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August 30, 2004

I'm nearly done reading the Bible, I've about fifty pages to go. I'm currently in the midst of all these letters, about which I have some thoughts & questions...

The Gospels contain the story of the life and words of Jesus Christ himself, but these letters are essentially interpretations and (in some cases) additions to his teachings. Are the words in these letters, words not from Christ himself, to be taken as seriously as the quotes attributed to Christ in the Gospels? If so, why?

I'm also once again confused, as I was with parts of the Old Testament, about the selective nature of many Christian beliefs. In a few of the letters there is talk wives obeying or submitting to their husbands, which is a belief that I understand many Christians accept and live by. However, in one of the letters it also talks about how women should stay silent in church ("it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church") and in another letter it indicates that women should always wear headcoverings in church. There seems to be no difference in the way these things are written about in these letters, and I realize that in some Christian sects all of them are probably followed, but many Christian sects seem to follow the first law and ignore the last two. Where is the line? How does one know which rules to follow and which not to?

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Ah yes, Paul. It is important to remember that he was not writing to us in the 21st century, but to specific churches with specific needs. Head-coverings: The church Paul was writing to at the time (was it Corinthians? I forget) had a large number of female converts who had been temple prostitutes, and thus ha shaved heads. Apparently there were some judgemental attitudes and prejiduces in the church, so to solve the problem Paul wrote that women had to wear head-coverings. Voila: no one could tell whether you were bald or not, of "respectable" history or not. It allowed for equality in an immature church. Unfortunately, many people don't bother to learn a thing about the circumstances behind the letters.

As for the no talking in church, it has been suggested that, as many women entered into the church handicapped from lack of knowledge (women historically being uninvolved in "male" religious activites), they were continually asking questions, interrupting constantly. So Paul tells them to ask their husbands at home, lest church meetings begin to last hours and hours.

Just a few suggestions.

Anonymous nailed it. context context context.

Ok, but if you're going to use historical context as the reason to dismiss these "rules," can you not also use historical context to dismiss others? Perhaps there was also a problem back then with bossy wives, and thus the rule about female obediance, submission, and secondary statue to the man.

Personally, I think that we should consider historical context with regard to the whole Bible. However, you can't pick and choose which "rules" you are going to follow, and then dismiss the others based on historical context.

Yeah, you can use context for any purpose you want, I suppose. But I think you can pick and choose which rules to follow. Some rules become obsolete after awhile, but the BIG ONES are timeless.

Its like the US Constitution, it lays down broad rules that change very little, but the interpretation of those rules and the applications of them change all the time through the state and local laws.

So in this case, Paul's epistles are really just an interpretation and rules for application of the broad teachings of Jesus. He is addressing specific instances of conflict with judgments that he feels are best suited to those instances. But Paul was quite imperfect himself, so his epistles should be examined for imperfections as well. I think the best way to determine the efficacy of a rule or law is to challenge it, if it can withstand that challenge then it is still worth following. If it falls apart under fire, maybe its time has passed. That is just me though.

If that is the case, then doesn't it seem like the time has passed for the rules/laws regarding homosexuality and obediance of wives/submission of women?

And unlike the US Constitution, the Bible can't be amended to reflect modern life. Not that this would ever happen, but in some cases I don't think it'd be all that bad of an idea.

Was gonna jump on the homosexuality bandwagon, but Jef beat me to it.

Two other questions though:

1) So, which ones are the BIG ONES? How do we decide those if the Bible doesn't explicitly state, "To all who readeth, this rule is a BIG ONE and this rule be SMALL"?

2) If we can just pick and choose which rules to follow, then doesn't the Bible sorta become moot? I mean, I could run out and shag my neighbor's wife, but if I pick that rule as one of my rules not to follow, ain't no thing, right?

3) And finally, those rules don't just "become obsolete" as though they've reached their expiration date one day. WE, the readers and followers, decide that they're no longer applicable. So then my question again leads back to 1 and 2... Why do we decide that it's ok for some to no longer be applicable but still latch on to others (like the anti-homosexuality "rules")?

If that is the case, then doesn't it seem like the time has passed for the rules/laws regarding homosexuality and obediance of wives/submission of women?

Hell yeah it has, but now we're talking about convincing people of that fact instead of testing the fallibility of a text written by a bunch of people over hundreds of years.

1) So, which ones are the BIG ONES?

Actually that is quite explicit in the Gospel of Mark:

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good
answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"
29 "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: `Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your
strength.'
31 The second is this: `Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

It basically boils down to the Golden Rule.

So if Loving your neighbor and treating him as you would like to be treated is the greatest rule:

Why work so hard to withhold someone's right to marry whom he will? If it is wrong in the eyes of God, why do the moralists take the right of decision from Him to force their opinion?

No God is not so hateful, in my view, as to deny the love He has given to us. Sometimes, that love isn't politically right. However, we've now moved to a point where we need not worry about population issues and religious fear. Let people live as they desire, and reserve judgement, if there is any, to Him.

You are absolutely right, Saint. Why not? It is pretty clear that fear and hypocrisy rule many churches...but those churches are run by humans, who are very, very fallible.

The same sex marriage debate confuses and depresses me. I definitely have a viewpoint on this that differs from my denomination's "official" viewpoint. I have thought about leaving my denomination over this point of view. Prayed a lot about it. Realized, after talking to like minded church members that leaving only means that ignorance has won and I really need to hang in there and keep asking questions and advocating for change.

There are many things I don't understand about the issue. For example, some Christians say that homosexual marriage spells the end of "family values." But heterosexual affairs and divorce also crush their same "family values." Jimmy Swaggert gloated over the outing of Jim Bakker's affair, only to be "outed" himself years later for HIS affairs.

Unfortunately, there are Christians who strive to live like Christ. We don't hear about many of them. (Try Sojouners.net et al). And there are Christians who TALK about Christ but don't really understand what living like Christ REALLY means. And there are some Christians who try to use the church to satisfy their own egos/fill their own wallets/manipulate others.

In short, Christians exist on a spectrum. Just like EVERY OTHER GROUP in the world. You will meet some sincerely wonderful and spiritual people. You will meet some people that make you want to hold your stomach in pain. Don't set the bar too high for a whole group of very human humans.

Keep learning and keep seeking. Be wary of those who tell you they have all of the answers. Seek to sit next to those who tend to be the quietest in the crowd. Look for Christ everywhere...He doesn't just hang out in churches.

I say this while admitting that I am a Christian who isn't perfect, who does not have all of the answers, and who tries hard to seek grace. Luckily, I have some wonderful spiritual role models in my life who would deny that they are worthy of that title...but I respect their discernment and their wisdom. I wish for you some of these.

Sorry, the "Unfortunately..." up there in my previous comment SHOULD read:

FORTUNATELY, there are Christians who strive to live like Christ. We don't hear about many of them.

Famous and not so famous interesting Christians who's writing I find very challenging (in a good way) to how I live my life as a Christian:

Mother Theresa
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Glen Stassen
Cardinal Joseph Louis Bernardin
F. Burton Nelson

Another name to add to the list of Christians whose writings offer a great deal of insight would be Philip Yancey. I have recently been reading "What's So Amazing About Grace," in which he writes honestly about his own conflicted feelings on the issues of Christian faith and homosexuality.

But more germane to the issue that began this thread is the rules. Which are big or important? How do you pick and choose?

Pardon me if I go on a bit. I don’t mean to be preachy or teachy. But some background on the issue might be helpful.

Rules have been central to the Christian faith before it even existed. As Jef knows well, although he may have gladly forgotten some of it by now, a couple of the early books in the Bible are not much more than a long list of rules. The laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy covered virtually every aspect of life for Jews in the Mosaic era and after.

Those rules culminated in the famous and much-hallowed 10 Commandments. What was on those stone tablets didn't supersede or replace all those laws on sacrifice, diet and how to treat slaves. They just summed up the purpose and then hit some highlights.

Over the millenia many of those other rules have been forgotten, rejected or determined to be no longer applicable. Jesus explicitly freed us from some -- like circumcision and the prohibition against eating shellfish and pork -- if you believe the stuff about Peter in Acts (what did he eat right before he had that dream?) and Paul from several epistles. But many of those myriad laws would still seem to be in place.

For instance, Paul wrote about how to treat slaves. He didn't say that slavery was wrong or an institution that must be ended by followers of Christ. And much was made of that fact in debates that led up to the American Civil War.

Lev. 25:44 -- Both your male slaves and your female slaves whom you shall have, shall be of the nations that are all around you. You shall buy male slaves and female slaves from them. ... And you shall thake them as an inheritance for your sons after you, to hold for a possession; you may lay service on them forever. But you shall not rule over your brothers, the sons of Israel, over one another, with harshness.

If you go on there is even guidance on how to set prices for such property.

Since Paul didn’t deviate from those early “rules,” does that mean owning another human is still allowed, maybe even a religious requirement?

Most modern Christians would argue that slavery was a cultural institution and its time has passed. In fact, many people of faith decided long ago -- despite no words directly speaking to this -- that the teachings of Christ do not permit slavery.

Their basis? The top two commandments: Love God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself. If you did not want to be bought and sold, then you can’t buy and sell others.

But bottom line was they took the Bible and made some choices about what some things meant and about how to employ others. But the basis for their choice was love.

The question or questions for today are:
• Does love drive the reading, interpretation and application of many moral strictures and rules to which modern Christians cling?
• When we (I say we because I am a modern Christian) tell our wives to be servants is it because we love them or because we (Christian men) want to be masters?
• If we tell women to be silent in Church is it because we love them or simply because we like that the Bible, loosely translated, says in a couple of places: "Girls, shut up."

And when we start moralizing about homosexuality and fornication and all the things of the flesh, do we ever ask ourselves if we value restrictions on those things more than love? Are we using those standards to build a wall to keep out those "unacceptable" elements of society? Do we ever stop to consider if those unacceptable elements would be the most likely companions to a noted "glutton and winebibber, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners"?

Today many Americans who aren't even really religious revere those 10 Commandments. They want to build monumnets to them in public places. They cling to these symbols of failure as standards by which they can judge others. "I am better than him, because I have mostly kept 6 of the 10."

Jesus made it clear things don’t work that way.

Besides, our Churches and the people in them are supposed to be monuments to something else. Grace.

Jesus said there is no one who is righteous. All have sinned and fall short of that standard considered acceptable by God.

But Jesus did not come to enforce the law, he came to provide an escape clause. Accept God's free gift of grace and the standard no longer applies to you.

The law does not make us free, as Paul effectively argues in Romans 7. The law charges, condemns and kills us. The law does not ask: What was in your heart when you violated my standard? To the law a violation is a violation. They are all the same. And the penalty, is also unequivocal.

Yet under grace everything is acceptable, according to Paul. “All things are lawful to me, but not all things profit. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”

Grace says it does matter what is in your heart. Grace further says that if your heart is changed, truly changed, then it will turn of its own accord toward those things that are good or that profit your spirit. In other words, true believers will be known by the fruit that they bear.

What is that fruit? “Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] self-control,” According to Paul. The NIV substitutes patience, faithfulness, and gentleness for some items on that list.

Perhaps most important, it is said that all people will know who we follow by that fruit. They won’t know it because we have laws for them to follow or morals more stringent than theirs. We will be recognize by our ability to pass on the grace we have received. Or as the old song says: They will know we are Christians by our love.

It seems so simple. But it isn’t black and white. And it doesn't even give me a basis to tell someone else what is wrong or right for them. Maybe that’s why it is so hard for Christians today.

That was beauty.. For awhile I was lets say distanced myself away from God.. They say whom comes first in your life. And for me surley was not God.. I was far to busy with my life and my own selfish pleasures to consider God.. Although I new he was there and new he was watching or was it judging me, I thought to myself, he will understand why.. He's God right, I will come to you when its good for me.. But then one day I read this book, I guess you can call me a believer when I read this book, because it freaked me out enough into believing and giving myself to God.. I highly recommend you read this book, it surley opened my eyes into doing whats right in life, and live on a path to only serve in God, and Jesus Christ my Savior... Its called ( A Divine Revelation of Hell ) written by Mary K. Baxter, based on a true story of her own experience.. Its to hard for me to explain in all words.. but just a suggestion of reading this book.. I look at it as, Its better to believe than not to believe.. Such as, say you never believed in God and there was no God,so you waste lets say 80 years of your life on this earth, and you die and your gone, then no worries. Now, you never believed in God waste 80 years on this life, and God does exist, and your cost to pay is eternity in a place I would not wish to live my eternal life.. Is the way I look at it, and I guess I am comforted in believing.. I enjoyed what you wrote and amazed on your determination to find all your answers.. Peace and Love to you.

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