I just got into an argument with a minister. Well, that isn’t uncommon. I get into arguments with Christians and their leaders all the time. The issue is when we follow Paul and not Jesus. Plenty of Christians use the words of Paul to harm others, and to exclude them. This is contrary to the message of Jesus, and damaging to the reputation of Christians as being Christ-bearers.
Sure, if we discount the words of Paul, we discount the majority of the New Testament. But do we really need more? We have the Gospels. Isn’t that enough?
More does not mean better. If Paul’s words add to the message of Jesus, then great. It is when they take away that is the problem. Paul’s words have been used to attack and divide for centuries. They paint Jesus as aggressively intolerant – and that is not Jesus. The Jesus I met when I read the Gospels on my own wasn’t the Jesus I was introduced to by people who said they were Christian. The more people use the words of Paul when they are counter to the words of Jesus, the fewer people will find the real Jesus.
Our job as Christians is to bring Jesus to people. We are to bring that same healing love, that same forgiveness, that same compassion.
I remember thinking the same way as that minister. I remember taking a women’s studies class and a female minister was invited to talk to us. She said “Paul said…” – and I said “You mean Saint Paul?” She looked down her nose at me, as if I’d just offered her dog doo and said “I don’t call him Saint.” I thought, how dare she attack a leader of the church?
At the time, I was going to a church called “Saint Paul’s”. We heard Paul’s words almost every week. The Bible readings during the service are always one from the Old Testament, a Psalm, one from the Epistles (Letters) and one from the Gospels. So we heard a lot from Paul, because Paul wrote a lot of letters. Paul wrote while he was in prison for preaching about Jesus. It wasn’t considered Scripture at the time.
It is now, and that is the problem.
Paul isn’t the Messiah. When we follow Paul instead of Jesus we are going to get mislead.
Paul is for telling people they are sinners, and for making women be silent in church. Paul is against anybody who isn’t Paul. Paul did a lot to spread the message of Jesus, and that is great. The problem is when we start to think that Paul’s words ARE the message of Jesus.
The only way to differentiate between the two is to read Jesus’ words first, then Paul’s. Then we have to separate the wheat from the chaff. What agrees? What builds up? What strengthens and clarifies? Then – what takes away? What is added in that wasn’t there?
The philosopher Descartes talked about the color teal. He said he could explain what teal is by telling you that it is sort of green and it is sort of blue, but you really won’t know what teal is until he shows you what it isn’t. At some point it is peacock blue. At some point it is emerald green. It is seeing the line of what it isn’t that shows you what it is.
So, yes, read the words of Paul. Read them, so you can learn what isn’t the message of Jesus. Read them so you can learn what God’s message looks like through a fully human filter. And then learn from that. Learn how easy it is to take the message of Love and turn it into judgment and condemnation.
The minister had said that we need to “Speak the truth in love”, that a “sincere sin seer” should point out the sin in others. Because of my readings, I knew that “Speak the truth in love” is not from Jesus, but Paul. I said this, and said that Jesus tells us to take the plank out of our eyes first. Our sin is greater than the sin of someone we are trying to “correct”. The minister brought up the story of the woman who was caught in adultery. He said that Jesus said to “Go and sin no more.”
That was all he mentioned. If I’d felt awed by the fact that he is a minister, it would have stopped there. But Jesus came to take away all such distinctions. Jesus didn’t ordain anybody. We are all ministers. So we all need to think for ourselves.
Here’s the full text. It is John 8:2-11 (HCSB)
2 At dawn He went to the temple complex again, and all the people were coming to Him. He sat down and began to teach them. 3 Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, making her stand in the center. 4 “Teacher,” they said to Him, “this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. 5 In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do You say?” 6 They asked this to trap Him, in order that they might have evidence to accuse Him. Jesus stooped down and started writing on the ground with His finger. 7 When they persisted in questioning Him, He stood up and said to them, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Then He stooped down again and continued writing on the ground. 9 When they heard this, they left one by one, starting with the older men. Only He was left, with the woman in the center. 10 When Jesus stood up, He said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, Lord,” she answered. “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”
See? When the minister just quoted “Go and sin no more”, all he was focusing on was the sin. He left out the line before that – “Neither do I condemn you.”
I mentioned this, and said that we cannot point out other’s faults, that we must show love without fail. He said we should point out people’s faults, that it is called intervention. He also then said that I was pointing out Paul’s faults, so I was contradicting myself.
I’m not pointing out Paul’s faults. I’m pointing out the Church’s fault when we take the words of Paul as the Gospel. I’m pointing out the danger of following Paul as the Messiah.
I point out where Paul deviates from the words of Jesus. We cannot base our faith and our lives on the message of Paul when it does not harmonize with the message of Jesus. Remember the hymn “They will know we are Christians by our love”? Sadly these days it is more judgment and condemnation that we are known for.
Intervention indeed. The Church needs one.