One denomination’s truth is another’s heresy

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If you’re familiar with my backstory, you’ve probably heard me say more than once that the Jewish way of studying the Bible is what ended up saving my faith – that is to say, asking hard questions of the text, wrestling with it, and being comfortable with degrees of uncertainty. The Talmud, a compilation of commentary on the Torah, is literally just that: debates, arguments, musings, and conjectures about what a passage might mean, what God did or did not intend, and how to apply (or not apply) certain laws.

Many Christians have issues with this approach. They want the black and white; they don’t like uncertainty. If the text says something happened, it happened, exactly as it is written. Everything is literal, and if you doubt any of it, you have to throw your entire faith away.

I encountered this type of thinking in many Bible studies, campus ministry groups, and churches. There is no way to classify these groups, as they called themselves non-denominational, but it’s fair to say that they represent a mainstream form of Christianity. Many people bump into it at some point or another. It’s not uncommon by any means.

But that doesn’t stop some people from commenting, Well those groups don’t represent True Christianity. You should join my church/Bible study instead.

These comments are well-intentioned, but they get very old, very fast. Worse, they invalidate my experiences, many of which were nearly fatal to my faith. They may not represent what Christianity has looked like in your own life, but they were very real to me.

Let’s be real: Jesus may be perfect, but humans are definitely not. They twist his words. They interpret Scripture with an agenda (some worse than others). We are all guilty of this, to an extent.

It’s not hard to find examples of toxic Christianity: it’s evident on street corners, on the signs on preachers yelling at passers-by that they are going to hell if they don’t repent. It’s in the comments of tweets by Christian authors such as Rachel Held Evans and Jen Hatmaker (two women whose writings helped bring me back to the fold, I might add). It’s in the responses of parents who disown their gay or transgender children. It’s in the callousness of anyone who refuses to listen – not agree with, but simply listen – to an idea or story they find strange, uncomfortable, or maybe even a tad heretical.

The fact that the phrase “Not All Christians” exists and is so popularly used is an indictment against the very idea of True Christianity in the first place. As I say in my memoir, one denomination’s truth is another’s heresy. That was true in Jesus’ day, and remains so today.

While levels of fundamentalism exist within Judaism, it has been my experience that “absolute truth” is never the goal; community is, as well as learning more about the relationship between God and his people Israel.

People can argue and disagree until they’re blue in the face without having No True Jew tossed in their faces. Mature Christians who love God and love Scripture should be able to engage in discussion the same way.

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4 thoughts on “One denomination’s truth is another’s heresy

  1. Cinci says:

    Funny I was listening to a Kenneth Copeland music CD in my car on the way home from seeing the Mr. Rogers movie (an awesome film about faith I have to say). Anyway I am getting reaquainted with Kenneth’s voice having left the word faith movement a couple decades ago. He is a powerful singer with excellent musicians but that is beside the point. I noticed while my wife napped in the seat next to me they he was singing the Christian anthem “l believe, I believe I believe” etc. I thought to myself what does that mean and what does it have to do with a relationship with G-d? Who cares what anyone believes and what control do you have the things that have presented themselves to you as true anyway? Why is Christianity such a church confessional faith where it is the things that come out of your mouth that save you and not what you do? Didn’t Paul say “I you confess…”? I am not misstating the case. Meanwhile there is Fred Rogers, a man who loved and was condemned by confessional Christians become he was not sufficiently hostile to gays. Never mind the marginalized lives that he touched on an ongoing basis throughout his life. As I brushed my teeth tonight before coming to bed and reading this post I thought that I believe litterally nothing in the Bible and marveled that I thought of the scriptures as biographical ever. My best guess is that the stories are fairy tales and I have no reason to believe otherwise. Does this make me less religious and less G-dly? I honestly don’t think so but feel free to condemn me and tell me I am wrong.

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    • Sarahbeth Caplin says:

      I wouldn’t condemn you 🙂

      Here’s another difference between Jewish Bible interpretation and Christianity: Judaism doesn’t require every detail of every story to be literally true in order to still be sacred. So Christianity’s doctrine of inerrancy didn’t come from that- it’s actually a fairly recent development in Christian history.

      People have asked me, Well if you don’t need all of Scripture to be true in order to follow it, then what good is Jesus? First of all, every part of Scripture needs to be interpreted individually: just because the earth wasn’t created in six literal days doesn’t mean, say, that the Jews weren’t actually slaves under Pharoah in a different part of Scripture. Scientifically validating every detail is missing the heart of the text.

      Jesus, on the other hand, IS validated by sources outside of the Bible. Plenty of secular historians believe he was a real person. So there is no conflict there.

      Doubt and faith are two sides of the same coin (see Mark, “Lord I believe- help my unbelief”). They can coexist and you can still follow God, I promise 🙂

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  2. bobcabkings says:

    In his novel, “Island”, Aldous Huxley has a character, a rather cynical and world weary English journalist who does admit to having a favorite prayer. It is, “Lord, grant me this day my daily faith and preserve me from belief.” I encountered that book in my Freshman year at college (1963-4) and have pondered often over the years on that prayer and the difference between faith and belief, particularly literal belief such as you describe among many Christians who seem to equate the two and see any difference in belief or interpretation as a lack of faith. That book was also my introduction to Buddhism, but that’s another story.

    Liked by 3 people

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