Growing up in southern Missouri, my evangelical roots ran deep. I planned on majoring in religion, studying in seminary, and then help save the world.
Two pieces of advice came my way the summer before I left on that adventure. One came from a farmer: “Remember, the devil is alive and well in college and preacher school.” Another came from a Sunday School teacher: “There are many versions of the Bible, but the true one is the King James.”
It struck me odd that this was their advice. Reflecting decades later, I see now that an urgent driving force prompted their warnings. The love that had saved them had turned into a fight that consumed them. Satan and the dark forces challenge and tear down all that is godly and good. Rallying to the cause of righteousness, their mission was to search out the Dark Lord and draw the scriptural sword wherever possible. They must do this with the same fervor with which MAGA people confront the progressives whom they perceive as wanting to make America socialist/Marxist.
If my Missouri friends were alive today, they would quote what is often found in the belief statement of some former United Methodist churches: “The scriptures are inspired by God, and they are infallible in the original manuscripts.” To link inspiration to infallibility is the starting point for “The Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Bible 101 undercuts this. But then again, the devil is alive in preacher school.
This is ultimately a game of mis-direction. If you focus on an imagined enemy, you don’t have to take an honest look at your own beliefs and the blind spots you may be avoiding. Jesus, as always, was an expert in challenging such folks.
Luke’s version of his healing a man with a withered hand (6:6-11) has a unique twist. The Pharisees were as adamant as my southern Missouri friends: “You can’t do any work on the Sabbath. That’s what God wants.” In the Common English Bible (not the KJV), the Master comes back with: “Here’s a question for you.” What’s the question? A nuance on a Mosaic law? A reference to a unique rabbinical interpretation? No.
“Is it legal on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”
Ultimately, this is the measure of the gospel. It’s not building up a legalistic religious structure, complete with punishments. It’s letting your heart catch the rhythm of God’s. Jesus came to reveal who his Father really is. Caring for the well-being of another, a love that may even challenge your own standards of holiness and purity, is the surest expression.
If I were to return to the summer of 1971, I’d be tempted to respond to my well-meaning elders with, “Here’s a question for you.” But I couldn’t do that with Jesus’ wisdom and love. It would devolve into wrangling over chapter and verse. The best I, or any of us, can do is to make sure we’re doing good and saving lives.