Preach the gospel. And use words.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 March

There’s this really popular quote Christians use. It’s attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, but we’ve no evidence he ever said it. Kinda like the St. Francis prayer, which Francis didn’t write either. People really like putting words in Francis’s mouth, don’t they?… but I digress. The saying is, “Preach the gospel [at all times]—use words if necessary.”

Which sounds profound and nice, doesn’t it? How Christians typically interpret it is, “We preach the gospel through our actions. Not just our words; not just with sermons and literature, but being kind to others, doing good deeds, loving our neighbors, and otherwise demonstrating our faith isn’t dead by doing good works.” And isn’t good works a fruit of the Spirit anyway? Shouldn’t we already be doing them?—and in so doing, we follow the Holy Spirit and Jesus?

But here’s the thing: Words are necessary.

I’ve met many a pagan who’s seen Christians do good works. Who’s seen us be kind to people, seen us create and run charities, seen us actively get out and help the needy. But when you ask ’em why these Christians are doing good deeds, their answers are always, always, “Oh they’re just trying to get to heaven.” They think we think we’re saved by good karma.

Heck, I’ve seen many a Christian who says the very same thing. “Oh those Christians are practicing ‘faith righteousness.’ You know we’re not saved by works though; we’re saved by faith.” Of course when these people say “saved by faith” what they really mean is “saved by the Christian faith,” i.e. saved by believing the right things, saved by orthodoxy. And we’re not saved by that either! We’re saved by God’s grace. Get it right, folks.

God’s grace is a huge part of the gospel: God’s kingdom has come near, so let’s repent, and trust God to save us, and he will. Grace is central to Christianity, central to forgiveness, and what God’s kingdom runs on. Yet these people watching us Christians do our good works—both pagan and Christian—have somehow not picked up on the grace thing. Even when we’re actively demonstrating grace by doing good things for people who don’t deserve it, can’t earn it, and in some cases don’t even appreciate it.

Grace went over their heads. Hey, they don’t practice it, so it stands to reason they won’t recognize it.

And this is why, when we proclaim the gospel, we have to use words! Actions are open to interpretation, and people will naturally interpret things based on themselves, based on their own prejudices and biases. They see us doing good deeds, unconsciously think, “Why might I do those good deeds?” and conclude all sorts of self-serving ulterior motives. Some of those motives are downright evil, by the way. That’s why they’ll sometimes get really suspicious of Christian charities: “Oh, you must be doing this for the same reasons I’d do it. You’re trying to get tax breaks. You’re trying to get good public relations to make up for something really bad you’ve done, or you’re secretly doing. You’re trying to look good. You’re trying to feel good about yourselves. I know what you’re really about.”

No, they really don’t. Not unless we tell them. So we gotta tell them. With words.

It’s why the bible was written in words. Why Jesus uses words to share parables, make statements, reveal God, and describe the kingdom. He didn’t leave it up to guesswork; he didn’t expect people to watch what he was doing and come to their own conclusions. You might recall some of ’em, on their own, reached the conclusion he was using Satan’s power to do his miracles. Clearly they weren’t listening to his words—and again, Jesus used words to rebuke them.

So when Jesus sends out his followers to go make him more followers, he expects us to use words. To teach them, not just with actions and good deeds, but with words, “to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” Mt 28.20 KJV —and how’d he command his students? With words.

Could’ve stopped it at any time.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 March

Matthew 26.50-54, John 18.3-9.

When Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane on the morning of 3 April 33, the knee-jerk response of his students, same as every human, is fight or flight. Some of them fled. And some of them fought.

To some degree it was really stupid of them to fight. The senators had sent their police, along with a mob—you might call it a posse comitatus, but there was no such procedure back then for formally deputizing a mob. Basically it was, “Grab your staff and machete; we gotta go arrest a blasphemer,” and off they went. So the students were deliberately outnumbered. But there’s always gonna be a faction of true believers who think, “Numbers don’t matter; Gideon routed the Midianite and Amalekite armies with only 300 men; Jg 7 Samson personally slaughtered a thousand people with a jawbone; Jg 15.16 God can likewise supernaturally empower me to fight any number of people.”

True, God can do and empower anything he wants. But does he want to empower us to singlehandedly fight a mob? Did he say anything in advance about this sort of thing, like he’d said to Gideon and Samson? Or have we arrogantly presumed our cause is righteous, and right makes might?—because unless God intervenes, it really doesn’t, and if God hasn’t foresaid he’s gonna intervene, he likely won’t.

And had God foresaid he’d intervene in Jesus’s arrest? Or had Jesus said just the opposite, multiple times, and the students were in denial? Like this time:

Mark 10.32-34 KWL
32 Jesus and his students are on the road to Jerusalem,
and Jesus is going before them.
They’re amazed,
and the followers are afraid.
Taking the Twelve aside again,
Jesus begins to tell them what’s about to happen to him,
33 namely this: “Look, we’re going up to Jerusalem.
The Son of Man will be handed over
to the head priests and the scribes.
They’ll sentence him to death.
They’ll hand him over to the gentiles.
34 The gentiles will mock the Son of Man,
and they’ll spit on him,
and they’ll flog him,
and they’ll kill him.
And after three days, he’ll rise up.”

God hadn’t told anyone, “Fight the mob, and you’ll win”; Jesus told them he’s getting arrested. There’d be no supernatural defeat of any mob; neither by Jesus’s followers fighting back the mob, nor of angels pouring from the black sky to smite every sinner on the ground. Jesus wasn’t gonna fight back and win; Jesus was gonna surrender. On purpose. And in so doing, win and win big; but Christians still don’t understand that strategy, and still keep adopting the tactic to fight back hard.

Although the whole angels-pouring-from-the-sky idea? It actually was an option. In Matthew, Jesus says so in the middle of his arrest.

Judas Iscariot sells Jesus out to the authorities.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 March

Mark 14.41-46, Matthew 26.45-50,
Luke 22.45-48, John 18.1-3.

In St. John Paul’s list of stations of the cross, the second station combines Judas Iscariot’s betrayal and Jesus of Nazareth’s arrest. ’Cause they happened simultaneously—they, and Simon Peter slashing one of the head priest’s slaves. There’s a lot to unpack there, which is why I want to look at them separately. Getting betrayed and getting arrested, fr’instance: That’s two different kinds of suffering. Psychological and physical.

So right after Jesus prayed in Gethsemane (the first station), this happened:

Mark 14.41-46 KWL
41 Jesus comes back a third time and tells his students,
“Sleep and rest now; it’s fine. The hour comes.
Look, the Son of Man is handed over to sinful hands.
42 Get up so we can go: Here comes the one who sold me out.”
43 Next, while Jesus is still speaking,
Judas Iscariot approaches the Twelve.
With him, a crowd with machetes and sticks,
coming from the head priests, scribes, and elders.
44 The one who handed over Jesus had given the crowd a signal,
saying, “Whomever I might show affection to, is him.
Grab him and take him away carefully.”
45 Next, coming to Jesus, he tells him, “Rabbi!”
and kisses him hello.
46 So the crowd lays their hands on Jesus
and arrests him.
Matthew 26.45-50 KWL
45 Then Jesus comes back to the students and told them,
“Sleep and rest—look, the hour has come near.
The Son of Man is handed over to sinful hands.
46 Get up so we can go: Here comes the one who sold me out.”
47 While Jesus is still speaking, look:
Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, comes.
With him is a great crowd with machetes and sticks,
coming from the head priests, elders, and people.
48 The one who handed over Jesus gives them a sign,
saying, “Whomever I might show affection to, is him. Grab him.”
49 Immediately coming to Jesus, he says, “Hello, rabbi!”
and kisses him hello.
50 Jesus tells Judas, “Brother, why have you come?”
Then the approaching mob throws their hands on Jesus
and seizes him.
Luke 22.45-48 KWL
45 Rising from the prayer, Jesus goes to the students
and finds them sleeping from the grief.
46 Jesus tells them, “Why are you asleep?
Get up and pray, or else you might enter temptation!”
47 While Jesus is still speaking, look:
A crowd, and the one called Judas, one of the Twelve, leading them.
He goes to Jesus to kiss him hello,
48 and Jesus tells him, “Judas, to kiss the Son of Man, you turn him in.”
John 18.1-3 KWL
1 When he said this, Jesus with his students go over the Kidron ravine,
where there’s a garden. He and his students enter it.
2 Judas Iscariot, who was selling him out, had known of the place,
because Jesus often gathers with his students there.
3 So Judas, bringing 200 men,
plus servants of the head priests and Pharisees,
comes there with torches, lamps… and arms.

Nope, Jesus didn’t sweat blood.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 March
Luke 22.39-46 KWL
39 Coming out, Jesus goes to Olivet Hill as usual.
The students also follow him.
40 Once they’re in the place, Jesus tells them,
“Pray not to enter into temptation!”
41 Jesus withdraws from them about a stone’s throw away,
and taking to his knees, he’s praying,
42 saying, “Father, if you want, take this cup away from me!
Only not my will but yours be done.”
43 [A heavenly angel appears to Jesus, strengthening him.
44 Being in agony, Jesus is praying more fervently.
His sweat becomes like drops of blood,
falling down to the ground.]
45 Rising up from the prayer, coming to the students,
Jesus finds them sleeping from the grief.
46 Jesus tells them, “Why do you sleep?
Get up and pray, so you might not enter into temptation!”

Before his arrest, Jesus went to Gethsemane and spent some time in intense prayer. ’Cause he didn’t wanna get beaten and tortured to death. Who would?

In Mark, Jesus only has three of his students come along with him to pray, and has to go back and awaken them thrice. In Luke it appears to be all of them, and he only comes back to chide them once. Yeah they’re tired; they just had a big Passover meal and a lot of wine, plus a walk uphill, plus it’s late. But Jesus warned them his time was coming, and they needed to pray—not for him, but themselves. They’d be tempted to do a lot of dumb stuff as a result. (In fact that’s exactly what we see them do. Shoulda prayed.)

Certain preachers love to quote the Luke version of the story, because they love to point out how Jesus was so incredibly stressed out by his soon-coming passion, he was sweating blood. You saw that in verse 44. Here it is again in the KJV:

Luke 22.44 KJV
And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

Turns out this is an actual medical condition. It’s called hematidrosis (from the Greek for “bloody sweat”) or hematohidrosis (“bloody water”). It’s rare, but possible. Blood vessels under your skin break from stress, and blood comes out your pores. It looks creepy. But not a lot of blood comes out of you this way, so it’s largely harmless. Might cause a little dehydration, so drink some Gatorade; you’ll be fine.

Preachers find this fascinating. And they love to point out how Luke, the traditional author of this gospel, was a physician! Cl 4.14 So he’d know all about such medical conditions, right? Including this one.

Though more than once, I’ve heard a preacher claim hematidrosis actually isn’t a harmless condition: They insist it’s life-threatening. That’s why Jesus needed an angel to strengthen him in verse 43: He was on the verge of bleeding out. After all the verse says great drops of blood. Jesus was already dying, and he hadn’t even been arrested yet! You don’t want him dying before the Romans killed him; for some reason that might bungle the atonement. I’m not sure how, but they’re pretty sure it woulda.

Okay. As you can tell from the title of this article, they’re wrong. Not just about how dangerous hematidrosis is or isn’t. They’re wrong about Jesus sweating blood in the first place. The verse doesn’t say that.

Stations of the cross: Remembering Christ’s suffering.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 March

In Jerusalem, Israel, Christians remember Jesus’s death by actually going down the route he traveled the day he died. It’s called the Way of Jesus, the Way of Sorrows (Latin, Via Dolorosa), or the Way of the Cross (Via Cručis). When I visited Jerusalem, it’s part of the tour package: Loads of us Christians go this route every single day, observing all the places Jesus is said to have suffered. Really solemn, moving stuff.

But most of us Christians don’t live in or near Jerusalem, and some of us can’t possibly go there. For this reason St. Francis of Assisi invented “the stations of the cross.” In his church building, he set up seven different dioramas. Each represented an event which happened as Jesus was led to his death. The people of his church would go to each diorama—each station—and meditate on what Jesus did for us all.

Yeah, this is a Catholic thing, ’cause Francis was Roman Catholic. But it’s not exclusively Catholic: Many Lutherans, Anglicans, and Methodists use stations of the cross too. Be fair: If a Protestant invented it, you’d find Protestants doing it everywhere. ’Cause it’s a really useful idea.

It’s why I bring it up here. The stations of the cross are a clever, more tangible way to think about Jesus’s death, what he went through, and what that means. It’s why lots of Catholic churches—and a growing number of Protestant churches—keep the stations up year-round. Could take the form of paintings, sculptures, or stained-glass windows. Christians can “travel the Way of Jesus” any time we wanna contemplate his death, and what he did for us.

If you’ve ever seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, he made sure to include all the traditional stations in his movie. As do Catholic passion plays, reenactments of Jesus’s death. Protestant passion plays too, though we tend to skip most of the events we don’t find in the gospels. ’Cause as you’ll notice, some of Francis’s stations came from the popular culture of early 1200s Italy. Not bible.

The 14 stations.

Originally Francis arranged seven stations. Sevens are really important in medieval Christian numerology: Days of the week, years between sabbath years, the sevenfold Spirit of God. Rv 4.5 Supposedly the number represents something complete, like God’s creation week. Christians are still ridiculously fond of sevens. So here ya go: The first draft of the stations of the cross.

  1. Jesus is given his cross.
  2. Jesus falls down.
  3. Jesus encounters his mother.
  4. St. Veronica wipes Jesus’s face off.
  5. Jesus falls down again.
  6. Jesus is crucified.
  7. Jesus is laid in his tomb.

No, the gospels never mention Jesus falling down. I know; you totally thought he did fall down, didn’t you? Everybody depicts it: Paintings, movies, passion plays; Jesus is always keeling over. Sometimes with his hands strapped to the crossbeam so he can’t catch himself, so his face smacks right into the pavement stones. It’s a good example of how Christian popular culture has some not-as-biblical-as-you-think things in it.

St. Veronica is less familiar to Protestants. She’s a bleeder Jesus cured, and according to legend she was there in Jerusalem as Jesus was led to his death. As he passed, she let him wipe his bloody face on her veil, and it miraculously turned into a photorealistic image of him. Nope, this story’s not in the bible either. But in Francis’s part of Italy, it was a huge fad for churches to have a “veronica,” a cloth with Jesus’s face painted on it. So into his stations it went.

Different churches fiddled with the stations, their order, and their number. Some of ’em created thirty stations. The current “standard set” consists of 14 stations: Two sets of seven. (Gotta love those sevens.) Sometimes they add a 15th station, representing Jesus’s resurrection. Anyway here they are.

  1. Jesus is condemned to death.
  2. Jesus is given his cross.
  3. Jesus falls down.
  4. Jesus encounters his mother.
  5. Symon of Cyrene takes Jesus’s cross.
  6. St. Veronica wipes Jesus’s face off.
  7. Jesus falls down a second time.
  1. Jesus speaks to the “daughters of Jerusalem.”
  2. Jesus falls down a third time.
  3. Jesus’s clothes are stripped off.
  4. Jesus is nailed to the cross.
  5. Jesus dies.
  6. Jesus’s body is removed from the cross.
  7. Jesus’s body is put in the tomb.

What’s with Jesus falling down thrice? Because three’s another important number in medieval Christian numerology. You know, like the trinity; the three patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the three days and nights Jonah was in the whale; Jh 1.17 Jesus’s three temptations and third-day resurrection… I could go on, but you get it.

As you move to each station, custom is to pray a little something at each. Catholic congregations tend to go like so:

LEADER. “We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you.”
EVERYONE. “Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”

A lot of Christians—myself included—figure the bible is more historically accurate than tradition, so we prefer to stick to the gospels, ’cause we know they actually happened to Jesus. For our sake, St. John Paul came up with scriptural stations of the cross in 1991. Personally I like John Paul’s list better. It’s more thorough.

  1. Jesus prays in Gethsemane. Mk 14.32-42, Mt 26.36-46, Lk 22.39-46, Jn 18.1-2
  2. Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested. Mk 14.43-52, Mt 26.47-56, Lk 22.47-54, Jn 18.2-12
  3. Jesus is condemned by the Jewish senate. Mk 14.55-65, Mt 26.59-68, Lk 22.63-71, Jn 18.19-24
  4. Jesus is denied by Peter. Mk 14.66-72, Mt 26.69-75, Lk 22.54-62, Jn 18.15-18, 25-27
  5. Jesus is judged by Pilate. Mk 15.1-15, Mt 27.11-26, Lk 23.1-25, Jn 18.28-40
  6. Jesus is flogged; crowned with thorns. Mk 15.16-17, Mt 27.26-29, Lk 23.16, Jn 19.1-3
  7. Jesus is mocked; led out to be crucified. Mk 15.18-20, Mt 27.27-31, Lk 23.11, 25, Jn 19.4-16
  8. Simon of Cyrene takes Jesus’s cross. Mk 15.21, Mt 27.32, Lk 23.26
  9. Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem. Lk 23.27-31
  10. Jesus is crucified. Mk 15.22-26, Mt 27.33-37, Lk 23.32-38, Jn 19.16-25
  11. Jesus speaks to the repentant thief. Lk 23.39-43
  12. Jesus speaks to his mother and beloved student. Jn 19.25-27
  13. Jesus dies. Mk 15.33-39, Mt 27.45-54, Lk 23.44-49, Jn 19.28-30
  14. Jesus’s body is taken down and entombed. Mk 15.42-47, Mt 27.57-61, Lk 23.50-56, Jn 19.38-42

These bits are also in The Passion of the Christ—and for that matter, most of the other, less-gory Jesus movies.

Each Eastertide I write a few articles about the stations. It’s important to look at what Jesus did for us. And not just during the Easter season.

Let’s not skip it because it’s so horrible, because we don’t wanna dwell on sad things. The reason Easter is so awesome is because Jesus conquered his horrible death. In dying, he took our sins to the grave with him. That, at least, is something to celebrate about Holy Week.

The Pharisees: Those in the first century who 𝘧𝘰𝘭𝘭𝘰𝘸𝘦𝘥 God.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 March
PHARISEE 'fɛr.ə.si noun. Adherent of a first-century denomination of the Hebrew religion, which emphasized the widespread teaching of the Law, and evolved into today’s Judaism.
2. A hypocrite. [Thanks to Jesus’s regular condemnation of hypocrites among the Pharisees.]
[Pharisaic fɛr.ə'seɪ.ɪk adjective, Pharisaism fɛr.ə'seɪ.ɪz.əm noun.]

People nowadays don’t really know much about the Pharisees—other than they opposed Jesus an awful lot, and he called ’em hypocrites right back. Mt 23.13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29 So there’s a lot of false information floating around about ’em. Stuff like this:

  • “BUT THEY WERE HYPOCRITES.” Yeah, some definitely were. Otherwise Jesus wouldn’t’ve had to denounce their hypocrisy. But be fair: A lot of us Christians are hypocrites. A lot of us humans are hypocrites. Hypocrisy is universal. Singling out the Pharisees just means we’re gonna ignore our own tendencies towards phony behavior.
  • “THEY WERE LEGALIST.” Pharisees were all about teaching the Law, so as a result Christians assume they were all about rules. All about precisely, exactly, nitpickingly following God’s commands to every last detail. Pure legalism. And works righteousness Supposedly Pharisees believed God saved them because they perfectly followed the Law. Thing is, if that were true, John the Baptist wouldn’t have to shout at them to stop sinning, and stop taking their salvation for granted just because they were Abraham’s descendants. Mt 3.7-10 Because—same as us Christians—some were legalists… and some were libertines, who figured God forgives all, so do as you please.
  • “IT’S A POLITICAL PARTY, NOT A DENOMINATION.” Which they claim ’cause Flavius Josephus called ’em a political party—and he was Pharisee, so he oughta know. And it’s easy to see why: There was no separation of temple and state back then. When that’s the case, denominations are political parties. That’s what they turn into, ’cause they pursue power exactly the same way parties do, whether it’s Calvinists and Anabaptists in medieval Geneva, Puritans and Traditionalists in early modern England, Catholics and Protestants in northern Ireland, or Pharisees and Sadducees in ancient Israel. They were both.
  • “THEY UNIVERSALLY HATED JESUS.” They did not. We all know exceptions from the bible, like Nicodemus. We also forget: Every synagogue Jesus taught in was a Pharisee synagogue. His title rabbí, meaning “[school]master,” was a Pharisee title. His apostle Paul, who wrote a big chunk of the New Testament, continued to call himself Pharisee long after he became Christian. Ac 23.6 The Pharisees whom Jesus tangled with in the gospels certainly didn’t care for him—but we certainly can’t say all.

Okey, let’s get to facts about Pharisees.

Still not ready for solid food.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 March

1 Corinthians 3.1-4.

The apostle Apollos was a first-century Egyptian Jew who was eloquent and knew the scriptures, who’d become Christian and showed up in Ephesus to proclaim Jesus in their synagogues. Since he was only familiar with John’s baptism, the apostles Priscilla and Aquila had to correct him a little. But that done, Apollos proved extremely valuable to the ancient Christians. He knew how to show the Jews from their own bible how Jesus is their Messiah. Ac 18.24-28 Paul definitely considered him a brother Christian. 1Co 16.12

Apollos comes up in Paul and Sosthenes’ first letter to the Corinthians. In that letter they bring up how the Christians of Corinth had obviously divided themselves into factions which followed one apostle or another. 1Co 1.10-13 These apostles weren’t in competition with one another, and didn’t imagine anything of the kind; yet now they had followers who did imagine themselves in competition. The Corinthians were all supposed to belong to God, not these apostles; they were all supposed to recognize Jesus as Lord, and therefore be one people. But that’s not how they behaved.

Same as Christians nowadays. We still divide ourselves into factions and fight one another. The Baptists fight the Catholics. The Arminians fight the Calvinists. The complementarians fight the egalitarians. The cessationists fight the continuationists. The Christian Right fights the Christian Right. (What, you thought I was gonna say they fight the Christian Left? Oh, they don’t even believe in the Christian Left; they think those guys aren’t Christian. They fight ’em… but far more often they fight each other. Over who’s more Right.)

All this fighting means, as the apostles make it clear in the letter, those who are fighting are not mature Christians. The Corinthians should be ready to receive deeper instructions about God’s kingdom and God’s ways. But they haven’t even traveled past the first mile marker on God’s road. They’re too busy brawling on the onramp.

1 Corinthians 3.1-4 KWL
1 Fellow Christians, I also can’t speak to you like spiritual people,
but like fleshly people, like infants in Christ.
2 I give you milk to drink, not solid food:
You weren’t yet capable.
But neither are you capable now:
3 You’re still fleshly!
For why is there overzealousness and fighting among you?—
Aren’t you fleshly, and walk like fleshly people?
4 Whenever one of you might say, “I’m of Paul,”
and another “I’m of Apollos,”
aren’t you fleshly people?

Historians figure Paul first visited Corinth in the 50s, and cowrote 1 Corinthians in the 60s. Figure a five-year separation at the least, a 15-year separation at the most. But either way, Paul expected to see growth in the Corinthians… but here they were, still acting like spiritual children. Not even children; νηπίοις/nipíhis, “infants.” Babies. Couldn’t talk, couldn’t raise their heads, couldn’t control their bowels. Paul felt he should realistically expect better of them, and they weren’t remotely mature. They were fleshly Christians.

And when you look at all the problems Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians, you’ll easily recognize we Christians in the present day suffer all the very same problems in our churches. We still have partisanship. Still have people who can’t keep it in their pants. Still have Christians who trip one another up over our “freedoms in Christ,” or demand special ranks and privileges because we’re gifted in different ways, or exercise our gifts without love, or emphasize showy gifts over those which minister to more people. Still describe the End as weird cosmic revenge fantasies rather than Jesus defeating death once and for all.

We got a lot of work to do! But it starts by following Jesus, not following our stupid manmade sects and parties. By doing as the Spirit directs, not doing as our zeal dictates. By growing good spiritual fruit, instead of imagining that bible trivia and good theology are what really turn us into mature Christians. The devil knows bible better than you do, for all the good that’s done it—but it doesn’t follow Jesus. So we gotta follow Jesus.

Those who don’t use bible as a source of revelation.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 March

So I wrote about how the bible’s a source of revelation, and how it can be a useful tool as we Christians develop good theology. Problem is, not everybody who calls themselves Christian does this. Whether unintentionally or deliberately, way too many of us don’t bother with bible at all.

Whenever I bring up this fact with certain Evangelicals, thanks to certain prejudices they have, they immediately think of mainline churches. The assumption they typically have, is old-timey churches don’t bother with bible; their theology is based on feel-good junk. This assumption’s not based on anything valid, ’cause I’ve visited and studied the history of mainline churches, and know a few of their pastors. Their churches’ official doctrines are based on longtime traditions… and these traditions are regularly based on bible.

Don’t believe me? Look at their catechisms. A catechism is a list of a church’s official doctrines, frequently presented in the form of a list of frequently asked questions, ’cause it’s easier to memorize that way. They regularly encourage children and newbies to memorize ’em so they know exactly what Christianity—more accurately, their church—teaches.

  1. “What is the chief end [by which they mean purpose] of man?”
  2. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him for ever.”

Now, does that question-and-answer pair come from bible? Kinda.

1 Corinthians 10.31 KJV
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
Psalm 145.1-2 KJV
1 I will extol thee, my God, O king;
and I will bless thy name for ever and ever.
2 Every day will I bless thee;
and I will praise thy name for ever and ever.

That question and answer is based on bible. Most of the catechisms connect right back to bible. Or at least they claim to; every once in a while you’ll find a Q&A where you’ll balk: “Wait, is that what the bible meant?” and no, not really. Catechisms are the work of humans y’know, and humans make mistakes.

Hence every so often there’s gonna be an official teaching of that church where y’might wonder, “How’d they come up with that?”—and nope, it’s not from bible. The church’s founder, or one of its more famous preachers, or some significant author, coined it. The people of that church thought it sounded like godly wisdom—and hey, maybe it is! But maybe it’s not. And either way, since it’s not bible, it’d better be consistent with bible. At the very least it’d better not contradict it!

So that’s what you’ll find in mainline churches: People who are trying to be consistent with the scriptures. But also consistent with their traditions. Traditions are very important to them!—they help connect ’em with one another, and with the Christians of the past. Likewise they figure those traditions are ultimately, originally based on the apostles’ teachings, i.e. bible: We shouldn’t find any contradictions between them.

Yeah, those people with hangups about how biblical mainliners are, don’t really know any mainliners.

Me, I’m not necessarily even thinking of mainliners and catechisms. I’m thinking of heretics. ’Cause I know a few.

The bible as a source of revelation.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 March

Many Christians firmly believe the only way God reveals himself to humanity is through the bible. Which contradicts what we find in the bible.

When I talk about our sources of revelation, the’s bible most definitely one of them. Certainly a primary source. But in the scriptures themselves, God first reveals himself to humans with a God-appearance: He hangs out with Adam and Eve. Ge 3.8 The humans ruined those original regular visitations—but no, their sin didn’t drive God away; sin doesn’t do that. God still appeared to people from time to time in the scriptures, and of course he became Jesus.

And there’s the other forms of revelation—all of which we see in Genesis. We get miracles. We get God speaking back to people in prayer. We get dreams and prophets. And while Genesis doesn’t really talk about revelation from nature (despite what young-earth creationists claim) plenty of people claim it’s a legit form of revelation, and point to it often.

The bible is the product of all these sources of revelation. People saw God, or heard him when he spoke, or saw the miracles he empowered. If they didn’t see any of that, they at least heard his prophets speak for him. They recorded these things—and that’s our scriptures. That’s bible.

The difference between bible and other forms of revelation, is the bible’s been repeatedly confirmed as reliable. In its day, and many times since. Yes, even Revelation—even though the visions talk about the very end of history, plenty of it is about its present day, and that stuff came to pass. It’s why ancient Christians kept it. I can’t help it that “prophecy scholars” make tons of wild claims that everything has yet to happen—and y’all believe them. Don’t. They know not what they do.

The fact the bible’s been confirmed is why we kept its books: Why keep supposed “revelations from God” which haven’t been proven? And since they have been, we Christians consider the scriptures faithful and reliable revelations of God. If you want to fact-check it again, go right ahead; it can stand up to scrutiny, which is why we Christians have historically trusted it. Archaeologists still keep digging up stuff which confirms it—sometimes in ways they never expected, ’cause their discoveries put a whole new spin on the scriptures.

Now, with every other source of revelation, we still have to confirm them. We gotta watch miracles to see whether they produce the sort of good fruit we should see in God’s handiwork. We gotta confirm prophecy, prayer messages, and dreams, lest people were mistaken, or were tricked, or are lying. But with bible, not so much. From the time the very first books were written, all the way to today, God’s followers have confirmed and re-confirmed and re-re-confirmed the scriptures are valid. Solid. Trustworthy. Relevant. Consistent with who God is.

Humility, and the “cage-stage” Christian.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 March

The starting point of theology may be revelation, but the first principle of theology is humility: Recognizing we’re wrong about God, and Jesus is right, and following Jesus so we can know God better.

The purpose of theology isn’t to learn so much that we become God-experts, then correct everyone else around us. It’s to correct ourselves. Our beliefs. Our poor character. Our bad attitudes. Jesus may have redeemed us, and granted us access to God’s kingdom, but we still suffer from a depraved sense of selfishness, and need the Holy Spirit’s help and power to overcome that, and become like Jesus—the only human who ever did it right.

The problem? A lot of Christians have utterly skipped this first theology lesson. Or weren’t paying attention, ’cause we were too busy staring at the syllabus. Or promptly forgot all about it, ’cause all our new knowledge puffed us up. However it happened.

Hence too many of us imagine theology’s first principle is, “I was wrong. But now I’m not! Jesus fixed me.” Supposedly when he gave us new life, he also gave us a new nature. His nature. And now we have a Jesus nature, and fruit of the Spirit now grows in us spontaneously on its own, and we have the mind of Christ. 1Co 2.16 Whatever we think… it’s miraculously just as Jesus thinks. All our motives are good and pure and noble and godly. We have arrived.

And if you claim we haven’t… well, [UNNATURAL ACT] you. I have the mind of Christ, and you’re just some dirty heathen who thinks he’s Christian, but you probably voted for the other guy, didn’tcha? Who are you to claim I’m just as corrupt as before I came to Christ? You don’t know Christ. I do. [Cue Genesis’s “Jesus He Knows Me.”]

I run into Christians with this mindset all the time. They’d be the folks who email me to explain, patiently or in full fiery wrath, why I’m wrong and heretic and going to hell. Or who show up on discussion boards to loudly, angrily correct everybody who varies ever so slightly with their infallible doctrines. Back when they were pagan, they’d get this way about plenty of other subjects, like politics and Star Wars. Now they do it with doctrine. Or apologetics.

There’s a term the Calvinists use when their young, overzealous theologians get like this—when they’re a little too enthusiastic about “the doctrines of grace,” and forget to be gracious altogether. Calvinists call it “the cage stage.”