Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Sacrificing Pigs

There's a very fine line we must take with Scripture, and that is the difference between doing things in a Biblical way and actually doing Biblical things. It may seem like merely a game of semantics, but it's much, much more than that.

For example, we could look deep into Leviticus and find the so-called Biblical way to sacrifice a pig. All of the instructions for animal sacrifice are right there. A person brings the animal, in this case, a pig, to the priest. The priest lays his hands on the head of the pig and delivers a prayer, consecrating the animal for the sacrifice or transferring the guilt of the man onto the animal. The priest then takes the pig's head in his hands and, with a quick jerk, snaps the animal's neck.

There are instructions for how to then butcher the animal, how to cut and divide it. There are guidelines about which portions of the animal are holy, which parts are to be placed on the fire of the altar and which are to be discarded. All of the blood, it says, is to be poured out, since blood is life; blood is holy. So we pour out the pig's blood there to the side of the altar. And part of every sacrifice belongs to the priest so that he and his family can eat, too, so we cut off a slab or two of bacon and put them on the priest's table. Then we proceed to fuel the fires and burn the offering of the pig. 

It's all very Biblical. Except, of course, it's not. 

Because the pig was never an acceptable sacrifice in the Bible. No good Jew would ever dream of sacrificing a pig. God never asked for one. God never accepted one. God never even granted that the Jews themselves could have anything to do with a pig, much less eat one. It was an unclean animal. 

And here we have it. We have gone to the Bible. We have discovered all of the guidelines of animal sacrifice. We have applied those guidelines to the sacrifice we have chosen. And yet....

Do you see the problem?

Of course, we're not much engaged in animal sacrifice any more. This example doesn't particularly apply to most of us, even bacon lovers. But it's a vivid illustration of some of the other ways in which we've allowed ourselves to substitute so-called Biblical ways for actual Biblical things.

There are persons, for example, who think they have found a Biblical way to judge sin in this world. Really. And of course, there are numerous statements in both the Old and New Testaments about sin, about atonement, about accountability, about all of these things. But there is also a very real Biblical mandate that we not judge at all. So when we judge, even if we judge according to some standard we have found in the Scripture, we may be doing something in what seems like a Biblical way, but we are not doing a Biblical thing.

Last week, I spent the entire week talking with fellow seminarians about what it means to lead Biblically in this world. And they had some interesting insights into what it means to be a leader, but something about it was eating at me. It turns out, it was this very thing. In all of the Scriptures, God never calls us to lead. He calls us to serve. He calls us to love. He calls us to relationship and community and a whole host of other things. And even to the Rock upon which He will build His church, He never says, Build my church or even Lead my church. He says, feed my sheep. And feeding is an act of service. 

We can, of course, draw many lessons in leadership from the Bible - from Moses, from David, from the prophets, from Jesus Himself. But leadership is our word, it's our thing; it's not God's. So here we are again waxing eloquent about a Biblical way to do something, without considering that it may not be a Biblical thing to do. 

These are just a few examples, but the truth is that we're doing this very thing in many places. We're going to our Bibles to figure out how we're supposed to be doing something without first seeking the Scriptures to discover if it is a thing worth doing at all. This often juts us right up against the conventions of this world, the best wisdom that man has to offer. 

How do we conquer sin in this world if we don't place any judgment on it? What would this world be without its leaders? What if...what if I feel called to sacrifice a pig? 

For these answers, we cannot turn to the wisdom of this world; we have to look deep into the wisdom of God. How do we conquer sin? We don't. God does. God did. Love does. What would this world be without its leaders? A community, a real community. It would be a place built around relationships, not ideas. It's Biblical wisdom, not conventional wisdom. It's Biblical things, not merely Biblical ways. 

And about the pig? Eat the bacon. Because the table is no longer about the sacrifice; it's about the fellowship. And fellowship is a very Biblical thing. 

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