Thursday, December 13, 2007

CHRISTIANS WERE NEVER SUPPOSED TO 'GET INTO THE WORD'

WARNING: This is a very lengthy essay on the role of the Bible in modern evangelical Christianity. It attempts to prove that the Apostle Paul argues that we were never meant to read the Bible the way it is read today. If you read this, please send comments.

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Jesus never once said, “And when I go away, I will make sure they write a book with four gospels and some epistles so I can teach you more truth.”

BIBLES ARE FOR BABIES

As an evangelical Christian, I was constantly being told to ‘get into the Word.’ By this, my teachers meant that the written Bible was the primary source of getting to know God and His wisdom. But it was clear to me that the Bible itself seemed to say that spiritual babies needed a book while the mature had direct access to God. As I studied the Bible, I began to notice that there were various levels of spiritual maturity. I John 2 speaks of this:

I write to you, dear children,
because you have known the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you have known him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.


John addresses a group of young men, or spiritual adolescents, identifying them as those who are learning that the Word of God dwells ‘in them.’ I suppose one could argue that John was suggesting that these disciples were memorizing scripture, but the fact that the Word of God ‘lives’ in them implies it is a dynamic, active internal spiritual presence, much like the Holy Spirit of Truth Jesus promised to send in John 14-16.

The apostle Paul also referred to levels of spiritual maturity and differing relationships to God’s Word. There are those who lived on spiritual milk, and those who ate meat, referring to the fact that some were infants and some were adults.

I think the infants were those who could come to God only through written or spoken words and a limited discursive mind. When Paul was visiting Jewish synagogues filled with skeptical literalists, he often admonished such people to search the Scriptures, or ‘get into the Word.’ But when he was with those not bound by the letter of the revealed Word, like the non-Jewish gentiles in Galatia, he told them to abandon the Law and be led by the Spirit. Most evangelicals place these two concepts together, teaching that we must read the Bible and allow the Spirit to guide our interpretation. John Calvin called this the witness or testimony of the Spirit. Evangelicals always tell you that the Spirit will never contradict the Word (Bible).

But it seemed to me that Paul was saying that the Word was for beginners and the Spirit was for those more spiritually advanced. The Law or Bible is for literalists while the Spirit is for those who have ears and eyes to see directly into the realm of Spirit. When Paul told people to study their Bibles, it was always for one reason: to show Jews or Jewish sympathizers that Jesus was the Messiah from their sacred Hebrew Bibles. Paul would use a literal passage to prove, for example, that the Jewish Bible allowed Gentiles into the kingdom unconditionally. These logical debates might remove some logical obstacles, opening the way for deeper spiritual understanding.

However, neither Paul nor Jesus ever told their non-Jewish followers to build up a body of doctrines and ethical rules from the scriptures. Galatians makes it clear that these mature Christians were free from the Law (sacred Torah or Bible) and that they were children of the Spirit. They didn’t need a book.

Paul makes this most clear in I Corinthians 3 where he addresses these two groups.

Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men?

Paul makes it clear that infants who were still caught up in the world of sensory perception and rational, literal understanding needed milk. There would be times when the Christian churches began to fight, live selfishly and behave like babies, that Paul and others would use scripture for 'doctrine, reproof and correction.' (II Timothy 3:16) But keep in mind, this was for the infants spoken of in I Corinthians - for those who had to have Paul's pre-digested pabulum or 'letters' (laws) from God. Paul would initially introduce these Jews or Gentile Jewish sympathizers to the gospel by studying the Bible with them, but the goal was to let them see that there was deeper revelation beyond the printed page.

For them to get the deeper wisdom, they had to let go of human words, human books, human preaching, human theology and all human means. They had to see themselves as organically related to God, baptized into Spirit, immersed in the Eternal One. Jesus used the vine and branch analogy, teaching his disciples that they would be nourished directly, not intravenously. In I Corinthians, Paul uses the analogy of soil and seed rather than vine and branch.

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.

Paul makes it clear here that God is the soil in which a believer is planted. The soil contains what must have seemed like magic in those days, some strange power to cause plants to grow. No outside source could make the seed grow. Humans planted and watered, but some unseen Power caused the roots to descend and stalk to ascend. Jesus taught the same thing with a parable in Mark 4:

He also said, "This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.

The phrase from Mark 4, ‘all by itself,’ is the Greek word automate, from which we get out word automatic. The soil has the power to give us what we need from the inside out. God is the soil and we are in it. Most Christians I knew never saw themselves in the soil of Spirit, organically encompassed by God, fed directly, rooted into, wriggling in the garden of Spirit. Most of them saw themselves as somehow mysteriously connected to Jesus, but ultimately needing to get the Word (Bible) ‘into them’ in order to grow and know God. The fact is that we are already in the Word and the Word is in us. The Word is the soil in which we grow. It nourishes us, fills us with nutrients, saturates us with water, magically cracks open the seed pod of ego, pushes us up into the light, grows a stalk, causes buds and blossoms, and finally produces what Paul calls the ‘fruit of the Spirit.’ Fruit does not come by human effort or biblical knowledge, but by being in the Soil of God.

Paul also uses the analogy of a building or Temple, saying that men may participate in the construction, but the materials and final structure is God and His Spirit dwells in us.

Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?

There is no need to get the Word (Spirit) in us. One might as well try to put warmth in fire or moisture in water. The essence is intrinsic to the thing itself. To be in Christ is to be filled with Spirit. To be filled with Spirit is to be directly connected to God who can speak directly to us.

Paul then goes on to say to the adults that a spiritual man receives truth from the Spirit, which is the internal trans-rational meat as opposed to the external biblical rational milk.

"The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.
I Corinthians 2


The spiritual man receives truth internally, just as a man knows his own thoughts from within. A man’s thoughts do not come to him from outside, but from within his own spirit or mind. Paul could have used the analogy of a dream. Dreams arise from within the spirit of a man, not from the outside. So too, God’s thoughts arise in God. It seems almost ludicrous to have ot even point this out, but so many people seem to think that God’s thoughts arise from the Bible, the Koran, the Pope or some other external source. Inner thoughts speak to the inner mind. But this is the tricky part, because the natural response is, “Well, how do we know it is God speaking internally and not just my selfish, deceptive, self serving mind?!” Great question, and Paul anticipated that question, though I doubt we’ll care much for his solution. He writes:

We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit..."

Paul teaches that there is a qualitative difference between the Spirit of God and the spirit of man. When we are inconsiderate, self seeking, scheming, resentful and fearful, we are using the human mind. But when we are considerate of others, kind, forgiving, trusting and serene, we are accessing the mind of God. In another epistle, Paul calls these the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ as contrasted with the self seeking fruit of the religious legal or doctrinal code.

Paul is clear that a mature man does not ‘get into the Word,’ but rather the Word gets into him. This is a huge distinction, especially in an age where so many Christians speak of ‘getting into the Word.’ Mature people tap into a deep wisdom that comes from within:

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.

The 20th century Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, put it this way, “It is only through the psyche (internal spirit or soul) that we can establish that God acts upon us.” Jung wrote to a Swiss Pastor in 1932 that the human psyche is “boundlessly underestimated,” by Christians. Jung was puzzled that most ministers taught their parishioners that God spoke to human beings exclusively through sermons or books. Jung asserted that God has never REALLY spoken except in and through the internal human psyche. Jung wrote, “the psyche understands it and we experience it as something psychic (internal).”

No human, no matter how educated, rational and logical will ever know God rationally. This kind of knowing does not come from reading a book, not even the Bible. It does not come from learning and obeying laws, principles or mastering ‘how to’ manuals. This sort of wisdom comes from the internal Mind of Christ, the internal Spirit – it is the bookless meat as opposed to the biblical milk. It will not come through your eyes, ears or teacher:

However, as it is written:
"No eye has seen, (no books contain)
no ear has heard, (no sermons can tell)
no mind has conceived (no teachers can teach)
what God has prepared for those who love him"— but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.

If no eye has seen it, it can’t be words on a page. If no ear has heard it, it can’t be a sermon. If no mind has conceived it, then it can’t be rational ideas set forth by a theologian theology or philosopher. This troubles the materialist mightily. I recall those times when I mocked this spiritual voodoo as quackery and unsubstantiated hearsay. But until one experiences this kind of knowing, it is like trying to tell a ten year old boy that one day he is going to love kissing girls.

Paul goes on to speak of the “deep things of God,” which are the meaty things. By implication, there are the ‘shallow things of God,’ which refers to the milky things. The deep meaty things are beyond human logic, beyond ink and paper – and they won’t be gotten by reading the Bible or by ‘getting into the Word.’

On the other hand, the shallow milky things can be found in print, do have something of a rational basis and may present evidence, signs and proofs for the curious minded. Theologians and apologists can provide help just as pabulum can nourish the infant toward maturity. But this is kid-stuff, liquid pabulum for toothless infants. Paul is not saying this to make them feel inadequate or inferior – children are not inferior, they are just not adults yet. If one has not formed teeth, so be it. However, Paul does seem to imply that these folks either ought to be growing up, or they once talked and acted like they were mature and have retrogressed.

Paul further addresses those who go deeper:

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.

Paul speaks of two kinds of words here, human words and Spirit words. Human words are what you are seeing on this page, comprised of an alphabet, vocabulary, syntax, parts of speech, etc. Human words may be used to a point, but until the Spirit translates them internally, they are just religious ideas and not Spiritual wisdom.

The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment:
"For who has known the mind of the Lord
that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.

Paul says those who eat meat and get the deeper things of God do so because they have been given an extra mind, the Mind of Christ. This is a metaphor for having a new way of seeing and hearing; a way that takes us out of our self centered, inconsiderate, resentful, self obsessing mind. One can read a Bible all night and day and not be touched if he does not have the Mind of Christ – the mind that understands apart from the letter of the Word. Paul may have been recalling his own conversion experience on the road to Damascus when he heard the voice of Christ speak, “Saul, Saul, why are you resisting me?” Those of us who have had a spiritual awakening know something of this. Quite often, though not always, we were in state of distress prior to the ‘hearing’ of the voice of Spirit. There was an openness, a willingness and almost frantic desire to know something more than self centered human wisdom could know. For such a revelation, one does not need a Bible. There are many self centered, self important, self obsessed Bible scholars. One may hear such wisdom while reading a Bible, but not always. The writer of Proverbs says ‘wisdom calls aloud in the streets.’ In other words, wisdom is wherever a man or woman may be, if he or she has the Mind of Christ to hear it. No external props are necessary. No Bibles need be present. One does not even need to be literate. It is those moments when you are ready to rage at your partner, and a little voice whispers, “Calm down. You are mistaken and self obsessed again. This human being needs your kindness, not your rage.” That is the Mind of Christ.

So Paul makes it clear that mature spiritual adults need no Bible or alphabet, and that only spiritual babies needed milk, which was the 'letter' or the Jewish Bible. These Bible studies were nursery procedures to get them to grow some teeth so they could eat meat. The Buddhists have an odd saying, “When you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” The idea is that once the Buddha has opened your spiritual eyes and ears to hear Truth, you no longer need the Buddha. He has done his job. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t learn more from the Buddha, but he has passed from being your primary teacher to your secondary teacher. Similarly, with the Bible, once you learn to listen to God directly, the Bible becomes a secondary teacher. It is more like a telescope than a trophy case. It is used to see into infinity rather than containing infinity.

So then, those who use the Bible today as the exclusive or primary source for hearing from God, according to Paul, are still little spiritual babies. No matter how many degrees they may have, they are infants. Like Nicodemus, they may be esteemed as prestigious religious teachers, pastors of mega churches and hold doctorates in Bible and theology, but as long as they use the Bible as a trophy case rather than a telescope, they are mere infants.

But mature Christians possess the Mind of Christ. Paul never says, 'the Mind of Christ is to be found in your New Testament or your Bishop,’ but in you. Jesus said the same thing in John’s gospel when he promised that the Spirit of Truth would reveal all things and dwell in his disciples. Jesus never once said, “And when I go away, I will make sure they write a book with four gospels and some epistles so I can teach you more truth.” Jesus sent the Spirit, not a book.

16 comments:

Christopher said...

First I want to say that your arguments are very well thought out. Unfortunately I cannot agree with anything that you say concerning the word of God and the Spirit of God.

First off, you are trying to make an argument from silence, which rarely goes over well. Jesus did not say that "I will have them write a book containing Gospels and epistles", but He did tell His apostles that He would send them the Spirit and that the Spirit would guide them all Truth.

Second, I believe you are mis-representing Paul and John. Paul does indeed speak of different levels of maturity, but I do not think he saw them the way you did. To say that believers, after a certain point, no longer needed the word of God would have never crossed Paul's mind. How mature does a believer need to in order to no longer need God's word?

Third, what happens when we
"abandon" the word and simply rely on the Spirit? I personally believe that to rely "only on the Spirit" is to abandon the Spirit. The Spirit, being sent by the Father and the Son, was sent to lead the Church in truth. The truth is found in the word as the Spirit inspired the Prophets and Apostles.

How do we combat heresies in the Church? Do we simply rely on the Spirit to speak to us? Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses say that the Spirit speaks to them as well. Who is right? There is so many problems with believing that only the "immature" need the word of God.

Michael said...

Thank you for your reply Christopher.

First off, actually, you can make an argument from silence when the issue is as important as the way the distraught disciples were going to get divine guidance. For Jesus to have known there would be a "New Testament", and not to tell his followers would have been cruel. Why would he possibly withold such a critical truth?! The point is that Jesus told them of the ubiquitous Spirit which would inspire all of his followers, not just twelve special followers.

Second, if I am misrepresenting John and Paul, I am in good company. Those early Bishops who placed Paul and John in a canon of sacred Scripture were the first of many to misrepresent John and Paul. But since so many misguided religious people have elevated John and Paul to a status they never expected or deserved, they will continue to get misrepresented by people like you and me.

You say that the notion of eliminating The Word never crossed Paul's mind - wrong again my friend. To see that eliminating a religious text from one's spiritual life not only "crossed Paul's mind," but was the theme of one of his letters, go read the letter to the Galatians. In that epistle, Paul explicitly tells them to abandon the Law (Bible based religion) and follow the living Spirit. Paul, unlike modern Christians, knew that people like you would spend thier time and energy debating the New Testament Law rather than loving their neighbors and doing good.

Third, your fear of relying on the Spirit alone tells me that you have little or no acquaintance with the Spirit. When a man writes love letters to his distant girlfriend, does he read the old letters to find out what she is thinking when she comes to visit? What sane person would prefer a cold, old letter to the dynamic presence and fresh words of the beloved? Strive to meet the Spirit and you will find little need for the old written texts.

With regard to using a Bible to correct heresies - let me remind you that your 'Word of God' or Bible has done more to divide God's people into factions and sects that unite them. Jesus said his neighbor was the compassionate Samartian, not the doctrinally correct Levite. Apply that to our own day and it teaches us that the compassionate Jehovah's Witness or Mormon is less a heretic than the smug, heartless evangelical with an inspired Bible.

Keep studying your Bible, or should I say drinking your milk, but with Paul I encourage you to be led by the Spirit and some day you will be eating meat.

Christopher said...

Concerning your response:

1. One, you separate the work of the Spirit from the word of the Spirit. Early Church Fathers were good, but they were not infallable (sp?). Several men from Church History believed that sex was only meant for procreation and not for actual satisfaction. Would you agree with such? They can't get "sex" right, why should I assume their views on Scripture were perfect?

2. Next, Jesus told His followers that the Spirit would "inspire" all of His people. Define "inspiration" for me?

3. When you bring up Paul "abandoning a sacred text". Please, if you are going to bring up Scripture at least use it correctly. Galatians was not about abandoning the Law. Galatians was about how, through Christ, believers have fulfilled the Law. Thus, Paul pitted the Spirit versus the Law. The Galatians were trying to (in that instance) fulfill the Law by circumcision. But that could lead to a much larger discussion. Moving on...

4. Our marked differences in understanding what the word of God is makes you make such a statement as your "love letter" analogy. As the word of God is the Spirit of Christ speaking to the Church, your example breaks down. The Spirit of God taking the word of God and using it to effect mind, heart and will. But again, where we break down is a fundamental difference in understanding the word of God.

5. The word of God has done more to divide the people of God than anything else? Maybe...or it could be that prideful sinful men, feeling they were right about small details broke off from one another. What you are saying is that because people have misused the word of God, than the word of God is divisive. Maybe it lies more in the heart of man.

Lastly, both the compassionate heretic and the Bible beating heretic are both heretics. Kind of tongue in cheek, but you get the point. Again, this discussion comes down to the fact that your understanding of the word of God is fundamentally different than mine. The greatest part, I think, is that you use the Bible to make your case.

Michael said...

COMMENT 1. One, you separate the work of the Spirit from the word of the Spirit. Early Church Fathers were good, but they were not infallable (sp?). Several men from Church History believed that sex was only meant for procreation and not for actual satisfaction. Would you agree with such? They can't get "sex" right, why should I assume their views on Scripture were perfect?

[MICHAEL'S RESPONSE: I think you misunderstood. My point was that the 'inspired canon' Christians call the New Testament was collected by 'inspired' Bishops. Most Protestants don't know that the early Orthodox movement saw the Bishops as infallible when it came to gathering the 'right' books out of the plethora of texts being circulated by the disparate and mixed Christian communities. Most Protestants don't know how or why the New Testament was formed. They typically hear that the criteria was apostolic authority, church unanimity and doctrinal correctness. The fact is that the Bishops of the early Orthodox movement, also called Catholic, not to be confused with what later came to be called Roman Catholic, determined the 'right' books. In other words, the Bishops were chosen by Apostles who had been chosen by Christ, and were thus capable of picking the right books for the New Testament. So yes, I do believe they were fallible, about sex and which books went into the canon. Adherence to an inspired canon necessitates inspired men to have chosen the right books. I think Jesus would have derided them for returning to institutional (priestly) authority with a brand new Christian Torah! He had and advocated a Living, breathing, dynamic, direct connection to God – actually believing that God was big enough and present enough to communicate without human vocal cords, human alphabets, human penmanship and publishing houses. I have yet to meet an evangelical who has adequately researched or answered the question, "Why these 27 books?"

Now I may be a bit odd in that I think these early Bishops and Apostles were chronologically and psychologically very near something inspired, but hardly infallible and contained in 27 books. I love the New Testament. I love Paul's theories. I love looking through the telescope of the Bible into the infinite Realm, but I can find no justification to restrict Almighty God to a single set of books contained in the Bible.]

COMMENT 2. Next, Jesus told His followers that the Spirit would "inspire" all of His people. Define "inspiration" for me?

[MICHAEL'S RESPONSE: I agree! Inspiration is Latin for in = in, spire = breath or spirit. It literally means 'to breathe in.' Just as oxygen is available to ALL humans, regardless of ethnicity, religious creeds, civilization or culture – so Spiros, Spirit is also available to all humans, not just those who 'accept Christ' or came from the sperm of Abraham. That was the point Jesus made to the Samaritan women when he said that true worshippers worship in Spirit and Truth, not geography and the canon of correct Scripture. Truth and Spirit are God, always universal and everywhere present. There were two priests of Elohim in the Old Testament who were neither Jews nor Christians (Melchizedek and Jethro). Neither had any religious system recognized today, nor any canon recognized today. Did their connection to and communion with God come through some aberrant or unique revelation? Hardly – they met God because God is like oxygen, everywhere to be found by any who seeks. God breathes (in-spires) all who humble themselves and seek Him.]

COMMENT 3. When you bring up Paul "abandoning a sacred text". Please, if you are going to bring up Scripture at least use it correctly. Galatians was not about abandoning the Law. Galatians was about how, through Christ, believers have fulfilled the Law. Thus, Paul pitted the Spirit versus the Law. The Galatians were trying to (in that instance) fulfill the Law by circumcision. But that could lead to a much larger discussion. Moving on...

[MICHAEL'S RESPONSE: You cannot separate Law from Torah. Torah is Law, or Scripture. All Scripture makes external requirements, circumcision being a metaphor for all external religious requirements, whether ceremonial or moral. The morality of Jesus and Paul came from inside, not outside. To walk in the Spirit is to seek purity because purity seeks you, not because some text tells you to do it. Yes, Paul was using the only language he had in his day to tell the foolish Galatians to get their eyes back on the cross where all religious rites, books, creeds, temples, clergy and religious objects were crucified. Paul was telling them to listen to the internal voice of Spirit, not the written words of any book or epistle, not even his. As he said to the Corinthians, he and the other men were only gardeners – God was the soil and we are the field. I have yet to see a field that grew a garden because a book on gardening told it to grow. Fields grow from the inside out.]

COMMENT 4. Our marked differences in understanding what the word of God is makes you make such a statement as your "love letter" analogy. As the word of God is the Spirit of Christ speaking to the Church, your example breaks down. The Spirit of God taking the word of God and using it to effect mind, heart and will. But again, where we break down is a fundamental difference in understanding the word of God.

[MICHAEL'S RESPONSE: I don't think the analogy breaks down at all. Second hand written words are always inferior to direct, personal, internal communication. Those who prefer to read and memorize love letters are carrying on long distance relationships, whether at the human or divine levels. Neither Paul nor Jesus ever once pulled out a written text to commune with the Father; the only time they used Scripture was when they were trying to convince the book-bound religious Jews that their own narrow little Torah spoke of the ubiquitous love of God which transcended sectarian religious forms.]

COMMENT 5. The word of God has done more to divide the people of God than anything else? Maybe...or it could be that prideful sinful men, feeling they were right about small details broke off from one another. What you are saying is that because people have misused the word of God, than the word of God is divisive. Maybe it lies more in the heart of man.

[MICHAEL'S RESPONSE: That's the point! Humans are biologically predisposed to live from the basic instincts of ego (pleasure, power, prestige and purpose). There is nothing wrong with us, we all have wonderful little egos. We are all controlling, manipulative, divisive, self centered and self willed. We separate into families, tribes, cities, states and nations. That is why we create patriotic flags, unique clothing, political systems, body markings, religious systems, holy books, holy rituals, holy buildings, and on and on and on. The uniqueness of people like Jesus, Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. is that they start stripping away the props which separate us, and we kill them! I remember when I was memorizing the Bible a few years ago and somebody tried to take my self-centered biblical identity away. I was indignant and fought like a wild cat! Why, I was just like Saul of Tarus going to Damascus to persecute those damn Christians who said there was no barrier to God, no doctrine, no ritual, no book and no ethnicity. Saul, like all religious people, must have an identity to make them stand out from the Samaritans, Gentiles, Romans, Jehovah's Witnesses, Hindus, Buddhists, et al. To follow Christ means to release all props, embrace all humans and shed the many onion layers of ego over a lifetime.]

COMMENT: Lastly, both the compassionate heretic and the Bible beating heretic are both heretics. Kind of tongue in cheek, but you get the point. Again, this discussion comes down to the fact that your understanding of the word of God is fundamentally different than mine. The greatest part, I think, is that you use the Bible to make your case.

[MICHAEL'S RESPONSE: Right on my friend. The word heretic is a favorite of mine - αἵρεσις, hairesis (from αἱρέομαι, haireomai, "choose." A heretic is someone who makes a choice about what he or she believes, not what the orthodox ideologues tell you comes in 'the package.' Jesus was a heretic. They typically kill heretics. They upset the institutional format.]

Christopher said...

I just realized that there were some questions of mine you never answered, but you may have in your response to my response to your response!

One, you never answered my question of what do you say to the J.W or the Mormon who claims that the Spirit speaks to him just as much as He speaks to you. Yet, you two believe completely different things? Along those lines, the Bible may be used by men to be divisive, but I would rank subjective "Spirit-felt" living as just as divisive...and it is objective. Think about a room full of people who never have to refer to the Bible to make a BIBLICAL point. "The Spirit-led me to..." would become the catch phrase thrown around the room.

And if you could find me a verse--any verse--which, in context in Galatians can tell me to simply listen to the internal voice of the Spirit I would give you all the credence in the world. It seems to me that the same person who wrote that all Scripture was useful for rebuking, correcting, teaching and training in righteousness, would hardly say "just listen to the internal Spirit".

Second, it seems to me that you have a slight case of the Universalisms. The Spirit is not free to all people, only those who accept Christ. Jesus said just this very thing when His apostles asked Him why He would send His disciples that the Spirit could not dwell in with the World (ie. Unbelievers) (John 14:15-17).

Third, refering back to your section about the canon...once again, fundamental disagreement. The men did not choose the books of the Bible, they simply saw the authority of certain books and the lack of authority in others. Do not claim that so many protestants are ignorant of these things.

Upon further reading your replies, it seems to me that you are not anywhere near an Orthodox Christian at all. You reject the canonicity of the Bible, calling the books (at least Paul's writings) theories; you seem to believe that God has spoken through other so-called sacred text, I am assuming, since you do not wish to "restrict God" to the Bible. Unfortunately, it would seem, you take this last paragraph as a compliment.

Michael said...

CHRISTOPHER: One, you never answered my question of what do you say to the J.W or the Mormon who claims that the Spirit speaks to him just as much as He speaks to you. Yet, you two believe completely different things? Along those lines, the Bible may be used by men to be divisive, but I would rank subjective "Spirit-felt" living as just as divisive...and it is objective. Think about a room full of people who never have to refer to the Bible to make a BIBLICAL point. "The Spirit-led me to..." would become the catch phrase thrown around the room.

MICHAEL: There are several issues and basic assumptions here being all mixed together:
1. God/Spirit has no regard for titles or doctrinal statements, but rather for behavior. The fruit of the Spirit is not beliefs, but actions and attitudes (love, joy, peace, etc.). Jesus made this clear over and over with the sermon on the mount, his teachings and his parables – Prodigal Son, Good Samaritan, etc. When I was an evangelical minister and seminary teacher, I used to marvel at the kindness and compassion of JWs, Mormons or Buddhists, and contrast that with the arrogant, intolerant, miserable, impatient 'Christians' around me. Of course there were loving Christians and intolerant JWs, Mormons and Buddhists – but I began to see that the evidence of Spirit was in behavior, not beliefs. Sadly, evangelicals have made 'beliefs' the fruit of the Spirit.
2. Second, I have no problem with being divisive. There is a myth and tragic flaw in both Orthodox Christianity and Heterodox New Age Liberalism that the goal of life is to get rid of differences and divisions. Life is meant to be conflictive and troubling. Just as Jesus said 'the poor you will have with always', the same is true of war and conflict. They are purposeful and necessary parts of the cosmos. I see the goal of life to grow a soul, or as the 2nd century theologian Irenaeus taught in his masterpiece, Against Heresies, we are here on this planet to blend body, soul and spirit through living in this world of divisive chaos. Ultimate unity comes through dis-unity. Perfection comes from imperfection. What you and I are doing right now by these divergent dialogues is soul-making. Irenaeus pointed out that Genesis 1:26 says we are made in the 'image' (tselem in Hebrew) and 'likeness' (demooth) of God. He said that 'image' is the potential of Godliness and 'likeness' is the actual achievement of Godliness. Image is the block of unformed marble, likeness is the carved masterpiece. Life is a process of being hammered, chiseled, buffed, buffeted and polished by many trials and conflicts. In other words, as we live our lives, as we encounter the various trials and problems, we become increasingly conscious free moral agents who make choices which cause us to move from being a potential soul (image) to the actual, perfected, completed soul (likeness). Jesus was the first human to achieve that, and Paul held him up as the author and finisher of our faith, saying that if we continued to run the race of soul-making, God would perfect us unto the day of completion (Phil. 1:6). So I don't have a problem with people believing different things, as long as they are moving forward and honestly seeking Truth.
3. With regard to your comment, "Mormon who claims that the Spirit speaks to him just as much as He speaks to you. Yet, you two believe completely different things? Along those lines, the Bible may be used by men to be divisive, but I would rank subjective "Spirit-felt" living as just as divisive." Jesus answered this with a simple parable, "The good tree cannot produce bad fruit. A tree is known by it's fruit." A man can claim to get his information from the Bible, the Spirit, the Pope, Promise Keepers, the Koran and any number of sources – but the ultimate proof is in the fruit, not doctrinal assertions. How does he treat his wife and kids? Is he miserable, resentful, joyless, obsessed with lust, greed and hatred for his opponents? Does he gossip, slander, split the church over doctrinal issues and other negative things? The early Church founders who argued for one set of doctrines over another, from Origen to Augustine, did so on the basis of the resultant fruit, not rational logic.
4. And with regard to your comment, "Think about a room full of people who never have to refer to the Bible to make a BIBLICAL point. "The Spirit-led me to..." would become the catch phrase thrown around the room." I agree, and that is no different than 'The Bible tells me to…' However, there is one huge difference, namely that the Spirit has an Infinite, internal compass and invisible Power that will kick our ass if we go off course. Why do you think we have emotions? One can claim the Spirit 'led me' or 'the Bible says,' and if they are wrong, they will experience internal and external hell in their lives because of the force and power of Spirit. Remember what Jesus said, 'the Spirit will convict or convince the world of sin and righteousness,' not the Bible. God's Spirit is quite capable of letting the claimant know whether they are operating out of selfish ego or godly connection. Your problem, like all Biblicists ranging from the Moral Majority to the Taliban, is that you think you have control by referring to an external, objective, rational text. You don't. The One who corrects is Spirit, so please stop using your Bible to do what only God can do. Leave external control up to the political and social systems. They are often way more just than biblical religionists.


CHRISTOPHER SAID: And if you could find me a verse--any verse--which, in context in Galatians can tell me to simply listen to the internal voice of the Spirit I would give you all the credence in the world. It seems to me that the same person who wrote that all Scripture was useful for rebuking, correcting, teaching and training in righteousness, would hardly say "just listen to the internal Spirit".

MICHAEL: So you need a verse? Read the Gospel of Matthew and see whether or not your request for a verse (Law - Torah) sounds more like Jesus or the religious Biblicists who needed a law, a verse, a Bible reference for their positions. And let me remind you that Law is a bad translation of Torah; a better translation is 'biblical instruction.'
1. Read these passages and I think your question is partially answered:
a. "But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful (according to a verse) to do upon the sabbath day." Matthew 12:2
b. "How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful (according to a verse) for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?" Matthew 12:4
c. "Or have ye not read in the law (according to a verse), how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?" Matthew 12:5
d. "And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful (according to a verse) to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him." Matthew 12:10
e. "How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful (according to a verse) to do well on the sabbath days." Matthew 12:12
f. The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful (according to a verse) for a man to put away his wife for every cause? Matthew 19:2-4
g. Is it not lawful (according to a verse) for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? Matthew 20:15
h. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful (according to a verse) to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? Matthew 22:17
i. Then one of them, which was a lawyer (wanting a verse), asked him a question, testing him, and saying… Matthew 22:35
j. Master, which is the great commandment in the law (verses)? Matthew 22:36
k. On these two commandments hang all the law (verses) and the prophets. Matthew 22:40
l. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law (according to a verse), judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Matthew 23:23
m. And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful (according to a verse) for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. Matthew 27:6

2. Why do you suppose Matthew's gospel plays this theme over and over like a Pentecostal worship chorus? It seems to me that both Matthew, and Paul in Galatians, are making the point that religionists are bound by their written theological creeds, rendering them incapable of following the Spirit of mercy, compassion and truth which 'blows where it will', not where the verses say it ought to blow.
3. I can try to show you a verse, as Paul did with those early milk drinking Jews whose minds could see no further than their sectarian Jewish Bibles. But the goal is to reach what Jeremiah prophesied 600 years earlier when he wrote that the LORD said, "That's right. The time is coming when I will make a brand-new covenant with Israel and Judah. It won't be a repeat of the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took their hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant even though I did my part as their Master." God's Decree. This is the brand-new covenant that I will make with Israel when the time comes. I will put my law within them—write it on their hearts!—and be their God. And they will be my people. They will no longer go around setting up schools to teach each other about God. They'll know me firsthand, the dull and the bright, the smart and the slow. I'll wipe the slate clean for each of them. I'll forget they ever sinned!" God's Decree." The Message Bible
4. Now, for that Galatian verse: "All who rely on observing the law (theological verses) are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law (Verses)."

CHRISTOPHER: Second, it seems to me that you have a slight case of the Universalisms. The Spirit is not free to all people, only those who accept Christ. Jesus said just this very thing when His apostles asked Him why He would send His disciples that the Spirit could not dwell in with the World (ie. Unbelievers) (John 14:15-17).

MICHAEL: Slight case of Universalisms? Hell no, it is full blown 'universalism' as you label it. Jesus called it God's unconditional love for all people without the Law. The 'World' is a state of mind. The 'World' (cosmos or order in Greek) is a condition of the soul, not a geographical location. You are falling into the Nicodemus and woman at the well literalism syndrome – failing to see Jesus speaking in deeper spiritual metaphors. This is meat, not milk. Every human soul has both the 'World' of ego, self will, self centeredness, self rightness, self righteousness, etc in it. Every human soul also has the Spirit in it, potentially able to 'dwell' or reign if it is allowed to. John also said 'he is the light that lights EVERY man', and that he draws ALL men to himself. Isaiah foresaw this 700 years earlier when he wrote, " In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The LORD Almighty will bless them, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance." (Isaiah 19) Why do you suppose Matthew went out of his way to say that the Assyrio-Babylonian Magi were the first to worship Jesus, and the Egyptians gave him refuge from Herod and Israel? The Spirit is free to all people Christopher, as it was to Adam, Hagar, Abraham, Melchizedek, Jethro, Rahab and a host of others who had never 'accepted Christ' or known about your Christian theological doctrines/Laws.

CHRISTOPHER: Third, referring back to your section about the canon...once again, fundamental disagreement. The men did not choose the books of the Bible, they simply saw the authority of certain books and the lack of authority in others. Do not claim that so many protestants are ignorant of these things.

MICHAEL: Simply saw? Please go study the formation of the canon. Until 367 A.D., there were several canons, including the notorious Muratorium canon. The fact is, there has never been an authoritative council or moment in history where an 'official' Christian canon was affirmed. The canon included the Apocryphal books until Luther and some others dumped them in the 16th century. The closest thing to a declaration of an official can came when publishing houses had to decide which books to put in the Bible to sell. My comment about Protestants is not mean-spirited, just factual. I have yet to meet a Protestant Bibliolotrist who has actually seriously researched the whole history of the caon. They may have read a chapter in Josh McDowell or F.F. Bruce, but none has really looked at it. In this regard, they are like the Taliban, assuming their book is holy because they have been told so, and because it gives them an external security and authority. I have a hunch that there is a preponderance of addictive personalities in these groups since they need an external solution, fear losing their external props and are too lazy to actually do serious research to see if they have Truth or just a religious drug.

CHRISTOPHER: Upon further reading your replies, it seems to me that you are not anywhere near an Orthodox Christian at all. You reject the canonicity of the Bible, calling the books (at least Paul's writings) theories; you seem to believe that God has spoken through other so-called sacred text, I am assuming, since you do not wish to "restrict God" to the Bible. Unfortunately, it would seem, you take this last paragraph as a compliment.

MICHAEL: You would be correct Christopher. Let me remind you that Jesus was not anywhere near being an Orthodox Jew – especially when he claimed to be God in the flesh! No, I am not orthodox, though I have high regard for many orthodox teachers – Irenaeus, Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, CS Lewis, GK Chesterton and many others. I don't pick and choose my beliefs based upon the 'orthodoxy; of the teacher, but upon my current understanding before God with a clear conscience, compelled by no human system or teacher. I did that once, and nearly had a nervous breakdown.

Christopher said...

How can you argue from Scripture, yet also claim that Paul had "good theories"? It seems as if you under-cut yourself.

As far as Galatians is concerned, yes, you are wrong concerning what the letter to the Galatians is about. Paul is in no way down-sizing the Law. Read it carefully, he is putting the Law in its proper place as an understanding of sin that leads us, or tutors us, unto Christ.

This is why he was so fretful about the Galatians going back into circumcision. Not because circumcision was wrong, but because these people were trying to live by the Law instead of living under Grace. Paul simply told them that if they were going to live by the Law they had to keep the WHOLE LAW, which Paul knew no one could do, which is why Christ did it for us.

We also see Paul's understanding of the Law in Romans 3 as he writes that through the Law salvation from sin does not come, only knowledge of sin.

Lastly, I will thank you NOT to misrepresent my Lord in such a fashion. Jesus was an "orthodox Jew" in every way. If He were not He could have died as the perfect sacrifice. He was perfect in every aspect of the Law that He might represent us in our imperfection before the Law. The "Religious Leaders" of His day had taken the commandments of God and replaced them with traditions of men. They had no desire for the Law, but for power that they tried to milk from the Law.

Yes, you are right, the Spirit is free to all people...who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and are thus saved. You flip back and forth with no coherence in your usage of Scripture. One, you use (try to) Biblical examples such as Abraham and others, but the you go against other passages such as Eph. 1 that say that part of salvation (being in Christ) is receiving the Spirit.
You are nothing more than a pluralist under the guise of being Christian.

So, make up your mind, will you believe these "theories" as the word of God, or will you abandon each part? And if you choose to keep some and leave others, how do you know which ones to toss and which ones to keep?

Michael said...

Christopher,

You are trapped in what men have been trapped in for centuries, Phrasaic, egoistic, exclusivistic religion. I know it well as I was once so ensnared. You have limited God's love to a small portion of humans, and thereby denied it altogether. Your so called "Lord" is little more than your current rational ego combined with a genuine spiritual experience gone sour. Your Holy Bible is your badge of identity, like the Muslim's Holy Koran or the Hell's Angel's motorcycles. You are following the convoluted Jewish rationalism of Paul, not Jesus Christ's universal love and unconditional acceptance as presented in the four gospels. What's worse, you are placing your faith in a humanly fashioned book rather than in the ubiquitous Presence of the Dynamic Living Spirit. People like you and the Taliban will continue to cause and fight wars generated out of pride and selfishness disguised as godliness. There is no more terrifying God than the one created in the image of men like you and those like you. It is because of people like you that the human Jesus cleared the Temple with a whip made of ropes. You divide, offend, condemn and deny the love of God to other human beings that don't belong to your theological cult. I predict that one day your inhumane religion will result in your fall into addiction and the destruction of your ego, which will move you into a broader love of humanity. This is not a prediction based on superiority, but personal experience. When I was a smug, know-it-all evangelical who handcuffed the Infinite God to the human fashioned Bible, and forced Him into the jail of tiny human creeds and viewed my elite little cult of religionists as the only ones 'going to heaven,' I fell into bondage and despair. You will too. Spirit removes such arrogance from us by eroding our foundations and causing us to fall from idolatry; in your case, Bibliolotry. Israel's various falls came as a result of her attitude of spiritual superiority. I do not write this with joy. I would prefer to see you embrace the gospel of God's universal grace and irrational love for all people, regardless of gender, color, creed or national identity. I just hope the world will wake up to the universal love of God before people like you use nuclear weapons or other tactics of force to make people see it like you. God have mercy on us.

Christopher said...

Michael: "You are trapped in what men have been trapped in for centuries, Phrasaic, egoistic, exclusivistic religion."

Christopher: You call me exclusivistic, but what do say about someone who says of Himself, "I am THE WAY THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE. NO MAN COMES TO THE FATHER BUT THROUGH ME." Now THAT is exclusive.


Michael: "I know it well as I was once so ensnared. You have limited God's love to a small portion of humans, and thereby denied it altogether."

Christopher: Psalm 5:5 states that God hates all evil-doers. I think that limits God's love in a pretty deep way.


Michael: "Your so called "Lord" is little more than your current rational ego combined with a genuine spiritual experience gone sour. Your Holy Bible is your badge of identity, like the Muslim's Holy Koran or the Hell's Angel's motorcycles."

Christopher: Than stop using my Holy Bible to try to prove me wrong about my Holy Bible. I mean seriously.

Michael: "You are following the convoluted Jewish rationalism of Paul, not Jesus Christ's universal love and unconditional acceptance as presented in the four gospels."

Christopher: Stop trying to use the Bible and then calling the rest of it Jewish rationalism. You have yet to answer my question as to how you personally know which part is good and which part is not. It was Jesus, not Paul, who spoke the most of Hell. That must be part of His universal love and unconditional acceptance.

Michael: "What's worse, you are placing your faith in a humanly fashioned book rather than in the ubiquitous Presence of the Dynamic Living Spirit. People like you and the Taliban will continue to cause and fight wars generated out of pride and selfishness disguised as godliness."

Christopher: And you are placing your faith in the "Spirit", which you cannot prove is actually the spirit of God that is leading you.

One last question: Why do you speak so much about the love of God, as though there were no other characteristics about Him? Is God not just, holy, perfect, wrathful and so on. You have placed your finger upon one attribute (which you know about because of "my Holy Bible". You have a "lopsided" God. If I say I love children I cannot also love child molestation or child abuse. What I love I must also hate the opposite, or you MUST question my love. Your God is wishy-washy, for you have put Him together.

Michael said...

My my Christopher, seems I have touched a nerve! Good! Very good! We make souls through dialogue. It was through such dialogue that I escaped the evangelical book-cult. Perhaps there is hope for you. I will once more request your email address, fourth time I think, that we may dialogue face to face rather than like fourth graders via notes in class.

Now, to your issues:

Christopher said: "Why do you speak so much about the love of God, as though there were no other characteristics about Him? Is God not just, holy, perfect, wrathful and so on. You have placed your finger upon one attribute (which you know about because of "my Holy Bible".) You have a "lopsided" God. If I say I love children I cannot also love child molestation or child abuse. What I love I must also hate the opposite, or you MUST question my love. Your God is wishy-washy, for you have put Him together."

Michael's Response: I fear you are really ensnared by modern literate rationalism, what I call 'Textitis'. The God I know is Self Revealing, and doesn't need to be filtered through a book which needs to be filtered through several human brains to get into the book and out of the book. Is that so hard to understand? Your God is book-sized, humanly fashioned and subjectively interpreted by each reader of the Book. There are as many Gods in the Bible as there are interpreters. Do you need a book to know that you feel love for your children, or to know that you have to breath oxygen or excrete waste? Ultimate things are self evident. Why in the world would Some One like God rely on a second hand book with a limited, puny human brain to figure out what people over 2,000 years ago were saying? Humans have known God and His attributes before they could read and write for God's sake! And let me repeat, the scandal and foolishness of the cross is that God eliminates human sin and error freely, without having to gut and execute his son. That is Paul's twisted Jewish eisegesis, and certain self-abusing Christians needs, not Jesus' message.

Michael (Mike) Bogar said...

Christopher said: "Stop trying to use the Bible and then calling the rest of it Jewish rationalism. You have yet to answer my question as to how you personally know which part is good and which part is not. It was Jesus, not Paul, who spoke the most of Hell. That must be part of His universal love and unconditional acceptance."

Michael's Response: I know it difficult for people who think in black and white to see a third option. I do not think the Bible is the inerrant, infallible 'Word of God' as some Jews, Christians, Mormons, Jehovahs Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, some Muslims, and other cultists think. Nor will I be forced to see the Bible as worthless, useless and filled with lies and myths as atheists, secular humanists and other Bible haters. Neither of these two extreme groups will own or alienate me. I see the Bible as an inspired book of spiritual development, just as Einstein's and Hawking's works are inspired works of physics. The God of Physics and Metaphysics continues to unveil the depths of His infinite mysteries, and no human being or book will contain them. John's Gospel concluded similarly, saying, "Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written." One can use the Bible and argue for a more lucid interpretation, just as one can with Einstein's works without believing they are flawless or that they dribbled out of the mouth of God. As far as Hell, Jesus always spoke of Hell with regard to religous people who appealed to the Jewish Book and used it to exclude non-Bookish people from the kingdom. Go look that up - it might be a cause for you to revamp your exclusivistic 'textpertise.'

Christopher said...

Again, if I am being exclusivistic please tell me what you would call someone who claims that He is the ONLY WAY TO GOD?

Do you simply read the Bible in regard to what you like and what you do not? Thomas Jefferson simply marked out the parts he did not agree with, yet calling it the "Good Book".

Okay, sure, let's say Jesus only spoke of Hell in that way. There is yet a Hell, which makes God slightly less of a Universalist than you are.

Michael said...

Christopher wrote: "Do you simply read the Bible in regard to what you like and what you do not? Thomas Jefferson simply marked out the parts he did not agree with, yet calling it the "Good Book".

Michael's Response: This will be a short answer. Yes, I do, and so do you. After twenty years in the evangelical movement, as a seminary student, pastor and seminary professor, I came to see that everyone picks and chooses from the Bible, and have various subjective interpretations. There is no "Objective" approach to the Bible. Every human being reads the Bible through his/her personal education, theological slant, current morality, deep seated prejudices, preferred political views and the temperament they were born with. Stop the pretense that you take the whole Bible without picking and choosing. Christians choose to condemn homosexuals and yet wear mixed fabrics, eat pork and work on the Sabbath. Christians rail against sex before marriage and ignore that the same passage condemns gossip. Christians march against the evils of abortion and eat themselves into gluttonous oblivion at the Sunday night potlucks. Reformed Christians focus on the sovereignty of God passages, Wesleyian Christians focus on the free will of man passages. Pentecostals quote the healing passages, prophecy fanatics focus on Daniel and Revelation, Pauline Christians read and memorize Paul, social Christians focus on the gospels. Amillennialists allegorize and preillennialists literalize. Jefferson was just honest.

Michael said...

Christian wrote: "You say my doctrines make me exclusive, restricting people from coming to God except by the Christian path; well then, please tell me what you would call someone who claims that He is the "ONLY WAY TO GOD" as Jesus did in John 14:6? Jesus was very exclusive.

Michael's response: There are several ways, other than your literal exclusivistic way, to look at the John 14:6 passage where John wrote that Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the light." So I will play the Bible game with you, what Jesus and Paul did in the synagogues, resorting to the religious level of argumentation, requiring a cold, humanly collected set of books over the Living Spirit. And while I hold that the Bible is human document filled with valuable spiritual insights as well as glaring human ignorance, I will assume for the sake of argument that the John 14:6 passage is from Jesus, and to be taken literally:

I. WHAT ABOUT PRE-CHRISTIAN SALVATION?

What do we we do with those who were 'saved' before Jesus arrived with the 'only way?'

What about those pre-Christian biblical characters like Melchizedek, Abraham, Hagar, Jethro, David, Elijah and thousands of others right up to John the Baptist who knew nothing about Jesus Christ's atonement on the cross, or any of the other Christian doctrines developed between 30 AD – 400 AD. In other words, "How did those Old Testament folks 'get saved' if Jesus was the 'only way'; how did they know God before salvation was accomplished or understood?"

I'm not sure why so many Christians avoid this topic, or sweep it away by simply saying, "Well, Jesus' work was anticipated and applied backwards." That's convenient, but it begs the question – how much or little did these pre-Christian people know about 'Jesus?' If they knew nothing but simple faith, then any human can be saved by trusting the inner voice of God as Abraham did. You do recall that Abraham had simple faith when God told him to go to Palestine (Genesis 12-17); that is all Abraham knew and yet he was counted righteous before God. In fact, according to Paul in Romans and Galatians, Abraham is considered the epitome and father of faith. Logically then, any human being who, like Abraham, hears the internal voice of God and responds is 'saved.'

If that was the case, then it would have been better if Jesus had never come and made it harder by introducing more information and difficult doctrines. It is currently harder to 'get saved' than it was for Abraham! Please give me your answer to this question based on what I just said, "How much did the Old Testament characters know about Jesus being 'the only way?'

II. THE WAY AND TRUTH REFERS TO TWO SETS OF TEACHINGS, NOT A LITERAL MAN'S BODY.

The 'way, the truth and the life' phrase was a common Mishanic saying Jewish teachers used often when referring to their teaching from the Torah, "Torah is the way, the truth and the life."

The author is contrasting Jesus' universal grace teachings to the narrow exclusivistic teachings of Torah. The Jews had claimed that their narrow, exclusive religious 'way, truth and life' through Torah was the only entrance into the coming kingdom. John's gospel, on the other hand, made it clear that Jesus came to 'enlighten every man,' (John 12:32) 'draw all men to himself,' (John 6:) including women, Samaritans, sinners, adulteresses and even thieves dying on Roman crosses. Jesus' teaching, which was called 'the way, the truth and the life' was all embracing, all encompassing and free without doctrinal hoops to jump through. This notion is reiterated in an ironical saying found in Matthew, "Strait is the gate and narrow is the way, few will find it." Most Christians interpret that to mean that very few humans will 'be saved.' Ironically, Jesus was again comparing the narrow, ethnically based, exclusivistic Jewish theological gate which allowed primarily Jewish males who knew and obeyed Torah to the new gate of openness which Jesus demonstrated everywhere in the gospels. The 'narrow gate' Jesus spoke of was the gate of universal inclusivity, while the broad gate was the gate of sectarian exclusivism.

In other words, the majority report (broad gate) was of human religious systems which typically think only a few of the select elect will make it, while the minority report (narrow gate) of humans like Jesus, Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., hold that God includes all people based on unconditional grace and acceptance. So the 'way, truth and life' spoken of in John refers to Jesus teachings and actions which bring light to all men and draw all men to himself.

This grace teaching flies in the face of human ego and all social theory which documents that humans and animals prefer to remain in their own comfortable tribe or herd. Evangelical Christians, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Muslims and most religious and political systems all prefer to fraternize with those who agree with them, thinking they are the only, or the best, way, truth and life. Only a few mystics and radicals like Jesus open the door for all humans with no restrictions or conditions except acceptance of the inclusive gift of immediate God connection. This is a gift we all currently have, we need only receive it: "To as many as received him, to those he gave THE POWER to become the sons of God." All humans have direct access to God (Christ), they only have to flip the switch of faith to turn on the POWER that is already present. That is why some passages seem to imply exclusivism; but as Jesus said, "I didn't come to condemn you, you condemn yourselves." Just as some slaves condemned themselves by refusing to accept the universal Emancipation Proclamation of Lincoln, so also many people suffer spiritual enslavement by stubbornly remaining in ego after they see a way out.

III. JOHN'S GOSPEL IS NOT TO BE TAKEN LITERALLY

John's gospel always focuses on adopting and adapting Jewish religious ideas and idioms, always expanding them beyond the LITERAL (Bookish) meaning.

John 1:1-3 is an example, stating that 'in the beginning was the Word' which is taken from Genesis 1. But in John it is used of the pre-existent Christ. Also in John chapter 1, Jesus' gift of universal grace is contrasted to Moses who brought the limited law to Israel.

The Samaritan woman was also corrected by Jesus about her literal view of 'living water' and her literalness of holy geography when Jesus said that God resides neither in Samaria nor in Jerusalem.

Jesus referenced the 'serpent on the pole' from the book of numbers.

The list could go on and on. An honest reading of John's gospel makes it patently clear that literalists are, well, childish simpletons. John never meant his gospel as an earthly, physical science of religion, a display case of finished dogma, or an objective journalistic study of spiritual facts – John never meant to imply that Jesus was a literal lamb, an actual door, a literal resurrection, or any of the metaphors found therein.

In another place, Nicodemus, a literalistic Jewish scholar of The Book was ridiculed by Jesus for taking his words factually around the theme of being 'born again.' One could just as easily imagine Jesus saying to Nicodemus, "I am the way, the truth and life, no man comes to the father but by me." Then Nicodemus responds, "How can a human being be the way, the truth and life?" Jesus says back, "You are Israel's teacher, and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people (book literalists) do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?"

Jesus was referring to heavenly things, metaphysical concepts, truths beyond literal facticity. The phrase 'way, truth and life' referred to his simple teachings, 'trust in God' (John 14:1). If they couldn't trust in an invisible God, then he said they could trust in him, follow his example and teachings.

Only a person reading this passage 2,000 years later can insert the convoluted set of Christian doctrines into that John 14 passage. If Jesus had meant that 'way, truth and life' referred to a substitutionary atonement, a tripartite God, the virgin birth, an inerrant Bible and all of the other fantastical manmade dogmas added later, Jesus would have done so at the time. If these issues were that critical for the troubled disciples, they would would have been added. Only humans can turn a mouse turd into a speed bump. Jesus' simple intention in John 14 was to help the poor concerned disciples know that his way and truth about all inclusive love and life was more representative of God than the complex religious dogmas, rituals and teachings of the Jewish sectarian Torah. Torah, Law, was a good start, but it found it's fulfillment in the deeper teachings of Christ and Paul. And Spirit is still guiding us into even deeper truths today as we see the radical application of Jesus' declaration of universal love which transcends morality, politics, creeds and all humanly invented obstacles.

Christopher said...

Or He simply meant that He was the only way to God. I mean, seriously, now who is the one complicating things?

Anyway, in reference to all of those people who were saved "pre-Christ", yes, I stick with that simple Christian answer. They had faith in what God had revealed to that point. Salvation has always been about faith in Christ, whether looking forward or looking backwards. Sorry if you do not like that answer. It is the SIMPLE testimony of Scripture. I mean, almost everyone you keep bringing up in that name game is mentioned in Hebrews 11, or used as an example of faith in Christ elsewhere in the New Testament.

Yet, still. I must agree that God is a God of love. Yet the same Bible calls Him a God of wrath more. The same Bible plays and replays the idea of His holiness and how your universalist Christ will come and judge the world for sins...

which begs the question(s): 1. How, in your view, is a man made right with God? (If he does need to be made right)

Michael said...

Christopher asked: How, in your view, is a man made right with God? (If he does need to be made right).


Michael's Response:

I follow the post-Mosaic biblical method for getting right with God. In Moses day, Sabbath breakers, murders and adulterers got right with God by being executed (sacrificed) for their unjust violations of the 'Law of God.' Lesser offenses required animal sacrifices for a man to get right with God as prescribed by Moses in Leviticus.

However, that all changed several hundred years later with Kind David. He presented it beautifully from a broken heart after committing murder and adultery. According to 'justice', David should have been stoned to death for his mortal sins. But instead we find this:

Psalm 51:

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.
In your good pleasure make Zion prosper;
build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then there will be righteous sacrifices,
whole burnt offerings to delight you;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

David got right with God by offering the sacrifice of a broken spirit and contrite heart. Notice here that the blood sacrifice is a thanksgiving sacrifice AFTER David got right through a broken, repentant, humble, amended heart. You cannot argue with the 'text.' Righteousness came from an internal spiritual shift or sacrifice of heart, not through some slaughtered animal offered for retribution to an angry God.

This is the way Jesus taught in the synoptic gospels, in contradistinction to the Pharisees and other Jews who slaughtered animals to establish righteousness. That is one of the reasons Jesus chased the poor stupid animals from the Temple. The 'forgive and love your enemies' God-consciousness of Jesus transcended the old 'eye for an eye' wrathful retributive justice of Elohim the Judge. Jesus brought pure, scandalous, legally unfounded grace – the same kind he often spoke of in his parables. Recall the story Jesus told of the workmen who worked different hours but were all paid the same! When the employee who worked 10 hours complained that the laborer who worked 2 hours got the same amount, Jesus said that the vineyard owner (God) said, "Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?" (Matthew 20:1-16)

Grace is not grace if it requires any kind of payment. Synonyms for grace are leniency, clemency, charity, benevolence and mercy. Antonyms for grace are severity, ruthlessness, exacting, legalistic preciseness. Grace is illogical, irrational, unjust and unreasonable. Real grace is shocking and scandalous when presented to a logical, exacting, legalistic religious community which requires their God to operate out of resentment and retribution like humans do.

The human understanding of God in the Old Testament was based on law, resentment, retribution and wrathful justice – just as modern day Islam operates. Jesus presented a newer and clearer understanding of God as a compassionate father who required only broken sorrow for sins. God does not change, but human understanding does, slowly. Jesus tried to change people's understanding of God from an exacting judge to a gracious father. Many Christians try to mix justice with grace and get justice. It is like trying to mix white paint with black paint – you will never get white. Grace is white paint.

If Christians spent as much time reading about and memorizing the words and acts of Jesus as they did Paul's interpretation of Jesus, they would return to grace. Go to the three synoptic gospels, the earliest gospels, and show me the conditions Jesus set forth for healing, forgiveness or acts of compassion. He never once set a condition that there had to be an animal or human slaughtered for the recipient to benefit. One reference is made to Jesus being a 'ransom' for the sins of many, but the context makes it clear that he is teaching his selfish disciples to be servants to other human beings rather than masters. In the ancient world it was common for a number of servants to be traded for a valuable member of a tribe or city. This common practice is still done today in the Middle East.

Jesus made it clear that a higher understanding of God had arrived. Moses brought the law of an eye for an eye, Jesus brought the grace of forgive your enemies without any form of remuneration. To require slaughter, blood and the literal gutting of Jesus is a legal notion based on 'eye for eye' theology

How is your child made right with you? Do you have to slaughter innocent animals, or another living human being if your child lies, steals, gossips, has pre-marital sex, or any number of 'sins'? What loving parent, besides Moses, Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden, would think in terms of blood justice? Even the Old Testament prophets began to see that God required obedience rather than sacrifice. Do you actually believe that God's 'wrath' is such that He cannot do as do as the owner of the vineyard, exactly what he wants, even if it violates human standards of just remuneration?

The Christian theology of sacrificial slaughter and blood atonement was developed by Paul, understandably, since he was a Jewish theologian. I respect Paul as a brilliant man. He had a cosmic KONK on the head when he met the Living Christ who told him to go proclaim grace to the Gentiles. Of course he had to find a way to square it with his prior life training, as we all try to do. But Paul was wrestling with his understanding of that life changing experience, and hardly inspired as so many Paulinists (I won't call them Christians) have done. Why do you think the people in I Corinthians were arguing over interpretations, where we read from Paul, "What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ." Paul proclaimed the gospel of free grace and acceptance, as did many others, and each had a different way of explaining the details of 'how' it happened and 'what' it meant. The basic gospel is that God's Power is available to ALL who humbly, contritely surrender their swollen egos and enter into the Living Presence.
earning. That's what humans do. Unfortunately,