I tend to have qualms with a lot of mainstream Christian belief, mainly because its belief structure is most likely to simply set aside critical thought so as to reverberate and regurgitate the theological echo often heard by celebrity charismatic Christian leaders…maybe my problem is with the leaders – maybe not. I admit, I do get annoyed with the screams of condemnation – the condemnation of the world outside of the church and not the world that is going on inside of the church. I get the fact that people get sidetracked and confused. Sometimes people are brought up a certain way in which they are unwilling, and scarier: unable to see where they are going wrong. So my concern is not necessarily with the people as much as it is with the (false) message preached by the mainstream.
One of the most significant topics often confused or misrepresented in American Christianity is nationalism. The thought usually goes something like this: the United States was founded upon Christian principles; therefore, the United States is a Christian nation. Or sometimes in addition to this, some would say that the United States was founded by a very Christian people, therefore, the United States was meant to be and therefore is a Christian nation. This talk seems to always develop into the message that America should come back to its Christian roots. America should turn away from the evils that it is doing, submit to God, and become a Christian nation, again. But what if the United States wasn’t a Christian nation to begin with? What if the country we thought was so Christian, in fact, was dreadfully sinful throughout its existence? Many do not want to admit it, but that is the case. The founding and building of the United States was on horrifically sinful terms – justified by competition between many proud, drunk, rich, white, landowning men who slaughtered Native Americans in order to possess land that would eventually lead to them profiting off the backs of traded slave labor.
The average mainstream Christians want to ignore this, or pass it off as some sort of liberally biased history, but it’s the truth. The majority of those who held the power and wealth during the revolutionary times were the same people trading slaves, raping and having babies with their maids, and killing Native Americans because they stood in their way of making a profit. There is no other way around it; America was never founded on Christian values because in order to be founded upon the values of Christ the actions of those considered to be founders ought to have mimicked the actions of Christ – they did not. And herein lays the problem: the vast majority of those who played a large role in the founding and building of America lacked the willingness to untie profits and self-interest from their moral compass, and therefore saw nothing wrong or immoral with the slaughter of a disturbing amount of innocent victims (Native Americans) as well as the abuse and oppression of an entire group of people (African Americans). The founding of this country had a lot to do with competition. There is nothing wrong with competition, insofar as it does not lead to the production of pride: or, in the words of Augustine: “the love of one’s own excellence.” But pride in Augustine’s sense is the natural product of economic competition. This type of competition breeds pride in the sense that our happiness and joy are derived from the thought that we better than someone else. The goal of economic competition is rooted in this idea that others are just things to overcome, outsell, and outshine. And this is the very reason our country was not founded upon Christian principles. It was founded upon liberal Capitalism disguised as religious rhetoric.
So when I hear the nostalgic thought or saying that we ought to return to the good ole days – the days when America used to be a Christian nation, I am unaffected by the sentiment. And, to be honest, I am only disgusted by the idea that a nation has anything to do with how God works – God will work, when and where he wants to work, regardless if we “allow” Him in our spaces and places or not. So now you know why I get upset when we refer to the Christian church of America as simply “America” – implying that the Christian church ought to include those who have rejected the church outright and for all it stands, as if it is our job as a church to condemn the world for being the world.
12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges… - 1 Corinthians 5:12-13
“Because the American Civil War was not a war of religion, historians have tended to overlook the degree to which it was a religious war. Union and Confederate soldiers alike were heirs of the Great Awakening. Civil War armies were, arguably, the most religious in American history.”1
It is often said by southerners that their memory is “haunted by God.” Nothing exemplifies this thought more than the sermons of southern clergy during the Civil War period. From Montgomery to Richmond, many of the orators highlighted ghostly stories and analogies, and Old Testament places to proclaim the strength and “chosenness” of the South. This attitude of being a chosen people 2 is ultimately highlighted in what historians term the Lost Cause of the Confederacy.
The Lost Cause of the Confederacy is a denial that the powers of the North defeated the South through matters of skill – that the South’s defeat came because the North came with such overwhelming force that there was no amount of skill that could lead them to victory. This denial persisted for centuries. And, in fact, the mind set of being a loosely organized state of “successful covenant makers and keepers” has led to “Southern Culture” holding a deeply held belief that Southerners simply could not and would not ever be beaten – religiously or politically. 3
In the years leading up to the 1830′s, the prominent denominations involved in missions to the South were the Baptists and Methodists. In order for these denominations to evangelize in Dixie, they had to change their positions on those issues that Southerners would have perceived as “radical” – such as their opposition to slavery and the northern hostility toward a social structure that based the value of a person to society on their respective economic class.
One of the first things northerners did was utilize the relationship between Christianity and supernaturalism by cultivating the South’s on the mystical / spiritual / experiential side of Christianity (which would later pave the way for a fast growing Pentecostal movement). This evangelization of the South by the North, literally led to the Southernization of Northern evangelicalism. Northerners didn’t just change to a group preaching a more experiential gospel, they changed their teachings and practices to reach them – especially those dealing with the roles of men and women, the old and young, and white and black. As if they had not compromised enough, the Northern evangelists had to change their view on how Scripture would be interpreted: literally. It was how slavery was justified in the South; it was how idolizing the rich was justified in the South; it was how the melding of church and state was justified in the South. 4
By the 1890′s holiness-focused Methodists were defecting in search of churches that focused on God’s grace through a personal experience rather than a religious experience through a priest. It was also during this time that baptists began taking over the South – ultimately passing the Methodists by national measures in 1906. At the turn of the 20th-century, holiness churches were thriving, and Fundamentalism and Pentecostalism – whose presence was beginning to swell unknowingly in the South – began to grow swiftly.
The explosion of growth in Fundamentalist, Pentecostal, and holiness churches largely went unnoticed due to many publicized embarrassments. The poster child for these mishaps is unequivocally the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. This negative light led to a reformation of the approach Fundamentalists took in reaching America – and during this time they implemented radio gospel hours, more church fellowships, and Bible institutes. Pentecostals were so engulfed in revivalism and reaching others during this time that the Great Depression and WWII were hardly a concern to them, with many of their journals speaking of wonderful, miraculous workings of God.
By January 1950 the evangelist Billy Graham had developed a cult following for his “Crusades” – a rather historically grotesque choice of a name for a group of Christians traveling across the world on a mission from God.
He probably should have rethought the name. Just sayin’.
Bringing crowds of fifty-thousand or more listeners to wherever he spoke, his Crusades welcomed similar sized crowds at any given event. The combination of the growth of holiness, Pentecostal, and Fundamentalist churches, and a 1950′s and 60′s focus on revivalism led to an explosion of new congregants in what would ultimately make up the Religious Right of the 1970′s.
Reorganizing the Republican Party
As the Johnson administration wound down, the focus on eradicating poverty did as well. The vision of the poor cast by the media as latter-day Daniel Boones perched high upon a mountain was replaced by the more menacing image of poor, black, and urban. The postwar era led to whites moving out into suburbia which led to blacks becoming more densely populated in the urban areas. White property owners saw their real estate values plummet, and white renters saw their rent sky-rocket as their landlords try to keep their property values up by keeping blacks out of the neighborhoods. This re-imaging of the face and identity of the “person” of poverty only highlighted the feelings and views of Southern white working-class taxpayers and property owners. They absolutely despised the war on poverty. They saw it as a handout for “welfare queens” and “poverty pimps.” 5
Coming out in the mid-1960′s and highlighting the end to a concern for and goodwill towards the poor was the bumper sticker Reading:
“I Fight Poverty, I Work.”
It is no secret that Nixon’s capitalization on the racial conflict happening with the civil rights movement of the 60′s made him president.6 In his coming to the White House, he had a record as a racial moderate, endorsing legislation from the time he was Eisenhower’s vice president up to when he was elected president in 1969. Although well marked as a proponent for Civil Rights, for his time, Nixon embraced a “southern strategy” which would not only get him reelected in 1972, but ultimately create a Republican majority in the U.S. During his first term, Nixon’s strategy was to focus on the issues that divided the Democrats instead of those that united Republicans. This allowed for a wedge to be driven between two of the most important groups in the Democratic Party: religious southerners, and blacks.
The Church and Segregation
“I don’t care what they say in Washington, we are going to keep right on praying and reading the Bible in the public schools of Alabama.”
During the 1960′s the desegregation of public schools coincided with the Supreme Court decision that prayer and other displays of religious belief was to be restricted in public schools. This spurred many denominations in America to draw an acute focus on establishing and building avenues for private education. No other place was this more apparent than in the working-class of the South. These institutions, because of the absence of color, were termed “segregation academies.”7
But many of these institutions were not openly segregated. Take for example the Briarcrest Baptist School System in Memphis. It was supported by eleven baptist churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention denomination. Briarcrest claimed that their enrollment policy was open to all, as well as boasting a recruitment program for black students. But there were no black students enrolled in the school. The issue wasn’t whether or not the school had an open enrollment, but that when the black students got on campus, they faced horrendous discrimination and harassment. A member of an educational task force summed up what was already thought: “These days, Christian schools and segregation academies are almost synonymous.”8
There were a variety of factors that helped explained why these schools were so popular in the south: resentment over stifling of religious expression in schools, overcrowding, the sense that small schools gave parents a sense of say in how it was operated; but another factor, a significant factor, explained why these academies were founded and in operation: to simply perpetuate separatism. It simply allowed them to stand as havens from integration and association with other cultures and colors.9
This was essential to Nixon’s reelection. Nixon noticed that if he were to come out in favor of these “church schools,” leaders in the Democratic Party were stuck. If the Democrats came out against giving money to the schools, then the working-class, religious voters – the segregationists – would feel disenfranchised. But then if the Democrats came out in support of giving money to the schools, then the black and minority vote would be lost. The same is the situation with Nixon’s support of affirmative action during his first term – Democrats faced a wedge being driven down the middle of their party’s politics and it was either the minority vote or the working-class, religious segregationists.
In the end the religious working-class segregationists left the Democratic Party and joined the Republican Party, but it was a slow matriculation. Leading up to the Republican mobilization was a battle considered to be one of the turning points in the political history of America. From it came the impetus to unite the religious working-class segregationists – who would ultimately become the foundation of the Religious Right – to begin to organize and prepare for their fight with the U.S. government.
The IRS v. The Religious Right
The IRS of the Nixon administration began a program that tried to identify which academies supported segregation and which did not. The purpose was to give tax-exempt status only to those schools that had enrollment policies which did not support segregation. After the formal guidelines for qualifying schools were established in 1978, a battle ensued between the supporters of these “church schools” and the IRS. The method that they used led to the IRS excluding these “segregation academies” when it came time to give out tax breaks. But that was the problem, it only excluded them – making it appear that they were being singled out because of who they were. Needless to say, this, paired with the Supreme Court decision over prayer in public schools only guaranteed that the Religious Right would come together and fight back. In fact, it galvanized southern Christians just in time to establish a reputation and mighty political voice to be catered to by Reagan – and every Republican president since then.
accurate in its depiction, Jesusland: the Home of the Religious Right
Making Sense of All This
The focus of this article isn’t necessarily to prove that the Religious Right championed the Republican Party to eventually allow it to become one of its loudest voices, nor is it to prove that the Religious Right are a bunch of racists and separatists. In light of what has been said, one of the most prominent questions that arises is whether or not the attitudes and positions currently held by the Religious Right can be explained by that history. But we first need to establish where the Religious Right actually stands on the issues.
It is no surprise that a prominent focus of the Religious Right has been to introduce curriculum into public schools that support their faith. And because of their past battles with the Supreme Court concerning religious expression in public schools, they not only support giving their private institutions tax-exemption as well as having the freedom to open and operate them as they wish through a voucher system, but they also support the reintroduction of Christian expression into the public school systems (as well as many other public places).
The Ten Commandments
The majority of the Religious Right support abstinence-only programs as the way to educate potentially sexually active teens in school. The idea boils down to sexual education for a child is thought to be the duty of the parent and not the school system. Therefore the facts and “methods,” if you will, come directly from the privacy of the child’s home.
Politics of the Religious Right
The topic of war and the Religious Right will be covered in the historical assessment because it is best explained when the historical analysis has been well explained. But to continue, the Religious Right’s view on politics can be summed up with…well, here, this video speaks louder and clearer than anything I could ever say on the topic:
Next: The Religious Right Part II: The Historical Assessment
1 – Miller, Stout, and Wilson, Religion and the American Civil War, pp.4-5
2 – This is a well established topic. For more reading: Gospel of Disunion: Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum South (1993), Religion and the American Civil War (1998), Still Fighting the Civil War: The American South and Southern History (2002), Rebuilding Zion: The Religious Reconstruction of the South, 1863-1877 (1998), and Redeeming the South: Religious Cultures and Racial Identities Identities Among Southern Baptists, 1865-1925 (1997).
3 – Kevin Phillips, American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st-Century, (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), pp.141-148.
4 – Christine Heyrman, Southern Cross, (New York: Knopf, 1997), pp. 265-266.
5 – Maurice Isserman & Michael Kazin, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp.207-209.
6 – Ibid. pp.281
7 – Bruce J. Shulman & Julian E. Zelizer, Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008), pp.96.
8 – Ibid
9 – Ibid, pp.97
It was said today, at one point in time, that if someone supports Chick-Fil-A they also are supporting a hate group. I am one who needs time to think about my position when it comes to hot-button topics. This was not any different.
I hate when people ask me questions and it turns out that my answers were not well thought out. It always makes me feel like a complete idiot. I try not to do that very often. So, I have remained relatively quiet about this whole Chick-Fil-A issue…until this Facebook post:
“So…here’s a question for those who are boycotting Chick-fil-A. When are you going to sell your cars and walk everywhere you go? Never fly again, avoid public transportation? What? You mean you will still continue to do these things? Didn’t you know that every penny you spend on fuel goes to ACTUAL
HATE GROUPS. The people we get our fuel from KILL homosexuals but yet you still continue to give them your money? I am so sick of people calling Chick-fil-a and the groups they support hate groups…Just because I don’t like the fact that someone chooses to wear black and blue in the same outfit doesn’t mean that I hate that person. Even if I gave my profits to a group that is against the mixing of the colors….you can’t put words in my mouth and call me a
While I find it hard to believe that “…every penny” we spend on fuel goes to hate groups, I can agree that 3 of the top 5 oil exporters are regimes that violently oppose homosexuality (Iran, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates). I could probably also guess that the poster on Facebook and I disagree on which roles the government and the church should take in a society. Aside from that, though, I do have to say that she does have a point.
Buying gas is out of the question if we are truly concerned about our money supporting hate groups and do not want to be hypocritical about our spending. In fact, she is right that 3 of the 5 top exporters of oil support and/or use violence against homosexuals (the Saudi’s, Iran, and the UAE). These countries have a far more extreme standard for punishing those who are “caught” in the act of homosexuality.
This brings me to my point: just because you don’t see something doesn’t mean it just *POOF* goes away.
The Chick-Fil-A issue is just a drop in the bucket when compared to the widespread support we all contribute to on a much larger scale because of our over-dependence upon oil.
To me, all this hype has simply become a resounding gong of intolerance. Unless you are literally dead, you, in some way, support (enormously, I might add) hate groups that do much more damage to the human rights of homosexuals than does Dan Cathy and him monotonously expressing an opinion that was already very-well and very-much known.
We are all hypocrites in this situation. Yeah, Dan Cathy may have a traditional / biblical view about church and state, but it is far from the stoning of two homosexuals which happened in Iran – whose economy is dependent upon our dependence upon oil.
We’re all being so stupid and naive about the real problem. We are people who support hate groups that are upset with people who support hate groups. The fact that we do not know that the fuel we buy comes from Iran or Saudi Arabia or UAE does not excuse us from the more prevalent fact that by buying that fuel we are supporting regimes that commit far more heinous acts of hate than someone expressing an opinion that was previously known.
The truth remains that we should all be spurred to stop the nonsense of using aggressive measures (competitive boycotting, name-calling, and my personal pet-peeve: using labels like “homophobe” in nonsensical ways…), and sit down to a non-confrontational conversation with our other side and actually talk, and not spat, about this stuff instead of simply pointing fingers, bullying, and trying to cause hurt or emotional distress.
I’m just going to be honest here: loving your enemy is as easy as asking him or her out for lunch, just to simply learn more about them. And that’s what we, as Christians, it seems, are not doing. We simply wouldn’t be caught up in all of this finger pointing if we were.
The faithful city of Jerusalem – which was, at one time, distinguished for its justice and righteousness – has defiled its relationship with God by being unjust and unrighteous.
You are the impure of the impure; you are the diluted wine that is diluted
Your rulers are corrupted and are easily bribed.
They seek not to help the orphan or the widow, just themselves and their desires
The Lord of all declares to Israel “Anyone who is My adversary and foe will have no control over Me, because I will relieve Myself of My adversaries and avenge those who are My foes.
“As I do with foes and adversaries, I will also do with you, Israel. If need be, I can take away your impurities and remove all your blemishes – but to do so is not a smooth and easy process.
“To do so, I will restore your judges as you had at first, I will return your counselors back to what they were at the beginning. And it is only then that you will be called the city of righteousness – a city loyal to the Lord.”
Because of this, O’ Israel you will be redeemed and considered just once again, and those who repent will be considered righteous.
But heed this warning, Israel. Transgressors, sinners, and those who have forsaken the Lord will be stopped.
And when they see the punishment that their chosen idolatry has brought about they will be ashamed in their guilt. Their happiness and joy will slowly fade away.
And because of the illumination from God’s wrath, the rulers – those who were thought to have been strong the entire time – will burn with their unjustified deeds. And there will be nothing that to free them.
No matter how “chosen” we are by God, we are certainly not safe to think that our time of repentance is ever over. While this passage is about Jerusalem ignoring their call to repentance, the spot that they are in – that is, a city that fell from being, at one time, distinguished for its justice and righteousness – is not something that happened on accident. It is something that happened over time and began by them ignoring the first call to repent. And, as we have all experienced, one call to repent turns into two calls to repent from two separate actions and then it gets to where it is out of our control, not knowing or sometimes not caring what we ought to repent from. And all of this is simply because we ignored our initial call to repentance.
This challenges me to look for things that I have failed to continually repent and give to God on a daily basis. Which part of our lives have we set aside simply because repenting would cause us discomfort in our life? I pray that God gives us the strength and knowledge to repent and let go of our sinful actions daily.
Dear Lord, allow me to be attentive to what you would have me to do with those convictions that are laid upon my heart. Search me Lord, and build me up to fear nothing that leads me to the truth. Help me to be honest in all that I do so that I can draw closer to you: He who is the way, the truth, and the life. And allow me to remember the consequences of sin. Please, Lord, increase my faith so that I can rightly and convincingly share with others that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through You. And allow me to be able to share that God’s gift of eternal life is only available to those who ask for forgiveness and repent from their sins. Praise Your holy name. Amen
23For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread;24and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”25In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
The Eucharist, often called “communion” or “The Lord’s Supper,” is something that is often taken during a Protestant church service, but hardly is it ever explained to the congregants. That is to say, in a low-church setting, it is more likely that the congregation gets its Eucharistic Theology from the “In Remembrance of Me” inscription on the table than what the Lord’s Supper actually means.
It is Cross-Denominational
I failed to use the term nondenominational in the subtitle of this section because it often connotes a passive approach to theology. But the Eucharist is nondenominational in the sense that it reaches across denominations. All believers who participate in the Eucharist are participating in the act that Jesus consecrated while He was here on earth. Therefore, the significance of our partaking is dependent upon whether or not the person who is participating in the Lord’s Supper is a Christian, rather than a member of that particular church. This is not something that is accepted by some denominational thought, as they tend to withdrawal the invitation to partake in the Eucharist by limiting it to only those who are members of the church. You can see this in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
The Bread and Wine
The Eucharist was one of the major conflicts which arose out of the Reformation. Many of the Reformers believed that the Eucharist, in some way, melded an actual essence of Christ inside of the believer through the changing of the bread and wine to the essence of the body and blood of Christ. Therefore, as the Christian lives his or her life, s/he essentially becomes Christ to the world.
Whether or not the bread and wine is the essence, or turn into the actual body and blood of Christ is something long debated. But one thing is for certain: the bread and wine are transformed into the physical and spiritual nutrition that ultimately allows the believer to carry out the tasks that Jesus taught His followers to do. That it provides the spiritual and physical energy which allows us to be the reflection of Christ to the world bounds us to live out the story of Christ. We are then expected to continually become like Christ as the bread and wine become the spiritual and physical energy and nutrition we use to serve others.
It is Communal
The cycle which allows the believer to become Christ can be boiled down to simply: gather, commune, then scatter. As we come together, it symbolizes Christ’s walk to His death. We approach our church – during our drive or walk, however we get there – we have already begun our sacrifice by getting out of bed and deciding to go to church. As we gather on Sundays, we ultimately form a part of the body of Christ – joining in with all the other believers in our church, as well as joining others in participating in the corporate Church of God.
Our participation essentially allows us to become the body of Christ to the world, and therefore to our respective communities in which we operate. Therefore, we are involved in something beautiful. It is through the grace made possible by His death that Christ willingly ascends upon us during the Eucharist. How does he ascend on us, you say? He allows us to become Him on earth – in spirit, in deed, and therefore in the flesh. Thus, participating in the Eucharist is how the Church – a variety of people from a variety of denominations – becomes Christ in the flesh on earth. They allow themselves to become Christ in their communities. Thus, in concert with all the other Christians in the community, they are the reflection of Christ to the world, but more precise, to their respective community.
The Means to an End
It is from this that we draw the Protestant stance that there is an essence of Christ in the Eucharist – that is, there is something in the bread and wine which allows us to actually become the body of Christ to the world in which we live. Both the bread and the wine become a part of the believer providing the nutrition and grace necessary for His church to operate. This is not to say that the Eucharist is necessary for forgiveness, but it is to say that it is necessary for the Church to operate in the world.
Its equivalent might be comparable to the oil of an engine. No, the engine doesn’t need an oil change before the recommended time, but once it becomes necessary the longer you hold off on getting it changed the more likely it is that the engine will be damaged. Similarly, the longer we hold off from participating in the Eucharist – getting out of our bed, preparing our hearts through forgiveness, and then becoming Christ to the world from the energy it provides – the more likely it is that we will become damaged. Therefore, participation in the Eucharist has little to do with memorializing what Christ did for us. It is through the Eucharist that Christ brings about His reign on earth – by our gathering, communing, and scattering within our respective communities. Ω
There has been a great deal of attention being drawn on the resurrection of Christ lately via The Lost Tomb of Jesus. Riding on the back of the Discovery Channel are Simcha Jacobovici (Sim-Hah |Yockoh-bovitch), James Cameron, Dr. James D. Tabor, Charles R. Pellegrino, Dr. Andrey Feuerverger, Dr. Shimon Gibson, and François Bovon (a New Testament and Apocrypha scholar.)1All of these professionals are are assisting the discovery channel in making a big splash into the rating pool. Of course, I cannot discount every claim that their findings bring about, but I can certainly highlight the fact that most respected professionals in this specific area have studied the facts and have denied that this project is on any type of scholarly valid path. This is not to mention that the documentary of this project came out in 2007 and was the talk of the web, but then dwindled off until 2011 and 2012 – which is sort of ironic since the Discovery channel only recently added the series to its line up during Easter – the time at which the searches are at their highest.
But that is neither here nor there. The boost in searches as proof for “hanging on” to the claims made by those involved in the project for ratings could easily be disproved. But what is interesting (and more telling of the profit seeking mindset of those involved with the project) is that disproving that the resurrection is not even the most persuasive argument to “kill” Christianity, so to speak. The most persuasive is the argument that Jesus didn’t even exist – that He was a figment of “the ancients’” imagination.
But the fact is that Jesus exists already today, whether we want to admit it or not. The proof of the resurrection is in the lives of those who show the real love of Christ. The historical Jesus is the Jesus of the Bible, and the Jesus of the Bible is the historical Jesus. The existence of both the biblical and historical Jesus is cemented into place by the 2.2 billion adherents of Christianity (nearly 37% of the world). To be honest, it is difficult for anyone to argue against something so significant. One of the best arguments for this is found in the atheist’s argument which maintains that there is no God. But to maintain this is to also go against what the majority of the world believes – that there is a God or gods.
It is difficult to deny the love that true Christianity demands:
This is where the Jesus in the Bible comes alive – both to those being served and to those serving. God is love, Jesus was God, therefore Jesus was love in action, thus because of Jesus Christ, those who follow him are called to action. The proof of the resurrection is found in those who are spurred to serve as Narayanan Krishnan did in the video above
Growing up in a Holiness denomination it is no surprise that until I was about 31 I was unaware of any other position on the matter of Biblical truth than Inerrancy. To be clear, I am not associating inerrancy with infallibility. Inerrancy says that “…the Bible is accurate and totally free of error, that “Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.“1 Infallibility maintains “…that the Bible is completely trustworthy as a guide to salvation and the life of faith and will not fail to accomplish its purpose.“2 These are two separate views on scripture – the first dictates a funnel through which all knowledge ought to pass before getting to the individual for critical thought. The second allows for further investigation and critical thought over time without assuming that we have reached an absolute truth through one single method of interpretation – although never denying the existence of absolute truth.
What we will be dealing with here is inerrancy – not as a tongue and cheek assessment, but to lay forth some honest questions that arise when confronted by this method of interpreting scripture.
The Inerrancy of the Original Manuscripts
One of the most popular positions taken on inerrancy is the claim that the Bible is inerrant in its original manuscripts. But this does not account for those interpretations of the Bible that follows. As anyone who studies scripture knows, the Bible comes in many different interpretations. One only need to reference a Biblical equivalence chart to see how this could play out in the average Christian’s study life.
Left: "word for word" | Right: Capturing what the author meant (Biblical Equivalence Chart) - Thompson, David L. "Bible Study That Works". (Anderson, In: Francis Asbury Press, 1994.) p.24.
Just for brevity, let’s take the New American Standard Bible versus the New International Version. The example here is from the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke Chapter 10, but more specifically, Luke 10:33.
LUKE 10:33 (NASB)
But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion,
LUKE 10:33 (NIV)
But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
The NASB’s translation says “compassion” and the NIV’s says “pity.” So, which is it – compassion or pity? The meaning of pity has changed. Instead of its intentional use, to mean compassion, it now connotes more apathy then it does sympathy or empathy – as in “a pitiful excuse.” This may not highlight an inherent problem with the interpretation, but it does underscore an issue with semantics. Although the Bible’s meaning never changes, cultures do, and therefore do the languages of cultures.
So what? Do we just assume that the language within the Bible is something that can span across cultures and time with the help of the Holy Spirit? If so, then why even worry about coming up with the same translations? After all, if this were true, wouldn’t those people and denominations within the King James Only Movement maintain a purer doctrine of inerrancy? If not, what happens in between translations, if someone gets their personal doctrine wrong because they picked up the translation that doesn’t best jive with their dialect, are they destined to hell? These, along with other questions often challenge the doctrine of inerrancy and multiple translations.
The Inerrancy of the Original Manuscripts
One of the most popular positions taken on inerrancy is the claim that the Bible is inerrant in its original manuscripts. The first question that comes to mind is what happens when the original manuscripts are not available – because they aren’t. The simple fact is that the original manuscripts for the New or Old Testaments are not available – most say they probably do not exist anymore, they’re gone forever. Are we to trust that the current manuscripts are just as pure as the originals? What about the marginal notes written on the older manuscripts – are those from the author or copyist?
One of the most interesting questions to consider and research is how Jesus used Scripture during his ministry. This topic has a lot to say about the translation of the Old Testament used in the Christian bible. “In Jesus’ day, Hebrew was no longer generally understood by the people. The people spoke Aramaic. Therefore, Jesus taught in Aramaic. In worship services a translator would paraphrase the Hebrew Scripture passage into the language of the people. He did not give a literal translation but paraphrased it so that it would make the most sense to the hearers – something like Eugene Peterson’s lovely paraphrase of the Bible, The Message. Out of this practice a written version of the Aramaic finally came together in the fourth century. It contains paraphrases that were used in Jesus’ day mixed with later material from the first four centuries. These documents are called the Targums.”3
In addition to the Hebrew translation of the Old Testament, it is well known that the translation of the Old Testament most used by the apostles was the Septuagint. The Septuagint was the Koine Greek translation of the Old Testament in the Hebrew language. This, then, also gives some evidence that Jesus and the Apostles approved of the use of this translation. So, here is our problem: which translation should be used? The Septuagint was used by the Apostles, but there are also Hebrew translations of the Old Testament that are available, and they predate the Septuagint. But, then the Targums were written after Jesus’ ministry, and they expound a cultural dialect that could not be captured by the Hebrew or Septuagint. If not any one of the translations, how much of each, or when should one use the other?
The fact is that Biblical inerrancy has a lot of strikes against itself when it comes to a clear answer to both the what and how. If we are to assume the inerrancy simply on faith without critically testing it, we would being doing a disservice to ourselves and, to be honest, all of humanity. Nowhere in the Bible does it claim that it is inerrant. It simply says that it is “God-breathed.” How “God-breathed” equates to inerrant, I am unsure. The only inerrant thing that one could argue to ever have walked the earth was Jesus, who is the Word of God and not the word of God. The Word of God came from and is God; the word of God came from man and simply allows us to know of all things necessary for salvation and holy living. The former gifts us salvation for our faith in Him, the latter lets us know of our salvation in Him. The former died and rose again, the latter tells us of that event. The former is inerrant, the latter only infallible.
1Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine. (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press., 1994). p. 90.
2McKim, DK, Westminster dictionary of theological terms, Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.
3Stassen, Glen H., David P. Gushee, Kingdom Ethics, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003.) p23-24.
7 Dear friends, we should love each other, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has become God’s child. And so everyone who loves knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love to us: He sent his only Son into the world to give us life through him. 10 True love is God’s love for us, not our love for God. He sent his Son as the way to take away our sins.
11 That is how much God loved us, dear friends! So we also must love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us. If we love each other, God’s love has reached its goal—it is made perfect in us.
1 John 4:7-12
“God is love” is a phrase that is often reversibly mistaken. As inadvertently as it seems, many try to turn the meaning around and say that “love is God” by assuming that we can do as we wish and then in the end God’s all consuming love will save us from Hell. But that is a misguided position. In this case we are told that God defines love, and implicitly we are told that love is not the defining trait of God. That is to say that love is simply the nature of God – it is a defining trait of God.
Because God is the defining trait of true love, then, true love is Godly – true love is love that originates and comes from God. Therefore, anyone who does not know true love does not know God. The converse is true as well: anyone who knows God knows true love because the true love is the love we express as a reflection of the love God first expressed toward us. We love others simply because God first loved us. True love is love created by God.
So what does true love look like? The best way for the average individual to understand what true love is would be to refer to a model that can be visualized. That model is Christ. Now, we are assuming that Christ was very God and very man while he was on this earth. This understanding of the trinity equates the essence of the Father with the essence of the Son, with the essence of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, Jesus, who is the Son of God, is also God, as is the Spirit.
To understand this better, picture the economy of a country existing with only three commodities: corn, fuel, and a car, and their monetary system only consisting of three copper coins. Now assume that corn can be bought with “copper-coin A,” fuel can be bought with “copper-coin B,” and the car with “copper-coin C.” There are three distinct purposes for three distinct coins. But when you melt those three coins down into one you simply have a lump of copper. Similarly, Christ, the Spirit and the Father have three distinct purposes, but in all actuality, they are all the same at their fundamental level – they are all God.
Because God is love and Christ is God, Christ is also love. Christ was God’s love in action. Therefore, to really know what true love is, we must ask ourselves “what does God’s love look like?” The answer is Christ – Christ is what God’s love looks like. So, logically we need to ask “what did the love of Christ look like?”
The object of God’s love is the world. John 3:16 says:
16 Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him would not be lost but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world. He did not send him to judge the world guilty, but to save the world through him.
Simply put, He sent Christ as the means of salvation because He loved the world so much. Like Christ, we are to give ourselves, our own lives so that the world can have eternal life. This is not an active call for martyrdom, per se, but to point out the objective of Christians’ time here on earth – to give ourselves to those activities so that those in the world might find Christ.
Jesus was sent to save the world, not to condemn it. And like Christ, we are called to sit peaceably, making sure we do not point fingers at those we see sinning. We are not to simply try to guilt someone to repentance out of our own passion for Christ – we are called to simply let the Holy Spirit work. What many Christians seem to feel the need to do here is to create a Christian culture that shields them from the world. But that is not following the pattern of Christ. Christ went out into the world – so much so that those focused on following rules instead of being virtuous condemned Him for spending so much time with sinners. This in itself calls us to go out into the world with the goal of bringing others to Christ – whether it be in our own churches or not.
This can only be done by the shedding the individualistic focus of ministry and Christian living and an adoption of a more community-focused church. This is not to say that the goal is an increase in numbers, but that there needs to be a shift in focus from coming to church on Sundays and Wednesdays as the main task demanded of an individual or family by the church to becoming a tight-knit community that shares an intimate encounter on a frequent basis – so much so that we hold each other accountable by our consensus of the authoritative interpretation of Scripture. Yes, as individuals we can be Christ to others, but as the collective whole, as a community, we, as a church, are, theologically and realistically, the reflection of Christ, and therefore the love of God that was presented in the life of Christ.
Then, brethren, because Christ was God’s love in action, and we are now manifest by Christ, we must also be God’s love in action by reflecting the love that Christ showed while He was on this earth. We do this by giving ourselves up, as Christ gave His life – yes, even if it means death – so that the world can experience salvation if they so choose. But we do this in such a way that we do not condemn the world and point our fingers at those choosing likewise. We do this in such a way that we let go and allow the Holy Spirit to work beyond us. And the most effective way to do this is to shed the idea that righteousness is a personal trait by striving to make the target of the entire community a righteous community.
As I sit here eating my Cheerios, I cannot help but to wonder why there is no sense of community in today’s evangelical churches. Eastern Orthodox Christianity puts emphasis on the journey, as opposed to the Western’s emphasis being put on the experience. We could learn a lot from focusing more on the journey. After all, that is what it is all about. And to be honest, putting the emphasis on experience seems like an egotistical way of worshiping God. If the emphasis were drawn upon the journey, there would be an actual demand for a community of Christians. Essentially, it would be returning to the lifestyle of the early Christians mentioned in the book of Acts. Who knows, maybe with a more centered focus dependent upon the structure of community we could get out of this rut of religiousness, blame and sentimentality.
I can’t help but to think that there is a connection between a lack of focus on community and a church with a weakened discipleship program. This is not how it was originally meant to be. Jesus, in the beatitudes, taught us the ethic by which we ought to live as disciples. Disciples living out these virtues necessarily come together in community. Moreover, living out the beatitudes necessarily leads to troubles because we are to be associated with the diseased and the downtrodden.
Although Jesus said blessed are the poor in Luke and Matthew, he does not mean that we have to be poor to participate in the kingdom. He is simply alluding to the idea that we should be completely and solely dependent upon Him to provide for our needs – both spiritual and economic. Thus, themes throughout the Gospels point to the fact that it is probably better that someone be poor. It is very easy to grow economically independent from God when you already have your basic needs met – yes, I said basic. So, a Christian does not need to be poor, but it is really hard for them to not stumble if they are not living simply. The idea of being dependent upon each other and the church is a part of the call, but seemingly foreign to today’s churchgoers.
Jesus said: blessed are the meek. To be meek simply means willing and opened to accepting correction from others – to be gentle toward others in times of stress. Something that is often seen in “Christian” communities today is the quoting of Matthew 7:1-5 when others try to correct, or others are corrected. Although this seems like an easy out, the actual meaning gets twisted. Jesus is saying here that we are to be slow to judge others (v. 1-5). And in verse 6 (in an ancient Jewish fashion) he finalizes it by explaining that if after we’ve removed the plank from our eye and our correction or judgment is not accepted, then “…do not give to dogs what is holy….” It is necessary to on some level to be meek if we want to be in a community, and it is necessary for those in a community to, in fact, be meek. Otherwise, at one time or another, they’re simply going to run out of friends.
The final beatitude (and by far not the last) that indicates a necessary focus on community is when Jesus tells us “blessed are those that hunger and thirst for righteousness.” What is peculiar here is that our understanding of the English word “righteousness” conveys a rude expression of what the original word really means. Stassen and Gushee in their book Kingdom Ethics explains it well:
Because our culture is individualistic, we think of righteousness as a virtue of an individual person. And because our culture is possessive, we think of it as something an individual possesses. But righteousness an individual possesses is self-righteousness. And that is exactly what the Gospel says we cannot have.
The word Jesus uses here means a delivering justice - one that rescues and releases the oppressed. In addition to the delivering justice, the word also means a community-restoring justice – one that restores the powerless and the outcasts to their rightful place in covenant community. So, another way to interpret this beatitude is: blessed are the ones who hunger and thirst for a justice that delivers and restores others into covenant community.
Stassen, Glen H., David P. Gushee. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in a Contemporary Context. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003. p.38-47.
Discipleship and community are one in the same. That is to say that you cannot focus simply on one and not the other. If you have community, you must have discipleship and if you have discipleship, you must have community. Thus in the beatitudes, Jesus was saying that as disciples we are to focus our time on bringing on the kingdom – assuring that God’s delivering and community-restoring justice is implemented throughout the world. Thus the receivers of this justice, necessarily, are the poor, oppressed and downtrodden. And once we shift our focus to the unfortunate in our localities, God restores us to covenant community – allowing us to become disciples only if we accept the challenge to be open and receptive to correction from those within the community. Ω