Saturday, May 24, 2008

Love Thy Neighbor Everyday

I felt like blogging on this long ago - but God wouldn't let me until now.

Not everyone knows what a 'meat issue' is in Christian terms, so I'll start with the best known verses::

Romans 14:1 Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.
2 For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.
3 Let not him that eateth, despise him that eateth not; and let not him who eateth not, judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.
4 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth: and he shall be held up: for God is able to make him stand.
5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it to the Lord: and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
7 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.
8 For whether we live, we live to the Lord; and whether we die, we die to the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.

9 For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living.

10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at naught thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ.
11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.
12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block, or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.
14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean by itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
15 But if thy brother is grieved with thy food, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy food, for whom Christ died.
16 Let not then your good be evil spoken of:
17 For the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
18 For he that in these things serveth Christ, is acceptable to God, and approved by men.

19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things with which one may edify another.
20 For the sake of food, destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offense.
21 It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine,
nor any thing by which thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.

22 Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.
23 And he that doubteth is damned if he eateth, because he eateth not from faith: for whatever is not from faith is sin.

The exact issues addressed in this passage are dietary restrictions, festivals, and sabbath day observances, which were already practiced differently in the spread out congregations due to doctrinal differences. Paul tells those who are arguing to live according to their conscience, but - as long as they are under Christ - DO NOT JUDGE OTHER PEOPLE'S BELIEFS OR DOCTRINES!!!

There is never a time when this teaching is out of style, especially in Protestant churches, where fairly major differences in doctrine can be found in (and splintered off from) every major denomination. Many, many people have been socially persecuted for differing from the interpretation du jour - and sometimes worse, in defiance of this teaching, and Jesus' more general "Love Thy Neighbor."

There is rarely anything of love in these very human judgments, the worst stains on the Bride's clothes come the pride that inspired such arguments, and the malice with which it was so often practiced by those who were called by the name Christian but had little concern for truly following Christ. Its common for believers to mention the Catholic versus Protestant mass slayings in these essays. Its common for unbelievers to reference the Salem witch trials & the Inquisition as the nadir of Christian kindness/tolerance, despite the fact that it was still mostly other Christians who were killed by their unloving 'believing' neighbors. Those are the worst examples we know in the Christian faith. (Though every faith has done it. Its a sinful human failing not a Christian one.) Calling other fellow believers 'infidels' goes aalll the way back to Paul's time. Indeed, Jesus got more than a taste of it!

Now most people in the US believe they have gone way beyond such primitive errors of faith. 'Nobody would do that now etc. Well, nobody is of a mind to haul out ye olde burning stakes this afternoon for differing on how many angels fit on the head of a pin, but the original failing - judging other believers doctrines as 'real' (and therefore worthy of respect) or 'not real' (and, therefore, virtually pagan and safe to despise - never mind that God loves those brothers - and pagans too!) - that goes on daily! Each practitioner is smugly certain that the despised are beyond the pale with God - and so, fair game for whatever spiteful words or deeds they allow themselves.

Reading McLaren's book "A Generous Orthodoxy" did me the enormous favor of articulating what I have seen way too many times. My own background is about as ecumenical as it gets, but very sola scriptura. Like McLaren, I have seen both Catholic, and many varieties of Protestant congregations, and learned much from all these journeys. I have found much to love in the Bride's many bits. I also found problems in each one, but as I know Jesus claims those who call upon Him, and loves every one of them, I have found it wisdom to restrict any comments to that which I see as done with love or respect for one another & God's work - or not. I don't expect everyone to agree even with these discussions, but I do expect them to pray over it, at least a little - and show the honest concern some respect too. Lot of places I never opened my mouth, but other places I have been called in to do just that, repeatedly, and pray very often before I do!

You know what they call you when they don't want to listen?

Care to guess?

Well - here's what they called Jesus -

John 8:48 Then answered the Jews, and said to him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan (heretic), and hast a demon (crazy)?
49 Jesus answered, I have not a demon; but I honor my Father, and ye dishonor me.
50 And I seek not my own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth.
that's the one approach~ The other one is what my husband calls the 'just a housewife from Virginia' syndrome.

Mark 6:3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Judas, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.
4 But Jesus said to them, A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kindred, and in his own house.

One guy actually told me that he didn't need to listen to what I was sharing as believer (I thought he was one) because I didn't do the same job he did. 'Let me know when you are in the industry.' He wasn't a carpenter either...

Know what Jesus said about it?

John 15:12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatever I command you.
15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you.
16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
17 These things I command you, that ye love one another.
18 If the world hateth you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.
19 If ye were of the world, the world would love its own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
20 Remember the word that I said to you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you: if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.

I always suggest more Bible readings over any other introduced texts - be it Book of the Mormon or Christian Talmudic equivalents (You'll hear this called 'church tradition' or 'interpretations from our founders' or some such thing. The latest popular interpretation books can be similar.) People need guidelines to interpret scripture into everyday living. This isn't wrong, but sometimes these go astray. I figure you can't go wrong with recommending more Bible studies as long as the person loves God. An open heart who reads scripture will encounter, sooner or later, what is most needful to keeping their faith straight. A closed heart won't be any worse off than they were.

It strikes me as ironic that so many Protestant branches will quote the Nicene Creed as a way to distinguish their real faith from what they regard as Catholic heresy - when the Nicene Creed was established by the Catholic church. I'd even say that's the Catholic Church at its best. Even today, this simple creed is the glue that binds so many believers close enough together that they can at least recognize the family resemblance!

I rather enjoyed reciting the Creed with them at the last mass I attended. That said, I cannot in good conscience accept ALL the extraordinary claims made for Mary (I do see a reasonable historic case for her being 'caught up' after death), but I accept that many who do also have a strong love for God & Christ. I acknowledge their faith and their special doctrinal terminologies as something I should respect. Who am I to judge what 'counts' as a sacrament and what doesn't in the eyes of God? Much of Catholic tradition and practice is firmly rooted in scripture, and is practiced in 'good faith' - in the belief it honors the words and requirements of Almighty God.  Many Evangelical & Messianic positions seem 'odd' to their fellows in faith too, no matter how strongly they believe in their differing expressions of faith. It concerns me that even a strong Christian leader like MacArthur, whose works I respect and from whom I have learned much, has yet to see the wisdom of recognizing the One Faith he shares with many (not all) serious Catholics.

I've found that Evangelical Protestants have been highly selective in their Ecumenical tolerations. They quote C.S. Lewis cheerfully enough, who was an Anglican (now a Protestant branch but originally very close to Catholicism - with Henry VIII instead of the Pope), and - through Lewis - George MacDonald, a Calvinist/Congregational minister and fantasy writer. But most ignore the Christian apologists who preceded Lewis - especially G.K. Chesterton, the noted Catholic. I remember my own surprise at finding so much in common between Lewis & Chesterton. Would Lewis have been as acceptable to current prejudices if he had recommended Chesterton as often as MacDonald? Probably not. Which is a shame - on the whole church of his day.

Unfortunately, many believers never see the celebrations of faith outside their own sect, and have no idea of the commonality involved. I love the faith that inspired church branches to get back to Biblical basics, some as far back as Messianic Judaism, but how can I love the judgmentalism, the unkindness and pride so many show to those they believe to be 'less enlightened?' I love Messianic Christianity until it 'goes there' -I think it may even be the closest to the truth. HOWEVER, many millions of believers have found themselves accepted (or reproved) in their walks with Christ over 2 milliennia without hearing how they were supposed to be living like the Jews and using only the Jewish feasts/calendar. There's nothing wrong (and much right!) with observing and learning from these feast days and calendars, but it certainly isn't required.

I have no doubt God loves Sunday services, Christmas, St Nicholas' Day, St Patrick's Day, and Easter. He has shown it in signs and words given to the faithful many, many, many, many, many times - despite the imperfect origins & uses of these events. Paul didn't even have a problem with Christians in his own time eating the meat resold after use in pagan temples in their festivals. The limit was not worshiping idols/demons WITH the pagans and avoiding scenes that would cause a weaker brother to stumble. Otherwise, pray over the meat and don't ask a lot of questions - for your conscience's sake. Remember? 1 Corinthians chapters 8 & 10

1 Corinthians 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
8 Charity never faileth: but whether there are prophecies, they shall fail; whether there are languages, they shall cease; whether there is knowledge, it shall vanish away.
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

The knowledge of the church has always been 'in part' - It is perfectly imperfect, just like its members, and ever shall be until we all get to heaven. Its understanding has always been imperfect too, even in Apostolic days. Many churches had but a part of the scriptures to read, and some of those weren't copied correctly, which is why new churches so often needed to be brought up to speed on what the main core of the church believed by the Apostles/Preachers they sent out. This was the reason the Apostolic, Holy Spirit- inspired leaders were nominated by Christ to lead the church, to prevent the endless splintering of beliefs likely to occur under decentralized 'sola scriptura.' This, of course, set up for other problems that come with a central hierarchy, but nothing run primarily by humans is going to make all perfect decisions. The mistakes don't invalidate the faith of those who have believed in Christ through imperfect institutions, Praise God!

Even back in Acts the Apostles had to reprove one another (or were reproved by the Holy Spirit) for failing to see what God required - and didn't. Interestingly it was Peter - long regarded as head of the Catholic church- who led the 'Messianic' failings in Jerusalem. At one point he refused to sit with uncircumcised Gentile believers, and was reproved by Paul for not recognized they were sanctified by faith in Christ. At another point, Peter was shown directly by God in a vision that the Christian church was not required to avoid 'unclean' foods in the same way that the Israelites had been. Another time, Peter was reproved for strictly following Jewish custom with the Jews around him, but putting these aside in meals taken with Gentile or less strict Jews, without mentioning his full beliefs on the matter to any of them. Paul believed in adjusting one's behaviors to respect those you were with, but in stating clearly where you stood as a leader. Peter agreed when this was pointed out to him. Peter was very good about publicly repenting his failings in these incidents. Everyone knew the most important rule, that laid down by Christ, and God His Father was love - which we usually show to each other by respect - seeking not to unnecessarily offend.

Its absolutely shocking to speak to someone who can spout off their ancient knowledge of the scriptures for hours on end - only to find at the end that they have become a clanging bell (sounding brass), because they have lost sight of the love that Yeshua brought to all mankind, to Gentiles as well as Jews. Listened to one 'brother' write off the vast majority of Christendom because they have 'incorporated pagan practices into their Christian faith' - and all this given as a reason why he didn't have to show other believers respect. 'WE decide what is real' (doctrine) etc - uh huh.

yeah, right. That's gospel according to Dogbert. I don't believe its been added to the commonly accepted canon. :P

Actually the first major departure from classic Messianic Judaism was not that long after Pentecost - with the first missionary journeys of Paul, Barnabas, Apollos, & Cephas/Simon Peter. They had to make determinations very early on about which of the practices of Judaism would be binding on new believers. Some wanted the whole law applied, including circumcision. Paul argued that faith had made these one in Christ without the law, and so they should not seek to live under the law but by grace. A big gathering of church leaders prayed over the matter and discussed it for days. They ended up with a very limited forbidden list for the new Gentile believers.

Acts 15:24 Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain who went out from us, have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law; to whom we gave no such commandment:
25 It seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you, with our beloved Barnabas and Paul:
26 Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
27 We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who will also tell you the same things by mouth.
28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;
29 That ye abstain from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from lewdness: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye will do well. Fare ye well.
Jewish & popular Pagan festivals were celebrated side by side in the time of Christ & the Apostles, but the scripture doesn't say much about that either, aside from avoiding the idol worship that was directly involved in those days. The overall impression was a live & let live kind of thing. Love your pagan neighbors as beings for whom Christ died, in hopes of saving them by expressions of your love. Rereading this article reminded me of how much love the early church often showed to non-believers, even to those enemies whose persecutions easily matched and often exceeded the medieval witch trials & political massacres of the Reformation/Counter-Reformation years. Would that all members of the church had still understood the importance of loving each others differences!

Luke 10:27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.
28 And he said to him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
29 But he, willing to justify himself, said to Jesus, And who is my neighbor?
Christ answered with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Many modern Christians forget that the Samaritans were despised exactly because their faith was based on an 'altered' Bible. They were flawed doctrinally- big time. But the Samaritan showed love to the injured man and the Jews in the story did not. The 'enlightened ones' must have excused their willful blindness to their fellow Jew. Perhaps one was 'too busy' - another 'had to stay sanctified for the temple services' - a third may have believed that 'he'd brought it on himself' - who knows?

30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, who stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came were he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
35 And on the morrow, when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said to him, Take care of him: and whatever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor to him that fell among the robbers?
37 And he said, He that showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus to him, Go, and do thou likewise.

The Good Samaritan was a heretic, but he was beloved in the eyes of God for the love and respect he showed to his traditional enemy. The Pharisees that Christ told off so many times were actually the closest to Biblical truth as we know it now, and as it was revealed in the Old Testament, but they were often hypocritical, judgmental, and disrespectful of other views.

Basically they weren't loving God or their neighbor despite their greater enlightenment about the scriptures. They weren't loving in what they taught. They didn't believe they needed to be listening to anybody because their doctrine was so 'correct' - unfortunately this belief in their doctrinal & religious superiority eventually included (in their view) God's Son and John -that hairy, religious fringe dude baptizing people by the river Jordan. They had forgotten what a nut Elijah had looked like to HIS contemporaries, until that fire came down from heaven onto the altar. They were blinded by pride.

We foolish sinners are called to live more like the Good Samaritan, the loving heretic, with humility, concern, and respect for all we meet - online as well as face to face. Its good to know God can overlook our doctrinal failings as long as we are looking for HIM and loving each other.

Paul/Saul who suffered so much for Christ spoke often of loving each other as our primary way of loving God properly. It was his strongest witness, because it had been his weakest point. When he was Saul he was zealous for God. He tried to be perfect before Jehovah with his exact observances of the law as given to Moses by God. Over time it has been largely forgotten that such a legalistic walk was once regarded as proof of a commendable dedication to the Almighty. Saul also believed he was loving God in persecuting the first Christians. It was this lack of love for other believers in God that was so seriously reproved by Christ himself on the road to Damascus.

People so often excuse their own poor behavior to other believers (and nonbelievers) on the basis of serious doctrinal differences, but Jesus had cut off every excuse of that before the church was even established. Kinda burns me up to see a Messianic show less respect for believers in God (Jewish & Christian) than an avowed agnostic, but it happens. Pride can pervert even the most faithful of Christian walks into unloving nonsense.

Me, I figure it is be best to err on the side of love, if that IS an error - and grant that every person has a right to be respected, valued, in their current beliefs. If you believe those beliefs to be in error, you can say so (if they are open to hearing it) But in the end, you recognize it is their choice. You respect the person. You respect their faith, and its trappings, even when you don't agree with them at all.

*translation used for this post is Webster's 1833

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