CAFETERIA CHRISTIANITY

By John H. Currier

Printer friendly version

The other day I was in the presence of a fellow giving a seminar on a business venture. When at last he had finished, he turned to me and asked what kind of church I attended. It caught me completely off guard. Has this ever happened to you? Well, it happens to me all the time. Many years ago, when I first joined the church, this was frightening and I stumbled around trying to find just the right words to say. For others it was a simple matter. For all they would need to say was that they were Baptists or Methodists or Episcopalian, etc. and that would be sufficient. But because so many of the "Christian" religions call themselves the "Church of God", it took a little bit more explaining on my part. Sometimes I would merely say that we are a Bible believing church and sort of sidestep the question. It wasnít because I was ashamed of Christ and my beliefs, but I just didnít want to go into a deep discussion.

As time passed, I realized that this is just exactly what I had been looking for--- a chance to evangelize!

So, this time when this man asked me what religion I was, I proudly announced that I am a Christian and that we believe that the Bible is the Holy inspired Word of God and we adhere to its message and its instruction. I continued telling him that we believe in total immersion baptism, but only after the person has repented of his/her sins; realizing that sin is the transgression or the breaking of Godís laws, as it says in 1 John 3:4, and the admission that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and is this personís personal Savior. I discussed the two being "God Head" of the Father and the Son and that we didnít believe that there was a "Trinity", nor was there an eternal "hell fire". I taught him that we also believe in the Ten Commandments and keeping all of them, including the fourth one--- to remember the Sabbath day and to keep it Holy. I told him that we held to the Holy Days, because it had been given to men by God to observe them. I told him about keeping the Passover as described in John 13:1-17 and I just continued on telling more and more and enlarging in detail about each subject.

When I had finished, he seemed a little "bowled over". Then, he said to me, "I think that a lot of what you say is true, but some of it I just canít go along with!"

About that time, I remembered the words of Paul in 1 Cor 3:6-7 "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow." (NIV) I felt that I had planted the seed and if I continued in the work, I would do more harm than good to the man, for we may get into arguments---and that I certainly didnít want!

But what he had said hit some kind of note inside me. I think that itís been something that has been gnawing at me for sometime, but I just couldnít see it. He had said, "Öbut some of it, I just canít go along with!"

This made me think that this is like so many, many people. People who profess to believe in the Bible, as Godís Holy Word, but then reject parts of it. They donít even bother to go to their Bible to see if what you have told them is true, let alone, actually do any research into concordances, Bible handbooks, Bible dictionaries, etc. They simply say to themselves and sometimes even out loud that--- this isnít what theyíve been taught!

The more I thought about this, the more it seemed like "Cafeteria Christianity."

Now, what do I mean by the term "Cafeteria Christianity"? Is this a form of religion that worships cafeterias? No, thatís not it. Perhaps then itís a religion that takes place only in cafeterias? No, itís not that either. As ridiculous as these might sound, what Iím talking about would seem to be even more preposterous. But I have already given you the clue of whatís coming, so let me just give it a little more push and then Iíll continue.

When one goes to a cafeteria, one walks down the line looking at the things offered and that person decides what he/she likes and doesnít like. For some people, the same thing holds true in the way they approach the Bible. Cafeteria religion is by my definition just this: Itís when a person decides for his/her self what part of the Bible is true and what part isnít true. Or, in other words, what they will accept and what they wonít. Itís almost if they are saying, "Iíll have some of this, but not that or that. Iíll have just a little of this, but I donít think Iíll take any of that. And, Iíll certainly not have any of that over there!" They "pick and choose" which things in the Bible theyíll believe and toss out everything that doesnít fit the way they want it to. Iím sure that everyone here knows someone like this. If youíve ever tried to speak to someone about the Bible, I know that youíve run into Cafeteria Christianity.

Now youíre probably saying to yourself, "Who would do such a thing?" This isnít a difficult question, especially in todayís world with science so prevalent in masking as a religion. But the most disheartening thing is that there are very, very sincere true Christians that have turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to the truth because it doesnít fit into what they already believe. Thank the Lord that this isnít true with all Christians!

First, letís look at some of the religions that donít believe the Bible or donít trust the Bible to be inspired by God or have re-written the Bible to accommodate their beliefs.

Roman Catholicism says that the Bible is only part of the truth. That no one should rely on just this Book to be a Christian. They say that God inspired it, but it has to be interpreted by the Church or the Pope! They claim that it may mean different things at different times and only the Pope is qualified to determine what it means. Catholics are not usually encouraged to read the Bible but are told to listen to their priests and to what the Church teaches, and to the "Founding Fathers." They have even gone so far as to "ban" certain books that they disagree with. But, just in case some of these people have decided to read the Bible for themselves, the Roman Church has covered that area too by producing their own form of the Bible. In their bible they have changed many of the stories and even the way itís translated and also added other books that the rest of Christianity doesnít accept. An example of changing the wording is in the book of Deuteronomy. In the NIV Bible, the NAS, and even the old KJV the "Ten Commandments" are listed in chapter five. The second commandment is to not worship any form of idol and the tenth one concerns coveting. However, the Roman Catholic Church has completely removed the second one and divided the tenth one into two parts, therefore retaining 10 commandments, but not the full true ones. And by doing away with the second commandment, allows them to "venerate" idols, and relics, even the bones of "saints" who died many years before or pieces of the cross. They have changed the text of the Bible in order to accommodate or fit their way of religion. It matters not whether itís the truth, just as long as it goes the way they want it to go.

The Roman Catholics are not the only ones who donít accept the Bible as the true word of God and the only source of faith. One of the biggest and fastest growing churches in America and certainly the richest has not only rewritten the Bible, but has added "another Gospel" to their religion as well. The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints or better known to most people as the Mormons have done just this. They took the old King James Version of the Bible and completely rewrote it in order to have it testify to their doctrines. And to add insult to injury, so to speak, they have written the Book of Mormon, which they claim is "another Gospel of Jesus Christ". The apostle Paul makes reference to things such as this when he says in Gal 1:6-9 "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!" NIV

The Mormons also have other books that have been written by their founders and they give just about as much credence to them as they do to their Bible. But what we see here is that there are no qualms among men to change, rewrite, omit or add to the Bible to make it give witness to their form of religion. This is the height of Cafeteria Christianity. They accept what they like, but then not only do they disbelieve what was originally written, they rewrite and change what was said into what they want it to say!

Another religion that is worldwide, who claim to have the same roots, as Christianity is Islam. Again, this is a religion that we could spend a lot of time investigating but letís just look at what they have done with the Bible. First of all they have taken the books of the O.T. and have changed them (big surprise!). We know for example that the lineage of Christ comes down from Isaac and not Ishmael. Letís look at this in Gen 16:7-12.

"The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, "Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?" "I'm running away from my mistress Sarai," she answered. Then the angel of the LORD told her "Go back to your mistress and submit to her." The angel added, "I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count." The angel of the LORD also said to her: "You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers." NIV

And in Gen 17:17-22 we pick up a conversation between God and Abraham concerning a covenant between the two of them:

"Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, 'Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?' And Abraham said to God, 'If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!' Then God said, 'Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.' When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him."

This seems straightforward doesnít it? But in the year Mohammed decided to write his Qurían he changed just a little---just a tiny bit--- of this story. Instead of having Isaac receive the covenant with God, he wrote that it was Ishmael! And instead of Ishmaelís descendants being the wild ones who could not be in harmony with their neighbors, it now fell to Isaac! Not much change in the wording, but what a change it makes in the religion and beliefs! Because of this change all the rest of the Bible is not believable to them. And just as the Roman Catholics have certain books that have been baned against them, so the Muslims have prohibitions against certain books. In countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran it is against the law to read a Bible and is punishable by death.

But, how about in other "Christian" religions, i.e., Baptist, Methodist, Church of Christ, etc., and even to our own Churches of God? Now we know, without having to go into detail, about these first ones mentioned, so letís get down to our own religion and ask ourselves if we accept the Bible fully and completely or are we also members of Cafeteria Christianity?

So many of us claim that the Bible is the true inspired Word of God and it is the only way to serve God and to find salvation. We recite 2 Tim 3:16-17. "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the person of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." NIV

We like to believe this and we like to believe that we uphold it and cherish it. We claim that since it is "God-breathed" or inspired that itís Holy and true to the very last letter. We feel so strongly about it that we put ourselves in the same category and identify ourselves with the ancient Bereans about whom it was said in Acts 17:11 "Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." (NIV) Now when it says, "Öexamined the ScripturesÖ" do you suppose that meant they just read them or do you believe that they examined them closely---dissecting them--- comparing them to other Scriptures--- and even trying to understand the writerís intent, as well as his words?!

When we do our research through Strongís Exhaustive Concordance, Halleyís Bible Handbook, Nelsonís Bible Dictionary, Interlinear Hebrew/Aramaic/English translations, Greek translations, Bible encyclopedias, etc., we are trying to find the real meaning of a word, a passage, or the author's intent!

And when we discover the truth and we understand how it fits into the rest of the puzzle, weíre so happy, weíre ecstatic! We praise God for allowing us to understand more of His Holy Word and we begin to tell others about what weíve learned and we begin to live by this new information and understanding!!

But--- do we accept everything that we find to be the truth? Or, do we say that this or that just doesnít fit the puzzle? If this or that were true, then it would possibly mean that this other thing that we have believed for all these years is--- untrue! So what do we do? Do we change what we found to be untrue to true or do we just disregard what we have now found to be true? Do we practice Cafeteria Christianity?

Letís think of some of the things we hold to be true--- things that we have proven to be true. First, we KNOW that Jesus is Christ and He is the Son of God. We KNOW that it was He who was known as the Word, as He is described in John 1:1-5 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it." NIV

We KNOW that it was this same Jesus that was the creator of the world. We KNOW that we are to be baptized by complete immersion. We KNOW that weíre to observe the Holy Days and the Passover. We KNOW that there is a two member Godhead consisting of God the Father and Jesus the Son and that the Holy Spirit is the power and essence of them and not a third deity. We KNOW all these things for we have proven them beyond doubt!

But what if--- what if--- we find something in the Scriptures that just doesnít fit what we have thought was right? For example: Acts 12:4 KJV "And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternion of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people."

We find the term "Easter" written here. Now we know that the word "Easter" is wrong and we know what all it has to do with and we know that it should read "Passover" in this place and not Easter. So what do we do? Like good little Bereans, we search the Scriptures. We go back to the original language in which this was written--- the Greek language. We find that it is actually an Aramaic word that was used. In Strongís Concordance itís number NT: 3957 and is written as "pascha (pas'-khah); of Aramaic origin [compare OT:6453]; the Passover (the meal, the day, the festival...): from Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, Inc.

We have now determined the true meaning of this word. We feel good for we have not been led astray to follow after a manmade tradition with all its trappings and have found the truth and the more perfect meaning of Godís Word. We have searched out the truth. We have found it. We have accepted it.

But what if, what we had found had not been as we thought it should be? What if the Greek said "Easter"? That would not have fit our way of believing. Would we have accepted it then? It would have meant changes in our beliefs such as celebrating the Resurrection at a sunrise service, and perhaps doing away with the observance of Passover! This one little word could have toppled much of we believe! In the same way, changing the word from Isaac to Ishmael has made so much difference! In truth, the word "Easter" is not the right translation and with further research we learn that we are to observe the Passover.

We feel good. All is right with the world, because we know that the Bible is the infallible word of God and we believe it word for word. However, we have proved to ourselves that many of the things in the Bible have been changed by "men" in order to prove their own form of religion or beliefs or traditions. We have studied on many occasions 1 John 5:7-8 that reads in the KJV: "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one." (KJV) A copyist wrote this passage this way in the fourth century A.D. in order to insert his belief. The part about the "Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost" was added. It is not in any of the earliest manuscripts. This has been proven without a doubt and most of the modern Bibles have it written with the true translation. 1 John 5:7-8: Verse seven says only "For there are three that testify:" and thatís it. Nothing is said here about the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost! And then in verse eight it continues with "the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement." (NIV) But, you see, by adding these few words if gives credence of a "Trinity" and many people have been led astray to believe in this falsehood. But this is all it takes! Just to have a copyist put his own ideas into the translation--- to add a word---to change a sentence---or to leave out a word or sentence. This is the reason we MUST do our own research to make certain that everything we see or that we are taught is truly the way it was written by the author. You know, sometimes an entire passage has been added and this causes confusion, because it will contrast or even contradict what Christ or one of the apostles have said elsewhere or be glaringly opposite to his attitude elsewhere.

Another example we find is in Mark 7:19 which is dealing with "clean and unclean". "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him `unclean'? For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.") NIV. Notice that the interpreters enclosed this part in parenthesis meaning that this was not part of the original Scripture! But, by declaring this, even though it wasnít part of the original Scripture, it leads people to believe that it IS part of the Bible and IS therefore true.

We accept the idea that they acknowledge that it wasnít part of the original Scripture, but we canít accept the implication that everything that is edible is now clean food and we are allowed to eat it. We can even explain it by what it says within the parenthesis: Jesus declared all foods "clean". We can say that, of course, all foods are clean, but snakes, rats, birds of prey, pork, shellfish, etc. are not foods. Even though these things can be eaten, they are not food according to what God has declared to be food! This is the simplest explanation. However, we should be able to understand this by just normal reasoning. But we can also go to the Bible and find proof that Jesus would not have changed the food laws. Turn in your Bible to Matt 5:17-18 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." NIV We should be able to understand from this that Jesus would not have changed the food laws. After all, our bodies have not changed and therefore there would be no need to change the food laws. But by having it implied or even directly said that which they added, it leads people to believe that they are now allowed to eat just about anything thatís edible!

So we can see that not only are there words in the Bible that have been changed in order to build someone elseís religion and beliefs, but actual passages that have been changed or altered or added or deleted in order to accomplish this. Yes, the Bible is the Word of God--- the infallible word of God, but it has been translated, changed, and altered by men who have wanted the religion the way they wanted it and not by the way God had planned it.

So now what if today you should come into contact with a theory that some words have been changed or altered in the Bible in order to appease or accommodate a particular religion, belief, or tradition? What should you do? What if itís something that you have believed was right? What if you had practiced this way for years? What if it was a main thought or doctrine of the church? Letís say that itís been a tradition that has passed down from one generation to the next without question--- that it has been propagated as "Gospel" for hundreds of years! What would or what should you do?

Should you say, "Iím not going to listen to any of this! This is heresy! How can this that Iíve been doing be wrong, if weíve been doing it for so long?! All the great men that have come before us have observed it this way, so it must be right!" Could these be the same questions that the Pharisees said about Jesus, when Jesus walked the earth? OR--- should we say, "Iíll do like the Bereans did and search the Scriptures"? I will research every means possible to prove whether it is right or wrong.

In todayís world of information availability, it becomes quite easy for almost anyone to find the proper translation of the Bible. Those of us who have computers with Bible software are fortunate in that we have numerous Bibles, concordances, commentaries, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and even word for word of the Scriptures translated and the meaning given, no matter what language it was originally written in! With this kind of information available very deep and very thorough studies have been made on many subjects. A great deal of knowledge has been discovered and a great deal of discernment has been brought forward.

One of the most controversial subjects that has been at the forefront of the churches today is the "womenís issue". Why is this such a sore subject? Why is it so hotly debated? Some people, both men and women ask, "Why are women not considered as important as men in the Christian world? We see this in many of the pagan religions of the world, but why Christianity? Why are women relegated to the position of "second class Christians"? Why are women given only the "gift" of preparing "pot-luck" dinners or teaching children only? Have they no minds? Are they so treacherous in their speaking that they canít be trusted to speak the word of God? How did this position of women come about? Is this the way Christ treated women? Well, the answers are numerous!

How did it all get started? If we look at the Scriptures, we find neither slighting, nor indifference, nor insignificance to women by Christ or any of the apostles. We find that the feeling is that men and women are mutual or equal in the Body of Christ. However, we find in the Scriptures something that Paul wrote that does limit women in what they are allowed to do. And this is where the contention comes in! It seems that everyone who is opposed to women being allowed to participate fully and totally as Christians uses these few verses to confirm their position. And even though it can be shown quite easily that these verses, the way theyíre written, donít fit with the thoughts and attitude of Christ or Paul and that these verses have been badly translated. The verses in question? I Corinthian 14:26-40 and I Timothy chapters 1 and 2, with special attention to verses 11-12 of chapter 2. Many scholars can show that the original Greek words fit a specific situation within the church audience hearing the original instruction. Often the translation is flawed as well. This should be easy to comprehend once itís been explained, because these passages are in direct conflict with other things that Paul has written. These verses are so much in conflict with what Paul has said in other Scriptures that there are some scholars that believe that Paul didnít even write them and that they were inserted by someone or some others! And the most surprising thing is that these verses do not carry the thoughts of Jesus and His attitude toward women. The book, "Women in the Church" by R.T. France and published by Eerbmans Publishing Company, 1997, is an excellent commentary on this subject. There have also been other well written and well researched and well documented papers--- written in our own churches and by our own members in the research of this subject. Some are right here on our web site.

My intent at this time is not to delve into the subject of Christian women in the church, but to make you think. To make you think, if you believe the Bible or not. We know the history of mankind; we know that man is greedy, distrustful, ambitious, and unkind. Men lie and cheat and even murder. And some of the worst wars in history have been committed in the names of God and under the guise of religion! We have seen that some passages of the Bible have been altered, changed, and added to in order to further a particular belief or theory or tradition. So, what must we do? Do we continue to enjoin Cafeteria Christianity or do we search by every means possible all things that may come into question? Do we merely accept the way a certain verse is written or do we research the passage to find if itís been added to or taken from or changed or maybe just completely inserted?! Do we refuse to research for fear that we may find the truth and it will be different from what we have believed and practiced for many years? Or, perhaps, it would break with tradition or cause jealousy or splinter the church? Or, maybe we just figure that we already know everything and thereís no reason for us to search for the truth. Just what should we do, when we find a subject that confronts us?

I believe the Bible. I believe that itís the Holy Word of God. I believe that itís Godís "instruction book" to us. I believe all these things. However, I know that it has been translated, interpreted, changed, and altered by men all down through the ages. I also know that probably 99.9% is just as it was written. But itís that 0.1%--- that part that gives us the misunderstandings--- the divisions--- the controversies---itís that part that we must delve into--- that we must research--- and we must believe it, when we find it!

Of course, we can continue our lives as we have been. Weíve been doing everything right so far, right? We go to church on the Sabbath. We observe the Holy Days, including the Passover. We sing songs of praise and we enjoy our "potluck" dinners. So, why should we "upset the apple cart" by searching for answers to questions that may disrupt our religion? Someone may ask, "Must we believe everything?" The answer is no! Thatís part of the point! We shouldnít believe anything until it has been thoroughly proven. But then, ---then we should put aside all previous thoughts and all previous traditions and instead, embrace the truth--- accepting it willingly and fully! Praising God for His blessings!

Only a true disciple of Jesus--- a true Christian--- would actively seek the truth, knowledge, and understanding and with the understanding that what we may find, as the truth, may change our lives. Therefore, we must do away with Cafeteria Christianity and let us put Christ Jesus first in our lives and accept the truth when we find it, regardless of how it affects our preconceived ideas and traditions. When weíre able to do this, then weíll be able to tell others and weíll have the conviction and the knowledge to do so.

The Bible is the true word of God. In His words and as He inspired it to be written, it is the way to salvation and itís our guide to how we should live and worship. But when we come face to face with something that just doesnít fit with the rest of the puzzle, itís not time to just say, "Oh, Iíll accept that" or "No, I donít think thatís true, so Iíll not accept that." On the contrary, this is the very time that we should do as the Bereans and research the Scriptures to see if what is translated is the true word of God or if it has been changed in some way or the other. And when we find the truth--- accept it!