2 June 2004 Welcome - Charles - God-bothering - Traps and pitfalls

Traps and pitfalls in the Christian churches

Presented here is a collection of words and phrases, texts and terms that are misused and misunderstood to the detriment of the real Church. The first word misused is, of course, Church. I have adopted the convention in these pages of using Church with a capital to mean the real Church, the truly reborn brothers and sisters of Christ. Written without the capital, church means either the local buildings (often with pointy bits on top) or the people who go there and who are regarded by the population as "Christian" in some way. Note that all sorts of cults, from Catholic to Spiritist regard their congregations and their buildings as churches.

This naturally leads on to the consideration of the word Christian. The word first appears as a description, probably derogatory, of those who claimed to be not only followers of Christ, but to be indwelt by his Spirit. So just following wasn't enough. Indeed, claiming the indwelling Spirit was not enough either; the early Church expected to see real evidence. But now, in this judging-anybody-is-wrong age, anyone can claim to be a Christian and feel secure in the misunderstanding that Christians aren't allowed to judge them, or even argue, since all opinions are supposed equally valid.

See Acts 11, 22-26 for the first mention of Christians, and I Peter 4, 16-19 for an insight into the expected results of being a Christian.

Titles and appelations

Possibly the most common trap in Christian churches today is the "honorific" or "appellation" applied to the boss-man (or woman): Vicar, Reverend, Padre, Pope, etc.

These titles are likely to be defended in one of two ways, either shrugged off as being only a convenience, or proclaimed to be the title of a god-given office. Both are untrue. Suggest to one who holds the first view that the title be changed or discarded, and you may well see how upset and irritated people can get about what is only a convenience, or wonder why changing a supposedly inconsequential thing is almost unthinkable.

The god-given office might get folks even hotter under the (dog)collar. Vicar, for instance, has it's roots in vicarious, standing in the place of. So a vicar in the church is standing in the place of who? God? Christ? Reverend is defined as one who is to be revered. Padre and Pope are other words for father. So what does the Bible tell us about someone standing in God's stead? "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;" I Tim 2, 5 About other fathers? "And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven." Matt 23, 9 As for the concept of a priest, all Christians are priests: "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." 1 Peter 2, 5

Bricks and mortar

The second trap is the building. Join the church, jump into the trap. Look at the activity that goes into caring for the building, paying for it, sometimes rebuilding it. Don't forget the politics of who controls its use; the trust deeds that restrict its use. Some of the terminology and activity here gives the game away: sanctuary and incense swinging, alter and bowing to the alter. Even vestry, where the special robes might be put on. These are human constructs, often borrowed from the Old Testament ways, showing the tendency to turn to ritual and what we can do to make ourselves acceptable, rather than turning to the giver of real life.

Again there will be arguments in favour of the building. "What would we do without it?" "It's a sign, a witness in the locality." "How else can we all meet together?". There will be arguments in favour of the ritual - "Many find it helpful." "It reminds us why we are here." "These things help us to focus on God." The reality is that these things are now the product of human thinking and human organisation and they are not of God. The Law and it's ritual has gone: "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster" Gal 3, 24-25. The temple has been replaced by people "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are." I Cor 3, 16-17 The real Church does not need these buildings. They are a distraction and a hinderance. They are a blind alley designed to divert the effort of the Church from the real work of the Church. And they succeed.

Eccentric emphasis

This presents a series of pitfalls, generally not fatal, but used to support the authoritarianism in many churches. The eccentric emphasis is the appropriation and miss-application of a piece of scripture to support a particular view, where the real emphasis of the scripture is somewhat different. For example, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together" Heb 10, 25 is often used in support of regular Sunday services. Worse, it is sometimes used as a subtle warning to someone who finds some things more important than those regular meetings. In reality, the scripture is saying it's good to get together, not saying come to our regular meetings, or else...

"Be ye not unequally yoked" is taken almost universally within the protestant church to mean Christians shouldn't marry non-Christians. (The Anglicans and Roman Catholic churches have historically each regarded the other's members as non-Christian.) This has the double advantage of keeping things in the church under control, and avoiding the horrors of suggesting that Christians should seek to avoid, say, working for worldly motivated companies. "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?" 2 Cor 6, 14 "And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life. Phill 4, 3

"Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour" 1 Tim 5, 17. Even though the scriptures go on to provide a context of physical provision (food), this scripture is often used to justify a minister's pay on the grounds that he does "labour in the word", even when the primary condition of ruling well is ill met. Either way, this provision is based upon what the congregation has available to share, and is in proportion to their wealth (or lack of it). Note also that Paul made a point of not being a burden to those he was teaching. "Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat." 2 Thes 3, 8-10

Misleading words

This is an area that all are prone to wander into (as shown in Hostage) but there are a few words, without going into advanced theology, that can trap Christians in a behavioural pit.

"Meek" is the first candidate. Christians should be meek, or so say many people. The trouble is, they don't think meek, they think weak. And if you think that sentence is ambiguous, it is meant to be. Meek does not mean weak, or feeble, or lacking power. It simply means not arrogant, prepared to submit to another's authority; "Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass." Mat 21, 5 Jesus in the temple causing the traders and money-changers all sorts of grief wasn't weak, but he was meek. (See John 2, 13-17) Not once did he claim his own authority for what he was doing. Not once did he make himself out to be important or worth more than those he was chastising. He was right, and knew it (so did they) and he acted accordingly.

"Love" is a much miss-used word. Love covers a multitude of sins. Often, it seems, by being used as another word for them. There are four different Greek words in the New Testament that are translated as love. You can read about them in C. S. Lewis's "The Four Loves". But for now consider an alternative approach. God is Love 1 John 4, 7 (part). We know that. So basic reasoning suggests a working corollary - Love is God. If it is ungodly, or leads to ungodly actions, then it can not be love. Read the rest of I John 4.

"Saint" has been commandeered by certain churches and used to designate a person who is especiallly good, or even proved to be involved with miracles. What it actually means is one who is sanctified, belongs to God, saved. All who are born again of the Spirit of God are saints. Really.

"Communion" has been thoroughly hijacked by the man-organised church to stand in as a name for the sacrament otherwise called the eucharist. Now while communion means union with, eucharist is derived from the Greek for thanksgiving, and the sacrament it refers to is a re-enactment of either a passover meal or a sacrifice. The three ideas of communion, fellowship and sharing are covered by only two words in the original letters to the Corinthians (See 1 Cor 10, 16 and 2 Cor 13, 14). The communion (fellowship) of saints (real believers) is brought about by the Holy Spirit, not by sharing a ritual. It is valuable, even vital, and the saints should not be fobbed off with a ritual sharing in place of life sharing.

"Sin" is a subtly overused word. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of it around. But sin's domain is where god's law is. Specifically, a sin is a transgression of God's commandments and an act against God. Breaking other laws is not sin; it is law-breaking, generally being called transgression, trespass, wrongdoing etc. in the bible. Consider the wording in Psalm 53, 7 "For, lo, they lie in wait for my soul: the mighty are gathered against me; not for my transgression, nor for my sin, O LORD." Here transgression and sin are differentiated. The distinction is also drawn in the earlier psalm, written after David's orchestrated affair with Bathsheba, an orchestration which included the slaughtering of her husband - "Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest." Ps 51, 2-4 The transgressions were against many people, Bathsheba, Uriah, Joab and other soldiers (see 2 Sam 11, 1-21). The sin was only against God. The basic laws of God are written in mens' hearts: "Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened." Rom 1, 19-21 But the detail of that law isn't and if men are ignorant of it, sin might not come into play. Men are sinners for ignoring God, but not necessarily for fiddling their taxes; that's just breaking a man-made law and is criminal.

Traditions

Anyone thought about that quaint Anglican (at least) habit of bowing to the alter on entering a church? Kind of localising an omnipresent god, isn't it? Oh, it's only symbolic? So someone who is indwelt by God has to bow to a symbol of God? A little ridiculous, I think. Of course, if only the priests were godly and the congregation were just sinful supplicants it might make some sort of sense. The priests would only do it to show the sinners how to, of course.

The alter itself is a bit revealing of very bad theology. Back in Old Testament times, before God himself provided the final sacrifice, there were many alters built, and used. Sacrifices were needed under the law to atone for wrongdoing and sin. Note that wrongdoing against one's neighbour required material restitution as well. If you want to live by the law (rules), you have to keep all of the law. A testament is a document of instructions validated by the death of the one leaving it. The New Testament gave us a new contract. Christ's sacrifice was sufficient and final. We are exhorted (not required) to be ongoing, living sacrifices in God's service. And that does not need an alter. Some denominations have removed the alter from their buildings, often replacing it with a table. But the concept is still enshrined in many peoples' thinking.

A less obvious tradition is the fixed service on Sundays. It is less obvious because it is so reasonable. So just imagine trying to change it and ask why people will object. A bit like dumping the honorific, "reverend", really. What might start as sensible time tabling becomes, over a few years, one of those impossible to change features; something that to change would be to upset too many people. Or imagine how guilty some members of the congregation would feel if they missed the meeting one week to do something else. Individuals feeling guilty about missing services is the result of breaking a habit. If they were going because they wanted to, they would feel deprived, not guilty.

Keeping Sunday as a sabbath is itself a tradition - there is no scriptural warrant for it at all. The recognition of the seventh day sabbath was extant long before the Law as given to Moses (as, incidentally, was tithing). The Law ordered its keeping, not its establishment. Displacing the Law with the New Testament has no affect on the sabbath.

The traditions associated with Easter are an attack on real Christian doctrine. The word "Easter" is totally pagan in origin and refers to the pagan goddess Ishtar or Astarte who, as Ashtoreth, was falsely worshipped by Israel. "Good Friday" and "Easter Sunday" are are a travesty of the real timing of the crucifiction and, amongst other things, rubbish the historical accuracy of the scriptures.