The Best Way
To Respect Your Elders
Is Challenge Their Beliefs
You don’t have to be Christian very long before you realize how much people differ on various Bible teachings. You also learn quickly that these teachings are generally referred to as Beliefs, and a belief is something you don’t tamper with.
They’re like holy cows. Irreverence is not tolerated.
Just raising a question can be dangerous. Writing about it is heresy. It’s a burnable offense! Heretics rank right up there with witches.
The penalties aren’t so severe today but the attitudes haven’t changed much.
The Lord’s Supper (aka Communion, Eucharist, Lord’s Table) is a good example. There are many different ways this ordinance is observed.
Attend an Anglican church and you feel compelled to take the bread and wine. Attend a Catholic church and you’re prohibited. Attend a Protestant church and you get long-winded explanations, and you’re likely to get a different story with each church.
It’s only natural to ask why all the differences, but it’s not a question you can easily ask. The frequency with which churches observe the ordinance and who they allow to participate, are not topics for discussion. Churches generally have very fixed ideas.
A part of the problem has to do with interpretation, which is usually based on things like the meanings of words and context, but there are a few additional issues we never mention. They’re not what you think but they need to be factored into the equation. I’ve listed five that are rarely if ever considered.
Have you ever wondered what church leaders were thinking when they formulated rules for congregants? They always claim biblical authority – we do such-and-such because the Bible teaches it – but that claim loses significance when other groups claim the same authority for differing beliefs.
That’s when you realize there has to be another motive. An ulterior one.
I’m not suggesting bad motives. There’s no evil intent. It’s manipulation but it’s all done for the right reasons.
The Sheep – anyone not vetted for positions of power – must be protected. Rules are made to protect them. Religion is famous for that.
Drinking alcoholic beverages is a good example. Prohibition was fueled by the desire to protect people from alcohol. Religion took up the mantle and it was all very condescending.
The assumption is, people can’t figure out right and wrong on their own and can’t help themselves if they do. They need regulations. It’s all force-fed.
Ulterior motive is a factor. You can’t ignore it.
The Temptation To Include Add-ons
The Bible stands alone or so we say, but that doesn’t stop us from developing elaborate systems of ideas most of which are designed to restrict and control.
Jewish elders managed to isolate 613 different commandments in the Old Testament. There is a question as to whether that number is accurate. There could be a few more. There might be less if you take into account the overlapping nature of some of the laws.
But they didn’t stop there.
They also isolated 39 categories of laws that prohibit activities on the Sabbath. Not satisfied with the 39, they then expanded on each category to build even more extensive lists of things-not-allowed.
Information Not Answers
Obviously, the Bible is important. It’s the foundation for every belief but it isn’t a reference work. It’s nothing like:
- A dictionary
- An encyclopedia
- A how-to book
- A dissertation
- A science journal
- An editorial
- A book of FAQ’s
- An operating manual
- An anthology
It isn’t a beginner’s manual or textbook for standard school curriculum.
The Bible contains many different kinds of information but none of it is alphabetized or categorized. All the material is preselected by God. It is accurate and true. It is sufficient. It contains everything we need to draw rational conclusions and covers a wide variety of information:
- Literary style
The Bible contains information on all these topics, but no answers. Only information.
Interpretation is the art of assessing that information to discover what it meant to the generation to which it was addressed, isolating general principles and then applying those principles to successive generations.
What that means is you can’t take a text and use it as a pretext.
Migration Of Generational Perspectives
Another question involves how each generation understands and applies the Bible. It can be a problem.
One fact about the Bible that everyone accepts is the fact that it is old. The Bible’s influences spans countless generations.
Depending on which scholar you read, there were 1200 to 1500 years between Moses and the Pharisees of the New Testament. That is a long time for ideas to ferment. The Bible didn’t change during that time. The words remained the same but how each generation understood and applied those words differed.
Did each generation get it right? I don’t think so. At least not according to the friction that occurred between Jesus and the Pharisees over Bible topics like the Sabbath.
We can easily see where the Pharisees were wrong. Jesus made that clear but what about the generations we followed? Did they get it right?
The problem is we usually believe what our forefathers teach us. One generation feeds the next generation and so on. We start with what we were given, but what if we were given the wrong thing?
The point, of course, is this. Interpretation also involves assessing how a teaching in one era of Bible history effected the people of future eras in Bible history.
If Jesus hadn’t challenged tradition, where would we be today? We must follow His example.
If we can’t figure out how the information applied in the first instance – what it meant to the generation who first received it – we can never know how it applies to us now, and we are likely to get it wrong.
We don’t need to ask what laws God made. That’s the question everybody seems to love. The answer is obvious. Superficially applying those laws across every generation won’t work.
A better question is why did He make certain laws when He did? How did each law help the communities to which they applied? Why were these laws necessary?
For example, what was the significance of Moses’ Bill of Divorce? If we don’t fully answer that question, we can’t understand anything Jesus said about divorce in the New Testament.
We must be thoughtful and careful. We mustn’t overstate or understate the relevance of any part of the Bible, or dismiss any section, and we must avoid the mistake of making superficial assumptions. “Jesus said . . .” is more smug than convincing. It’s not always an answer.
Brevity Of Content
The Bible contains many different kinds of information, but it is the complete word on only a few categories, salvation for example. On some issues it’s kind of brief.
Certain beliefs are developed by reading between the lines.
Don’t get me wrong. The Bible is accurate. It’s sufficient but it isn’t exhaustive.
And, yes, even a brief mention counts, but when the information we have to work from is sparse, we should avoid being too demonstrative about our conclusions. The Lord’s Supper is an example. It isn’t mentioned often. There are no in depth explanations. The last supper was recorded in the Gospels but Paul was the only Apostle to give insight on it later.
- The ceremony should be actively observed today.
- The observance is symbolic of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.
Not much else is said. Most other teachings are addons.
Hold your beliefs firmly. Adopt a set of practices to express those beliefs. And be careful to respect another person’s differences when you see them.