Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Ultimate Tragedy: Taking Requests

I heard from a very dear friend who supplemented my list of scriptures used to shun and stop any contact with those who have left a particular religious group. I will address those additional scriptures at this time.

I have to say that any particular verse can be used to support any position one might take concerning any subject. What keeps the balance of interpretation for those seeking to glean out what the scriptures teach for a certain subject? Well, in estimation, there are five valid tools that aid in the avoidance of as Jesus would say “straining at gnats and swallowing camels.” The five basic elements that help us decide the meaning and so the proper application of the scriptures are:

1> Exegesis – this is a study of the scriptures in their original form. Contextual analysis is done on the meaning of words. Comparison on the words as used elsewhere in the scriptures. In addition verb tense, the usage of parts of speech are closely analyzed. Finally using generally accepted rules of interpretation. Perhaps the most important is ‘one can only approach the full meaning of what the author intended or expressed’. This is critical because in most dysfunctional groups, the application of the scripture is where the crux of departure from the ‘full meaning’ is violated. Historically, many religious groups that morphed into more toxic forms touted that their leadership understood the scriptures clearer than the ones that penned them!
2> Hermeneutics – often called the flips-side of Exegesis. It is the historical and cultural perspective that must be done to apply to a scripture so the effort of one applying it approaches the full meaning and intent of the scriptures. This tool is invaluable on the scriptures in this entry. To understand why the writer said what they did and what application it really has.
3> Immediate context - that is the scripture surrounding a particular verse constrain its application. In other words, the usus loquendi- that is the local usage is ever important.
4> The scriptures – the global purpose of an epistle, its author, its immediate audience and the issues surrounding the actual motive and effort of the book or epistle written. This global framing of the intent and so proper application of the scripture is essential to put the verse being analyzed into perspective. To know who immediately was being addressed and their circumstances goes far in proper application.
5> Commentaries and works by exegetes, theologians and other experts help guide and supplement the meaning of the scriptures. These can be used to help aid the student in the mining of scriptural treasures. For example, I would test any theory I might hold against the great minds of the church such as Eusubius, Augustine of Hippo, Tertullian and the later works of Calvin and Luther. In this day of technology, there is no excuse for not doing the research required. For the most part, these are readily available.

Where mistakes are often made is that the above five tools are not used in most cases. Why? I would say that ‘revelation’ is the justifier of most modern doctrine- Especially in ‘Spirit-filled’ circles. Take a scenario: Say a leader, one believed by the group as having received a revelation regarding some scripture. They expend great effort on material and organizing what they eventually present to their group. How is this viewed? Well, it is viewed as doctrine for the most part –‘Brother or Sister _______ have heard from the Lord…’ This gives it its sanction as not just from the leader but from the Lord Himself. Usually it is swallowed hook, line and sinker by everyone and if one rejects it, they are marked. Revelation is the ‘pixie dust’ that can make flawed doctrine infallible. History recounts this fact many times over throughout the Church Age. Yet when all the tools are in play an objective and balanced practice of the scriptures is possible.

I have said all the above to make a point: Scriptures if they are to be applied should be strictly applied not loosely applied - especially when it comes to the rejection of the Lord’s Brethren. If anything we should err on the side of grace not law. To cut someone off from fellowship because they see things differently then you is very myopic.

As we look at the next few scriptures bear in mind all the above. We are not allowed to take ‘poetic license’ with the Word of God but tragically it is done all the time and there are the casualties to prove it.

On with the scriptures:

The Disorderly Brother: 2 Thess 3:6 & 11

These two verses are used with great license by those who are instructed to shun or disassociate with those who dissent with their views. The context of ‘disorderly’ here is that there were those who were not earning their living in working but apparently from sponging off the church. Thus they became a burden to those in the church who were working to support themselves and their own families and in addition supporting those who were not working. This is the context of the usage of disorderly in these two scriptures. So, the root behind the ‘disorderly’ here is living off the church when they were fully able to work. Paul uses himself here as an example of how to live and to work this is the ‘meat of the scriptural sandwich’ between these two verses:

For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example. For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies.

So, the idea here was to address lack of industry. Now what is the flawed application of these scriptures? It focuses on the key intent on Paul as using himself as an example of how to live. In dysfunctional and hyper-authoritarian groups, the leader is put on footing and authority that is a representation of the office Paul held. The application so often used here is that if one in the group reaches conclusions that are not in line with the leadership, then the person is walking disorderly. So the scripture above is applied to those who believe or practice their faith in Christ differently than the group either outside the group or those that dissent still within the group. What is the real flaw in the misapplication of this scripture? It is the assumption that the leadership is in such a place as Paul the Apostle in any sense to offer their way of life as an example. In and of itself, this is not a terrible thing at all but when the application of this scripture is used to sever relationships for the reason of non-compliance to one’s personal convictions or perspective, then what has the group become? A reflection of the leader and not of Christ, thus Paul or any one truly like him in character and life would never tolerate such action. In addition, it is a risk to apply such action to other forms of what one might deem ‘unacceptable behavior’ (as they see it). Do the scriptures and their misapplication here have any other correllaries in the Bible? Absolutely. For example, the same kind of mistake was made by the Jews in the construction of the mishnah torah –that is the ‘second law’. Basically, this mishnah was the application of the original or first law into every day life. It was intended as a practical guide to God and a ‘sure’ fulfillment of the Mosaic Law. In other words, the first Law (The Mosiac Law) was a lifestyle versus the Mishnah Torah reduced the first Law to particular events or practices. Yet when Jesus came on the scene, He condemned the usage of such ‘rules’ and customs. Here is His discourse to the Pharisees and Sadducees from the Gospel of Mark 7:5-13:

The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?" And He said to them, "Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. 'BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.'"Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men." He was also saying to them, "You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. "For Moses said, 'HONOR YOUR FATHER AND YOUR MOTHER'; and, 'HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER, IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH'; but you say, 'If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),'you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother;thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that."

In context, this scripture from Mark is ironically appropriate to the main subject of this entry- that is for example, the treatment of family. What Jesus did here was frame proper application of the Law. That is an action done cannot violate the known law. In other words, the second law here had taken precedent over the first. This is no different than violating the scriptures by following teachings that even seek to lead us to God – as many of these types of groups claim their body of teaching does. Perhaps the ultimate tragedy is when children determine to cut-off parents or vice versa because of the teachings of the group. Jesus is reproving those who condone the taking of ‘whatever’ that would help the Mother and Father and placing it as ‘given to God’. How appropriate and telling this is. The ‘whatever’ is a very general term, it is intended to be used here to describe anything that would help in terms of personal wealth. What is the truth of it? The very word of God has been invalidated by the traditions handed down. How tragic! If one engages in such action in cutting off in this way, I say they had better be sure what they are doing and know that the decision they have made to do so, is a very tenuous one indeed. Repent while there is still time!

The Second: 2 John 1;10-11.

Again, in this scripture context is our help and sure buckler. To summarize the subjects of
the epistles of John is to do them a disservice yet at risk of that, what can be done is to at least garner from them some main points. Historically, what has to be remembered here is that the epistles of John were penned in a time when the Gnostics heresies were prevalent in the Mediterranean Basin. In fact at one time the Gnostics were about as large as the Church itself. John being the disciple of Christ and His Apostle defended the truth as it had been delivered by him and his Lord. The key to the proper application of this scripture is found in verses 6-7:

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.

As I stated in my last post (The Ultimate Tragedy), the Gnostics taught that Jesus was an aenon that was to bring reconciliation to the world through wisdom. To add to that post, the Gnostics concluded that Jesus was a Spiritually Pure Being totally, so He could not have ever had a physical body because the Gnostics considered the physical body impure and depraved. What the verse talks about here is those who change the person and character of Christ, not those who believe and follow Him as He is presented to the world as the Incarnate Son of God, who lived a sinless life, died a criminal’s death and was raised on the third day to live forever and act as Judge of the Living and the Dead. This was the Jesus of John. What John was saying is those who do not comply with this teaching of Jesus are not to be received or have any conversation. Again the flaw is as the above. In dysfunctional and hyper-authoritarian groups, the Jesus is that which the Leader fashions. All other concepts and presentations of Jesus that do not line up with the fashioned presentation of the Jesus the Leader constructs is not to be tolerated. My goodness, can this really happen? It does every day. What is perhaps the pent-ultimate tragedy? They serve a Jesus who is made in the image of the Leader not the Lord at all and the ‘Corban’ they present to this image is their very life blood, their very lives.

Closing Remarks

What havoc has been wreaked in the name of the Lord in groups that practice shunning. Tragically they are the ones who suffer as well as those they shun. What is lost is the most richest and precious thing: Time. It is the one thing that cannot be restored. Relationships may be restored and families healed but the scars of time will remain and in some sense they will never fully be healed. They are a reminder of a more savage time when those shunning turned their backs on the ones who love them in ultimate rejection. We who have been so rejected know the full pain but as Christ was rejected and loved so must we. It is the only currency to ransom back those who are using such scriptures to justify the unjustifiable as the last two posts have shown. They kill with their love albeit unknowingly and possess no hands for building but destruction. It is not a kinder, gentler hand but one that grips cruel weapons used to kill and destroy the love they once knew and embraced. Is this the face Christ? I think not.