Friday, May 13, 2011

More on Bishop Spong

This was a letter to the editor of the Lynchburg News and Advance from March 2001.

As reported in your pages March 28, the Rt. Rev. John Spong spoke to a near-capacity crowd at St. John's Episcopal church Tuesday night, and the crowd seemed very pleased with his performance. Bishop Spong is presented by his publishers and promoters as a man of integrity, and a scholar of significant learning. However, based upon reading several of his books and from hearing his talk, I would say that he is neither. Let me explain by citing a couple of examples from his talk Tuesday evening.

When speaking of the Old Testament law, Spong told the audience that Deuteronomy teaches that children who talk back to their parents should be stoned to death. He asked the crowd "how many of you would be here tonight if that law were applied?" That book of Scripture does prescribe the death penalty for incorrigible sons. The passage in question speaks of a son who is stubborn, rebellious, gluttonous and a drunkard. The Biblical example is in no way equivalent to "talking back to" a parent, as Spong described it. I am not arguing for the application of this law, only that the Bishop did not honestly describe what the Bible actually says. Therefore, we can conclude either of two things. Either Bishop Spong doesn't know what the Bible says, and therefore he is not a good Biblical scholar, and should not be trusted concerning the Bible; or, Bishop Spong knows what the Bible actually says, but chose to distort it. In the later case, Bishop Spong is a dishonest man, and should not be trusted.

Another example has to do with his assertion that Jesus was not relgious, and that the New Testament barely even mentions the practice of religion. Spong declared that the term "religion" is only found in the New Testament in the Book of James, which, he pointed out, Martin Luther thought should not be included in the canon of Scripture. Apart from the fact that the Greek word used in James for "religion" is indeed found in two other places in the New Testament, Bishop Spong confuses his audience with the suggestion that the lack of a certain word ("religion") proves the lack of concern for religious practice. This would be like saying I rarely see the word "journalism" in the News & Advance, therefore this newspaper cares little for journalism.

That Jesus did observe many religious practices of his day is beyond question, if we accept the near contemporary accounts of Jesus life--the Gospels. There we read of Jesus at the age of twelve making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover, and studying Torah in the temple with the elders. In the gospels we learn that Jesus regularly attended synagogue. We see him journeying to Jerusalem with his disciples for Passover and for the feast of tabernacles. We see him practicing acts of charity. We see him receiving the baptism of John. We see him observing the passover meal with his disciples and instituting the continued observance of this meal--what we call the Lord's Supper. We see Jesus at prayer in public and in private. He said that his disciples do not fast now, while he is with them, but they will fast later when he is taken away. In the sermon on the mount he instructed his disciples in the practice of prayer, alms giving and fasting.

Once again I must conclude that either Spong doesn't really know what the Bible says, or he does know and distorts it. In the one case, he is not a person who should be trusted as a teacher of Scripture; in the other case he should not be trusted as a moral guide.

Jesus did of course strongly object to some of the religious observances of the Pharisees--especially their tendency to add on to the requirements of the law, making it nearly impossible to fulfill. But Jesus also objected to the religion of the Sadducees, that rationalistic, anti-supernatural party of first-century Judaism. In Spong's zeal to avoid the errors of the Pharisees, it appears that he has embraced the spirit of the Sadducees. Such a spirit will be not the life of Christianity in the 21st century, but its death--as the declining membership in Spong's diocese of Newark and the Episcopal Church as a whole would seem to show.

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