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Words I Hope I Never Hear Again – Part 8

This final installment of this series includes three phrases with no particular connection among them.
By DAVID LEVIN
Read Time: 7 minutes

Do the Readings;

Excellent Candidate for Baptism; and

Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage

*****

 

Do the Readings

If you’ve kept up with this series, you know where I’m headed with this one.

What’s wrong with it: (1) It turns a spiritual exercise into a legalistic check-off-the-behavior task. (2) It sanctifies one specific way of reading the Bible.

What’s at stake? Your attitude about Bible reading.

How can it be fixed? There are any number of ways to say this better. One favorite from a dear older brother, now long gone: listen to God.

Your spiritual life depends heavily on Bible reading.

Discussion: Whether it’s “do the readings,” “doing the readings,” or “did the readings,” these stock phrases arise in many contexts, perhaps most often encountered in exhortations, formal or not, reminding you to “do the readings.” Disregarding how it’s said, this is sound advice. Your spiritual life depends heavily on Bible reading. Daily input, like regular food and water, yields the best results. Without the influence of the Scriptures, your mind will revert, as Robert Roberts so pungently stated, “to its original swinishness.”

However, the phrase “do the readings” sullies its message because “do” denotes “to complete or accomplish a task.” The purpose of Bible reading is not to check off a task or to get it done, like cleaning the kitchen after dinner—Did you do the dishes? The purpose is to absorb divine thoughts and elevate your mind. Bible reading is not an act to be done but a time to listen to God. Read slowly and thoughtfully. Analyze the patterns of the text and note context—what’s there and what’s not there. Apply the text to your life’s challenges.

The phrase “do the readings” introduces two unnecessary and detrimental substitutions when contrasted, for instance, with “read the Bible.” First, the verb “do” (instead of “read”) stresses the act of completing the task or getting it done. As in, “Checked off for another day. On schedule. We’re into April, and I’ve done the readings every day.” 

The purpose is to absorb divine thoughts and elevate your mind.

Second, the direct object, “readings,” also emphasizes a task rather than a spiritual encounter. When you reduce the Bible to “readings,” instruction becomes a rote daily chore. Say this sentence to yourself, and note how you feel: “I am going to do the readings.” Now say, “I am going to read the Bible.” You can probably even feel a difference. They are different activities. 

What Does “The Readings” Imply?

What is, or are, “the readings?” We all know that “the readings” is short for “the two Old Testament and one New Testament sequential chapter selections as listed in Robert Roberts’ Bible reading plan.” It can mean nothing but. Even if you had read the Bible that day, you might not have done the readings. 

I personally follow the plan (mostly) and almost always use one of the Scriptures for that day as the basis of my exhortations. I like the idea that many, if not most, of the audience will be on the same page as me when I speak. I also like the idea that on any day of the week, tens of thousands of my brothers and sisters in the faith are contemplating the same texts that I am, and each of us, in their own way, is learning what God has to say to each of us individually.

As useful as it is, there’s nothing sacred about using the Roberts plan. Others are available that have different arrangements with different advantages and disadvantages. We would all at least say that. However, the ubiquity of “doing the readings,” with its implication of these chapters, argues otherwise. The positive value of Bible reading is subsumed to a specific practice. 

As with any ritual, tool, ceremony, or religious practice, it is the end purpose, not the means to that end, that needs to be emphasized if we are to remain a spiritual community. Doing “the readings” can become ritualized, as can the Breaking of Bread or attendance at meeting. It’s not something you “do;” it’s something you engage in. 

The legalist tendency inherent in human nature is in force here, as is the power of language. Please replace “doing the readings” with “reading the Bible,” “listening to God,” “engaging in Spiritual instruction,” or anything that emphasizes the benefit of the process rather than the completion of a task. Words do matter, especially when you are addressing a group. 

 

Excellent Candidate for the Truth

This phrase describes a certain type of person who has expressed interest in our faith. The adjective might be great, ideal, or something similar. Any of these indicate that the interested person is not just someone responding to God’s call but someone who would make a welcome new member, someone who would fit right in.

a “despicable phrase”

What’s wrong with it: It represents a stereotypical view of someone who is probably far from the “ideal candidate” of the New Testament. It is more likely to denote someone who already fits in well with you. 

What’s at stake? Preaching focus, ecclesial diversity, cultural awareness, and basic Biblical directives about our interaction with other humans.

How can it be fixed? By fixing your own perspective of what the gospel is and for whom it is directed.

Discussion: This entry was suggested to me by a Black brother, Randy Tyra, who called it a “despicable phrase.” It is not a phrase I have heard often, but evidently, it is used often enough to warrant mention in this series. 

Nonetheless, I ask you if you have ever said something like this regarding a person with whom you have had apparently fruitful Bible discussions. You became excited about their interest and eagerness to learn more. What were your criteria for labeling that person an “excellent candidate?” Was it their humility to learn and submit to God’s way? Only that? Or was the person sufficiently “like you” that having them in the ecclesia would be comfortable for you? 

For most of the Tidings readership, “excellent candidate” often means upper-middle to upper-class white folk, well-dressed and well-spoken. They likely already belong to another Christian denomination and adhere to a similar moral code. In other words, they’ll make a fine, upstanding Christadelphian as soon as you knock the wrong doctrines out of their head. 

Jesus cautioned us (Matthew 5:46-47) that there is no merit in consorting only with those “like you.” A homogenous ecclesia does not challenge your understanding, patience, love, and other interpersonal aspects of discipleship. 

James 2:1-7 also warns about favoritism in an appeal that specifically applies here. In our culture, the man in fine clothing would likely be labeled “an excellent candidate,” not the man in shabby clothing. The “excellent candidate” epithet seldom fits the repeated examples of the Bible’s respondents to God’s grace. The phrase is more about class bias and an academic view of the gospel message. Get the doctrines right, keep everything else about yourself, and you’ll be a fine brother or sister.

The phrase “excellent candidate” does not translate to “demographic clone.” Anyone with sincere interest and willingness to follow Christ is an “excellent candidate.”

 

Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage

This phrase is sometimes used when dealing with a marital matter or when referring to a situation of this sort. 

What’s wrong with it?  “Marriage, divorce, and remarriage” is undoubtedly among the best (worst?) examples of an ill-formed phrase that has become entrenched through thoughtless repetition. It also removes humanity from a marital situation and turns it into a legal exercise. 

What’s at stake? Two things. One has to do with how various phrases, sayings, and teachings become standardized among us. The other concerns how you treat marital relationships—as a lawyer or a compassionate human.

How to fix it?  Why does it need a code name? Each situation is its own sorrow. 

lawyer or a compassionate human?

Discussion: The most obvious problem with “marriage, divorce, and remarriage” is that the first term has nothing to do with what this phrase supposedly tracks, and the second term adds no meaning. The phrase describes this scenario: At some time, two people got married; that’s the “marriage” part, and it’s not a problem. Later, they got divorced; that is a problem, but it’s a done deal at this point. Now, one (or both) of them wants to, plans to or has already married someone other than their original spouse. 

The word “remarriage,” though not a Biblical term, describes all of this fully without assistance from “marriage” and “divorce.” Implicit in “remarriage” is a previous divorce; the word is not applied to widows and widowers who marry again. In standard English usage, “remarriage” does apply to those whose first spouse has died, but that is not the case in ecclesial use.

 If “marriage” is not part of the problem, and “divorce” is already implied by “remarriage,” then what’s the point of the three-word stock phrase? One word, “remarriage,” says all that needs to be said; the rest is wordy, unwieldy clatter. 

However, being wordy and unwieldy is not the main issue here. The greater problem is that it is a stock phrase that gets repeated without critical thought as to what the words imply. As language works, the stock phrase takes on its own meaning and becomes a rubric under which all “remarriage” situations fall, even though everyone is as unique as the people involved.

it’s a dry, clinical diagnosis

While “marriage, divorce, and remarriage” is awful enough, it becomes downright hideous when shortened to “MDR” (and I have heard this). Reduced to initials, it’s a dry, clinical diagnosis, a three-letter abbreviation like CHF (Congestive Heart Failure), HTN (hypertension), or some dread disease. A situation designated as an “MDR” becomes a “case to be settled.” 

This appraisal of “marriage, divorce, and remarriage” provides another occasion for the reminder: words do matter. You are talking about people, and not just any people, but brothers and sisters who have suffered a failed marriage but have not given up their hope of a married life. Whatever their circumstances and whatever ecclesial policies and decisions might be rendered, give them a fair, decent, and human hearing. And that starts with how you label the situation to be dealt with.

 David Levin,
Denver Ecclesia, CO

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Rob Walker
2 months ago

Thanks David for your mind opening series. I thank God for your ability to draw attention to our often unrecognised traditions in practice and particularly in words. As you have reminded us continually “words do matter”. May God’s grace and love always inform how we speak to and about each other.

David Styles
2 months ago

Sorry to see this excellent series end. David’s comments on the excellent candidate phrase are absolutely correct. Never mind our complete incapacity to see or know someone’s thoughts and intents. Thanks very much for publishing these timely reflections.

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