Over a nice cup of French Roast yesterday I had the occasion to mention to a priest friend that lately I’ve been pondering a list of wrong things that people believe. I don’t mean wrong things that are thought by people outside the Church, although there sure are plenty of those. I mean wrong things thought by people on the fringes of the Church–like the Christmas-and-Easter crowd–and wrong things thought by people who think of themselves as Christians but can’t quite be bothered to set their bums in a pew. Sadly, I also mean wrong things thought by people who may even be in Church every week but still are clueless. And so, although I should be re-writing my novel or writing its sequel, instead I’m setting out to put forth a list of a few of these ideas with short notes about each.
A few years ago another priest friend of mine preached a terrific sermon along similar lines, something like “things you thought that aren’t so.” Alas, he preached it on a Christmas Eve, thinking (rightly) that he wouldn’t have some of those people in a pew again until spring, and those people hadn’t come to church to be taught truth, they had come to be told cozy stories about cute little baby Jesus and fuzzy lambs, and maybe even hear a little Handel. Still, he was right to tell them the truth, and I applaud him for it. I apologize in advance if a couple of the items on his list reappear here in mine…no plagiarism is intended: the inspiration only is his; the words are mine, and the list in no particular order of importance. This list will come out slowly, in dribbles if you will, over time as time allows.
1. Christianity is about keeping the rules.
Well, no, not really. While there are some rules that should be followed, and other rules that simply must be followed, the fact is that rule-following or keeping is not the essence of Christianity, it’s more of a by-product or incidental ancillary. For example, Christianity is not about not murdering and abstaining from red meat on Fridays, although not murdering keeps your relations with God and other people straight, and not eating red meat on Fridays helps keep your self in control over your physical appetites. Christianity, far from being about rules, is about relationships: the relationship of the created to the Creator, the relationship of the human to other humans, and the relationship of the created to the Creation.
2. Christians believe in the Bible.
Well, this is a funny one, and it’s possible to be taken not far enough and far too far, and interestingly enough both by the same people. Simply put, the Bible is reliable to be true, for all the purposes for which it was intended, in the original languages, in the context in which it was written and in the context of the Church. In other words, no “Bible Roulette” of flipping pages and sticking your finger in at random. This ain’t no Ouija board–and the Ouija board isn’t either, but that’s a subject for another post, probably in October.
This also means there are no secret codes, hidden cyphers, or closet Masonic symbols tucked away in the Bible. This is closely related to the next item.
3. There are different “ages” or “dispensations” in the Bible and in “God’s plan of history.”
Some people like to talk and write about dispensations wherein God behaves differently and changes his mind with different plans and standards for various purposes, and they all come together with “the end times.” Sorry. There was no “patriarchal” or “grace” dispensations, and there will be no millennium, tribulation, or body-disappearing “rapture,” whether pre-, mid-, or post- the non-existent tribulation. Seriously, people, this kind of talk was never heard of until the early-mid nineteenth century. In other words, to believe this, one has to think that the Holy Spirit took a nap from Pentecost for about 1,800 years. No, this isn’t Christianity, it’s just made up silliness.
More things for the list next time. Until then, read your Bible (a whole Bible, not just an Old & New Testament), go to Church (not some independent operation, the real deal that was founded in AD 29), and pray (not a shopping list, just sit with God and be silent).