A Yoke Around My Neck

tiesThey say that neckties are making a comeback. Too bad, I say. I’m not a fan.

I especially don’t like the way ties have been used in churches in developing nations. In many countries, the tie is seen as a symbol of Christianity. Schools of preaching require their students to wear ties, some of whom return to their home congregation, trying to impose the fashion there. In countries where neckties are virtually unknown, you see preachers wearing ties (often in garish colors that in no way match the clothes they wear). In Argentina, if you saw someone wearing a tie walking down the street on Sunday, you had almost certainly found an evangelical.

On Islamic websites, posters ask if the tie is meant to be a symbol of the cross, or if the imposition of ties in business settings isn’t an attempt to proselytize. One reporter who was held captive by the Taliban told of being questioned on several occasions as to what magic Christians saw in neckties.

Wear your ties, if you like. Just don’t mix fashions and faith… neither here nor overseas.

Finally, during some Bible study yesterday, I discovered that neckties are criticized in the New Testament! Note this from the book of Acts:

“Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10)

There you have it. Why put on the necks of the disciples a yoke that others have not been able to bear? That settles it. No neckties.

(OK, maybe I’m not totally serious on that one…)

Photo by Jane M. Sawyer via MorgueFile.com

Arizona, discrimination, and being forced to violate one’s conscience

gavelThe whole country has been talking about Arizona SB 1062. For the most part, ridicule has been heaped on the lawmakers and on the conservative Christians the lawmakers were seeking to protect.

Sadly, much of that ridicule has come from professing Christians.

First off, let me say that I’m against discrimination in general. I’m against discrimination against homosexuals. Against atheists. Against muslims. Discrimination based on race.

And from what I can tell, the language of this law was much too broad.

That being said, most of the attacks on the law have shown extreme prejudice. Rather than deal with the actual issues at stake, they’ve opposed the law with hyperbolic arguments.

The intent is not to keep anyone from sitting at a lunch counter. You should be ashamed of yourself for even making the comparison. Saying such either shows ignorance of what is going on or a willful distortion of the facts. The intent of the law is not to keep anyone from exercising any rights they have. The intent of the law is to allow people the right to not participate in things that they find violate their ideals.

Does anyone argue that African Americans print shop owners should be forced to produce signs for a white supremacist group? Does anyone argue that a Jewish theater owner is obligated to rent his property to a neo-Nazi group?

The concept behind the law, hidden behind overly ambiguous language, was the idea that a Christian who feels that gay marriage is wrong should not be forced to perform services as part of a gay wedding. That’s the thought. The baker shouldn’t have to put a same sex couple on the cake he creates; the photographer shouldn’t be forced to shoot a wedding that violates his conscience; the minister shouldn’t feel obligated to perform a wedding for a couple when he doesn’t believe that wedding will result in an actual marriage.

Someone commented on Twitter that God sides with the marginalized. In this case, in 2014 U.S. culture, the marginalized is the conservative Christian who dares stand up for his beliefs. If you don’t believe me, look at whom everyone is ridiculing. There are rational voices out there, but they are few and far between.

Christian business owners should feel compelled to offer good, courteous service to everyone. But they should not be compelled to participate in a ceremony that violates their conscience.

Holy kisses and ignored commands

320px-Flickr_-_europeanpeoplesparty_-_EPP_Congress_Bonn_(515)I lived fifteen years in Argentina. My wife is from there, as are my kids. I’ve had the privilege to learn a lot about the culture of Argentina.

80% of the population of Argentina is of Italian and/or Spanish descent. The Mediterranean culture has had a tremendous impact on Argentina. That can be helpful at times when looking at the New Testament, for it was principally written by and for people of that region.

In Argentina, no one argues that the “holy kiss” of the New Testament is something restricted to the past. As in the culture in general, Christians greet one another with a “kiss,” though in most cases only the cheeks touch. There’s nothing remotely sexual about it.

But if we examine the holy kiss in New Testament writings, we’ll find some interesting things about this “command.” It’s only found in the final section of letters, in the midst of other greetings. It took me a while to realize that this is not a command at all.

Romans 16:16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
1 Corinthians 16:20 All the brothers send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
2 Corinthians 13:12 Greet one another with a holy kiss.
1 Thessalonians 5:26   Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.
1 Peter 5:14 Greet one another with the kiss of love.  Peace to all of you who are in Christ.

Imagine getting a letter from a friend that says, “Tell your mom I said hello.” How would you interpret that command? It’s not really a command, is it? It’s doubtful that your friend will quiz you later on your fulfillment of that order.

When I receive letters from friends from Latin America, I often receive hugs and kisses, sometimes for other people. It’s common to end a letter with the phrase “un abrazo” (a hug) or “un beso” (a kiss). Some will write “un abrazo fraternal” (a brotherly hug). Sometimes they will send you a hug or a kiss for someone else.

When Peter and Paul ask Christians to greet one another with a holy kiss, it’s not a command for the church. It’s not some new instruction they hadn’t thought of, some sort of law that they will transgress if they don’t obey. There was no fear that (a) they wouldn’t greet one another; (b) they wouldn’t kiss; nor (c) it wouldn’t be holy. Saying “Greet one another with a holy kiss) was a courteous expression.

There are commands in the New Testament that we don’t follow. Many who obey the commandment in 1 Corinthians 16:2 to collect money on a weekly basis disobey the instruction in the same passage to save said money until Paul comes to take it to Jerusalem. And other commands are understood to not be intended for us today.

But don’t point to the holy kiss as an ignored command. That’s not what it is.

And by the way… tell the members at your church that I said hello.

photo from Wikimedia user Zil

The Bible, Culture and Gender Roles

Bible by fireplaceAll right, let’s get back to the discussion of gender roles in the church. Thanks for the discussion last time; special thanks to those who recruited others to join the conversation.

One big issue that has to be dealt with is the Bible’s relationship with its historical and cultural context, especially when it comes to gender roles. It’s hard to deny that the Bible paints a male-dominated picture of the world. You find the occasional queen, prophetess, and female judge, but overwhelmingly, it’s a man’s world. So, in such a testosterone-laden context, was the Bible merely a product of that society or did it help shape it?

It’s the question I asked before: did the Law prohibit pork because the Jews didn’t eat it or did the Jews refrain from pork because the Law prohibited it? Did the Mosaic Law establish a system of male leadership because of the society the Hebrews lived in or did the Law seek to shape the Israelites into the society he wanted?

More specifically for us Christians, when Jesus chose only men to be among the Twelve, was that a concession to society or an example for the church? When Paul told Timothy and Titus to appoint men as elders, was that merely a reflection of the world Paul knew or was that an inspired directive? (we can also ask if that was only for Ephesus and Crete or if other churches followed that practice)

I’d like to hear your thoughts on the matter.

graphic from CreationSwap.com

Bible-shaped culture or culture-shaped Bible?

Bible in the shadowI realize in talking with others that there are lots of different views as to how the Bible interacted with the culture of the people who wrote it. No surprise, I know, but I understand better now how that deeply affects how we read the Bible.

Some people, for example, take an extremely low view of Scripture. The Bible, for them, is merely a sacred text like other sacred texts written by ancient peoples. Prophecies were written after the fact and adjusted to fit what actually happened. Laws were written to give “divine sanction” to existing situations. The slaughter of other nations is justified by describing it as holy war, while attacks on one’s own people are an affront against God. Women are oppressed and slavery is upheld because the Bible was written to uphold the status quo.

Others see the Bible as coming down from heaven untainted by human culture. If the Bible says God has storehouses for snow, then there are some sort of heavenly structures filled with frozen precipitation, waiting to be sent. If God said not to trim the corners of the beard, then there’s a heavenly reason for that. Laws were not shaped around man; man was shaped around the laws.

Then there’s a myriad of views in between, seeing God as speaking to human culture within the framework of a specific historical context. Heavenly truths expressed through earthly means. God’s word for a particular situation needing to be translated into God’s word for our situation.

That’s why some look at demon possession and say “epilepsy.” Others look at teachings about greeting with a holy kiss and say, “Yes, but that was then.” Others will only take the Lord’s Supper in an upper room.

If you had to state your views on how the Bible shaped and was shaped by the culture of its time, what would you say?

photo from MorgueFile.com