Appointing Elders, A Puritan Tradition


Pilgrim Fathers disembarking from Europe, by Robert Weir

The Churches of Christ in which I grew up, appointed elders in three different ways.

  1. One group cited the commands to Timothy and Titus to appoint elders with specific qualifications, and had preachers appoint elders in congregations. They either had the preacher nominate and appoint the elders,
  2. or they had the congregation nominate, and the preacher appointed the elders.
  3. Another group appointed elders by congregational vote.
  4. Yet another group had elders choose their associate elders.

When it comes to church organization, the Churches of Christ use the principle of Command, Example and Necessary Inference. This way of interpreting the Bible originated in the 1500s during the Protestant revolt against the Roman Catholic dominance of Europe, which had roots in Switzerland with John Calvin and John Knox. It was called the Regulative Principle: If one can find

  1. a clear Command,
  2. or a specific Example of how to accomplish a biblical command,
  3. or if one can Infer from an example that there must have been a specific command,

then that limited how the current church could accomplish certain tasks commanded in the New Testament, or how the current church could be organized.

The Churches of Christ use the Regulative Principle when arguing against the use of a piano, organ or guitar in worship.

Preacher: Paul said to sing and make melody in the heart. Where?

Congregation: In the heart.

Preacher: On the piano?

Congregation: No.

Preacher: Where?

Congregation: In the heart.

They believe this scripture, according to the Regulative Principle, limits their churches to singing and making melody in the heart. They do not use the term Regulative Principle, a term used only by the Presbyterians, Christian Reformed Churches, Anabaptists and Baptists. Instead the Churches of Christ use the term Command, Example and Necessary Inference, or CENI for short.

According to Church of Christ theology, one only needs CENI for the Work, Worship, and Organization of the Church. For anything else, one is relatively freer to obey God’s commands. (Why this is, remains a mystery.) Alexander Campbell and the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ formed their first Missionary Society in 1849 and sent out their first missionaries to Liberia and Jamaica in the 1850s. The Missionary Society voted to support the northern Union in 1863 in the Civil War. The Churches of Christ, besides being mostly in the slave owning south, opposed the missionary society based on the Regulative Principle: there was no CENI for a missionary society in the New Testament Church. Whenever the apostle Paul wanted to do a missionary trip he asked specific congregations to donate directly to his mission trip, period. Thus CENI would limit all missionary money to be raised in this way. No missionary society was permitted to raise money and appoint and send out missionaries. This created the first major split in the Restoration Movement. At the same time the Churches of Christ split with the Christian Church and Disciples of Christ over worshiping with organs, and slavery.

The Churches of Christ, however, do not appeal to CENI or the Regulative Principle when appointing elders. The clear command  from the Apostle Paul to the evangelists Timothy and Titus was: Timothy and Titus were to appoint elders (and deacons) in each city based on specific criteria which the Apostle Paul outlined. (The criteria seem designed to eliminate alcoholics, narcissists and borderline personalities from serving as elders.)

Where did the tradition of congregations choosing their own elders come from? Well, again, it came from the Presbyterian Church via Switzerland, and John Calvin and John Knox.


John Knox

The Roman Catholic Church dominated Europe from 400 years after Christ was born until 1400 years after Christ was born, 1,000 years. Priests (and nuns) were nominated by each congregation, to be sent away to seminaries, and then appointed by the bishop. Bishops were appointed by the archbishop, and archbishops were appointed by the Pope, the Pope was elected by the archbishops. Nobody was allowed to baptize or perform weddings or funerals except priests appointed by the bishop.

Within 100 years after the printing press was invented in Holland, city stat
es in nearby Switzerland began to throw out their Roman Catholic bishops
and appoint their own bishops, priests, elders and deacons, appointed by the town councils which were democratically elected by the men of the city. This was not only so that Bern, Geneva, Basel, and Zurich could obey the Bible exclusively, but to keep the Roman Catholic Church out of their cities, and to keep control over their own lives. It was also a huge money saver, saving 10% taxes that used to go to the Pope in Rome.


Ulrich Zwingli

The Congregationalists in England copied the organizational format they saw in Geneva, Switzerland, where John Calvin taught (and Scotland where another Swiss man, Ulrich Zwingli, taught). They brought it back to England and refused to let the local bishop of the Church of England appoint their preachers. They eventually emigrated to the United States as the Puritan Pilgrim Fathers, and so we inherited their staunch Protestant tradition. New England towns still have annual meetings where city officials are elected and major local issues are debated. 

The hard line Churches of Christ seem to think they can ignore the way elders were appointed in the early New Testament Church, yet point their finger at denominations who change the way the early church did things. Churches of Christ do not seem to care about Command, Example and Necessary Inference unless it supports their traditions. As soon as it doesn’t support their traditions then they can find all kinds of excuses, excuses that they will not allow any other group to use. 

The main pillar of hard line Church of Christ doctrine is tradition. We do what we have always done. We do what our parents did. That is what gets us to heaven. Not what Jesus or the apostles asked us to do. No! We do what our parents asked us to do to be pleasing to God. We remain faithful to our group.

In pursuing the Regulative Principle the hard line churches of Christ have traded the gospel for a mess of pottage. They have taken the beautiful good news that God has forgiven us of hating our neighbors, and coveting our neighbor’s good fortune, and have traded it for a formula for getting to heaven, and a formula for designing the perfect replica of the early congregation.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Primitive Baptists and the Churches of Christ

shape note hymn.jpgI was reading up on the Primitive Baptists this week and was astounded at how parallel their history is to the Churches of Christ:

1. The Primitive Baptists sing acapella, because that is the way the Scriptures teach them. They use shape note hymn books, similar to the Churches of Christ hymn books up into the 1970s. (African American Primitive Baptists have embraced instrumental music, but the mostly white congregations are still acapella.)


The Sunday service at Camp Creek Primitive Baptist Church in Lilburn, Georgia September 30, 2012. The church, which was formed in 1823 is the oldest active church in Gwinnett County, Georgia and currently has around 70 members. Pastor John Melvin, who is also the Assistant District Attorney in Deklab County, has been pastor of the church for fourteen years.

2. The Primitive Baptists separated themselves from other Baptists around 1827 over missionary societies and Sunday schools. The Churches of Christ separated themselves from the Christian Church and Disciples of Christ, around 1840 over missionary societies, and instrumental music. There is a small group of Churches of Christ who do not believe in Sunday Schools, because that divides the congregation.

3. Priesthood of all believers (no ordained clergy).

4. Belief they are the One True Church established in 33A.D.

Other similarities are that a minority of members practice women’s headcovering during worship. Men are the only ones allowed to preach. Unleavened bread is used for communion.

footwashingThe main difference between the Primitive Baptists and the Churches of Christ is the practice of footwashing during communion, and the teaching of Calvinism: Primitive Baptists affirm all 5 of the primary Calvinist doctrines: Total hereditary depravity (we are too sinful to be able to choose God), Unconditional election (there is nothing we have to do to be chosen by God), Limited atonement (God only forgives those he chooses to forgive), Irresistible grace (Once God has chosen us, we cannot resist becoming a believer), Perseverance of the saints (We can never fall from grace, once we have been chosen by God).

The Churches of Christ deny all 5 doctrines of Calvinism and believe:

1. We are born innocent, and are part of God’s kingdom up until we choose to sin (referred to as reaching the “age of accountability”).

2. We have to choose God after hearing the gospel.

3. All those who choose and obey God are forgiven. Those who do not are not forgiven.

4. God never overpowers our choice to be in relationship with him, or not to be in relationship with him.

5. We can fall from grace if we do not continue in the faith, or we can “make shipwreck of the faith”.

Some people refer to the Churches of Christ doctrines as Pelagianism, after an early church father who emphasized human choice and works in obedience to God as essential to salvation.

The reason I mention how similar the development of the Primitive Baptist group is to the Churches of Christ, is to show that what the Churches of Christ believe is a unique return to the New Testament roots of Christianity, is not unique, but common to other groups developing at the same time, from the same milieu. Influences were:

1. The Middle Ages and the Holy Roman Empire.

2. The Enlightenment: emphasizing the intellect and scientific empirical, reproducible research.

3. The invention of the printing press.

4. The Protestant Reformation.

5. The development of democracy.

6. The development of congregationalism over hierarchy.

7. The American Declaration of Independence.

8. The isolation of the American frontier.

9. American bootstrap ideology.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Who Does God Choose?

Recently my mother of 86 years died and I went home for the funeral. In addition to the normal sadness of such an event, coming from a missionary family of a sect, and having been withdrawn from (disfellowshipped, shunned) years ago, there were the usual sparks and conflicts.

View from Mom's grave

View from Mom’s grave

I learned my brother had resigned from being an elder because two of his children had left  the hard core churches of Christ, both children leaning in a Calvinist direction.

This is sad for me because I don’t get Calvinism. Calvinism is one of the least attractive sectors of Christianity for me.

John Calvin had a harsh father who insisted Calvin study law and become a lawyer, even though Calvin had no desire to do so. Calvin got his law degree, but instead of practicing law, he became a protestant preacher, the Reformation having taken hold in Switzerland a generation before him.

If Calvin lived today he would probably be described by a psychotherapist as having Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder or simply as an Obsessive. Obsessives are concerned with rules, guilt and harshness, over gentleness and functionality. The punishment is more important to them than the maturing of the person being punished. The older son in the Prodigal Son story was an obsessive. Obsessives are described as bitter and perfectionistic, often sickly, with families that don’t like them. Their marriages burn out quickly.

john calvinCalvin was fascinated by the writings of an early church father named Augustine, who lived 400 years after Christ, and 1100 years before Calvin.   Early church fathers were irritated by Augustine’s teachings on humanity’s depravity and predestination. Augustine and Calvin taught that God is all powerful (“sovereign”), and that humans are completely weak (and evil, depraved), so weak that we cannot choose to follow God. God must infuse us with his Spirit. And we cannot refuse His Spirit once he has chosen us, because we are completely weak compared to God. Once God has chosen us we cannot fall from His grace. And God chooses us before we are born, to be eternally saved, or eternally lost.

Augustine by Antonio Rodriquez

Augustine by Antonio Rodriquez

We, as humans, are not permitted to complain about this arrangement, because humans originally sinned through Adam, and therefore we are all guilty of sin, and all deserve damnation, because all sin. Calvin asked why should those who deserve damnation be permitted to complain that some get chosen to be forgiven? All deserve damnation. Therefore nobody should be allowed to complain about it.

The whole of Calvinism rests on the doctrine that all humans sinned through Adam and therefore are so evil they are unable to choose God. We are not permitted to complain about the justice and fairness of everyone being condemned to hell. Nor are we permitted to complain that some select individuals are chosen by God to be forgiven and regenerated, to show the world that God loves us.

Wow! That seems evil to me! And that is not the kind of God I want to get close to, have a relationship with, and worship. If that is the plan of salvation, then I believe God has a PR problem, and a morale problem.

Why would Augustine and Calvin come up with such a God, and more to my current point, why would my nephews be attracted to that doctrine? I think because they all share one factor: they all had harsh fathers. They had very little control over their lives as children, fear being the prime motivation, and having a God that matched this arbitrariness and harshness makes total emotional sense to them.

I was also harsh on my children, which they like to remind me of. They tell me that having been raised in a fundamentalist sect is not an excuse for me to have raised them harshly. They have a point.

Our pictures of God are formed before our logic develops. Our pictures of God are formed from our early experiences with our primary caretakers.

There are two or three forms of Calvinism and not-Calvinism: 

  1. Strict Calvinism (several of the divisions of Baptists are strict Calvinists, as are the Presbyterians)
  2. Arminianism (a little more free will involved in choosing God). John and Charles Wesley, Methodist, Episcopals, and the Pentecostal movement embraced Arminianism.
  3. If you’re not a Calvinist you probably believe in one of the forms of Pelagianism.
  4. The Eastern Orthodox Church never respected Augustine, therefore never taught predestination.
  5. Universalism came out of Calvinism, teaching that since everyone sinned through Adam, everyone will be saved through Christ, to combat the ugly version of Calvinism where God wants to show wretched humanity how loving he is by choosing some of us, but not others.

When I have confronted Calvinists with the illogicality of their theology, they respond without logic. They reply: “It’s a mystery. Only God understands it completely. We are limited human beings, limited by space and time, we cannot see the big picture.”

In other words they admit that it makes no sense. But they want a pass card, a get out of jail free card, which I am not willing to give them. Are you telling me that God and his prophets wrote an entire Bible to reason with us, and made us logical beings, but wants us to suspend that logic and accept that we cannot voluntarily read the Bible and accept the gospel ourselves? That the Bible is actually only a tool for those who have been chosen? That’s not what the Bible claims to be. That is not what the gospels claim. No. Jesus tried to convince people, and that is what I try to do. If God is in the habit of not trying to convince people, but just zapping them with the Holy Spirit, then why is the example he has given us, a book of arguments to convince us?

Yeah, it’s not logical, and no, you do not get a free pass card.


Servetus burned at the stake under Calvin’s rule

Predestination makes God out to be somewhat evil. And that is unacceptable to me. Predestination has turned more Christians into atheists than any other doctrine. If you are teetering, then just read a history of the life of John Calvin. He could have taught Hitler a few things. The only other doctrine that has turned a comparable number of Christians into atheists is the warped doctrines against sexual desire, also originating with Augustine of Hippo.

After my mother’s funeral we cleaned out the house for my father, throwing things out and saving some mementos, especially the photographs. The next day my father emailed myself and my daughter that we were not invited to his birthday dinner. He said he had suspended the withdrawal (shunning) rules for the funeral, but that was over and he couldn’t suspend the rules for a birthday dinner. Almost enough to convince one that God is a Calvinist!

Posted in Evangelical Church, Faith and Works, Hell, Holy Spirit, Salvation | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Sex and Evangelicals

99% of Fundamentalists and Evangelicals have been opposed to having sex before marriage. “Save yourself for marriage” has been the watchword. They point to passages of scripture that teach about marriage. And they point to verses that condemn “fornication.”  Fornication is a term that is used in the Greek portion of the Bible as a catch -all for any kind of disapproved sexual activity. But there aren’t a lot of verses that define what that disapproved sexual activity is. The apostle Paul disapproved of homosexuality, adultery (sex with someone married to someone else), prostitution, lewdness (undefined) and uncleanness (perhaps referring to Jewish uncleanness laws in the Law of Moses).

Notice the lack of mention of masturbation. In fact nobody in the Old or New Testaments seemed to care enough about masturbation to even mention it, even though masturbation is the most common  sexual activity in the world by far, practiced by 75% of the population, married people masturbating more than singles.

The apostle Paul seems to be relying on the Hebrew Bible to define sexual sin. The Hebrew Bible condemns bestiality, prostitution, male homosexuality, cross dressing, rape, and adultery (capital offenses), sex during a woman’s period, and sex before marriage (less severe offenses).

The punishment for sex before marriage was that the offending couple had to get married, or the young man had to pay a fine to the young woman’s father.

Most of these laws were addressed to male heads of households: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.” No commandment to not covet thy neighbor’s husband.

The custom in the surrounding areas was for a man to buy his wife from the father of the bride. The parents of the bride were supposed to guarantee that she was a virgin. For this reason young people were not permitted to date for most of the period covered by the Hebrew Bible. Marriages were arranged.

This was very practical. If a young woman became pregnant, who would take care of her and her child? Forming a responsible society that took family and children seriously guaranteed that Judaism became a major force in history. Children were viewed as a great blessing. Small families were seen to not have been blessed.

There is one book that is an anomaly in the Hebrew Bible that discusses passionate sex, and that is the Song of Solomon. It is a play, perhaps a musical, with a chorus that speaks lines and a young woman with dark skin being prepared for marriage to a young handsome king. Full of lusty passages, it is used by evangelicals and especially pentecostals as an allegory of the passionate love of Christ for the church. It falls down however, when taken in the perspective of the real Solomon: who had ambassador-wives (300) and concubines (700), 1,000 women he had sex with. So this woman in this play is sharing her husband with 1,000 other women.

In the New Testament there is no mention of multiple wives as in the Hebrew Bible. And evangelicals wax eloquent about Jesus quoting the creation story (Matt 19) to tell us that marriage was created for one man with one woman: How else can a woman give herself sexually to her husband if she cannot trust that she is his one and only?

In the New Testament Greek portion of the Bible, several of the sexual and marital rules from the Law of Moses are repeated, but there is a major shift: women are starting to be mentioned as having equal rights in a marriage. The gospel of Mark reports Jesus talking about a woman divorcing her husband.   Paul says that men do not have sexual control of their own bodies, but their wives do. Wives should not deprive their husbands of sex and husbands should not deprive their wives of sex.

Conservative Christian advice columnists have repeatedly stated that the more partners a woman has before marriage, the more difficult it is for her to relax and enjoy sex with her husband later. About 3% of the population waits until marriage. While some of the cautions may be true, they leave out the fact that those who now remain virgins until marriage are often dysfunctional, with major lack of differentiation from their parents. They are emotionally reactive and, from what I have seen, end up having the worst levels of bickering with their partners after marriage. So virginity does not guarantee the marital bliss they were promised, and they feel painfully betrayed for having believed this evangelical story.

What then is God’s will for unmarried people today about sex? I cannot answer that question.

However I can make some observations: The only group of Christians successfully raising children who are virgins until marriage, and whose marriages are relatively happy are blue collar fundamentalists and pentecostals. Key word: blue collar.  In blue collar working class families (construction workers, technicians, food industry, transportation) it is fine to have babies at age 19 years old. So to get married at 18 years old is encouraged, and to have 4 children is also encouraged. These blue collar families tend to support 1950s values: an obedient wife who stays home, mostly, is poor, and devotes herself to raising lots of children. The entire congregation becomes a support system to encourage these young teens, and then young married adults with lots of children.

Mark-RegnerusMark Regnerus wrote that evangelical teens have the same amount of sex as teens in the general population, 97% have sex before marriage, but they have more shame and guilt about it. The average evangelical teen starts having sex at 15 years old. Why? Because most evangelical parents will not condone their children getting married until they are 25 years old. Ten years of virginity is unfathomable to these teens, so everyone just looks the other way. Most teens stop attending church.

Few self-respecting upper middle class families can tolerate their 19 year old son or daughter getting married. They see them as being condemned to a life of blue collar poverty. Status is powerful in American society. College is shamed into our children’s psyches from way before first grade. Nothing can get in the way of a college education: not marriage, not pregnancy, not sex and not our evangelical faith. If an evangelical girl gets pregnant, 95% of them get an abortion, even though they believe that abortion is murdering a baby. (The same percentage of women in evangelical churches have had abortions as in the general population.) Dropping out of college to become a poor futureless mother is too much of a shame burden for evangelical middle class and upper middle class women, and their parents are often the ones who urge them to get an abortion, against all their values.

DiefendorfSarah Diefendorf did her PhD thesis on small support groups of young men wanting to remain virgins until marriage. These groups occur in intense churches who meet at least 4 hours per week, and who encourage extremely traditional 1950s values. She said the the small support groups were powerful, but ended abruptly at marriage. The men felt lost and confused about how to deal with their problems in marriage with no support group.

Sara Moslener wrote Virgin Nation, a book about how the sexual purity movements in evangelicalism is more about explaining our fears than about sexual purity.

So what is the answer? There probably is no one answer. But this is true: Our system is broken. The members of evangelical churches are too full of shame to be able to support each other around figuring out a sexual morality for today.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Toilets are Unbiblical

I grew up in a religious tradition, the Churches of Christ (Restoration Movement), that emphasized God’s original intent, for example:

1. God’s original intent for the church was a simple congregational group led by elders in every congregation. Therefore denominational hierarchy is unbibilical.

2. God’s original intent is one man for one woman, therefore divorce is unbiblical, as well as homosexuality and transgender.

3. Worship in the New Testament church was originally singing acapella accompanied by the heart, therefore any other instruments of music are unbiblical and unauthorized by God.

Using this logic I have discovered that the sit-down flush toilet is unbiblical.

crapperThe individual flush toilet is a fairly recent invention of humanity, originating in 1596, and becoming popular in the 1800s, and mass produced in England by a man named Thomas CrapperRoman Latrine. The Romans had a similar idea for their public latrines during the time of Christ, 2000 years ago. The Romans used a sit down arrangement in a row, with the normal holes for poop
ing and peeing, with running water below, that ran into the sewer lines. I’m sure this design lowered the disease rates in their major cities. The first water flushing latrines were used in the Indus Valley (Pakistan) in 2600 B.C., but flush toilets have been for richer societies for the most part, and the majority of people worldwide, even if they have flush toilets, use squat toilets in the floor of the bathroom.

Squat positionBefore the use of the flush toilet or the sit-down latrine, people squatted, usually above a pit latrine. Squatting, according to experts in scatology, is the healthiest way to poop, and, according to some theoscatologists (a new word I coined), is the original intent of God.  We were created to squat while pooping. The apostle Paul, when trying to persuade his readers of particular points in his theology sometimes appealed to Nature. Nature has taught us that our sit-down pooping is unhealthy for us.

Squat-toilet-with-tankFor instance hemorrhoids are a western phenomenon, only common in sit-down toilet societies. The position of sitting while defecating increases strain on the colon three hundred percent (yes, they measured the pressure in the colon for this statistic). Sit-down toilets, constipation and appendicitis have also been closely associated in western sit-down toilet societies, as has Crohn’s Disease, all of which are lower in non-sit-down societies.

Squatty PottyWhen I lived in Africa each home had a separate servant’s quarters with a bathroom. The shower and toilet in the servant’s quarters were all one contraption, the toilet bowl being buried level with the floor of the shower, requiring squatting for elimination. A chain was pulled for flushing, the water flowing through the shower head, and draining into the toilet bowl buried level with the floor.

So my conclusion is that God, in creating humans, originally intended us to squat while pooping. Any other method of pooping is unbiblical.

The Seventh Day Adventists have long regarded natural health
as something that God has commanded us to take seriously.

[Edit: The apostle Paul disapproves of homosexual sex in Romans chapter one, capping his disapproval with the words: “and received in themselves the due penalty for their error” (possibly referring to diseases associated with male homosexual sex). If evangelicals take these verses literally for today, then they should also take any practice that has been shown to increase disease, as a sinful practice: cigarette smoking, tobacco chewing, increased sugar and simple carbohydrate consumption, suntanning, and sitting on a toilet to defecate.]

One of the main problems with squatting while pooping is that pants get in the way. This could be why we never read of pants in the Bible, another innovation that has ruined our health and taken us away from God’s original plan for humanity.

I write this partially as humor, but also to challenge our thinking about what preconceptions we bring to the Bible when we read, and to think about God and the Bible from a broader perspective.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Why we Vote for Donald Trump


As the race for President heats up, many people are flocking to vote for Donald Trump because he has said that he will stop Muslims from immigrating to the U.S., and he will build a wall against Mexican immigration, and make the Mexican government pay for it. He trash talks his opponents, whether they be presidential hopefuls, or critics, threatening to both sue and to expand the libel laws to allow for more suing of critics. Trump has said that he will endorse water boarding for use in torturing prisoners of war for information, and will bomb the families of the leaders of ISIS.

police killingsThis has galvanized a large portion of the United States, mostly whites, who are now realizing that their long sleepy dominance of the U.S. is fast fading. As the numbers of non-European Americans has risen to 25%, and the country elected, what?, a black president, so have the stories of black people killed monthly by local police risen. Both the nation’s racial readiness, and the advent of cameras everywhere, has led to a new accountability for white dominated police departments. Whereas in the past the police could mete out whatever justice they wanted to the lowest rungs of society, now it is frowned upon, and liberal whites are shocked at what was going on all this time.

The middle class has been steadily shrinking, so parents have been urging their children to have a better chance of staying in the middle class by getting the all important college education, incurring huge college debt, averaging $35,000. Who has the most to lose with these changes in the U.S.? Blue collar America, especially white blue collar America. So Donald Trump appeals to the lowest, basest fears.

Jesus mentioned that hypocrites point out the sawdust in their brother’s eye while having a plank in their own eye. We project onto groups what we don’t want to admit is part of our own group. Are white people the problem? Surely not, we say. It has to be the immigrants! Statistically immigrants are much more law abiding than the general American public. Why? Because they have worked so hard to get here. They are more grateful, and they know to watch out more carefully what they do, because they are not from here.

Germany in the 1930s was in financial crisis with runaway inflation, and high Germany Wheelbarrow Moneyunemployment, with stories of going to the bakery to buy bread with a wheelbarrow full of almost worthless money. The people were scared. So they elected someone who demonized groups of people:  Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, mentally retarded people and the largest group: Jews. (For centuries Jews in Europe had been banned from owning land (farming) or being licensed in trades, like bakers, carpenters, blacksmiths, or leatherworkers. So Jews had gone into banking, clothing and jewelry in order to make a living. This created a stereotype of Jews in Europe, and an envy by those less fortunate or industrious. Hitler capitalized on the people’s fear, unemployment, projection and envy, and was elected to parliament. It took a few more years of maneuvering and jailing his opponents before he could be Prime Minister and finally Der Fuhrer.

RUSSIA-SYRIA-CONFLICT-PUTIN-IRANVladimir Putin has done the same thing in Russia recently, whipping up the Russian people’s fury against Ukraine and the United States as the economy and political power of Russia fades. Donald Trump is doing the same.

Who votes for Donald Trump?

1. The religious right.  Fundamentalists, pentecostals and evangelicals have traditionally been more authority-minded and authoritarian than the general public. They admire people who use the military, and are often the first to encourage their children to join the military. They confuse nationalism with Christianity and believe they are loyal Christians when they go off to fight for U.S. interests.

2. Blue collar workers. People who have been marginalized by our society, starting work at minimum wage and barely getting a raise each year. Why would like to identify with someone who is rich, famous and claims to be able to make a profit.running-dick

3. White people who want America to stay white. When I was learning to read the reader we learned from was full of Dick, Jane, Sally and Spot. Now the readers are full of Juan, Immanuela, and Zenab. This panics those who want everything to go back to the 1950s when black people weren’t allowed to vote. Stop change! is the cry of poor white Americans.

but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them ?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them.

Luke 9

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Inspiration of the Bible: Questions we were not allowed to ask

bibleWhen thinking about the Inspiration of the Scriptures, we were allowed to ask:

  1. Who wrote this book or letter,
  2. To whom was it written,
  3. In what era of time was it written,
  4. What were the customs of the day?
  5. How much has the text been altered over the years when we compare different copies of the text? What is the probable original text?
  6. What was the goal of the writer? Of what concepts was he/she trying to convince his/her audience?

Questions we were not allowed to ask:

  1. How much does the author disagree with his contemporary Scripture authors? Does Paul disagree with James or with Jesus? Do any of the laws in the Law of Moses contradict each other? Is there a change in the status of women from the Old Testament to the New Testament?
  2. Did Jesus break or contradict the Law of Moses, or the books of wisdom?
  3. Did the prophets of the OT contradict each other? Did the concept of resurrection of the dead gradually develop over time (as N.T. Wright believes)n_t_-wright from no resurrection to a definite resurrection?“It is all the more surprising, then, to discover that, within the Bible itself, the hope of resurrection makes rare appearances, so rare that some have considered them marginal. Though later exegesis, both Jewish and Christian, became skilled at discovering covert allusions which earlier readers had not seen – a skill shared, according to the gospels, by Jesus himself – there is general agreement that for much of the Old Testament the idea of resurrection is, to put it at its strongest, deeply asleep, only to be woken by echoes from later times and texts.” N.T. Wright
  4. Was the author correctly reporting from the Spirit of God?
  5. Do I agree with the author?
  6. Can I find wisdom to lead my life in other literature outside the Bible?

Most fundamentalists say things like: “The Bible says…” And some of the biblical writers use similar phrases: “The law and prophets…”  What do the Scriptures say?” However, when one starts to say: “Paul says” or “Isaiah says” then we begin the long walk out of fundamentalism.

As fundamentalists and evangelicals, we were not allowed to question the inspiration of any part of Scripture. The Roman Catholic Church never had that perspective. They always viewed different parts of Scripture as having varying levels of inspiration. (Evangelicals do the same, by quoting their favorite scriptures and ignoring their not-so-favorites.) The liturgical churches usually ask the congregation to stand during the reading of the stories of Jesus, and sit during the reading of other parts of Scripture. Martin Luther, a Catholic priest who demanded that the Roman church repent and reform in the 15th century, was not shy in examining which books he thought had more inspiration than others in the Bible.

FowlerFaithHow does viewing the Bible as less than perfect impact a person’s faith?  If one is in James Fowler’s Stage 3 Faith, then questioning how deep a particular passage is inspired, may cause someone to lose their faith entirely. But if you are in Stage 5 it is refreshing and deepens your faith to examine how close to God’s Spirit you perceive the writer of a book in the Bible has come. We examine secular writers this way, why not then the writers of the Bible?

When the apostle Paul wrote his letters, he started with his credentials: “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” Then he worked on persuading his readers, pleading with them. He didn’t expect them to just accept everything he said as 100% inspired. He expected his readers to be convinced by his arguments. So are you convinced by all of Paul’s arguments? He was writing to churches 2,000 years ago. We are not the ones he was writing to, so the answer is probably no, we are not convinced by every single argument Paul makes. Some of his arguments sound odd and strange to us, not being familiar with the customs and beliefs of his day.

Hebrew scroll

The Torah

When the apostle Paul told Timothy that the OT Scriptures he had learned as a child were filled with the breath of God, and were profitable for teaching and would equip the man of God, he was talking about the Law of Moses, the books of wisdom and the prophets. The same books Paul said were “a mere shadow of the things to come,” (Col. 2:16-17) and the writer of Hebrews said were weak, fulfilled and fading away. (8:13)

No, we cannot say that Paul’s statement that the Scriptures were God-breathed means we can never disagree with the Scriptures. Paul freely showed how brighter revelations made much of the OT obsolete (and the religious leaders of his day hated him for it, accusing him of not believing that God had inspired Moses).  As evangelicals we are taught that Jesus fulfilled the Law, and did away with it  by bringing a better sacrifice and a better worship.


If we don’t have a fully inspired Bible, then there is a slippery slope to “anything goes.”


jonestown-451In fundamentalist churches we can find people who have justified anything and everything from adultery, multiple wives, child wives, wife-swapping, and even murder. Holding to the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures does not guarantee we will stay in the safe zone.

The apostle Paul wrote a wonderful passage, one of my favorites, to the Jews in Rome:

For it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them…So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised?  (Romans 2:13-15, 26)

 Paul reasons that our consciences should be attuned to God and keeping His will, and that it is not our circumcision (or even our baptism) that makes us Jews (or even Christians), but the way we act in daily life. Paul says that non-Jews, who had never had access to the 10 Commandments, could follow their consciences and end up keeping the 10 Commandments, and be counted as righteous before God.

Using that same logic, couldn’t people who don’t accept the full inspiration of every book of the Bible, still follow the principles of love and grace taught by Jesus? And wouldn’t God accept them as righteous?  
It is not the inspiration of Scripture, or even theology that ultimate demonstrates the grace of God in our hearts, but what shines forth from our schweit4actions. 

Albert Schweitzer
was a liberal in his theology, but he raised money and opened a hospital in western Africa because he saw a need, and was motivated by Jesus’ teachings to minister to those in need.

So if you were to ask yourself, how much of the NT writers do you agree with, what would be your answer? And would it shake or strengthen your faith?

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments