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Ask the Bishop

Q: Your vision of a reformed Christianity is easy for me to embrace. However, I am concerned that this vision is not compatible with "The Church Catholic." Do you believe the dream of a unified church is a necessary casualty of the Reformed Church?

A: The first thing that I think you and everyone else must face is that there never has been a unified church. That is nothing less than ecclesiastical propaganda on the part of those who like to suggest that anyone disagreeing with their church today disagrees with a specific historic Christian tradition. What Christians refer to today as "orthodox Christianity" is a reference to that part of the Christian Church that actually won the battle for supremacy. Winning never means you were right, it means only that you were stronger. If you read the work of someone like Bart Ehrman, a University of North Carolina Religion Professor and New York Times best-selling author, the multiplicity of competing Christian groups in the early years of Christian history becomes very apparent. There was really no such thing as "early Christianity," as church polemicists use that phrase today. There were in fact "early Christianities." The battle to be able to define what orthodox Christianity consisted of was finally decided on the basis of political power. The Bishop of Rome turned the power of his location in that capital city of the known world into the ability to define Christianity and to limit the understanding of the past to his particular interpretation of the past. So we need to disabuse our minds of the idea that there ever was a unified Christianity to which we must now seek to return.

Second, we need to recognize that the New Testament never speaks of Christianity as a majority movement. The Fourth Gospel has Jesus pray that "they all may be one," which clearly implies that they were not one or the prayer would not have expressed this hope. The image of the relationship of the Church to the world in the gospels is never an image of Christianity dominating or ruling the world. Christianity is always portrayed as a minority movement, a remnant if you will. The New Testament expresses the idea that in the vast darkness of the world, the Christians are to be a lighted candle, in the soup of life the Christians are to be the salt, and in the lump of dough, the Christians are to be the leaven that makes the bread edible.

Our job as Christians is never to conquer or to dominate the world, but to give the world a new quality. That is all I seek to do today. I want to be a light shining in both the darkness of the world and of the church. I want to be the seasoning that makes the soup tasty or the leavening agent that causes the loaf to rise. History teaches me that the reformation of Christianity never comes from the dominant center of the church, but only from the marginalized edges. In this generation I watch a faithful church slowly emerging, but it is not yet and may well never be a majority movement. I listen in despair to Christian leaders who think they can bring unity by imposing propositional truth on all people, or to leaders who are willing to sacrifice truth in order to achieve unity. I believe that being faithful is always more important than being unified. This means that in the present struggle in my particular church, I would rather see my church divided than to see it united in homophobia, patriarchy or racism.

- John Shelby Spong


"Live Forever!"
 
Posts: 6904 | Location: 11 South Saint James Street, Green Town, Illinois | Registered: 02 October 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Ask the Bishop

Q: Bishop Spong, what is your understanding of Jesus coming back from the dead?

A: It's one of those things you can't prove or disprove. It's a matter of faith to some. Personally, I don't find it important. What I find important is that people would embrace my understanding of scriptures and take it to heart so that we can be freer people and more aligned with what God has for us.

Q: What about scriptural verses that deal with homosexuality, adultery, fornication. What is your understanding of them?

A: I think people are too fast to judge. Judge not and ye be not judged. I think people should be able to choose how they feel God has led them to live. There should not be some God in the sky with a hammer ready to blow you to bits because of some minor moral mistake.

Q: Minor moral mistake? Can you give me an example of a minor moral mistake?

A: I would rather refrain from answering at this time because it would require a rather lengthy explanation and discussion and I think you had mentioned before we started that you would like to keep this interview short.

Q: Oh, that's okay. We can split it in parts for later posting.

A: No, I rather postpone that answer.

Q: How about your idea of heaven and who goes in?

A: Look, those are complicated questions. No one really has an answer, a quick answer.

Q: How about Hell. Is there such a place?

A: Again, I think we should stick to the subject.

Q: Well, isn't all this part of the subject we are discussing: that is to say, scripture?

A: But scripture has been so distorted thru the centuries. It's difficult to say what it really is saying. That is why I am hesitant to ansewer ytour questions before first really thinking them over.

Q: But haven't you thought about all this stuff before?

A: Well, yes, but we are not really ready to hear the profound and life changing answers I have to offer the world and mankind. But I will, nonetheless, continue to expound what I see is the need in this day and age for the correct understanding of scripture.

- John Shelby Spong

Love the Bishop



 
Posts: 624 | Location: San Francisco | Registered: 27 October 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Interesting "Ask the Bishop" post there, Doug... I remember (when I was younger) hearing quite a bit about the ecumenical movement, the ultimate goal of which would be, I assume, full Communion among disparate denominations.

However, I've not heard much about the movement lately. I don't know if that's just because I'm out of the loop, or whether ecumenicism is an idea whose time has passed, and which has faded.

I think getting various Christian groups to agree with one another and act in unity was always a rather unlikely goal, though! After all, there are some pretty substantial differences in doctrine among the various Christian denominations.

As an example, just look at this particular thread. There are what, perhaps ten people who post here on a regular basis? And that small number are completely incapable of agreement on most matters of a religious nature. If only ten people seem unable to agree, how much less likely are one thousand---or one million---people to agree on religious matters. I think the natural inclination of the church (or any group/organisation of like-minded human beings) is to continue to fragment over time, into smaller and smaller groups. Humans are so contentious as a rule; seems inevitable!
 
Posts: 232 | Location: The Land of Trees and Heroes | Registered: 10 June 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Whoa Oah! there theoctobercountry kid!

You make it sound like there is no basis for Christianity. The problem is with those who refuse to accept the basic teachings of Christ. Do you know what they are? #1 You must love the Lord thy God with your whole heart, with your whole mind, and with your whole soul. And the second is #2, Love your neighbor as yourself.

There are those who do not want to follow the second one, and surely not the first one.
 
Posts: 162 | Registered: 04 January 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by Salamander:
Whoa Oah! there theoctobercountry kid!

You make it sound like there is no basis for Christianity.
Well, I'm not sure how you reached that conclusion from my previous post. I was only saying that Christians seem incapable upon agreeing on the details of many doctrines that are vital to the faith. (If they could agree, there would only be one world-wide Christian church, and not hundreds of splinter groups.)

With so many variances in the beliefs of individual members of the church, I would think that the ecumenical movement was doomed to failure.
 
Posts: 232 | Location: The Land of Trees and Heroes | Registered: 10 June 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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theoctobercountrykid:

Christian are incapable of agreeing on many doctrines that are vital to the faith? Really?

Name me a couple. Heck, just name me one. One that is vital to the faith that Christians seem incapable upon agreeing. The key word here is VITAL.
 
Posts: 162 | Registered: 04 January 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Ask the Bishop

Q: Bishop Spong, why do you reject the resurrection of Jesus Christ? It is the basis for Christianity.

A: You cannot prove from scriptures that such an event actually happened. I haven't even tried. It's just not there. Of course, the Apostles were led into the false premise that this event was a fundamental important part of their faith.

Q: How can you say that it was a false statement? Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, there is no Christianity.

A: I disgree with that.

Q: But that is stated in the Bible.

A: But the Bible cannot be trusted in its present form since it has been altered thru the centuries.

Q: Oh, come now. How can you say that? Scholars and believers thru the centuries have understood and experienced the power of God and the power of the Holy Spirit thru accepting the work of Christ in their lives.

A: If that works for you, fine. I do not accept many things that the so called historic church accepts. For instance, I do not accept the virgin birth. I do not believe Christ was buried in a tomb but, rather, in a common grave. I do not accept this notion of the sovereignty of God, that is to say where God knows and controls everything. No way.

Q: Bishop, is there anything in the Bible, the historic Bible that you accept as true?

At this moment, a cell phone call came in and within a minute the interview had to end. Better luck at getting some answers next time.



 
Posts: 624 | Location: San Francisco | Registered: 27 October 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by Salamander:
theoctobercountrykid:

Christian are incapable of agreeing on many doctrines that are vital to the faith? Really?

Name me a couple. Heck, just name me one. One that is vital to the faith that Christians seem incapable upon agreeing. The key word here is VITAL.


OK, I once asked a Catholic priest if I could worship in his church. He said I was always welcome. Then I asked if he would come to a Methodist church and worship there with me. His answer is at the heart of our little problem: "Why," he said, " there is no God in that other church." Just a minor difference you say? I call it my way or the highway mentality and it is all about control and monopoly over the choices that are available for choosing.
 
Posts: 847 | Location: Laguna Hills, CA USA | Registered: 02 January 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I know I just shouldn't do this as it is likely futile, but:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/...AR2007091402199.html

The number of us who do not identify with any of the organized religious groups is steadily rising over time.

Also:

http://www.ffrf.org/
 
Posts: 847 | Location: Laguna Hills, CA USA | Registered: 02 January 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by Salamander:
theoctobercountrykid:

Christian are incapable of agreeing on many doctrines that are vital to the faith? Really?

Name me a couple. Heck, just name me one. One that is vital to the faith that Christians seem incapable upon agreeing. The key word here is VITAL.
Well, I suppose the one that (more so than any other) is at the heart of Christian worship is the act of communion. You have three basic beliefs, here: 1. It is a symbolic act only. 2. The spirit of Christ is present in the bread and wine. 3. The physical presence of Christ is present in the Eucharist.

So, at the extreme ends of this variation you have one group who just thinks of the act of communion as a remembrance of a sacrifice that happened once and for all time, 2000 years ago, and who focuses on the risen Christ. The group at the other end believes that the sacrifice of Christ is ongoing and never-ending, literally re-enacted continuously at points all over the globe every single time Mass is held.

Question is not perhaps whether differences in doctrine like this are VITAL, but whether people THINK they are. And apparently quite a few people do think the differences are vital. (Again, if people did not think such differences were so very important, there would not be so many incompatible Christian factions.)

My own experience with such divergent opinions in "real life" comes with some Baptists I've know, who firmly believed that Roman Catholics were not only non-Christian, but that the RC organisation is in fact the instrument through which the anti-Christ will enter the world and trigger a Biblical apocalypse. (Another example of this mind-set is very apparent in the reading of those infamous Chick religious tracts. This group definitely demonises the RCC; in their opinion even the most devout, meek and mild Catholic is headed straight to hell due to their church.)

(Another example is the whole Calvinism/predestination question. I'm not going to bother to go into detail with this one, because anyone can easily look up the details regarding this doctrine on-line, if they are unfamiliar with the terms. But this is a HUGE difference in belief between two factions of Christianity.)

Again, are these differences vital? Do they really matter? Well, in some people's minds they do.
 
Posts: 232 | Location: The Land of Trees and Heroes | Registered: 10 June 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by patrask:

OK, I once asked a Catholic priest if I could worship in his church. He said I was always welcome. Then I asked if he would come to a Methodist church and worship there with me. His answer is at the heart of our little problem: "Why," he said, " there is no God in that other church."


As a practicing Catholic from the time I was in elementary school, all I can say is the priest was, simply put, uneducated. The Catholic Church is so huge, you still even have idol worship in some segments (Africa, South America, Mexico) because of being uneducated in their faith and more anchored to their original core beliefs. Nowadays, Roman Catholic priests even appear on Evangelical TV programs, that is to say, Protestant programming, the very denomination that your priest you talked to referred to. But you still have leading Catholics stuck in old mind sets. And, you have leading Catholics understanding the original intent of scripture and expounding it. The fundamental scriptural issue between Catholics and Protestants has always been this, the very issue that split the Church by the esteemed Roman Catholic Martin Luther: Catholics would say that Jesus Christ plus works get you to heaven. Martin Luther went with the exact scriptural teaching: Jesus Christ and nothing else. Today, even the Pope goes with the understanding that it's all Jesus and nothing else, the very principal that split the Church centuries ago.

_________________________________

theoctobercountry: Simplify all this: the Christian faith has to do with faith in Jesus Christ and the work he has done on our behalf. The work he has done is this: by accepting him, and denying yourself so that he can begin to "invade" your soul, you slowly become transformed into the original intent you were created for in the very first place. The initial experience of this change is often referred to as being born-again, because a new person is beginning created by God (the old one has been damaged by inherent sin) that transcends time and, once the body dies, lives forever in a new body that is able to live in this new place, whereas a physical body like we have today, could not exist. Jesus, for instance, was resurrected in a physical body, but a resurrected body that had the elements of being able to exist in a different realm: he could eat, or he didn't have to eat. He could be in one place, or another without walking there. He could appear and disappear.

Ultimately, no matter what denomination you are in, the question is: have you accepted Christ as your Saviour and do you love him and deny yourself so he can begin to do his work in your life? In that case, the fringe problems of what is communion, confession, worshiping on Saturday or Wednesday or Sunday, are all important to various degrees, but are all secondary.
 
Posts: 162 | Registered: 04 January 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Ultimately, no matter what denomination you are in, the question is: have you accepted Christ as your Saviour and do you love him and deny yourself so he can begin to do his work in your life? In that case, the fringe problems of what is communion, confession, worshiping on Saturday or Wednesday or Sunday, are all important to various degrees, but are all secondary.
So, it sounds as if you are one of the people who believe that these differences are NOT vital. And frankly, that's all to the well and good; the world would be a much happier and more peaceful place if everyone had a similar attitude.

Unfortunately, not everyone does; there are always going to be those people or groups who feel that everyone should worship EXACTLY the same way in every particular detail, having precisely the same beliefs, as they themselves do. And they feel that anyone who believes differently is hopelessly misguided. And this is why I don't think the various factions of the church will ever be truly united, why there will always be plenty of arguments, with some groups always denouncing others about some point of doctrine or the other...
 
Posts: 232 | Location: The Land of Trees and Heroes | Registered: 10 June 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by theoctobercountry:


Unfortunately, not everyone does; there are always going to be those people or groups who feel that everyone should worship EXACTLY the same way in every particular detail, having precisely the same beliefs, as they themselves do. And they feel that anyone who believes differently is hopelessly misguided. And this is why I don't think the various factions of the church will ever be truly united, why there will always be plenty of arguments, with some groups always denouncing others about some point of doctrine or the other...


Well, we take this conversation up a notch. Ask these people if they have accepted Christ as Saviour. If they say yes, then they often discuss their own works after salvation. Not to sound complicated, but it goes like this: When you ask Christ into your life, the wrath of God falls on his son, Jesus, not you. So you have been vindicated. But now there is this big thing about crowns, what good we do AFTER we are saved. To make a long story short, people get into things that are then certainly legalistic, at times forgetting about unmerited favor, which is called Grace, and trying to work their way again. That is actually addressed in scripture, because it was a problem even in the early church.
 
Posts: 162 | Registered: 04 January 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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This is only my view:
There has been too much pain, suffering, too many deaths, and unhappiness that humanity has permitted due to belief systems that promise a better life in another place, subject to the IFs that each teach. The rub in all of this is that there is absolutely no proof of any of this, only a faith that is required to permit the believer to follow the path to a better life in the hereafter. I am concerned with the here and now, and I believe that not enough attention is paid to solving our real world problems and learning to live together as humans on this tiny blue ball in the universe that happens to contain us, the spark of life in this corner of the universe.

We risk losing all that we have been given by concentrating on our differences rather than our common humanity. Religions are one of the causes of this amplification of our differences, and thus are not a good thing in the long run of our progression upward from the cave to the light of knowledge.

From my readings I am convinced that most of those who follow the three most well know religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, know not the true origins of those religions, but, once having received their indoctrinations, are forever bound in all likelihood to follow a set of beliefs to the exclusion of all others. The Chosen People are told that they are selected by their God and should kill others that are not of their tribe. The Christians of the Catholic Church, universal, as the only true Church, are allowed to believe they can, by performing certain acts, achieve a place in an afterlife that is better than this one, and killing those who oppose Mother Church is permitted as a means of bringing about the second coming of their savior. The Muslims are told that they are the only true believers and they can and should kill the infidel, and especially the Jews who are despised by their religion.

All of this, based not on one iota of fact that can be confirmed in any scientific way, the way any rational thinking human would support what he wants to demonstrate to the world as a truth. Believe or die, or, die if you believe, for the sake of your religion.

I simply ask: what if all of this is just recycled mythology, repacked every 2000 years or so by the governing power of the time to provide a pacification program for the masses, a means of controlling their intellect and for marshaling their labors for the support of that power. There have been many religions over the ages that were then thought to be the only true path and have fallen and then been usurped into the next religion, incorporated to enable the remaining stragglers of the belief system to adapt to the new paradigm shift.

I think it is time to allow the questioning to be more vocal, to sound the alarm that all of this is to the detriment of Human Kind. I believe that is time to come out of the closet for those of us who see this as untruths and tell others to question their leaders for answers that make sense and can pass the test asked of any knowledge acquired, multiple sources, confirmation by experimentation, facts and data. Not faith, which has no self-correcting aspect, but can lead to an incorrect judgment of reality. Our senses cannot be trusted, they are of limited use, and must be augmented by other means to confirm the response we experience from the outside world. Why then do we accept on faith what we would reject in everyday life as assumptions and mythology? It must be that we humans are still afraid of the dark and need a candle to help us feel warmer, so we invent one and use it to feel safer. If we learned to trust one another, to share our collective and continually increasing knowledge, we could then lose that fear of the night and see the dark as an opportunity to experience the universe in all its glory, not cower in the cave of fear.

For this reason I am not a follower of any religion. They are all inaccurate in my view and only serve to prevent the coming together of the citizens of Mother Earth to work together for a better condition for all. I am not alone in this, there have been many learned men and women over time who have questioned the veracity of the prevailing religions, and more do so every day. Some went to their agonizing deaths at the hands of followers of a benevolent Christ, and others of other gods, but all paid dearly for not accepting what they saw as falsehood. I am willing to be counted in that group if I can make one other person just think about all of this and reach a rational conclusion that religion is not necessary. Or at least should be amended to include the equality of all belief systems as one and the same.

Such a dreamer am I?

This message has been edited. Last edited by: patrask,
 
Posts: 847 | Location: Laguna Hills, CA USA | Registered: 02 January 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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patrask! I have to cordially disagree with much you say. There are no IFS, as you say. 'If' it were only IFS, then everything would be built on simply fragile pinnings. There would be no reality.

There is proof, contrary to what you say. It's sad but true. Sad for the atheist who miss out on the reality of how life has been created.

This hereafter you speak about isn't just hereafter. Christ said it was right here! And that it was right inside of you. Today. Right now.

As I said, I have to cordially disagree with much you say here. This idea of everyone working together and living peacefully together will never, never never happen. Ever. This is not my mind set or my pessimistic conclusion but it's human nature in a fallen creation. The very fact that we are trying to discover how to live forever or at least extend life in fragile bodies, or discover one discovery after another, says something about why everything is there to begin with, waiting to be discovered in the first place. Obviously there is something all already there that far exceeds anything man can even imagine. How did all that happen to get there? Scripture explains it.

And scripture evokes the deepest love from the deepest part of man's soul to the deepest regard for his Creator. It's all in the metaphors, the imagery, the ideas presented that have a direct avenue to the soul and spirit itself. If you start trying to figure out what the origins of the words were, the ideas, the principals, then throw your Bible to a dusty corner. You have rationalized yourself into a black-hole. This is no different than when Ray Bradbury speaks about dancing. He talks about the need for immediacy, the creative act of moving the legs and arms and mind and heart to the music. IF you should try to analyze how all this is done and the origins thereof, of what muscle must the brain activate to move such and such a movement, and what chemical process must be triggered in the first place to activate the brain, and so forth and so forth, you will freeze up on the dance floor and become a pillar of salt.

Don't continue to do that to the Bible.
 
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