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29 January 2019

Forbidding tongues.

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 KWL
Therefore, my family, be zealous to prophesy. And as for speaking, don’t stop tongues!


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 “got his angry up,” as they call it in the Bible Belt. Wants me to tear ’em a new one. Nope. I’m with them. Did we forget the verse which immediately follows the “don’t-stop-tongues” one?

1 Corinthians 14.40 KWL
Practice everything appropriately and in order.

Ah there it is.

You know how people are: We never give one another the benefit of the doubt. We just assume they’re sticking it to us. ’Cause human depravity and all that. But let’s not. Let’s practice a little basic discernment and find out why they “forbid tongues,” if that’s really what they’re doing: Have they absolutely forbidden prayer in tongues, both inside and outside the church building, in every single form? Or do they have no problem with tongues; they’re just exercising their prerogative to quiet noisy people? More often you’ll find it’s the second reason.

The first reason is of course contrary to scripture. So now let’s deal with it.

28 January 2019

Ghosts: The human spirit.

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 spirit is what I mean when I say “ghost.”

Yeah, there are Christians who squirm at this word: “I’m a Christian. We don’t believe in ghosts.” Yeah we do. They’re in the bible.

John 19.30 KJV
When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.

Seems Jesus had a ghost, and when he died it left his body. And when he appeared alive to his students the next week, he wanted it to be clear he wasn’t still a ghost.

Luke 24.36-43 KWL
36 As they said this, Jesus stood in their midst and told them, “Peace to you.”
37 They were freaked out and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost.
38 Jesus told them, “Why are you agitated, and why do disputes arise in your minds?
39 See my hands and my feet!—for I am him.
Touch me and see!—for a ghost doesn’t have a body and bones like you see I have.”
40 Saying this, Jesus showed them his hands and feet.
41 Yet in their joy and wonder they still distrusted him.
Jesus told them, “Does anyone here have food?”
42 They gave Jesus a piece of roast fish, 43 and Jesus took and ate it before them.

Ghosts, said Jesus, don‘t have a body. Don’t have bones. Don’t eat. He wasn’t just accommodating their myths; he’d just been dead, and knew what dead people are and aren’t, can and can’t do. Whereas Jesus can do what ghosts can’t, ’cause he’s alive.

Of course the ability to appear and disappear makes people wonder about Jesus. But Philip did that later in Acts, Ac 8.39 so it’s not wholly outside the realm of God-empowered ability. Getting resurrected didn’t necessarily grant Jesus superpowers. But that’s a pretty big digression, so let’s go back to ghosts.

25 January 2019

A definition of Christianism.

When we’re not pursuing Jesus so much as all the stuff he might give us.

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.

24 January 2019

“Biblical principles” and extrapolating new commands.

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 husbands no matter what, and everyone should respect authority. Plus rock music is of the devil, public schools are hopelessly corrupt (so homeschool your kids), Christians need to dress conservatively, Christians should have loads of kids, and Christians should never borrow money.

I’m picking on Gothard a lot in this article, but he’s far from the only guru who does this. Financial gurus like Dave Ramsey claim they also gets their ideas from the bible. Leadership gurus like John Maxwell say much the same thing. Political activists on both the Christian Right and Left claim the basis of all their thinking comes from bible. Hey, if you’re an Evangelical, our ideas should be grounded in bible, right? (And even if we’re not Evangelical.)

Because of Gothard’s never-borrowing teachings, I actually wound up leaving my Fundamentalist church. ’Cause the church wanted to take out a loan so they could hire two pastors. It was a bad idea for lots of reasons, but Gothard had convinced me borrowing was a sin, so I was outraged when the congregation voted for the idea. “Well they’re not following God,” I concluded, shook the dust off my feet, and started going to my sister’s church.

Where in the bible are we commanded to never borrow? Well we’re not. In fact we’re commanded to treat people fairly and graciously when they borrow from us, Ex 22.25, Lv 25.37, Dt 15.8, 24.10, Lk 6.35 which implies God considers borrowing to be acceptable behavior, under most circumstances.

So how’d Gothard convince me it’s not acceptable? He claims it’s a biblical principle, an idea which isn’t explicitly stated in the bible—there’s no command which says “Thou shalt not borrow”—yet the bible teaches it anyway. If we read between the lines.

Not one of the “biblical principles” of Christian gurus are biblical commands. ’Cause if they were, the gurus could simply say, “The LORD commanded”—same as they do when they point out the LORD forbids murder, theft, and adultery. But, claim these gurus, there are tons of proof texts which suggest the authors of the bible, even though they never stated these ideas outright, believed these principles. So maybe we should believe these principles.

Assuming, of course, these aren’t human ideas, fleshly ideas, which God’s actually trying to oppose and get rid of. Like polytheism. Or patriarchy and sexism. Or racism and slavery. Y’do realize these ideas are easily found in the bible too, right? And other than polytheism, Christians have straight-up used the bible to teach God approves of them. But they’re not of God. They’re the worldview of the ancient middle east. So it stands to reason they’re in the bible. But their existence in the bible is not the same as their endorsement by the Holy Spirit. Same as the bad advice of Job’s friends, we’re meant to use our heads, realize this, and reject those principles.

Not that gurus really think about that. They have something they wanna teach, think they can prove it with the bible… and as demonstrated by the way they quote scripture, really don’t give a rip about historical context. It just gets in the way of the ideas they’re trying to promote.

So I’m certainly not saying there’s no such thing as biblical principles. Just that we oughta pay attention to whether the “biblical principles” we dig out of the bible are legitimately something God endorses. ’Cause if he does, you’d think he’d have explicitly said something. He’s not shy, y’know.

23 January 2019

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

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 commands we ignore, ’cause didn’t Jesus come to do away with the Law? Absolutely not, Mt 5.17 but you try telling an irreligious person that Jesus expects ’em to behave themselves.

Jesus never violated a command. Never once. Never ever. For two reasons.

First, sin is defined by the Law. Break a command, even one of the little ones, and you sinned. Ro 7.7-12 And Jesus never sinned. 1Jn 3.5 Had he, he wouldn’t be able to die for our sins: He’d have to die, same as everyone, for his own sins. And if Jesus never paid off our sins, we’re never getting resurrected. When we die, we stay dead. No kingdom. No New Jerusalem.

Second, Jesus is God. The same God, the LORD Almighty, who handed down the Law in the first place. It’s his Law. Breaking his own Law goes against his very nature. He doesn’t get any special God-loophole so “it’s not a sin when Jesus does it.” If that were so, it’d be utterly meaningless when the apostles point out Jesus didn’t sin.

So let that sink in: Jesus never violated the Law. He taught us to follow his Law. His kerfuffles with Pharisees were never about breaking the Law: They were about violating the way Pharisee elders interpreted the Law. Jesus had his own interpretations—because he knew precisely what he meant when he handed down these commands in the first place. His view was the old wine, which is better. Lk 5.39 The Pharisee view was a more recent spin on the commands than the LORD’s original intent, i.e. new wine.

So today we’ll get into one of those disagreements Jesus had with Pharisees. Specifically about their custom of washing before meals.

…Which, when you think of it, is also our custom. And kind of an important one. Because we frequently eat with our hands. Apples, grapes, sandwiches, carrots, pizza, nachos, burritos… we don’t use utensils as often as we imagine. And Jesus’s culture used utensils for food preparation and serving, but eating was done with your hands. Even when you scooped out wet food… from the same bowl as everyone else. You’d better have clean hands.

But it seems Jesus was having a meal with Pharisees, and nobody saw him or his kids wash their hands. Understandably they made an issue of it. As would we. Even if it is Jesus. “Um… aren’t you gonna clean up first? I mean, you’ve been touching lepers…”