Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Contextual Errors

My preacher began is sermon with a verse from the last book of the Old Testament to begin the points he was going to make. It was the first of many mistakes he made in his sermon.
For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. Malachi 3:6
The first part of this verse “For I am the LORD, I change not;” is what my preacher used to show that God never changes; however, this is taking the verse out of its context. Malachi writes this to show that God performs his promises, and effectually disposes of the allegation in Malachi 2:17:
Ye have wearied the LORD with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?
Which says that God put no difference between the evil and the good. The great principles of right and wrong never alter; they are as everlasting as he who gave them. God here speaks of himself by his covenant name, which expresses his eternal independent being, "the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17). Whereas, my minister claimed that this meant that God’s commandments never change, it is not what the verse itself means. It is also wholly incorrect to say that the commandments of God have never changed. While I find many things abhorrent from his sermon, as a member of the Churches of Christ, I cannot agree with the concept of a never changing God. For the Churches of Christ believe that the New Testament, or New Covenant brought by Jesus, replaced the church of the Jews in the Old Testament. There are numerous examples of this, and I will use a few glaring examples. First is the Sabbath, the seventh day of the Hebrew calendar week. According to Exodus 20:8 it is commanded by God to be kept as a holy day of rest, as God rested from creation: "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” However, as most Christians observe, we keep the first day of the week as holy as opposed to the seventh. In Acts 20:7 we read: "And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight." What was notable about the first day of the week? It was the day when the disciples came together to partake of the Lord's Supper. The first day of the week was also the day when contributions were collected. "Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come." (I Corinthians 16:2).
To make his main point, my preacher then turned to one of the most overused texts against homosexuality, Leviticus 18:22 which states: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” Considering that this one verse is in a long list of sexual prohibitions of heterosexual sex, it remind me of the Lynn Lavner quote: “The Bible contains 6 admonishments to homosexuals, and 362 to heterosexuals. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love straight people, just that they need more supervision.” But to be more serious, not many Christians could, would, or do live by the laws of Leviticus, nor ahold we. In Galatians 5:1 Paul states, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Most, if not all, scholars would agree that this relates to the Jewish laws in Leviticus. Leviticus is often used by Christians to attack the LGBT community. Along with Deuteronomy and swathes of Exodus and Numbers, it lays out the Law for the Israelites, and though many do not follow all the laws of the Old Testament. Many are still willing to cite Leviticus for things that they think are sinful, while ignoring it for things they don’t. Yet, and I'm going to apply this particularly to Southerners of the United States who are often the most fervent in their condemnation, many southerners spent the Fourth of July holiday eating barbecue, usually pork, an unclean animal prohibited in the Old Testament. Southerners often use bacon of pork to season our vegetables, find a good soul,food restaurant that doesn't. You won't be able to find one. Furthermore, Leviticus forbids eating water dwelling creatures without scales, that would obviously include all shellfish, but it would a,so include catfish (catfish do not have scales), a southern staple. Those are just some of the food related prohibitions found in the Old Testament, there are many others that we would find absolutely abhorrent, yet many Christians still pick a verse here and there to make points that conform to their archaic and erroneous beliefs.
Jesus also spoke out against the use of the laws of the Old Testament. In John 8:3-7:
And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?  This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
And while Jesus doesn't say what the woman did was not wrong, He did say that those who have sinned (For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God [Romans 3:23]) cannot judge those who have.
And just in case, he didn't think he'd made his point, he brought out two sets of verses from the New Testament, which he completely took out of context. He first quoted Romans 1: 26-27:
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
Modern scholars who have studied the contest of this passage view it as an attack on heterosexual persons who were formerly Christians, who reverted to Paganism, and who engaged in ritual sexual behavior as a part of their newly adopted Pagan services. During these rituals, the Pagans were whipped into such a state of sexual frenzy that they went against their basic heterosexual nature and started engaging in sexual behavior with members of the same sex. Paul condemns such behavior. He concludes that Pagan worship will inevitably leads to other negative behavior. Therefore, the passage is not discussing homosexuality, but ritual pagan sexual practices. It is inappropriate to use this verse to condemn homosexuality as it is deceitful and shows ignorance of Paul's message.
The second set of verses he quoted, was 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10, which states:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
I found the use of this passage particularly disturbing because of two reasons. The first is that in the original Greek, homosexuality as translated here is wholly inaccurate. Homosexuality could not have been the word meant by Paul because it was neither a concept or a word in Paul's time as it is used in modern times. The word was never even used until the nineteenth century. Furthermore in this set of verses, Paul is most likely discussing the Greek practice of pederasty. Pederasty, which is the practice of older men mentoring and loving younger men (often that meant sex to the Romans), continued in Greek areas of the Roman Empire even though it was frowned upon the Romans. Remember that Corinth is a Greek city and pederasty would have been still practiced in this city and as a Greek himself, Paul would be familiar with he practice.
The second thing about my minister’s use of this passage is the way he used it.  I'm not sure you noticed or not, but until these last two passages, I followed my preacher's use of the King James Version of the Bible; however, like him, I switched to a modern translation for these two verses. In my case I used the English Standard Version. This is particularly deceitful when using the verses from 1 Corinthians. The King James Version states:
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
You see out of ignorance and the long standing hatred of homosexuals by church leaders who fear for their own loss of power and to continue their own prejudices, modern translators have oversimplified the King James translation of “nor effeminate (malakos), nor abusers of themselves with mankind (arsenokoites)” to simply “nor men who practice homosexuality (malakos).” It is deceitful and an oversimplification. Furthermore, the English standard version omits any translation of arsenokoites. They do not want to admit the actual context, meaning, and complexity of the original words used by Paul, when he wrote his letter in his native Greek. Though I could write a whole post on “malakos” and “arsenokoites,” and whole books have been written, I hope you will take my word here and understand that neither of these words translates to homosexuality. If you do want a more in depth look at the words, check my early posts on the churches of Christ.
The last thing he covered in his sermon was the concept of Hell, that is not the kingdom of God, where unrepentant sinners will go. I'm only going to dwell on this briefly because it hardens back to my first point about God changing his laws. A simple history lesson on the Hebrews would teach you the error in this.  In the history of the Hebrew, i.e. Jews, there is no mention nor does there seem to be a concept of Hell in Jewish theology before the Babylonian Exile, when they came into contact with a new religion called Zoroastrianism. This religion is the first that historians know of that introduced a place of punishment in the afterlife.m after the exiled Hebrews were returned to Judah, they incorporated this concept of Hell into the Jewish religion. It was later a major concept of Christianity. This is not said to diminish the concept of Hell but to point out that God’ definition of Hell changed.
I have often gone home after church and studied further the words of my preacher. Occasionally, I have used them and adapted those very sermons for my Sunday posts. I have never found such glaring errors in his sermons before, and so I hope by writing this, you come to understand my profound disappointment in my preacher. He disagreed with a decision of the United States Supreme Court, which is at its heart political even if we agree with its outcome, and brought it to the pulpit because he disagreed with the ruling. Furthermore, contrary to his usual sermons, which are often really Bible studies, he took an anti-intellectual, blasphemous, and ungodly view of the topic and ,are a sermon of it. I had thought better of him than to use word trickery and oversimplification, something that I have never known him to do in the past, and I am extremely disappointed.


silvereagle said...

Carry him (The Preacher) a copy of this post and ask him to read it and get back with you...

Joe said...

Silvereagle, I've been thinking of how I could actually do that.

Susan said...

I read your post twice and am taken with the thoroughness of it. Your disappointment with your preacher is completely understandable. My honest opinion, without knowing him, is: I am amazed you were able to find him to be such a worthy teacher in your life for so long. The thing about sermons that always bothered me when I used to go to Mass was: afterwards there was never any chance to ask questions. You were just supposed to accept what had been handed down without discussion. That never aplealed to me because I always had questions.

IMO your preacher has a lot to answer for; whether he feels he needs to answer is another thing entirely. And whether you want to press the issue is something else altogether. I would ask again if what has happened might cause you to seek another, more accepting, church in which to worship. Or is that even possible?

Joe said...

Susan, I go to a very small church. When we are full or at least seem full for us, it's 25 people. So one of the things we do is stand around and talk after church, often about the sermon and ask questions. In the past, he has been a very engaging and often intellectual minister. This sermon was a major exception. Yes, it is time to begin looking for a new church, as the Church of Christ will be one of the last to change if they ever do. I'm lucky that the Disciples of Christ and the United Chruches of Christ are both welcoming congregations and follow most of the basic tenements of Church of Christ belief. That being said, it is difficult as long as I am living here, because I will be expected to go to church with my family. My sister gets away with not going because she is married and has become a Baptist like her husband. As long as I live here, I will continue to go to this church as long as the subject of homosexuality is never again mentioned in such damning ways. I can sit through it once and hope it dos the happen again, but I won't sit through it twice. I doubt that it will become a regular thing. It's just not the nature of our small congregation, but if it were to become and issue, I'd have no choice but to sever ties and let them know exactly why, especially with such an anti-intellectual argument as was presented last Sunday.

Susan said...

Thank you for your response, Joe. I had no idea your congregation was this small. Where I grew up in New Jersey, any Sunday Mass would hold, on average, 200 church goers, and this was just a regular-sized church. Also, the concept of everyone expecting you to go to church with your family is something I have never had to deal with. It feels so intrusive and almost smothering. I wonder if this is something you get used to over time.

Am I correct if you did feel the necessity to leave this church if another sermon was given on the subject of homosexuality, that your reasons would become evident; that you would in effect be coming out to your family and church, or would it not be that obvious?

Amanda said...

Well thought out post Joe. I can see why you'd be very disappointed in his sermon. It sounds like he just completed rearranged and misinterpreted the verses and text to fit his view. I'm sorry that he decided to bring the politics into the service. I know it's a family church and you enjoy attending otherwise but I hope you could find somewhere more open. I don't know much about different denominations and such but it seems like churches should make people feel love and acceptance.

Jay M. said...

I hope that you show your preacher the posts about his sermon. Be prepared to come join my church - the Pastafarians!

I make fun, but I do hope you, as a Bible Scholar, point out to him his egregious errors!

Peace <3

Joe said...

Susan, it is both intrusive and smothering, but at the same time it is also comforting. When I do miss church, someone always calls to check on how I am doing. It's never meant to be nosy or chastising, but out if genuine concern. I've known most of the people in this church all of my life. We have a few who are new, meaning they've started coming in the last five years, but honestly these people are as much a part of my family as my flesh and blood family. As for not returning if he gave another homophobic sermon, it's possible that only my parents and aunt would know why, but yes, it probably would mean coming out to the congregation. I sat through this type of sermon once, but I don't think I could do so again.

Amanda, most congregations around here, especially rural congregations are not accepting, though there are a few in areas like Montgomery. I certain I could find one in a more metropolitan area and if I did end up moving for a job, I would definitely seek one of them out. It's possible to change local Cheuch of Christ congregations, but it's sadly not likely.

Thanks, Jay. I'm a student of the Bible and I read and study it, but I am far from being a biblical scholar.