Many decades ago two high school juniors, my best friend and I, went to a Unitarian Universalist church. We sat and watched and listened to the Sunday performance. After a while I whispered to Herb, “this is pretty weird shit.”
“I’m going to reserve judgment until they bring out the snake charmers,” Herb said.
The next act was performed by two young men – one reading a poem while the other balanced a plate on top of a broomstick on top of his forehead. Herb looked at me and raised one eyebrow. He could do a heck of a Mr. Spock impersonation.
We were two young men searching for truth. Herb had been raised atheist-Jewish while my family was strict Roman Catholic. We had attended Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches before stumbling upon the UUs. We kept looking. We went to various Bible studies and even Wednesday night prayer meetings.
One thing really bothered us – all of these churches claimed to be working from the same handbook, the Bible. Yet they had wildly different philosophies. Why are there so many “Christian” denominations? They can’t all be right, can they?
It took a couple of years before I saw why the Christian church is so divided. In the meanwhile I was attempting to approach the Bible, the Word of God, with some humility.
One man stands out from those years; he absolutely believed that the Bible (as originally written) contains no contradictions. He taught me something that has stayed with me over the decades. He said that the vast majority of the verses in the Bible are very clear – they are easy to read and understand. He encouraged me to concentrate only on those at first. Once I had them firmly in mind I could look at the more difficult verses – always remembering that they couldn’t contradict the clear ones. Context, he emphasized, was also extremely important.
I realized that the denominations were taking the exact opposite approach. They were giving lip service to the majority of the Bible while concentrating on the less clear verses. And often taking them out of context. Each denomination – even each preacher – could have its own “brand” by interpreting these verses in different ways.
Why do this? It isn’t an effective way to bring the blessings of the gospel to the people. It seemed to me that it was intended to cater to people’s prejudices – to bring in as many bodies (and dollars) as possible. The preachers didn’t seem to care whether those people were, or ever became, Christians. (I also have serious doubts about the spiritual status of many preachers.)
These “Christian leaders” were not interested in the accuracy and integrity of the Bible. They were interested in a secure paycheck and in their egos.
That’s why I still read and research the Bible for myself, and refuse to reflexively believe what “everybody knows.” “Everybody” is frequently wrong.