Posts Tagged ‘religious debate’

If the leading teachers in the Hebrew Roots Movement received the same heart-breaking emails I get from some readers here, I wonder what they would say?  Another came through a few days ago, nearly word for word what many before have shared with me, and pleaded for help to know what to do.  Nearly all of them describe a drastic change in personality of the person who has become Torah observant.

My spouse’s beliefs have caused a major problem with our family, children,…. our marriage. The holidays are torture. The Sabbath Day usually leads to a battlefield. And our children are stuck in the middle. My spouse’s personality has changed from a loving, happy, and fun person to one of self-righteousness, strictness, and generally being very serious/dark.

I really wish I could make it all better, heal the hurts, and save the children from broken relationships and skewed ideas of their Father in heaven.  Can you imagine the husband or wife of a new convert writing a letter like this to the Apostle Paul?  Was this the wake he left behind him on his missionary journeys?  Even Paul, who could write very direct confrontational words, still maintained that love was the highest and best expression of God in this world.  Romans 12, I Corinthians 13, Galatians 5, to name just a few chapters, highlight his exhortations to walk in love.  The religion that gradually developed around the early Christian teachings also became enamored with law-based thinking, and the corresponding fruit came with it.  I do not believe the church has worked this out of its system overall.  Protestants brought the same dictatorial mindset to the New World and through many heinous methods, imposed their “salvation” upon the First Nations already living here.  To this day the gospel is often shared with the Law of God as the basis, rather than the Love of God.  We fight for the 10 Commandments to be kept on government buildings because we are a “Christian” nation.  Yet where do we see the teaching of Jesus etched in stone anywhere?  Why is Moses still getting top billing in a Christian nation?

So I’m not going to pick on just those pesky “law-keepers” out there.  The shortfall in our concept of what Jesus did, and is for us – affects far more people in mainstream Christianity than the Hebrew Roots Movement will ever touch.

Jesus came to set us free in love, acceptance, restoration, and life in the Spirit, at peace with our Creator and each other.  And in our human need to control and protect, we built more walls to train more Pharisees like the ones who schemed until they had Him hanging on a cross.  Any time you have a group of people who believe they are the only ones who are right, you will have a religious zealot problem on your hands.

Hebrew Roots followers exemplify this unfortunate divergence from the love of Christ quite frequently, but this situation can create unexpected traps for those suffering from their attempts at coercion.  The biggest mistake we can make in confronting them is to become like them.  I will say this presents the biggest challenge for anyone who lands in a spiritual conflict of any kind.  I cannot give you any sure fire scripture or argument to prove someone wrong.  It’s really not hard to be right.  We all think we are right.  Jesus wants us to pick up our cross and be love instead.

Have a difficult person in your life, of any religious persuasion?  Here are some ideas.

1.  Respect their convictions.  Just as you want yours to be respected.  Even if you don’t get the same in return, treat them as you would want then to treat you.  Don’t ridicule or belittle their ideas or practices.  Make room for them to follow their conscience by deferring to their wishes for holidays or dietary habits.  This does not mean YOU have to comply or go along with them if it is against your own convictions.  But if you support and respect even while you disagree, this will send a message in itself.  Don’t use your tolerance as a weapon in an argument (as in “you owe me”).  Simply do it because it’s the loving thing to do.

2.  Find ways to show love and support to the person in question that have nothing to do with religion.  Outside the context of your differences, let them know they are loved.

3.  Do not retaliate when you are condemned or attacked.  Let them know you hear and understand, and respectfully express that their opinion does not define your worth or identity.

4.  Seek the Spirit for your own strength daily to not fall into doubt about your own walk with God and His love and approval for you.  You are in a war zone of spiritual influences that will seek to play on your doubt, magnify your short-comings, and leave you feeling like you are never enough.  Getting pulled into verbal combat will only leaving you more vulnerable and feeling less worthy.

5.  If you do break down and become angry and hostile (some days…the humanity bleeds through), apologize quickly and take responsibility for your own emotions.  Do not blame the difficult person for “making you angry”.

6.  Do NOT tolerate any form of abuse to you or your children.  You can remain firm and loving, but do not stay in an unsafe situation no matter how persuasive, or how much authority someone claims to have over your life.

7.  Talk about Jesus, His words, His actions, whenever appropriate in conversations about spiritual things.  He is your Foundation, your Rock, your Reason for everything.  Focus on the heart issues, more than the legal ones.

8.  PRAY for the person you love.  (This should actually be at #1).  In praying for them, everything else on this list will become easier.  Give them to God.  You can’t fix them.  You can only love them.

My heart breaks especially for the children caught in the middle.  Your endeavor to show love in the face of all that is dark and harsh, will be a testimony to them far greater than any theological teaching you can give.   Right now they may not understand why mom and dad don’t agree, but they will not forget the testimony of love and patient endurance

All of this is so easy for me to type.  I have not often had the opportunity to walk this hard road.  But Jesus did, and it is His example, and that of many persecuted believers worldwide, that inspire me to take a higher path, in His strength.  I am aware enough of my weakness and limitations to know none of this would be my own first response.  But there is such a great power in peaceful, loving resistance.  I say resistance because we will not give up our faith for any Law.  But let us not give up our love in the name of our faith, as many have done.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 
Live in harmony with one another.
Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 
To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:14 – 21





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Yesterday I had the most amazing experience.  My perspective was completely changed on a subject in just a matter of minutes.  Interestingly, it is an issue I have been conflicted over so much lately.  I suppose that meant I was ready to listen.

I have had this long-standing guilt over being argumentative.  I’ve felt it was wrong, un-Christlike, and a bad witness.  But my personality can rarely walk away from a good debate.  Earlier in the day, I had just explained to a friend why I had left various internet discussion groups.   I have grown tired of all the arguing.  Yet I found myself  immediately in two intense conversations.  I was so frustrated that I can’t seem to just turn around and walk away from them.  But during the course of the last debate I realized, to do so, would have been insulting to the other person who genuinely wanted to discuss an issue.  I was left conflicted.  What is the right thing to do?

I have been in arguments where I felt attacked by those who were supposed to be on my side, as believers. My perspective was not even heard, let alone understood.  I appreciate being heard more than being agreed with!  But when someone doesn’t even listen, and gets hostile, then we are wasting words.  Have I been guilty of this myself? Most definitely.

Later in the day after I briefly explained the above struggle with my friend, I picked up reading in a book I’ve been working my way through, and a completely clear answer came.  I saw through this story that it’s not wrong to argue, but we often argue wrongly.  I have to share this excerpt from the book.  It’s hard to get the full impact of the story this pastor is telling about his “church” in a hard core part of Pittsburgh, without having read the book up to this point.  But I hope you can get the idea.

One Sunday after worship, Amanda and Eric approached me. Amanda is a twenty-something with a mix of blond, black, and red hair. Eric has a black and blue tint to his hair that I’ve always wanted and have never had the nerve to get. Both Eric and Amanda are eccentric, artsy, and love old monster movies and rock-n-roll. Eric and Amanda are the kind of people I want to be when I grow up. So, when they came to me on that Sunday morning with an idea, I listened. “Pastor Jim,” Amanda started, “We want to get involved in a Bible study. Is this church going to have any Bible studies?” I quickly got defensive. That’s what we pastors do when it is insinuated that we’re not providing the right products. “We already have Bible studies going on right now,” I replied. “We have a study on Monday night, a study about Ephesians on Wednesday, and a study on Romans on Saturday nights at the coffee shop.” Eric looked at me, politely, but pained, and said to me very gently and kindly, “Yeah, we went to those.” “It’s just not what we’re looking for, Pastor Jim,” Amanda said. “Well, what is it you’re looking for? Maybe we can get something new going.” That’s when Amanda got bold. I braced myself. “To be honest, Pastor Jim, I don’t like those other studies because it’s just a bunch of people sitting around nodding at one other. I mean, everyone is just agreeing with each other. I feel like we’re being brain-washed or something.” “What are you suggesting?” I replied, kind of confused.

“I don’t know. We want to be part of a Bible study where no one agrees.” “No one agrees?” “Sure, why don’t we have a study where everyone comes and we fight?” “Fight?” “Yeah. We fight about the Bible and theology and stuff.” “Uh … All right.”

And Bible Fight Club was born. When we started Bible Fight Club, the purpose wasn’t, and still isn’t, discipleship. The club isn’t meant to be a place where we grow in our faith, per se. The point to the gathering is not to worship, not to study scripture, and not to fellowship. The point to Bible Fight Club is to fight. It is a time for debate, a time for wrestling, and for doubting and questioning the things that we sometimes hold as gospel.

Sometimes this even means the gospel. For our church, it has been a place where atheists, agnostics, believers, non-believers, and believers of other faiths can come and toss in their two cents. To make sure that the argument is valued and that people are valued as well, we made the following rules:

Bible Fight Club Rules:

1. Respect: this means we love and respect each other, but not necessarily each other’s opinions. Also, respect the argument by being a good listener.

2. Say Anything: this means that there is no judging and no holding grudges. The tattoo shop basement is a safe place where anything can be said. This rule has made it possible for people to play devil’s advocate-taking a side of an argument, they might not completely agree with justto see where the line of thinking goes.

3. Fight: this rule means that all those in attendance must participate. No one is allowed to come and observe. Observers and silent on-lookers skew the argument by inadvertently becoming a kind of jury that people try to convince.

4. Get to the Point: there are no speeches allowed. People are to make their point and shut up so that others can speak. Also, a good arguer listens as often as he or she speaks.

5. Honor the Argument: phrases like, “Well, it’s all just a mystery” or “We’ll never know the answer, so why bother arguing” do not honor the argument. Take a side and fight, no matter how mysterious you think the subject is.

6. Admit When You’ve Been Hit: At the end of the evening, we take time to talk about the argument. Everyone must share something that was said that made him or her think. Sometimes this might mean having some humility. But that’s the point.

As the moderator, it has been interesting to see where certain arguments go. We have tackled such topics as hell, the devil, church and culture, politics, healing, money, angels, and on and on. We have people show up armed with books and commentaries. We have people show up who want to defend their territory. All different kinds of folks, with different backgrounds and faiths, have joined the argument. We’ve had Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and people who practice witchcraft. We’ve had Christians who would identify themselves as liberal and Christians who come from a more fundamentalist background.

During one rather heated argument about the Trinity, one guy stood up, red-faced, threw his Bible on the ground in anger and cried out, “What is wrong with you people?! Aren’t we all Christians here?!” At which point, three or four people shouted back at him: “No!” He slowly sat back down in his seat, scratching his hand and looking around the room suspiciously. He had come for a Bible study, not a fight.

… Some might say this kind of study only helps to confuse people and doesn’t send a clear message of what the gospel is. But I would say that Bible Fight Club has been a better forum for sharing the love of Christ than any other Bible study that I have ever attended. Many times, Bible studies can turn into indoctrination sessions, where the goal is to make everyone “be like us.” Doesn’t that kind of stuff turn everyone off? Because the Fight Club is more about valuing the fight than winning the fight, we all walk out invigorated and excited rather than demoralized. We have had many people return a week after a good fight and share how they did more research on the topic. We’ve had others say that the fight caused them actually to pick up the Bible and read it for the first time.

Are we worshipping Buddha? No, Jesus is Lord. Do we compromise our faith by subscribing to some sort of watered-down relativism? No, Jesus is Lord. Are we encouraging people to think for themselves? Yes. Are we practicing the spiritual discipline of listening so that we earn the right to be heard? Yes. Are we creating a doorway through which people can come and experience the kingdom of God? Yes. We have had more people than I can count join us for worship on Sunday morning, where we preach the gospel, because they got to participate in a discussion on faith in the basement of a tattoo shop.

The most important part of the evening comes at the very end. Observing the last rule at the end of the fight, participants must share one thing that someone else said that was not in-line with their opinion and made them think. This has been a powerful time as we go around the room and honor the fight and the fighters. The act of admitting that someone else had a good point or a challenging argument is a gesture of humility. That small gesture can be the vehicle in which the group binds together. Suddenly, everyone is on the same playing field. We become one not because we all agreed, but because we all contributed to the argument.

During this time of humility and encouragement, the Holy Spirit moves among us, and by the time we’re done, we realize that although we’re all coming from different points of view, we have actually shared in koinonia through the fight. Arguing over God and theology and the Bible doesn’t have to be a bitter, hateful thing we try to avoid. Fighting over the Bible, struggling with the real questions of faith, can actually be a time of koinonia, binding ourselves to one another through our differing opinions. This is possible as long as we come to the fight, not ready to win the argument, but ready to value the argument. This is possible as long as we walk into the fight willing to listen, willing to acknowledge that we don’t know everything, and willing to have humility.

Jim Walker:  Dirty Word: The Vulgar, Offensive Language of the Kingdom of God

I have broken the rules of “fair fighting” so many times.  Rules that preserve mutual respect and honor the other person.  But I have seen here the value of arguing… or if you prefer the word, debating.  In the Information Age and post-modern culture, we have to wrestle for truth.  We have to literally fight through so many ideas and beliefs.. because we are told they are all valid.  But I honestly believe in spite of being told there isn’t absolute truth, people are still looking for it.  If Jesus is that Truth, how are we going to share Him if we don’t allow people to wrestle?  Does it mean we have to win?  No.  Winning isn’t up to us.  Listening and testifying are.

Cults and fringe religious movements do not allow anyone to openly question their sacred cows.  Evangelical Christianity doesn’t generally tolerate it well either.  People find it terrifying.   “Truth” must be controlled and protected.  But the Truth is not afraid to be challenged and tested.  If it is true, it will prevail.  Those who come out of closed cult systems do need to wrestle, sometimes for years, with every part of their belief system they once ascribed to.  It’s a messy business.  I have felt drained and frustrated by watching others in this process, and backed away.  I have felt I no longer had anything to contribute.  But I now see that everywhere there is someone seeking truth (ex-cult or otherwise), this messy business will be necessary.  Just as children are messy treasures, so are God’s spiritual kids, as we are born and grow in Him.

So I repent of my “it’s not nice to argue” error and realize it may be the most complimentary thing you can do for someone.  Acknowledge them.  Challenge them to wrestle with the Holy One of Israel.  May we then become “People of the Limp.”  As Jacob was broken and changed, we also can become humble and broken before God and men.   We can even be allowed, to be wrong.

By the way… I cannot recommend this book highly enough!

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