Thursday, April 30, 2009

Changing The Rules

Is it really any different today? About one quarter of the world's population claims allegiance to Jesus Christ. But as the bishop of Newark pointed out, Jesus' teachings, and those of the rest of the Bible, are only acceptable to us if they agree with our own preconceived ideas. The way of life he taught, with its uncompromising emphasis on meeting God's standards, is no easier to accept in the 20th century than it was in the first. We no longer have the opportunity to physically do away with Jesus Christ, but does not standing in judgment of his teachings represent a similar attitude? It is, of course, very human to want to alter a standard we find hard to meet. Here the Bible is particularly vulnerable. It lays down the law on some very personal aspects of life-like marriage, sex and personal morality-rather differently from some modern standards. And frankly, don't even some of the easy-to-understand teachings seem a bit impractical for the real world? "Love your enemy," "turn the other cheek," "do good to those who despitefully use you" and "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Nice principles, but do you know anyone who really practices them? So come on, let's be reasonable, many no doubt say. Why not give the Bible a good going over? Throw out what is not acceptable, bring the rest into line with modern values, and pretty soon, everyone will be saying what a useful book the Bible really is after all. The fifth-century theologian Augustine rightly observed: If you believe what you want to in the Gospels, and reject what you want to, it is not the Gospels you believe, but yourself. Does this mean then, that we should embrace every word of Scripture without question, accept everything at face value just because it is there in translation? No-such a faith would be blind and simplistic, and the Bible itself does not require that. "Test all things," wrote the apostle Paul; "hold fast what is good" (I Thess.5:21, New King James Version). But how do you test?

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