History, we think, is a passive subject. We read history and think that’s all there is to the discipline, but history is alive and happening here and now. We are not mere readers of a dead history because as Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” We are history makers.
Do you think that the people in the Bible were aware of the history they were making? A church member named Hymenaeus is mentioned in today’s reading. He appears only twice in the Book. He is known as the church member who made a shipwreck of the faith and as a man who swerved from the truth. That’s his story and he is stuck with it.
What’s your story? The Church in America is making a history that makes Hymenaeus our patron saint. We are making a shipwreck of the faith and swerving from the truth but we think we are sailing the high seas and we think we are defending the truth.
Paul says that Hymenaeus has suffered shipwreck in the faith. What a powerful metaphor for our time. Perhaps no one has depicted the horrors of shipwreck as vividly as Hopkins:
Hope had grown grey hairs,
Hope had mourning on,
Trenched with tears, carved with cares,
Hope was twelve hours gone;
And frightful a nightfall folded rueful a day
Nor rescue, only rocket and lightship, shone,
And lives at last were washing away:
To the shrouds they took,—they shook in the hurling and horrible airs.
Later in 2 Timothy, Paul tells us that Hymenaeus has swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place.” G. K. Chesterton said the church was like a coach loaded with baggage swerving from one side of the road to the other always on the verge of running into the ditch.
According to Paul false teachers are mentally ill. Anton Boisen, the early-twentieth-century pioneer of the religion and mental health movement, argued that all mental struggle is at root a religious struggle. The adjective “sound” means “healthy.” Our word “hygiene” originates with the Greek word here translated as “healthy” – hygies. The novelist Barry Hannah comments on the theology of one of his own characters, “We have all worked in the foyer of the lunatic asylum.” (Yonder Stands Your Orphan)
American religion has a viral strain of insanity. As a character in a short story puts it, one day people will read their Bible wrong and the results will be strange. Glen Scherer once wrote an article, “The Godly Are Crazy”.
Surely this is a strong accusation, but Paul is really serious about sound gospel preaching. We shouldn’t be surprised by this because people often think that anyone disagreeing with them must be at least a little crazy. After all, you, of course, are right about practically everything. The more insecure people become the more they insist on being right. They get bumper stickers: DON”T CONFUSE ME WITH THE FACTS; MY MIND IS MADE UP. Their opinions are poured in concrete. Their opinions are glued to their brains like wood flooring in the den. Ask people in Baton Rouge about removing wood flooring after a flood.
It is odd that Baptists, whose founder, Roger Williams was always in search of “more light” should have become so fixed in one set of assumptions, so determined to be right no matter the price. Maybe it is time for us to ask, “ARE WE BIBLICALLY CRAZY?” Let us consider how we handle the truth that we have received from the Word of God.
Once we read the Bible and knew that we were to live according to its teachings. Now we live as we please and use the Bible as proof that we are right. As Baptists, the book is all we have. We are a people of this one book. We can’t afford to “ditch” the Bible and have only a “cultural script”. We have Holy Scripture not a “cultural script.” Being able to discern what in our lives is determined by Scripture and what is determined by “cultural script” is an important part of the Christian journey. This is essential because much that passes for Christian faith in America is a late 19th century cultural script that suffers from an inferiority complex in the face of the appearance of Darwin and science and the critical study of the Bible. Here we have churches attempting to claim 21st century converts with a corrupt 19th century cultural script.
Christians don’t always know how to deal with the intersection of gospel and culture. A Southern novelist says, “Stories and death are always racing neck and neck to the finish line.” Well, I believe that Gospel and culture are racing neck and neck to the finish line.
How does Paul respond? Of all things, Paul insists that the church pray for those who have gone off their rockers. Read the Bible prayerfully rather than reading it as a hunt for support for what you already believe. We are gatherers not hunters of the word. So when Paul is asked if Christians should pray for the emperor and the Roman governors, the answer is “Of course!” Pray for everyone, including false teachers and politicians, knowing that sometimes the two are the same.
Reading prayerfully will mean reading with an eye toward repentance. We read the Bible so God can change our minds and our hearts when we go astray. We read for repentance not to prove we are right or to ferret out the “dirty rotten sinners” who are an abomination to God. As Luther insists the Bible is about us not about the people we reject and judge.
Then, Paul offers us solid, sound gospel material: For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all. The gospel always has a certain tune it, the ring of truth.
What we get in this text is an example of how Paul deals with one particular sideline issue: the place of women in the church. It’s easy to mix up gospel with women’s fashion. Paul claims the high ground when he preaches the gospel; he’s in sinking sand when he addresses women’s fashions.
Even literalists avoid this passage. My mother found the idea that she shouldn’t wear beautiful clothes and have her hair done to be crazy talk. She fought back the ravages of M.S. every Friday at 11:00 a. m and every Sunday at 11:00 a. m. Sunday was for worship. Friday was for having her hair done at the local beauty shop – the small town version of Facebook in 1965. My daddy was a big Bible reader and he tried to avoid buying jewelry for my mother by quoting I Peter 3: “Do not adorn yourselves outwardly,” but that was a losing battle. There was the Bible in our home and there was Mom’s jewelry case.
What we have here is a biblical example of how culture influenced Bible teaching and found a way to pass for sound teaching. There are cultural artifacts embedded in scripture. These artifacts include the way women were treated in first century Roman culture. One of the great advances of biblical study is that we now have methods for uncovering this history of abuse falsely embedded in scripture. I ask you to allow the Bible to impact how you live in this culture. Don’t allow the world around you to squeeze you into its cultural mold and cause you to forsake the gospel (See Romans 12:1 – 2).
In Will Campbell’s delicious satire, The Convention, a woman named Dorcas Rose runs for president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Trying to stop her, the powerful preachers crack down. Rev. Hagan says, “It may be their right to run a woman, but whoever this Dorcas Rose is, she doesn’t believe in the Bible. God’s Word sure as sin says that women can’t be ordained.” The other powerful male figure, Purdue instructs Hagan to preach on “The True Christian Home.” “You hit these women hard. Put them in their place . . . . God wants it done now, before this female thing gets out of hand.”
Of all things, Dorcas wins the presidency. Then she resigns after reading one brief passage of Scripture to the convention: And the devil, taking Jesus up into an high mountain, showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time . . . . And Jesus answered and said unto him, “Get behind me, Satan: for is it written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”
Here we are still struggling with gospel and culture issues. Relax. It is as it has been from the beginning. I am thrilled to play a part in this magnificent and thrilling struggle. Sure we live in a crazy religious culture. What are we to do? Do our Bible work; discern the truth from the lie; refute the insanities that permeate American religion; resist the pernicious influence of culture; and be faithful to the gospel. Amen!