to be forgiven for your sin and to maintain your relationship with God?  That caused them to not look lightly upon disobeying God, which I am sure was his point.  It was serious business.  But sending Jesus was an act of mercy on God’s part.  A way of showing us that He wanted a closer relationship, but there was still a great price to pay in order to atone for all of the sins of mankind.  God is holy.  He cannot look upon sin, and atonement through sacrifice was the only way we could be righteous enough to have a relationship with Him.  Jesus was the ultimate symbol of innocence, the ultimate perfect lamb.  This is something I believed on faith as a child, but really came to understand as an adult when I began looking at the Bible as one WHOLE book.

But getting back to some of these old testament scriptures.  Of course they’re outdated, Jesus made many of the old laws and rules obsolete, an issue which is addressed in the New Testament.  That doesn’t make the Bible contradictory or something to be ignored.  It should to be read in context though.  While these were good principles (you’re right, eating pork made the people very susceptible to illness), they are not the laws we are all called to live by as Christians today.  In Colossians 2, Paul discusses how Jesus’ coming to earth and becoming the ultimate sin sacrifice changed our religion.

Col 2:13-15  When you were dead in your sins, and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.  He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code (those Old Testament Laws), with its regulations, that was against us and stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.  And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Galatians 3 and 4 talks about this exclusively, so I’m not going to paste the whole book.  I’ll in include this though, from 3:22-25:

“But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.  Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.”

I’ll paraphrase what Paul was trying to say there, but I really hope you read it.  He wrote this after Jesus died, rose from the dead, and returned to heaven.  People were still clinging to The Law to such extreme measures that Paul was frustratedly trying to explain to them that Jesus had become the Ultimate Sacrifice, and that they no longer had to justify themselves through works.  All God wanted from them (and us now) is to have faith.  To believe.  God is pure and holy and cannot have a close personal relationship with us when we have sin in our lives.  The Old Law had a system in place for people to literally pay a price (a sacrifice) for their sins, in order to be justified in God’s eyes and to continue a relationship with Him.  When God sent Jesus to be crucified, He very much meant for us to realize that this perfect man was becoming a human sacrifice for the sins of mankind.  All he requires of us now is to believe in Jesus, in order to once again be justified in His eyes so that we could not only have a relationship with Him while on earth, but He makes it clear that it is that simple belief that will determine whether or not be will spend eternity with Him in heaven.  It is simply accepting the gift, the payment for our own sins, that negates the Old Law. Paul is trying to explain to them in these chapters that their works will not save them, only their faith in Jesus.  On a personal note, I’m so grateful.  I truly have a relationship with the Most High God because of Jesus’ sacrifice.  I have done (and still do) such stupid, awful things that would no doubt make me unworthy to commune with God Himself. But the fact that I am fallible does not make the Bible fallible.  I find it extremely humbling that all I have to do to be worthy again is to ask be forgiven, since the price-the sacrifice was already made.  How, oh how, does that make Christianity the exclusive religion that people claim it to be?  It is open to all, and does not require the lifelong burden or trying to be good enough on our own.  I find that to be so freeing.

Romans 14 also addresses the eating thing. There are many places that do, after Jesus died, in order to clarify that His death on the cross and atonement for ALL of our sins freed us from many of those old written codes.

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Whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” (Matthew 5:32, 19:9 & Luke 16:18). Translation – it’s a sin to marry a woman after she’s been divorced.

First of all, that scripture quote is incomplete.  The WHOLE verse says, “Anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.”

I don’t know what to say about this except that it’s pretty straightforward.  God does intend marriage to be for life.  Just because our society refuses to acknowledge it anymore, doesn’t mean you can label it outdated.  He does (mercifully) give you an out in the marriage in the case of adultery, because in God’s eyes, that has caused the marriage to no longer be between two people.  I’m trying not to get on a tangent on this one, because I know LOTS of divorced people, and just like any other issue in their life, this one is between them and God.  I’m not in any place to judge, and I know that God is loving, forgiving, and merciful, so they are certainly not lost.  But, still, the principle is clear.  Disagreeing with it doesn’t discredit it.

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Let not yours be the outward adorning of braiding of hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of fine clothing” (1 Peter 3 :3). Translation – better donate those fancy clothes and earrings to charity, post-haste!

Again, put this in context before you translate it.  Let’s keep reading in order to understand what that means:

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

You could read on.  The point is that outward adornment is not where your beauty should come from.  It still isn’t.  I put make-up on every day (well, mostly), but if I’m a rude, offensive person, who cares?  I have a pair of awesome pink boots, but if I ever think that having cool clothes is what makes me beautiful, then you’re right, I should get rid of them quickly.  In fact, in the case of the rich man who loves his wealth Jesus advises him to sell all he has if he wants to be in heaven (Matthew 19).  You could quickly take this out of context (and people do, regularly) to say that Jesus says we shouldn’t have money or nice things.  But in reading on, you will see that Jesus calls us to give up ANYTHING that we value more than him.  He’s teaching priorities.  God wants us to find our worth in Him, in goodness.  And yet he obviously has nothing against wealth, because there are many instances in the Bible in which God blesses people with wealth.

Anyways, as for 1 Peter, isn’t it clear that this might even be where the old adage, “beauty is on the inside” comes from?  My old pastor growing up used to explain that as long as our priority was what is inside, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look nice.  “For goodness sake, if the barn needs some paint, put some paint on it!” haha.

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Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak” (1 Corinthians 14:34). Translation – women shouldn’t speak in church.

This is a topic that deserves more attention than I can give it.  Honestly, I struggle myself to make heads or tails of it.  I’ll give you 2 perspectives on it.  But I’ll also tell you that this issue, to me, is not big enough to challenge my basis of faith, because as someone who has studied the Bible for my entire life, I have no doubts about my worth in the eyes of God.  First let me put it into context (again).

Verse 35: “If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church.”

I did some more digging on this.  When Paul wrote this, he was addressing church problems and solutions.  This chapter was specifically regarding order in the church, and I’m assuming since he addressed it, that women were speaking up regularly with questions or concerns while they were trying to have a church service.  Imagine that.  I know that my inclination to speak up and share my “humble” opinion is a desire I have to squelch on a regular basis.  Therefore most people believe Paul was making an effort to set up an orderly system to their church services.

Now, here’s another perspective.  Read the next verses:

verse 37-40:  Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored. Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

Another translation (The Message) says it this way:

Wives must not disrupt worship, talking when they should be listening, asking questions that could more appropriately be asked of their husbands at home. God’s Book of the law guides our manners and customs here. Wives have no license to use the time of worship for unwarranted speaking. Do you—both women and men—imagine that you’re a sacred oracle determining what’s right and wrong? Do you think everything revolves around you? If any one of you thinks God has something for you to say or has inspired you to do something, pay close attention to what I have written. This is the way the Master wants it. If you won’t play by these rules, God can’t use you. Sorry. Three things, then, to sum this up: When you speak forth God’s truth, speak your heart out. Don’t tell people how they should or shouldn’t pray when they’re praying in tongues that you don’t understand. Be courteous and considerate in everything.

In 1 Corinthians 11:5, Paul addresses how women should be dressed conservatively when they pray and prophesy though, which tells me that we, as women, are not just along for the ride, and we are participants in church.  The Bible is clear about roles for men and women in church leadership, marriage, and life.  I believe wholeheartedly that He set those principles in place because He knew that we were created for certain roles, and that we would be most happy that way.  I’m actually in the middle of a Bible Study called “The Excellent Wife” that I love, but it would most certainly tick off a feminist in ways you would not believe.  NOT because the writers of the Bible do not consider us equals. though.  I disagree with that statement.  God does not consider me inadequate because I am a woman.  I honestly don’t know where that comes from, except that many man-made religions (God didn’t create religions) have determined men to be of more value than women.  Maybe the reason people think that is that they believe the Biblical responsibilities given to men are more esteemed, therefore a man’s worth is greater?  I don’t know.  But I do know that just because I am ultimately called to submit to my husband, does not mean my worth is less.  If you really want to take the time to determine how God esteems women, do it.  Look up the many instances between Jesus and the women He met.  He clearly had a great deal of respect for the fairer sex.  I’m more than willing to participate in a study on it.

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“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room (or closet.) and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret…” (Matthew 6:5-6 RSV). Translation – according to the book of Matthew neither Gene Robinson nor Rick Warren should be praying at the Inauguration!

Ah, now I remember how this debate began.  I have literally copy/pasted this portion in from a website that covered this topic, simply because I see no need to rewrite what this person already said so well (from here: http://www.learnthebible.org/public-prayer.html):

Christ is dealing with a particular practice of the Pharisees. They made a big show of praying so that everyone would know just how spiritual they were. They were proud and ostentatious in their prayers so that others would see them. That is, they took what should have been their private prayer life and made a public show of it so that others would be amazed at their spirituality. This is akin today to those who continually brag on how much time they spend in prayer. Christ was teaching us that our personal prayer life is not to be displayed in public. He was not teaching that there was never an occasion for public prayer.

PUBLIC PRAYER:

Public prayer is common in the Old Testament. Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple (1Kings 8:22-23). Elijah prayed publicly on Mt. Carmel (1Kings 17:36-37). Ezra prayed before “a very great congregation of men and women and children” (Ezra 10:1). If public prayer is not allowed in the New Testament, it is definitely a change in what God allows.

However, we continue to see public prayer practiced in the New Testament even after the teaching of Matthew 6:6. Christ prayed publicly before He raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:41-42) as well as on other occasions. Paul kneeled and prayed with the Ephesian elders before he left them (Acts 20:36). And although we receive few clear statements about the order of worship in the early churches, an important piece of information is found in 1Corinthians 14:15-16, which states:

Corinthians 14:15-16 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying? You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified.

If you carefully read this passage, you will see that Paul stresses the importance of praying with understanding so that those who occupy the room of the unlearned can say Amen at the giving of thanks. This passage makes sense only in the context of public prayer. If no one is listening, then how could anyone say Amen? Other statements hint at the presence of public prayer in the early churches, but this one clearly shows that it was practiced.

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This really could go on and on.  I LOVE the Word of God.  I mean that.  It speaks LIFE to me.  It is alive. I find hope and love and joy in it.  I actually have a very difficult time not taking offense when people hatch it up and insult it (and let’s be clear, I know your intention is not to insult, I really do).  I’m just saying that because it is precious to me, I struggle for the best way to defend it.  I’m no scholar, but I have spent my entire life learning this Bible.  Anyone who wants to take real issue with it needs to study it objectively.  Believing in Jesus requires a great deal of faith, but God does not expect us to be idiots and follow blindly.  He gives us real information to stand on.  Not to mention the peace I have when I know, in my core that God Himself is communicating with me daily through it.  I’m aware that to most people, that statement makes me sound like a crazy person.  I hope you know me well enough by now, though, to give me a little credit.  I mean, really, if we could fully understand God, would He be God?  I wouldn’t want to worship a God that my little mind could fully understand, that would make Him far too small.

The Bible can’t just “provide great insights into life”, and Jesus can’t just be a good guy.  Many years before Jesus came, Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would be the cornerstone of our religion, and yet that cornerstone would be a stumbling block for many.  People want to believe in God, I think that’s the easy part.  But belief in Jesus involves putting away your pride and admitting that our selfish behavior can’t be justified on our own.  Jesus said clearly that He was the Son of God and that belief in Him was and is the only way to heaven.  You can’t ignore that part of his teaching, it was why the people wanted him dead, and still hate him today.  That’s why C.S. Lewis said this in Mere Christianity:

“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg – or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”

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3 thoughts on “Come and sit a spell…

  1. Katherine, nicely written. This was worth your time, not only for spreading the gospel but also for articulating your faith. It’s good practice, and it’s good study for yourself to confirm your beliefs. Well done.

    In fact, just yesterday Kenny and I were discussing the one on adultery. My ex, who divorced me after HE had affairs, is remarried, seemingly faithful to his now third wife, and they are having their third child together. My current husband, whose divorced his first wife for adultery, thinks my ex should divorce since it is continued adultery, even with children involved. Granted, when the ex divorced me, he said, “God will forgive me.” That was how he justified his future “Christian” life. Yet, I don’t believe that he should not divorce his third wife, although I can’t argue that it isn’t an adulterous relationship. For the sake of the children, however, the family should be kept intact. Is that my reasoning? It isn’t specified in the Scriptures except that it makes sense that Jesus would care more for the innocent children than for the adulterous parents. The Father forgives those who not only ask for forgiveness, but also to stop living the life of sin–repent. If there a point when it is too late to repent? Maybe his repentance is that he is being faithful to his third wife. Jesus said that Moses allowed his people to divorce because of the hardness of their hearts. It was wrong then; it’s wrong now. But it is permitted, but wrong, because we are a sinful nation? I need to ponder further.

  2. Hey Kathy (I’ve always spelled this with a “K,” but I see above you spelled it with a “C…”),

    First of all, I’m impressed with your knowledge of the bible! Thanks for the long and thoughtful response to my comments – you took the time to write all of this and I took the time to read it.

    As always, I find the discussion of the Bible interesting. Your point is well noted that in recent times I have not spent a lot of times with the various translations (many are different in subtle ways) – certainly not as much as you have! I actually attended Catholic grade school with mandatory bible class and church so at one point I was much more familiar with these passages.

    Let me say that I have a great deal of respect for you and your family – as you say above, you all certainly live your faith and radiate love and positive energy into the world. To be honest with you, whatever you believe that causes you to live and love the way you do is fine by me (not that you need that validation!).

    Let me simply state my personal belief as an extension of the above statement. To me, although I find conversing about religion, philosophy and history endlessly interesting, the true value of one’s personal faith lies in the internal peace that it affords them and in the way that it causes them to treat other living beings. To me, any system of beliefs that causes you to be at peace and to be a better person has value. I believe that all living beings have the right to pursue happiness and express the biological, emotional and spiritual gifts that have been bestowed them. As a society, I believe it is our collective responsibility to protect this right for all citizens, regardless of sex, race, creed, orientation, etc. and allow people to live and love and they see fit so long as it does not encroach upon the right of others to do the same.

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