Everlasting torment in hell isn’t the only topic I’ve discussed with “Bob.” We’ve talked about all sorts of other theological and philosophical issues, one of my favorites being when we’ve talked about his thoughts on the Bible:
Bob: The problem with most Christians today is that they just don’t follow the Bible any more. If more Christians read their Bible and actually followed it we’d see real revival in the Church.
Me: Are you telling me that you follow the Bible perfectly?
Bob: Nobody’s perfect, but I do my best to practice what the Bible teaches. Not like those liberals who pick and choose and only follow the passages that make them feel good while ignoring all the passages that make them feel uncomfortable.
Me: So someone who picks and chooses which passages to follow and ignores the rest is a liberal Christian?
Bob: If you can call them a Christian at all. I sometimes have a hard time thinking of these cherry pickers as Christians, but I’m nothing if not generous so I try to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Me: I’m glad to hear that. Particularly since your generosity might come in handy for you down the road.
Bob: What do you mean?
Me: Well, I’m just not sure that you really do follow the Bible quite as thoroughly as you might think you do.
Bob: What?! How can you say that?
Me: Because of all the Bible verses you completely ignore.
Bob: You’ve got to be kidding me. Like what?
Me: Well, the Bible teaches that witches should be killed, for instance. Do you kill every Wiccan you come across? It also teaches that shellfish and pigs are an abomination. Do you ever eat shrimp or pork or have pepperoni on your pizza?
Bob: But those are Old Testament teachings. According to the New Testament we’re not under the law any more and don’t have to follow those rules.
Me: I know some Seventh Day Adventists who would disagree with you, and Jesus said that He didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it, and many Christians still base many of their doctrines on the Old Testament. But okay, let’s just focus on the New Testament for now. At your church, do you allow your women to speak?
Bob: We don’t have any female pastors or teachers in our church, no.
Me: That’s not what I asked though. I asked if you allow your women to speak at all. For instance, after a sermon, do you allow the women to talk out in the foyer about the sermon you all just heard, or even just about life in general?
Bob: Well, sure, once the church service is over.
Me: But in 1st Corinthians 14:34-35 Paul says, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” It doesn’t say anything about whether a church service is still going or not, it just says they can’t speak in the church. It even says for them to wait until they get home to ask their husband if they have any questions.
Bob: Well, it does, yeah, but we have to consider the context of that passage and interpret it accordingly.
Me: So it’s okay to interpret passages of Scripture and not just take them at face value?
Bob: Of course. Not all passages are meant to be taken literally. And not all passages are intended for all people in all times. There’s the historical and cultural context to take into consideration.
Me: Ah, I see. So how would you interpret that passage then?
Bob: Well, I don’t know. I’m sure it didn’t mean that women couldn’t speak at all in the church building though. That just doesn’t make sense.
Me: But I assume you have some good basis for interpreting away the literal meaning of the passage beyond the fact that it doesn’t make sense to you. I don’t see anything in the passage that seems to indicate that Paul only meant it for the Corinthians, or that he only meant during the service, or even that he only meant it for Christians in the first century.
Bob: I don’t know. But my pastor lets the women speak in our church and I’m sure he wouldn’t if that passage was meant to be taken literally.
Me: Are you saying that your pastor is incapable of being wrong?
Bob: You really like that question, don’t you?
Me: As long as people fall back on the pastor excuse I’ll continue to ask it.
Bob: Touché. But no, I realize he can’t always be right about everything. He isn’t God, after all. Still, even if he is wrong, there’s no way we could tell the women in our church not to talk to each other. That wouldn’t go over well at all.
Me: So, in other words, we should ignore a passage because it makes us feel uncomfortable. Doesn’t that make one a liberal by your earlier definition?
Bob: I don’t know. I’m confused now.
Me: And that was only one New Testament command that you don’t follow. I could go on with dozens more that I’ll bet you ignore, many of them given by Jesus Himself.
Bob: I’m not sure I’m ready for any more right now.
I really could have gone on with literally dozens of passages that no Christian takes at all seriously. And yet these same Christians will not hesitate to condemn other Christians for interpreting the passages they do take literally in a manner different from the way they interpret them.
And just for the record, I have no problem with women speaking in church. 🙂