It’s Monday Grace!
In the performance system, the Bible becomes the tool by which leaders hold authority. Through proof-texts and certain interpretations, the people are told they must measure up to the standards of the Bible. Of course, that doesn’t mean that we should live the way Bible people lived. Most of them had compromises and weaknesses like ours. Instead, we are supposed to live in ways they did not, we are supposed to be righteous and holy in our actions.
In fact, we are supposed to live according to standards the preachers and teachers see in the Bible. If the teacher doesn’t like football, he will have a verse to warn us against it. If the preacher needs people to give more, he may find all kinds of Bible verses to quote to humiliate those who give little or nothing. If the teacher is against something or for something, she will find Bible passages that can be quoted or twisted to give the support she needs.
So, it is not uncommon for people who leave the church or who wish to be free from the performance system to stop reading their Bibles. All they have heard from the Bible is what they are doing wrong. Condemnation and shame shout at them from nearly every page. They have learned not to trust their own simple reading of the Scriptures because the leaders have twisted and reinterpreted so much. How can regular people understand the Bible when it speaks in such riddles?
Manipulative people and organizations gain strength when they cause us to doubt ourselves and separate us from the support we are meant to have. Since they can’t really separate us from the Bible, they twist and complicate the teachings of the Scripture until we have little confidence and less interest in our reading. Why read the Bible when you are probably going to get the meaning wrong and what you do understand is so negative? So, we are supposed to trust the elite who claim to understand and teach truth.
But when we are betrayed or abused by those same people, or just realize that their message brings only bondage without hope, we see the Bible as something that belongs to them. After all, it never really belonged to us.
Yet, the Lord gave us His word to tell us of His love. The one true message of the Bible is the love of God and the ultimate expression of that love in Jesus. We miss a lot when we leave the Bible behind.
So, I often tell people to read the gospel of John. Read it for one purpose—to see the love of Jesus. See how He connects with people. See His compassion and power. Then read the first letter of John. You will find something you may not have found in the church, that the love of Jesus is meant for us to live in and share with others. The whole story is about love. Not condemnation or shame! Jesus came to set us free from those things.
If you need to take a break from the Bible until you can separate your faith from the performance system, I understand. When you are ready, check out the book of John. It may help to read from a translation new to you. I like the New Century Version. The Message is also a nice change from the old language.
From a new foundation, you can begin (as I have) to see the love of God throughout the Scriptures. Once you are convinced that the heart of God is filled with love, you will see it everywhere. You will realize that much of what was used to condemn was actually the heart of God warning His people of danger or explaining the trouble they have found. From Adam to Paul, the message of God’s love runs through the whole Bible. Give yourself some time, but you will find it.