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Showing posts from January, 2019

Jesus critiques the Pharisees’ loopholes.

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Mark 7.6-13 • Matthew 15.3-9 • Luke 11.37-41.So I mentioned when Jesus was accused of not washing his hands, we’re not talking about the kind of washing we do before we leave the bathroom. This was a ritual thing: Stick your arms in a barrel of water, lift them as if to pray (but prayer is optional), then go on your way… with wet hands. It was a Pharisee custom, loosely based on the ritual washing in temple. Had little to do with actual washing; it was barely hygienic. Not commanded in the scriptures either, so Jesus didn’t bother with it. His students likewise.And when Jesus was challenged about it, he responded by challenging the Pharisees right back.Mark 7.6-8 KWL6Jesus told the Pharisees and scribes, “Just as Isaiah prophesied about you hypocrites—like he wrote, ‘This people revere me with lip-service. Their hearts keep far away from me.7They worship me meaninglessly, teaching human decrees as if they’re my teachings’Is 29.138—you dismiss God’s command and cling to human tradition…

Forbidding tongues.

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When I told a friend my follow-up from my article on loud tongues would be a little something about Christians who forbid praying in tongues, he greatly approved. “Yeah! Let ’em have it. People have no business doing that.”No they don’t. ’Cause Paul and Sosthenes said not to.1 Corinthians 14.39 KWLTherefore, my family, be zealous to prophesy. And as for speaking, don’t stop tongues!But.Frequently when a church “forbids tongues,” what they actually forbid is loud tongues. Because whenever they get a tongues-speaker in their congregation, they get yet another immature Christian who can’t keep it down… who insists they have every right to make noise. After all, the Holy Spirit is empowering their ability to pray tongues! And since God’s behind it, how dare anyone tell ’em how and when and where to show off exercise their particular gift of the Spirit? How dare these churches quench the Spirit. Betcha they blaspheme the Spirit too.So, like these outraged noisy tongues-speakers, my friend …

Ghosts: The human spirit.

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And of course some of the mythology about ’em. Technically “ghost“ means the very same thing as “spirit.” It’s why “Holy Spirit” and “Holy Ghost” refer to the very same person.But over the last century English-speakers have grown to think of “ghosts” as the spirits of the dead. Humans usually. Sometimes animals. Whereas “spirit” can refer to an incorporeal being of any sort. But it wasn’t so long ago the words were fully interchangeable—as y’might notice in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The “ghosts” of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come, were not dead humans; the ghost of Jacob Marley was, though.So. Since everybody nowadays equates “ghost” with dead humans, in this article so do I.Humans are part spirit. In our makeup, we have a spirit; a non-material, incorporeal part of ourselves. When we die, the soul ceases to exist, but this spirit continues on. When we get resurrected, it goes back into our new body, and we once again become a living soul. This s…

A definition of Christianism.

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I frequently use the term Christianism on TXAB to describe people who practice the trappings of Christianity, but don’t follow Christ Jesus all that much. I didn’t coin the word; I got it from conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan. I first saw it in a piece he wrote for Time Magazine in 2006. I adopted it immediately.His article is now behind Time’s paywall. So I decided to post the whole of it here.

“Biblical principles” and extrapolating new commands.

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In my early 20s I went to a conference presented by youth pastor turned lifestyle guru Bill Gothard. (He didn’t present ’em in person; we watched videos.)
Bill Gothard. Wikipedia His organization, the Institute in Basic Life Principles (formerly Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, formerly Campus Teams) goes round the United States to teach young people “basic biblical principles” which would keep them on the straight and narrow. Gothard ran it till 2014, when he stepped down ’cause of molestation accusations. Since the statute of limitations means he’s not getting prosecuted, it looks like he’s quietly slipping back into ministry as the scandal fades from everyone’s memory.Gothard is hugely popular among Fundamentalists, who promoted him ’cause his teachings are right in line with conservative Christian culture. He doesn’t just teach people to memorize bible verses, pray, and go to church. He claims the bible says we should obey our parents no matter what, women should obey their h…

Jesus didn’t wash his hands before eating. Eww.

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Mark 7.1-5 • Matthew 15.1-2 • Luke 11.37-38.Sad to say, your average Christian knows little to nothing about what’s in the Law, the commands the LORD handed down to Moses and the Hebrews in the desert. If they’re on a bible-reading plan, they skim the commands in Exodus through Deuteronomy ’cause they’re looking for the stories. The rest, they consider as effective a sleep aid as melatonin.This is bad enough considering God still expects us to follow certain relevant commands. But when it comes to studying Jesus, these Christians don‘t know the difference between an actual, God-mandated command… and Pharisee tradition. So when Jesus butts heads with Pharisees ’cause he violated something, Christians regularly and wrongly assume Jesus was violating God’s commands.In other words sinning. Which he never, ever did, no matter how much he was tempted. He 4.15 But weirdly, we imagine it was okay for Jesus to violate the Law, ’cause he was only violating the commands he nullified. The command…

Praying too loud—in tongues.

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Likely you know what Jesus taught about showing off when we pray. If you need a reminder, here ya go.Matthew 6.5-6 KWL5“When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites who enjoy standing in synagogues and major intersections,praying so they might be seen by the people. Amen! I promise you all, they got their satisfaction.6When you pray, go into your most private room with the door closed.Pray to your Father in private. Your Father, who sees what’s private, will satisfy you.”Betcha you’ve never heard it applied to praying in tongues.Yet if you’re in one of those churches which don’t stifle tongues, you’re gonna notice whenever there’s a prayer group, those who pray in tongues tend to do so at a very audible level. Sometimes at the volume of an ordinary speaking voice. Often even louder.If they were praying in English, would this be considered appropriate behavior? Nope. Jesus’s teaching about hypocrites showing off would immediately come to mind. We’d consider it disruptive. Someone would take…

The bible “in the original Latin”: The Vulgate.

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Every so often, when I tell people I study the bible in the original languages (not that I go round bragging I can read the original languages; it’s just they ask me how I do bible study, so I tell them) they comment, “Ah, in the original Latin.”Nope, not Latin. I can stumble through Latin, but the bible’s written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The very few Latin words in there, were transliterated into the Greek alphabet.Most accept the correction. A few foolhardy few—you know the sort who’ve always gotta be right?—actually try to stand their ground. “But didn’t Jesus speak Latin? He did in The Passion of the Christ.” Yeah, that movie’s not as historically accurate as you think. The fact a white gentile plays Jesus—no matter how good a job he did—should usually tip you off.Latin was the language of the western Roman Empire—and Greek the language of the eastern. Which includes Israel. Which includes Jesus and his apostles. When Christianity was legalized in the 300s, the western Roman…

When Jesus loses students.

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John 6.59-71.So Jesus gave this big ol’ lesson on being the living bread who wants to save us—and expects our response to be a deep commitment. You gotta eat the living bread. And no, this doesn’t mean holy communion; this means really being one with Jesus. Really following him.Tough teaching for a classroom of people who only wanted Jesus to overthrow the Romans for them, then give ’em free bread. Tough teaching for Christians nowadays, who only wanna live worry-free lives, then go to heaven and live in mansions. God did all the work of saving us, so they figure he can do all the work of everything else in Christendom. These folks don’t wanna actually do anything for God; they want cheap grace and passive Christianism. There’s not much difference between our motives.But there is a big difference in our responses: The Galileans left.Whereas Christians nowadays will say yes and amen, and pretend we’re all for the idea… then go out and demonstrate by our lifestyles we don’t believe a wo…

Tongues, and how to pray in them.

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The most controversial of the Holy Spirit’s supernatural gifts is speaking in tongues.That’s because some Christians don’t merely think (as cessationists will) that it’s something Christians don‘t do anymore; that the Spirit doesn’t need us to do it anymore. Certain churches straight-up forbid it. Doesn’t matter what the scriptures say—1 Corinthians 14.5 KWLI want all of you to speak tongues—so that you can prophesy more!Prophesying is greater than speaking tongues.The exception is if one interprets so the church could be built up.1 Corinthians 14.39-40 KWL39 Therefore, my family, be zealous to prophesy. And as for speaking, don’t stop tongues!40 Practice everything appropriately and in order.—they figure if the Spirit doesn’t do it anymore, every single instance we see of tongues nowadays is devilish. And if they banned tongues, and we dare interrupt their “appropriate order” by speaking in weird sounds, our disruption is a sure sign we’re devilish. So they’ve banned tongues outright…

What are spirits?

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And of course some of the mythology about ’em. SPIRIT'spɪ.rɪtnoun. A non-physical being; a supernatural being.2. A person’s non-physical parts (such as emotions or character), which are considered a person’s true self, survives physical death, and possibly manifests as a ghost.3. [capitalized] The Holy Spirit.4. Qualities, characteristics, or emotions of a person or thing, which are considered their defining attributes: the spirit of the plan.5. Emotion or mood, usually positive: I hope this lifts your spirits.6. True intentions or attitude: It’s the spirit of the rule, not the letter.7. Liquor or another volatile liquid.8. [verb] Taken quickly and secretly.The bible regularly refers to non-physical beings. We call ’em spirits. Our English word comes from the Latin spirare/“breathe,” and the Hebrew and Greek words for spirit ( ‏רוּחַ/ruákh, πνεῦμα/pnéfma) likewise literally mean “breath” or “wind.” The bible’s authors didn’t call it that because they literally believed spirit is t…

Transliteration: Because in some languages, you’re illiterate.

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No offense, but if you can’t read their alphabet, you are illiterate. So here’s a quick fix. By now you’ve likely learned the bible wasn’t originally written in English. (Although good luck informing certain King James Only folks of this. Most of ’em know better, but there are some holdouts who still think God speaks in King James English.)The bible was written in three dead languages, languages nobody speaks anymore. The present-day versions of these languages are not the same. Languages evolve. Modern Hebrew uses western word order (subject-verb-object, “I go home”), and ancient Hebrew uses middle eastern word order (verb-subject-object “Go I home”). Plus the vocabulary’s way bigger, what with all the loanwords from Yiddish, English, German, Russian, and Arabic. Plus the pronunciation’s different, much like the differences between American English and British English. Modern Greek follows new grammatical rules. Neo-Aramaic speakers love to point out Jesus spoke Aramaic like them, bu…

Grace. (It really is amazing.)

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If you don’t understand what grace is—and many don’t—you likely aren’t practicing it.GRACEgreɪsnoun. God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards his people.2. A prayer of thanksgiving.[Gracious 'greɪ.ʃəsadjective.]Years ago I was in a kids’ Sunday school class when the head pastor visited and the kids were encouraged to ask him anything. Bad idea. We spent way too much time discussing the existence of space aliens. The pastor’s view: They’re not real, and all UFO sightings are probably devils messing with people. He was one of those dark Christians who think devils are just everywhere.Dark Christianity is likely why this pastor punted this question: One of the kids asked him what “grace” is.Someone had previously told her we Christians are saved by grace. Ep 2.8 So she understandably wanted to know what this “grace” substance was. She wanted to get it and be saved. Her assumption—same as that of way too many Christians—is it’s some sort of heavenly pixie dust.Pasto…

Historical Jesus. (Who ain’t all that historical.)

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So here’s a little transcript of a discussion I once had with a skeptic. Slightly abridged.HE. “Jesus never said that.”ME. “Sure he did. In Mark 16.52 he clearly states….”HE. “No, that’s what the bible says he said. I’m talking about what he actually said. Not what some Roman Christian, centuries later, claims he said.”Where’d he get the idea the gospels aren’t historical?—that the Jesus we Christians believe in, is just ancient Christian fanfiction? This, true believers, is what we call the Historical Jesus hypothesis.When he wasn’t staying in the White House, Thomas Jefferson used to spend his evenings at home in Virginia with four bibles (two copies each, so he could get the text from either side of the page), scissors and paste, splicing together a private book he called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Nowadays we call it “the Jefferson Bible.” In Jefferson’s version of the story, Jesus does no miracles (except one or two, which Jefferson left in because he liked the les…

Pray!

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Prayer is talking with God. No more; no less; that’s all.Yeah, you’d be surprised how many people, including us Christians, think I’m oversimplifying and it’s way more complicated than that. Prayer, they claim, is a profound mystical and spiritual undertaking which must only be done thoughtfully, seriously, soberly, and ritually. Only then will it work.Their claim is all crap. It’s awfully popular crap, and some people are so used to the idea you’re never gonna change their minds about it. So long that they’re legitimately talking with God, I figure it won’t hurt ’em to believe it. But their ideas might get in your way of talking with him, and let’s not have that.Anyway here’s the ritual they like to go with. If you’re doing it too, you can cut it out.1. “THE RIGHT SPIRIT.” By which they don’t mean a literal spirit, but a mindset. A mood. It’s what I call the “prayer mood.” It’s an attitude of “Have mercy on me, oh Lord; I suffer.” But mix a few more sanctimonious things in there:GRAT…

Epiphany: When Jesus was revealed to the world.

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The holiday which grew into Christmas.Epiphany (in some churches it’s called Theophany) falls on 6 January. Well, unless your church still follows the Julian calendar, in which case it’s gonna wind up on 19 January. It comes right after the last day of Christmas. In fact Christmas is celebrated on 25 December because of Epiphany.See, Epiphany celebrates how Jesus was revealed to the world. True, the Christmas stories figure that was with the angels and sheep-herders, and maybe with the magi. But technically he was revealed at the beginning of his ministry, at his baptism, where John the baptist identified him as God’s son.John 1.29-34 KWL29 The next day John saw Jesus coming to him.He said, “Look: God’s ram, taking up the world’s sin! 30 This is the one I spoke of!‘The one coming after me has got in front of me’—because he’s first over me. Jn 1.1531 And I hadn’t seen him! But I came baptizing in water so he’d be revealed to Israel.”32 John testified, saying this: “I’ve seen the Spirit…

Feedback, and orthodoxy tests.

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Questions? Comments? Email. But remember, my feedback policy means I can post it. Especially if it’s a question plenty of others might have.Some of you know TXAB has an email link. Whenever I redesign the site, the link gets moved around, but it doesn’t feel like placement has anything to do with how much mail I get. Besides, when people don’t know the email address, they tend to stick non-sequitur comments at the bottom of articles, and get ahold of me that way. Hey, whatever works. Just remember I do have a feedback policy around here.Most of the TXAB emails are theology questions. People wanna know about God, and I’m all for that. People wanna know how God thinks about this or that subject, or what Jesus teaches, or how Christianity tends to lean. I point ’em to the scriptures, offer my studied opinion, and remind ’em I’m not infallible—but Jesus is.People likewise wanna know about other people. Whether a Christian ministry, or famous preacher, or widespread teaching (or even littl…

The Daniel fast.

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Every January, the people in my church go on a diet. Most years for three weeks; this year we’re formally doing it for one, but some folks may choose to go longer. We cut back on the carbohydrates, sugar, meat, and oils; lots of fruits and vegetables. Considering all the binging we did between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it makes sense to practice a little more moderation, doesn’t it?What on earth does this practice have to do with prayer? Well y’see, the people don’t call it a diet. They call it a “Daniel fast.”It’s an Evangelical practice which has taken off in the past 20 years. It’s loosely based on a few lines from Daniel 10. At the beginning of the year, Daniel went three weeks—that’d be 21 days—depriving himself.Daniel 10.2-3 KWL2 In those days I, Daniel, went into mourning three weeks. 3 I ate none of the bread I coveted.Meat and wine didn’t enter my mouth. I didn’t oil my hair for all of three weeks.So that’s how the Daniel fast works. At the beginning of the year, we likewis…