Bumper Sticker Christianity

Quoting Holy Scripture is a pastime of many in the multitude of heterodox churches. That’s not intended to be demeaning, it is a fact. Often times the quotation is a single verse or two. It usually came from their pastor’s Sunday sermon or from a Bible study and it just “clicked” with them.

We can all fall victim to this action, we get a favorite scripture passage and think EVERYONE needs to agree that this is earth-shaking information. It usually isn’t. To me, it might be but not necessarily to my brother. The slogan that I heard seems moving and powerful but in truth, it’s not.

One thing I was taught in evangelical exegesis was “Scripture interprets Scripture” which sounds good on the surface but in reality it’s falsely applied. Scripture is truly interpreted within the Life and Liturgy of the Church. It is through the whole life of the Church that Holy Scripture is interpreted and applied.

Saint Peter instructed us that: “And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” II Peter 1:19-21 NKJV

I may read a passage, I may think it applies specifically to me or to my circumstances, really I’m just trying to make it justify my actions. It does not matter what we read and want to hang up on the wall, tens-of-thousands of religious people that call themselves “Christian” have done that and started churches by doing it.

I was raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma and have witnessed this first hand. From Oral Roberts’ “seed faith giving” to Ken Hagin’s “prosper and be in health” or whatever.

In recent history I find that many people that I know live in a kind of Bumper Sticker Christianity and Monday is a particularly annoying day on Facebook. The catch-phrase from the preacher’s sermon on Sunday or one single verse that was preached on suddenly became a monumental truth that they may have learned. They rush out to Facebook so they can impart this wisdom to us unwashed heathens that weren’t in their church to hear it. If we don’t jump right in with an “amen” or if we ask a question or even add to what they say, we will find that they delete our comment and turn off comments from us. What’s the cause of that? Arrogance? A sense of control? “After all, it’s MY page.”

Discussion is how we learn from each other. It’s two-way communication. Preaching is one way communication. There’s no comment block at the bottom of a sermon. Party lines like Facebook are where we interact at small levels. Twitter is where we can only use 140 characters. When we stop interacting the medium we are using causes a loss of interest.

Some of the people that I hold in highest regard do not say anything on Facebook. They have accounts and occasionally they post events or podcasts but they don’t comment. Why? It’s a waste of time. They post their blog articles, their vlog or podcast but they leave the commenting to others.

Sometimes I question the reason some folks post anything. They don’t respect questions, they like the comments that agree with them but truly they don’t want to interact on the subjects that they have posted. They only like their bumper sticker Christianity and feeling good.

That’s not how this works…

There is a popular TV commercial where a little old lady has mounted photos on the wall of her living room and has several friends over to share the photos with. Another little old lady stands up and says, “That’s not how this works…” and sometimes I want to stand up and say that to folks about Christianity.

I recently challenged someone and asked them if they knew how to do something that they were talking about in Holy Scripture. The response surprised me, I was told I was bringing condemnation, not exactly sure how I was because there were no specifics, and then I was told, “There’s no condemnation in the kingdom…” to which my mind popped up the vision of the little old lady in the TV commercial, “That’s not how this works…”

The scripture the person was trying to apply was, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:1 NKJV

A Baptist preacher once told me, “Anytime there is a ‘therefore’ in Scripture, you need to back up and read more to find out what the ‘therefore’ is THERE FOR.

The passage in Romans 8:1 that was referred to, was being applied to try to shield from criticism. A kind of “get out of jail free” card like in Monopoly. That’s not even close to its application. It was being used as if to say, you cannot question me or criticize me because there’s no condemnation in the kingdom of God. Well that’s not what St. Paul was teaching in Romans 8:1.

Let’s look back, St. Paul was expounding in Romans 7 about how the Law of God brought judgement and starting in verse 13 of Chapter 7 he explained how in his mind he wanted to obey God but his physical body with its passions, desires, hungers were at war with his mind and he was feeling torn and battle weary in all this. THAT is what immediately preceded Romans 8:1 where he said that THEREFORE there is now no condemnation (from God) for us WHO WALK BY THE SPIRIT. That really is the operative thought, those who aren’t under God’s condemnation are those who walk by the Spirit and not the flesh or physical body with its weaknesses and desires.

That does not free us from criticism, if we are wrong in something, anyone in the Church has the responsibility to point it out. If you were to observe another Christian involved in something that was wrong, you shouldn’t just ignore it. They are part of you and when they hurt, you hurt.

“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” Galatians 6:1 NKJV

Restoration requires identification and honesty. This will sound like criticism. If you question someone, because it appears to you that something isn’t right, it will sound like criticism. That’s not wrong, it’s how this works. It’s how ALL of this stuff works.

Imagine the situation that was presented in the Corinthian Church, a man was shacked up with his step-mother. The people in the congregation knew what was happening and were trying to pat themselves on the back for being so tolerant. Saint Paul wrote them about how sad he was over this because they were allowing it to go unchallenged. That congregation was told to put him out, not to allow him to be part of the community, not to allow him to receive communion with them so that HOPEFULLY he would repent, change his ways, and be restored. After he repented, St. Paul told them to let him back in.

Imagine, if you will, if that man had said, “there’s no condemnation in the kingdom…” and tried to convince the congregation that they could not judge him. Imagine the confusion that the Church would have to correct if he said, “There’s no condemnation in the kingdom…”

It is like the people that say “Judge not” where they ignore the rest of the verse. Jesus specifically warned that whatever judgement you apply to others is how you will be judged. In the Corinthian Church, referenced above, St. Paul instructed the congregation specifically to judge the situation because HE had already judged it and he gave them instructions on what to do. He told them that “We” would Judge the angels so our judgement must be sound and practiced.

So I’ve rambled a bit but in conclusion I must say, we cannot be ignorant children, refusing any question or criticism but we must evaluate our words and actions soundly. To reject any challenges simply because we think we are above them is the height of arrogance and childishness.

Saint Peter told us, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;” I Peter 3:15 NKJV

Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks a reason for the hope in you. Can we expect to just slide through? Are we free from challenges? The religious leaders of his day challenged Jesus all the time. They sought the authority which he claimed and he showed them by the very miracles he performed that he was authentic. I suppose if someone came along performing miracles, there would be some deference given to their words but if they didn’t speak in line with already accepted teaching from the scriptures they would not be respected by most.

The Echo Chamber

In our everyday lives we have multiple interactions with others, some inside the Church and some outside the Church. We are involved with social media in various forms for politics, religion, music, social issues and we often retreat into that while missing the biggest opportunity for growth.

We sometimes get to feeling like we OWN some particular piece of social media. Bottom line is, the “owner” of our Facebook page is not us but rather the guy that owns that company. He proves that day in and day out by suspending accounts, refusing to allow clerical titles calling them false names, and many other ways. He and his company are simply censoring the content that he wants us to see. If the company decides it is “fake news” because the owner disagrees with it then they censor it or delete the posting.

The Christian life is not supposed to be that way. King Solomon said “I As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” Proverbs 27:17 NKJV

For iron to sharpen iron, some friction must occur. That isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes we learn HOW to say something because it “rubs the wrong way” and as we learn we grow. When I learn how to do something, it might be new to me, it might be of use to others, and asking others if they know how to accomplish something will elicit responses that bring new ideas.

When someone posts something on social media, it is like being in a big room with many people talking. Small groups form, and as you walk through the room you hear what others say. Then there are people sharing, repeating, what someone says.

Some people want to rant, we all have friends that on social media just want to rant. They want their time on the soapbox. They think whatever they’re ranting about is so important that everyone needs to pay attention but they do NOT want any responses.

Some people present the attitude that what they post on social media is their mission in life. The people on their friend list NEED their wisdom and anyone that would try to add to that or ask a question is not worthy to comment.

When you write on Facebook you are not writing your own blog. Yes you can block comments, you can delete comments that you don’t like but seriously, you are in a big room talking and others might actually have insight that you are missing. You are not a sage that has all the wisdom of God. You might have a purpose in stating a fact, quoting something but to limit others’ comments often puts you in an echo chamber. You only hear or see the things that you agree with. Being honest with ourselves there are avenues for that.

Blogs, like this one, are ways for in-depth discussions of what the writer wants to say. This is why I like to write things that occur in my religious life. I’m not perfect, I get it wrong a great deal, but I put myself out there and let others take their best shot. I’m not here writing to debate the issues. I simply put it out there and expose how I feel, what I have experienced and what I learned.

When I finish an article for this blog, I share it on Facebook and in that environment people can discuss and debate the article if they choose. It does not diminish the ideas in the article nor does it threaten my belief structure, it is just a forum where I can share what I have learned.

If you like to post stuff on Facebook so that you can feel good or fulfilled by all your friends agreeing with you then accept the fact that others have equally valid observations about the subject you posted. You might not be the all-knowing sage which you think you are. You might need to hear additional insight.

Lately, politics has colored everything. It depends on what source of information one uses, what they believe. The term “fake news” gets thrown around and no one listens to each other. That is fine because the reality is our opinions do not matter to the politicians. They only care if we vote for them. Most of what we say is meaningless and no one will change opinions based on what someone says on Facebook.

Religion is often the same way, no one will change their opinion by what they read on Facebook.

Blogs give us an extended time to express ourselves. You can open up your heart, and mind, express your feelings, talk about what you have learned, and others can comment if they want to but it truly is YOUR space. You own your blog and can even refuse comments. Everyone knows that going in.

Great Lent is approaching. Soon many Christians will be fasting, using time that ordinarily is focused out for introspection. Many choose to even withdraw from social media in this time. That might be a good idea. At least, if we are seeking enlightenment from God, being away from Facebook and contentious people or subjects.

If you have insight, feel free to share, it’s how we learn.