Baptists are an opinionated crowd. We were taught to be that way. Preachers invest a lot of time and energy saying we ought to do this and that we should not or must not do that. If you grew up when I did, we were given instructions three times each week—Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday night—on how to behave in every conceivable circumstance. And, as if that weren’t enough, we were “trained” in Training Union and warned in Sunday School about a thousand temptations that never made their way into sermons. We were taught to care mightily about everything from alcohol to zodiac signs.
Actually, we didn’t even know these were opinions. Our parents, our pastors and our Sunday School teachers established our religious DNA earlier than most of us remember. We just accepted certain things as right and wrong. Taking a soft drink into the sanctuary was akin to desecrating the Temple. Some things just weren’t done!
I graduated from high school in 1965 and lived on the cusp of the Hippie Revolution. The full blown “Don’t trust anybody over 30” anti-war flower-power thing never made it to North Augusta in full force, but like everybody in America, I was affected. Once the door was open to questioning “just because I said so” authority, once Rosa Parks sat down on that bus in Montgomery and refused to get up, the world changed for all of us, whether we knew it or not.
Once I learned that the Bible doesn’t say anything about a lot of things that were a part of our tradition, from what we wear to church, to whom we let come to church, I have been in the process of discovering what the Bible actually does say. The Bible, it turns out, says we need to hold onto most of our highly valued opinions lightly—“Love doesn’t insist on its own way.” Rather it commands us to:
• Quit judging.
• Don’t be so anxious.
• Treat others as you want to be treated.
• Quit being so easily offended.
• Love one another.
• Be patient.
Why are some church people so critical? So angry? So indignant? So easily offended? So afraid? Why do some people demonize what they do not agree with? Does it have something to do with being an Alpha Male Bully or a Fearful Female, or vice versa? Doesn’t each of us have enough sin in our own life to keep us busy?
I’ve begun to notice how much in the Bible is actually an effort by the people of God to work out what is right and what is wrong. Paul says, more often than people who don’t read the Bible would believe, “This is not an explicit command from God, but it is my best wisdom.” That is true of much of our Holy Scripture. The book of Acts is the story of the church trying to learn how to be the church. The Christian life was and is a process of trial and error, of give and take, and much that was attempted did not turn out well—from the early experiment in communism (Acts 2) to the attempt to make Jews out of Gentiles (Acts 15). Just because a preacher, or a parent, or a beloved Sunday School teacher, or a friend at church has an opinion does not make that judgment true. We need to distinguish between Universal, Eternal Truth and human opinions.
If anybody ever fought religious traditions and customs, it was Jesus. Instead, he taught Grace, Liberty, Openness to the Holy Spirit, Compassion. Read the Bible. Jesus tells us to listen more than he tells us to talk, to forgive more than to judge, to be grateful more than to be critical, to be understanding rather than to be arrogant.
What a wonderful church that would be!