Faith goes through stages of growth and maturity along with our bodies, if it is born and nurtured within our homes. My earliest recollection of faith is of my Nana, before her stroke, rocking me and singing songs of faith. One of my favorites was “Bringing in the Sheeps”. My older readers may smile, knowing that the song is actually “Bringing in the Sheaves”, but to a 4 year old, “sheeps” was as close a word as one could get from a toddler word bank. A few years later I remember loving her Bible, and her mustard seed necklace. (Matthew 17:20). I used to lie next to her in her home hospital bed while she read her small Bible and I would flip through its dog-eared pages. My aunt told me that she would buy me one of my own if I left Nana’s alone. I’m sure she worried that my small, less-than-dexterous fingers would rip the old, delicate pages. I have that King James Bible she gave me to this day. I just wish I knew where my Nana’s is.
My mom didn’t go to church, or anywhere else, because she was my invalid Nana’s primary caregiver, and we didn’t have a car. Well, that “it takes a village” thing started long before Hillary made it a household word. The Junior Choir director at church called my house and invited me to join, my aunt or uncle would drive me to practice on Wednesdays, another church member who lived a block away picked me up for Sunday School and church, a friend’s parents introduced me to the Moravian Christmas Eve Vesper Service, which I loved, and my next door neighbor took me to Vacation Bible School at her church. As I got older, I walked to church by myself. I had my own village long before it was cool.
It all seemed so simple, then, to believe in God, to believe that He gave His only son to save us from our sins, to believe in a place of eternal suffering if we do not accept these basic teachings, and to believe that the Bible was the only true source for the Word of God. Remember “It stands alone on the Word of God. The B-I-B-L-E”? It’s not so simple, anymore. I understand that the Bible was written by men and, therefore, only consists of words from men, not God, himself. But weren’t these men chosen by, and taught by, Jesus, himself, who was God incarnate? How much closer can we get to His Word? And yet, the Bible is constantly being revised, either in the form of one of its multiple translations, or one of the various doctrinal statements of individual denominations. Why are there so many opinions on God’s Word?
I’m not uneducated. I’m aware that there are no simple answers to these questions, but it seems that our opinions align with the societal norms du jour. There are clear differences between the Old and the New Testaments, with Jesus being the New Covenant of God, the loving counterpart to the wrath of God of the Old Testament. It’s like God said “OK, I’m tired of all you people not believing and not listening to me, and even more tired of yelling at you and being angry all the time. I am giving you proof of my existence and His name is Jesus. He will teach you about love and sacrifice.” Therefore, love is the predominant message of the New Testament, which gives voice to love, acceptance, inclusion, and understanding, all good stuff.
My question is, do the teachings of the New Testament negate the teachings of the Old Testament when they conflict? How about the directives that are mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments? Why are we allowed to just assign our own interpretations to things that are clearly stated in God’s book? And why are there so many of them? If there is such a tendency to change the Gospel to the way society wants it to be according to the date and time, then why do we even need the Bible today? Maybe there should be Amendments. Or maybe every person should write his or her own Book of Discipline based on how he or she wishes to live life.
I don’t even know if my own denomination believes in Hell. Apparently, some religious people don’t, and I do know that it is rarely, if ever, mentioned at my church, at least at services it isn’t. As a Lutheran growing up, the Apostles Creed said that Jesus “was crucified and descended into Hell. The third day He arose and ascended into Heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” Then at some point it was changed to “descended to the dead”, and now, the Methodists say that “He was crucified, died, and was buried. On the third day he arose, according to the scriptures, and ascended into Heaven”. So now he didn’t descend anywhere, and what? A disclaimer: “According to the scriptures”? As though there is some other authority on the subject? Why should we be given the trophy of eternal life just for participating in the game of earthly life? And what will be next? Will we delete “and he will come again to judge the living and the dead”? Don’t mess with the Second Coming, please. Some Christian churches even refuse to administer communion, the body and blood of Christ, to those not in their particular denomination. How is that in unity with Christ?
I want to go back to the days when people believed in biblical morality, when the Word of God really was for “the People of God” and not the Word of the People for the People of the People. That’s the Constitution. Different genre. I long for the time when everyone knew what a sin was.
Of course, all of us are sinners and fall short of the glory of God. All of us. The trick is to recognize our sin, repent, ask for forgiveness, and then “go and sin no more.” John 8:11. It isn’t always easy if that sin fulfills a need in our lives that isn’t getting fulfilled elsewhere, but that doesn’t make it less of a sin; it just makes it a more difficult temptation to overcome. Forgiveness is promised to us through the blood of Christ, but only if we can recognize sin when we see and not do it. Asking for forgiveness and then deliberately repeating our sin, knowing we will be forgiven, doesn’t cut it.
I just don’t know what we, as Christians, are supposed to believe, anymore, in this modern time of ours, but I do know what I believe in my heart and mind. Maybe “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) wasn’t only meant for the people at the cross.