Swearing on the Bible

 

A few weeks ago, for the first time in my life, I found myself swearing an oath with my hand on a bible.

In my Christian days I this practice bugged me somewhat. I always considered the verse in James which talks about not swearing on the book of the law and letting your word be reliable. In my more arrogant moments I would say that if I were ever in that situation I’d open the Bible to the relevant passage, read it, and then refuse the request.

These days, I’m not quite so hot headed about the issue, but I do wonder why it is done and why people still accept it. There is good argument for both Christians and atheists to object to the practice. The way I squared with it was that I took the view that it was better to have a bible there on display and seen as a symbol of trustworthiness. The issue now, is that it is only Christians who have that option.

I get the reasons; there is solemnity in putting your hand on the bible and making a promise. As a child, the challenge from people doubting ones word was to “swear on your mother’s life”. People who really wanted to be believed would do this in an effort to show their reliability. My mother’s life is more valuable to me than a bible; can’t that be used as a sign of my reliability? Of course the legal process would consider that a flippant offer, so why should the bible be seen as less flippant?

As it happens, the oath swearing was a requirement of my being an executor of my late mother’s will and in order for my brothers and I to get our inheritance, I had to make a visit to a solicitor and swear that I am me.

It is interesting that for items such as passports it is sufficient for me to get a photo signed by someone who knows me or that for me to go and get a benefits payment I just need to produce a document with my name and address on it, along with something with a signature. However, this process required something more, and that something more is for me to visit the office of someone who has never met me before, put my hand on a bible, promise I am me and sign a form. My neighbour could have done it in my place and no one would have been any wiser. Well technically, the signature could eventually be checked and found to be wrong, assuming it was checked downstream of the swearing.

The actually event took me by surprise because I wasn’t expecting it. The first alert came when I was introduced by the secretary as being there for a swearing oath, she then informed the duty solicitor that there was a bible in the meeting room. Because of the background detailed above I was immediately on alert for what was about to happen.

After a brief chat with myself I decided it wasn’t worth kicking a fuss over and that I would go with it.

The moment itself was me with my hand on the bible repeating a phrase that was being read out to me. The only other times I have repeated stock phrase was at the dedication of my daughter, when I was a god-father and when I got married. All those seemed more solemn than the moment I was having in that average meeting room with my hand on a slightly battered bible.

I took it seriously, but it didn’t feel as wholly solemn as it should have. I dare say that if I was still a believer I may have felt differently.

Afterwards I asked the solicitor if there had ever been anyone object to the process. She said not, but that there was an alternative phrase for the occasion should someone prefer to forgo the bible option. I was both impressed and pleased there is that option but I don’t think I missed out on anything by choosing not to object; after all, in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t that important. My promise would still mean the same and any falsities would still hold the same punishment.

I couldn’t help wonder though, if this practice should be consigned to history and what value it really has. Those that will intend to lie their way will do so, bible or not, and those that wish to be honest will do so, bible or not. I don’t believe the presence of the bible in situations like this makes a difference. It’s the solemnity of the moment that is important; in which case it probably is time that something was found that will be equally acceptable to Christians, atheists and other faiths alike.

Though, honestly speaking, it is not something I’d consider important enough to campaign for. There are far bigger issues in the world than the need to worry about the technicalities of convincing people to tell the truth.

 

 

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Pondering the Christmas Star

Its that time of year where there are a plethora of predictable items on blogs, science sites and in the news about what precisely it was that the wise men saw on in the story of Christ’s birth.

Most stories focus on the speculation of what it could possibly be. A conjunction? A supernova? A meteor? More religious commentaries might mention something more supernatural in nature that’s not explained scientifically.

There is however one little aspect of the star story that has bothered me for some time and I have yet to see its mentioned specifically in any speculation. That is this; how on earth do you identify which building a celestial body is over? Its frankly not possible. If I look at the night sky from my back garden and look at the stars, pick the brightest one and follow it down, I might identify a house a few roads away. However, if I go to that house and look up at the star again, it in no way identifies that house anymore. So this game would continue with any star that I picked in the sky. It is just not possible to identify any particular building as being directly below any star up there.

The reason for this is simple, the distance the stars are from earth is so great that the triangulation required to identify any specific point on earth by eye is not possible. Add into that the fact the earth’s rotation would mean that any identified property would change every few minutes.

So judging the accuracy and validity of the star in the Christmas story by todays knowledge of astronomy basically makes it an impossible situation. There is simply no chance at all that people from miles away would have travelled to Bethlehem and identified the place where a baby was born simply through the position of a celestial object. We’ll ignore the small fact that this would also be future telling though astrology, something that Christendom overwhelmingly condemns these days.

For the Christmas Star, or Star of Bethlehem, or whatever you wish to call it, to be a true event, something supernatural would have had to have happened. I would also expect this to have therefore been a much more shocking event and one that would have generated far more interest than just the three wise men mentioned. Also I would expect it to have been mentioned in other places and not just Matthew.

Scientific speculation aside, I simply can’t see how this account of the birth of Jesus being marked in the stars as being credible or possible.

Dark Clouds Looming

Since this post (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2012/11/09/theres-a-problem-in-front-of-the-pulpit/) there have been some troubling developments at our local church.

Being slightly out of the loop with my non-attendance, I don’t have a really clear picture of what’s going on. What appears to be happening though is that the older generation folks mentioned in the linked post above are gathering troops to possibly stage a rebellion. Sad.

The Pastor concerned, has made efforts at reconciliation, but there are some who simply will not take the proffered Olive Branch. He has even felt the need to preach about having an attitude of love and reconciliation from the pulpit.

On a personal level I find this whole situation strange because it wasn’t all that long ago I would have joined a similar group of dissatisfied church members in revolting against the pastor (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/there%E2%80%99s-a-problem-behind-the-pulpit/).

The difference of course is that the current problem features a pastor who has the needs of the church at his heart and is being as gracious as he can in a difficult situation. The previous situation featured a pastor who was driving his agenda in a way many saw as arrogant and didn’t really seem to care if people left the church as a result.

Differences aside, there is a bigger issue here which bothers me.

This all feels terribly unchristian. The more I think about what’s happening, the more I think “Where is the love and where do those who are unhappy think god is in this situation?”.

I can’t see how any of this can result in anything good and as a person who now no longer accepts god I find it all rather distasteful and really has put me off this church. Sad.

Whatever happens with this group of renegades, one thing is certain life for the church members will different. I only hope that those who remain afterwards have something left to build with.

Checking in on the Past

Its getting close to the first anniversary of the limey family move to a coastal location (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/settling-into-a-new-location/).

A lot has happened in that year, yet it feels like its flown past. On the whole we are very happy with the choice we made. We like where we live, we have made some good friends, our daughter is doing very well at her new school, better than we think she would have done had we not moved. We are more relaxed and happiness is up.

There has been one big negative. A dear friend from our last church lost his fight with cancer and we were unable to attend the funeral. Accounts say the church was packed and I am not surprised, he was an immensely popular man and was hugely respected by many of the young people. It was very upsetting not being able to attend but things conspired against us and it simply wasn’t possible.

On a more positive note; other good friends held their regular start of the summer BBQ and we made the trip back to our old town. That was a far more appropriate occasion to catch up with many familiar faces and share stories and updates on the past 10 months. Before the BBQ we stopped by to see the wife of good friend mentioned above. We were pleased to see that she’s being cared for, but adjustment to losing a spouse after all those years and having to deal with an empty house must be hard.

One of the inevitable conversation pieces during the BBQ would be the state of the church we left behind. Some more of our friends have left since we moved, yet the church continues to attract new members so the loss does not appear to be affecting the membership; though the demographic has been affected.

One of the friends who left is cancer survivor. She left because she didn’t like seeing people in corners obvious talking about her in hushed tones. Her illness and survival seemed to change the way some people approached her, specifically those who didn’t know her so well. Her friends of course treated her and loved her just the same and it really was good to see her again. One specific person in the church, who is now a deacon, has very strong literal and creationist views. On one occasion he had intimated something to her husband about sin and illness and the couple were left feeling that they were being judged for her not having claimed her full healing in the Name of Christ!

I think that would likely make me leave a church. I don’t know what the exact conversation was, but I do know that if I’d been the husband on the receiving end of such wisdom I’d have been far less gracious than that husband was.

There was one more shocking account of our previous church to come; this time involving the pastor. In a conversation with another couple where the subject of leaving the church came up (again I don’t know the exact details of the conversation) the pastor’s attitude was that he wasn’t bothered if people left the church. This was especially the case if the issue was on differences of theology. The pastor’s attitude was plainly that he was right and people leaving was because they were not on his side and if it was a theology issue it was an attempt by the devil to devide.

His arrogance in these matters appears to know no bounds. Sadly I am not surprised that this is his view, but I am deeply saddened.

By way of contrast, many years ago, in the early days of our marriage; my wife and I went to our Vicar (this was a Church of England Church) and explained that for all the good church did. It didn’t meet the needs of a young couple without children. He shed a tear and expressed his sadness. That is how one should react when people talk about leaving your church.

What Does Being Unequally Yoked Actually Mean?

Over the weekend my wife and I had a brief discussion about the meaning of being unequally yoked. The conversation came about because she had been reading Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, where in Chapter 2 he explicitly states “To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.” (NIV)

The unambiguous message in the text is that it is not a valid excuse to leave your spouse just because they leave the faith. Yet, as I read about on the subject, it is clear that there are many marriages where one spouse leaving the faith while the other does not often creates a situation where divorce is inevitable. I think that is sad and it leaves me with the conclusion that my wife and I are in the minority.

What’s this got to do with Yoking?

Well, later on in Corinthians is another unambiguous instruction “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?  What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?  What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?” (NIV)

The first sentence is clear; do not be yoked with unbelievers. Here is that same sentence in other versions:

  • Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. (NLT)
  • Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers (KJV)
  • Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers (ASV)
  • Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers (ESV)

I think the word ‘unequally’ dramatically changes the meaning of that sentence. Without it, the instruction is clear, don’t mix with the heathen; with it, is the implication that it is possible for a Christian to be equally yoked with an unbeliever. (I’ll skip over the question of whether unbeliever means atheist or just not a Christian but feel free to comment on that part if you wish to.)

‘Unequally’ has a bearing on the sentences that follow. One meaning implies that all unbelievers are wicked and nasty; the other that it is only the wicked and nasty unbelievers that should be avoided; unbelievers that are not wicked and nasty are okay. For me, it’s the latter that makes more sense because how on earth would it be possible to evangelise if Christians can’t mix with unbelievers? However, the insinuation that all non-believers are wicked and nasty is deeply unhelpful; even if it is not a correct interpretation, there are many Christians who believe it and there are many Churches where that message is preached.

It is highly unfortunate that a single word can make such a difference to this sentence and that it is missing in some modern translations. It is precisely this sort of thing that creates difficulty for the biblical literalist.

I had always been of the impression that the being yoked means marriage, but the context of this instruction does not implicitly state marriage and so I now think it means more than just marriage. More than that, I think it reads more appropriately as referring to a business type relationship. This item at Grace Central (http://www.gracecentered.com/unequally_yoked.htm) seems to agree, though it is not a completely thorough analysis. I do find the explanation of the original Greek very interesting, especially as it does seem to support my current position on the matter.

While there certainly does seem to be guidance towards avoiding marriage with a non-Christian, I think it’s a major stretch to assume that a marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian comes under the banner of being unequally yoked.

So What does it Actually Mean?

Well it doesn’t mean have no association with non-Christians whatsoever, despite the unfortunate language in some versions.

My thoughts are that it advises against close or dependent partnerships (not specifically or necessarily marriage) with those who would take advantage of you or have vastly different motives. This would seem to be good advice for anyone regardless of the religiosity of either partner.

Two Things that Happened last Sunday

There are two things that happened in church last Sunday that I would never have expected to happen in our last church and I think are a credit to our new church and the Pastor in residence.

Leavers being blessed

The first thing was during the service the Pastor mentioned by name a couple who had felt that they wanted to try another church in the town. The pastor mentioned this and said they’d been at tenders for about 7 years and that while he was sure they church would miss them, he wished them well and wanted to make it clear that they were welcome back any time they wished.

I think it is a good thing that a couple have a respect for their Pastor to the point that they can have that conversation with him and it shows grace that the Pastor points it out in church and the sensitive way he did and makes it clear that while he does not want them to leave he wishes them all the best.

This is something that I simply can’t imagine happening in our last church. I have seen many people leave the church in the past few years and they all disappeared silently.

An open atheist being made welcome

During coffee after the service my wife and I got talking to a couple of ladies of similar age to us. They both have children, some of which are similar in age to our daughter. One of the ladies is a Christian and had just come back from a Christian weekend away and was positively buzzing with enthusiasm as a result. The other lady was from a distinctly non-Christian household, her story of involvement with the church is that some of her children started coming to the Friday evening youth club at the church and eventually two of her daughters expressed a desire to attend church on Sundays. She and her husband agreed they would let them make their own decision and so she brings them to church on a Sunday morning but she sits in the church foyer and does not attend the service herself.

She admitted that at first it was awkward but the church lets her do that and is fine with it. She was quite happy and unembarrassed to profess her lack of faith and her Christian friend didn’t appear to let it affect the friendship that has obviously developed, although there was mention of some conversion attempts but I got the distinct impression it was not overt and was not a big issue.

I admire both the church’s stance in making this possible and in the lady in questions honesty in being in that situation. There was a level of acceptance and integrity there that I simply could not imagine occurring in my last church. There are definitely people at my last church that are capable of enabling this sort of situation to happen, however I just can’t see the church leadership making it a comfortable situation.

At one point in the conversation I told the lady that she was being more honest by expressing her position and sitting outside the service than someone who attended the service and pretended. It was meant as a compliment to her, but I was fully aware of the hypocrisy within myself as I was saying it. It was a challenge to me to be more honest about my state of faith, especially with those I love.

So what next for me?

Well, I don’t know yet. All I know is that at some point I’m going to have to stop avoiding the inevitable. Yet, I still can’t bring myself to say it straight because I am afraid of the hurt and upset that will result. I would feel immensely guilty about being the cause of that.

Sometime soon there is going to be a conversation about becoming members of the church. I know that when this church writes to our last church that there will be a glowing reference of us as a couple and a family. However, I don’t think its fair or right for me to make the same profession of faith that I did when we became members of our last church. To do so would be to lie and be dishonest.

I think what I will do is tell my wife that I am not sure I can make that same declaration and see what the conversation leads to. She knows I am having doubts as we have touched on the subject before (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/you-have-my-permission-to-be-controversial/).

Its the End of the World as We Know It

Given the publicity and internet talk of the last week, this seems as good a time as any to make a post about what in Christian circles is generally referred to as End Times.

Like the vast majority of people, the rapture prediction of Harold Camping did not have me fooled at all. Even as a rapture believing, literal thinking, fundamentalist; I would not have accepted that any person could know in advance the date of Jesus coming again, or any rapture event. After all, the Bible does say that no man can know the date. Plus the clues that Mr Camping followed to get that date, apparently exactly 7000 years after Noah’s Flood, are dubious to say the least.

Thinking back to my childhood and the literal indoctrination I received at mission school inZambia, I remember a surprising amount of End Time teaching. We were taught to live as though Christ would come again tomorrow and to live in expectation that we would live to see that day. The rapture scenario was assumed to be true, though biblical doctrine of it is a tad dubious.

On more than one occasion the assertion that we were ‘living in End Times’ was made. Despite my young age, this wasn’t so much scary, as exciting; imagine the privilege of being of one the glorious few who would actually get to witness the second coming with their own eyes rather than the more common, being raised from the dead!

Why the fear?

I read with great interest this post and the associated links; http://secularwings.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/what-happens-may-22/. Zoe touched on a subject that had not previously occurred to me. That Christians would fear judgement day. For me, confident from a young age in my assured salvation, judgement day was something to anticipate not fear. It was the day of reckoning for those who denied Christ, but for those to accept him, there was certain salvation and everlasting joy. Our sins would not be a barrier to salvation, so long as we still have the Holy Spirit in our lives, which I did from the day that I knelt down and prayed the prayer of conversion.

I certainly don’t want to mock or belittle anyone who had a fear of the day of Christ’s coming again. I guess our reaction depends on how we were taught. I was taught that being perfect and sinless was not a criteria, being saved was. The concept of having to account for our actions to a Holy King was taught but not swelled on, the emphasis was that those who denied Jesus would be the ones who had much to fear. Hence my confusion that Christians would be concerned about that day; yet it appears that many are, or have been.

Personally I put this down to confused teaching rather than Christians of uncertain foundation. If the preaching and teaching on the subject is such that it leaves Christians in fear of their eternal soul, then something is very wrong.

But what of the dubious theology behind the rapture?

I am not aware that any church I have regularly attended as an adult has had a minister or pastor who accepted the rapture as a viable biblical prophesies. Internet searches on the subject seem to indicate that our Christian cousins in theUSare far more pro the rapture than mainstream Christianity is in theUK. In fact I remember one very well liked pastor going out of his way to condemn the theology behind the Left Behind series of books.

Now I have to make it clear that I am by no means an expert on the book of Revelations and I certainly have no credentials that entitle me to talk with authority on the subject.

When one considers the End Times prophecies that are taken from the Bible, especially the last book; the reality of a rapture and prolonged period of judgement before Christ’s eventual return on bodily form, seems highly suspect. Its not at all like the first chapter of Genesis, where a literal reading leaves one in little doubt over what supposedly happened.

End Time theology and prophesy requires much interpretation and reading what different people say reveals a vast array of differences. About the only certainty is that no one can no for sure; which leave the previously mentioned Harold Camping in the unenviable position of being mocked and ridiculed by Atheists and Christians alike.

Personally, I was taught that the second coming and the rising up of all Christians into heaven was a single event, yet many seem to interpret them as two distinct events, the Rapture and the Glorious Appearing, each separated by varying amounts of time, depending on who you read.

Leave the End Times alone

If there is anything to learn from the sordid mess; its that prophesy and teaching on End Times should be left well alone.

Yet, that seems to be impossible; like a cloud of insects around a porch light on a dark night, Christians and crackpots seem incapable of avoiding the subject and each time the result is the same.