The Fallacies of the “Jesus never said…” Argument

I love the Babylon Bee.  In an age that seems almost bereft of humor, the Bee bravely engages in religious and political satire.  And while the site leans conservative, it pokes fun at everyone.

This particular article (if you click on it you’ll be taken to it) pokes fun at the “Jesus never said…” argument.  While this ‘argument’ is probably most connected with the homosexuality argument, I have heard it used in other places (e.g. capital punishment).  The gist of the argument and how it is used is that since Jesus never said anything about ~topic~, then He must have been in favor of it.

This argument is fatally flawed in three different ways: 1) It’s illogical, 2) It’s inaccurate, and 3) It’s theologically wrong.  Let’s walk through these.

1) It’s Illogical

Quick!  Do I like asparagus or not?  What?  You don’t know because I’ve never voiced my opinion to you?  Exactly!  You can not logically deduce anything from an absence of information.  This is called an argument from silence.  While some scholars still attempt to use it, the argument has a fatal flaw in that we simply do not have any information in order to validate or invalidate the argument being made.  An argument from silence is a hollow argument and tells us nothing about the subject.

Let me give you a particular example to show the fallacy and potential danger in assuming anything from Jesus’ ‘silence’.  If one proposes that “Jesus never said anything about…” is indicative of Jesus’ tacit approval, then you must agree that Jesus approves rape.  That’s attention getting, isn’t it?  Yes, a search on ‘rape’ in the New Testament shows us that Jesus never addressed the subject (at least, not that was recorded, but that’s the next point).  The idea that Jesus approves of rape is, of course, beyond ridiculous.  But if we eliminate everything but His words, we have nothing.  So let me say it again, arguments from silence are illogical and can not produce anything definitive.

2. It’s inaccurate

I’ve been noticing lately not just a lack of caring about careful, detailed thought/argument, but an increasingly angry push-back against it.  I really don’t understand this.  I get that we want to be right and, maybe more importantly, to FEEL right, but God gave us this great thinking device called a brain and we should use it.  The devil, as they say, is in the details.  So what’s inaccurate about the ‘Jesus never said…’ argument?  Simply put, the statement presupposes that we know every word that Jesus ever spoke.  And we don’t have that.

In Scripture there are 41,522 Red Letter words (words ascribed to Jesus).  That’s not really a lot considering the length of time that Jesus lived and taught.  Let me put it in another perspective.

I looked up the average words per minute speaking rate and got results like an average of 173 for TED talks to someone’s opinion that public speakers should be around 130.  Keeping in mind that many of those Red Letter words are the same quotes repeated in different places, let’s still use that number and the 130 wpm rate.  That would give us 319 minutes worth of speaking time by Jesus in the Bible.  Divide that by 60 minutes in an hour and we have a little over 5  hours.  Jesus lived to be about 33, His teaching time was around 3 years and we only have 5 hours of His speech recorded.  Obviously there is a whole lot of things Jesus said that weren’t recorded.  Or, as John 21:25 says, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. ”

What would make the argument accurate would be to say that ‘Scriptures don’t record Jesus ever saying…’, but that dilutes the argument.

3. It’s theologically wrong

This one is a bit deeper, but still very important to understand.  It draws on two fundamental teachings of our faith – that God is a Triune God and that all of scripture is God breathed.

First, we believe in the Trinity, meaning that in unity of this one God there are three distinct persons – classically referred to as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In his book “Christian Doctrine”, Shirley Guthrie put it this way: “one personal God who lives and works in three different ways at the same time.”  In this Trinity there is unity and agreement.  Each part of the Trinity is involved in everything that God does.  So while we can differentiate and categorize certain works to differing parts of the Trinity (e.g. the Father creates, the Son redeems and the Holy Spirit sustains), every part works with the other parts in unity and love.  If one part of the Trinity ‘says’ something, then it’s the same as if each and all parts say it.

Second, as Paul states in 2 Timothy 3:16, the church has always believed and proclaimed that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”   Our Book of Discipline states that the Bible is “..the words of human beings inspired by the Holy Spirit”.  Avoiding the debate of inerrant vs. infallible, let’s simply state that the Bible is the inspired Word of God.  God speaks to and through the author through the Holy Spirit.

If we combine the two, we understand that every word of the Bible is thus also Jesus’ word.  So, to reduce Jesus’ word simply to the red letter words is a misunderstanding of the Trinity and the Bible.  To put it simply, the ‘Jesus never said…’ argument attempts to separate what God said and what Jesus said. We can not separate, we can not quarantine certain words from others.

Summary

While this blog was written after the Special General Conference, it is not written in response to it.  I’ve been teaching this for years and have been wanting to write it all down for quite a while.  I have always found the ‘Jesus never said…’ argument to be one of the worst arguments for anything I’ve ever heard.  It’s like a soap bubble – it looks good, it can even make us feel good, but it’s an illusion that pops at the simplest touch.

A War on Christmas?

 

Christ in Christmas

We are entering that favorite season of snow, trees, decorations, presents and, oh yeah, celebrating the birth of the Christ child.  This is also the season of the ‘war on Christmas’.  This is, in itself, a very hotly debated topic.  Some think it’s real, some think that it’s ridiculous and a made up right-wing political creation.  So let’s, then, take a quick look at whether there is such thing as a ‘war’ on Christmas.

Here’s what I know and I’ll try to keep it as simple as I can.  When I was a kid, our schools had Christmas plays, Christmas concerts and even Christmas vacation.  During the plays or concerts there were overtly Christian imagery and music.  Malls had trees with stars and angels on them and many towns had a nativity set displayed in the public square.   I don’t know if people wished each other ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays’ or some mixture of the two, but there was certainly no conflict about it.

Before I continue, let me state that not every town or school or store had these.  But there was a lot more co-mingling between the secular and sacred – between Santa and Christ. Interestingly, many Christians believed that the secular had just about completely taken over the sacred.  In fact, this is the main point behind the wonderful Christmas special “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (the main scene being Linus explaining the meaning of Christmas to Charlie Brown through a recitation of the birth narrative found in Luke).

That all said, things are different now.  Today it’s hard to find a school that has anything other than Winter Festivals, Holiday concerts or Winter concerts. How did this happen?  Someone somewhere had to make these changes.  And make no mistake, you’ll have a fight on your hands if you try to change things back.  Case in point – two years ago in December my wife, then a member of the Troy Area School Board, got involved in a situation where an administrator ordered the removal of sacred songs from the school choir’s school concert.  Despite a big community backlash, the administrator held her ground.  After doing some research , she realized that there was nothing illegal/unconstitutional about this (in fact, it’s established law that it’s OK).  So, taking her research to a School Board meeting, the school board overturned the administrators decision.  Sad, though, that it took an impassioned school board member with the courage to confront the situation in order to have something changed back to the way things used to be.

So, yes, I believe that there has been a movement to remove ‘Christmas’ (as the particular and formal name) from our schools (wait until some people figure out what the word ‘holiday’ means!).  I also see less stars, mangers and angels in stores and in public.  So, yes, I believe there has been a concerted move to strip Christmas of its religious nature.

That said, let me posit the idea that we Christians are the worse perpetrators in this ‘war’.  Oh sure, we complain a lot of what other people do or say, but how are WE keeping the holiday?  What are WE teaching our children?  Is it really a BAD thing that schools don’t teach about Christmas anymore?  Do we really want to abdicate our responsibility to someone else?  Do we really want to entrust our child’s religious education to an untrained stranger that might even be hostile to the faith? And why is it important that some poor minimum wage clerk has to say ‘Merry Christmas’ instead of ‘Happy Holidays’?  How does complaining about this help spread the Kingdom of God?

And every year I hear the same thing from people in my churches: they are too tired, too busy, too frazzled keeping up with the demands of the season.  It’s about cards and lights and cookies and, most especially, shopping.  I’m not saying there is anything wrong with these things, but allow me to I point out that typically these demands have nothing to do with the birth of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.  In other words, we Christians are distracting OURSELVES from the true meaning of Christmas.  Before we clean out the speck of dust in other people’s eyes in regard to Christmas, let’s yank that big old plank out of our own.

So, let us make a commitment to do our best to keep Christ in Christmas.  Not so much in forcing others to do so, but a purposeful effort to do so for us and our families.

Response to Tragedy

Candles

Another day, another senseless tragedy.  We are all trying to make sense of the news.  As Christians, though, what should we be doing?  I have some thoughts about that:

PRAY

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” – Ephesians 6:18 

As Christians everything begins with prayer (it is also what we during and after).  Prayer, though, is often ridiculed after a tragedy by those who believe that it is passive and doesn’t accomplish anything.  How wrong they are!  Prayer is an action that changes things and people.  Prayer invokes the power of the most high to heal, inspire, strengthen and to bring peace and comfort.  It changes those who pray, as such intimate contact with God transforms our hearts and pushes us to be more like the people God wants us to be.

But what we if don’t know what to pray for?  In times like this our minds and spirits can freeze and we’re left with no words.  That’s OK – God understands this.  The Apostle Paul even addressed this in his letter to the churches in Rome:

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” – Romans 8:26

 

Be Patient

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” – Galatians 5:22-23a

The transmission of news nowadays is almost instantaneous.  However, the investigation happens slowly.  Herein is where patience is required.  We want to know everything and we want to know it NOW!!  And instead of patiently waiting, we fume, we guess, and sometimes, we even make things up.  We speak and act rashly.  The news media makes all of this worse by feeling the need to fill up every second of every minute of every hour with something, ANYTHING.  I remember on 9/11 all of the stories about other planes, other attacks and most all of them amounted to rumor and fear.

We need to slow down.  We need to step away from the news. Hug your kids.  Call your parents and tell them you love them.  Walk your dog.  Read your Bible.  Visit a friend. I get it – we want to solve things.  We want hatred and violence to end.  But we need to know that we can’t fix anything unless we know what, exactly, the problem is.  And it takes time to piece together all the facts after a murderous incident.  So, in the meantime, be patient.

This also goes for using tragedies for political gain.  Sometimes I think that this is worse than the tragedy itself.  With the instantaneous nature of social media, we see such thing mere moments after a tragedy (sometimes even when the event is still happening!).  I find this ghoulish.  Already today I’ve seen the normal anti-gun advocates leaping up on the dead bodies (figuratively) to push for more gun control.  I’ve even seen someone blame it on racism and White Supremacy!  I’m reminded here of that old saying of “If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”  We are not to profit from tragedy.  And we should at least wait until all the dead are buried before we start posturing.

As an aside, there should be some kind of rule wherein any proposed legislation after a tragedy would actually have prevented the attack.  After Newtown, there wasn’t a single proposed or implemented legislation that would have prevented what happened.  We have to suppress the urge to do SOMETHING and work toward actually fixing the problem.

Love, Don’t Hate

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:17-21

There is going to be a lot of (misplaced) anger and hatred today and in the coming days and weeks.  People are frustrated and hurt and want and things like what happened to end.  So they lash out.  They strike at perceived enemies, people who they don’t agree with.  We humans, for some reason, need someone to blame.  And if we can’t (or won’t) blame the correct person or people (the one(s) pulling the trigger, or handling the knife or driving the car), we’ll blame someone or something.  And it isn’t pretty.  Just this morning I saw a teacher (not local) tweet that she hopes that only Trump voters were killed!  As angry as we might get, we are called to a higher response.  Christ taught us to be peacemakers and to forgive.  The Apostle Paul summed it up eloquently when he wrote “Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Don’t respond in kind when someone says something ugly.  And don’t post anything that makes the situation worse.  Ask yourself, “Am I making things better or worse?  Am I shining the love of Christ into the darkness or am I part of the darkness?”

Love always wins. God’s love triumphs.  Be patient.  Be kind.  Pray constantly and don’t be overcome by evil.

It Takes a Village

After ordination

On a cool Christmas day in 1999 I sat behind the pulpit at Glen Burnie United Methodist church assisting Rev. Jim Lucas during his communion service.  A little of a year prior, Pastor Jim had asked for volunteers to help create a contemporary service.  Strangely, I agreed.  I say ‘strangely’ because I had just recently gotten back into church life after nearly a decade spent apart from it.  It was during this contemporary service that I started to hear a new voice speaking to/through my heart telling me that it wanted more.  You see, I was helping to lead this service and God was speaking to me and telling me that He was happy I was doing this, but He wanted more of me.  This was a bit terrifying, especially when God got particular and told me He wanted me to become a local pastor.  I could spend pages and pages telling of my refusals and counter-arguments to God in regards to this request, but suffice to say that I mirrored Moses in that I kept rejecting the call citing (what I thought were reasonable!) reasons why I couldn’t and shouldn’t become a pastor.  God, though, is stubborn and continued to speak to me getting louder and louder.  Which brings us back to that Christmas day in 1999.  As I sat there, God decided to state His case again.  This time, He had the volume turned up to 11.  I felt a bit like the guy in that old Maxell cassette ad:

maxell

I quickly came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to win this argument, so I humbly accepted God’s request.  And thus began a new journey in my life that on this past Saturday reached a pinnacle – I was ordained an elder in the United Methodist church.

The point of this post is not me, though.  I wouldn’t have gotten here without a LOT of help from a lot of people.  And since Facebook posts can only be so long, I thought I would take some time here where I have as much space as I want.  For those of you reading and not interested in hearing all about my journey, here is the TL/DR (too long, didn’t read) version: It takes a lot of people to help a person reach a goal – even being ordained.

Glen Burnie United Methodist Church

As I said earlier, this is where it all began.  Pastor Jim and Rev. Olin Herndon were instrumental in getting me started on my journey.  They guided, helped and lifted me at the very beginning and ensured that I got started in the right way.  There were so many others that helped and aided me at Glen Burnie, but I want to single out 3 ladies who have been such an important influence on me to this very day.  Let me start with Jan Hacker who seemed to be involved in so much at the church.  Jan taught me that being a Christian meant caring for others and working for the Lord.  Her leading of the Stephen’s Ministry class was an important part of my calling.  The next person is the epitome of a prayer warrior – which, before I met her, I thought was a silly and unrealistic term.  Valerie Mand, though, taught me so much about the importance and all encompassing need for prayer. The last lady I want to lift up is Lynn Miller.  Lynn was my cohort and unofficial mentor when working with the youth.  We co-taught the junior/senior high Sunday School class along with being counselors for the youth group.  Lynn is a strong Christian woman who showed me that Christian love can, and sometimes should, have a little edge in it – especially when dealing with kids, since they need love, time and boundaries.

Again, there are so many others, but here is where my journey takes its second major step – my first appointment.

Trinity United Methodist Church

DCP_2569

I served there for 5 years, the last 4 as a student-pastor while I attended Wesley Theological Seminary.  The best way I can describe being a student-pastor is that it’s like learning to swim by being tossed into the deep end of the pool.  It was a great experience, but I often learned by making mistakes.  Fortunately, the church was full of loving and supportive folks that stood by me and tolerated my mistakes and the occasional weird attempt at doing something different.  It’s hard to put into words how much I learned and how much Trinity still means to me.

But life moves on, and after graduating seminary there came a strange little ‘lull’ in my journey, and my family and I took advantage of this to head back home to Pennsylvania.

Sugar Creek Parish

I am finishing up my 9th and final year here in Sugar Creek and I leave here with great sadness.  If Trinity was about learning how to be a pastor, then Sugar Creek was about applying what I learned.  Again, I’ve made mistakes, but the support and love here helped me through these mistakes.  And, again, there have been so many that have helped and encouraged me through this journey that I don’t dare start mentioning any lest I miss any particular one.  That said, I will mention one person that was near and dear to me – Dick Besley.

Dick and I

When our family lost our house due to the flood, Dick and his wife Linda took us in.  Dick was the administrative and spiritual leader of Cross Roads UMC and a father-like figure for me.  We didn’t always agree, but I always valued his input.  He was a good friend and a mentor.  Dick passed away earlier this year and I will miss him greatly.

Other Clergy

When we moved up to East Troy, I fell in with a great bunch of UMC pastors in the area: Brian Myfelt, Laura King and Jerry Schmidt. For several years we were like the 4 Musketeers.  We met regularly, helped and supported each other and generally had a great time.  While we still stay connected, time and distance has weakened our bonds, but I don’t think they will ever totally go away.

Through my journey I’ve had several mentors who have really helped me through discussion, helpful criticism and by lifting me up during the rough times.  Scott Ogden has been with me for such a long time I really feel like I couldn’t have done this without him.  Jim Hollister, Andy Weidner and Helen Learn also provided much aid.

I also want go give a shout out to Jane O’Borski who toiled through the system along with me for so long and to Drew Cottle who was, by far, my favorite and most helpful covenant group leader.

Finally thanks to all of the great District Superintendents I’ve had that have encouraged and aided me: from Maryland-Chris Holmes, Tom Willard, Greg Rapp and Beth Jones. I have been blessed to have such a long list of great DSs and it seems like the list will grow with Barry Robison.  And don’t let me forget Marian Hartman who took time to critique my Commissioning theology paper which directly lead to it being approved!

Last But Not Least

There is no way I could have done any of this without my wonderful, beautiful, smart and loving wife, Becky.  She is definitely one of God’s greatest gifts to me.

Finally, my greatest and humblest thanks go to God who looked down on strange little computer programmer who hadn’t been in church in close to 10 years and said “I’ll make a pastor out of him.”  Every blessing, every skill and talent, every opportunity, every wonderful thing that has happened is due to God who stubbornly stuck with me (and continues to stick with me). Through His grace and love, may this journey continue for a long and fruitful time.

We Did It

Halloween – What’s a Christian to do about it?

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One of the first sermons I ever preached was about Halloween. I was very excited about this opportunity, but I had a conundrum.  On one hand, I was pretty new to my (renewed) faith and was ‘on-fire’ with the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, I had always loved Halloween.  When I was little my two favorite Saturday morning TV shows were Scooby-Doo and Creature Features. I grew up liking the strange, the monstrous and the spooky.  But how do I reconcile such an ‘evil’ holiday with my Christian faith? So I did what college trained me to do – I did research.  I Googled and I Yahoo’d (yes, this was a while ago) and I perused the church library.  Unfortunately I kept coming across confusing and contradicting information.  Worse, in almost everything I read there was no sourcing – no links or attributions to facts or scholarly articles.  Finally I came across a great website that actually had done all the proper research – Halloween: Myths, Monsters and Devils.  I encourage you to read all of the detailed research at that site, but the bottom line is that just about everything we think we ‘know’ about Halloween is simply myth and legend with no factual basis.

        One final observation may be in order: If the holiday is of such antiquity, and survived so long into Christian times among the Scots and Irish, then we would expect to find it as a major event, or even a minor event, in the lives of the Scots – Irish of the Appalachian Mountains and the Ozarks. In fact, we do not find it there at all, even among the practitioners of “folk magic,” or “witchcraft,” except after the cultural assimilation of the area into the American mainstream following World War One.

We would also expect to find it, along with all or most of the so- called “Druid” customs associated with it, in Medieval Western Europe. We do not.

There is no factual basis in Halloween being a Druidic, satanic or even witchen ‘holiday.’ In fact, there seems to be a lot of propaganda surrounding Halloween.

So, what’s a Christian to do about this day of ghosts and witches and goblins terrorizing our houses for tricks or treats?

Well, using as our foundation our new-found understanding of the origins (or lack thereof) of Halloween, let me state my thesis:

Halloween, like almost anything else, is what we MAKE of it.

Let me give you some examples to help explain this.  If I asked you what a swastika means, you would probably answer that it represents evil and horror and genocide (and I certainly wouldn’t argue with you about that!).

But…

…did you know that prior to Nazi Germany using and abusing the swastika, it was perceived globally as a symbol of good luck?

Swastika---Good-luck-emblem-of-ancient-america10

The Boy Scouts even had a good luck medal with the swastika on it:

Boy Scout Swastika

Before Nazi Germany, the swastika was one of the things that you’d see today being serially posted on Facebook (‘Share this good luck charm with your friends!’)

Now, of course, it means something completely different.  Its meaning was changed.

Think also of the cross.  Today it is a symbol of Christian hope, faith, love and grace.  But, 2000 years ago it was a symbol of death, torture and tyranny.

Again, its meaning was changed.

Which brings us back to Halloween.  We know now that, despite what people think, Halloween is NOT a satanic or even pagan holiday.  With that in mind we can make Halloween to be WHATEVER WE WANT IT TO BE.

Toward this end I am reminded of the years my family and I lived in Glen Burnie Maryland.  Were we lived was the epitome of the suburbs – houses lined up street after street.  While everyone was pretty friendly with each other, there was little sense of real community – real connectedness.  Except, that is, on Halloween.  On Halloween night when little witches and ghouls (and power rangers and pokemon) wander up and down the lighted streets in search of treats, the adults would pull out their lawn chairs and sit out front of their houses and actually carry on conversations with each other.  It was a time of true neighborliness.  It was a bucolic scene of fun and friends (and candy!).  To me, this is what Halloween is all about and I’m not going to let anyone else define it differently for me.

So, as a Christians I believe that we CAN celebrate Halloween – the positive aspects of it.  We should, though, refrain from the darker aspects (no Jason’s or Freddie’s) and simply enjoy an evening under God’s gracious love wherein we can connect to our friends and neighbors and, for one day at least, understand the joy in giving to those that come to our homes looking for something to eat!

No ‘closure’, only growth

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It’s been a little over a year since my dad passed away from a long battle with cancer, but there still comes times and places where the pain of his loss suddenly jump up out of nowhere.  For instance, last week I was over to the house helping my mom get the camping trailer ready for winter. It wasn’t a big job and didn’t take too long.  However, right in the middle of this I just got angry – angry that my dad wasn’t with us anymore.  Now, I wasn’t mad because I was doing his work – as I said, it wasn’t a big job.  And I’m not quite sure where my anger was directed.  I know it wasn’t directed at God, but I think it was just some kind of general, free-floating anger directed at the cosmos in general.  And almost as quickly as it came, it went.  Not, though, without setting an emotional stamp over the rest of the day. 

As a pastor I know all about the stages of grief and that one never really gets totally over a significant loss.  But ‘knowing’ something and ‘living’ it out can sometimes be two different things.  My faith gives me the confidence that my dad, a believer, is in heaven and that gives me comfort and joy.  Yet, there is still a hole left by my dad that will never get filled, it will only heal over and become part of who I am.  And this is why I really dislike the word ‘closure’ that used so flippantly some times in regards to grief.  I think the concept of ‘closure’ (as it is generally understood by the populace) gives people a false hope that this pain, this hole in their hearts will someday completely heal over.  I wonder if this ‘false bill of goods’ is what causes so many people to become damaged by their grief and pain.  When you expect the pain to go away and it never does, I would suppose that that would just add to your pain and anxiety (‘What’s wrong with me?’, ‘Why do I still miss him/her?’)

God gives us the strength to continue on and the hope and comfort of eternal life.  These are things that form the foundation of our ‘healing’.  But ‘healing’ is not the same as a physical wound (scab over then gone), it remains with us and adds to the person that we are.  This is not a bad thing.  This is life and with God’s strength and grace we will endure and grow stronger and deeper in our faith.