First a disclaimer: I normally write about development, but today I want to write a post about the Bible and Christians. I’ve been wanting to write this post for a very long time. The theme or idea herein contained is on my mind every single day as I listen to ordinary folks who hold themselves to have extraordinary wisdom.
I found a symbol that represents my line of thinking: a Jewish Mezuzah. Jews religiously hang this little object on their doorposts, thereby honouring or obeying Deuteronomy 6:9 “And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house, and upon thy gates” … as the Torah commands them to do. But now, through years of cleverness and rationalisation, modern Jews still obey this ancient command. Yet, in the very same section of the Torah, God also instructed the Jews to keep the words of G_d on their hearts, to talk about them the whole day, from waking up until sleeping, and to bind them on their hands, and put them between their eyes! And it is here where I get confused or entertained. All the Jews, put them on the door and gate, but not on the hand and between the eyes… The mezuzah hangs next to the door the whole day, but the folks who hanged them there do not talk about them the whole day long. So who decides what to imitate and what to leave out? How and why do we rationalise what stays on the list and what gets dropped off?
Im not picking on the Jews, they are in fact just providing me with an easy intro.
I really want to talk about the so-called Christians. Firstly there are the Christians who like to pick and quote selected verses from the Old Testament as commands that God gave us, and they try to enforce people to obey these. Not to kill or steal seems pretty unproblematic (Deut 5) yet when it comes to lying and lusting for things, most Christians are less strict, with themselves and others. Yet most will still agree in theory that the “don’t lie” and “respect your parents” are relevant commands, even today, 4000 years on. And so they add Old Testament verses to affirm God is against Sodomy, that God will bless you materially like Jabez if you do the right things and for example that you should tithe… Some commands snuck into the new list that is held up today. Thousands of the commands did not make it in, and pertaining the Old Testament, I won’t mention even 1% of commands that is today frowned upon, but circumcision (Leviticus 12:2-3), rape (Judges 21:21) no tattoos (Leviticus 19:28), burnt offerings (Leviticus 1), stoning sinners (Leviticus 20:23), marrying your dead brothers wife (Deuteronomy 25:5), etc. have been conveniently discarded. Clearly some of God’s ideas were good for then, and some for now…
The ‘clever’ or ‘spiritual’ Christians like to say, one can discard everything in the Bible before Jesus, or even before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). They say: forget all the Old Testament stuff, some will even argue about some of Jesus’ words because it was pre-Spirit and pre-church. So for this dominant group, you have to build your dogma (deep understanding/ rules and regulations) on what you read in the New Testament and they try to hold each other and the rest of humanity accountable to that. Now, the main aim of this post is to show how certain things, even in the New Testament, makes it onto the list and others don’t. Theologians and aspiring Theologians will tell you they learnt a word called ‘context’ and that some, even New Testament commands was only for a certain context. The obvious trick then, is which commands and guidelines was for the context in Israel 2000 years ago and which remained relevant until today.
There are no brainers: like murder, which stayed on the list. (we wont talk about death penalty here!) For a woman to wear a hat (to church, some keep on doing this, most ascribe that to context. 1 Timothy 2:9-15 “Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” This one is interesting, since modern Christians say its context and their dear wives may now speak up in church, they may wear golden jewelery and pearls and they may teach… So some Christian are bold to say this verse does not count anymore! Here is the interesting one: Some so called ‘Spirit filled’ Christians will cut the very same verse into sections and say, the women should not teach or have authority over men, but they may wear golden jewelry and pearls! Wow! And trust me they will defend this type of interpretation with loooong stories and many verses.
So, it seems: women not being equal to men: IN women not wearing gold and pearls: OUT.
Similarly, there is 1 Corinthians 1:4-7 talking about hats and hair: “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head…” Again, today, some Christian will say the wife should wear a hat, and some say that was context, she does not have to wear a hat. Some will say today, she does not have to wear a hat, but should not shave off al her hair! Some even say the women part can be forgotten, but a man still have to remove his hat when praying! Wow! Again. Depending thus who you talk to, a woman can go to church without a hat, (so that verse out!) and a man does not have to wear a hat in church (verse off the list again!), but the very same section that speaks about the women under the men in terms of authority: that stays! That men are the holders of authority, they say was not contextual to the culture of the time 2000 years ago, but the whole hat thing was! Ok, lets continue…
Then there is the ‘brotherly kiss’ of 1 Thessalonians 5:26: “greet all the brothers and sisters with a kiss”. In early Afrikaans church life, people actually did that! Yet today, I have not been to a church (and I have been to hundreds of churches) where the people modeled and insisted on greeting each other with a kiss. So why is this verse almost universally discarded by Christians? Was it context specific? Is it weirder to kiss a man than to plunge him under water? Why stop? This is an easy one: Verse about greeting with a kiss: OUT! Rather go for the non-sexual sideways fake Christian hug! Funny.
The interesting examples, predictably enough has to do with money. And if you did not figure out until now that the selection criteria had more to do with current culture and self-interest than sincere theological intent, then this one should start to make things clear. Mathew 19:21 sends shivers of fear amongst most comfy Christians. The fact that the story is told three times does not exempt it from almost universal rejection as a potential present day command. In the history of humankind, it seems this unfortunate guy was the only one that Jesus would expect to sell everything! Surely this was one of God’s strategies way back in time, surely God has matured and would not demand such extremist childish behaviour today! Sell everything you have, give it to the poor. Pastors seems content to take a 10% commission and they know very well if they demand 100% they would not gain anything, except an empty church. Another easy one: Jesus’ command to: Sell all your stuff: OUT! Off the To Do List of modern Christianity.
In case the previous story was seen as a unique, once off anomaly, (which is normally a reason to reject something) we might consider another command from Luke 3:11. This verse again sends fear and discomfort through any well intentioned middle class Christian! Better ask our pastor to write a sermon on why this should not be taken literally. Jesus could mean it literaly, but we are not that irresponsible or unreasonable today, are we?! “He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.” Some translations says shirts instead of coat or food instead of meat. I like the one that says meat, since I hate sharing my biltong! To be clear, I have many shirts and many jackets. I know many people who do not have a jacket, almost everyone I know has a shirt. But surely the spirit of the verse would also mean if I have 20 shirts and a kid has only one, I should give one of my 20 shirts to him or her? Anyway, churches reprimand their members for all kinds of sin, especially sex, smoking, drugs, swearing and so, but I am yet to find a white church that preach and take this verse seriously. People become smart, ‘we take the spirit of this verse, we are encouraged to be generous, and every few years I donate my old clothes to the poor’. This clever ‘interpretation’ and bending applies to the coat and food, but not to sex, gays, drunkards, and so… people choose when to take things literally and when to start interpreting context.
One women writing about sexual sins mentions “an extensive list” of scripture against such sin. When it comes to having too much money whilst others are suffering, there are also “extensive lists” of scripture, they are just not so popular. Maybe the focus on some extensive lists are tools to keep the mind away from some other extensive lists? One of the verses on this lady’s extensive list was 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 “not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one” Again I always hear Christian talk about sexual immorality, but in the very same line it says not to associate with someone who is greedy. Now the day that driving a Maserati, Aston Martin or Porsche is not classified as greedy is the day I will give up on thinking; ever again. Yet, in the churches of today the greedy are respected as wise, talented, good stewards and my pet hate “blessed”. Bluuhhh… puke. The attempts to rationalize the extreme luxury car with nonsense about being excellent and examples of blessed lives and saying its not greedy because these folks give tithing and that cash makes a big difference, shows me people are not only immoral, but also dumb.
Again, its clear: don’t sleep around if you are unmarried- Stay! On the List! Give away your second, third or tenth coat to the poor? Off the list! Don’t be greedy: Off the list! There are other curious New Testament verses that has fallen off the list. Mark 16:18 says we will drink poison and not die. I don’t know of such practice in the church, unless you count Coca-Cola. Same verse says we will pick up deadly snakes and with a couple of snake handling exceptions, this verse is not encouraged in all the churches I have encountered. Especially the spitting cobra and black mamba! I mean does Jesus not say we shouldn’t tempt God?! People are clever to explain away verses they don’t like… others are used ‘as it is written’. The very same Mark 16:18, after dealing with poison and snakes speaks about laying on of hands and healing. Interesting application again. Today, some people take the actual laying on of hands as a direct command and do this, preach this without fail. Yet the actual healing part does not happen as often as the laying on of pastoral hands… Yet we try, we keep on trying healing, no matter how much hurt and pain it brings. We do not keep on trying the snakes, over and over again, keeping on believing as we are bitten. Same applies for Luke 10:19’s scorpions. Again: snakes, scorpions, poison: Off the List! Laying on Hands: ON! In! Healing: Sometimes ON, sometimes OFF! Smile…
Luke 16:18 says if you divorce you may not get married again. Again, in many churches this is not a problem, and after a complicated sermon the verse is rationalized away… context. Mathew 5:28 says looking at another with sexy ideas is adultery. How many confessions or cases of church discipline have you heard of that calls men to order for checking out another women’s breasts or ass? Context?
Mark 9:43 “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell” Context, metaphorical, isn’t it? Surely metaphorical? Please, metaphorical? Yet gays burning in hell are not metaphorical; so I hear. Luckily, cutting off our hands? Off the list!
Mathew 5:40 if someone steals your jacket, also give him your coat. We love seeing this in Les Miserable but do we do it? Giving more stuff to thieves and not taking people to court: Out!
Mathew 5:39. I have heard more sermons on why the verse actually means NOT to turn your other cheek than how or why to turn the other cheek. Surely, a simplistic metaphor not to take seriously when someone cuts in front of you in traffic, takes your parking spot, jumps the queue in the bank, or slaps your girlfriend. Turn the other cheek? Context, metaphor, Off the List!
Respecting slavery? 1 Timothy 6:1-2 and 1 Peter 2:18 sounds crazy! Not a once off verse! Imagine God said this today?! Today any Christian will ignore this verse and say, no human being should be owned by another! Slavery OUT! Slavery Off the List of New Testament commands to follow!
James 5:14 Healing with oil: again some keep the oil others don’t, some call the elders, others pray without the elders, which is interesting. Yet, the verse says “and the Lord SHALL raise him up”, which despite our best efforts seldom happens.
Tongues, thousands today speak in heavenly tongues which is seemingly a miracle! Yet unlike Act 2 the tongues are seldom fluent Russion, Manderin or Swahili, no matter how much good such unifying miracle would achieve. They will say there are two types of tongues, inner room and witnessing gifts, they will argue and explain, still, I long to hear the Rusian, Swahili or Japanese roll of the mouths of Afrikaner Christians… Actual foreign language gifts: Off the List! Maybe it was for then? Not now, now we have Google Translate!
I’m now tired of making the list… maybe others can share their verses in the New Testament which Christians choose to ignore. Share in the comments what you think the New Testament says to do, but today’s Christians don’t. Also, what it says, we shouldn’t do and we do! Some might be ok to ignore and others not! My point is not about what is right or wrong, simply that Christians, well-meaning or sneaky, seem to decide what to put on and what to exclude. I find it interesting to see how they choose what, and whether there are themes in these choices.
It is ironic that Christians, just like the Pharisees of old create so much division over dogmatic arguments. Majoring on minors. Why is all of this so ironic? Let’s go back 4000 years to the words in Deuteronomy 6:4 and Leviticus 19:18. Jesus, the one all the Christian are supposed to follow, summed up everything in Mark 12:28 quoting Deuteronomy 6 (Love God) and Leviticus 19 (Love Others). Funny, Old Testament 4000 year-old verses, still relevant and cutting edge. Jesus did the hard work for us! He looked at thousands of commands and gave us the top two! Even saying these two is all we need! He even chucked out the ‘obvious’ ones, like Sabbath! Crazy, picking food and healing someone on the Sabbath, how naughty, they even wanted to kill him for braking the rules that were written so clearly!
What can we do? Where to from here? If I can paraphrase a song from the movie Sound of Music: “How do you solve a problem like our Jesus?!” We need to try and figure out the heart of Jesus. Some see Jesus as “God Light” Strict but not scary. I see Jesus as radically different than the images of G_d that the Isrealites had, radically different that many ideas even portrayed in the New Testament. They saw glimpses of Jesus. We can see glimpses of Jesus. I think Jesus showed us something cool, to forget the rules and focus on our hearts and loving relations to others. We should stop reading the Bible like a law book. Even the New Testament, we should stop making lists in your head- it is neither Godly nor Biblical, it is small minded and a replacement of the fullness God and Jesus intended.
Love God, love people. Kyk noord en gaan voort. Jesus is the Hero, he is smarter than us. He made it easy. Where we pick long lists of what is in and out, He did not make lists, he chucked it all out and summarized a principle: love.
Those who know me will know that I will say: “If you make a mess of love, first try respect.” Respect everyone, are you known by everyone (domestic, waiter, petrol attendant, in traffic, at work, Muslims, gays, etc.) as a person of great respect? If not, I struggle to understand your Christianity, I struggle to see you living the love of Jesus.
It is all easier than we think. Easy if we are sincere and serious about really following.
The Jews are supposed to hang their Mezuzah’s at a 45 degree angle. Reson being two great Rabbi’s disagreeing, one saying it should be horizontal and the other vertical. Today Jews are supposed to honour these different interpretations and accept a truth that is grey, a Mezuzah that is angled. Personally I think Mezuzah’s are silly, but the idea that they hang at an angle is beautiful, powerful and useful. I might even pick one Old Testament command to follow and put a Mezuzah on my door, at an angle.
Compare the contrasting spirits represented in the pictures below:
If you still feel bored and uninspired: look for and listen to the Todd Agnew song MY JESUS