Two groups that populated Palestine during the time of Jesus were the haberim and the amme ha-arez. The haberim were the scrupulous Jews who were pious in their tithing, rituals, worship and dietary rules. On the other hand, the amme ha-arez “people of the land” were the masses that populated the area and for the greater part were poor and under educated. While the haberim came from well-to-do families and had excellent education, the amme ha-arez was the exact opposite.
What makes these two groups so interesting is found in the hatred that the haberim had for their poor neighbors. They refused to buy produce from them or sell them any goods. They actually cursed these people and some Synagogue leaders went so far as to declare they had no place in the resurrection. These people were hated and despised by their legalistic contemporaries almost as much as the Samaritans.
I wonder if much has changed in the Christian Church throughout the centuries. We burned heretics because they believed differently than the mob that burned them. We excommunicated people for small infractions of the law and crushed “so called witches” under piles of stones for practicing natural medicine.
Catholics killed Protestants and Protestants killed Catholics and together they killed dissenters and peasants. I was reading the history of religion in America a while back and found it interesting that we think Massachusetts and other New England States were filled with Puritans and Pilgrims but in reality only a very small segment of the original settlers were devout.
I wonder if we could ever come to a place in North America where we Christians could persecute other Christians just because of a difference in belief? There are thousands of different denominations stretched from the Pacific to the Atlantic and within those denominations, sects, cults and movements are people who believe that you must believe exactly as they do or you aren’t a genuine Christian.
Can it come to a place where we turn from saying that people are heretics for not believing the same as us to a place where we would actually do harm to that person?
During the years of slavery many Southern pastors believed that it was God’s will to carry on slavery and they turned a blind eye to the injustices and actual killing of slaves. Today, we are appalled at the audacity and stubbornness of those pastors who read their Bible’s through cultural lenses. But, are we any different?
I was recently talking to some Christians who believe that their denomination has complete truth and that truth came to them directly through God. They believe that because they have this special truth they are a “remnant” or elite group of Christians who have a special message for the world. They went on to say that if people don’t accept what they have to say then they are lost.
These people I was talking to are good sincere people and would never hurt any one for any reason as far as I can see. But at the same time they are ready to attribute mass slaughter of anyone who doesn’t believe their message to God. They wouldn’t throw you in prison or have you killed, but they have no problem in believing that God would kill everyone who doesn’t listen to their message.
I feel sorry for my acquaintances that have such a narrow view of God’s love. They believe that all His grace, love, mercy, and time is spent being showered upon them in response to their obedience to His directives. Most of us know this as legalism but they see it as obedience. Everyone else is somehow an inferior Christian and unworthy of God’s full power, grace and love. We may have the scrapings off the plate but we can never eat of the meal. We are the amme ha-araz and they the haberim.
But is that really how God works? I belong to two Bible study groups and we are an eclectic group of people—believe me. We have charismatics, Anglicans, Baptists, Adventists, Church of Christ, Lutheran, Vineyard, Pentecostal and people of no particular branch of Christendom. I am sure most people believe that their particular brand of Christianity has more truth in it than the rest of us have in ours, but there is nothing wrong with that.
What becomes wrong is when someone begins to believe their particular brand is the only brand and all other believers are wrong or deceived. What makes our Bible study groups fun is that, though we all come from different backgrounds and see things through our own lens, none of us believe that the others are heretics or unworthy Christians. In fact we all love each other and support each other’s faith commitment.
Some of you who see the world as black and white may have doubts about what I’ve written but others of you feel in your hearts what I’ve tried to write on paper. Let me tell you a story.
The other night we were studying in the book of Judges and the Holy Spirit began moving the discussion in a certain direction. The next thing we know we are in a heartfelt discussion about God’s love, His leading, how to know His will and it all revolved around mission. Then the Holy Spirit began to move on our hearts and we found ourselves in serious prayer for each other. The next thing I know the Spirit leads me to lay hands on a person and pray for strength and courage.
No matter where my mind tried to go the Holy Spirit was there to guide and lead me into deeper love for Jesus. Everyone in the room was experiencing the same thing and when we finally finished praying it seemed wrong. It was like we should have kept on praying and basking in God’s love all night.
See where I’m going. Those acquaintances I was mentioning earlier could never experience this closeness with God in a setting such as the Bible study because they don’t believe God would anoint people in such a way. Their reason would be that we have wrong theology. Now this is the sad part, they would say, what we experienced “was of Satan”.
I have news for these brothers—God loves us all. My theology may not agree with yours in every aspect but since we all love Jesus and believe that we are saved by His grace why let small things separate us.
If any of them are reading this blog they would be saying, “see this is the great deception at the end of time. All the churches are going to unite around love and faith in God’s grace.” Yes, what’s the problem? I can think of worse things to unite around, like bigotry, pride, arrogance and self-righteousness not to mention legalism.
* Many people around the globe are experiencing persecution for their faith in God, and many even unto death. They need our support and continuous prayers. Please take the time to read some of their stories at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/ there is much more on the internet but you have to search for it