Interrupted by fundamentalism: Part III

This is the final post on being “interrupted by fundamentalism.” Should you say anything? I boil it all down to three question.
1.) Is the gospel being threatened? Paul got up in Peter’s grill and said,  “I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned (Gal 2:11).” If the gospel is being added to or subtracted (as was the case with Peter refusing Gentile fellowship), then it does warrant a response.  The plate on the bible was no doubt a symptom of a greater disease, but the request-or rather command-itself didn’t necessarily show me that she was trusting in her works instead of the grace of Jesus. That’s what some people call Pharisaism (adding little rules), as opposed to Legalism-working for your salvation. Of course Pharisees did both, and both are commonly found dwelling in the same persons today.
2.) Can you do it truthfully and graciously? Perhaps there are times for righteous indignation, as with Jesus and the money changers in the Temple (Matt 21:12), but we should always remember that most of our anger is not of this variety. And we don’t know exactly what Paul’s and Peter’s exchange looked like. Clearly there was confrontation, but how “heated” Paul got is something we can’t know for sure. 
3.) Will it do any good? What affect will it have? This last question is perhaps the last question we should consider in deciding whether or not we should go on the offensive. First of all, I don’t think the question is necessarily a bad question to ask. It is wise to be silent at times, and sometimes anticipating what response you might receive, will allow you to “lose the battle” but “win the war.” So the “will it do any good” question can sometimes be valid, provided you’re not just backing out of necessary gospel-driven confrontation.
But I’d now like to turn to the question “will it do any good?” itself, and explain how it can be an illegitimate question.
A. Who knows? None of us know for a fact what a gospel-centered response could elicit. We can make educated guesses, but how much do we really know? Even when God has declared through a prophet there will be death and destruction, some folks offered up prayers, saying, “Who knows (Jonah 4)?” For Nineveh it “worked,” for David, it didn’t. Who knows? Perhaps a seed was planted, and it might give folks something to think about. Just as coming to faith for many takes a plethora of gospel conversations, so might this exodus from the slavery of man-made rules take some time.
B. How can we expect folks to change? If folks are never challenged to think gospel centered thoughts, they will no doubt continue “policing” tables looking for plates on tops of bibles. People do leave fundamentalism behind. Sometimes it occurs when they simply grow up, and see that NetFlix can be a good thing. But if no one ever graciously challenges them, then we should probably not expect the gospel to make a big dent in their thinking.
C.) A little too much pragmatism. The main problem with the “will it do any good” question is that our presumed definition of success becomes the arbiter of whether or not we do something. And often our definition of success is not necessarily God’s definition of success. Think of the OT prophets. Most people did not listen to those guys. Not only that, Israel often killed those dudes. It definitely didn’t look like their message “did any good.” Maybe no one changes from your gospel-centered response, but that might just be what God dialed up. Some things just have to be said because they honor God, regardless of whether or not, those words are actually heard, received, and pondered. The “will it do any good” question, sometimes finds more common ground with pragmatism than faithfulness.
D.) Worried about our own comfort. I think the question has yet another underlying question: is it worth it to enter into the unknown and perhaps the uncomfortable? It’s much easier (provided they go to another church) to let someone go on making up rules not found in the bible and trying to enforce them on others than to disagree and enter into conflict. Conflict, particularly when it doesn’t seem to do any good, is uncomfortable. We tend to not like that feeling, so sometimes I think we can hide behind the “what good will it do” question.

None of these questions are directed to anybody. The older I get, the more I’m beginning to see these questions behind the “will it do any good” question in my own heart.

Interrupted by fundamentalism: Part II

As the title suggests, this the 2nd post in this series, so please go back and read the first post to get the contcxt. 
First of all, my re-telling of the story landed on the sardonic side. I’m really not angry, but just felt very creative for a bit, so I tried to put it all down before the “creative muse” left me high and dry. Although I am saddened that much of “Christian” thought in this area is dominated by fundamentalistic thinking (making up outward rules not in the bible, preachers yelling at people, and trying to make God like us, etc…) There is not much gospel-centered thinking or preaching: God already loves me, so I therefore want to follow Him, failing regularly as I go, and showing grace to others. That much I’ve witnessed and heard from countless folks.
In fact one picture of sanctification someone espoused from the pulpit in a local church looked like this: a long haired, ear-ringed, tatooed, man came to church, and over time, he cut his hair, got rid of his ear-rings, covered his tatoos. That’s sanctification: outwardly conforming to some sort of cultural norm not based upon scripture.
So that is prevalent. But is there any response demanded from someone who walks up to you and demands that you conform to this model?
I don’t think there is necessarily any response demanded. For instance, I had nothing to say. Nothing came to me. And as my dear friend Jeremy pointed out in his comment, it would probably not have been gracious. Truthful perhaps, but not gracious. I shouldn’t have said anything because nothing came to me.
While visiting Israel on a foreign study trip in college, an orthodox Jew in Jerusalem made me take either the meat or the milk product OFF of the table. I knew I couldn’t have meat-lovers pizza in Jerusalem (I had cheese while my buddy opted for the Tuna-bad choice), but I didn’t realize they couldn’t even be on the same table. I obliged, more out of safety than anything. He wasn’t too happy. I’d probably oblige again.
But when a Christian comes and demands you follow something extra-biblical, provided words come to you, it is right to say something.  Particularly because the plate on the bible thing is really just the tip of the iceberg of a disbelief in the gospel.
Jesus comes into contact with some pharisees, first century fundamentalists, and he challenges their assumptions. They can’t figure out why his disciples don’t wash their hands, according to the traditions of the elders. He goes for the spiritual jugular, the heart, and quotes Isaiah, showing that this has been a problem for a long time in Israel: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men (Mark 7:1-8)”
It is not good to make up commands. Jesus is not a fan, even when you think you are doing God a favor. Clearly this woman felt like it was dishonoring to God’s Word to put a plate on my bible. But the Pharisees seemed to have used the same argument. They honored God with lips, but their hearts were far from him. All of their actions fell under the rubric of “You need to honor God,” but because their motivation was so far off (making God their debtor by making up rules and trying to get others to follow them), they actually ignored the ACTUAL commands of loving their parents.
When people do make up commands, we have an opportunity to address that behavior, provided our tones aren’t dominated by sarcasm or anger (I Peter 3:15-17; this verse refers specifically to dialog with unbelievers, but I’m pretty sure the whole gentleness and respect thing applies across the board). 
If the Lord has given you nothing to say, then follow Allison Krauss’ lead (or Keith Wheatly) and “say nothing at all.” But it is a good thing to seek answers which would challenge our fundamentalist brother and sisters in the faith with the truth and the gospel. 
Here are some questions I might ask when I have my next “interruption,” which may open the door for the gospel. Instead of following your heart (or mine) and saying “get a life,” these might start the conversation off on the right foot.
1.) Where in the bible does it say that? Could you show it to me? If its not there, should we hold this belief with such certainty, and THEN expect others to follow this command?
2.) I appreciate your concern to honor God’s Word, and there are many ways of honoring God. What are some other ways which YOU display a high view of the Word? Here are some ways I value God’s Word: hearing it preached regularly, studying it regularly, discussing it in community, applying it, cherishing it, etc….
Jesus didn’t ask his disciples to wash their hands, even though that would have been a more “peaceful” response. I might refuse to take the plate off the bible next time, but I will definitely not do so devoid of gospel-centered dialog. But if I, or you, feel that the gospel is not threatened, then I or you can follow Paul’s example and have one dude circumcised and the other not. The answer depends upon gospel-centered thinking more so than our (and mine in particular) goal or desire to prove someone else wrong.
Feel free to share any other pertinent questions you feel might be helpful.
One question (well at least one) remains: will it do any good? And if it won’t (or at least if we presume it won’t do any good), should that be a reason for why say nothing at all? I’ll get to that one tomorrow and then get off the fundamentalist response kick.

Interrupted by fundamentalism

The other day I had a meeting with some folks on the nursery team at Tim Horton’s (the closest thing we have to Starbucks in “the Valley”) when a woman interrupted us with something “important” to say. She asked me if the object on the table was indeed a bible. At this point, I expected her to say something like, “Wow, it’s good to see other Christians out and about,” as I was accustomed to hearing from women her age (60’s) in Bradenton, FL.  What I did not expect was that which came out of her mouth.
She began, “My third grade Sunday School Teacher taught me something and it has stuck with me ever since.” Still, I’m expecting something encouraging. After all, we were brainstorming on ways how to better teach the Toddlers the gospel during their nursery time, and how to get parents involved in the process. Good things I thought. 
But then the bomb shell: “You never put anything on top of the bible.” There was a plate from my donut resting on top of the bible. So she took the plate off, freeing me from the pending judgment of God on my hapless soul no doubt. Probably not a second too soon.
And then, like a small black-tip shark with an investigatory bite on a surfer, she was gone. Disappearing into the vast sea of everyday life, this Christian soldier marked onward with pride toward the next opportunity to make a spiritual citizen’s arrest. Or maybe she just went home? Who knows or cares? 
We three paused in disbelief. I was speechless, fortunately, because words might not have been “gracious, seasoned with salt,” as instructed in Colossians 4:6. Blindsided by fundamentalistic  superstition, I had absolutely nothing to say, but “wow.” I knew from personal experience that fundamentalism and legalism ran rampant here in West Va like the ancient buffalo of old, but I guess I’d not been run over by such a buffalo before. I felt it this time.
Of course after she left, I thought I should have clarified that my bible was actually the ESV, and not the Holy and uniquely inspired King James version. So it was technically not a recognized bible for “fundies.” Maybe I could have kept my plate on it after all?
What does one say in such a scenario? Is there anything which one should say, or are there things better to say, or should we just follow Allison Krauss’ instructions, saying it best “when you say nothing at all?

I have some takes on how I could have responded, and plan to respond the next time someone uses such a silly superstition in God’s name. But this post is already getting too long.