Grow where you are planted … and other “granny scriptures”

One lesson my professor taught in my homiletics class back in 1989 was to make sure you did your background research on your text/topic thoroughly to avoid relying on “granny scriptures” as the authority behind your main points.

A “granny scripture,” he explained, was something that granny said so often everyone accepted was in scripture and had as much authority. A favourite, and most worn out cliché, example is, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” There’s no such text or principle cited or taught in scripture.

If you rely on a “granny scripture” as your main point then, to use the modern meme parlance, you are relying on #alternativefacts and #fakenews. You’re not relying on fact or truth.

Another popular meme is, “grow where you’re planted” or “bloom where you’re planted.” This meme is used to advocate against proactive change. It might something go something like, “Be happy and content with your lot. You’re being ungrateful if you try to change your circumstances.

Often actual scripture is cited to support this notion, the most frequent used is 1 Corinthians 7. The context the entire letter addresses is that societal status is not an excuse for the prejudice occurring in Corinth or the resulting in-fighting among the church community there. Free citizens don’t outrank slaves, married do not have more importance than singles etc. in the church economy. Paul’s point, in chapter 7, is you won’t overcome prejudice by changing your social status.

He is not advocating the meme of seeking change is wrong. This is shown by his caveat statements, about the difference between the enslaved and the free in v.21 of “if you can gain your freedom, do so” and v.23 “do not become slaves of human beings.

There’s nothing in this chapter that advocates, if you’re a victim of domestic abuse, stay in the marriage and bloom where you’re planted. Or, if you’re working for a dishonest or unethical employer, stay in the job and bloom where you’re planted. As a couple of examples.

What if the legislators, like William Wilberforce, who lobbied against slavery had ‘bloomed where they were planted’? What if the Allies fighting against Nazi Germany had bloomed where they were planted instead of fighting on the  beaches, fighting on the landing grounds etc.?

Bloom where you’re planted, sounds noble and altruistic. But it is, often, self destructive. A more accurate application of 1 Corinthians 7, that isn’t a “granny scripture,” would be the well known Serenity Prayer.

“God, Give us the grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed, Courage
to change the things which should be changed,
And the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

Martin Luther: What does it mean to have a god?

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People talking today about the 10 commandments often loosely quote* the reformer Martin Luther saying, breaking any of the commandments is always a result of breaking the first – i.e. in other words, idolatry – or trusting in and worshiping someone or something other than the personal God who gave Israel the 10 commandments.

Background to the 10 Commandments

The first time the 10 commandments appear in the Bible is when God gave them to Moses. Israel had just dramatically escaped 400 years of slavery in Egypt. The introduction to the first commandment mentions this, even though it is often left out.

Continue reading “Martin Luther: What does it mean to have a god?”

Tell it to the church

sheepandgoatsMatthew 18:15-20 has a summary of the traditional process referred to by Christians as a method for addressing and disciplining one another when they sin. The method outlined starts with an individual, one on one approach and then as/if/when escalation occurs it moves the discussion into a more public sphere.

Generally it follows the trajectory of:
1. You see a wrong doing and approach the person privately
2. If, after private consultation, the wrong doing continues, you have another consultation, this time with witnesses
3. If, the matter continues after this, a public action takes place

It is a relatively simple approach that combines privacy, sensitivity and common sense. Many commercial managers and community conflict mediators follow a similar method. For instance a company performance management model follows this almost exactly: An employee will receive a warning, then a meeting with HR, then they are dismissed.

The stated intention is not to shame or discriminate against an individual for lack of conformity. Sadly though many managers have used the “three-strikes” approach to justify removal of unwanted employees and even sadder, many Churches have used the approach to excommunicate unsavory parishioners.

However the aim is a restoration. When restoration fails, the result is that the person is released (or dismissed!) from any organization when they, through their actions, show they no longer want to belong or be identified with their company or, in the case of the Christian, their church.

The summary given in Matthew’s gospel isn’t a detailed process and it doesn’t cover every possible aspect or scenario. The context indicates the inevitability of people straying and stumbling (vv.6-14) and the necessity that forgiving each other plays in identifying each other as co-recipients of God’s forgiveness (vv.21-35). But it doesn’t specify the exact detail, timing and process to follow in every single case.

The emphasis (of vv.18-20 in particular and the broader context of vv.6-35) centres more upon the identification and association of people with the “Father in heaven.” The conduct and association of God’s people, the Church, should reflect and represent the “Father” as though he, himself, is endorsing their actions. If something or someone is not reflecting this ethic, they are dissociating themselves with both the people of the Church and the “Father in heaven.”

For this reason there is a heavy burden for the people of the Church in how they relate to each other as representatives of God. Being harsh and unforgiving presents a view that God is spiteful, hateful and intolerant. Being indiscriminately accommodating presents a God that is unjust and lacking integrity. e.g. Consider the racism promoted in some parts of the USA that were or are sponsored by Churches or the involvement of Church organizations in the Stolen Generations of Australia’s past. Or on the other extreme, the Church choosing not to intervene in domestic violence or prosecute child abusers on the grounds of being “forgiving.”

In any of those examples, a Matthew 18 approach is insufficient. There are plenty of other Bible passages (and indeed civil laws!) that make it clear that no tolerance ought to be given to abusers. The Church ought not let Matthew 18 justify inaction when a woman or child is being hurt. (Or many other instances of “sin” that are too often excused in the name of “forgiveness.”)

The Matthew 18 passage doesn’t go into any detail or make any recommendation of how, where or when (precisely) you “tell it to the church”. The overall context of the chapter is public association, identification and reflection of the ethic of God the Father, and indicates, for the sake of transparency and integrity, the Church is told in an open forum. There may, of course, be instances, where for the sake of sensitivity towards a victim, that an announcement be handled tactfully. However, the church ought not be reluctant exposing an offender for the sake of their own corporate embarrassment.

Especially in the case of violence, abuse, harassment, intimidation and bullying where an offender has previously been warned off. Tell it to the Church and … well … if they don’t listen or act … maybe identifying with God the Father is not their priority. The church is not a kids petting zoo, get out of Dodge.

The Revelation will not be televised

One of the quickest ways to start an argument, … er, um … lively debate, among Christians is to bring up the book of Revelation. For some reason great charity and flexibility is accommodated on a whole host of bible teachings and topics but if you step out of line with your view about this book, look out! Heretic! Liberal! Fundamentalist!

Most believe and accept that Revelation combines literary genres and most agree that apocalyptic is the major genre. But what is apocalyptic? For some Mad Max or Zombie Apocalypse come to mind and, sadly, that is usually reflected in how they teach the book. For others a more scholarly definition might be used where apocalyptic isn’t necessarily about a nuclear holocaust. It’s a story involving supernatural symbolism. Apocalyptic books (like Daniel in the Old Testament or works such as 1 Enoch and The Apocalypse of Abraham) gave a minority audience, under duress or persecution, reassurance to hang in there and anticipate vindication. The books rely heavily on symbolism and cultural allusion to get the point across. A close idea in concept today might be the way comedians use satire, innuendo and double entendre to ridicule politicians. In the West of course they aren’t subtle because they’re not going get crucified upside down or thrown into a colosseum and ripped apart by wild animals. But, in the first century, the way to get your point across that the little guy can stand up to the man, is via an apocalyptic narrative.

Revelation fits this method. It’s a story; it involves lots of cultural and religious symbolism; the recipients were facing constant danger; it uses coded satire and parody to portray oppressive authority figures who get their comeuppance. Reading it this way, instead of as a codified prediction of microchips, atomic bombs and bar code technology gave a sense to Christians in Asia Minor that the abusive intolerant Roman officials and sectarian Jews didn’t have the last say in how the world will turn out.

Today instead of parodying Rome the writer might have included media infotainment personalities and lifestyle reality show comperes. After all, these are the dominant figures that control the opinions and mood of the public. Today going against the tide of popular opinion as perceived and broadcast in mainstream media will result in ostracism, exclusion and derision. Don’t believe me? What’s your view on changing marriage laws? How about the solution to management of boat people? Now, what’s your real view compared to the one you “share” with your workmates? Well, of course they’re the same, aren’t they? You’re not a racist bigot after all, are you? Well, not so long as you stay quiet about the idols and altars of the MSM.

And behold I was seated in lounge and the TV came on and I looked into heaven and heard the introductory theproject_panel1_300fanfare and I heard the voice of the great host say, “Sit down and I will show you news, done differently, and you will know what to think about the things you have seen.” There was a panel in the centre of the vision with four great co-hosts each one beautifully styled and surrounded by a great audience. The audience clapped and cheered every time the co-hosts spoke. One of the co-hosts was a comedian who belittled the prime ministers and presidents of the world with his razor wit. Another, next to him had the face of a maiden and laughed at all the comedian’s jokes. The third was a special guest brought into the studio to be a foil for the fourth co-host. Night and day the fourth co-host asserted his dogmatic opinion. His opinion was superior to all others and no other opinions would be tolerated, not on his watch and not in his country. And the audience members all bowed to the wit and charm of the co-hosts and surrendered their will to those who sat at the news desk for the co-hosts are all-knowing and none dared disagree with them. Their words are all-powerful, just and true.*

Revelation is not about zombies with microchips in their foreheads. It’s a satirical parody of the infotainment masters of the first century. Their dominance of the ratings wars will not last and their coronation will not be televised.
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* Check out Revelation Chapter 4 to see how the original author did it.

I can’t wait to be patient!

169084857_bd43cb43dcMaybe it will happen one day. But when?! I want to be patient NOW!

During a chat on the fruit of the Spirit, some guys talked about which of the listed characteristics they felt most lacking in their experience. Patience seemed to the be popular choice. All of the men in the discussion were fathers, so all have had their share of frustrating waits.

It wasn’t until the day after, when I was out and needed to do some phone banking to pay for something. My data connection just wasn’t working. I moved about, turned the phone off and on again, took the cover off, tried holding it different ways. Nothing! After about 15 minutes of trying and getting the “unable to connect to the internet” message, I started to get quite cranky. With the phone, the carrier, with the shopping centre for obstructing the signal, even with the other shoppers walking past. Nonsense really. Then the discussion about patience came back. So, it seems a bit of patience would be handy at this point. But, I needed my phone to work immediately!

What is patience? What has it got to do with a Christian characteristic? The word (in Galatians 5:22) is translated from a term that pictures remaining calm even if provoked or in the event of misfortune. It has the idea of enduring without changing demeanour. i.e. getting cranky, or frustrated, taking things into your own hands to bring about a faster (better?) resolution. One dictionary I have says, “to keep your heart from jumping”. That sounds about right – because when I get impatient, my heart rate increases!

To be patient is to accept that the immediate situation or change isn’t going to be rectified by my outburst. That doesn’t mean to be passive. It means, that in the face of something that is out of your control, you are prepared to trust in either a different or a later result. e.g. You go to meet up with someone for lunch. They’re late. You try to call to check if they’re ok and there’s no answer. You check social media to see if they’ve posted something about bad traffic and there’s nothing. You now have a choice. You probably make it in less than a nano second, but you still have a choice. Start to fume, or be patient. Which of the two is going to make your friend arrive earlier? Neither. Which of the two will keep your friendship (and your blood pressure!). Hmm.

In the case of Christian patience. We’re not simply talking about keeping calm when a lunch appointment is 5 minutes behind schedule. Although, that’s probably a wise thing anyway. Patience has a far reaching view into the future promised to those who believe in Jesus. For instance in the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ passage. Paul is talking about how some people were going about trying to improve their relationship with God (and probably their standing before others in the Church community). They had adopted a ‘take charge’ concept of constructing behavioural codes (Including circumcision. Ouch!) to improve the way God accepted them.

Paul explains that nothing you construct on the outside is going to change what is happening on the inside. In fact it will end up being counter productive. Instead those who have trusted in Jesus to do what was promised (make them right before God – provide forgiveness, new life now and in eternity to come) can wait for the hope of righteousness. He uses an agricultural concept, fruit, to explain how this takes place. God says he’ll do it, slowly, the way fruit grows on a tree. It’s an act of his Spirit and it’s eventual outcome is an experience in the fully realised kingdom of God.

Patience, then, waits for God to complete his work and fulfil his promise. Our response is to “keep in step” with him – not run ahead, not fall behind, and not take things into our own hands to build an inferior form of righteousness. Inferior, because it is more concerned with one-upmanship than the love of God and neighbour. Instead be “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

Can you be patient? Now?

😉