Most of us like to think we’re individuals, no-one else is quite like us, and we don’t follow the crowd.
But is that the reality? How easily are christians influenced by what others think? And would it be good if we were all individuals?
There’s safety in numbers
It’s natural for humans, and most animals, to herd together, especially when there’s danger or difficulty. It’s a survival thing. There’s safety in numbers.
For most people these days, it’s not physical survival. But most of us still tend to stick with the crowd when it comes to socialising, expressing opinions or forming beliefs.
When we are in groups, which include churches, it is likely that social influence will tend to produce conformity. We may accept without question information provided by others. Or for psychological reasons, we may not wish to speak against what seems to be the majority opinion of the group.
These processes, called “social influence” or “herd behaviour” or “group think”, have been studied by psychologists, who say that some degree of conformity is helpful for a group to make decisions and act cohesively.
But group think can also end up stifling innovation and alternative ideas, and lead to stagnation and poor decision-making.
Group think and churches
Christianity is a religion based on revelation, especially in Jesus, so it is natural that churches and christian groups will share a lot of viewpoints and attitudes. And natural that we will feel that our beliefs and our traditions are God-inspired.
But churches are also prone to group think and herd behaviour. Have you ever experienced or observed any of these behaviours?
- Have you ever sat in a Bible study and felt unable to express your opinion because you knew the majority had already passed judgment?
- Have you ever been in a church where it was considered ungodly to question or criticise the senior pastor?
- Have you ever heard christians dismissing viewpoints simply because they are different? Maybe labelling them as “liberal” or “fundamentalist” or “socialist” or “heretical” without really explaining what is wrong with them?
- Have you ever seen decisions or choices made because of people’s strong emotions and before the matter has been investigated and discussed?
- Have you ever been in a church or group where the christian view (on politics or ethics or doctrine) was just tacitly assumed, without any thought that someone present may think differently?
- Have you ever seen good ideas just ignored without being properly considered?
All of these behaviours are signs that good discussion and decision processes may have given way to group think.
Churches and new ideas
If herd behaviour is prevalent, the church loses out.
- Many people feel discouraged, left out or not listened to.
- Many gifts are under recognised and under-used.
- Things keep going in the same old way, and new ideas and understandings rarely see the light of day.
- The church can easily lose touch with the community around them and its values and culture, and so finds it difficult to mission to that community.
Ideas whose time has come?
The last 50 years have seen enormous change in social values and in christian beliefs. For example:
- Questioning of literalist ways of interpreting the Bible, in favour of the way Jesus and his apostles used their scriptures.
- Disbelief that God would order genocide in the Old Testament or send people to an everlasting hell.
- Recognition that Jesus’ main message was the kingdom of God, and how we might think about that today.
- Greater acceptance of the worth of academic study of Biblical history and archaeology.
- Recognition of the evil of racism and the marginalisation of indigenous peoples.
- Accepting the equality of women in society and in the church.
- Greater acceptance of gender diversity.
- Seeing the importance of both faith and good works (justice and mercy) in the church’s mission.
- Increased environmental awareness and concerns.
- Greater concern for the poor and marginalised, including refugees.
- A breaking down of denominationalism.
We can disagree about how many of these changes have been God-inspired, but I think three things are clear:
- The church hasn’t always handled these issues well,
- Most of the changes have been opposed or resisted by many christians and many church leaders, and
- At least some of them have been used by the Holy Spirit to move the church forward.
It requires discernment to make decisions about doctrinal and life issues. It’s not easy grappling with current issues and trying to see how the kingdom of God changes the way we look at them. And it can be scary reviewing traditions and teachings that no longer seem tenable. Especially when others in the church are calling us to hold the line on traditional views.
But grapple we must if we are to speak and minister to our world. The Holy Spirit has never stood still, but is always seeking to renew and reform our thinking and our ministry. As the old hymn said:
“The Lord hath yet more light and truth
To break forth from His Word.”
Challenging the status quo
Sometimes the new light and truth will seem to contradict the old.
- It began with Jesus challenging the received “truths” of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law.
- The Spirit led Peter to take a different view of Gentiles than what he had been taught (Acts 10).
- The Catholic Church branded Martin Luther a heretic because he was opposed to some established practices and teachings.
- William Carey began the modern missionary movement, contrary to the common belief that God would convert the heathens if he wished, without missionaries.
- Slavery in England and the US, and apartheid in South Africa, were all justifed from the Bible, and those who worked to end these evils often had to work against their fellow believers.
So if we are going to do God’s work in God’s way in the 21st century, we may have to speak against established and entrenched understandings.
Issues needing attention
There are so many issues needing attention today, I can only mention a few:
- The growing irrelevance of many churches to the cultures around them.
- The professionalising of the ministry so that pastors burn out while lay people are demotivated and passive.
- A more positive response to societal moves on gender inclusivity. If churches don’t believe they can endorse same sex relationships, they must develop a much more loving and accepting approach.
- The capture of sections of the church by right-wing politics that supports conservative views on gender and abortion but otherwise is quite anti-christian, and labels as “Marxist” people who are actually trying to follow Jesus’ teachings on caring for the poor and mistreated.
- The departure of many thoughtful young adults from the church, and in many cases from faith.
- The challenge of modern science (evolution, climate change), medicine (gender transition, stem cell research), archaeology and Biblical scholarship (throwing doubt on significant sections of the Old Testament, and how we interpret it).
- Postmodern disdain for doctrines like hell and exclusivity, and the practice of evangelism.
Some of these issues, I believe, require completely new understandings from the teachings of traditional christianity. Others require better approaches and explanations. But all require innovative and Spirit-guided thinking.
The church needs individuals
Most pastors and clergy are reluctant to make change. They know it will be difficult, and if they rock the boat they may lose their jobs. And besides, their training has generally been along a familiar track, and they haven’t been trained in innovation and managing change.
Many church members also prefer the status quo. It is relatively easy being a christian in most western churches, and many don’t have time, skills, or maybe interest, to innovate. They are happy to be consumers.
But there are clergy and laypeople who have spiritual depth, have the skills of an entrepreneur or a strategic planner, have the ability to think outside the square, have had experience in doing things differently, and in many cases are itching to see change. Too often they are silenced or chased away.
If churches would nurture these gifts and these “prophets”, and were willing to consider traditional doctrines and practices afresh, then change is possible.
There are known ways to avoid herd behaviour and group think, in churches and in our own lives.
Are you an individual?
Don’t let them fool you or silence your gift. Pray for God’s way to use your gift and see change happen. Avoid group think. Be sensitive to others. Be judicious in what you say when.
And if you’re not …
Try to avoid herd behaviour. Respect those who lead you and teach you, but also respect those who are contrarians. Take time to read and consider alternative opinions, don’t just reject them out of hand. Pray for the Holy Spirit to lead you into truth.
Read my summary of herd behaviour and group think in Are christians afraid of the new?
Initial graphic by Pixabay plus various clip art sheep, put together by unkleE.
The blog title (“I’m an individual, you can’t fool me!”) comes from a 1985 rap song by Jacko (Mark Jackson) an Australian footballer who was definitely an individual. So much so that, despite his footballing talent, he struggled to play in a team sport because he did his own thing. But his individuality led to him making several rap singles, making commercials for batteries and breakfast cereal, and even having a short-lived boxing career.
- understand the original context (so much doctrine doesn’t do this),
- pray for the Spirit’s guidance to understand how to apply today,
- look around to see what the Spirit appears to be saying to the churches (there are several ways to do this I think),
- consider whether the change is more loving or has hurtful effects,
- move ahead cautiously and with some consensus.
Good morning unklE,
If you will forgive a comment by a non church goer, may I ask the question “why are churches necessary” ?
You have given many examples of group think, conformity and in some cases doctrinal enforcement in organisations which is driving people away from their faith. Are not individuals capable enough to read the Bible and make their own interpretations ? And they may form groups with other like minded people as has been done over the centuries with many divergent sects of the Christian religion.
If Christianity thrives in the community , is it necessary for the Catholic church or the CofE to continue to exist ? Or are they necessary to provide a doctrinal background much like universities exist to provide a structure for learning ?
Our life always expresses the result of our dominant thoughts.
– Soren Kierkegaard
Hi Eric, Happy New Year
I think there are trappings to individualism too though within churches.
As individuals we can be at risk of rationalising certain individual behaviour or ideas as more important. A individualist mindset can also reinforce differences in a desire to be different and stand out from the rest.
I think we should celebrate our creativity as unique individuals each created in the image of God. I also think this individualism should build up and support the body as a whole towards the health and flourishing of a community through Jesus, so it does not become rigid, legalistic or stuck.
There are also systemic injustices that are not always identified or acknowledged from a rigidly individual mindset.
I think we need a healthy balance of both individual and community perspective to understand the whole picture better.
I think we need both individualism and better understanding of systemic impacts to be better at supporting and building each other up to be outward focused in love for others, as members and as a body. I don’t think the reality is either/or. But instead members working together as part of a body.
Kind regards, Ryan 🙂
Many people who subscribe to unfounded conspiracy theories would also consider themselves individuals, and would also consider the collective to be “sheep”.
Thing is though I’m pretty sure being a sheep is a very good title through Jesus, within the teachings of Jesus.
Kind regards, Ryan 🙂
Hi “west”, hope the new year is treating you well!
“why are churches necessary?”
“Church” can have several meanings, including (1) the bunch of people who meet in a place, and (2) the denominational organisation.
Re (1): I think christians need to meet together to support each other and pool the gifts and experiences they each have, for the common good. I think that is generally best done in groups of 10-20, and I think larger groups like churches often are (say 25+) often lose something. But the larger group may be a good way for the smaller groups to work together on some activities.
Re (2): I think we can get by without the denomination for day-to-day living, but the larger group may be necessary to do aged care, social welfare, etc.
“Are not individuals capable enough to read the Bible and make their own interpretations ?”
Yes, but a community (even of 10-20) is better I think (it has many different gifts and can support those doing it tough at any particular time). They can also better support people outside the group who are in some need. I agree with what Ryan says.
“If Christianity thrives in the community , is it necessary for the Catholic church or the CofE to continue to exist ? Or are they necessary to provide a doctrinal background much like universities exist to provide a structure for learning ?”
Difficult question. There are advanatges with having a long history and tradition – it provides perspectives and balance and resources. But there are also disadvantages because it can prevent or delay necessary change. If they were more dynamic, I would support them, but as it is, I feel slightly more critical than positive about them. After all, if they stopped, their traditions and resources would still exist as things we could draw on. But they’re not going away.
Hi Ryan, thanks, and best wishes to you and your new family!
Yes, I agree pretty much with what you say here. We need individual gifts and perspectives, but it is good to pool them. Some individualistic people think more highly of themselves than they ought, and being in a group helps them keep a better perspective.
So I think there are indeed some people who are so self focused and anti-establishment that they are annoying and unhelpful (there may be some people who think that is me!). But I think herd behaviour is the bigger problem numerically in the church.
Those who don’t believe that homosexuality is sinful must accept the strong probability that Jesus would have disagreed with them. Which means that in their opinion Jesus was wrong on this issue and was therefore morally fallible. They must also consider what implications this has for their faith.
Thanks Eric 🙂
Hi David, thanks for reading and commenting. I recall we have discussed this matter previously, but I’m keen to discuss again if you are..
There are several questions I could ask you, but let’s start with this one. Do you think that all commands by Jesus are to be interpreted literally, and applied equally today as in his time?
Presumably, the aim of your question is to expose inconsistency in my thinking. How can I object to a change in the rules when I already accept changes in the rules? I don’t mind discussing that but perhaps you can explain what your criteria are for changing the rules. How do we know that the time of certain ideas has come?
I can suggest some reasons for being suspicious of change. If the church is in serious decline, core aspects of Christianity such as miracles and the Resurrection are widely regarded as implausible if not ridiculous, and one of the reasons for the proposed change is to assimilate the church to an increasingly disbelieving society, then we should be cautious.
Hello again unkleE,
“Re (2): I think we can get by without the denomination for day-to-day living, but the larger group may be necessary to do aged care, social welfare, etc.”
I agree that economies of scale are desirable for such activities as health and education services, but churches started out giving these services to the poor, these days they seem to be mainly providing services for the rich.
Maybe they use the income from rich people to subsidise services for the poor, I don’t know, if so it may be a good business model. Whether the services they provide are better than what a government may provide is a matter for debate.
Anyway, as you say, they are not going away , I just think that they should be continually audited as to the value for money they provide.
“Presumably, the aim of your question is to expose inconsistency in my thinking.”
Yes, it was. There were many matters I thought worth discussing in what you wrote, but I thought starting there was likely to be the most helpful.
” I don’t mind discussing that”
That’s great! I will be interested to hear your approach to the question.
“perhaps you can explain what your criteria are for changing the rules. How do we know that the time of certain ideas has come?”
I think this is a really key question, that ought to be asked far more often. My approach is to recognise that everyone modifies, selectively emphasises or reinterprets scripture in some way, though some apparently think that they don’t. So the important thing is to be consistent, scriptural and godly in doing this. I think the answer is to do something like this:
“core aspects of Christianity such as miracles and the Resurrection are widely regarded as implausible if not ridiculous, and one of the reasons for the proposed change is to assimilate the church to an increasingly disbelieving society”
I agree. I wouldn’t at all diminish those doctrines and certainly not for that reason. I think considering the way current culture views things is a factor to consider, but more in how we present our teachings, and more in ethics than doctrine.
Interested in your take on this.
“churches started out giving these services to the poor, these days they seem to be mainly providing services for the rich. Maybe they use the income from rich people to subsidise services for the poor, I don’t know, if so it may be a good business model.”
I think there is probably an element of that. Also they can only do as much as their funds allow.
“Whether the services they provide are better than what a government may provide is a matter for debate.”
My niece has worked a fair chunk of her life in the “charity” sector, and I think she would say that without the churches (Vinnies, Salvos, Unitingcare, Anglicare, etc) the Government couldn’t cope.
“they should be continually audited as to the value for money they provide.”
Yes, I agree. If they are to get tax concessions for their charitable work (which I think they should) then they need to be accountable.
One example that was mentioned in a previous post was the rule on abstaining from blood. The rule was proposed at the Jerusalem Council but seems never to have become established. Suppose that it had and was still widely in force up to the present day. If I was campaigning to have it dropped while at the same time opposing reforms on sexual morality then I would be guilty of inconsistency.
One reason for thinking that the early church got it right on the food laws is that it was a time when the Holy Spirit was powerfully active. Christianity’s conquest of the pagan world was a remarkable chapter in history. Is the Holy Spirit powerfully active today in progressive Christianity? I don’t think so. Nor do I think it has been at work during the sexual revolution. I see evidence of the opposite. It is a time of crisis. Christians seem to be increasingly paralysed by doubt. You have said that you believe in the Resurrection but I think that is unusual for a progressive Christian. If we are to know people by their fruits then progressive Christianity as a whole must considered corrupt, even if some within the movement are genuine.
My niece has worked a fair chunk of her life in the “charity” sector, and I think she would say that without the churches (Vinnies, Salvos, Unitingcare, Anglicare, etc) the Government couldn’t cope.
Yes, those are vital services for those who need them, then we have institutions like Scots College or SCEGS, that only the elite can access.
Quite a dichotomy would you agree ?
Hello again, David, thanks for replying. I’m appreciating the opportunity to discuss.
“If I was campaigning to have it dropped while at the same time opposing reforms on sexual morality then I would be guilty of inconsistency.”
OK, so we agree that there needs to be some consistency. So here are a few apparent commands of Jesus:
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26
“those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” Luke 14:33
“If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:39-42
Now I wonder, do you obey those teachings literally? I certainly don’t! So then, how do you justify NOT obeying them while wanting to hold people to a teaching on homosexuality that Jesus isn’t actually recorded as making?
” Is the Holy Spirit powerfully active today in progressive Christianity?”
Where do you think the Holy Spirit is powerfully active today? How do you judge “power”?
“You have said that you believe in the Resurrection but I think that is unusual for a progressive Christian. If we are to know people by their fruits then progressive Christianity as a whole must considered corrupt, even if some within the movement are genuine.”
I find this a strange comment, I’m sorry, sort of guilt by association! There isn’t any signed up movement called progressive christianity. It is a fairly vague description of some tendencies in belief. But you have apparently applied that description to me and then used your perception of that movement to devalue what I have said. I don’t think that’s really fair.
In my case, most of the christians I am closest to believe in the resurrection, and in, fact, the entire Apostles Creed. I know many, many christians who have questioned what they were taught, struggled to find what they believed was true, and eventually recovered a stronger faith which would be somewhat “progressive”. It is because I had so many such christians writing to me on my other (apologetics) blog that I started this blog. So I hope that clears that up.
Yes I agree, and I find it particularly galling that some of those elite religious schools can promote elitism and class pride. And they aren’t always all that christian anyway.
But in their defence, (1) I think they commenced in a different age, (2) if they were really christian in the values they taught & inculcated, they would be well worthwhile, (3) some denominations and non-denom groups have started less elitist schools, and (4) some schools (e.g St Andrews cathedral school) include scholarships for first nations kids, and meaningful teaching on first nations issues.
But like you, I do still have a problem with them.
Oh dear. You seem to be taking a leaf out of the new atheist’s handbook on debating Christians. Quote 1 (Luke 14:26) shows that Jesus was not a good guy. Quotes 2 and 3 show that all Christians are hypocrites. There is plenty that Christians have said in response to those arguments and anyone who is interested can no doubt find out about it. However, I think it would be a mistake to engage with this. Sorry, unkleE, but I’m disappointed.
Hi David, if you don’t want to discuss this matter, that’s fine. But very little of what you say here relates either to me or what I am saying.
I am not taking a leaf out of any atheist’s handbook. I have spent many hours discussing issues with atheists, both new and old, both friendly and unfriendly. Some misrepresent the Bible and Jesus, some don’t. The issue is whether I have misrepresented, or not.
I don’t believe those quotes show anything like you said. I believe Jesus WAS a “good guy”. I don’t think all christians are hypocrites, though we all are occasionally and some are a lot. And I explicitly admitted that I don’t obey those saying literally. I clearly posted them for a different reason entirely, as you yourself recognised when you said “Presumably, the aim of your question is to expose inconsistency in my thinking.”
Perhaps christians have said plenty in response to those sayings of Jesus, I don’t know. But I was asking you about your response. If you don’t want to respond, that’s OK, but it will mean that you haven’t explained your apparent inconsistency.
So I don’t see why it is a mistake for you to engage, especially if you have a good answer. (If you don’t have a good answer, then perhaps you might find one in the discussion.) An unkind person might ask you if it is because you cannot easily explain your inconsistency. But I am not an unkind person so I won’t ask you that. 🙂
And I’m sorry you are disappointed, but I don’t see why. I have done what you asked and explained my thinking (briefly) and asked you about yours. That is what this site is all about. So I’d be happy for you to explain, or I’ll thank you and wish you well.
You have presented an argument that could be used against any Christian who takes a stand on any moral issue (not just the one under discussion). The argument can be rebutted but that is not the issue. Why would a Christian resort to such an argument? And why would you imply that my unwillingness to address the issue is due to my inability to explain my alleged inconsistency? If I was unable to respond to the argument then I would be just as unable to respond to an atheist who told me that as a Christian I have no right to speak on moral issues. After all, how can I say that adultery is wrong if I am unwilling to pluck out my own eye? As a matter of fact, I believe that I can answer that objection but if I can’t then there had better be other Christians who can.
I think you have got this badly wrong, unkleE. I hope you can admit it.
I think we all trust that Jesus is The Way of Salvation. Through Only Him we have forgiveness and Peace. To live life through His Lordship. Through Him.
People are encouraged to follow and trust Jesus, through His Love.
We are all sinners I believe. I know i am a sinner, in need of God’s Grace always through faith in Jesus. I need to repent each day. Through His Mercy and Grace.
2 Timothy 2:25
Should we not start here?
All the best to you all 🙂
Yes, you are right. But I want to be clear what my argument actually is. In this post I briefly menmtioned a wide range of moral and doctrinal issues. My point was NOT to argue the case for any particular one (including the issue you raised), but to suggest a christian should be open to the possibility of interpreting the Bible and their tradition differently – on any issue.
This was my whole point. Many christians argue we should remain faithful to the Biblical understanding we have received because anything else would be unfaithful to God. You said that yourself here, when you said “Those who don’t believe that homosexuality is sinful must accept the strong probability that Jesus would have disagreed with them. Which means that in their opinion Jesus was wrong on this issue and was therefore morally fallible.” That sounds like a good strong moral principle. But is it?
If it is a good strong principle, it should presumably be applied in all cases. My suggestion was that you weren’t applying it in other cases, thus throwing doubt on the principle. So I asked for an explanation as to why you take a strict view of Jesus’ (only presumed) teaching on homosexuality, but are willing to overlook or explain away other principles that he quite strongly taught.
I agree with you. I am interested to hear your answer to that question.
If I am wrong, I would like to know where I am wrong. Can you explain it? Can you explain why it is OK to pick which commands of Jesus we apply rigorously and which we don’t? I have given you my answer, I am interested to hear yours.
Jesus is The Way, The Truth and The Life.
I believe He is how we move towards understanding. And His Way is through His Grace.
For this reason I think I should be gracious towards those who are seeking to understand truth. Seeking to follow Jesus.
There are many members, but all are valued and Jesus gave His life for them.
Even if they may think differently to me, this I need to remember that Jesus loves them more than I can fully comprehend, in the same Way He loves me, despite me being a sinner.
I hope we all come to a better understanding of Jesus and His Will. Through faith in Him we can meet together in kindness and grace.
I think one helpful thing for me to consider is that:
1. Do I have the most complete understanding of this, With a clearer conviction than others?
2. If I am in error, how do I hope Jesus will treat me in response?
3. Should I not treat others in the same way?
I believe God desires me to be merciful, instead of condemning others.
For God is truly Merciful and Gracious towards me.
Kind regards, Ryan
I think Jesus helps us to interpret His teachings, through His Holy Spirit. So we can live and apply these in our lives 🙂
Through Him, i hope to bear fruit.
My answer to the instruction to pluck out one’s eye is that Jesus was not talking literally. So Christians are not being inconsistent when they fail to follow the “rule” on self-mutilation – there is no such rule. Something similar applies to the command to hate one’s father, mother etc. According to Maurice Casey, Jesus would have used an Aramaic word which can be literally translated as “hate” but which in an Aramaic context would be understood as “love less”. “Love less” is how Matthew renders it in his version of the scene.
The command to turn the other cheek is also not literal. If someone hits you, you would not literally invite your attacker to strike you again. However, Jesus is illustrating a principle that we should take very seriously. Generally, we should not respond to violence with more violence. Are there circumstances in which it is necessary to use violence? That is something which requires careful discussion. But given that Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek was not literal, we can’t say that there is an absolute rule against using violence.
Should we give away everything we have? Again, there must be considerable doubt as to whether this is intended literally. To be fair, there is some suggestion that it might be literal. When the rich young man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus tells him to give away all he has. I think there is a genuine issue here for Christians. However, a couple of points need to be made. In the scene with the rich young man we see that there are two levels of commitment. First Jesus tells him to follow the commandments – do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal etc. After the man says that he follows these Jesus then tells him to give away all he has. The disciples are bewildered by this and wonder whether anyone can be saved.
What is clear in this scene is that the basic moral commandments are taken for granted. No one is suggesting that it is OK to commit adultery. It would be a big mistake to use the acknowledged difficulty in giving away one’s wealth as a way of relaxing the basic commands on matters like adultery. It would also be very irresponsible.
Hi Ryan, thanks for your comments I agree with them all. But I do think one of the ways the Holy Spoirit leads us is via discussion and challenge. Of course it needs to be polite and constructive. I believe that is what David and I are doing here. I think what you say is especially relevant to questions like christians and LGBTQI people and other minority groups which can easily be discriminated against. Even if we disagree with them, I believe we need to be loving towards them.
Hi David, thanks for those explanations. I would agree with you on most of them. So let’s continue to explore.
I agree with you, and I too find Maurice Casey helpful on a lot of this. It is easy to say Jesus wasn’t being literal, especially in the case of the Casey explanation, but not quite so clear in the other cases. But to say he wasn’t being literal doesn’t mean he wasn’t serious. So the commands to non-violence and anti-materialism still mean something serious. It would be hard to deny that Jesus warned a lot against wealth, yet most people reading this blog would be wealthy beyond anything but the elite in Jesus’ day. So we still fall foul of his teaching. So the question still remains, how can any of us justify taking a hard line stance on sexuality but a soft stance on wealth?
I wonder about the other commandments. Should we keep the Sabbath (Saturday) the way the Jews did in Jesus day? Should we avoid any “graven images”? How do you know which of the 10 Commandments we should obey today? And what about other OT commands like stoning gays, adulterers, blasphemers and those disobedient to their parents, as in Leviticus 20? Or is it only the ones Jesus specifically mentions that we need to obey?
What would you say to these questions?
Why should we take a harder line on sexuality than on wealth? I think the story of the rich young man gives us a clue to that. In the story there is a recognition that giving up wealth is a real challenge. The disciples are amazed when Jesus tells the young man to give up his wealth. They are not amazed when Jesus tells him not to commit adultery. Also, it is not so much that possessing wealth is sinful in itself as that it stands in the way of our commitment to the Kingdom. Possessing wealth is not directly sinful in the way that committing adultery is sinful.
I should point out that I don’t take a hard line on homosexuality. All we need to do is to remember that it is sinful.
Which of the commandments apply to us? The early church addressed that issue when Gentiles started to become followers of Christ. It would be hard to argue that we know better than they did.
This verse came to mind.
I think here is one of the accounts in Scripture where Jesus helps us clarify how to interpret His teachings.
I think this clarification applies to considerations on literalism also:
English Standard Version
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.
The Words of Eternal Life
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
I’m also reminded of this verse for myself:
English Standard Version
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
I think for me it’s a tall enough order to keep myself in check through trusting Jesus, let alone being critical of others.
I think that’s a personal conviction though.
Have a great day 🙂 and thank you for encouraging me to trust our Lord Jesus as Saviour. I believe these areas are clarified as I step out and trust Him. Through Him i am encouraged by Him. As I follow His teachings in practice through His Grace and Mercy.
Giving Him control, He comforts me.
Kind regards, Ryan
Hi David, thanks again. Let’s explore further.
I honestly don’t see your logic here. The disciples were surprised about wealth because many in that day thought wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. But how does that change the force of Jesus’ statements? I think I would prefer to judge by how Jesus dealt with different issues. When confronted with “sinful woman” (Luke 7 & John 8), Jesus was tender and uncondemning while not negating the traditional view. He was slightly tougher on the rich young ruler and in general his references to wealth and privilege were stronger still. That suggests to me the opposite of the conclusion that you draw.
Further, Jesus’ most trenchant criticisms (e.g. Matthew 23) were for religious people who were hypocrites (which includes inconsistency) and made burdens for other people that they couldn’t carry. We should surely rate these criticisms as very important!
Maybe, but he condemns the wealthy and privileged more than he condemns the sexually impure.
But is it? That is the question we are discussing. Jesus didn’t mention it. Paul does, several times, but there are many who explain those references as dealing with the sexual practices of the time, and therefore not clearly relevant to today. I’m not convinced by their arguments, but they surely need to be considered.
The church council in Acts 15 suggested the following should be avoided: “food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality” So do you keep kosher on meat? Do you avoid any blood in your meat? Do you know if any meat you eat is from strangled animals? I don’t, though I am not much of a meat eater. So again we have the question – how can your standard be what the early church said if you don’t follow all their prohibitions?
I don’t want to drag this out. I think it is clear that we are all, not just you, somewhat selective in which commands we emphasise. I’m trying to be more consistent and have some primciples to guide us. I don’t think traditional interpretations of scripture alone are suffuicient because we are so inconsistent with them, as I’ve tried to show here. So if I had to rate Jesus’ teachings, I would say his strongest teachings were on the kingdom of God, his condemnations of the religious leaders and his teachings on caring for the poor and mistreated. They are the commands we should care most about. I think his commands on sexuality are much less forceful. So we need to consider if we are applying teachings on sexuality in ways that contravene the other stronger teachings. I’m not expecting everyone to fully agree, but I do think there is good reason to consider.
What do you think?