Saturday, October 26, 2013

Neutering the Gospel

A friend of mine is in a Bible Study group that she describes as "extremely stressful."  When she said this I was puzzled.
"Your Bible Study group is stressful?
She nodded. We were sitting in the comfy seats and lowered lights of a small downtown theatre house waiting for a play to start.
"There is one lady there who just doesn't like me and she refuses to speak to me."
"What on earth for?" I asked. My friend is quiet, unassuming - she is about as meek and mild as they come. I could not imagine someone not speaking to her, unless of course they had no idea she was even there.
"She's mad at me because I spoke up last week at Bible Study. The lady leading the group was going on and on about how God GIVES us the faith to believe, you know that old Calvinist thing about predestination? And I just had to say something."
"What did you say?"
"I had to tell her that the noun 'it' in that verse is neutered."
"Neutered?" I knew they neutered dogs but I didn't know they did that to nouns.
She explained. "You know that verse that says: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not works, lest anyone should boast.
"Yes," I replied. This was a very well known verse in Ephesians.
"Well, the lady who leads our group was saying that the 'it' in that verse referred to faith. That God GIVES us the faith to be saved. I told her that the 'it' referred to the word salvation in the verse, not faith. The Greek word 'it' is neutered, meaning it is neither male nor female, so it couldn't be referring to the word faith."
The lights went out in the theatre cuing us all to be quiet. A tall man in a tuxedo walked out on stage to remind us to turn off our cell phones and enjoy the show and we never got to continue the conversation. I I never did get to figure out whether faith was a feminine word? Was grace a masculine word? Or was it neutered too? Maybe faith was spayed?
I just shook my head and patted her shoulder in the dark and whispered, "Bible Study should not be stressful." 
This was the same friend who was worried that her daughter was attending a very "liberal" church. 
The same friend who left not one, but TWO churches over Calvinism in the past few years.
The same person who said, "John MacArthur has changed over the last ten years. He is not the same man he was 10 years ago. He is a full blown Calvinist now."
The same person who objected when a woman read the Bible in front of church. I asked her why she objected and she quoted Corinthians and I Timothy verbatim. She left that church, too.
I don't give her name to protect her identity. I can tell you she has had a profound influence on me, and is a dear Christian woman whom I love, but I am starting to get more and more discouraged by what I consider to be her basic flaw.
She's neutering the Gospel.
Here's how I see it: When Bible studies are stressful because members disagree over the meaning of a particular verse, something has gone terribly wrong. When you have to know whether or not a noun has had it's tubes tied to understand the Bible, you've probably missed the point all together. When Bible study is stressful, you're focused on a word, not The Word.
I can hardly get myself to church for this very reason. I have so many scars from my days of Bible studies (where lots of word neutering took place) that I can't read the Bible without thinking there is something there I am not quite grasping, something I am missing, something above and beyond my understanding and so why even bother?  
Then I miss the whole point all together.
I miss out on God.
Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th Century theologian said:

The matter is quite simple. The bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.

In other words, we make the Bible complicated so we don't have to follow it. Or we make the Bible so complicated that we fail to follow it.
When a group of women who meet on a Wednesday night start arguing over whether a word is neutered or not, to the point that the following week one won't speak to the other, we have missed the point. We miss the verses that are easy to understand. The ones that don't need a veterinarian.
"Do all things in love." I Corinthians 16:14
"Be at peace with all..." Romans 12:18
"Be kind and compassionate towards one another..." Ephesians 4:32
And finally the very words of Christ: 
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another By this all me will know that you are my disciples, if you hvae love for one another." (John 13:34-35) 
These verses are straightforward. I don't need to know Greek. I don't need to delve deeper into the meaning behind the words, to find out if they are masculine or feminine or have been under the knife. I just need to read them and live them, which as you know is easier said that done.  It is much easier to study them. To dissect, deliberate, and debate them. And in doing so, we neuter the Gospel. We slice and dice it to the point that it is no longer fruitful.  It's message of love does not multiply.  Nothing comes out of it except bickering and divisiveness.
Bring me some anesthesia.

-Hope A. Horner,
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