Every once in a while a thought on a particular subject will cross my mind - sometimes stirred by an IRL conversation, sometimes via an online conversation, sometimes via others' conversations, and sometimes God only knows why - and I just kinda push it to the side thinking, "It's not enough to really write a whole post about." Well, it's time a few of those thoughts had a home, so this Ramblin' Man might become a recurring character here on the blog. I'll chase a few rabbits, maybe kick a few dead horses, maybe vent a pet peeve or two.
First ramble: Heresy. "Heretic" is a word thrown around pretty liberally on all sides of religious issues. To me, personally, it seldom really applies in the way people use it. Everyone has their own threshold for heresy, their own measurement where, when crossed, the crosser has become a full-blown "heretic". Let's look at the actual definition...
a professed believer who maintains religious opinions contrary to those accepted by his or her church or rejects doctrines prescribed by that church/anyone who does not conform to an established attitude, doctrine, or principle.
There's a lot of wiggle room there for a person to write their own definition between the lines of the standard definition. I've said many times that I believe the aspect of my faith which pertains to salvation, reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ, is as doctrinally dogmatic as I'll ever get. Just that alone is unique and personal to each individual, and I'm not the gate-keeper of the faith of all mankind. Only when people screw around with the simple gospel of Jesus Christ do I, personally, feel the label "heretic" would apply - and even then, I don't really use it. It's kinda lost its meaning. Do I feel people who practice courtship, for instance, are heretics? No. I just think they're immature, probably legalistic, and in some cases, fruitcakes. Now, if they tell me I need Jesus AND courtship - definitely fruitcakes, but also heretics. I once wrote about the "Jesus and ____" mentality. As far as the essential doctrine of the Christian faith, to me there's Jesus, and then just a bunch of details. Not necessarily unimportant details, but details nonetheless, and certainly nothing worth cutting off your hand to spite your foot over and nothing worth building an entire paradigm around.
Second ramble: The "Christian package". Most of us, upon becoming believers in Christ, accept a "package" of Christianity. Wherever we enter the faith, whether through a church group or a family group or what have you, we tend to, at least initially, accept the general views of the group as what the Christian faith is all about. In other words, if you profess faith in Christ in Forky Creek Baptist Church in 1995, and you've attended Forky Creek Baptist Church all the years since, chances are you pretty well match up with the "Statement of Faith" of Forky Creek Baptist Church. Same for those from other denominations and churches and so on, and for those from Christian homeschooling families (or just Christian families) who live somewhat off the grid of the traditional church. Ideally one will eventually move beyond the limits any particular group may place on them, not be restrained by fear of asking questions, and have the ambition and room to grow beyond the initial package. Some of it you may keep. Some of it you may chuck. The goal should ultimately be to make your faith completely personal, not reliant on the belief of someone else or the parameters of others. Fear is usually the obstacle in the way of questions. A lot of you who correspond with me have communicated the fears that make steps toward freedom and growth so difficult - "If I ask that question, will lightning strike me?...If I don't obey such and such person and what they teach, can God really be pleased with me?" My advice is to ask the questions which cause you the MOST fear, because in the answers (and sometimes even in just questioning) you might find your greatest personal growth. SisterLisa wrote an interesting piece today about our personal journey and growth. Unless we question, we often become stagnant - no forward movement. I don't think we can ever truly begin to grow until we question "the package" we accepted, and learn to discern the truth for ourselves about a lot of things that we've always believed merely because they were a part of "the package" we initially bought or were immersed into, which leads me to...
Third ramble: Tithing. A commonplace teaching throughout all shades of Christianity. I grew up learning to tithe my 10% faithfully. Until just a couple of years ago, I practiced tithing (usually more than 10%) faithfully. Seldom to a church, though. Generally to whomever I felt compelled to give it to. I no longer believe that a 10% tithe is required. It's an Old Testament requirement (before there was a Christian church). It isn't mentioned anywhere in the New Testament. It's really just a religious tradition. What do I believe about giving these days? I give what I can give when I can give it, with a willingness to give all if and when someone needs it and I'm compelled to give it. That's the general idea on giving in the gospels, the Acts, and the epistles.
Back in 2007, I heard the pastor of FBC of Jacksonville, FL tell his congregation "The bible says you bring your tithe [as he pointed toward the audience] to the storehouse [as he pointed toward the floor in front of his feet - signifying the church building]. If you don't agree, argue with God about it [as he gestured with his bible]." Sigh. Pretty ignorant, twisting an OT text to make it say something about modern Christianity that it isn't saying at all. Of course, if he can't keep his congregation tithing, even if only from guilt and obligation, he probably won't get that nice fat paycheck, which leads me to...
Fourth ramble: How churches choose pastors. You know, I've read all of the epistles every which way but with 3D glasses, and in all of the qualifications for church leadership that Paul wrote about, not once do I see anything that can be construed, in any way, as "seminary" or "theologian". Most churches, of any size, won't even consider a man to be their pastor unless he has several consonants after his name. The math doesn't work. "But Lew! We need a man that knows the bible!" Really? I know the bible very well, and I've never been to a theological seminary. Many of you who read here know the bible very well, and you haven't attended a theological seminary.
One "certified" theologian is generally like a second belly-button - it's one too many.
A lot of pastorates pay BIG bucks. Some well into six figures. Most pastors of any decent-sized church are living fairly comfortably. Hey, evangelical Christianity is big bidness, folks. Big bidness. These churches want a potential rock star book-writing theologian in the pulpit or they want nothing at all.
The artist I used to tour with is chummy with John Hagee. He once told one of them that he puts upwards of 30 hours of preparation into each sermon. My advice to pastor Hagee would be, "Hey, John, you're not really that important, and neither is the speech you'll give on Sunday." Traditions, traditions. Spinning our evangelical wheels. Wanting that rock star pastor, who's also a noted theologian, who's also prone to write a really popular book. Everything about our religious world spins around that big speech on Sunday morning.
I've always felt like a pastor truly doing a good job as a pastor will be just about the last person you'll notice in a church setting. Isn't a pastor supposed to be a servant? Why then, does the church send prospective pastors to theological seminary? Why not have them volunteering at hospitals, nursing homes, convalescent care facilities? Why not waiting tables? Why not working at a soup kitchen? That seems like better training to me. Rather than spending their time writing books, why aren't our pastors going to hospitals and reading books to patients, or volunteering at schools and reading books to students? That would seem more service-oriented to me.
Professional theologians. Bleh. There are already plenty of Pipers, Mahaneys, and Driscolls wreaking havoc on the church.