Tuesday, March 24, 2020


I have had correspondence with a woman whose family left our church recently.  I wrote to express that I missed them and hoped they had landed in a good place. They have landed in place I know a little about, and most of what I do know is not good.  They were very big on being nearly a King James only church, allowing other translations for devotional purposes, "but not recommended for study." They had a scandal of badly mistreating an underage girl who had had sex with one of the pillars of the church (a deacon? a pastor?  I don't recall), so that she ended up being blamed equally with him, and over time, more than him. I have known about a dozen people who went there - more than half of them were quite decent folks, but four were difficult, accusing sorts who could find no good in any congregation but their own, and not much of that.  Hectoring sorts.

That data is all a decade old or more, so perhaps things have moderated there. She did make a comment much like one I have heard for years.  "They really get into the Bible there during service, not just reading it off the screen in front." (Our current church puts the scriptures for the day up on the screens.)

Ah yes. The preacher says at those churches.  I WANT you to bring your Bibles to church.  I WANT you to look up the verses that I'm using so that you know we're not trying to deceive you here. You'll see that we are only preaching what it says right there in Scripture.  You can see it for yourself. I expect to be held to account. 

It is a deceptive practice.  I am not doubting the sincerity of the preacher in saying this. He in all likelihood deceiving himself as much as his hearers. Yet no one has ever questioned for a moment that he might be switching the words around or putting in verses that aren't there. I daresay he has never been to such a church nor heard a credible report of one. The issue is that what he believes is "just what the plain meaning of Scripture is" is in fact the product of a hundred assumptions he does not know he is making. While having people follow along might spark their attentiveness and cause them to notice what they otherwise might have missed, I think it more often dulls this sense.  The mechanics of getting to the page and verse, of listening and reading at the same time, and the automatic brief reflection on what has just been said conflicting with paying attention to the current sentence all work to prevent objective thought.

At the very moment when the listeners are most at the mercy of the preacher the preacher is telling them they are most independent of him. They have the illusion of checking his work when they are in fact swallowing it whole. He might as well ask them to prove his doctrine by checking his spelling.


james said...

Do they read other passages that might bear on the subject, or just the preacher's selections? I've seen very few other people read elsewhere, though some do.

james said...

To be fair, when you are looking at the passage itself you can read the context too, and decide whether the preacher's interpretation is just. That may be what he means by being held accountable.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Theoretically true, and probably true for some readers. Less often true for those preachers.

There are Bible-intensive churches where lots of folks read along, but that's not quite the same thing as I am talking about here. The pride in magic-Bible reading, not like those other churches, usually leaks out.

bs king said...

If this is the church I'm thinking of, I think your first paragraph lets them off pretty light. This wasn't a case of statutory rape (though that would be bad enough), it was forcible AND statutory rape. The guy got convicted of both and sentenced to 15 to 30, and lost his appeals. So an underage girl didn't have sex with a pillar of the church, a pillar of the church forcibly raped an underage girl. That's who they treated badly, and I have first hand reports as recently as last month that their members still tell people that "she was a bit of a flirt, the media won't tell you that".

Um, so given my feelings on that matter, I think it's not surprise that I'm biased to agree with you.

James has a point that context can be very illuminating, though I'll say mid service it's hard to both check context and pay attention. I used to do it if I got bored, but some pastors get annoyed by this*.

But at the end of the day, your initial assumptions are going to influence you heavily. I well remember sitting in my Baptist High School Bible Classes hearing that the obviousness of certain denomination specific doctrines were perfectly clear, only to go to our church on Sunday to hear 3 other perfectly valid sounding thoughts. As James mentioned, supporting verses tend to come in to play here, and as you said, underlying assumptions do as well.

In short, I agree. Projectors in church kind of annoy me at this point in my life, but they rarely lie to me.

*Liturgical side note: these days I just like to read the passages for the day in the morning before I go. I'm up early so I have the time beforehand, and I actually find this helps me do some extra thinking/reading/meditating beforehand for extra engagement during the reading.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I am certain you are correct Bethany, and am embarrassed I minimised it in memory.

Charles Harrell said...

Reading God's Secretaries;The Making of the King James Bible by Adam Nicolson. Exploring the machinations of those chosen by King James during their selections of, translating of, and interpretations of the Greek and Hebrew texts of the stories and letters of those purported to have lived with Jesus or the ancient writings of the Old Testament.

Am I incredulous? Dumbfounded? Astonished? Likely all of the above. Surely a relationship with Our Maker should not be based solely on a single translation?