Ministerial Musings: "Knock, Knock"
Saturday. 10:32 am. Lakewood, Ohio.
I open the door. “Hello.”
“Hi. How are you this morning, sir?”
“I’m fine,” I say. “Can I help you?”
“I was just wondering if you ever read The Bible at all,” the nicely-dressed, handsome gentleman at my front door asked. I did not have the heart to tell him what I do for a living.
“A bit,” I said.
“Well, if you read it regularly, then you would realize that all ‘the signs’ are happening.”
“What signs?” I asked after taking a sip of coffee. My wife was sitting on the couch in the living room probably wondering why I engage in such conversations. I have yet to convince her that I love a good theological argument.
“You know…the signs about the end of the world. It’s happening!”
“What is happening?” I asked.
“The world is coming to an end,” my uninvited guest declared. Well, there’s no need to make this month’s mortgage payment, I thought to myself.
“It is?” I probed.
“Yes, the Book of Revelation spells it all out. The signs are coming to fruition.”
“Well, I once read that when John of Patmos wrote Revelation he was using veiled, symbolic references to describe the persecution that first-century Christians endured under the Roman Empire,” I responded. “He really wasn’t talking about a futuristic, eschatological event.”
“No,” my friend said. “The Bible does not say that at all.”
I then asked my new friend what church or religion he was representing. After he told me, I asked him if he and the members of his congregation take the Bible literally. “Oh, yes,” he said emphatically. “It is God’s Word and that is how God intends for us to read it.”
I then noticed there was a female dressed as nicely as the man at my front door speaking to my neighbor across the street. I brought that to my guest’s attention and asked him if she was with him. “Yes,” he said. “She is part of our evangelism team.”
“Does she ever preach or teach at your church?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “All the members of our evangelism team do.”
“Then help me out,” I said, “because 1 Corinthians 14:34 clearly states that women are not allowed to speak in church and must be subordinate to men.”
“Well, we don’t take that part of The Bible literally,” he said.
“Ah, ok then! Well, why don’t you take my Bible home with you and highlight the parts that I am allowed to not take literally and bring it back next time so that I know the rules of the game.”
I walked towards the kitchen to get another cup of coffee. My wife asked, “You did it again, didn’t you?”
“Yup,” I smiled with a devilish grin spreading from ear-to-ear.
OK, I admit it: I have been known to be an elitist, theological @$&#%!*. But I am sorry: if you are going to come to my house and try to sell me Jesus, then be consistent.
The Bible is an amazing text. I also think it is the Word of God, but, like Karl Barth, I believe that God’s Word (God’s truth) speaks through the words on the page of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. God did not write the words on the pages of the Good Book. They were penned by inspired, fallible, human beings. The Bible needs to be read carefully through the lens of responsible historical, literary, and cultural criticism to understand what the writers meant in their historical contexts and how those teachings translate to the twenty-first century.
If we are going to take Scripture literally, then that means we can kill people who work on Sunday, we can sell our daughters into slavery, and wearing clothing that is fifty percent cotton and fifty percent polyester is — aside from being a fashion faux pas — a big NO-NO.
Any religion, denomination, sect, or church that is based on fear capitalizes on the weaknesses of people, rather than catering to their strengths. God is a God of love. That is stated quite clearly in 1 John 4:8.
Yeah, I can take that literally.
The Rev. Dr. John Tamilio III is the Senior Pastor of Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland and is the religion columnist for The Lakewood Observer. He lives in Lakewood with his wife and three children. One of his kids is a girl. He has not sold her into slavery…yet.