“‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked.” Luke 3:10
If you’re a Christian, and you’ve got a question about the Bible, your place in the world, or what our Father wants you to do with your life, be assured that, no further than your local church, is a kicky little book to instruct you, and a small group to walk you through the process.
An added bonus is a workbook (part of the $45 class fee) to prod you by asking elementary, simplistic questions that are supposed to get you to think, and “integrate spiritual reality into daily living” —
- “What do you think God’s purpose is in your life?”
- “When Jesus says, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ what does he mean by ‘neighbor’? (Note to leader: begin the discussion by listing out three types of neighbors: our immediate neighbor, the person on the next block, and the stranger we run into in the grocery store.)
What’s so sad is that contemporary Christians, many of whom are intelligent enough to balance their checkbook, take the car in for a regularly scheduled maintenance, and figure out why the toilet is leaking, are flummoxed when it comes to their spiritual lives. Reading and interpreting the Bible for themselves — even though the book is translated into their first spoken language — is determined to be beyond their mental capacity, much to the benefit of assorted speakers, writers, and teachers, who make a generous living by posting an innocuous title at the head of their book chapters (Your Community of LOVE), engaging in warm pastoral talk incorporating a guided teaching story about a “real” member of the church community, and winding the whole thing down with a series of “thoughtful questions,” designed to encourage “spirited (instructor -led) discussion.”
Religions Sells, Well
When hundreds of Christians, in thousands of churches, buy this book (and the accompanying DVD) and use it, the author and publisher do well. It’s a business, you know.
This is not to say that reading books about spirituality and the Bible isn’t good, but it is to encourage Christians to not read these books at the expense of reading the Bible for themselves. We should try that first, on a regular basis, and see how good we get at understanding, interpreting, and analyzing. The book we next pick up, then, may go far beyond asking us questions like,
“Is Jesus our friend or our brother?” and instead delve into biblical history, lexicography, and assorted ways that different scholars and thinkers, through the years, have looked at a same verse or passage. There is nothing stopping each individual Christian, whom the apostle Peter in 1 Peter 1:9 describes as “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God,” from taking those words seriously and approaching Scripture as intelligent, Spirit-led, scholars.
For example, let’s start with Luke 3, in which John the Baptist is baptizing and teaching and preparing a way in the desert, and the people asked — much as they do now — “What should we do then?”
Nowadays, the answer is searched for in that aforementioned small group, with the necessary Biblical Scripture Materials — and the Christian Teaching Celebrity of the Day answers, over 12 chapters, the questions, “What Is My Ministry, Lord?” or, “What Are My Gifts? (an integrated look at God’s work in our lives today).
John was more direct:
“The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”
Share what you have with those who have less.
To the tax collectors, John said, “Don’t collect any more than you are required to.”
Translated to today’s terms, this could be a message to any major CEO interested in being a better person — “Pay your employees decently and treat them with respect. Don’t overcompensate yourself and upper management at the expense of the people laboring under you.”
To the soldiers:
“Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely — be content with your pay.”
Today: “Police officers: put the taser away and stop looking at innocent civilians as if they were the enemy.”
No, these are not word for word interpretations in 21st century terms, but the concepts John addresses are basic enough to extrapolate:
Whatever your job is, don’t use it to abuse people. Don’t hoard. Stop doing things that you know are wrong so that you can make a better material life for yourself. In other words, it’s back to loving God with all our hearts and our neighbor as ourselves, the two commandments that Jesus, in Matthew 22:40, says everything in the law and prophets hangs upon.
Simple, Not Simplistic
It’s simple, yet profound, and when we read Scripture with this in mind, we filter Jesus’s teaching through, well, Jesus’s teaching. We don’t need a workbook to open our minds to this, and once we get over the notion that there is one incontrovertibly “right” way to interpret every verse of the Bible, we will be free, like honest scholars are, to ask questions:
Who was John, really? Why did Jesus say, several chapters later, in 7:28,
“I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he”?
This is a far more pertinent question than,
“What is my community? And how does Jesus want me to ‘share my gifts’ in it?” It is also one that we cannot answer in one or two sentences to fit upon the line provided. It’s something to think upon, meditate over, ponder — all something that scholars do.
And while it is very true that we all start out as babes, and cannot be scholars when we cannot yet crawl, it is also true that for too many of us,
“Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” (Hebrews 5:12)
Much of what we depend upon, years into our Christian lives, isn’t even milk so much as it is man-made formula. Let’s toss the bottle, pick up the fork, and grab some meat.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I encourage you to not to feel bad when, in your small group spiritual reading session, you get bored with the chosen book. I’ve seen these things in bookstores, and I can’t get past a page or two.
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