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Dear Lord, Can I Have a Word? A Letter from a Contemporary Clergyman…

This weeks column in Christian Today….I hope it works. 
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(Photo: Unsplash/T Steele)

Dear Lord,

Can I have a word – about your word? I’m a humble clergy person who seeks to apply your teaching to today’s world. I want to spread the message of your love and grace – you know the formula. I don’t have much time for the Old Testament (except for the good bits) and Paul can at times be a bit off-putting. At least that was the case until I read my old friend Steve telling us that he had discovered the ‘lost message of Paul’.  It was wonderful – just what we wanted it to be! I used to be one of those Bible fundamentalists, but thankfully I saw the light and have for many years believed what Steve calls your ‘lost message’. I enjoy being one of the in-crowd, knowing what you really meant.

The Chat on the Hillside

But I have a problem. I thought I would be safe with the Gospels, so the other day I sat down to read the best bit – the Sermon on the Mount (we prefer to call it ‘the chat on the hillside’ – so much more accessible and non-judgemental, don’t you think?). All that stuff about blessed are the poor, love your enemies, do not judge. Wonderful. We cite it often.

I hadn’t really read it for a while, and when I hear it read in church I don’t really hear it – the words are like water off a ducks back. But these past few days I did actually read it. And to be honest, it’s a bit shocking. Like, I mean genuinely shocking – not shocking in the way that we speak on ‘Thought for the Day’ – you know, our ‘thoughts’ about the ‘revolutionary message of Jesus’ – which is always so nice and comfortable.

So if you don’t mind, I thought I would offer you a critique, a few questions and perhaps a wee word of advice on how you could communicate in the 21st century so much better. I don’t blame you, given that you were limited to 1st century Palestine I wouldn’t expect you to have the tools of scholarship and the knowledge that we now have – even the Son of God has limits! So let’s have a look at the first chapter – Matthew ch.5.

The Woke Sermon

I love how you began the sermon.  So revolutionary, so woke: ‘blessed are the poor, the merciful, the peacemakers.’ Although even here there was a bit of negativity – why mention those who mourn rather than the joyful? Or those who are persecuted because of righteousness? I would be careful about mentioning persecution nowadays.  You talk about people being insulted, saying falsely all kinds of evil against them. I wish you hadn’t done that. I don’t want you to encourage those Christians who are always going on about being persecuted. I mean, it’s not as though they are having their heads chopped off so why encourage that persecution complex with all that talk about talk? It’s just insults and rumours. You call that persecution?!

Also there is a danger of the sermon being a bit ‘exclusive’. Your standard for inclusion is a bit high.  Blessed are the pure in heart? I mean, who is ‘pure in heart’? Does that not exclude most of us?

And it’s kind of harsh and judgemental. If the salt loses its saltiness, it’s going to get thrown out and trampled underfoot? Is there no forgiveness? No second chance? Would that not mean that much of our church is going to be thrown out?

The Old Testament

I realize that there are good things in the Old Testament, but I thought you overdid things by endorsing all of it. What did you mean by saying that not a jot or tittle of the law would go until heaven and earth disappear? We spend so much time telling people that the OT does not apply and then you turn up and say that those of us who teach that are least in the kingdom of heaven! How do you think that makes us look? It’s a good job that most Christians don’t read your words carefully or even think about them.

And then we are back to the judgementalism. Of course it’s not good to be angry – or to call people fools. But to threaten us with hell? Is that not a bit much?! In fact, hell, which we don’t really believe in, is something that you mention far too much. I really wish you hadn’t banged on about it so much. What were you thinking of? Hell may have worked in the 1st century but it just won’t cut it in today’s world.

Adultery

Like in the next part where you warn about the dangers of adultery. Of course I accept it’s wrong – even though in some circumstances (like when you love one another) it could be excusable. But all that stuff about looking at a woman lustfully? In today’s age of course, we are aware that women can look lustfully too – and we are against that kind of MeToo lechery – but in the modern age surely it’s ok to appreciate beauty? What’s the harm in looking? Isn’t pornography just a healthy means of satisfying a natural urge? Couldn’t we say that you made us that way? After all we blame you for every other defect in our nature. So why all the dramatic language about plucking out your eye or cutting off your hand? I don’t want to sound Islamophobic, but you sound more like ISIS than the Church!

Divorce

And I’m afraid your comments about divorce were so out of touch with where we are at nowadays. You seem to hate it – almost as much as you hate what used to be called sexual immorality. But don’t you think it’s unreasonable to expect a man and a woman to live together for life? I mean we were not designed that way – were we? And what happens if a couple don’t love each other anymore? Is it not cruel to keep them together? I thought you were supposed to be all about love? If we don’t love each other anymore then why should we not split up and go and find happiness elsewhere?

Oaths

It was a bit of a surprise to hear your comments on taking oaths. We take oaths all the time and don’t mean them – they are a convenience. I remember when I took my ordination vows – even then my fingers were crossed. I know it’s good to be honest, but that degree of strictness? And why bring in the devil at this point?

Loving Enemies

It was such a relief to get to the bit about ‘turning the other cheek’ and ‘loving your enemy’. That’s more like the ‘love’ we expect from you! The soundbites are great – we can use them to trash our enemies and show how unloving they are. I know we are to be kind to our enemies, but surely that means the ones far away? We need to sue, ban and silence the racists, homophobic Far Right i.e. all those who are not like us. I was thinking of this the other day as I recalled how we have taken some of those unloving fundamentalists to court just to make sure they don’t run off with our (sorry ‘your’) church property. We are of course doing it in the name of your love!

Contradictions

You seem to say so many contrary things.  On the one hand, earlier you tell us to let our light shine before others, that they may see our good deeds.  But now in the same sermon you tell us not to do our righteousness before men? Isn’t it great that we now have scholars who can tell us on the basis of their extensive research into 1st century Near Eastern cults, what you really meant! Sometimes your words are so confusing to us that it makes them meaningless – or at least we can take whatever meaning we want out of them. I wonder if you saw post-modernism coming.

Anyway, back to the not letting you left hand know what your right hand is doing. You will forgive me saying this, but it’s a bit impractical isn’t it? I mean how are people going to know our good deeds? How are we going to increase brand awareness? How else will we get hits on our web pages or likes on our Facebook? And how will the poor know who to thank? If we can’t name a ministry after ourselves or put up a statue or foundation in our name, how will they know yours?

Prayer

The same goes for the secret prayer thing. Don’t you want people to hear our prayers? Does it just have to be you? I know we don’t need all the prayer in school stuff – teaching children to call upon you – but surely when there is a disaster, we are needed to talk about ‘our prayers and thoughts’ being with the victims?  How else will they be comforted? It’s very important that we be seen to be praying.  It shows we care.

More Christlike?

Sorry, I did not mean to write such a long letter. You kind of got me wound up when I started reading what you really said. And I’ve only done one chapter. We’ll get on to the other stuff soon. But meanwhile can I just summarise where I think we are at. Your sermon is like the proverbial parson’s egg – good in parts. But overall, it’s a bit harsh and judgemental. If you want people like me on side, you’re going to have to tone it down a wee bit and make it more Christlike.

Your disobedient equal,

Clericus…

Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar Sermon

The Lost Message of Chalke

 

18 comments

  1. I am meeting too many – even Christian friends – who have embraced the cultural Marxist view of life; who put culture before God’s expressed will; who treat the Scriptures as just one ‘authority’ to live by. Yet … God is not mocked – but we must hold true to God: His nature, character, and will. Have you seen this chat between John Anderson & Douglas Murray? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsNz2OkeoDA&feature=share&fbclid=IwAR1vyGnNoO5PgejdwctkoC3CRfRW30zrLkoOmXgIAkYem7G7xRrzpCDo0rk)

  2. One of the best posts you have done. Especially the section on Prayer and the line regarding the Law.

    And this ….
    It’s a good job that most Christians don’t read your words carefully or even think about them.
    That line probably tells the reader everything they really need to know about Christianity.

    There is often so much truth in humour and your piece illustrates this fact to a T.
    Well done.

      1. I’m fine, David. Thanks for asking.
        If most Christians actually paid attention to what’s written in the bible there would be a lot more atheists.
        This is why in Days of Yore interpretation was left to Priests and Pastors.

      2. Ark wrote:

        If most Christians actually paid attention to what’s written in the bible there would be a lot more atheists.

        And yet Christianity has boomed around the world through the work of missionaries, in large part evangelicals, the very people who are most concerned about people reading the Bible for themselves. It seems that your superficial analysis doesn’t reflect reality.

      3. @Phillip
        Of course Christianity has boomed!

        However, conversion invariably comes first then bible study follows. Yet, the vast majority of Christians are generally ignorant of the contents of the bible aside from what they have been taught- the usual stories – and I’ll stick my neck and say most have never bothered to read the bible cover to cover.

        In certain sects of Christianity the focus is primarily on the New Testament. Understandable when one considers how unsavoury Yahweh is in the Old Testament/Torah. No wonder Marcion considered him to be the god of the Jews and would have nothing to do with him.
        Critical thinking is not and never was encouraged when it came to the biblical text which is why missionary work is often successful.
        All one has to do is read some of the testimonials from former religious professional on a site such as The Clergy Project. Or you could have a gander at Bruce Gerenscer’s blog who was a pastor and involved in missionary work, as was Dan Barker.

        In the past, of course, forced conversion in many cases was part and parcel of the job as it was considered crucial to save souls and thus, the end justified the means.
        The attempted eradication with varying degrees of success of many indigenous cultures is testimony to this.

        So, the superficiality you mention is in fact not quite as ‘on point’ as you would suggest.

        It’s worth noting that while religion is on the up and up in places such as Africa and China even David will acknowledge that the world is becoming more secular.

  3. A fluent outflow from mind and heart: a veritable cornucopia of critique. Marvellous thanks.
    Today while looking for a book on on cycling my eye alighted on a book which includes this in the preface:
    ” For some (Americans) the goal was “to seek for themselves for the only reason for things…So that each man is narrowly shut up in himself, and from that basis makes the pretension to judge the world.” ( A de Toqueville 19 C)
    ” …how much more today. Thus whatever a person feels is the truth, becomes the truth for him or her.
    …” the question is whether it is meaningful to me. Thus we have a blizzard of conflicting claims…
    …” We have gone from the belief that everyone has a right to his or her own opinion, to the absurd notion that everything is equally “right”.
    ” Spirituality is a private matter ; beliefs are accepted or rejected to suit one’s fancy.
    ,”..or reinterpreted to fit any belief..”

    And the year?
    1988
    The book? Erwin W Lutzer: Seven reasons you can trust the Bible.

  4. What a load of baloney !!! A sad expression of the opposite words of God !
    Self edification ‘ I thought it my way ‘ ……
    I’m glad I bow before ‘ The Father ‘ in Heaven .Who knows everything even
    our attempts to change him……..Forgive us ….Gillian

      1. You’re not allowed to play with (some of) your subscribers. Say three Hail Marys and go wash the dishes.

  5. I’m interested at how lightly some take Christianity, but how seriously others take Paganism. It is so easy to be dismissive of something that holds you to a higher standard.

  6. …make it more Christlike.

    And therein lies a big part of the problem—that some Christians (and atheists for that matter) have such as distorted view of Christ that even Christ wouldn’t measure up to their (mis)understanding of Him.

  7. Very good but you overlook one thing. When it gets to the bits they don’t like the kind of people you are referring to simply say they are not Jesus’s words. Well that’s what my local Church of Scotland minister did in one of his sermons. (He puts some of them on his church’s website.) His ‘solution’ was to say that those bit are the words of Matthew, not Jesus; Matthew simply inserted them for his own purposes. Of course, these folks don’t actually see the whole Bible as the word of God. Like Thomas Jefferson they cut out the bits they don’t like.
    https://allthatsinteresting.com/jefferson-bible

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