Matthew 23: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?" (NIV)*
"No, no, not a pillar of the Church, but a flying buttress, supporting it from the outside."
I wish I could agree with Churchill on this point, but I don't think I can. I do agree with Jesus' words as told by Matthew. And I'm afraid it's come to the point that those who really care about what Jesus actually said and meant, need to do some serious thinking.
It's not always easy to understand Biblical language. Maybe it is for you, maybe it's not. If not, try reading the MSG version of translation, at the end of this entry. But let me first go into what it means to me.
What are the first things you think of, when you think of the church disapproving? Drinking? Smoking? Sex? I think many, many people would say one of those three. But, in fact, they are relatively unmentioned in the Bible. Yeah, you know- the supposed revealed Word of God to human beings. What gets brought up a whole lot, though? Caring for the poor. The widows and orphans. Justice. Are those the first three things ANYONE thought of, when thinking of churches today? Did I see one hand in the back? What's that? You have a question? Sure, what is it? Oh, does the Bible say anything about having sex with children when you're a priest of God? No, I don't think it condones that. In fact it says: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea." (Mark 9:42)
The only thing the Bible says about smoking is by inference, since they didn't have it back then: Paul, writing in his first letter to the Corinthian church (6:19) says, "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit...?", while talking about honoring God with our bodies by fleeing from sexual immorality. Honor God with your bodies, he says, and thus the church says not to harm you body. But what about overeating?
Alcohol is another matter altogether. For one thing, we have Paul again, telling the young minister Timothy to "Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses." (1 Timothy 5: 23). But then we get into the incarnation. This is a bit of a quick step aside, but don't you agree that if God was born as a man, the reason would be- among other things- to show humanity how God would do things as a human? It's obvious, right? So isn't it interesting that in Jesus' first miracle of all, he turns water into... you guessed it: wine. (at a wedding in Cana) If God in fact hates alcohol, it's an odd way to start, isn't it? Further on, of course, we see Jesus starting Communion for his church by sharing bread and wine with his disciples at the Last Supper. Wait, sharing? Did he drink some? Or even if not, did he allow his students, those closest to him, to drink wine on this holiest of nights? But, God hates alcohol! Or does he? Is this just something our churches have been telling us? God does seem to hate drunkenness, giving over control of ourselves to something other than God. Perhaps the church finds it too tempting to just see things in black and white, and ban alcohol altogether?
Moving on with this idea, of Jesus as the Master Craftsman we are to emulate, Jesus seems to not be very impressed with religious superstars, but he does seem to get along pretty well with marginalized people. Even those he surely doesn't agree with. A quick list: the Samaritan woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, and the woman of ill repute who washes Jesus feet with her hair. Even the disciples are a little scandalized (Luke 7) at this last act, but Jesus commends her. As a matter of fact, with this former Samaritan woman, Jesus tells her, despite her not mentioning it, that she has been married multiple times, and is living with someone she isn't married to. Someone like that would certainly be frowned at, and may not even be let in the door of some churches. They would certainly be talked about. But Jesus, though he obviously knew these fact before speaking them aloud to her, offered her Living Water.
* Or try this way, from Eugene Peterson's THE MESSAGE translation: Matthew 2313"I've had it with you! You're hopeless, you religion scholars, you Pharisees! Frauds! Your lives are roadblocks to God's kingdom. You refuse to enter, and won't let anyone else in either.
15"You're hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You go halfway around the world to make a convert, but once you get him you make him into a replica of yourselves, double-damned.16-22"You're hopeless! What arrogant stupidity! You say, 'If someone makes a promise with his fingers crossed, that's nothing; but if he swears with his hand on the Bible, that's serious.' What ignorance! Does the leather on the Bible carry more weight than the skin on your hands?