I GOT A TOUGH QUESTION THIS WEEK.
It was about some of the Apostle Paul’s seemingly unChristlike attitudes and bad advice.
The writer didn’t ID which ones. He didn’t need to.
- Paul sent runaway slaves back to their slave masters. Philemon
- He told women to cork it in church and let men do the talking. 1 Corinthians 14:34
- And he stopped a hair short of calling gay people perverts. Romans 1:26-27, nicknamed “the clobber passage”
The writer asked this:
“In my mind, the implications of this are pretty big. What does it mean for how we view scripture? And if scripture is not the infallable word of God, then there are not many churches or ministries that would accept my membership if I wouldn’t be able to agree with the normal evangelical statement of faith. Do you have anything that would help me as I wrestle through this?”
Yes I do.
My friend left the church
A good friend of mine left the church he attended over this very issue.
The pastor taught that Paul got it wrong on several key social issues, and that Paul was reflecting attitudes in his own time and culture. And the preacher added that Paul’s attitudes are not a good fit for our day and time.
Even most evangelicals seem to agree that Paul’s advice that runaway slaves go back to their slave masters is advice they would not recommend to anyone enslaved today. And Paul’s attitudes toward women isn’t something that’s going to go over particularly well in most Christian households with women. Including the households of conservative evangelicals.
Some churches go so far as to say Paul got it wrong on homosexuality as well. I think most folks today who know and love homosexual family members and friends understand that homosexuality is often not a choice and would not be the choice the person would make given the hostility they face.
I’m guessing the writer thinks Paul missed the mark on these three points. I won’t argue that. I’ll just tell you what I advised him.
“If you find yourself agreeing with the idea that there’s a lot of humanity recorded in the scripture because humans have been involved in preserving it and copying it for millennia, you are going to find yourself out of sync with the teachings and sermons of many in evangelical and mainline churches.
I told him if he can find a church with engaging preaching, music that doesn’t break the ears, and people who treat him kindly, he should consider going to that church.
“Go to that church even if you don’t agree with what the preacher teaches about eternal security or free will or who’s going to heaven and who’s going to hell and whether or not you have to tithe. Don’t flaunt your differences. But don’t deny them either.
When you find yourself needing to talk about what you believe, keep the conversation upbeat. Don’t raise your voice or call the other people idiots even though you know they are. Just go to church and listen to God’s spirit speak to you there. Be kind to the people around you and if the music is too loud, move as far away from the speakers as you can.”
We’re not likely to find a church whose teachings we agree with on every important subject.
In fact, I’m not sure how important it is to find a church like that. But I’m convinced it’s important to find one that keeps us thinking and searching for what is true and that allows us to let go of ideas we’ve outgrown as we’ve matured in the faith and learned more about what it means to follow Jesus.
What about the Bible?
The writer wanted to know if this less than traditional approach undermines the divinity within scripture.
I’ll be thinking about that for a while.
In the meantime, a word of advice from my seminary theology prof: Shepherds didn’t go to Bethlehem to worship the feeding trough that held Jesus. They went to worship Jesus.
We don’t worship the Bible, which contains the story of Jesus. That would make it an idol. We worship Jesus .
Are there mistakes in the Bibles we hold in our hands?
Sure. Need me to point out a few? I’m working with Numbers now. That writer seemed to need a calculator. Or perhaps the numbers got miscopied sometime during the past 3,000 years.
Do you think?
Whatever may be lacking in today’s copies of the Bible, I would expect God’s Spirit to make up the difference…at least on the most important points:
- Love God.
- Love People.
Anyone who feels satisfied with where they are on that is running this race far ahead of me.