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!

Marion Aldridge

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Marion D. Aldridge is a popular preacher, public speaker, workshop leader and an award-winning writer. Author of numerous books and hundreds of articles on topics ranging from religion to sports to travel, Aldridge’s interests are wildly eclectic. Aldridge has invested a lifetime in discovering what it means to be a citizen and participant in God’s wonderful world. Aldridge is at home whether having High Tea at Harrods or rafting on the Chattooga or worshiping at our planet’s holiest shrines.

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  • J. Earl Williams

    In one sense all we “know” is opinion. The Bible doesn’t speak for itself….in spite of what the ultra fundamentalists proclaim. It must be interpreted. Even if God used a megaphone, the comment likely would be “that’s not what I heard”.

  • Lioness19

    In my free time, I enjoy watching archaeological documentary-style programs and reading about the latest discoveries in the field. It’s fascinating to watch the ancient world come alive with the turn of a stone or the opening of a long-forgotten jar. One of these discoveries was the Nag Hammadi scrolls, which, along with the Dead Sea Scrolls, have really opened up the discussion about what the early Church was actually like.

    The books that were once considered sacred are no longer in the Old or New Testaments, nor in the Apocrypha. There are admonitions scattered throughout the New Testament to not use these books (though they are not referenced by the names assigned to them now), and there have been documents found telling early congregations to burn these books as non-canonical texts. Long before the Council of Nicea the early churches were fragmented as far as which books were canon and which ones were not, though at one point these texts were given just as much weight as what is now considered the Gospel. I say “churches” because there was not just one Church, but many sects, right from the beginning.

    I study the archaeology behind religious texts — be it the Bible, the Koran, or any other religion/mythology that strikes my fancy — and the texts as I can find translations of them, because I find having some historical context helps me to understand the here and now. It also helps me grow in my understanding of the definition of the word “faith,” since I struggle mightily with that concept. Some can take words as they are written; I must confess that I am driven to understand the people who wrote those words, and find some meaning behind why those words exist.

  • RalphCooper

    Thank you for this. This week, over at Baptists Today, one of the editors on his blog made a related argument, that saying that something is in the Bible should result in “But it also says” something that contradicts the first. True faith is resolving all of those issues in prayer as they affect our daily lives and the lives of those around us, and as we seek to live out the commands that Jesus gave us to love God and those we encounter.

  • lundque

    Those in our youth (we are contemporaries I think) who drew disaffected seekers in with kind words of inclusion, then promoted the message of controlling every behavior prompted my recollection of Pete Townsend’s lyrics, “Here is the new boss, same as the old boss. Won’t get fooled again.” The direction of the church today (at least my own ABC variety), connects people more with the words and actions of healing, reconciliation and relationship you endorse.