Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Bible and Religious Addiction

This is runoff from a conversation that was going on elsewhere, and something I think is important enough that I'll end up recycling some things I've said before here and here.


Once again, let me remind everyone that I love the books of the bible. Love them. I've spent much of the last several years immersed in them, and I've read the bible cover to cover, in a few different translations, many times. With that said...


The bible is NOT the final authority on all things regarding my faith.


That may not have been true even 2 or 3 years ago (even though I was never fundie, I'm sure I suffered from my own forms of legalism and religious addiction...and probably still do), but it couldn't be more true today. Let's look at another of Paschal Baute's "Symptoms of Religious Addiction"...

Scrupulosity: rigid obsessive adherence to rules, codes of ethics, or guidelines

We call the books of our bible the "canon". Wanna know what it means? "Canon" comes from the Greek word "kanon", which means "rule" or "measure". Ouch. Compare that to the symptom of Religious Addiction above. What this means to me - the men who put together the various canons weren't necessarily committed to pursuing absolute truth, but were concerning themselves with creating a religious rulebook, based largely on personal dogmas, building a religion rather than encouraging a faith...and attempting to establish a means of control over it through its "accepted" documents.


One of the most revered figures of the protestant faith, Martin Luther, wanted Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation removed from the canon. In his opinion, and that of other church leaders, those letters went against the ideals of "sola scripture" (the doctrine that the bible contains all essential knowledge for salvation and holiness) and "sola fide" (justification by faith alone).  It isn't coincidental that those books are found at or very near the end of the bible as we know it today. They were, in essence, building an entirely NEW faith, over a millennia after Christ. They needed an instruction manual or rulebook to do so, and forged the canon to fit these new concepts doctrinally and dogmatically.


That makes me more than a little itchy.


What that's left us with is a modern Christian community whose true deity is largely the "Holy Bible". Heck, most of the churches in my neck of the woods think anything other than the KJV is a "devil book". The smart money says that I could go into one of these churches and preach the same Jesus from a different translation of the bible and receive far more resistance for doing so than if I preached a different Jesus from the KJV. I'd bet my life on it. So, you have to ask, are they genuinely worshipping Jesus AT ALL, or is the focus of their worship the "Holy Bible"? Have they become junkies to a lifestyle built around the bible rather than true faith in Christ? There are even entire denominations (Calvary Chapel - the nondenominational denomination, is a forerunner in this area) built around the idea that "church" is to be centered around a line by line, verse by verse, expository approach to the bible. "Topical" sermons are considered too shallow. The by-product of this approach is that all members are indoctrinated to view the bible as the ultimate and final authority on all things concerning their faith. They learn no discernment, because they look to the wrong source for truth, having truth parceled out to them via the human interpretations of the bible, and the bible becomes an idol.


Certain tendencies emerge, such as looking at the bible as a single organism. We fall into lazy phrases of Christianese like "the bible says" (I still do this sometimes), when, in and of itself, "the bible" doesn't say anything at all. The individual books within it have MUCH to say. To say "the bible says" discredits the very distinct and individual messages of the very distinct and individual books inside of it. The bible ISN'T ONE BOOK. It's a collection of 66 very diverse books, written by a wide range of men from all walks of life, from farmers and shepherds to kings to scholars to biological half-brothers of Christ. While those books may correlate with and compliment each other, and all point in the same general direction, they're different books that must either stand or fall on their own merit. The Psalms don't speak for Hebrews, Joel doesn't speak for Romans, Malachi doesn't speak for Titus, et cetera. 


We begin to call the bible "God's word", even though the bible absolutely ISN'T "God's word". In its construct, it's MAN'S WORD as a final authority on "God's word". Some of its books contain some of God's wordS, but its general theme, through all of the books, is to point to the Living Word, Jesus Christ.


Using the bible as a "final and absolute authority and arbiter of truth" is what has left us with hyper-fundamentalists, patriarchy, quiverfull, rigid, gender-based conservative "Christianity", and many other legalistic and goofy offshoots and cultic groups. When it becomes a rulebook (which, by definition, the "canon" is), and men serve as the commissioners and administers of those rules, you get left with one mell of a hess. Scriptural gymnastics are engaged in to undergird goofy, and destructive, belief systems.


All of this is done in total defiance of the words found in the Gospel of John (note that I said "the Gospel of John" - not "the bible"). Jesus never promised us a bible, a biblical canon, or any set of "scripture", to guide us. He promised to send us the Holy Spirit. (John 16:13)


Nothing, NOTHING, supercedes the work of the Holy Spirit in the life and heart of an individual. THAT's the final authority on our faith. You may believe that leaves too much room for personal interpretation. Yeah, and the bible doesn't (SA).


If you desperately cling to the idea that the bible is "God's word", and the ultimate and final authority on matters of your faith, you may want to take a deeper look at the Symptoms of Religious Addiction.

Nothing here is said to diminish the books of the bible (or any other religious writings). I love them. I just want to give them their proper place - as a supplement to my faith - not as the object of my worship.

58 comments:

  1. Lewis, your words bring up a question in me: What would you say if someomne tells you:

    "The Holy Spirit told me I must lead and my wife and children must follow."
    OR tell you
    "The Holy Spirit told me that I should tell you not to listen to secular music again."

    You see, any teaching could be abused. Your teaching above is no exeption.

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  2. Lewis, delurking to say excellent as always.

    I am not a Christian, but I do appreciate those like you, and my father in recent years, who are open in their faith and use it to make themselves the best they can be. If I ever do come around it will be because of the inspiration of those who believe as you do and use that faith not as a means of degrading others, but who demonstrate grace.

    Thank you and keep it up! :)

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  3. Retha...Here's how I would respond to statements like those...

    "The Holy Spirit told me I must lead and my wife and children must follow."

    Has the Holy Spirit also communicated this to the people he wants to take authority over? This is why patriarchs/fundamentalists don't like the Holy Spirit as arbiter - they can't control people if the Holy Spirit becomes personal to all people, because they can't legitimately police what the Holy Spirit communicates to individuals. This is why patriarchy, and so many of its goofy ideas, are spiritual fallacies.

    "The Holy Spirit told me that I should tell you not to listen to secular music again."

    If someone told me that, I'd say, "You mean, the Holy Spirit, which dwells IN me, had to go through you to deliver a message to me that it could deliver directly to me? Tell you what, when the Holy Spirit says as much to me, personally, I'll turn off the Led Zeppelin."

    You're right that any teaching can be abused, but regarding what I wrote above, my emphasis is on the personal access to the Holy Spirit that all believers have. I can say, with confidence, that in the case of the first statement, the Holy Spirit would have to tell this to more than just the man involved, but to ALL parties involved - or it wasn't the Holy Spirit at all. In the case of the second statement, I can say with all confidence that if someone said that to me, they might have had a "spirit" talking to them, but it wasn't a Holy one.

    Christ was pretty direct in his language that, to lead, become SMALL, become a servant. Not a "servant-leader" (that's just Christianese BS). A servant. The Holy Spirit isn't gonna direct people to be OVER (and by default, under) other people - without clearing it with the other people, too. The Holy Spirit would once again be stuck behind a veil, and Christ would be invalidated.

    Discernment, on the part of the individual believer, is key.

    I hope that clarifies where I'm at on this a little better.

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  4. camden...Delurk anytime. Thanks for the kind words.

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  5. Thanks, Lewis. It does clarify it.

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  6. I am very interested in this, I am not awake yet, (only half a mug of coffee so far) so I need to re-read it, but it is a VERY good argument, or challenge to be sure we don't have yet another idol in our path.
    I have read your blog before, and as a past-cult church go-er, I appreciate any breath of fresh air someone is willing to send into a dusty old brain. :)

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  7. Lewis, this is what confuses me. You say "Nothing, NOTHING, supercedes the work of the Holy Spirit in the life and heart of an individual." So...what if 100 different people all listen to the Holy Spirit and he tells them 100 different things? I used to think the Holy Spirit told me all SORTS of things, and now I think that was all crap and just me talking to myself. So...what's the difference?

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  8. To me, the answer is discernment. I think that goes for personal interpretation of just about any matter.

    Frankly, this is one reason I'm so adamant about reliance on the Holy Spirit. I can't police what the Holy Spirit tells someone. That's personal. I can't police how that person may interpret it. That's personal. But what I can do is discern where it applies, or doesn't apply, to me. And, I don't have to rely on someone else to determine or interpret what I hear or believe the Holy Spirit is saying to me, by whatever means He chooses to communicate.

    Discernment applies to all areas of life. 100 people could read a verse out of the bible and give you 100 different interpretations of it. 100 people could listen to one political speech and come away with 100 differing interpretations of it.

    I do believe there are MANY absolute truths in the books included in the bible, but ultimately, the individual believer has to determine what those are as directed by the Holy Spirit.

    A lot of people in the Christian faith might believe that this leads to confusion. Not really - if we're all genuinely seeking truth and willing to accept it in whatever shape or form we discover it. Christians aren't bound to have the same interpretation, understanding, and such of an identical message. The account of Paul's return to Jerusalem in Acts 20 and 21 (I think that's where it is - typing off the top of my head here) seems to bear this out.

    As far as how God speaks to us - I think it can be by any means He chooses. The little voice in our head, the nudges in our heart, our gut instinct and intuition, nature, all kinds of ways. A lot of Christians seem to wait around for an audible voice that says, "Yo! Homey! Do this!" It's up to us to discern when God is speaking to us and what He's saying.

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  9. Lewis, do you think that 2 Timothy 3:16 is a lie? Do you not believe that God told all of these men what to write? And why would God say that he will take a person's name out of the book of Life if he dare to change any words in His Bible? And if it is not inspired, how in the world did all of those men write all of these words without once contradicting each other?

    As far as the KJV goes,
    http://www.youtube.com/user/NGJMinistries#p/c/C695361416DB94F7/11/mJ1mAFHpRkg

    I know people here have a problem with Mr. Pearl but he is very well-studied, more so than any of us (unless you're older than him and have been studying daily for 40 years straight.) He lets the books interpret themselves by doing word-studies. I don't want to trust a bunch of theologians to tell me what the Bible says. I want to read the Bible for myself and figure out what it is saying on my own. Word studies are wonderful. I do not worship the Bible. I love God; therefore, I want to know what He has to say about Himself, about Jesus, about life and about His creation.
    One explanation of Bible study: http://www.nogreaterjoy.org/articles/general-view/archive/2006/october/26/what-is-the-best-method-of-studying-the-bible/

    Okay, back on topic...If I didn't believe that the books of the Bible are God's words to us, then I wouldn't bother reading it. Sure, you can read it as a self-help book of sorts, but God gave it to us for a reason, not to improve our lives, but to teach us who Jesus is and to show us how sinful we are. It is the main means that He uses to explain Himself to us.

    I agree with your point that the Bible is not "God's Word" because JESUS is The Word. However, the Bible (KJV) IS God's WORDS to us.
    (BTW, I capitalize the word Bible out of respect for God, not out of respect for the collection of books itself.) The Bible IS inspired by God; other religious writings are not.

    Personally, I don't consider the Bible a "rule book". It is to be read as a history book, and then if God teaches you something through it, that's all good and well. I used to think that every verse applied to me personally. So ridiculous, but that is what happens sometimes when you grow up in a church that only teaches topical sermons. Somehow every sermon has verses that apply to you personally. That is why I don't like topical sermons. It leaves you with that impression subconsciously. Now I know better and the Bible is so much clearer and less overwhelming now.

    And yes, of course, we need the Holy Spirit. If we didn't need Him, God would not have sent Him. He is just as important to our lives as having God's Word. The best thing to do if you think God is telling you something through His Holy Spirit, compare it to what He says in His books. He will never contradict Himself.

    As a side note, I realize that God has revealed Himself to people who are without access to the Bible. I believe this is because we haven't been faithful to get the Bible to these people ourselves and He has mercy on them in spite of our failings.

    Maybe we should all do a word study on the word "WORD". It occurs 673 times in the KJV. Maybe then we'll discover how important God thinks His word is. It would be very interesting to see how many times, and where the word is capitalized (referencing Christ) and how many times (and in what verses) it is referring to the books of the Bible.

    KH

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  10. Lewis, do you think that 2 Timothy 3:16 is a lie?

    Not at all...but I also don't think 2nd Timothy 3:16 is talking about 2nd Timothy 3:16.

    Discernment.

    And really, to use capitalization of words, in English translations of the texts, to draw definitive conclusions is reckless at best. Those translators took MANY dogmatically defined liberties. It leaves you believing it because other men told you so.

    He will never contradict Himself.

    This is a hard thing to prove with the bible itself.

    You seem to me to be worshipping the KJV. Everything about your faith seems to be defined by the KJV.

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  11. And also...I'll pass on anything from No Greater Joy. I don't want to fish for diamonds among the turds.

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  12. I actually honestly think that this mentality is what leads to cults. Joseph Smith had a "special revelation" from God, and so did David Koresh. They believed God spoke to them, and they acted on it. There is no check and balance in this approach, nothing to make sure someone's not just making it up in their head.

    Back in college, I had a good friend who started getting special revelations from the Holy Spirit. We were soon getting them too - there were thirteen of us all together. The Holy Spirit told us we were part of something big, that we were going to bring about a great awakening on our college campus. These were exciting times, and we listened to God's still small voice. We battled demons, too, and my friend who started it all had to personally rebuke the devil. She was also under constant demonic attack, and the Holy Spirit urged us on in trying to help her cleanse herself of her demons. We prayed with her, held her down as she was convulsed by the demons, and called on God's heavenly power. The Holy Spirit told us that we were part of something big, part of establishing God's Kingdom on Earth.

    And then this girl stopped leaving her dorm room and started cutting herself. She told us we needed to give up our free time, our friendships to pray over her, but we were starting to see that something was seriously wrong. It turns out, she was mentally ill the entire time and is now on drugs. For over two months, though, we had heard the Holy Spirit tell us we were at the edge of an awakening and were going to purge the demons from our campus, and from our dear friend. We were SO SURE, and we were listening SO CAREFULLY. And it turns out, it was all fake. ALL OF IT. We made it ALL up in our heads. It started with the revelations of a mentally ill girl, revelations that we then received as well, and it was crap.

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  13. Stop me Lewis. I feel another 5000+ word Open Response coming on. Hang on while I displace a few ceiling tiles................................................................................................................................

    Ahhhhh. Much better.

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  14. Anonymous - "I know people here have a problem with Mr. Pearl but he is very well-studied, more so than any of us (unless you're older than him and have been studying daily for 40 years straight.)"

    Um, no. Just no. Has Michael Pearl ever studied the Bible under actual scholars? No. Does he have a legitimate degree in the Bible? No. Reading the Bible over and over does NOT make you an expert on it. For that, you have to study the early church, ancient languages, ancient customs, archaeology, early Christian documents, and the ways the Bible has been copied over the years. Michael Pearl knows NONE of that. I'll go with legitimate Bible scholars like Bart Ehrman over Michael Pearl any day.

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  15. Liberty...Discernment never leads to cultic situations. It leads people OUT of them.

    In the instance from college you speak of, the discernment I'm speaking of would've put an end to all of that pretty quickly.

    There's a huge difference in what I'm talking about and Joseph Smith. Enormous difference.

    Discernment is the key in so many areas of life. Not just in faith.

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  16. In the New Testament, the word scripture (grafe, in Greek) refers to the books of the Old Testament, not the entire Bible. A literal translation of "inspired" (theopnustos in Greek) is "God-breathed". This term does not mean that the Bible is inerrant or free of contradictions (2 creation stories anyone?). It implies that those who read the OT, which was the Bible of early Christianity, will adopt godly behavior. This is expressly mentioned in 3:16, it is the overall theme of 2 Timothy.

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  17. More for KH...

    Do you not believe that God told all of these men what to write?

    Not in every case.

    And why would God say that he will take a person's name out of the book of Life if he dare to change any words in His Bible?

    God never says this. Go back and read my comments about viewing the bible as a single organism to see if you're falling into that trap.

    And if it is not inspired, how in the world did all of those men write all of these words without once contradicting each other?

    They didn't. There are contradictions in the books of the biblical canon.

    I don't want to trust a bunch of theologians to tell me what the Bible says. I want to read the Bible for myself and figure out what it is saying on my own.

    If I were you, I'd make sure that I'm not just trading letting theologians tell me what I believe for letting Michael Pearl tell me what I believe.

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  18. This is slightly off topic, but wanted to share. I was reading the comments about each individual hearing the Holy Spirit for themselves, and not having to go through someone else. Growing up in my household, I was always told what "The Lord was saying" through my parents. That it was truth, and I had to do what they said because only THEY could know what God wanted for me, and that if I felt the Holy Spirit was telling me anything, and my parents didn't "have a peace about it", than it just couldn't be from God. (Long sentence, sorry!) There was no room for myself, as a child or even young adult, to hear from the Holy Spirit. I heard this simple quote a few years ago, and it rocked my world, and has completely changed my views, especially with my own children:

    "Children don't receive a 'junior Holy Spirit'".

    Just had to share. :)

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  19. Liberty, just to illustrate my point a little better, you said...

    I actually honestly think that this mentality is what leads to cults. Joseph Smith had a "special revelation" from God, and so did David Koresh. They believed God spoke to them, and they acted on it. There is no check and balance in this approach, nothing to make sure someone's not just making it up in their head.

    ...but that leaves out the fact that these men then used their "special revelation" to dominate and control other people, attempting to remove the Holy Spirit from the lives of other men. Discerning people got away from these men and their message.

    Discernment IS the check and balance. Just because someone tells me "God said so and so to me" or "God revealed such and such to me", that doesn't mean I believe them or that I shape my life around their revelation. I'll believe it when God says it or reveals it to ME.

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  20. "Children don't receive a 'junior Holy Spirit'".

    I like that!

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  21. KH said: "why would God say that he will take a person's name out of the book of Life if he dare to change any words in His Bible?"

    You are using Revelation 22:18-19. Rev 22:18-19 was written not about the 66 book canon we call the bible, but about the single book called Revelation. It could not have been about all 66 books gathered in the bible, as they were not gethered yet. And besides, the comment is about THIS BOOK, not THESE 66 BOOKS. "The prophesy in this book" could refer to some or even all of that one book, Revelation

    Similarly "all scripture is God-breathed" could not have referred to the 66 books of the Protestant bible and no other. They were not put together yet. And some were not written yet.

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  22. Christy, I like that too. I spent years teaching the church how to value children, that children are as much part of the church and does not recieve a miniature version of the Holy Spirit.

    Now as an adult, I bump more and more into the doctrine that adult women recieve a miniature version of the Spirit. [Knock head against wall, repeatedly.]

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  23. Okay Lewis, then let me ask you this: What is "discernment"? You keep using the word and I have no idea what you mean by it. Because in the situation I mentioned above, my college friends and I were working hard to be discerning trying with all of our might to listen to the Holy Spirit. You saying that we just weren't "discerning" enough doesn't really cut it.

    It sounds to me like whenever the Holy Spirit tells someone something you don't like, you just say they weren't being "discerning," and when it tells someone something you do like, then that person is being "discerning." Or am I missing how you define it?

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  24. Liberty,

    "Has Michael Pearl ever studied the Bible under actual scholars? No." Yes, actually he does. He has a degree from a seminary (can't recall which one at the moment).
    "Does he have a legitimate degree in the Bible? No." Yes, see above. And actually, the Bible is understandable to anyone, as long as you don't put too much theology (man's study of God) in it.

    "Reading the Bible over and over does NOT make you an expert on it. For that, you have to study the early church, ancient languages, ancient customs, archaeology, early Christian documents, and the ways the Bible has been copied over the years. Michael Pearl knows NONE of that." Um, yea, he does. You should look into things before you comment.

    "I'll go with legitimate Bible scholars like Bart Ehrman over Michael Pearl any day." I'll look into this guy. And Lewis, I don't only read what M.P. says. I've read many other men's writings, but primarily I study the Bible on my own.

    Everyone is allowed to believe what they will. Be content in what God is showing you and I'll be content in what God is showing me.

    Blessings,

    KH

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  25. You saying that we just weren't "discerning" enough doesn't really cut it.

    Why not, when you also agree that you weren't discerning enough?

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  26. Liberty, if this helps clarify...

    It sounds to me like whenever the Holy Spirit tells someone something you don't like, you just say they weren't being "discerning," and when it tells someone something you do like, then that person is being "discerning." Or am I missing how you define it?

    That isn't how I define it at all. Even you now admit that the Holy Spirit hadn't been telling you anything at all. So, by your own admission, you didn't discern back then that it wasn't God telling you to do whatever you were doing. If you HAD discerned it, you wouldn't have done it, right?

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  27. KH...Just make sure it's God showing you these things.

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  28. Lewis - I never said I wasn't discerning enough. I said we WERE discerning. But then it came out that it was all just based on a mental illness. The problem wasn't "discernment." It was the entire idea of listening to the "Holy Spirit," which I don't believe exists in the first place. It's just listening to voices in your head.

    Why won't you define "discerning" for me? I really am curious what you mean by it.

    KH - I just looked up where Michael Pearl went to school, and apparently he has a BS from Crighton College, a small fundamentalist Bible college in Memphis. And his website does not say what the BS was in, but if it's a BS rather than a BA that means he never studied languages, so he never studied Greek or Hebrew. If you have evidence that he has studied at a legitimate college or seminary or actually studied ancient languages, archeology, ancient cultures, early Christianity, Biblical copying, etc, let me know. I prefer to listen to actual real scholars.

    Also, the Bible is NOT simple enough for a layman to understand without outside resources if you want to include understanding things like contextual history, ancient cultures and customs, etc.

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  29. Lewis - You said "KH...Just make sure it's God showing you these things." Just how are you supposed to make sure of that?

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  30. Like Lewis, I wouldn't follow Michael Pearl's teachings if they were presented to me on a gold platter. He's throwing swine before Pearls. His teachings are bordering on child abuse and at least 2 children are dead because their parents felt that using Pearl's teachings superceded common sense. Beating the devil out of a child isn't biblical. And believing that a child is born inherently evil isn't logical. An infant doesn't manipulate, an infant has basic needs, food, warmth, clean diapers. But the Pearls don't teach that. They teach that babies are evil beings who need the evil beaten out of them. That's not what Christ preached and if you think it is, you'd better reread Matthew 19:13 and 18:1-7 as well as Mark 10:13-16.

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  31. Michael Pearl is the most pompous ass that ever walked this side of the Mississippi. His wife is just as bad. They read people's thoughts in their silly articles so they KNOW what people are thinking when they are saying something else.

    Also, they promote the hitting of children from some stupid flawed theology from the Bible. If you want to stand on the Proverbs verses to prove that hitting a child is alright, you sure as hell better stand on the verses in Deuteronomy that tell you to kill a child when they disobey there parents.

    Also, your ignorance about the KJV is obvious. Do your own studying and stop following a bearded old man that should be in prison for his accessories to murder.

    And by the way...I GET the NGJ magazines.

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  32. I said we WERE discerning.

    You obviously weren't. You might have been trying, but unsuccessfully so.

    The literal definition of discerning is: showing good or outstanding judgment and understanding

    You and your friends obviously didn't do this. I can't tell you why. I don't know. But you guys obviously weren't discerning of the situation.

    There's no secret formula, and it isn't necessarily a matter of motive. There are former QFers who disagree with the way I write because they feel it condemns something they were sincere in pursuing and thought, at the time, they were doing right. Their sincerity doesn't change the fact that they were wrong, even if sincerely wrong. They were still wrong. So it's not a matter of intent. I've been sincerely wrong about many things in my life, and will probably be sincerely wrong about many more things, yet I'm always trying to be discerning, even if unsuccessfully so. My sincerity doesn't make me any less wrong when I'm wrong.

    Realistically, if you're set in your position as an atheist, we're just gonna talk past each other on this issue. I believe discernment is a vital component to all areas of life, but I'm writing about it from a spiritual perspective, and you're not into spirituality.

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  33. We're not going to talk past each other because I'm "set in my position as an atheist," we're going to talk past each other because we disagree. It's not that I'm "not into spirituality" - I'm actually currently working my PhD in the history of American religion. I'm intensely interested in religion and I'm no dogmatist, it's just that based on my experience what you're saying here doesn't make any sense. But such is life, and fortunately, people don't kill each other over disagreements over theology the way they used to.

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  34. If you don't believe the Holy Spirit exists, or God exists, what common ground is there for us to discuss the issue of discernment via the Holy Spirit?

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  35. Amulbunny-- agreed. Anyone who teaches parents to beat their children with plumber's supply line (where is THAT in the Bible? They didn't have plumber's supply line then!) or train their infants by hitting them whenever they crawl off a blanket, is not following Jesus in any way I can even recognize.

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  36. Lewis - Just because I don't think something exists doesn't mean I can't discuss it. I mean, I can discuss Islam with a Muslim friend even if I don't believe in it.

    And actually, all I was doing was asking questions to try to understand your perspective. I'm sorry if it came across otherwise. What I was trying to say is that I seriously don't understand how someone is supposed to determine if they're being discerning or not, because back when I was a Christian I could work very hard to be discerning and still turn out to be wrong. Women involved in the Quiverfull movement try really really hard to be discerning but it still ends up being wrong. So how do you make sure you really are being discerning? I'm honestly trying to understand here, and I really don't have to believe in the Holy Spirit to understand what you mean by "be discerning." So can you try to explain it one more time?

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  37. Liberty, you said:
    Lewis - You said "KH...Just make sure it's God showing you these things." Just how are you supposed to make sure of that?
    Exactly. Lewis, the heart is deceitful. It is impossible to KNOW you are hearing the Holy Spirit every time you think He is speaking. We are only human. We will make mistakes and follow our own heart when we *think* it's His leading. This is another reason we have the Bible, to help us understand how He leads and how to hear His voice.

    For those of you who are so against M.P., you should watch his Child Training 101 video. He is not the monster you think he is. He loves children and loves God.

    It is amazing how much hate I feel here, and from people who are supposed to love God. Adios.


    KH

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  38. Lewis, I'm a little confused by what you've said about the canon and the process of choosing it. First, it's my understanding that "canon" means "rule" in the sense of "ruler" - i.e., a measuring device. It does not mean "rule" in the sense of "law." In that sense, a "canon" in today's English means "a body of work recognized as authoritative," not "a list of rules." I don't think the mere fact that it's called a "canon" means that we should (or that the canon formers did) consider it to be a rulebook for living. That understanding of scripture is actually very young-- it comes out of the Fundamentalist movement that was birthed out of the Scopes monkey trials in the last century.

    With regards to "over a millenium after Christ," are you referring to the Reformation here? Martin Luther may have wanted to remove several books from the canon, but the canon already had existed for over a thousand years by that point, having been formed in the church councils of 300-400 AD. And it is my undertanding that the church councils didn't so much create the canon, as ratify what the general consensus of Christians as a group, could agree upon as being inspired (in terms of the actual effects these books had on their lives to inspire, help and bring closer to God).

    Here is a link to some of the work done by Glenn Miller at the Christian Thinktank. He is a respected, middle-of-the-road evangelical scholar.

    http://christianthinktank.com/dumbdad2.html

    I am in full agreement with you that many Christians deify the Bible, treat it as a rulebook, elevate it above God and Christ, etc. I agree that it should not be used in this way. But part of the problem is the average fundamentalist/evangelical person's misunderstanding of what "sola scriptura" means (it doesn't mean the Bible is the sole source of all truth; it means the Bible alone is sufficient to understand all that is necessary for spiritual salvation; that we don't need a Magisterium of popes and cardinals to tell us how to be saved). They also misunderstand the doctrine of the "perspecuity of scripture," which means that all that is necessary for salvation is understandible by even the uneducated. It does not mean that everything in the Bible is supposed to be completely clear to anyone reading it without education, study or background!

    Using the canon as "measure" and not a rulebook is how we have a foundation of understanding from which to use what you are calling "discernment." It means that we understand that all our actions must be measured by the Golden Rule and the two Great Commandments taught by Jesus-- do unto others, love God, love one another. These are the measures of moral conduct by which I discern that Michael Pearl doesn't really understand the basics of Christianity, or he would never advocate the treatment of children which I outlined above.

    That's my take on it. I think "just the Holy Spirit" without any source of measurement by which to determine if we're properly discerning what we think the Spirit is saying, can be just as dangerous as treating the Bible as the rulebook of life and the source of all forms of truth (not just the truths of salvation, but scientific truth, etc., as well).

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  39. KH - Seriously, you just pointed me to Michael Pearl for child training advice? Realize that most of us here see Michael Pearl's child training advice as tantamount to child abuse.

    Also, I never said Michael Pearl doesn't love children or God. He does. He just has a very twisted way of loving, one that includes spanking infants and breaking children's wills.

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  40. Liberty...It isn't something that can be put into any particular box or shape all that easily. But it's still something Christians need to do concerning their faith.

    For instance, while only KH can determine, for his or her own self, what God doesn't and doesn't say to him/her, when KH says something like this...

    And why would God say that he will take a person's name out of the book of Life if he dare to change any words in His Bible?

    ...my own discernment makes me skeptical when KH goes on to say something like this...

    Be content in what God is showing you and I'll be content in what God is showing me.

    ...because, in MY OWN discernment, I'm rock solid confident that God didn't show KH the substance of the first quote. I'd bet every dollar I'll ever make for the rest of my life on it. That's how rock solid my confidence is on that.

    Or, when KH says this...

    Lewis, the heart is deceitful.

    ...yet claims to be a person of faith, he/she negates the fact that, according to his/her faith, the Holy Spirit now dwells in his/her heart - and I know that KH isn't being discerning and isn't using the biblical passages responsibly.

    There's no tangible way to explain it to KH, though, if my article above, in and of itself, doesn't, and ultimately, it's up to KH to figure out that he/she is far more a follower of Michael Pearl than of Christ.


    And KH...Michael Pearl's response to his methods killing babies was to laugh. I know it was. I read it.

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  41. Lewis, I'm a little confused by what you've said about the canon and the process of choosing it. First, it's my understanding that "canon" means "rule" in the sense of "ruler" - i.e., a measuring device. It does not mean "rule" in the sense of "law." In that sense, a "canon" in today's English means "a body of work recognized as authoritative," not "a list of rules." I don't think the mere fact that it's called a "canon" means that we should (or that the canon formers did) consider it to be a rulebook for living. That understanding of scripture is actually very young-- it comes out of the Fundamentalist movement that was birthed out of the Scopes monkey trials in the last century.

    To me, that's all largely the same thing. A means by which to keep a system of faith within a certain mold. Control.

    With regards to "over a millenium after Christ," are you referring to the Reformation here? Martin Luther may have wanted to remove several books from the canon, but the canon already had existed for over a thousand years by that point, having been formed in the church councils of 300-400 AD. And it is my undertanding that the church councils didn't so much create the canon, as ratify what the general consensus of Christians as a group, could agree upon as being inspired (in terms of the actual effects these books had on their lives to inspire, help and bring closer to God).

    I'm talking about the canon as we know it today - largely the product of the reformation. As far as the earlier editions, you know I'm not a big fan of councils and creeds;)

    Using the canon as "measure" and not a rulebook is how we have a foundation of understanding from which to use what you are calling "discernment."

    No disagreement here, and like I said, it wasn't written to devalue the books of the bible. The problem was, most of those who crafted the various versions of the canon, like Luther, weren't using the books of the bible merely as a measuring stick, but were measuring the books of the bible by their new designs for the faith. Their dogmas were their measuring sticks. That's been pretty much the case with every major council over the centuries.

    I think "just the Holy Spirit" without any source of measurement by which to determine if we're properly discerning what we think the Spirit is saying, can be just as dangerous as treating the Bible as the rulebook of life and the source of all forms of truth (not just the truths of salvation, but scientific truth, etc., as well).

    I'm not suggesting people live recklessly. I'm suggesting they give more reverence to the Spirit of God within them than to a collection of books.

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  42. Then how does one discern, if there is no measure?

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  43. Who says there's no measure? I didn't.

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  44. Thank you for this.
    Seriously.

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  45. Another delurker.

    Lewis, you've hit the nail on the head. I've often been bewildered by friends and family who insist that "I believe the Bible." To me, that has always come across as idolatry. But for pastoral reasons as well as general politeness, I've never actually said something like that out loud.

    There is ample evidence in the books themselves that their writers did not intend them to be the totality of Christian teaching. And part of the reason there even is a multi-book canon is because no one book could cover everything (cf. John 21:25). Those making up the canon were as much trying to identify which books were bogus as they were trying to put together a theology.

    But every time I start going on like this, so many people dismiss me because I'm Catholic. (They can't seem to imagine that it's possible that I accept the Church's teaching about the Bible not because it's the Church's teaching but because IT MAKES SENSE.) So it is nice to see a non-Catholic making the same assertion.

    I'm not crazy! Thank you! :)

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  46. I don't understand. If one person is rock-solid confident that he's discerned one thing, and another person is rock-solid confident that he's discerned something different, and they contradict, who's right? How can we tell? :/

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  47. Lewis, would it be fair to say that your great concern is partially that people KNOW the truth, but that the truth is open to perspective (Book of Hebrews), thanks to men like Luther and the 95 Theses? If that's the case, you're really arguing that we should have respect for one another concerning different doctrines that fall outside the essential ones. That's different from saying that there's no standard.

    How do fellow believers with varied perspectives cooperate with and honor one another? How does that take place? Does that come from a synergy of the Word of God and the spirit of man, or do you need the Holy Spirit to work it all together in the miracle of faith? You're really posing a discussion of human agency, and Christians have a long history of disagreement over human agency and God's sovereignty, and where the lines of demarkation fall. Human agency and God's sovereignty balance themselves through and despite the tension. That's a miracle of the Spirit, too.

    I don't see the tension here coming from some disrespect or [all or nothing (cultic trait)] disavowal of the Word. You're saying that you are not the measure and man is not the measure of truth. You're saying that God is, and that you are not God. You are limited and don't see from His vantage. No? This is then a discussion of non-essential doctrine.

    Also, there's a corollary of agency emerging here, too.

    Paul wrote that the natural man does not discern the things of God because they are spiritually discerned. Here is another doctrinal issue. Bill Bright and Josh McDowell taught (I heard McDowell say this in person) that the "natural man" is a Christian Believer who does not walk in the Spirit, but the spiritual man is the enlightened Christian. That opens up into the Keswick doctrines about the "Higher Life." I was brought up to believe that Pentecostals who spoke in tongues were a higher level of Christian than other people. In my opinion now, these are both gnostic doctrines. Patriarchy is one as well. If you can properly perform, you can enter into a higher spiritual plane and place, a super-Christian as opposed to a "dead" one.

    These things are troubling to some because of doctrinal differences, and these doctrines divide us if we do not follow the Spirit. We need the Spirit to do this, otherwise, our attempts to follow God are a work of the flesh, even though our intent is to follow God. The Spirit works it in us through love. It isn't necessarily love itself -- as love in us is a fruit of what the Spirit does in us as the God works in us to will and do of His good pleasure.

    Lewis, I see you arguing that faith is a synergy and partly a mystery, and that his Faith is more than words in a book. You're saying that faith is a miracle that God works in man by the message of the Word (Jesus who is our propitiation) by and through the Spirit. No?

    Another issue is where that faith comes from -- man or God. Can a young child be born again through faith without understanding the language of 1611's KJV? Hmmm.

    These are doctrinal differences. So long as we agree on the essentials of the doctrine (who Jesus is and who we are from what we know surely from the Gospels), we have to honor the differences concerning the supporting and intramural doctrines. We agree on the what, not necessarily on the how.

    Does that help?

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  48. Thanks for this post!

    I grew up in Texas Southern Baptist churches that very much had the view of the Scriptures that you describe. Though it's been well over a decade since I've been a part of one of those churches, I'm still sorting out what I actually believe from things I always just assumed. It's been an interesting process, for sure (though it certainly helped that my parents were sane, and raised my sister and I to be autonomous adults). Freedom in Christ turns out to be a lot scarier (but a LOT better) than anyone said when I was growing up. It turns out I'm *not* a failure if I don't devote my life to an official ministry, or if I decide not to get married (my Baptist grandmother, though she is a wonderful person, is highly distressed over that one!). Oddly enough, the decision to be an unmarried sci-fi writer is NOT un-biblical nor un-Christian, no matter how many times people quote "It is not good for man to be alone" at me. Sad that it took me nearly 30 years to figure all that out.

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  49. Anon 10:21 - There's no formula, and it isn't a black and white issue. It's a matter of our personal growth in our faith. According to Hebrews, the ability to discern is the way maturity can be gauged in a believer. Even at that, I've seen people who I consider mature in their faith miss the mark from time to time. We just have to learn to consider all that we gauge by - the bible, experience, et cetera - and learn to recognize, hear, and respond to the voice of God. It's the responsibility of the individual to make these distinctions. With help, if necessary, but still a personal issue - as God intends it to be.

    If you're a believer, you may understand what I'm saying here. If you aren't, there's absolutely no way I can describe spiritual discernment that you'll either understand or appreciate.

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  50. Cindy...

    Lewis, I see you arguing that faith is a synergy and partly a mystery, and that his Faith is more than words in a book. You're saying that faith is a miracle that God works in man by the message of the Word (Jesus who is our propitiation) by and through the Spirit. No?

    That's a pretty good summary of what I've been trying to say - particularly in the article itself. Thanks.

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  51. Anonymous said...

    I don't understand. If one person is rock-solid confident that he's discerned one thing, and another person is rock-solid confident that he's discerned something different, and they contradict, who's right? How can we tell? :/

    When I was 16, I found myself in speech class in a secular (community) college in a class full of mostly adults (people in their late 20s as opposed to a bunch of freshmen). INTIMIDATING. I'd just popped out of Christian school and was green, naive, and idealistic. We had to talk about controversial topics many times, and I talked about what I knew from my perspective, and that was strongly Christian. We were also required to learn to defend our stance. Sometimes, for me, it was an "ambush this green and too happy little girl" session.

    Early on, I'd said that I hate labels that define me in terms of a group, but I used some of them in an introduction speech. (You have to use at least a few, I thought.) Someone pointed out that I'd used what I hated. Did that make me a hypocrite. A few weeks later, the subject drifted to the theories of origins, and I did not bring it up to make a point. But at one point, I asked people that if I could give them definitive proof such as some kind of document that was irrefutable (an example of a mutually accepted piece of evidence), would that person even believe (because belief is a personal choice that God gives us - at least from our viewpoint)? The person said that such would be impossible. And I said, "Exactly." And a new understanding clicked in inside myself of what faith is.

    If we all agree that Hebrews is a legitimate book ;), without faith, it is impossible to please God. Paul wrote that salvation is by grace (favor that cannot be merited) through faith, something different and stronger than hope. Hebrews says that it is the substance of what is hoped for and the evidence of what is unseen.

    We see through a glass darkly, and in a world and a point in history where we've learned so much so fast about so many other subjects, it is hard to accept that we don't understand mysteries through purely objective means. Faith is necessary.

    If your religious training taught or teaches you that they have a corner on truth about the mysteries or even that faith in Jesus is only an objective thing because it is also rational and rooted in history, you still need a degree of faith.

    Another argument that faith is necessary (from the KJV to be safe)?

    John 12:37
    But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him:

    This is one of many "many believed" passages which means that some doubted, something supported in this verse in one of the last verses in Matthew:

    Matthew 28:17
    And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.

    Because of the necessity of faith, the tension between human agency and God's sovereignty, and/or what you might call God's gift to us of a degree of autonomy (even if it's an illusion because we don't see from God's perspective), I'd say that we can't know with the degree of certainty that I think that we'd all like to find.

    But then we wouldn't need God, I think.

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  52. I agree with a lot of what you say regarding the human construct of "the bible." However, I am in agreement with Liberty and I just don't think I can get behind the whole holy spirit/ discernment thing. There are so many contradictory messages to be gleaned "from the Spirit."
    I had Jesus as my "best buddy living in my heart" since I was a 7 yr old and I have had him "tell me" some pretty messed up things over the years. Are we supposed to just assume that the good things we are led to do are legitimate and the bad are caused by the devil sneaking into our brains and thought broadcasting in the holy spirit's voice?

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  53. There are so many contradictory messages to be gleaned "from the Spirit."

    Not really. From the human spirit, sure, but not from the Holy Spirit. How we interpret it might be another matter.

    As to the rest of your comment, specifically your question - I can't answer that for you in any satisfactory way. I would point out, however, something that Cindy brought up...Paul taught that natural man can't discern spiritual things.

    Are we supposed to just assume that the good things we are led to do are legitimate

    Why wouldn't you?

    and the bad are caused by the devil sneaking into our brains and thought broadcasting in the holy spirit's voice?

    I couldn't begin to answer this specifically. There are all kinds of accounts in the books of the bible of believers being mislead by any number of influences and vices. Granted, most of those accounts are from the period prior to the Holy Spirit being accessible to all believers, although Paul did write of the naive women (he could've included men) carried away by various doctrine, and referred to the Galatians as "bewitched" (baskainĊ), basically scammed into false ideas and doctrine. Bottom line: It's the responsibility of the individual believer to mature and GROW in his or her faith and to be able to discern between right and wrong, good and evil.

    I'm curious - Are you still a professing Christian? If not, do you believe in the Holy Spirit?

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  54. Are we supposed to just assume that the good things we are led to do are legitimate and the bad are caused by the devil sneaking into our brains and thought broadcasting in the holy spirit's voice?

    1 Kings 22:19 Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the LORD. I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left. 20 The LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said this while another said that. 21 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD and said, ‘I will entice him.’ 22 The LORD said to him, ‘How?’ And he said, ‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then He said, ‘You are to entice him and also prevail. Go and do so.’ 23 Now therefore, behold, the LORD has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; and the LORD has proclaimed disaster against you.” (NASB)

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  55. And the irony in all of that...Right there in that account stood Micaiah telling Ahab the TRUE word of the Lord - and yet Ahab still followed the lie.

    Anon...Thanks for posting that.

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  56. Anglicans have their three legged stool of Scripture, Tradition and Reason, and the Wesleyans made it into a quadrilateral and added Experience. All good. With the demise of modernity and its naive realism we now have critical methods to discern and deconstruct the axioms and agendas that color our interpretations. We have philosophy to teach us to listen for the consonance of the proper proportions between the universals and their multiple applications to the particulars, the cultures, languages and histories of the people of God, including our own time and culture. Add to that not just individual discernment, but the collective discernment of the whole believing community, past and present, and what do we get? A monolithic, static faith? No. But we get to participate in an adventure together, learn to love each other in spite of disagreement, and practice a faith in the Spirit that leads us into all truth, which is the end that has no end, but rather many new beginnings.

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  57. i'm laughing @ myself because i was googling for something & don't even remember what it was & there was your blog listed. so, being that i am trying to catch up on your blog & others, i clicked away & BAM one of my favorite topics the bible and religious addiction. ha, i'm addicted. just kidding. i'm so thankful you have written on it. & oh, i love the list of "symptoms of religious addiction" by Paschal Baute & have never seen this one so i've already shared with some other folks. :)

    i'll introduce myself my name is Heather and i was a religious addict. i don't have an addictive personality so to speak but i allowed man's including women beliefs/doctrines the bible & non essentials become all more encompassing than the Holy Spirit leading me to truth which is my foundation. i've really put all of that away and just concentrate on my foundation. it's so much easier & funner. Okay, this is why i'm really commenting is because something clicked for me with all this talk of the Holy Spirit. what clicked is my soon to ex husband (i'm divorcing) has never had the Holy Spirit. i'm not gonna go into all the exciting details here but i wanted to communicate to ya that it clicked. :)

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