Thursday, November 03, 2005

A New Reformation

Christianity needs another reformation. It’s been almost 500 years since Luther tacked his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg cathedral that drew attention to the corrupt and misguided practices of the Catholic church. The Protestant movement produced great reforms including freely-translated scriptures, the end of the practice of indulgences, marriage for Christian leaders, and many others. Although Catholicism has had some positive changes in recent years it still needs radical change (e.g. optional marriage for priests and nuns) since it never had its own reformation. Evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity are steeped in beliefs and practices that I believe are in dire need of reform. What reforms are necessary? Here are six important ones:

1. Honorable Interpretation of Scriptures – Very few Pastors and Leaders teach people how to study the Bible honorably. Verses are commonly taken out of context, sound historical and cultural considerations are rarely taught, original language is usually ignored, and there is widespread confusion about what literalism really means. Conservatives practice what I call “selective literalism”, in which someone selects a verse that supports their view and says, “The Bible says…” while ignoring the full context of the passage, linguistic, historical, and cultural facts, translation alternatives, and other verses in the Bible that bring clarity. Also, albeit a small percentage, there are a number of key mistranslations of words or passages in the majority of English Bibles.

2. Limits to the Authority of the Bible – Far too often, the OT is casually quoted as if it has equal authority with Christ and His new convenant. Inerrancy defenders have never adequately explained the obvious discrepancies in many Biblical passages (claiming the original documents were inerrant just reinforces that we don't have an inerrant Bible in our hands). Advice from Paul to the early church, 2000 years removed from our modern context, is blindly accepted as law for believers today.

3. Freedom in Christian Behavior – So much Christian teaching ignores the established fact that believers in Christ are “released from the Law” (Romans chapters one thru 10) and in fact, released from a Law-based approach to God. Nevertheless, performance-oriented Christianity is rampant. Believers are told a host of commands that are either derived from the OT law that they aren’t under (e.g. tithe 10 percent to the church and attend church weekly), concocted from a law-based reading of the NT (e.g. establish a daily prayer time and regular “witness”, don’t allow women in leadership), or created from traditional non-biblical teaching (e.g. do not drink, dance, go to certain movies, engage in singles sexuality, etc.)

4. Ensuring Love is Fulfillment of the Law – Rather than making Christ’s and Paul’s command to make love for God and love for neighbor the guiding principle for Christian behavior, churches have made adherance to a set of both written and unwritten laws and a traditional non-biblical definition of holiness the standard.

5. Refutation of Dangerous and/or Misguided Teaching – The church has done well refuting cults but failed in its refutation and denouncement of cultic-like (at worst) and misinformed (at best) teaching such as the seven-year tribulation belief (Left Behind), non-scientific origins teaching (Creationism), condemnation of homosexuals, and extreme anti-abortion teaching.

6. Reform of Sexual Mores – The church adheres to a sexual standard based on tradition more than the Biblical record. Behaviors such as masturbation, singles sexuality, nudity, and certain sexual practices are condemned by inference not direct Biblical admonitions (e.g. the word translated ‘fornication’ or ‘sexual immorality’ is from the Greek word ‘porneia’ which historically didn’t include all sex before marriage or masturbation). Church moralists ignore the obvious Biblical acceptance of polygamy, concubinage, sex with servants, certain forms of prostitution, the erotic literature of Solomon, the property-related context of the Jewish view of adultery, and the practice of heterosexual and homosexual shrine prostitution (false worship to false gods) when interpreting right sexual mores for today.


mael brigde said...

hi, michael!

i have tracked you down through your comments on Water, Fur & Flame, which i greatly enjoyed and appreciated.

here are my responses, if you are interested:

what made me think of writing you just now is that i listened to a very interesting interview of bishop john spong, who used the same term you use here--that there is need of a new reformation. i will add the link below, so you can listen to it, too.

i'll be back!


mael brigde said...

oh, hope i didn't do something to lose my last comment to you.

anyway, this is the link i wanted to give you:

Bishop John Shelby Spong, interview

Michael said...


I will check that out. Thanks for drawing it to my attention. This is the second time someone recommended Spong. With some rare exceptions, fundamentalist or conservative evangelical Christians (my background) are not the enemy, but are under the spell of misinformation brought about by years of traditional church teachings, poor Bible translations, and assumption-based thinking. Much of what they promote is good, but much of it I believe is misguided.

mael brigde said...

i don't tend to think of these things in terms of enemies, so i can't disagree with you here.

it is awfully frustrating not to be able to even talk about things, though. when a person is very convinced that there is only one way to look at things and all else is evil, it kind of narrows the options. i refer here not only to fundamentalists i have known, but, well, most of us at one time or another in our lives, myself included.

Michael said...

Yes, narrow-mindedness and black-and-white thinking is soooo frustrating, I feel the same way. Agreed, we are all guilty of this at times. Unfortunately the church has rarely encouraged open-mindedness since it claims authority for itself and the Bible. A balance I believe is needed so we are open to other ways of looking at things but aren't so open-minded that our brains leak out!