The journey of a nerd who loves the Lord

Cherry Picking The Bible

book

In a quick updated I posted a week ago, I mentioned that I read the book, “A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master,”  The book covers a multitude of issues regarding women’s roles in society and church as understood by the evangelical church.  Better still, she compares those viewpoints of scripture, as a whole and blows a number of our assertions out of the water.  I hope to take the time to dive into a number of the finer points in future blog posts.

However, in discussing this book further with my wife, after reading it, a major theme popped out.  It seems that as a culture, evangelicalism really cherry picks those pieces of scripture that supports its setup.  In doing so, it completely ignores other passages and, more importantly, misses the most excellent way of love.

For nearly half a decade, I have studied the epistles, to learn more about how they structured their church organizations back then, and how they conducted their gatherings.  Pastors use numerous passages from this section of the Bible to justify a number of church elements including the pastoral leadership system, elder oversight, and programs designed to assist the poor.  Interestingly enough, different domination and different religions (such as Catholicism and Mormonism) also draw much of the inspiration for their current setup from this section of the Bible.  For example, Mormons cite 1 Cor 15: 29 to support their current process of performing baptisms for the dead.

I always felt that most of these denominations and religions ignore huge parts of the New Testament.  For example, Paul gives us fascinating insight into how worship gatherings worked in those early times, with numerous people participating in the discussions.  Furthermore, in addressing a concern with disorderly conduct in the services, Paul makes it clear that if one is talking, and another wishes to say something, the first person should stop talking and allow the second to express what God has laid on their heart.  The idea of one, qualified speaker (a pastor) dominating the entire gathering with a long monologue seems out of place in the context of this passage.  When I have discussed this with Pastors, many feel that this would not work in churches today.  Our gatherings are too large!  It would be chaotic!

This continued to confuse me during my studies.  In questioning about other, ignored passages, I received answers ranging from practicality concerns to “that was limited to the culture of their time”.  Who decides which passages we ignore in the name of culture?  Our church leaders instruct us to read the Bible to learn more about God and important spiritual matters (such as how to conduct church), but how can it mean anything to me if I have to have a PhD in history to understand these passages properly in context of their history so I can decide which ones no longer hold any weight?  If the epistles prescribe to us (or at the very least, give us glimpses) how to run church, then why do we ignore whole parts of it?

Reading this book, I began to understand the evangelical approach to cherry picking certain parts of the bible and turning those into a list of rules patterned the Pharisee’s approach to interpreting Old Testament scripture.  More importantly, I began to see the problem in my own approach of the last five years.  Perhaps the Epistles were never designed to be a prescriptive list of how to run church (or boiled down into such a list).  Perhaps, just perhaps, Jesus said all there was to say on that in the Gospels.  “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind and soul” and “Love your brother as you love yourself.”  And, then, the epistles are examples of Peter and Paul putting those principles into real life context with the Christian groups of their time.  In other words, what if we looked at the Epistles as descriptive instead of prescriptive?    

When I began to consider this possibility, so many things started to make sense to me, and missing pieces of this five year old puzzle started falling into place.  The implications blow my mind.  That would mean, among many other things, that the way we, or any denomination/religion, structure church gatherings is no longer a sacred cow.  I had to work hard to view this ideal outside the context of our culture, which embeds itself deeply into each one of us.

Ultimately, this approach fits scripture best, as well.  God could have written out church organization step by step.  After all, He wrote Leviticus which details the Old Testament temples and ceremonies.  Yet, we get nothing close to that in the New Testament.  And, the reality is, if you want to cherry pick, you can find scripture to support any way you want to live your life and/or structure your church gatherings.   Rachael Evans makes this point wonderfully clear in her book.  If you want to teach people that tithing 10% is a rule, there’s scripture to support that.  If you want to teach people should, instead, give as the Spirit dictates, you can find that.  If you want to keep women from teaching men, you can find that scripture.  And, if you want to teach that the spirit gives all gifts, including teaching, to all people in the body regardless of gender, you can find that as well.  And, yes, if you want to preach that God approves of slavery, you can find passages that support that, too!

Again, the implications are staggering, and you can expect for me to write more about them in future entries, but I’m very close to my 1,000 word limit on blogs, so I’ll save those for later.  In the mean time, consider what Jesus said regarding eternal life and how to best serve God.  You will see little or no mention of church structure or list of rules.  Instead, you see a simple message repeated over and over again.  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

 

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Comments on: "Cherry Picking The Bible" (8)

  1. It’s true. The array of things one can find in the Bible is staggering, to steal your word. Much of what I write tends to be on alternative theories that some call heresy and others see as the main Scriptural point. Sometimes I think there are so many differences because we, as believers, need to be met where we are at by God. Blessings on your journey.

    • Indeed. I’ve seen Bible passages used to defend a number of notions that the vast majority of people would say is heretical. Yet, I do not believe I’ve heard anyone (before I read the above book) stop and say, “Hey, maybe the books after Jesus are simply a snapshot of how the early leaders attempted to address the problems that came up in their time, and in the context of their culture. So, while it’s God inspired, it was never, ever intended to be an ancillary list of do’s and don’ts. Jesus told us everything we needed to know back in the Gospels.”

      Instead, every church cherry picks a bunch of passages from those books that support their idea of how church is run. In presenting their approach to church structure in those terms, they imply that their set up is Holy, and by extension, anything too far off of that set up is outside of God’s plan.

  2. Eoin Moloney said:

    The root problem of all of this, I submit, is the very nature of Protestantism itself. Without a single, authoritative teaching body, by making the individual believer the ultimate authority in interpreting Scripture, you can never say that the matter is closed, and given Man’s tendency to taking sides and insisting on their own interpretation of matters, you end up with an endless assortment of denominations, factious and warring, which sounds like it’s suggesting the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church into disunity (which I suppose you would agree is an absurd proposal). That’s the root and nub of the problem – it’s all well and good to say that you’ll give God’s Word the last say, but being written Scripture always admits of interpretation, and the question then becomes a matter of deciding between interpretations, and until and unless you can figure out how to authoritatively decide what is and is not orthodox, you’re just running around in circles.

    I mean no offence, but as a Catholic I feel the need to make this point, and to make you think about the matter.

    Thanks and God Bless,

    Eoin

    • I hear ya. I’ve actually heard of that point numerous times. I live in Utah where Mormons make a similar claim. They state that their prophet, the president of the church, is that one voice. He interprets the scriptures for the church. Which one is the right one?

      I find no biblical support for either. While there are a few references often used (Such as Jesus calling Peter the foundation of the church), there’s nothing in the Word directly putting one person ‘in charge’ of interpreting scripture for the rest of the body. In addressing the numerous challenges for the various churches in his letters, Paul did not direct them to an overriding aurthority or anything along those lines. The New Testament speaks much more about a plural style leadership than anything else. For example, when addressing the issue of people talking over each other (and acting rudely), Paul did not direct them to put one person in charge and ask the others to remain silent. Instead, he stated that if God lays a word on a second man’s heart, while the first one is speaking, the first should stop and allow that second one to speak. That’s a far cry from what we have in any of our churches today.

      Ultimately, the God who wrote Leviticus, and detailed the Israel / temple setup to the point that we can rebuild them today based on that text…. could have made it as clear as day if he wanted a one-man leader / interpreter of scripture. He did not.

      And there are inherent dangers with a one leader system. In fact, God warned Israel of such when it demanded a change from a judge system, to a monarchy. (1 Sam 8). They eventually did. And that’s where we see the dangers play out. When/If that leader walks in God’s ways, all prosper. But, when he deviates, many suffer. We’ve seen that throughout the church’s history (and I consider the catholic church history as my church’s history).

      So, what is the solution? Do we allow all of these different interpretations? Would that not lead to chaos?

      There are, of course, numerous answers to that question. My take is somewhat unorthodox, though gaining momentum (however, in all fairness, popularity or lack thereof hardly validates a viewpoint). I believe that there are a lot less ‘rules’ than we think. In numerous instances, when challenged by authorities regarding various items of debate, Jesus didn’t provide new rules or the such, but, rather, seem to reduce. Numerous times he points out that all laws ultimately bow in authority to “Love the Lord” and “Love your neighbor.”

      What this means is that I do not believe that Jesus ever intended for us to take the epistles, or dive back into the Old Testament, and create a list of do’s and do nots. By extension, I do believe that he meant for us to try to tear through those books and create and one/only way of gathering as a church. There are certainly some rules and traditions Jesus put into place such as Communion and Baptism. Yet, I believe that if He was truly concerned about whether we did baptism/leadership/church/etc a certain way, He was more than capable of making it perfectly clear, as He did for the Israelites back in the Old Testament.

      Of course, as you point out, such an approach could lead to problems, confusion, and the such. And it did! But, again, in addressing those issues, Paul and Peter didn’t lay a bunch of new rules and regulations…nor did they put down a strict rule of hierarchy (though they certainly valued and recognized the wisdom and leadership of elders and those of greater faith).

      I do appreciate your comment, Eoin. I find it refreshing to hear other points of view and engage in thoughtful dialogue. Hopefully, we can converse more in the future as your time allows. Thank you so much for reading my blog, as well! May God bless you.

      • Eoin Moloney said:

        Serv,

        Sorry to have waited so long to respond. I’ve been mulling over what you’ve said, and when I’ve formulated a reply I’ll send it to you, perhaps by email, if you’re OK with that (I may post it here if you’re not).

        I concur that it’s nice to be able to talk for once – I’m unfortunately more used to Internet debates turning into ugly spectacles that have more in common with a bar brawl than a reasoned discourse.

        God Bless
        Eoin (pronounced “Oh-En”, in case you were wondering)

      • Whatever works best for you. 🙂 My email addy is jcservant at cyberlightcomics dot com

  3. […] out in a previous article that in creating these guidelines and rules, everyone (myself included) cherry picks, in a manner of speaking.  And, who can blame us?  With over 700+ rules, how do you know which […]

  4. […] out in a previous article that in creating these guidelines and rules, everyone (myself included) cherry picks, in a manner of speaking.  And, who can blame us?  With over 700+ rules, how do you know which […]

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