Friday, May 22, 2009

Blatant Meaning from Obscure Verses – An Oxymoron Possibly?

I'm about to open another bag of snakes and I really shouldn't. I keep making a personal vow not to post any more blogs for a while. But I'm so disobedient. Then something happens that really moves me. Then something else happens and the dots start to be connected.

The second reason that I should not post is that I'm so busy that I have to do it on the run. When I do that, my typing becomes typo-ing.

The third reason, if two were not enough, is that I'm seriously sleep deprived. It's a long story but I've been averaging about 5 hours of sleep per night and then last night I had one. It was a combination of being on call, having a seriously ill patient in the hospital (who is dying) and no one can figure out why. Where's House when you need him. The second reason I'm so sleep deprived is that Tyler (21) is living at home right now. Things are okay when he was alone, but now that all his friends are home from college, they start their day . . . at our house . . . at 10 PM.

But to my point.

The first dot that appeared was at church last Sunday. I have not been to Sunday school in a while, because I find it so frustrating. People ask me why I stay with this church and the reason is simple. Okay, maybe complex. The main reason is that my wife said she is not changing churches for any reason. Her friends are at this church and to her, friends are a huge part of church. Teachings and issues that drive me crazy really don't matter to her. So I don't think a husband and wife attending two different churches is a healthy thing.

Now back to my story.

Chuck is a darling, elderly gentleman at our church. Personally I really like him a lot. However, he has a theology degree and is some what of the pastor’s right hand man. The pastor really looks up to him (maybe the only layperson he looks up to in our church because Chuck is the only one he will allow to stand in for him as a Sunday school teacher). Chuck is also the head elder.

The problem is that Chuck and I don’t see eye to eye on most things that are Christian. Many times he has said to me, “If you really believe such and such, then you can’t be a Christian.” The problem is, I really do believe such and such. So I find it a little hurtful that Chuck says I’m not a Christian.

The issues were we differ on include:

1. Chuck says you can not be a Christian if you doubt that the earth is older than 6,000 years. In my book I don’t care how old you believe the earth is.

2. We should forbid our kids from going to any college but a Bible college (a segue with my last postings) because those who go to secular university leave the faith.

3. We should only read Christian books. He has caught my kids and I reading diverse things, some by great atheists.

I could go on. But I will come up to the latest event, and that was Sunday school last Sunday. Chuck is teaching the Ten Commandments. This week was the second commandment:

From Exodus 20: 4 (NIV)

"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Chuck went on to say, that examples of these idols include all images of God or Jesus. He described how he had to cut the picture of Jesus out of the children’s Bible he used to teach children’s church.

So, at the very end of his 80 minute lecture (he actually read his entire lecture, word for word, from a 14 page script that he had typed up) when questions were allowed, I asked him about Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. Chuck said it was an idol and God forbids it. Then he added his cliché that he uses every time, “God said it, I believe it, it is settled.”

The question was being begged and it was on the tip of my tongue but I looked at the clock. It was now 1:30 PM and I had endured a 80 minute lecture on a beautiful sunny NW day . . . to the point that my head was about to cave in. So, I let it go. But I really did want to ask him (as I have before ) “Where the hell did God say don’t paint pictures of Him!”

But Chuck always makes it an issue of believing God nor not. He said the same thing about the earth being 6,000 years old. “God said it, I believe it, it is settled.”

So obviously Chuck thinks that “God said it” in that Exodus 20:4. If that verse says that we are to never to have images of the real God, you have to read a lot more into that verse than is really there.

That brings me to my last point (another segue to my last postings) about what is the church? Our pastor, after observing many people leaving the church, some becoming freelance Christians or in other types of emerging churches, did a lecture series on why God wants you to stay in the “Chuch.”

But of course he defines the “church” as only the American Evangelical traditional church. Meets on Sunday morning at 10 AM., has Sunday school and preaching (our preaching comes first). The “worship service” being the center piece of the whole church experience.

I will conclude this thought by saying, back in the early 90s when I was trying to put my Christian-Humpty-Dumpty world back together again, I spent a whole year trying to figure out what the church really was. I was amazed, once I divorced “church” from the cultural context and really only looked at scripture . . . blatant scripture. I also did a lot of studying on church history. I really enjoyed a book called, Ante Pacem (the church before Constantine).

I challenge anyone to honestly define the church in the New Testament, but first taking off your cultural glasses and reading the mandates for what a church is . . . using only the blatant verses. You would be amazed how simple it really was.

But, maybe the church really should be defined as a building of people who meet on Sunday mornings at 10 AM for 1 hours Sunday school, followed by a worship service, with hymns, then a sermon by the pastor, who is the king of the church but with an elder board. But after all, this is what God "said" the church is . . . so I believe it and, I guess, that settles it . . . or does it?


Anonymous said...

You need to get out of there. Such teaching is toxic.

MJ said...

Choices in real life are never easy. So do I find a church were I fit in better but create tension in my marriage in exchange? Is it worth it? Those are real questions in the real world without easy answers.

Anonymous said...

Is this the same church you were attending when I visited you a few Labor Days ago? I'm just amazed...after reading your stories, I would not want to attend there...but then, it took me several years before I found a church I felt I could "trust" here in Boston; while I've been an official member for a few years now, I'm still not really integrated (for several reasons: its size and bureaucracy and the ease with which one may remain anonymous, the famous New England social coolness, its mid-urban location and attendant parking difficulties/expense (particularly for non-Sunday functions) the dissolution of my first small group, and last but not least, my own poor attendance, particularly at Sunday School...swing dancing Saturday nights doesn't help...when I finally turn off the light at 4am). What I do find missing for me here (perhaps mostly my own fault, but I am just not a gregarious friend-maker) is the small-town warm welcome I encountered from your pastor, his wife & others when I visited. But then, I had an introduction from you (before you had made your reputation). While I am quite impressed with the level of scholarship & teaching we get here, I'm missing the human element, which really is a huge part of "church." I can understand your wife's sentiments. If I were to move to another part of the country, I would not hold out a lot of hope for finding a church whose teaching I could trust, and would probably gravitate towards a place not too stern or loopy, but where I could make friends...if a (still) single guy in his 50s (yikes!) can do that. (Incidentally--regardless of age--it gets extra hard to even think of finding a potential mate within the church for the very reasons you blog about--the available "church women" tend to have rather conventional ideas, and if a man expresses doubts about such, he appears spiritually immature/irresponsible/undesirable).

S. in Boston (well, Newton now)

Trevor Morgan said...

Wow. I never cease to be amazed at the out and out weirdness of the American church. I honestly don't know how you take it.

Thanks for your recent thoughts on youth ministry - it seems like they'll be more of that in my future, so I've appreciated your discussion.

Hope you manage to get some sleep soon!

MJ said...

Anonymous AKA SS, yes, it is the same church. The pastor's wife is one of my wife's best friends. When I came here, I really thought the pastor would be my best friend.

That's the problem . . . on a social level, I really like the people at my church . . . even Chuck. It is the thinking part that drives me crazy.

It's too bad about the "human element." The best we've ever had was in Marquette . . . where you and I met. But that group was mostly centered around the Air Force base. Something about military people that gives them the ability to make friends quickly.

MJ said...

Trevor, yeah, there are horror stories out there within the church. Anonymous (above) and I have a friend who was a youth pastor at a big church in Houghton, MI. His experience was one of the most bizarre I've ever heard.

Good night sleep last night . . . thanks for asking.

Anonymous said...

1) I find I do my best writing when I'm suffering from sleep deprivation. Messes up my mundane life, but really gets the creative juices flowing. (As long as I'm not too sleepy to actually write.)

2) Every time I hear the tag line "God said it, I believe it, That settles it", I want to add the line "AL'LAH'U AKBAR!" Think of it as truth in advertising; that sort of attitude is what I associate with flying a jacked airliner into the WTC in the name of Al'lah. Or browbeating a subordinate over an imitation bamboo table in Cairo. The wall in the mind slams down, and from then on there is only "It Is Written! It Is Written! It Is Written! Scripture! Scripture! Scripture! Scripture!"

Headless Unicorn Guy

MJ said...

HUG, I'm looking forward to seeing some of that creative writing someday.

My problem, if I write in a sleep deprived state (for example at 3 AM when I have insomnia) I have a tendency to be far too honest about things, which usually gets me in trouble, which then leads to more nights of insomnia.