Unintended Consequences: Hebrews and Religious Intolerance

Last quarter, while studying the book of Hebrews, many members of my Sabbath school class commented on the unique influence the book has had on their Christian journey. This book/sermon, considered probably the most complete extant homily of the early Christian era, is indeed exceptional. Especially its mesmerizing chapter 11, opening with: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (KJV). If Hebrews had only this one chapter, it would still be a more worthy inclusion in the Bible than some entire books


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11844
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This assertion is not unique to any particular religion.

It is the essential message of every religion.

Hence, the call to the proto-Adventists of the late 1840’s and early 1850’s, was to “come out of Babylon”. That is, abandon all organized religions lest Jesus find you in their midst when he returned in a matter of months, if not weeks.

So the refugees from the moribund faiths came forth and, for a time, resisted the urge to start another church.

However, as history has often shown to be the case, it is all too easy for the oppressed to become the oppressor, or for the “conned” to become con artists, in their own right.

So within a generation, and after the term “soon return” had dragged on for a couple of decades, the a-religious sect devolved into the super-superior religion which I refer to as SAD-ism, following the enchanting, if incessant, “babbling-on” of EGW.

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Jesus never established, or even suggested that anyone establish, a new “religion”. Unlike us, Jesus spoke to individuals - the blind, the lame, even the dead. He never even suggested a new “church” should be erected downtown Jerusalem. That was done by men, quite literally.

The focus of Jesus was always the individual - the lame person, the blind person, the dead, Lazarus. Not all the blind and the lame, or the dead were miraculously made whole. Pain and suffering continued on the side streets and villages. Jesus spoke to “individual need”. Even his preaching was to individuals, turning all the Hebrew rituals of their religion into personal responsibility as it relates to how we respond to others - individually, not through ideology.

In this current climate where everything somebody doesn’t like is turned into racism, misogyny, or some other hatred, there has to be parameters within which we operate. The individual is of prime importance, according to Christian principles, but that does not mean we can respect all religions under which individuals operate.

If the book of Hebrews results in hatred of the Jews the reader has misread the message. Actually, Jesus came to give authenticity to the Hebrew religion as a precursor and the reason for their centuries of worship. “Now that the ‘real’ has come, we need to step out of the shadows”, is the message of Hebrews.

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The message of Hebrews regarding the relationship between the law of Moses, the OT, and centuries of religious life and practices to Christ can be found throughout the NT…including the gospel of John, Galatians, Romans, Revelation, etc. Unfortunately, there are sharp polemical thrusts against Judaism all over Christianity’s primary document.

What is forgotten is that Judaism was the dominant religion pressuring and persecuting the small minority sect of Jesus followers, who were even openly declared as heretics by the end of the first century. The boundaries, self identity, and rightness of the sect was thrust front and center in its argument with Judaism, and preserved in the written NT. How much of this was actually the language of self preservation?

With the passage of time, this was and is no longer the case. The tables were turned. Gentile Christianity became the dominant religion, Judaism the persecuted minority, with the NT ripped from its historical context and used as justification for horrific abuse of the Jewish minority over the centuries. Post Holocaust Christian theologians have sought to mitigate this. The church at large needs to continually hear this needed change in emphasis.

A simple way of pointing to this from the NT is by highlighting Jesus’s own summary of the law and the prophets, the entire Bible of his day, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” There are no limitations on this by race, gender, or religious background. A second is what Peter said to Cornelius, “God has shown me that he accepts all people of every nation who do good.” This was to counter Peter’s own bigotry and prejudice towards Gentiles. This needs to be equally applied now in reverse.

Christian anti Semitism is a total oxymoron, actually directed at Jesus himself, the Jewish messiah. In fact, bigotry nurtured and practiced in any form is anti Christ.

Frank

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