Sunday, September 17, 2017

Why is the Bible Important to Christians?

It’s Sunday morning. I woke with a sore back. That’s better than yesterday. Yesterday I woke at 4 am with a sore mind.  My sore back is from lifting good stuff and doing good work.  I guess my sore mind comes from that too.  No good deed goes unpunished by this government. My job is to focus on the blessings not the curses.  Only my back hurt this morning.  All my other body parts were in good working order.  I slept in till 830 am and Gilbert let me.  and what a blessing that was.
Now I’ve not been to church in weeks. I say I’m a winter Christian because summer and fall I’m usually at sea sailing,  or camping in the woods.  This year I was on my lawn chair out back lot enjoying the sun and  reading a lot.  I read the Holy Bible most days.  I talk with Christian friends and do Christian service.  I’m praying all the time and meditating some.
The Holy Bible is a source of comfort and wisdom for me.  I began reading it as a child and studied it seriously in various theological institutes and courses. It’s a part of all church services no matter how “liberal”.  I learned in theology that one should not ‘cherry pick’ the Bible for phrases to support one’s own position but rather see it as a gestalt.
There’s an ‘old testament’. It includes the Torah or Jewish Bible and prophets.  Jesus was Jewish. His first disciples were Jewish. The writers of the Bible were Jewish.  The translators, not necessarily.  Neither were the interpreters.  Christianity is a ‘universal religion’.  It’s open to all. It’s inclusive and not exclusive.  According to the Pew Report, as of 2010 Christianity was by far the world’s largest religion, with an estimated 2.2 billion adherents, nearly a third (31 percent) of all 6.9 billion people on earth.”
Once a ‘word of mouth’ religion with many writings over time the Holy Bible became the collection of writings of the church. The Bible was a collection of the ‘books’ or ‘writings’ of the Christian church with some ‘books’ such as St. Thomas being considered questionable as the orthodox Christian religions have rejected the ‘gnostic gospels’ as being ‘outside’ the mainstream that continues till today.  The Councils of the Church through the years have addressed these ideas and come to a consensus of truth, or orthodoxy.
Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Mathew 5:17.
To me that means that the Torah and the writings of the prophets are still important.  I love the Psalms which are the Songs of David and quoted by Jesus. The Holy Bible of Christians is divided into an Old and a New Testament.  Testament simply means ’tale’ or ’telling’.  The Old Testament comes before Jesus and the New Testament comes after Jesus. It begins with the four Gospels: Mathew, Mark, Luke and John.  These give witness to the life and death and teaching of Jesus.  The latter parts of the New Testament are the stories of the Apostles, the leaders Jesus surrounded himself with  while he was alive, and the writings of St. Paul, the Rabbi who converted to Christianity and along with the apostles started the first churches. Paul, as well as being a Jew, was a Roman citizen and a tent maker. Only the rich could afford tents and travel so Paul was part of the then ‘tent-setter’ group and travelled all around the Mediterranean of the Roman Empire of the day.
The Old Testament is preempted by the teaching of Jesus.  It is  an older version of the truth.
Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  John 14. 6.
I loved the matter of fact way a Theologian said, “The Jews were wrong then and they remain wrong today.”  What he was referring to was the fundamental rift between the Old Testament and New Testament. Christians see Jesus as the Messiah or God/Man  which the Old Testament speaks of but the Jewish authorities rejected him and with the Romans, the ruling world empire of the day, killed ‘Son of God.’  Today the Jews continue to believe that Jesus was a prophet and his teachings were summarized in the ‘teachings of Q’, a source of wisdom sayings which appear to overlap with the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospels, especially Mark.
The fact is, much of what Jesus said, is common sense and spiritually un original, except in it’s godliness.  Prophets and religious leaders including Zarathustra and Moses and others have said similar things. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, the law of divine retribution or karma, is in one of it’s various form central to all great religions.   Ecumenicalism is about finding the ‘similarities’ in various religions and focusing on these rather than the differences, yet the differences count, since to name a thing one must scientifically speaking have ‘sensitivity’ and ‘selectivity’.  Fraud is best maintained in generalities.  In the 60’s it was called ‘drug talk’ or ‘tarot talk’ because as long as anyone didn’t refer to money, drugs, sex or action everyone could be ‘free and love’.  As long as someone else is paying the bills, it’s easy to ‘love one another’.  This is the difference between adolescence and adulthood and was for a long time the difference between men and women as until recently the female and children of society were cared for and protected by the men. The Devil is said to be ‘in the detail.’
So each division in the history of religion and specifically in the church revolve around one key factor.  Jewish men were ‘circumcised’ as children. a tribal genital mutilation of boys.  St. Peter and St. Paul in the early days of the church when Christianity was seen not as a new ‘religion’ but as the ‘new’ Judaism, a ‘universal’ religion versus the ‘local’ Old Testament, tribal Judaism, debated circumcism.  The decision was that Christians did not need to have their male genitalia tampered with to be spiritual.  Jews to this day believe otherwise.
Muslims like Jews believed that Jesus was a prophet,  Muslims, Islam, believe in the genital mutilation of men, called ‘Khitan” or circumcision.  It is not mentioned in the Qur’an but in the Hadith. The Muslims in contrast to Jews and Christians also believe and practice genital mutilation or circumcision of female children.  However it is less widely held as a requirement of Islam than male circumcision.
Catholics and Christians don’t disagree on children genitalia but Catholics insist the Pope is the direct descendant of St. Peter.  When Emperor Constantine of the Roman Empire made Christianity the State Religion he became the head of the church as well.  Later the role of Spiritual Emperor for the World Catholics remained even though the Pope’s earthly territory had been shrunk to only the tiny state of the Vatican by various wars and invasions.  In Anglicanism or the Church of England the Queen is the head of the Church since King Henry VIII rejected the authority of the Pope and made himself head of the Anglican world Church.
The Catholic Church has the most centralized contro,l even more so than the Orthodox church.  When Constantine moved his seat of power to Constantinopolis, today’s Istanbul, the first major political division of the Church took place, with Roman Catholicism headed by the Pope in the Vatican. The Eastern Orthodox Church is headed by a Holy Synod.  It is the second largest Christian church. Both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have Bishops as leaders but whereas leading Bishops are chosen to ’select’ the Pope in the Catholic church,  in the Orthodox church government is by the Holy Synod (council) and each Bishop is considered equal though a head bishop or patriarch is somewhat equivalent to the ‘arch bishops’ of the regional Catholic churches.  This first ‘East West” split of Christianity occurred in 1054 ad.
In the Anglican or Church of England begun by King Henry VIII there is a Synod but the Archbishop of Canterbury, is representative of the Queen and akin to the patriarchs.
The first division of the Christian churches in the West or Roman Catholicism were political and territorial with Germany separating from Papist Vatican rule.  Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation of the church given rise to the division today called ‘Christian’ and ‘Catholic’ , the first principle of reformation being ’the proper source of authority in the church.’  Protestantism rejected the notion of Papal Supremacy.
Protestantism is now one of the three major divisions of Christendom after Roman Catholicism and Othodox.  They do not have a central human authority or structural unity. The Holy Bible and the local Church tend to have primacy in Protestantism which accounts for 900 million adherents and nearly 40 % of Christians worldwide.  Since the initial ‘territorial or political separations’ from Rome, the subsequent Protestant divisions have been more to do with biblical interpretation and theological divisions.
A major division between Martin Luther and the Pope in his day was the belief in ’transubstantiation’.  These divisions are really deep and superficially they look like any family argument to an outsider  over time.  Organizations and religions and countries and all human endeavour beginning with family and divorces contains the humanity of emotions and especially anxiety.  Jesus said over and over again. “Do not be afraid”.  Yet obviously even the leaders of the churches had their share of humanity.  It’s been said that Anxiety is ‘measure of your distance from God but equally a measure of your humanity’.
Transubstantiation refers to the ‘conversion of the substance of the Eucharistic elements into the body and blood of Christ.”  Eucharist is the central rite or ritual of Christianity.
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat, this is my body.”  Matthew 26:26
This occurred a couple of thousand years before quantum physicis and modern interpretations of ‘reality’. Dualism, the idea of the separation of matter and spirit was central to Plato and much philosophy and thought prior to Jesus.  Even today ‘blood’ is powerful and in medical science divisions like ‘genetics’ compete with the influence behaviour or of ‘environmentalism’.
The questions comes down to the crux of whether one believes we are ‘material beings living in a spiritual realm’ or ‘spiritual beings living in a material realm.’
The power of the priest and Pope was central to the ‘transubstantiation’ process given that the ‘bread’ became the body of Jesus with his touching and saying so but later Christians felt that there did not need to be an intermediary between Jesus and oneself.  Hindus have little difficulty with the notion of transubstantiation because of their and subsequent Buddhist concepts of the nature of creation are fundamentally different from the west philosophically.  They perceived reality as dualistic, but not so much as matter and energy or matter and spirit, but as ‘true or false’.  Moksha is the ‘false reality’.
When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment in the Law, he said.
“'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40.
Another area of debate in the church has been surrounding the idea of the ‘prime mover’.  This is expressed in the ‘faith’ and ‘work’s and ‘grace’ debate.  If God is first and first mover then ‘GRACE” the love of God saves us. Salvation in Christianity is the saving of the soul from sin and death.  Sin was the description of the world as not perfect.  St. Paul said in this life, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”
Today’s ideas of ‘addiction’ and ‘habits, good and bad’ all focus on this central premise of ‘imperfection’.  The word to ‘sin’ came from archery where the archer wanted to hit the bullseye every time but simply didn’t for a variety of reasons.   Newton and other physicists and ultimately Quantum Physics looked at these relationships just as Einstein and St. Augustine both considered ‘time’. With Grace we are saved because of God’s love whereas with ‘works’ we are saved because of human’s work.
The disciples asked Jesus “‘ Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  Matthew 19:25-26.
Since Luther in the 16th century Protestantism has grown and divided while maintaining a lose association under the heading of “Christian".  Some are local or community churches while others are world wide. Some of the main Protestant Christian churches are Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodist, Mennonite, Adventist, Reformed, Evangelical, Non denominational and more. All Christian churches refer to the Holy Bible, most importantly the 4 Gospels, or ‘good news’, the stories of Jesus, by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
An area of debate in the church and religion in general is the ‘divinity of Christ’.  The Christian God is said to be a Trinity, ‘three in one’ God, best taught to my mind by St. Patrick.  It’s not specifically a teaching of Jesus in the Bible though it’s implied as he says “I and the Father are one” and promises the “Holy Spirit”.
Jesus says, “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever - the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
Dr. James Houston of Regent College talked of this as the Personhood of God, three persons in one.  My friend Bernie while alive loved to pray, “Holy Spirit Come”.
To become a Christian as with all religions, one can be born in a Christian family or raised Christian. Christians baptise or christen their babies with sprinkling of water or immersion in water as John the Baptist first Baptised Jesus.  Once christened or baptized a Christian remains a Christian for life unless they renounce their relationship. It’s a bit like being a member of a Country.  Unless you renounce your ‘citizenship’ you can always return. It is not uncommon in all religions for the youth to leave the family and family religion only to return to the religion with having their own family or matuation.
For a person who has not been born and christened or baptized as a child the way to become a Christian is to walk into a church and observe. I call this being a ‘church tourist’.  Christians invite others to attend their church like they do inviting people to go to the movies with them. Christianity is not a ’secret society’ but a welcoming religion.  Christian services are great entertainment and everyone is welcome to attend and observe. They are the source of the greatest music with the likes of Bach and Elvis and countless others getting their first experience of music in the church.  The ’sermons’ are often great lectures, like those of Dr. Peter Elliott  or Dr. Carl Ridd when he was alive or Dr. James Houston.    The key to understanding a sermon is that you don’t have to agree with it but rather it, like any ‘lecture’ forms the basis of discussion and is by nature ‘thought provoking’.
I often tell people to explore churches and other religious organizations much as you would when picking a cafe or night club. For young men I say ‘hang out’ at the church with the highest density of beautiful women. For young women I say choose to return to the church with the highest density of handsome young men. For those with small children perhaps return to a church with lots of small children.  These people are principally neighbours and it’s a spiritual club no different than the local gym is a ‘physical club’.  Spirituality is however much more comprehensive than a mere gym. It’s also relatively ‘free’ at first, as everyone is invited to attend and the old church adage was to ‘put a buck ‘ or even 25 cents or a penny in the basket when it was passed around. Ultimately when one chooses and becomes a member of a church they voluntarily contribute and are encouraged to by the board who pay the rent at the church and physical taxes and tuitions and salaries. Some churches remain small and poor while other churches become ‘mega church’ major corporations of great wealth.  Neither is ‘better’ in a spiritual sense anymore than a martial art sensie with a few students is less than a major dojo with many franchises.  Such discussions of size refer more to quantity than quality. Personally I’ve liked little and large churches.
To participate more specifically in churches there are classes and ultimately baptism or formal joining with the church membership in some ceremony.  Historically this often meant simply saying “I believe in Jesus Christ” as the name of Jesus Christ which is derived from the words “God within and God Will Come Again” is itself considered holy and transformative. Yahveh the name of the Jewish , God the Father, meant “I am, that is who I am”.  Hence, the beingness of God, the creator.  The third person is the Holy Spirit.
Various councils over the 2000 years of Church history and the individual churches have come up with a legalistic formulation much like the ‘articles of faith’ which one signs whenever one gets new software from Apple or Microsoft.  I don’t read the whole agreement and sign ‘i agree’ without consulting a lawyer. There is the possibility that Apple or Microsoft have slipped in a line ‘you will give your left kidney and testicle if you agree’. I have faith at this time and joining a church have considered overall the ‘details’ but even while I’ve not ‘agreed fully’ with some details I’ve ‘agreed in principle’ as I do with Microsoft and Apple, a couple of human companies not even known for their holiness.
When I join a church or any club or even accept software I am today making such decisions.  But ‘joining’ comes after being a ‘tourist’ and people join churches because they like the people. Churches are the ‘people’ especially the more local, community and independent churches which are commonly formed today around someone with a Bible who says let’s get together and talk about this Holy Book.  Then because they want a place to meet as they grow in numbers they get into renting then owning spaces and developing schools and more. Ultimately in the past groups of Christians created hospitals, universities and whole nationstate and even continued world empire. Some might say we’re seeing the third Christian empire today.
Being a Christian then comes with study and association. It’s about community and consideration.
“I believe.”  It’s a joy for me to say this today.
Thank you Jesus Christ. Thank you Lord God. Holy Spirit Come!









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