Posts tagged ‘Cultural Norms’

Vital Versus Vapid #1

There are foundational teachings which are vital to our eternal life. There are other teachings which are secondary or simply opinion, and must never be used as the grounds for eternal salvation or holiness. People too often confuse the two.

Please note here that I am not talking about heresies, which are teachings/beliefs which build walls against God. Here I am talking about teachings/beliefs which seem sound enough, but are interpretations and pet doctrine rather than Biblical.

It is not difficult to differentiate between teachings vital to our faith and holiness, and those which are for specific occasions or times, or merely cultural or personal opinion. Simply put, teachings that are about Church organization, human authority, religious rituals or cultural requirements cannot be used to shape righteousness (“doing the right thing for the right reason for the Right Person [God]”).

An obvious example is circumcision. Some early Christians felt that Christianity was a part of Judaism (correctly so) and then decided that all Jewish customs and norms had to be followed by all Christians (Galatians 5:2-6). We know that the Apostle Paul confronted this issue more than once, and was successfully able to have the Church declare this as unnecessary for salvation. This practice was not wrong; it just is not universally applicable.

Four Ways to Read

There are four ways to read the Bible: contextual; devotional; proof texting; transformational.

Contextual
Here the reader studies history, language and culture to add depth to the Bible stories. For example, “heart” in Hebrew thinking was the seat of the intellect, not emotions as it is in Western culture. For example, in Psalm 119:11, “Your word I have hid in my heart” really means you memorize it. A “hard heart” is a closed mind, not emotional callousness.

Devotional
This is the exact opposite of contextual. Here the reader reacts to what is read as a personal inspiration, not a theological study. For example, the Bible says we are saved by grace, and the reader gets a warm comfort from this.

Proof Texting
Here the reader stops and notes verses that support their theological ideology without regard to any original meaning that may have been intended. For example, verses that can be made to read that women are under men will be lifted up, and the verses that say there is “neither male nor female” in God’s eyes are ignored.

Transformational
This is the exact opposite of proof texting. Here the reader has an open mind, prepared to change personal behaviour or ideas based on a mostly literal rendering of the text. For example, Jesus said, “If you hate your colleague in Christ you have committed murder”, so the reader actively seeks reconciliation with someone with whom they are in conflict.

Submission

Too often culture, more than discernment through The Spirit, determines how Jesus followers follow Jesus.

For example, most believers know that Paul wrote, “Wives submit to your husbands.” Some even know it also says, “Husbands love your wives.” The outcome of this tidbit of information is the religious teaching that the husband is the boss, and wives can become, in actual practice, little more than unpaid servants.

I observe that the words to wives are found in 5:22-24, 33b. The words to husbands last longer, verses 25-33a.

What is more important is that the function of marriage, husband and wife, is a living metaphor for Christ and the Church (mentioned 5 times!). If anyone simply takes these words as a sociology of the family they stand rebuked by the very passage of Scripture they seek to use to justify injustice. The conduct of the wife (not women in general) is a witness to how Followers of The Way should walk humbly. The conduct of the husbands is a witness to the unsurpassed love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ for humanity, to love mercy. Together these proclaim the testimony to God’s love for mercy (all this being what we read in Micah 6:8).

In other words, despite the cultural impulse to the contrary, these words are not about gender, but about God, who made marriage as a witness to the intimacy of the Creator with the creation.

Even further, these words are part of a bigger scheme to walk humbly in which children honour parents, and parents act to avoid provoking children to anger.

Even further yet, Paul goes so far as to say the conduct of slaves and owners who belong to The Way witnesses to the same relationship described by the metaphor. Slaves obey in a humility that calls out how we serve God. Owners are also reminded of humility, for God is their Boss Supreme.

All this is not about family or society, but that Believers are to live and breathe and relate and function in every way at all times to promote the Good News.

Explicit Word and Principle

There are two elements of the Bible that makes it useful for people in living by faith: explicit statements about what is good and acceptable and what is wrong and undesirable; and principles that cover items that may not be explicitly addressed in the text of Scripture. Read more…