Archive for the 'Misuse of Scripture' Category

In my younger days, I played a lot of video games on my computer. (Anyone remember Commander Keen and its cutting-edge use of EGA graphics in the early ’90s?)  The real drain on my time, though, came with the release of Wolfenstein 3D, one of the first FPS (first-person shooter) games to employ all three dimensions. Although it looked very cheesy by today’s standards, it was mind-blowing back then. It was also very addictive — I knew that I had stayed up too late the night before playing the game when I walked down certain hallways at work and would slow my pace as I approached an intersection.

As with all FPS games (at least back then), the basic scheme of Wolfenstein 3D was simple — work your way through various levels, killing the henchmen until you reach the ultimate battle against the “boss” (the head of the bad guys). Along the way, you could pick up items that would regenerate your health (if you had been non-fatally wounded), better weaponry, and random treasure. But the bulk of your points was earned by killing the henchmen. In some FPS games, if it took more than one bullet to kill a henchman, you would earn some points for wounding him, but then even more for killing him.

Fast-forward to 2013 and shift over to the real world.

A fairly prominent blogger has put out a couple of tweets recently that are salient to my (upcoming) point. The context is unclear, but — to be honest — it’s also irrelevant.  Here are the tweets in question:

You know, there’s a reason it doesn’t say “put on the smoking jacket of God, and take up the tea cup of daintiness”

You know, there’s a reason it doesn’t say “put on the faculty lounge discussion group suit of God”

He’s obviously riffing off the Scripture that advises the Christian to “[p]ut on the whole armor of God”. But there can be — and in that blogger’s tribe, there often is — a problem with applying that verse incorrectly. Because if you look at the whole verse, you notice some elaboration (emphasis mine):

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

And just in case it’s not clear enough what we’re fighting, Paul goes on in the next verse (emphasis mine):

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

You see, hearkening back to my illustration, the devil (and his demons) are the “boss”. But you know who the henchmen are? They’re people.

Are they being used to achieve the devil’s purposes? Sometimes.

Are they even doing so with full knowledge and willingness? Sometimes.

Is every last one of them a person for whom Jesus died? YES! YES! YES! 1000 times YES!

(Note: even if you’re a Calvinist who would cite your belief in limited atonement to object to that last question, you still don’t know who the “elect” — in your usage of the term — are, so practically, the answer is still “yes”.)

The “boss” needs to be killed — and Jesus will do that completely and finally one day. And if our actions in the meantime can cause a wound or two on the “boss”, that’s groovy.

But this is real life. This is not a game. We don’t get any points for (ideologically) wounding or killing the henchmen. Jesus did not come to give us “life, and life more confrontational.”

Stop it.

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Code words are such fun. For those unfamiliar with their usage by the critics of this site, its writers, and those who we dare to think might occasionally have something to contribute to the faith, here’s a handy-dandy guide. Some are adapted from the Bible, whereas others are lifted directly from Scripture (and then twisted like a contortionist’s pretzel):

  • sheep-beater: any straightforward pastor/teacher with whom I disagree
  • compromiser: all others pastors/teachers with whom I disagree, especially if I don’t like his Hawaiian shirts
  • another gospel: any belief with which I disagree, regardless of its relevance to the gospel
  • persecution: anything negative that I have to endure, regardless of its causation or its relevance to my faith
  • post-modern: any thought or belief whose inception occurred after my great-grandfather’s birth
  • emergent: anyone who is friends with anyone who is related to anyone who read a book by anyone who once quoted anyone who once ate dinner in the same restaurant as the fourth-cousin twice removed of anyone who has already been declared emergent (by this definition)

Although that last one is the most ludicrous (and the most common), it’s not my favorite. Rather, my favorite abuse of Scriptural language is to call someone an “enemy of the cross” when you disagree with them. So whence cometh that phrase?  I’m glad you asked:

Philippians 3:18
For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:

I’m pretty sure that every contributor to this blog has been labeled an “enemy of the cross” at one time or another. Yet, strangely enough, I’ve never seen anything even approximating “weeping” accompanying that accusation. The actual attitude of the labeler is left as an exercise for the reader.

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Godwin’s Law states:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.

Mike Godwin has written about the law that “its purpose has always been rhetorical and pedagogical: I wanted folks who glibly compared someone else to Hitler or to Nazis to think a bit harder about the Holocaust.”

And this is the spirit in which I’ve always understood it. There are, indeed, thought processes and rationalizations that are eerily similar to “Hitlerian rhetoric” (if I may paraphrase Stephen Fry). And so, there are times when such a comparison may be valid. But more times than not, the comparison is inaccurate and made out of sheer laziness, as though ole Adolf was a trump card.

But Godwin’s Law is mostly only applicable to political discussions. Yes, sometimes the issues are moral or spirtual, but they still have a distinct political bent to them (e.g. issues surrounding abortion). Yet the same laziness that made Godwin’s Law necessary is prevalent in many online theological discussions.

My first thought was how Matthew 7:16 gets twisted to mean that if you do one thing that I don’t like, then I am capable of reading all of your innermost thoughts and commenting on them definitively and publicly.

Or how “another gospel” (Galatians 1:9) has been twisted to mean “anything with which I disagree”.

And let’s not forget the all-purpose barn-burner: emergent (which apparently encompasses everything I don’t believe in — even when two thoughts are contradictory).

But we really need a person, not a concept.

Brian McLaren? Nah. He’s so last decade.

Rob Bell? Nah. He’s so earlier this year. Even the recent announcement of his departure from the pulpit only produced a brief ripple in all but the craziest corners of the blogosphere.

Besides which, there are plenty of people who haven’t heard of either of these guys.

Rick Warren? Now we’re getting somewhere with the recognizability factor. But more and more of the criticisms of him are either over old stuff, misinterpretation of stuff, or can’t withstand any real logic (or some combination of the three). So he’s not really a legitimate whipping boy anymore.

So who then? And then it hit me.

As an online theological discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Oprah Winfrey approaches 1.

As with Godwin’s Law, there are cases where the comparison rings true. But let’s be honest. For quite a while and probably for many years to come, Winfrey has become the poster child for “any spiritual belief that is less rigorous than my own”.

So in the words of Phil Esterhaus, let’s be careful out there — let’s not play the O-card too quickly.

Waters’ Corollary to Godwin’s Law. I’ll be over here holding my breath, waiting for the Wikipedia update.

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There is an interesting phenomenon that takes place in the world of the church (blogdom serves as a microcosm of this phenomenon). It is marked by a careless attention to detail when it comes to Scripture which thus results in a profound misreading of Scripture to suit one’s own ends, to justify one’s own position, and to hammer to death those with whom we disagree. This phenomenon is, of course, proof-texting.

I heard a professor say it like this once: A text without a context becomes a pretext for a proof-text. Or, something similar to that. As I reflect on the way I was trained to read Scripture and exegete it, I see what the professor was getting at: the authors of the Bible did not write verses. Instead, they wrote books comprised of stories, poems, laws, Gospel and more. Paul did not sit down and write Romans 3:21. Paul sat down and wrote an entire letter to a church (or churches) in the city of Rome (1:7). In other words, what we call Romans 3:21 is merely (not minimally) part of a carefully crafted argument concerning God, the Scripture, and humanity contained within a much larger context. He wrote it to a specific people, at a specific time, and in specific circumstances.

Still, he did not write a single verse of Scripture. He wrote entire letters, the contents of which have been, through the years, utterly mangled in people’s attempt to justify their own belief systems in a sort of a priori kind of way: I have an idea, let’s see if I kind find a verse of Scripture to back it up! And, as it turns out, just about any idea we want to find in the Bible can be found in the Bible. And wow! The ideas are limitless. I never cease to marvel at the religions that have been constructed upon the foundation of one jot or one iota of one word of one verse and then given the name ‘Christianity.’

I have an idea about the Bible that is fairly simple and greatly eases the project of exegesis. Commenting on the nature of the hermeneutic used by Luther, Berkhof writes, “He defended the right of private judgment; emphasized the necessity of taking the context and historical circumstances into account; demanded faith and spiritual insight in the interpreter; and desired to find Christ everywhere in Scripture” (Principles of Biblical Interpretation, Louis Berkhof, 26-27). It’s in that last phrase that I find the most hope and, I think, that through the years it has been that piece that has stuck in my mind and heart more than any other piece of hermeneutics: Jesus is there in Scripture, and all I have to do is open my eyes, listen to the Holy Spirit, an adjust my priorities (so that I am looking for Jesus and nothing else).

So, we look carefully at Scripture and we see Jesus all over the pages, and in every story, without allegorizing or even putting too much effort into it. Paul did write, “But apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.” Jesus made similar statements in Luke’s Gospel: “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and Psalms” (Luke 24:44, cf. Luke 24:25-27). There are other instances too, for example John 5:36-47 and Acts 8:26-35—especially verse 34-35. That sounds too easy, doesn’t it? Even the book of Revelation, so often abused and misused and misunderstood is perfectly understood if we begin with the idea that it is (as it is in the Greek) ‘the Revelation of Jesus Christ’ (I take it as both an objective and subjective genitive) instead of as ‘the Revelation of John’ (as it is in English) or the ‘Revelation of how the end times will come about’ (as it is in so much popular fiction based on the book.

A wonderful example of what I am talking about is the letter we call ‘Hebrews.’ This short letter, surely one of the most beautifully written books in our Bible, is about Jesus—first to last. It is difficult to read Hebrews and come away with anything but a stunning picture of Jesus who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God. I could go on and on and on.  All this is to say that I believe we spend far too much time looking for things in Scripture that are simply not there—and we are not meant to find them. When we read the Bible, we are meant to find Jesus.

Jesus is the point of Scripture. I heard it also this way: The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed; the New Testament is Old Testament revealed. Cliché? Yes. True? Yes. “Jesus our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7; it’s kind of difficult to escape the sort of Jesus hermeneutic that Paul is using.)

But there is ‘tragedy’ in the church. Mafred Brauch writes of this tragedy, “…many who most passionately and stridently proclaim allegiance to the Bible and love for the inspired, authoritative Word of God often interpret and apply Scripture in ways that are abusive, thus distorting its mean and message…[C]onsequently, instead of releasing the transforming power from God and the treasures of God’s Word into the world in and through broken vessels of our presence and witness (2 Cor 4:7), we contribute to brokenness and abusiveness in our world” (Abusing Scripture, 18). Brauch goes forward with five specific ways we manage to accomplish this (the following paragraphs are direct quotes from Brauch):

A. We use [the Bible] as an instrument of bitter warfare, both within our own circles and against outsiders: we condemn, judge, malign, demean and reject. What does this say about the validity of the central message of Jesus—loving not only brothers and sisters but also neighbors and adversaries?

B. We announce that the Bible speaks the truth from God about human life and relationships, but then we undermine our commitment to that truth by using all kinds of biblical proof texts—often out of context and not in keeping with their original meaning or intent—in an effort to ‘prove’ to those with whom we disagree that we are ‘on the Lord’s side’ and they are of the devil (or at least very wrong!) Is this attitude and practice compatible with the spirit and teaching of the Jesus of the Gospels?

C. We use biblical texts selectively to build arguments for particular theological doctrines or biblical teachings, while conveniently ignoring biblical texts that stand in tension with our views.  Or we employ sophisticated (and often deceptive!) ‘exegetical gymnastics’ to eliminate tensions between and among diverse texts, or we reinterpret texts that are inconvenient and do not support our dearly held convictions or doctrines. What does this say about integrity in the work of interpretation?

D. We invest tremendous energy and time on matters that our Lord told us were not to be our primary concern (such as timetables of the end times) and spend too little time and energy on matters that both God’s prophets and our Lord, as well as his earliest followers, placed very high on their agendas—such as a passion for justice, peacemaking, concern for the poor and righteousness in human affairs. Does this not undermine our claim that the whole Bible is our authority?

E. In the midst of the confusing and distorting voices about human sexuality in our time, we champion Scripture’s call to holy living and morality, grounded in creational intention and covenant commitment. And so we must. But at the same time we often blithely set aside or ignore the cancers eating away at the communal life and witness of our churches—such as strife, bitterness, gossip, backbiting, greed, divisiveness—all named in the New Testament as incompatible with kingdom values (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Ephesians 4:25-32; 5:3-5). Are we then not guilty of distorting the Bible’s claim on all areas of human life and community?  (All quotes are from Manfred Brauch, Abusing Scripture, 18-19.)

I don’t think Brauch is suggesting anything radical or out of the ordinary or, for that matter, new. What I do think he is suggesting is that we carefully examine ourselves and how we use Scripture, what we expect of Scripture, and what we are showing the world when we talk about Scripture. Let’s find a way to listen to Scripture, to seek Jesus who, from first to last, is the Mystery of Scripture.

Think about it: what would happen if we, the Body of Christ, consistently pointed to Jesus instead of our pet projects and pet theologies when we talk about Scripture? I wonder how much strife could be done away with in the church if we ‘used’ the Bible to talk about Jesus—which is what God used it for. Doesn’t it lay to rest a lot of controversy when we point to Jesus instead of ourselves? Seriously, isn’t the end of all hermeneutical adventures to find Jesus? I wonder how many churches could be planted if we preached Christ and him Crucified instead of something else? How many churches would not split if we were all on board that Jesus matters only? How many preachers would not lose their jobs if they consistently, weekly, perpetually preached about Jesus? Conversely, how many preachers would lose their jobs if that were all they talked about?

Sometimes I think that we talk about all the extra stuff because we are not brilliant enough to talk about Jesus without end. Or we get bored talking about Jesus so we have to talk about all that other stuff that is so beside the point. I’d challenge any preacher to put aside his plans for sermons about life, family, finances, heaven and hell and talk for a whole entire year about nothing and no one but Jesus. I contend that if we talked more about Jesus we could talk about the rest of it much, much less. Can we ever exhaust our conversation about Jesus? But we are not predestined to become like a theological system or an idea about life. We are, Paul wrote, predestined to become like Jesus (see Ephesians 1)—and God is, in fact, renewing and restoring in us the image of Jesus (wow, see Colossians; what else could this mean, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ, in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you will also appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4); see also Hebrews 12:1-3 among others).

“The story of Jesus is full of darkness as well as of light. It is a story that hides more than it reveals. It is the story of a mystery we must never assume we understand and that comes to us breathless and broken with unspeakable beauty at the heart of it, yet it is by no means a pretty story, though that is the way we’re apt to peddle it much of the time. We sand down the rough edges. We play down the obscurities and contradictions. What we can’t explain, we explain away. We set Jesus forth as clear-eyed and noble-browed, whereas the chances are he can’t have been anything but old before this time once the world started working him over, and once the world was through, his clear eyes swollen shut and his noble brow as much of a shambles as the rest of him. We’re apt to tell his story when we tell it at all, to sell his story, for the poetry and panacea of it. ‘But we are the aroma of Christ,’ Paul says, and the story we are given to tell is a story that smells of his life in all its aliveness, and our commission is to tell it in a way that makes it come alive as a story in all its aliveness and to make those who hear it come alive and God knows to make ourselves come alive too.” (Frederick Buechner, “The Two Stories” in Secrets in the Dark, 85-86),

May we find Jesus in the Scripture, that the world may find Jesus in us.

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Matthew 25: 31-46

Many a modernist evangelical, still caught in the culture wars and small-god systematics, loves to pull out the sheep and the goats metaphor when judging others. They do so, most often, when they are discerning who among the visible flock are true believers (sheep) and who are the pretenders, the modern-day heretics, the goats of the church. There are, of course, appropriate times to judge. Jesus was, after all, concerned about right belief… – but this post is not about those times.

Some judge while others mock those they believe are too concerned for things we call “social issues.” When it comes right down to it, they say, it’s all about getting people saved… not about drilling wells, educating heathens, or fair wages. And to some degree they are right…

…yet it is interesting.

When Jesus spoke of the final judgment and upon what it would be based – he did not speak of right beliefs, of right morality, or the right kind of music… he spoke of giving drink to the thirsty, feeding the hungry, of clothing the naked. In the context of sheep and goat differentiation; having a heart for the poor, the oppressed, the least of these – is what allows us to discern the sheep. It is not about winning a culture war. It is not about fighting socialism. It is not about convincing homosexuals not to homo-sex. It’s not about ranting against liberalism. It’s not even about getting as many people as possible to repeat a sinners prayer.

As Tim Keller put it: “Jesus did not say that all this done for the poor was a means of getting salvation, but rather it was a sign that you already had salvation, that true saving faith was already present” (Generous Justice, pg. 53 [emphasis his]). The “test” for saving faith (in this case) was not a check-list of acceptable beliefs, or witnessing, or service within the church, or even the fruit of the Spirit… (all of which a vitally important). Instead he chose our attitudes toward and actions on behalf of the poor.

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Fred Phelps and his minions at Westboro Baptist Church [sic] are at it again. While they backed off picketing the funeral of the 9-year-old girl who was killed in the recent Arizona shooting spree, they still planned to picket the funeral of the district judge who was killed in that same event, with their special brand of “God hates fags” theology.

In 2005, Pastor Kyle Lake was electrocuted during a baptism. Several writers and bloggers said that this was a message from God against the emergent church (in which Kyle was allegedly a big player).

Both instances involve people deigning to speak for God (funny, I thought the canon was closed) and exploiting the deaths of others to advance their own agenda.

Can someone tell me how the two are any different?

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Daily Office

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:1-6)

I did a quick search of Matthew’s Gospel and found that Jesus uses the words ‘do not’ relatively few times as far as direct commands are concerned. If I counted right, and I’m tired so I might not have, twenty-six times. That’s not a lot considering that Matthew wrapped thirty-three years of life into a mere twenty-eight chapters. Jesus probably heard ‘do not’ more than he ever said it, I guess. “Jesus, do not play with your food,” or something absurd like that. Or, “Jesus, do not give your brother swirlies.” I’m just guessing here.

This section represents one of those twenty-six times and this first verse is usually bandied about like a six-shooter and everyone lays claim to it for one reason or another. Everyone says, “Don’t judge.” It seems that anytime a pagan has a criticism of a disciple this is one of the first things out of their mouth, “You Christians do too much judging…didn’t Jesus tell you not to judge?” Well, yes. He also told us not to throw our pearls before pigs. I suspect we all retain a lot of riches in this way. As DA Carson is fond of reminding his listeners when preaching on this verses, “Someone still has to decide who is and is not the swine…and that involves judgment.” Ah, yes!

Jesus told us ‘do not’ to a lot of things. “Do not swear at all, by heaven or earth.” And, “Do not resist an evil person” (one I’m sure requires no judgment either!) “Do not judge” seems to carry the same moral and theological imperative as, say, “Do not worry” or “do not be afraid” or “do not call anyone on earth ‘father.’” But I know better than that. You and I know that the first thing we do when we see someone is we judge them, we size them up, and we form an opinion about them based solely on the way they look. I do it every time someone walks into my store.

Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” In a vacuum this means what it says: Don’t do it. But we don’t live in vacuums so Jesus also clarifies: the standard you use is the standard that will be used. OK. So I should be gracious, kind, merciful, and considerate. We need to read this post-Calvary, post-Easter, post-Ascension, and Pre-Parousia. Post-Cavalry disciples read this in light of the cross where the world and sin were judged. Not only do we understand the world differently, we understand ourselves relatively completely: we know there is a log in our eyes and this log necessarily obfuscates our vision. This means, I believe, that I simply cannot pass judgment on anyone. It will not do. Why? Well, frankly, because I’m no better.

We cannot even see ourselves, let alone someone standing in front of us. Hauerwas notes, “Following Christ requires our recognizing that the one I am tempted to judge is like me—a person who has received the forgiveness manifest in the cross” (S Hauerwas, BTCB, Matthew, 86). I might also add that it also means we are just like them: blind to our own unrighteousness. How have I heard it said? We are like one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.

This world is different now that Jesus has been resurrected. (Different also as we await his appearing.) Our judgments and opinions need to be sober, sophisticated, and humble. Or we should just be quiet. We belong to a community that sees life for what it is. We see reality: cold, hard, and determined. We see hunger and thirst and suffering and opportunity. But do we see the world that is God’s world? Judgment is too easy. Passing judgment, acting upon our judgment, withholding love because of that judgment is a damnable offense. We belong to a new community that is not conditioned upon judgment, but love. We belong to a community free of judgment.

Judgment is associated with a lot of things in this world: power, hate, prejudice, racism, and a whole host of other damaging behaviors. Judgment is associated with many things, but love is not one of them.

As I listen to the Spirit sing into my heart, I hear the words of the poet, “Love is blindness.” Where there is love, there is no judgment. Open my eyes so that I might see myself, Lord, and love as I have, indeed, been loved. I think when the plank is removed from my eye, and I confess the truth of my own sin, I’m not going to be so concerned about the sin of others.

Next time you want to judge: Just don’t; just love.

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(i.e. shooting fish in a barrel)

As I have noted before, debunking the theological hokum that runs rampant in the God-blogosphere has never been a primary purpose for this blog, but has been described for years as “the lowliest” of the six tasks that this blog seeks to accomplish.  This perspective was, IMHO, strengthened by the somewhat recent name and URL change that we underwent here.

But in the words of Dr Horrible, sometimes “a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do”.  Especially when it’s this dadgum funny (in the “ludicrous” sense of the word).

A little context first:

Mark 4:11 – And [Jesus] said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery  of the kingdom of God …”

Romans 16:25 – Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began

1 Corinthians 2:7 – But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory,

1 Corinthians 15:51 – Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed …

Ephesians 1:9 – having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself,

Ephesians 3:3-4 – how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ),

Ephesians 3:9 – and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;

Ephesians 5:32 – This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

Ephesians 6:19 – and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel,

Colossians 1:25-27 – the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Colossians 2:2 – that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ,

Colossians 4:3 – meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains,

1 Timothy 3:9 – holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience.

1 Timothy 3:16 – And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory.

Notice a pattern? Is it too much of a stretch to say that the word “mystery” is often used in Scripture to describe (or at least be associated with) good things?

Now, admittedly, there is a verse in Revelation that associates this word with something bad:

Revelation 17:5 – And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.

So, let’s see.  Fourteen associations with good things. One association with something bad. Is it too much of a stretch to say that it would be at least fallacious (if not downright silly) to somehow imply that the Revelation verse is the only standard by which we should measure the word “mystery” (ignoring the other 14)?

Yet that’s exactly what this post does.

Now granted, I have some major problems with Brian McLaren (the “attackee” of that post).

They used to be purely theological until I heard him sing.  But I digress.

But how am I supposed to take seriously anything said about him (or anything/anyone else) from a source so devoid of basic logic?

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First of all, go watch this message.  I’ll wait.  What I’ve got to say pales in comparison.

Very powerful stuff, IMHO.

One ancillary statement that Matt Chandler made, though, stuck out to me because of prior conversations here.  Several pastors/teachers have been repeatedly thrown under the bus by ODMs and their ilk because they chose to speak at conferences or churches where the other speakers didn’t agree with them theologically — sometimes with significant differences.

The “unequally yoked” phrase from 2 Corinthians 6:14 gets hideously misappropriated and gross exaggerations like “partnering in ministry” get bandied about.  Not surprisingly (and I say this with regret, because I are one), a lot of such silliness comes from those that would consider themselves to be of the Reformed community.  I point that out because Chandler is a Reformed guy and this was at T4G, which was lousy with Reformed guys.  So when he talked about the issue, this was not two hyper-Pelagians discussing it over a beer.

The embedded video below (in case you haven’t listened to the whole message yet — you heathen) kicks in at the start of the statement that’s relevant to this post.  As background, he’s talking about the vision that he had for his church when he first started pastoring.  The statement runs for about 1 minute, 25 seconds (you can quit listening when he says “I’ll be working”).

In a minute and a half, Chandler crystallizes what I’ve believed for some time. I don’t think I ever want to hear that “partnering in ministry” crap again.

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I remember when my father got his first label maker. It was a long time ago and the labels it produced were the thick plastic kind with raised letters. Unlike contemporary label makers that actually print, this maker was really a crimper. The label was produced by crimping the plastic band to produce raised letters. In the process the coloration of the plastic was removed on the letters – thus raised white letters on a colored band. At the time it really was cool. Fortunately, my father resisted the temptation to label everything… though he did label a lot of things… a lot of things.

Labeling has a certain function of course. It allows things to be identified easily. We label a file so that its contents can be known at a glance. We label a bin so that we can know what’s in it without opening it. Some people label shelves or cabinets to prevent others from placing things in them that are forbidden. We label things to identify their owner.

Labels are potentially useful, very useful.

They can also be very useful in categorizing people. Followers of Jesus were first labeled Christians in Antioch. This was because the church there was comprised of mostly Gentiles who had embraced Jesus as Lord and Messiah – calling them Jews would not work. A new label needed to be created, and it stuck. Labels are very useful in identifying and categorizing; Christian, Liberal, Gay, Calvinist, Egalitarian… are labels.

Labels are also potentially dangerous, very dangerous.

They can be very dangerous in categorizing people when those assigning the label wield them – not as a shortcut, but as a weapon; when they are assigned out of laziness; when they are assigned based on secondary or even tertiary issues. Labeling is the ally to all who practice Guilt by Association.

We all do it. We all label. Sometimes we do it correctly, sometimes we do it incorrectly. Some however are more consistent in their misuse of labeling than others. Some excel at weapon-labeling and for them it is not a tool as much as it is a first step… a step from which all other steps must proceed.

This was recently illustrated to perfection through two different exchanges between select writers here and self-proclaimed discerners, both of which took place on the sites of the latter. I say self-proclaimed so as to be clear this is not a label I have assigned to them, they have done so themselves.

The thing that was interesting about both of these cases, even though the labelers come from wildly different scenarios, was the consistency of using labels as weapons, the lack of logic, lack of thought and… well lack true discernment. This is where I venture into speculation – I speculate that labeling has become short-hand because it is easier than actual thought, it is easier than actual research. It is easier to connect the dots of guilt by association (even if such association does not really exist), then label. And once the label has been applied – it matters not what the person actually says, does, or believes. The label has been applied – the case is closed. Don’t bother with what is actually in the bin or folder, just label it. Don’t bother discussing or researching or getting to know what a person believes or does – just label them.

For example: In one of the conversations I was labeled as unsaved, Emergent, a follower of a false Jesus and anti-Semitic. There are more, but these will suffice.

I am anti-Semitic because I advocate a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine.
Never mind that I never said anything against any Semite and even affirmed Israel’s right to exist.

I am unsaved because I disagree with someone who is filled with the Holy Spirit.
Never mind my profession of faith, my reliance on God’s grace, my repentance, my faith experience of God’s grace… all were summarily dismissed – the Holy Spirit never disagrees with himself, and we disagreed, therefore I have not the Holy Spirit. I must admit I admire the logic: “I am filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit never disagrees with himself. Therefore, by disagreeing with me you prove you have not the Holy Spirit.”
Apply label – unsaved!

I am Emergent because I referenced a common faith, a faith shared with said Holy Spirit believer.
This I found comical, since the reference was not to some interreligious experience, or even interdenominational ecumenicalism – it was a reference to the shared faith between the discerner and me. I was attempting to establish common ground in Christ. The use of the phrase “common faith” was enough for me to be labeled.

I follow a different Jesus because I refused to label someone else as “Not a Christian.”
This became the crux of the matter. Even though I laid out exactly what I believe, even though my beliefs are thoroughly orthodox and biblical, even though these beliefs were never addressed or disagreed with – I follow a different Jesus based on guilt by association, based on connecting the dots, based on being labeled. Never mind that all I did was refuse to label someone else, who I do not even know.

We also practice hypnotism.
Never did figure out what that was based on.

When I pressed for an answer as to which of my very detailed beliefs the discerner found lacking… I was referred to the story of the disciples brushing the dust from their feet. This and other examples of the misuse of Scripture in the labeling process could easily be another post in and of itself. This tactic is used because discernment is not the goal, answers are not the goal, knowing is not the goal – the label is. Above all else, the label must be defended.

Other writers experienced similar labeling, mostly based on equally shallow, tangential, and irrelevant criteria. I chalk it up to laziness, joy in hostility, and a false-discerning attitude.

The point is this. Labels are very useful tools; when applied properly and with a little thought and research. They can also be hurtful, inaccurate and sin; when they are applied flippantly and in spite of reality.

Labels are useful in defining the contents of a bin or folder; they are useful in categorizing and identifying people. But they are worthless and worse when one applies a label without looking into the folder or bin first. They are even worse when they are applied in direct contradiction to the contents of the same.

Let us all learn from the abuse of labels and use them wisely and apply them accurately.

I have left out the names of the discerners and their sites because they are not the point. I prefer it remains that way.

UPDATE: Since this has run its course, and it was pointed out that without links the facts cannot be checked I am updating the post: the sites that labeled us using shallow, tangential, and irrelevant criteria are Rapture Ready. and Discerning the World.

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