It’s an offence!

not-religiousOne of the most influential books I read as a young Christian trying to find the path that Jesus asked us to follow was “How to be a Christian without being Religious” by Fritz Ridenour. It was a fairly simple book that expounded Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Well, it was as simple as any exposition of that letter can be! Needless to say, the main point the author was trying to get across was that religion is not what following Jesus is about, and that, in essence, is one of the main themes Paul stresses in his epistles, which was exactly why the book had that title. So it has shaped me ever since, to be someone who wishes to express my love for Jesus and my desire to follow him without falling into the same trap that all other religion (including ‘Christian religion’) falls into. That is the trap of sameness, ritual and blind devotion to a code and to a way that others have followed without much thought.

One of the ways we see this expressed is when an offence is caused against a religion. The murders at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris is an extreme example; that magazine made the offence of religions across the world its mission, and they did create a long string of articles and cartoons that enraged religious adherents of many faiths. However, they did not deserve to die for such transgressions. When I do see and hear fellow believers become almost1489207_10205194809768149_7591136757420390852_n as ‘offended’ at such publications as those Muslim extremists, I fear that it might be possible they could descend into the same madness (some Christians have been so offended by abortions being performed that they have resorted to murder!). On a more standard level, though, short of taking someone’s life, I do wonder if we are only having the same attitude as those jihadists, and becoming ‘religious’ about it. Should we be any different in our demeanour? Can we?

When questions like this arise in my head, I turn to other things I know I can apply. Linguistically, an ‘offence’ (in English at least) can be taken, but never given! I cannot give you offence, but I can cause you offence. ‘Cause’ is one of those words that carries specific semantic properties – in layman’s terms, it means it is fairly easy to grasp what it means. Were you to hit someone with your car while driving and they died, you would have caused their death. You would not be performing the active verb ‘to kill’, unless you drove at them with the intention of killing them. So ’cause’ has a limited usage: it is indicative of an action that created a situation not intended or beyond the control of the performer. Note that you can use the active verb form: “You offended me!”, whether the person who offended you intended to or not; it can be used in both cases.

So if you have a case where someone says or does something with the intent to offend you, that is very deliberate. However, for someone to cause you offence, you have to take it. If I were to attempt to give you a gift, but you did not take it, then I did not give it, I only intended to. The transaction did not take place. Similarly, in order for an offence to occur, it has to be taken by the intended recipient. Otherwise, no offence passed from intender to intendee! Put it another way; if the offender has the intention, and wishes to offend you, they will be thwarted if you don’t take it. Yes? Their fiery dart will have missed its intended target. If, however, they had no intention of causing offence, and did so in ignorance or innocence, then why should you take the offence anyway? In both cases, choosing not to take offence is the best option! No?

So while this might all sound fine and dandy as my own philosophising, does it ‘square up with scripture’?

But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.

Matt. 5:39

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,’[Deut. 32:35] 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.’[Prov. 25:21,22]

Rom. 12: 18-20

In other words, the person who intends to cause offence against us as believers must be offered ‘the other cheek’ i.e. we show that they did not smite us or knock us down, but we are willing to let them continue to try to insult us. The person who intends to offend God is in God’s hands, and it is not for us to jump to his defence. As I have quoted the lyrics of Bono before: “Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady!” We are to stand up for the little guy who needs defending, but not the creator of the universe! We not only insult him in his majesty, we also disobey his direct commands!

Also, imagine having burning coals heaped on your head! Would you not be dancing in pain, howling and swiping your head to get the coals off? Pretty funny for others to watch who had that sort of sense of humour, but almost certainly you’d be looking like a fool. So in order to disarm these intentional offenders, our reaction should be not to react! If we take no offence, they will be seen as base, boorish or just plain annoying. The unintentional offenders who might do so just for the sake of comedy would not fulfil this maxim if they had no intent i.e. they are not our enemy. We might just be able to laugh along with them, if they were really being funny.

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for whoever is not against us is for us.

Mark 9:40

Yeah, maybe I’ve taken that verse well out of context, but let us not make more enemies for ourselves! Just because Jesus told us “Everyone will hate you because of me” (Mark 13:13 – which could also be said to be out of context since Jesus was talking about the persecution by the first-century Jews) does not mean we must go around giving people reason to hate us! Such attitude and/or behaviour flies in the face of all the commands to love and do good to others!

Grace be with you.

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The end, surely? (but NOT for the EU!)

tower-of-babel-600I have blogged a few times on ‘End Times Prophecies’ and thought I might have posted my last. Recently, with the EU debate looming, old interpretations about Rome/ Babylon/ Europe/ whatever have surfaced again. Yes! Old ones, since I’d heard it all before many years ago! A very good short blog was shared on social media, from premierchristianity.com., entitled ‘I believe in prophecy. But the EU is not Babylon the Great.’ (here)

The author of the blog, Martyn Whittock, is qualified in theology and history, and specialised in the interpretation of prophecy in the 17th century. I have always wondered what previous generations (pre-dispensationalism) made of these difficult parts of scripture. He responded to a comment of mine on the blog, about how I heard about the ten-horned beast when the EU (then the EEC) became 10 members. I’ve included his reply here in full:

I remember that coin. I also remember how, in 1976, I took an assembly at school and said that the EEC was the ten-horned beast of Daniel 7. Some friends of mine thought that Henry Kissinger (US National Security Advisor and Secretary of State) might be the antichrist. I never could quite see what poor Henry had done to deserve this suspicion.

Then I went to university and studied the history of End Time prophecies over 2000 years, on my way to becoming a Medieval and Early Modern historian. It was then that I realised that we had been here before…again and again…and always got it wrong. I read ‘The Little Horn’s Doom and Downfall’ (1651) by Mary Cary, who was convinced it was Charles I, then Oliver Cromwell. That made me think. Then the EEC grew way beyond 10 nations and I knew we were the latest in the terrible track record of wrong predictions.

What is disturbing is that, in 2016, I see the same erroneous claims being recycled that I knew in 1976; only with the latest twists (eg the claim that seat 666 is left vacant in the EU Parliament). How to explain this? I think one of two explanations: 
(a) People of the 1970s generation who have never admitted their mistakes. There is a track record of failed-End-Time-predictors refusing to admit their error and, instead, recycling it in a revised form: after Jan Mathias’ failure in 1534 his successor claimed that he was the returned messiah, until the revolt was crushed in 1535; the Fifth Monarchy Men, having failed in the 1650s, then seized on the year 1666 (and failed again); the Millerites (later Seventh Day Adventists) after the ‘Great Disappointment’ of 1844 claimed that a ‘change’ had occurred in heaven (others claimed Christ had returned invisibly); Jehovah’s Witnesses reverted to similar beliefs about the failed prediction of 1914, although some seized on the events of that year to reinvent it as signalling ‘the end of the time of the Gentiles’; Hal Lindsey’s implicit assumption that the Second Coming would occur within a generation (ie 40 years) of 1948 (ie 1988) being revised to ‘encoded symbols’ that would only be understood in the 21st century by Christians with correct ‘insight’; Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson’s identification of the USSR as Gog, Magog, and Rosh being revised by Robertson (after the fall of communism in 1989) to a focus on the ‘Illuminati’; the 10-nation-EEC (now it is 28) being revised to some inexplicable future political transformation that will reduce it to 10 again.
(b) People with an antagonism to the EU (and it’s a free country so that’s ok) spiritualising their prejudices (that’s not ok) so they don’t have to worry about difficult matters such as economics, politics, etc, since if it’s antichrist you don’t need to worry about these complications, as obviously it is just wrong. So, that website which said that the 28 states will get reduced to 10(!) added that it will have a political centre in Germany and a religious centre in Rome (so, anti-EU prejudice combined with two other English historic prejudices!). Clearly a desperate attempt to force reality into a preconceived framework. Worrying, to put it mildly.
Since I believe in prophecy I think it is crucial to admit when our interpretation of it is wrong.

Surely, once you have read this, you cannot simply cling to this ongoing error! For 2000 yeblood-moonars, various individuals and groups within the church have made attempt after attempt to decipher the apocalyptic texts, and each one to no avail! I have already found out for myself that my prediction that Wormwood is a meteorite was wrong, debunked the restoration of Israel and the secret rapture as completely unbiblical, demolished the whole premise of the ‘Blood Moons’, as well as already showing the dangers of making predictions. Add to that the fact that when the last Lord Mayor of London procession was televised, they had statues of Gog and Magog… clearly ancient Roman soldiers, not Russia as I had been told was unarguably factual so many times! Having read the above comments about how this continual guessing and suggesting has happened numerous times over centuries, is it not clear that the whole ‘end times’ preaching we hear in so many churches is utter nonsense? And dangerous nonsense at that! As I have consistently pointed out, much of what we believe as evangelicals is political, not religious, and this apocalyptic preaching is clearly in that camp since it is attempting to explain world events and history; preconceptions and prejudices are bound to surface in all the postulating! All that is expressed above in that comment confirms this.1415471839210_wps_13_Gog_and_Magog_are_paraded

So am I saying that all the pastors who spout this tripe have been lying to us? Not at all, I think they’ve just followed along in an error from previous mentors, and become indoctrinated into the whole debacle (and just repeated and recycled what are obvious lies, like the seat no. 666 described – because it fits into their worldview). Though there are maybe some who have made good money from the books they write who should know, if they have researched properly, that their ideas are pure conjecture. I’d hazard a guess that they are simply self-deluded.

do know how difficult it is to let go of things we have always held onto, especially as we have thought of them as biblical truths linked to our faith, but as I have said before, the release from this worldview changes so much in you, and for me it’s all for the better. Let me assure you: It has not shaken my belief in the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, not one bit! I just choose to leave the timescale in the Father’s hands, and not sweat about it. I shall see signs after they unfold, like Wormwood, but predicting is modern-day divination!!

Do not practice divination or seek omens. (Lev. 19:26)

Maybe I could make one prediction for 2016? It is the end… for ‘End Times’ predictions! Let go of it all now; it’s 2000 years overdue! And then live your life for Jesus.

Grace be with you.