Tom Pittman's WebLog

2018 July 23 -- It's NOT "All About Relationship"

My friend is in a weekly Bible study which came to the end of their topic, so they were casting about for a new topic. One of the candidates was titled "It's All About Relationship" and knowing about my hobby horse, he pointed me at the materials -- no link: not only can I not recommend the guy's theology, but the website is encrypted (not open to the public). I won't even tell you his name (you could find it easily enough in Google), because he's not alone: Just now I Googled the phrase and turned up a half-dozen different purveyors of the same theme.

We have the convergence of several problems here, beginning with the market for Bible study materials. Studying the Bible takes a lot of effort and time, far more than reading somebody's predigested commentary on the Bible, which is more effort than listening to the podcast or watching the video. Listening to somebody tell you what to think prevents you from doing your own thinking, you are forced along at the speed he set, which is faster than you can think about the material -- it's certainly faster than the speaker took to think about what he's telling you, and he's had more experience at it than you ever will (that's why you are listening to him, not the other way around) -- so we all just veg into zombie mode and listen. That's not a good way to learn anything.

If you are reading his commentary, you can read at your own speed, and stop to think about what he's saying, or go back to review something he said earlier, or (more important) look up the text in Scripture yourself and see if in context it really says what he says it says. You can pause the recording and do some of that even while listening, but nobody ever does that. It's more effort than just listening, and we are all lazy. Most of the important Bible teachings you can get with reading and comparing, but even that has its problems.

Recall last week I mentioned the Sunday School class at the church I went to, the teacher waffled on how many Israelites there were in the desert. That's not his fault, he's using prepared materials which apply modern feminist concepts that are foreign to the Bible. We do that, and the only way to avoid the problem is to become so familiar with the text that the dislocations caused by such import obviously don't fit. You won't get that in 40 minutes on a Sunday morning or Wednesday evening, it's a life-long commitment to 2Tim.3:16 reading the whole Bible as if it all matters, it's all important. Fortunately, correct theology of the minutiae is not a requirement for entry into Heaven, the Lordship of Jesus Christ is what it's all about [Rom.10:9].

The second problem is how this guy got into the topic. He tells us he was a new believer, and he started a Bible study that was already drawing 150 students every week, and he alone was responsible for teaching them. That's a good problem to have, but it's still a problem. He's all alone, he's a cowboy. He should have spiritual oversight, and there's nobody to protect him from sliding off into error like Jim Jones. The Biblical model is episcopal, overseers watching over the newbies coming up, but we Americans do not believe in hierarchy, "everybody is created equal" is written into the American founding document, and while it's sort of Biblical, in practice it isn't. Yes, the overseers can become corrupted too -- that's what Luther was trying to fix -- but more people involved helps prevent mistakes that need fixing.

The third problem is how this guy got into the topic. He starts reading John 15 over and over. Reading the Bible in depth is not a bad thing to do, but you need to step back far enough to see what the context is. In the recording I listened to, he tells us that this is "the last thing Jesus said to his disciples." It's not, the Great Commission is the last thing before he went up into Heaven. This is a longer sermon than the snippets on the Cross and after the Resurrection, but it doesn't start in chapter 15, but rather in 13:31, with the keystone point right there at the beginning in 13:34: "I'm giving you a new commandment... 14:21 The one who obeys me... will be loved by God." It's about obedience to God's commandments, not "relationship" at all. Elsewhere Jesus makes clear that the way to Heaven is to keep God's commandments. Here, in the previous chapter, the chapter this guy is not reading, God's love is conditional on keeping those commandments. The Relationshipists don't like that verse, it's hard to do. Not impossible (with God's help) but very hard. We screw up, but God forgives us (if we want it, if we agree not to do it again, which is called repentance) and it becomes easier. But ya gotta have the wanta.

There are four "remain"s ("abide" in the King James) in chapter 15, which represent the dictionary definition of "relationship," but no honest Bible translator translates those words as "relationship." Why is that? The translators, every one of them Relationshipists themselves, know that in the church "relationship" means "affirmation," and that's not what this chapter is about (in context, see chapter 14). The dictionary definition (connectivity) isn't even the main point here, the main point announced at the beginning is obedience, and being connected to Jesus Christ is the way to get the power (the sap through the veins of the branches from the trunk of the vine) to be what God wants you to be, to "bear fruit." The connectivity is the means to the end, but the end is not relationship, the end is Jesus Christ and our obedience to him.

Jesus Christ as LORD is what it's all about, not "relationship," and it's all over the Bible, not just in John 13-15. Jesus as LORD means Jesus has the right to tell us what to do, and when we do that, when we accept him as LORD and obey his commands, then the Father will love us. And it's not hard, if you want to. But ya gotta have the wanta.

God seems to be content with letting a bunch of goofball Relationshipists run His Church in the USA, because (as Paul tells us [Rom.11:4, quoting 1K.19:18]) God always has "His 7000 men of Israel who have not bowed the knee to Ba'al and whose lips have not kissed him." There are people in American churches who get it, who live a life of obedience. There were people in the pre-Reformation Catholic church who got it. I think we need a new Reformation to put a stop to the American indulgences ("God's unconditional love"), but I don't seem to be the Luther to pull it off.

There are three Commandments, everything else is explanation:

1. (This is in the Law of Moses, and quoted by Jesus, and explained everywhere) You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. God has the right to tell you what to do and you have the duty to do it. Look at the Muslims, they understand this one -- partly, they missed that Jesus is God's final representative.

2. (Also in the Law of Moses, quoted by Jesus and Paul, and explained everywhere) You shall love your neighbor as yourself. It's the Golden Rule and even the atheists understand it, but the Muslims (at least the Jihadists) don't. Most of us are far too selfish to pull it off 100% but we can learn, we can work at it. If you don't want to do it now, what makes you think you'd like being in Heaven, when everybody must do it (otherwise it wouldn't be Heaven for the other people)?

3. (The "New Commandment" given by Jesus) Love other Christians more than the Golden Rule. The GR is equality, give to them what you want for yourself, the New Commandment calls us to give them over and above, to our own detriment, like giving your life for your friends. That's hard, especially if you haven't got the Golden Rule down. But you can do it, if you want to. God wants to help you do it. But ya gotta have the wanta.


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