cnnWhat happens when CNN writes about religion?

For one thing, its writers mix religions, using confused terminology.  Here, they don’t understand that the Sabbath is a Jewish institution, while, on the other hand, Sunday assemblies are Christian.

For another thing, they don’t differentiate between mainstream Christianity and cults — here, I refer to a massive, well-organized, next-generation cult,¹ the Latter-Day Saints.

Presumably with their corporate finger on the pulse of their readership, in this article, CNN deals in surface-level concerns such as attire appropriate for “church.”

In the article, we have “Reverend” X “harumphing” about everyone’s dressing down for church these days.  Then we have a contributor somewhat more astutely comparing 1) dressing up for air travel in the 1940s with 2) the way people tend to dress for travel today.  This second person and others seem to have a handle on what appears to be a societal trend — dressing down in general, and the creeping effect of a lack of a sense of gratitude.  When people feel they have a “right” to fly on an airplane or to approach God, signs of entitlement — such as sloppy dress — may rear their heads.

Later, there is a laser pointed on the perceived “importance of the occasion” for which one dresses.

“If you had the opportunity to meet the Queen of England, you wouldn’t show up at Windsor Castle wearing jeans and a T-shirt,” someone says.

Agreed:  if I’m wanting to impress someone in a higher position, or someone I don’t know, there’s a certain need to “look my best.”  But a different dynamic is present there.  The queen or the president or a hiring manager is a human, with human influence and mere human knowledge of me.  God isn’t impacted by my dress; He knows me inside. On the other hand, how I dress may well indicate something of my attitude, regardless of the attire’s relational implications.

Aside:  before this blogpost was completely composed, while I was driving one afternoon, I saw two young men on bicycles.  These were Mormon “missionaries” (on bicycles, with standard-issue helmets).  How did I know?  The attire!  Dark pants.  Short-sleeved, white shirts.  Neckties.  Two of them together.  It was unmistakable.  And I thought, not for the first time, why on earth would the Mormon organization want to specify this odd look for its emissaries?  It’s beyond off-putting; it’s comical.  Not a lot of positive impact is possible with this other-worldly, anti-cultural look.  I wondered how this dress code is perpetuated, and I imagined the great-great-great-great-niece of Brigham Young, pushing 100 years of age (and of delusion!) and sitting somewhere in Utah, having tea with a current LDS administrator.  She tells the man, in a warbly, shaky, yet authoritative voice, “Now, Joseph XII, these young missionaries need to look nice when they are out there on the streets.”  She has in mind the “nice” look of the 1950s and doesn’t realize that short-sleeved dress shirts are just weird in most U.S. areas.  But people keep listening to her.  Speaking from some level of cultural awareness, the Mormon missionary look is a dumb look, and it says something.

No one seems to acknowledge, in this dressing appropriately context, that Christian assemblies have a personality of their own — and that this personality is attached to culture.  The only thing I can think of in the New Covenant writings about how to dress for “church” is the advice in James 2:  don’t make someone uncomfortable who doesn’t have your level of finery available.

Now, I grew up wearing better clothes to church on Sundays mornings than I wore to school.  And I still care about how I look.  I just think what you wear pertains more to your general outlook and cultural setting than to God or the Bible.

Next:  Priests (and this won’t be about priestly vestments)


¹ Cults are typically comparatively small.  The Mormon institution is anything but small.  Here, I use “cult” in two other senses:

  • misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person
  • having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister

John 10 — thoughts and questions

Below are some thoughts/questions I had when beginning to dig in to John chapter 10.  For foundational work, I would point non-regular readers also to the prior posts on John:

Digging in: John 9 (1000)

A very good place to (re)start (John 8)

Right out of the gate (pun-pardon, please) in chapter 10, I quickly become confused in the metaphors of sheep, gate/door, sheep fold, shepherd, and bandits.  For instance, Jesus is both gate and shepherd.  On one hand, this chapter seems a bit less complex than 8 or 9, but its imagery may be somewhat lost on the 21st-century reader.  I’m also reminded not to press specifics too far when analyzing parables and other metaphors and similes.

The “other sheep” . . . admitting a bias by which most others wouldn’t be bothered, I assert that this “other sheep” group in 10:16 has nothing to do with the so-called Latter-day Saints.  (They are fond of saying that the text is about them.)  In its historical context, this reference to “other sheep” should probably be viewed as referring to something the original hearers and readers could conceive of:  probably, the non-Jews!

More about the “other sheep” appears in 26ff.  Jesus appears to be stressing this idea.  I am driven to ask this:  if Jews are supposedly safe because of their Jewishness, what do we do with this passage?  Not even these pre-crucifixion Jews, which many of us have tended to sanctify neatly because of the chronology, seem to be in a good soteriological place in this text!  I acknowledge that concerns over today’s geopolitical Israel, Jerusalem, etc., were not the concerns of Jesus or John.  We should take care in applying scripture to problems unknown in the original context, and yet some timeless principles certainly appear — such as the imperative to believe in the One God sent.

Now looking at verses 17-19:  I initially wondered whether there might be any structural relationship between the idea of laying down one’s life and something in chapter 8.  What I found is an identical expression (ἀπʼ ἐμαυτοῦ — ap emautou — “from myself”) in 8:42 and 10:18.  These verses are respectively approximately the same “distance” from chapter 9.  (See prior thoughts on the center/core.)  Hmmm. . . .  In the first case, the expression has the negative particle attached to it:  I have not come from myself, or on my own.  In the second instance, we might have a positive, complementary thought:  I lay [my life] down on my own.  Time for a word search. . . .

My software tells me I had missed this same expression a few verses earlier, in 8:28.  The words also appear in 5:30, 7:17, 7:28, and 14:10 — a total of 7 times, somewhat concentrated in the middle of the gospel.  Further, a variant of the same expression is used in 10:18.  That text might well involve an intentional, emphatic structure of some kind, if not a chiasm.  Let’s look at it more closely.  Expanding to include verse 17, a semi-literal translation of 10:17-18 would run something like this:

therefore me the Father loves because I lay down the life of me that again I might take it

no one takes it from me
but I lay down it from myself

authority I have to lay down it
and authority I have again to receive it

this the command I took from the Father of me

This wording appears to be intentionally structured —  very striking!  The colors may help to see the relationships that don’t always come through in English translations.  For instance, forms of the verb “to take” are used in 10:17, but in the NIV and NASB, they are translated “take” and “receive,” respectively.  I used the teal color to show a possible relationship with both the blue and the green.

In the person of Jesus, there is of course a rock to stumble over.  The Jews here are presented as deaf/blind stumblers, if not obtuse:  they do not grasp the core truth that He is, in fact, the Christ of God.  This crux — belief in Jesus as God’s Messiah — figures in prominently throughout much of John.  While one might think, duh, that’s obviously the point of each of the canonical gospels, not so.  Mark’s emphases are different, for example.

Why did Jesus go back to the far side of the Jordan?  Is there a large-scale structural significance at the literary level of the entire gospel?  The references to John, initiatory immersing, and the Jordan are in chapters 1, 3-4, and 10.  (John is also mentioned in chapter 5, without express mention of baptism.)  I expect that more study will reveal contextual significance here.  I’ll specifically be observing the material that follows each of these sections, wondering whether each one serves to initiate something substantial.


We humans can be really hypocritical inconsistent.

1.  Some Mormons once told me they were forbidden to drink any coffee or tea, because caffeine was addictive.  The restriction, which I believe was universal, i.e., not specific to a ward/district, excluded herbal tea, which is not tea, strictly speaking, and which contains no caffeine at all.  On the other hand, Mormons were allowed to drink hot chocolate, which does have caffeine.

Hmm.  And we won’t even get into the rather blatant, blasphemous inconsistency presented by the very existence of the Book of Mormon.

2.  As I understand it, Amish citizens are ruled by local bishops, at least in some respects; some of the rules do change by the district/area.  I know of one Amish man who agreed to advertise his repair business through a local community theater, which was at the time producing The Sound of Music.  Leaving alone the generally wholesome nature of this particular show — it ain’t Gypsy or Rent, after all — I found interesting the connections between racial/religious persecution (well known in Amish history) and the Alpine area from which this Amish man’s family originated.  He had no prior conception of the show, but there developed a conflict.  His decision to advertise in The Sound of Music program was overruled by his bishop; the man retracted his ad, but generously, strangely allowed the money to remain in the hands of the theater organization.

Hmm.  Didn’t want to be associated with something in print, but allowed his money to support the enterprise.  It’s commonly known that Amish folks are forbidden to have telephones as communication devices in their homes, and yet some are allowed, by special dispensation.  Telephones are either tools of the devil or not, right?  Amish folks do not have electricity, yet they run hot water heaters on diesel fuel.  So many inconsistencies.

Please know that these paragraphs are not intended as a special indictment of the Amish.  We live near quite a few of them and consider one family our friends.  All the Amish I’ve ever interacted with are pleasant, charming, industrious, decent people.  Although they attempt to live devotedly plainly and unspotted from the world, they are, in another way, quite like the rest of us:  they are inconsistent and have some really silly rules.

3.  Churches of Christ are notorious for disallowing women from participating in certain roles.  One particularly striking, stark example is that, traditionally, women do not serve the elements of communion while standing and passing the trays from row to row.  However, women almost always pass the trays from side to side on a given pew.  Perpendicular service is not okay, but parallel service is?

Hmm.  Contrast the above lack of opportunity to serve with the frequent identification of church women as very good cooks who serve wonderfully at congregational meals.  In one case, we forbid serving, and in another, we essentially require them to serve.

Inconsistent?  I think so.

I see another inconsistency in the common notions of “Sabbath”:  despite the biblical fact that there is no Christian Sabbath — it was a Jewish thing with no documented, post-Pentecost manifestation — we look down our noses at those who rake leaves or wash their cars (do laundry? wash dishes? pick up toys?) on Sunday, and yet we have church staff who are required to work on the same day.  Here, we could eradicate church staff altogether and solve the problem,  😮   or we could at least stop holding tenaciously, with what I tend to take as false piety, to an a-biblical idea.

What are some other inconsistencies found within Christendom?

* * *

Recently my blog has attracted a dozen or so regular followers who don’t appear to have Christian underpinnings.  I’m glad for these new readers.  But I’m sometimes embarrassed about the inconsistencies seen within Christianity.  Those from without can see them; why can’t we see them from within, and make adjustments in our thinking and practice?

Mormon bunk

Ostensibly in relation to the Mitt Romney campaign, The New York Times recently reported on a Kansas City Baptist leader who is spreading a message of “countering Mormon beliefs” (read full article here), and I am sympathetic.  Far from a mere partisan, political opinion, we are talking about profound “unease” here.

It’s almost as though the author couldn’t sort things out, though.  Please read this:

“I don’t have any concerns about Mitt Romney using his position as either a candidate or as president of the United States to push Mormonism,” said Mr. Roberts, an author of “Mormonism Unmasked” and president of the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, who said he had no plans to travel to South Carolina before the voting. “The concern among evangelicals is that the Mormon Church will use his position around the world as a calling card for legitimizing their church and proselytizing people.”

This quotation baffles me.  How can you not have any concerns about a prominent Mormon’s using his position to “push Mormonism” at the same time as you do have a concern that he will use his position to legitimize said Mormonism and proselyte people?  Sometimes I get things in my head that keep me from hearing, so maybe someone could help in interpreting what I take as a lack of proofreading of this passage in the Times.

Regardless, I am among those who are concerned–not necessarily that any appreciable number of people would be influenced to accept Mormonism if Romney were elected president, but that anyone affiliated Mormonism is one of two things:  idiotic or disingenuous¹.  (And, to this short list of labels, when considering founder/”prophet” Joseph Smith, I must add two more possibilities:  fraudulent and delusional.)

Here, I mean no personal slam–not even against the long-deceased Smith, and certainly not against current-day Mormons who are to some extent the victims of circumstance.  I’m not calling them worthless souls.  I’m saying they’re either not mentally strong enough to recognize a hoax, or they’re not being honest.  The problem here is that Mormonism is founded on a ludicrous set of bunkish beliefs that no sane person should accept.

Therefore, in the Romney case, it seems to me that we have two possibilities:

  1. that Romney is idiotic — a bear of very little brain, not being able to sort out fact from fiction
  2. that Romney is disingenuous — undeniably affiliated with Mormonism and not really accepting the bunk

Which is it?  As Fox News, which I find almost as annoying as any other news show, is fond of saying, you decide.

In related news, “the world’s leading Internet Evangelist” (which I had heretofore never heard of!) has launched a similar campaign, with the goal of educating a largely biblically illiterate public about what Mormons really believe (read full article here).  I appreciated this no-nonsense passage:

Keller concluded, “Mitt Romney is a ‘temple Mormon,’ meaning he has gone through the secretive temple rituals, including taking a blood oath to his ‘church’ above everything else, and wears the temple garments (magical underwear) with satanic markings that he believes protects him. Listen, if people want to vote for a man who believes he will die and become the god of his own planet, have an endless supply of women to have sex with and create spirit babies, that is fine. All I have ever asked Romney or anyone in his cult like Glenn Beck to do is be honest about what they really believe and to quit lying to people!”

At this writing, it seems that Romney is seen as the most likely to win the Republican nomination.  Whether a man with such bunkish beliefs is mentally fit to lead a country is my concern.  (Whether he could beat President Obama is another story, and whether any of this process really matters in the country’s trajectory is yet another one.  I believe all of this political stuff is eclipsed by the light of the Kingdom of God.)  We are not talking about different brands of mainstream Christianity.  We are not talking about amorphous, minor, theological differences.  We are not even talking about the string of Roman heresies or the unfounded silliness found in most denominations.

We are talking about the historically attested, essence of Christianity vs. the fraudulent fiction that is Mormonism.


¹ Disengenuous:  lacking in candor; also : giving a false appearance of simple frankness : calculating (Merriam-Webster online).


A sister blogger referred recently to her coffee addiction, and this reference, of course, made me think of silly religious systems.  Why?  Thought you’d never ask….

While in Greeley, Colorado, I had the pleasure of working one day a week with the Greeley Children’s Chorale as accompanist.  There were two choirs, and my counterpart in the other choir was a Mormon.  We invited her and her husband over for dessert and coffee one evening and were reminded that Mormons aren’t allowed to (perhaps this is a regional/bishop-of-the-ward decision, like the decisions made by some Amish bishops relative to telephones and transportation once in a while) drink coffee or tea, but they do drink hot chocolate.  I asked about herbal, decaffeinated tea.  No, they can’t drink that, either.

Apparently–and I can think of no other reason–the bishops don’t understand the difference between tea and herbal “tea.”  Herbal tea is not really tea, has no caffeine, and as such, could have no addictive qualities.  On the other hand, chocolate does have caffeine, and could conceivably be mildly addictive.  So why can they drink that?

Religious systems are often too big for their britches (and a mite silly, to boot).  They seem to feed off their own power and sillinesses.  The system in which I myself was reared is less silly but can still be downright silly.  They’re pretty much all silly.

P.S.  I had a really slow, unproductive, fairly negative day on Tuesday.  I had no caffeine all day.  I had a better day Wednesday, plowing through many peripheral tasks and actually getting to the core of my work for maybe an hour or an hour and a half.  Caffeine, I’m sorry to have to acknowledge, seemed to assist–at least in my determination.

P.P.S.  Have you heard that one of our country’s leading Republican presidential candidates is a Mormon?

Shallow ecumenism

Last summer, some marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of ecumenism. A 1910 conference in Edinburgh seems to have developed into the milestone that launched it, but I didn’t find myself all that excited about the anniversary.  It seems to me that at the nexus of restoration and unity emerges a dangerous eventuality:  the watering down of just about everything in order to bring disparate elements together.  Inasmuch as ecumenism seeks to minimize material doctrinal differences for the sake of shallow unity, it should not be supported.  This kind of unity is not for Bible-believing Christians.

  • While we can agree that Mormons and Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses and Pentecostals and Congregationalists and Roman Catholics and “just Christians” and Baptists and Presbyterians all believe Jesus existed, we can’t always go much further than that.
  • While we can agree that Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t correctly understand the nature and place of the Christ, we shouldn’t be satisfied that all the rest of us are just about alike.  Merely believing that Jesus is the Son of God obviously doesn’t bring us together into the single church to which God gave life.
  • While we can agree that Wesleyans and Pentecostals agree that the Spirit of God works actively, that’s not enough agreement for unity of most of their members.
  • While it strikes most as “cool” to talk to a relatively open Christian church about unity even with Roman Catholics, unity must be more than surface-level.  The seven “ones” of Ephesians 4 has for some been a starting point, but even that list is unsatisfactory in practical, 21st-century unity thinking and praxis.  See here for a bit more on an aspect or two of Eph. 4.

Institutional union such as that espoused by the Congregational Church/UCC, and by the ELCA and the UMC,  just won’t suffice.  The artificial merging or juxtaposing of humanly devised creeds is a step in some direction, but institutional union is relatively unimportant, in the grand scheme.

Barton W. Stone

My call, like that of Barton W. Stone in the 1820s, would be for every  man-made creed to be burned.  As close as the Apostles’ Creed comes to being universally acceptable, it doesn’t quite do it, and other creeds and faith-statements I’ve seen don’t do as good a job.  No, creeds must not be the basis of ecumenical unity.

Ecumenism is irenic in its conception and “nice,” as human efforts go, but it is ultimately ineffectual, if not shallow.  Its primary weakness seems to be its emphasis on the institutional church rather than on individual Christians.  The “branches” of John 15 are not congregations or entire denominations, but individuals.

In a sense, unity on the broad scale is already accomplished:  The church of God is “essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one, and consists of those in every place who profess their faith in Christ and who obey Him in all things according to the scriptures.”¹ Yet in another very real sense, individuals bear the weight of practical unity.  They must be the ones who work out in practical ways the grace, the kindness, the forbearance, and yes, the truths of the gospel and the letters.  Other unity principles and slogans bear repetition here:

  • unity in diversity
  • intolerance of division
  • separation without division
  • union in truth or unity based on “Thus saith the Lord.”

Insofar as ecumenism inculcates unity in diversity, it acknowledges reality.  Insofar as it ignores what the Lord has said through inspired authors, it must be relegated to a place of impotence.


¹ Thomas Campbell’s “Declaration and Address” used this expression in 1809.

Tithing by choice (2 – practicalities)

This post jumps right on in to perhaps even more troubled waters after the toe-dipping of yesterday’s post.  I’d like to offer practicalities, philosophies, and other thoughts related to tithing and contributing.

Nowhere in all the New Covenant documents is the tithe enjoined upon believers.  Charitable giving is a choice—a good one, but a choice nonetheless.  Yes, “God loves a cheerful giver,” but He does not say, “First, love me.  Next, love your neighbor.  Third, give 10% of your money.”  The decision to give, and the percentage are up to the individual.

I once felt good about approaching 10% and even surpassing it over a fiscal year or two, way back when.  As I recall, more than half of this was given to Christian organizations other than my church, and that was because I found the church budget philosophically and practically wanting.  I would have been found in direct contradiction to scripture if scripture had any command for Christians to tithe, but it doesn’t.  (There is no Levitical priesthood in the church, so there is no reason to tithe.  That part of it really is that simple.)

Since then, I have had to feel good about smaller amounts.  It’s not easy, because I would like to give more to Christian and humanitarian charities I believe in.  If I had more of a surplus for daily living, I would give more.  Remember the widow with the two pennies, I try to tell myself in my discouragement.  But I still have questions.  Here are some more.

Should we “tithe” according to our pay schedules—every two weeks, on Fridays?  bi-monthly on the 15th and 30th? or every month, in some cases?

In calculating, does the 10% come off the top, or after tax?  Should we wait to calculate until after the final reckoning of the tax return? How can we know how we’ve “prospered” until after April 15? What would the institutional church do if no one paid the bills until sometime after April 15 every year?

Would the answer be different if paying taxes to Caesar were a choice and not exacted by mandated withholding?

What about tithing by credit card? (Although that might be convenient and get me “rewards” which I could then tithe based upon (!), it sure does seem cold and institutionalized.)

When a Christian college student receives a paycheck for $72.51 for two weeks of every-other-day work, does he exempt himself from tithing because he is a poor college student, or does he give $7.26 (rounding up would seem to be safer than cheating God out of a half-penny) to the collection plate next Sunday?  Does he hold Christians around him to a different tithing standard because they’re not college students?

When college students or foreign missionaries receive care packages from Aunt Sue or Martha Supportive, do they offer 10% of the cookies to poorer students or to indigenous neighbors?

Does contributing to the Red Cross or to Hope International or to the World Bible Translation Center “count” as part of your tithe?

Does an individual have the right or responsibility to approve or support the spending of the money she tithes?

This last question makes me think of the question of ownership of a retail establishment and spending money in that store.  For instance, at one time, a large grocery store chain was owned by Mormons.  Did buying a gallon of milk there give me the right to say “No, you can’t send a penny of my $2 to the LDS Church”?  Well, no, but it did give me pause about patronizing that store when I had a choice.)  In this age of mobility, global communication, and lots and lots of free choice, I figure I have some responsibility to be prudent in where I spend and contribute money.

If large portions of a church budget are allocated to salaries for staff positions I don’t believe in, or for physical plant/facilities, it makes me look elsewhere for a greater “return” on my dollar.  While this may seem overly humanistic and even crass in its monetary outlook, the alternative, for me, is a careless, thoughtless, or even halfhearted dropping of a check into a plate–which ends up being a gesture of upholding the status quo and religion’s establishments than a faith-based offering to advance God’s Kingdom.

All this would be pretty troubling if tithing were an in-force law, wouldn’t it?  🙂

~ ~ ~

For further reading:

  1. This prior post, (which says some of the same things I’ve said above in different ways), and/or
  2. This one on the inhospitable nature of church offerings, and/or
  3. This brief article (not my own), with caution and with the caveat that I do not necessarily endorse its spirit or even the ramifications of the actions suggested therein.


I saw a commercial last night. I rarely pay attention to commercials, but I noticed this one. It was offering a free Bible … a “Holy Bible” (what an out-of-touch phrase … sometimes I wonder what we Christians are thinking, using our in-house jargon at the moment at which we’re supposedly trying to be friendly to outsiders).

Nevermind, for a moment, that it was the Mormons–a group that from its very birth relinquished any hope of sane religion–that were offering this free Bible. Nevermind that the Book they were offering contains substance that their other sacred writings contradict. And nevermind that the only reason to offer the Bible instead of the Book of Mormon or Doctrine and Covenants would be to appear normal to the TV-viewing audience.

Back to our story … why on earth would anyone offer a King James Version Bible to readers in the 21st century? I mean, the only people who read the KJV are 1) people like me who like the grandeur of Old Testament poetry in 17th-century vernacular once in a while, and 2) fundamentalists who lay no more claim to sanity when it comes to the translation of scripture than do the Mormons when it comes to religion overall.  Ridiculous assertions such as the KJV’s being good enough for the apostle Paul, so it must be good enough for us have actually been uttered.

We all need to remember that every translation and version has inconsistencies, flaws, and weirdnesses.  No English (or French, or Spanish, or Czech, or Swahili …) Bible can lay claim to inerrancy.  After all, they are translations and versions that are, in all cases, several steps removed from the originals.  And the manuscript discoveries in the last 400 years have shed much light on the texts, so any serious translation work in, say, the 1880s or the 1940s will quite naturally result in a better product than the work of the early 1600s.  Not to mention the natural evolution of language that occurs in 5 or 10 years, much less 400!

Personally, I’m not all that up on versions and re-translations of the past few years, but here are a few opinions for discussion.

  • I continue to favor the NASB for technical reading and serious study of finer points.
  • I read and use the NIV for most public applications, but that’s because most of the time, we “publics” don’t go deep enough. In other words, the NIV has enough misleading or careless translations that I wouldn’t always trust it by itself for serious study. Further, I’ve seen far too many Bible classes chase rabbits down NIV trails, with no idea that they are building their cases on NIV language, as opposed to building them either on original wordings or on God’s thoughts.
  • I’m not attracted at all to the NLT. Seems to be more careless than the NIV, and yet it rears its head fairly often.
  • I like The Message and Phillips paraphrases for making scripture jump out at you.
  • I wasn’t offended by the little I’ve read in The Word on the Street, a sort of “hip” ghetto-ish version, but I haven’t yet had the courage to use it publicly in a serious way.
  • I hear that the NRSV is favored by scholars at my Christian institution of higher learning, and I have a copy, but I haven’t been particularly moved by it in one direction or another.

By the way, I’ve had a few Mormon friends and associates, and, to a person, they have been good, kind, decent people. As with other religious systems gone awry, it’s the power-system that constitutes the problem, not the victimized, if ignorant, people in the pews.