Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Friday, March 23, 2007

When Bad Exegesis and Goofy Religious Traditions Mess up Your Life

When I was a kid, my family lived in the little Missouri town of Salem - population (at the time) of roughly 4,200 people. On occasion, my family would travel to Rolla, a bigger town - population (at the time) of about 8,500, give or take a few thousand - about half an hour northwest of us.

Rolla had a McDonalds, so after we endured my father's hours long visits to the hardware store to pick up supplies for his electrical business, we would head over to the McDonalds, which for a 9 year old, was the finest dining to be had anywhere in the world.

Every once in a great while, as we were out and about in Rolla, we would come across these strangely dressed people. The men always wore black slacks and a white shirt and some of them had beards with no mustache. The women wore long, concentration camp style dresses with something like an apron tied around the front, but even more strange was the little white hat pinned to their hair that reminded me of those classic nurses hats you see in old time Life magazine advertisements. I remember the family would ride together in a lite yellow butter colored Plymouth Valiant.

My parents would just tell me, "Their Mennonites, they believe different things, don't stare."

Much later in life I learned the Mennonites were a sect formed out of the Reformation that had their connections to an Anabaptist founder named Menno Simons. The Quakers and Amish also have roots with Simons and his Anabaptistic beliefs. Primarily they are known as the more liberal version of the Amish. I think they let their teenagers stay out as late as seven PM on Fridays and they drive cars, albeit ugly cars. They are also pacifists.

One of the more nutty beliefs held by some of the Mennonites is the idea that photographs are sinful. That is because they believe taking a picture of someone steals their life force and holds their soul captive.

No. I'm just kidding. I had to throw that in.

They believe photography violates the second commandment of making no graven image (Exodus 20:4). In other words, if a Mennonite has someone take his picture, he is essentially making a graven idol for worship. Such a belief is utterly absurd, because the prohibition is against making an image that represented the true and living God for the purposes of worshiping it. There is nothing in scripture that prohibits the painting of pictures or creating sculptures of people, or even taking a family portrait. If a person read the Bible carefully, it becomes apparent that God has no problem with images for the sake of images, because He gives specific directions as to how the tabernacle was to be constructed, including the furniture, and the furniture is ornately engraved. For example, the golden images of cherubim sitting on top of the Mercy Seat.

On the surface, it is terrifically bad exegesis that doesn't necessarily harm anyone that tourists to Amish and Mennonite areas of the country may find quaint in the same way a National Geographic writer may view the superstitions in a village of half-naked pig spearers. However, eventually, what appears to be quaint superstitious religious convictions may bring the person holding those convictions smack dab into the wall of reality. Then the decision must be made to either hold on to the silly, utterly indefensible tradition at the risk of incurring personal difficulties, or recognize the silly, utterly indefensible aspect of the tradition and reform your Christian conviction to become more biblical.

For example, the shunning of photographs can be a problem if you like to drive a car that you must be licensed to operate. It used to be that states accommodated the silly little beliefs like this of religious sects who hold them, but more and more in our technological age, especially one where security is necessary, this is coming to an end. A good example of this Mennonite belief running head long into the wall of reality is currently in the state of Missouri where they are now requiring all drivers licenses to have a photo I.D.

Mennonites to move over photo I.D.s

This has caused a big stir among the Missouri Mennonite sects, so much so, that several families choosing to adhere to their silly traditions are pulling up shop and moving to Arkansas or other states so as not to have to comply with the new law.

I am sure there are a handful of well-meaning Christians who wish to cheer these dear Mennonite folks on for staying true to their convictions. But, if their convictions are derived from sloppy exegesis and application of the biblical text and is counter the truth of scripture concerning these matters, all the cheering is going to do more harm than good.

Just a closing question. We do live in a more technological age where security cameras are nearly ubiquitous. Does the Mennonite believe he is involved with graven image making if his picture is taking at Wal-Mart or in any other area where there is a high concentration of video cameras? Just wondering.



Blogger thomas4881 said...

They must not have mirrors too.

10:40 AM, March 23, 2007  
Blogger Highland Host said...

Just a point. The Quakers are descended from an English 'Charismatic' preacher of the Puritan age, George Fox. Any connection with continental Anabaptists is a later development.

5:40 AM, March 24, 2007  
Blogger Scribbler said...

Pardon me. I find your scarcasm in poor taste. I am a Mennonite. The vast majority of us do not object to phtotography. I have a photo license and digital camera. Those who do object to photography are as entitled to their opinions as anyone else and should not be ridiculed for their sincerity.

6:07 AM, April 12, 2007  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

I commend your efforts not be ridiculous in the practice of your faith. And, just for you edification, I appreciate some of the Mennonite values. My wife and I, for instance, enjoy the Rod and Staff publications, that apart from the doctrinally unsupportable views of pacifism their tracts encourage, have blessed my family in many ways.

However, I must disagree with your notion that sincere people are entitled to their opinions. I do not believe sincere people are entitled to their opinion, especially when they lead to disastrous conclusions.

This is even more true when it comes down to matters of our faith and practice. The idea of pictures being prohibited by the 2nd commandment as this sect of Mennonites believe is unbiblical. Additionally, it is a belief that has not only caused an unnecessary false witness to the world, but it has brought spiritual bondage upon these folks because they are now required to uproot their lives in order to maintain this position.

Christians are to confront error. Perhaps you take umbrage to the way I handled my confrontation of their error, but in my mind, they are not above scrutiny and a bit of mocking if they insist upon clinching to such a scurrilous belief concerning the second commandment.


11:30 AM, April 12, 2007  
Blogger Scribbler said...

Perhaps you should study Romans 14. The issues in Paul's day were different but the principles of toleration he teaches apply to current issues.

2:53 PM, April 12, 2007  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Perhaps you should study Romans 14. The issues in Paul's day were different but the principles of toleration he teaches apply to current issues.

(Fred) Romans 14 is not relevant in this matter. Paul's principles of toleration primarily had to do with maintaining unity between Jewish Christians who still saw an importance with what they ate and observing the holy days, and those gentile Christians who did not see their cultural significance. If you will note Paul's comments, he tells both sides to tolerate one another based upon mutual love for Christ. This is something all Christians must endeavor to do.

However, not in matters of errant theology built upon a wrong-headed misinterpretation of scripture. In fact, Paul would not tolerate such a thing and in point of fact wrote against it. In Ephesians four, for example, he wrote against being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. Bad doctrine is born from poor handling of God's Word. In the case of these folks in Missouri, they are practicing the poor handling of God's Word and thus ruining their lives. The second commandment has nothing to do with photo I.D.s and these people are foolish to think it does. As committed Christians, we should endeavor to confront these sorts of errors, not tolerate them. If we genuinely cared for these people, they would be told they are wrong, shown why they are wrong and called to repentance.


6:12 AM, April 13, 2007  
Blogger Scribbler said...

We Mennonites are a resilient people. Since the beginning of the Anabaptist movement in Switzerland in 1525, our people have been deported and exiled from their homes because religious people of other persuasions rigidly refused to tolerate any beliefs different than their own.
My ancestors were called hertics for their "misinterpretation of the Scriptures" and were deported from Switzerland to Germany with little more than the clothing on their backs. Later, they made a long, dangerous trip to Pennsylvania where they could worship God and practice their beliefs in freedom.
In comparison, a move from Missouri to Arkansas is a mere speed bump. They will bounce back without "ruining their lives."
I do not personally agree with their interpretation of the second commandment but this has always been a free country.

4:36 AM, April 18, 2007  

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