Okay, that title is a bit cheeky and misleading, but it cuts to the heart of the issue.
I’ve got Facebook open most of the day. When I’m at work, yes, I’m working, but I still glance over from time to time to see what’s happening with friends and random acquaintances. And today, a friend posted an ad for a discussion group at a local college on what the Bible says about homosexuality. And the thought came to me: “If you’re going to the Bible for special instructions on how to treat certain people, you’re already asking the wrong question.”
And that part really hit me: “You’re already asking the wrong question.” Because, honestly, we can make the Bible say whatever we want it to say. We’ve done it for thousands of years. In our own recent history, we’ve justified slavery and the oppression of women by it. We’ve endorsed racial segregation. We’ve shunned divorced people. We’ve even justified wars by it. And we’ve had these “Homosexuality and the Bible” talks ad nauseum — and surprisingly, few minds have been changed.
Today I also noticed another FB friend had posted an informal poll on his wall, asking what top 3 things people look for when searching for a church home. Hey, that might be interesting info to know, so I was curious. Not surprisingly, although “fellowship” and “spirit-filled worship” were high on the list, the #1 response was “Word-based” / “Bible-based” as what these guys look for when thinking about joining a church. In fact, one responder put for his three choices: “The Word, The Word, The Word.” And another guy was even more emphatic, “The absolute unadulterated word of God being preached.”
Okay. I get it. People want a church that preaches and teaches “the Word of God.” But I bet if we asked them what that means, we’d get a variety of answers. What is “absolute, unadulterated”? Doesn’t a Southern Baptist church preach the Word, often straight out of the King James Bible? Doesn’t a liturgical Episcopal church that reads from the Bible every Sunday satisfy that criteria? Yet neither of those churches would likely satisfy those responders. Why?
Oh, by the way, these weren’t just fundamentalist or charismatic Christians who were responding. My friend is not a pastor. He’s a fitness coach, and his posts mostly focus on health, workouts and nutrition. And his friends/followers are mostly gay, fitness-oriented, and yes, Christian — of all stripes.
But these multiple respondents all reflect a similar mentality. We place a premium on hearing the authoritative voice of God — and for the most part, that looks like someone telling us what God wants of us based on what’s written in the Bible — a Bible we’ve all probably read countless times already.
Ruled by the Head instead of the Heart
We want an “authority” to base our faith around — to tell us how to live our lives. The problem is, the Bible doesn’t work that way. It isn’t that simple. Just ask any Southern Baptist and Episcopalian the same question, and see what they claim the Bible says. Faith doesn’t work that way either. A spiritual walk cannot be directed or legislated from an outside source. It must be directed from within, from a personal interaction with direction and promptings that come from the Spiritual Voice of God. And you won’t get that from a pulpit — or from just reading “the Word.” It is a spiritual activity.
So, ultimately, it’s not what the Bible says about a topic that is important. It’s how you read it. How you interpret what the Bible says, how you respond to it, what seeds of power are birthed through it by the Spirit. Because a Southern Baptist, an Episcopalian, and a charismatic Word of Faith believer are all going to read the same Bible and walk away with completely different understandings of what is expected of them.
So what then should be the standard we use to evaluate an issue or idea? How about Love? If we call ourselves Christians, followers of Jesus, and the New Testament is the filter through which we view all of Scripture, then we have to believe that the heart and will of God is as Jesus described it. It is demonstrated in the way Jesus lived it out.
So, let’s go to our chief example, Jesus. Look how he handled Scripture. Whenever religious people came to him wanting some technical answer or legal ruling — “What does God command us to do in this situation?” — he responded with “the heart” of the message, not the letter of the Law. He continually turned their cold and callous interpretation of Scripture on its head, and gave them something totally unexpected.
And the answers Jesus gave were always uplifting, forgiving, affirming, full of grace. In a word, full of Love. People walked away feeling they were special, important to God. Jesus didn’t use Scripture to trap people, to restrict them, to justify throwing stones at them. Ever. And the only people he seemed to have a harsh word for were those same religious folks bent on controlling others through “the Word.”
That’s why Jesus could say over and over, “You have heard it said…, but I say to you …” He took the Scripture that religious people were wielding heartlessly, dangerously, hatefully, and showed them the warm, affirming, loving side of it. He brought out the true meaning of those Biblical texts. He read Scripture through the eyes of the Spirit of God. He heard Scripture read through the ears of the Compassionate God. And the lessons he taught were so full of affirmation and love that when some of his followers wanted to leave him, and he asked Peter if he would leave him too, Peter responded immediately: “Where shall we go? You have the words of life!”
“Words of Life.” When’s the last time someone described our Bible-sword-fights like that? When’s the last time someone walked out of your Word-based church and felt they had just been fed the “words of life”?
So maybe it’s time we stop having these conferences about “What Scripture Says About …” and start reading Scripture ourselves — with the heart of the God whose will we claim to value so highly. Maybe it’s time we start looking at our lives, at the controversial issues that provoke us during the day, at the outrageous behavior of neighbors who challenge our religious cultural values, with the eyes of Love — the Love of God. Love defined not by mushy feelings or impersonal religious objectivity, but a Love that says “I wouldn’t want to be treated that way, so I won’t treat YOU that way.”
Maybe it’s time we stop asking “What does the Bible say about …”, and start asking, “What is the Loving way to handle this situation?” Or, “How can I show these people what True Love looks like?”
Christians of all denominations love to measure others by “what the Word says.” But the center of that Word is Jesus; we believe that all Scripture points to him. So maybe it’s time to stop being so “Word-focused” and more Jesus-focused. Maybe it’s time to stop asking for technical, black-and-white answers to everything, and start acting out of the Love that Word speaks of so much. Seems like things might be so much simpler then. And we wouldn’t need to call for so many convocations and conventions to determine how to treat our neighbors.
photo credit: “Open Bible with Pen,” Ryk Neethling via Flickr, cc
STEVE SCHMIDT is a Bible teacher at Expressions in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.