Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Irritatingly Trite Expressions in Church

Like most groups, church folk have their share of cliched and trite expressions; supposedly snappy comebacks when challenged about their beliefs and practises.

One of the most irritating to me is: "Jesus said it. I believe it. That settles it."

Oooh, so many things wrong with this little phrase...and my few thoughts about it here are just the tip of the iceberg of poor hermeneutics...even if after a lot of study and prayer I eventually come back to that premise but with a far different attitude.

When we say that Jesus said it, what we are often referring to is our own interpretation of the recorded words of Jesus.  It is difficult for us sometimes to limit ourselves to the understanding of the text itself when we talk about what Jesus said.  The temptation to interpret, to extrapolate, to remove from the context of the rest of the writings and to consider his words in relationship to our modern day context rather than the culture and people to which the words were delivered, are all very great and we fall into these temptations understandably easily. Before we can make such a bold statement we need to examine, consider and research what Jesus was saying to the people in that context and what he most likely meant.  It requires more than a cursory reading of a scriptural passage and assigning a meaning based on our own presuppositions, our own cultural norms.  Yes the Holy Spirit will help us find meaning in all scripture but some research into the culture and teaching methods of the time will help us delve into deeper meaning.

When we say "I believe it", compounded with "that settles it", what are we really saying?  What does it settle?  When we speak with such emphasis we are opening ourselves up to being hypocritical, because if we so strongly believe what we think Jesus said in Scripture then why do we so often fail to live out his teachings?  Why would we say things that leave us in an obvious position to fail to live up to our own professed standards?  What we do in practise is the fruit of what we truly believe in our hearts.  "If you love me you will obey my commandments." (John 14: 15-23) There is something Jesus said that we need to take into consideration before we start spouting off about our beliefs and how settled we are in them.

I don't have any trouble with the idea that if Jesus said it, I as his follower will attempt to discover what his words mean and attempt to live out that meaning to the best of my ability and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in submission to my graciously forgiving heavenly Father. That is what being a Christian is supposed to be all about.

But to add "that settles it" and the accompanying arrogance that sometimes surrounds such a statement, well, I so want to avoid that.  "That settles it" can imply some pretty arrogant ideas:  that I am therefore practising my faith fully and need not be accountable to you who obviously know less than I do; that I am "in" and you are "out" of the "club of acceptable beliefs and practises"; that myself is somewhat superior to yourself. What obeying the sayings of Jesus should imply is humility as we recognize that obedience to Jesus' teachings is easier to brag about than to accomplish in fullness.  What should be settled is the incredible difficulty we have in submitting our own wills to God as we attempt to walk in the ways of Christ that lead to lives of forgiveness, a humble teachable spirit, and a sacrificial love even toward those who most disagree with us.

Not only is this little cliched phrase arrogant, it is smug.

O God help me to avoid the pitfalls of assuming that I know anything about your teaching and life practise that causes me to lord my assumed righteousness over others; that I do not see those who are in different stages of their journey with you as being less than myself; that I do not act superior to those who do not know you yet.  Deliver me from my arrogant smugness about my own beliefs about you when I am face to face with those who display arrogant smugness about their own lack of belief in you.  Help me to read and understand the recorded words of Jesus as well as I can and to then allow the beliefs in my head to infiltrate my life and practise.  

I will with God's help......

1 comment:

chris e. said...

This is a fabulous post! Did Jesus ever say 'I said it, that settles it'? I don't think so.