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.”

Francis, Granny and the Gospel

Whilst in Homiletics (preaching) class in 1989 my professor, Sam Keller, repeatedly challenged us to always “preach the word” not “granny scriptures”. A “granny scripture” is something “granny” has said so often that we take for granted must be in the Bible.

e.g. “God helps those who help themselves” or “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” – neither of these are found in any translation of any book of the Bible.

In the age on instant mass communication we need to beware adopting or accepting “granny scriptures” as truthful. As recently as 2 weeks ago Shane Fitzgerald played a prank on journalists by inserting a false quote about Maurice Jarre into Wikipedia. The same quote was used by multiple media outlets as fact, demonstrating the gullibility of those who accept something as true just because it appeared on the Internet.

A popular quote attributed to St Francis of Assisi is frequently quoted by Christians to defend, justify and support ‘lifestyle evangelism’.

“Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”

The problem as pointed out by Mark Galli in Christianity Today is that Francis probably never said this and certainly there is no historical evidence that he lived according to this cliche.

Contrary to his current meek and mild image, Francis’s preaching was known for both his kindness and severity.

The point is this: Francis was a preacher. And the type of preacher who would alarm us today. “Hell, fire, brimstone” would not be an inaccurate description of his style.

“Preach the gospel; use words if necessary” goes hand in hand with a postmodern assumption that words are finally empty of meaning. It subtly denigrates the high value that the prophets and Jesus and Paul put on preaching. Of course we want our actions to match our words as much as possible. But the gospel is a message, news about an event and a person upon which the history of the planet turns. As blogger Justin Taylor recently put it, the Good News can no more be communicated by deeds than can the nightly news.

We can avoid the sentimentality and appeal of “cliche-Christianity” by being grounded in scripture.

“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed …” Acts 17:11-12

So we can still love “granny” and enjoy the Internet, but we are charged to proclaim/publish/preach/speak the gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation. My life will demonstrate the reality of my faith in Christ, but my life isn’t going to save anyone – only Jesus can do that.