There were two posters in the Oak Street Bible Shop that showed two different ways of going to be with Jesus. I was browsing, when I saw these posters on a stand at eye level.
One showed the body of an old woman lying on a bed. Her false teeth were in a glass of water on the night stand. An angel was hovering above the bed, reaching down to her and pulling up a transparent version of her as a beautiful young woman. He was lifting up her "soul" to take it to heaven.
Beside this picture was a scene that represented a very different concept. It was a night scene of an old, overgrown cemetery. The gravestones were fallen down and shrubs and weeds had taken over until the graves could hardly be seen.
But there were a number of glowing figures emerging from these graves, traveling upward to join the figures of Jesus and his angels in the sky. It was a picture of the rapture.
A man behind me had been looking at it too. "So typically American," he said, as if that was a bad thing.
I turned to look at him. He was over six feet tall, in a blue three-piece suit and red necktie. He looked sharp and had the poise of someone used to getting respect.
"Which one of these pictures is correct?” I asked.
He began to talk about the Greek influences and the religious traditions of simple Bible-believing people from which ideas derive. I didn't hear him cite any scriptures. Everything was cultural to him.
After he had finished his talk, I said, "Thank you for your views."
He drew himself up to tower even further above me; he was steamed. "Views! I'm just a Lutheran pastor. All I have is views, I suppose!"
I didn't realize it, but I had just made a pastor angry by not believing something he said! Of course I had done that a lot in my life. Didn't set out to, it just happened. Imagine, a pastor had said something and I didn't treat it with the seriousness he felt it deserved!
Well, welcome to America, and welcome to the Protestant belief that the Bible is the only authority. Luther called it "Sola Scriptural", and they put him on trial, hunted him down and tried to kill him. This pastor did not follow Luther in this, apparently.
Poor baby! He should have had a sign around his neck that read, "I am a pastor, you must believe everything I say".
Now, I have known some good pastors, real servants of Christ and of their congregations. Some of them were my friends. But I am not in awe of them.
I think of Colonial America, and the Congregational churches. Their preachers were often fired if they did not keep to the Word or if they abused their authority. They had come from a country where you went to prison for preaching without a license.
Prison is where John Bunyan wrote A Pilgrim's Progress. They brought his water in a jug with a rolled-up paper stopper. He unrolled it and when it was dry it became the manuscript for one of the most popular and influential books ever written.
As far as pastors or teachers dictating what we are to believe, it is so un-scriptural as to be beyond argument.
On this particular day, at the Oak Street Bible Shop, we saw the inflamed ego of a church official at its worst. This fellow picked up his order and left without another word.
"Looks like you really upset him," said Joy, a little amused at it all.
"That's usually my job," said Glen from his corner of the room. "Especially pertaining to the doctrine of the rapture," he continued. "Most of us believe it, but where the differences come in is with the idea of peoples' souls going up, one by one as they die, then Jesus coming for their bodies all at one time, yet future. Two trips to heaven, or one time as in John 14."
Joy, as an ex-Catholic, was very much a believer in immortality of the soul. Gary believed that way too, as did Sue, though she had not spoken out on it like Joy and Gary.
Glen and I had ceased to believe in man's natural immortality. We were dust, animated by the spirit of life from God, and we knew it.
Joy spoke, dreading what she knew would follow. "I know about our physical nature,” she said, "But that is just the body! The soul goes to be with Christ when we die. 'Absent from the body, present with the Lord,' is what Paul said.”
"I wish people would quote the whole passage", said Glen. "There are a number of errors in doctrine that people try to defend by quoting part of a verse or part of a chapter--the part they feel supports their view."
"There's that word again, 'view,'" quoted Sue. "That's what got that Lutheran guy started."
"Lutheran pastor," corrected Joy.
Gary interjected, "I think we all agree that when Christians promote a belief without Biblical support, it is just a view. I agree with Luther on that."
"Even Jesus quoted scripture," said Sue, "and he was the Word himself. He announced his ministry in Luke chapter four by reading from the book of Isaiah."
Glen returned to his theme of using partial scriptures. "Paul said concerning his being with Christ after death, 'Not that I would be unclothed, but clothed upon.' 2 Corinthians 5:2-4. Paul says that mortality will become immortality at the resurrection. If you read these entire chapters you get the whole picture."
"Keep on reading," said Sue. "Don't quit until you have read the whole passage.” It was a motto of hers. Glen smiled at her in appreciation.
Gary broke in, "Jesus said ‘I am the resurrection and the life,' not ‘I am the immortal soul and the life.’”
"Whose side are you on?" snapped Joy.
"The Bible's side, I hope," he answered.
"I'm sorry you are a "soul sleeper" said Joy. "You sound like a Jehovah's Witness," she added.
"Well," Glen came back, "you've managed two attempted putdowns in one sentence. First of all 'soul sleeper' is about the most meaningless term I have ever heard. You just reach out for a name to call someone as if that proves anything. It's like saying 'nigger' or 'honky' as if you are describing a fellow human being. Would it prove anything if I called you a "body sleeper"? The terms are meaningless. Let's use scripture, not call names. As far as what I may sound like, think of who believes in immortal souls. Hindus, Shamans, and every witch."
"Now who's calling names?" said Joy.
"I'm not calling names, that is how those people describe themselves", said Glen. "But even beyond this doctrine, which I feel is so important, there is the practice of just following what we have heard everyone say, instead of searching the scriptures for ourselves. That's what really bothers me. What is our basis for believing what we believe?"
Gary, who was a fan of old movies, tried to lighten things up a bit. "As Chico Marx of the Marx Brothers used to say, ‘Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?’” he quoted.
"My own eyes,” said Sue solemnly, “if they're looking at the Bible".