Half-Truths Sermon Series
Our current sermon series is based on the assertions made in Rev. Adam Hamilton’s book, “Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say.” They are simple phrases. They sound Christian – like something you might even find in the Bible:
▪ Everything happens for a reason
▪ God helps those who help themselves
▪ God won’t give you more than you can handle
▪ God said it, I believe it, that settles it
▪ Love the sinner, hate the sin
We’ve all heard these words. Maybe we’ve said them. They capture some element of truth – yet they also miss the point in very important ways.
We’ll be taking one saying per week through the month of January and into February and learning about why they are only half-true.
Join us each week! If you have to miss, be sure to read the Midweek Missive during the following week. Order the book here.
Rev. Paula Steinbacher
God said it, I believe it, that settles it!
On Sunday I shared the pulpit with veteran preacher, the Rev. Dr. Bob Bielenberg. Bob spent over 50 years in the Presbyterian Church, serving through the tumultuous times of Civil Rights and facing extreme divisions over such issues as Women’s Ordination. Bob and his wife Donna retired to Grand County, and were active members of CEH for nearly 20 years. Bob helped to establish our adult discussion class, “The Forum,” which still meets on Sunday mornings at 8:15.
When Bob expressed interest in this sermon series, I asked him to help me with this specific topic, because the interpretation of scripture is a point of division for many denominations, families, and neighbors. I wanted to lean on his experience and wisdom as we approached a delicate topic. We decided on a question/answer format for the shared sermon, and below is our script:
Paula: What’s your reaction to “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”?
Bob: I guess I would respond by saying, “What do you mean ‘God said it’?” I agree that they are referring to the Bible, which we call “God’s Word.” It’s our sacred book. But it has been abused more often than a sacred book should be abused. And I think that is because we don’t really understand what kind of a sacred book the Bible is.
Paula: Can you explain that?
Bob: The Muslims have a sacred book. Mohamed produced it. Said the Angel Gabriel appeared to him and told him what to write. It had one author. It was written in Arabic. It is sacred only in its Arabic form. And because it was dictated by an angel, for the Muslims it is literally “God’s Word.”
The Mormons have a similar book. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, was told by an Angel named Moroni where a book was buried in upstate New York. Its authors were ancient prophets who supposedly lived on the continent of America many thousand years ago. Because an angel told of its existence, it is deemed to be authentic—“God’s word.”
I don’t know if I am describing the Muslim or the Mormon sacred books correctly, but I am trying to point out the difference between other sacred books and the Bible.
Paula: It’s almost as if we have adopted this Muslim and Mormon understanding of how the sacred texts came into being as our own. This was never the claim of our Hebrew texts (think of the Rabbis sitting around the synagogues and debating the law for hours each day), and prior to about the 19th C was not the claim of our Christian writings. Would you explain how we understand how our own sacred texts came into being?
Bob: The Bible is the story of a people, God’s people. It is a collection of books, 66 of them written over a period of two thousand years by many different authors under many different circumstances. It contains many different styles of writing—history, poetry, family remembrances, short stories, and a lot more. We believe the Bible was inspired by God, but we don’t claim it was written by God.
Abraham lived in about 2,000 B.C. Of course no one was writing back then. The stories about Abraham and others were stories told around camp fires for over a thousand years before they were written down. And then there was the Exodus. Stories about the escape of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt, and the forty years they spent in the wilderness, how a people who were no people learned how to be a people and how to survive in the wilderness, and how to worship the God who led them through that experience.
I could go on, but I wanted to show that our sacred book is different from other sacred books.
It wasn’t until about 200 years after the birth of Christ that the books of the Old Testament were selected and became the Old Testament. And even then there was disagreement as to which books should be included and which should not.
The story of the New Testament is similar. Many books, gospels, letters, etc. were written after the time of Jesus. Most of them were not written as sacred scripture. But people found them helpful in understanding their faith, but it wasn’t until the fourth century after Jesus’ birth that it was determined which gospels, letters and other books should be selected for the sacred text we call the New Testament.
I’m not trying to suggest that the books of the Old Testament or the New Testament are not sacred scripture or that those who selected the books that are a part of our Bible were not guided by God as they did so. I’m just trying to point out that our Bible has a large variety of literature from a long period of history, that it was written by human beings, reflecting the times and beliefs of the times in which they lived. It is still God’s Word, but we have to recognize how that word has come down to us and the nature of that writing.
I think the understanding of the nature of our Bible is very well expressed in the Confession of 1967 which is a part of the Book of Confessions of our Presbyterian Church.
The Bible is to be interpreted in the light of its witness to God’s work of reconciliation in Christ. The Scriptures, given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are nevertheless the words of men, conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written. They reflect views of life, history, and the cosmos which were then current. The church, therefore, has an obligation to approach the Scriptures with literary and historical understanding. As God has spoken his word in diverse cultural situations, the church is confident that he will continue to speak through the Scriptures in a changing world and in every form of human culture.
God’s word is spoken to his church today where the Scriptures are faithfully preached and attentively read in dependence on the illumination of the Holy Spirit and with readiness to receive their truth and direction.
Now, I have said that the Bible has been abused. It has been abused by not taking into account exactly what kind of sacred book it is.
Paula: Many people use 2 Timothy 3:16 as “proof” that “God said it.” There’s so many things about this passage we could say, but the first is that it says that all scripture is “God-breathed.” It’s a beautiful thing to imagine God breathing scripture into us – almost like that breath of God at creation. It’s a beautiful metaphor. But we can’t forget that when this letter was written, the only scriptures that existed at the time were the scrolls read in the synagogues and temples – basically the Law and the Prophets. We know that there are all sorts of “problems” within our Old Testament texts. Can you give some examples?
Bob: Adam Hamilton, who has suggested these series of sermons in his book “Half Truths,” has an example I wasn’t aware of until he pointed it out to us. It’s rather silly, but it is a good example of how the Bible has often been abused. It’s in the Book of Deuteronomy which tells the story of the people of Israel during their years in the wilderness. Duet 23:12 says, “You shall have a place outside the camp and you shall go out to it; and you shall have a stick with your weapons; and when you sit down outside, you shall dig a hole with it, and turn back and cover your excrement . . . God walks in the midst of your camp . . . therefore your camp must be holy . . . he must not see anything indecent among you, and turn away from you.”
That makes perfect sense in the context in which it was written. But in the 1880’s when indoor plumbing was coming, some people suggested that indoor plumping was contrary to the will of God. There was series debate in at least some of the churches because God had said it, they believed it, and for them that settled it.
A rather more serious debate took place in the 1830’s and 1840’s about slavery. Preachers in the South presented to their congregations 200 verses of the Bible that affirmed slavery. Even after the Hebrews were rescued from their slavery in Egypt, they took their slaves with them, and there were rules regulating slavery.
In Exodus 21:17 we read “Whoever curses his father or mother shall be put to death.” Exodus 35:2 says: “On the seventh day you shall have a holy sabbath of solemn rest . . . whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.” God said it. Actually Moses said it, but he was laying down the law for God. There are other laws about eating bacon, wearing clothes of mixed fabrics, not trimming one’s beard, not wearing jewelry.
If all this sounds like something from long ago, let me bring you up to date, There are some who don’t believe in climate change because God promised Noah after the flood that he would never again send a flood to destroy the earth (Genesis 9:11). They interpret that to apply to climate change. So they feel there is no need to do anything about it. God said it. They believe it. That settles it.
In the gospels we read of Jesus’ enemies coming to him with a woman caught in adultery. They said, our laws say (which was another was of saying “God said”) that a woman caught in adultery should be stoned to death. What do you say? Jesus said, “Let him who is among you without sin throw the first stone.” And the crowd melted away. And Jesus said to the woman, “Go and do not sin again.”
Jesus had disagreements with other laws from the Old Testament. He had a whole lot of things to say which he prefaced with the words, “It was told to you in the old days, but I say to you . . . .”
Paula: I guess what makes that difficult is that Jesus also said, “I came not to abolish the law, but to complete it.” Are we not to believe anything that’s in the Old Testament?
Bob: No, there’s lots of wonderful things in the Old Testament, but we need to remember lots of things in the Old Testament reflect the times in which they were written. The New Testament too.
Paula: How do we tell the difference between them?
Bob: I was once told that it is best to compare a single verse of scripture to the whole rest of the Bible. When the Bible says that it is God’s will, as it does, that when the city of Jericho is captured that everyone was to be killed including women and children, compare that to all the places in the Bible that respects women and children and ask yourself, “Would God really say that?”
When Jesus was asked “What commandment is the greatest of all?”, he answered “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” And another commandment was second to this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
I think there is one more example of misreading the Bible, or taking a verse reflecting human opinion rather than God’s opinion. I think you’ll love this one.
It has to do with the role of women in the church. In 1st Corinthians 14:34, we read “Women should keep silence in the churches. They are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, even as the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”
When I began my ministry—years and years ago– women were not permitted to be ministers in the Presbyterian Church. Today we take it for granted.
But there was quite a debate about it at the time. When it was decided that they could serve as ministers, a number of people left the Presbyterian Church and formed another denomination called the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. After all, God said it, it is in the Bible, so they believe it, and that settles it.
Fortunately our church finally came to the conclusion that this opinion reflected the time in which it was written and is not the opinion of God.
Paula: So is the Bible the Word of God or isn’t it?
Bob: How would you like to try to answer that?
Paula: I find much truth in the opening chapter of the Gospel of John. It says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It continues by reminding us that the Word made flesh is Jesus Christ. Think about it. The Word of God –everything we know about God through the voice of God calling order out of chaos at the very creation of time; everything we know about God through the law and the prophets– all of that is summed up in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ! The Word made Flesh!
So it seems to me that if we were to remember to read everything in the light of Jesus, we would do much better at approaching the truth.
Bob: This all raises the question, “How can we tell the difference between what is God’s direction for us and what is just human opinion?” I like what Adam Hamilton suggested. He used the example of a colander. A colander is a kitchen utensil with holes in it used for draining food. We believe Jesus came to show us what God was really like. Hamilton said Jesus could be used to help us understand what is truly from God and what is not, so we can retain the good and let the other drain away, like with a colander.
Paula: A “Jesus Colander.” That reminds me of the importance of Bible study. And I remember that Jesus himself told his disciples that, after he had gone, he would send us the Holy Spirit to help us continue to understand and grow. As Presbyterians we especially believe in group Bible study, openly discussing the text, asking questions, and listening for the Holy Spirit to help guide us.
Bob: Yes. And I would say that Bible study in a group is the best way to study the Bible. We share our ideas with others and they react to what we say and share ideas of their own. We don’t get that feedback and sharing of ideas when we just read it on our own. That’s what I liked about the Forum when I was here. We could express our own ideas but we also could learn from others. Women’s Circles also provide this kind of group study. I think you provide it too in your Monday and Tuesday noon groups. I could wish every member of the church were in some kind of group to wrestle with the Bible and learn from each other what God is saying to us through our Holy Book, the Bible.
Paula: Bob, thank you so much for your interest and your help in this topic. Your wisdom has been such a great asset to us today.
Bob: I’m thankful to have been here and it has been so good to see old friends and remember how much we love Eternal Hills.
Paula: Let’s pray: Our God and Author of Life. We thank you for your word, and for your Word made Flesh Jesus Christ. Help us to learn from the scriptures by using Jesus’ life and teachings as our guiding light, and always help us be aware of your Holy Spirit guiding us to hear and understand the Living Word. In Your Name, Amen.
During our recent Extravagant Generosity Stewardship Campaign, I asked those in attendance to write down the reasons why they support CEH through their gifts of time, talent, and/or treasure. We had so many wonderful responses! I’ll be featuring them over the next month or so. I hope you enjoy reading the reasons why people attend and support CEH:
Joy of Fellowship with members. Enjoy helping with CEH, community, and charitable events as well as helping each other with love and hugs. willing to cook/bake food when needed.
To Really Hear.
God put us on this earth to help one another. I have always believed this. He guided me to CEH and uses my talents to help other through the preschool, PEER or just being with a group of loving Christ-centered people who have been with me through cancer, death of loved ones, and many of life’s challenges.
I give in service since money is short right now.
To support the members of my church and make the tasks lighter and more enjoyable…To hold up members in time of need and celebration.
To serve God through service to others.
I give by showing God’s love through participation in local mission, children’s’ ministry and coffee fellowship at CEH.
Bruce gives freely because Christ meets our needs accordingly. Glory in Christ Jesus.
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