Is Christianity and the Bible Too Old-Fashioned to be Relevant in Today's Society?
by Rich Deem

Introduction

Bible Outdated?

Christian theology was last developed in the first century AD, nearly 2000 years ago. At the time, there were no computers, cell phones, large cities, or universal education. How could such a religion be relevant in the modern world?

Rich Deem

One of the common criticisms of Christianity is that it is too old-fashioned to be relevant for living in today's society. It is often thought that the Bible speaks to a different time and place that no longer exists in modern society. Does the Bible have anything to say to us at this time?

Perceived Christianity

Most people who are not Christians judge Christianity on the basis of those who claim to be its adherents. Since most non-Christians never go to church, their impression of Christians often come from the media. Outrageous, prejudiced, and insensitive statements make for great press, so they are often reported, with the implication that these kinds of things are typical of Christians. However, one shouldn't think that all Christians are crazy based upon what is reported in the media.

The other main perception of Christians is that they want to tell everybody else how they should live, while ignoring some of the more fundamental aspects of proper moral behavior. This kind of behavior is known as hypocrisy, and was one of the main things that Jesus preached against. For example, during the first century, the religious leaders were giving to the poor to receive recognition by others,1 praying in public to be seen as being pious,2 complaining about other people's behavior when theirs was even worse,3 testing other people to try to make themselves look superior,4 repressing the poor,5 giving to the church, but neglecting justice and mercy,6 and doing everything for show, while really being self-indulgent and unrighteous.7 Does any of this sound familiar? However, people who behave in such a manner are not really adherents of Christianity, but hypocrites. Besides, we are not advocating that you become a Christian and behave like the people Jesus detested.

Old Testament teachings

Much of the complaint against the Bible is often directed at the Old Testament, which does speak about a time when society was almost exclusively agrarian. Even though the times and societies were different, the moral choices that existed at the time are still with us today. So, even though the ten commandments talk about coveting your neighbor's ox and donkey, they also speak about coveting your neighbor's wife or "anything that belongs to your neighbor," which would include his car and whatever other technology he might possess.

The ten commandments

Almost everybody has heard of the ten commandments, especially since their placement in United States government buildings has become a controversy in the courts. However, few people can name more than a few of them. Are they no longer relevant to life? The ten commandments can be grouped into two broad categories. The first four commandments pertain to a person's relationship with God:

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me. (Exodus 20:3)
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol. (Exodus 20:4)
  3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain. (Exodus 20:7)
  4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. (Exodus 20:8)

Is the Bible Intolerant? Sexist? Oppressive? Homophobic? Outdated? Irrelevant?The first commandment is to have no other gods. There is only one God, so worshipping any other god is useless. The second commandment goes along with the first. In Old Testament times, the peoples used to make idols of gold and silver. Although people in today's society tend not to make idols in the image of animals to worship, they do have other idols of gold and silver and steel - jewelry, money, stocks, cars, etc. Anything that becomes more important in life than God becomes an idol to us. The third commandment is to not take the lord's name "in vain." Contrary to what most people think, this is not just a command to not use God's name as a swear word, but not to use the Lord's name in any casual, inappropriate way (which includes using it as an expletive). So, even using the word "Oh" before God's name is a violation of the third commandment. The fourth commandment is to set apart a day for rest and reflection on God. God knew that we need a day off from work to recover from our hectic schedules and demands of work. These first four commandments are best summarized by a verse from Deuteronomy:

"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:5)

The last six commandments concern one's relationships with other human beings.

  1. Honor your father and your mother. (Exodus 20:12)
  2. You shall not murder. (Exodus 20:13)
  3. You shall not commit adultery. (Exodus 20:14)
  4. You shall not steal. (Exodus 20:15)
  5. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. (Exodus 20:16)
  6. You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor." (Exodus 20:17)

The fifth commandment is to honor your parents. We probably don't appreciate how difficult it is top be a parent until we have been one ourselves. In general, parents put a lot of work into providing for their children's care, so they should be honored and respected for their efforts. Even if your parents aren't perfect, they are created in the image of God and deserve respect as image bearers of God. The last five commandments are all part of the "do not's." These commands will always be relevant to human relationships. Murder, infidelity, stealing, and lying are universally condemned. The tenth commandment is probably not as universally accepted, although it should be. Coveting - desiring something that belongs to someone else - is a major source of evil when acted upon. It leads to greed, and sometimes to one of the previous five commandments, including murder. Coveting leads to the "keeping up with the Jones's" syndrome, instead of living for what's best for oneself and his loved ones. These last six commandments are best summarized by a verse from Leviticus:

'You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18)

Despite their antiquity, the Ten Commandments are relevant to human relationships today.

Christianity and truth

The God of the Bible is also known as the God of Truth,8 who desires that all people convey truth to each other at all times.9 The Christian is to live a life that is established in truth10 - truth in speaking,11 in loving,12 and truth in all one does13 and thinks.14 The Christian church is to be the "pillar of the truth."15 At a time when truthfulness seems to be in short supply, it is refreshing to deal with people who believe and follow the Christian principles related to truth.

The Golden Rule

Many religions have some kind of "golden rule," by which behavior to others may be measured. However, the golden rule taught by Jesus is not the same as the one taught in other religions. Let's look at what Jesus said:

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12, Jesus Christ)16

In other "golden rules" the command is given in the negative - Don't do what you would not want others to do to you.17 In addition, other golden rules are stated in terms of reciprocity - expecting something n return. However, Jesus said that we should be kind expecting nothing in return:

"But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. (Luke 6:35)

Jesus recognized the problem with the universal "golden rule" was that not doing evil is not the same as doing good for everyone. Jesus said that we were to love those who were different from us.18 So, Christians are not to just love other Christians, but love non-believers and those from other religions. So, the real golden rule goes beyond the "do not's" to address the "do's" - commanding that people love everyone, even those who mistreat you or use you for their own gain.19 In Christianity, the ends do not justify the means. So, doing something evil, even if good comes from it, is completely unacceptable and soundly condemned.20 We are commanded to overcome evil with good:

So, Christianity presents a philosophy in which payback and vengeance is unacceptable behavior. If all peoples throughout the world practiced biblical Christianity, all strife and wars would end. Indeed, this outcome would be a welcome change from all the wars and conflicts we now experience. Ultimately, those who follow Jesus will live in just such a place (i.e., heaven) after death.

Christian love

Going along with the Christian concept of no payback, the idea of love is an all-encompassing lifestyle commitment. In the Bible, love is defined as being patient, kind, truthful, unselfish, trusting, believing, hopeful, and enduring.21 It is not jealous, boastful, arrogant, rude, selfish, or angry.21 True love never fails, because it is based upon good actions, instead of being based upon mere feelings. The Christian description of love perfectly fits God's love toward us, and should be the way we love each other and God. In the Bible, there are two different words for love, phileo, brotherly kindness, and agape, unconditional acts of love. So, while the Christian is to engage in moral excellence, he is also to add both brotherly kindness and unconditional acts of love to his behavior:

Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. (2 Peter 1:5-7)

In accordance with these principles, love is to be done without hypocrisy, abhorring evil and doing only good works:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. (Romans 12:9)

Conclusion Top of page

Christianity is often thought of as being irrelevant in our modern world. However, the principles upon which we Christians live is a breath of fresh air in a world that is dominated by greed, covetousness, lying and payback. Yes, the stories involve donkeys instead of cars, fishing nets instead of Gordon's Fish Sticks, grinding flour with stones instead of Wonder Bread, and dirt roads instead of freeways. However, the teachings of Jesus are no more irrelevant now then they were when first laid down in the first century.



References Top of page

  1. "So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full." (Matthew 6:2)
  2. "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full." (Matthew 6:5)
    "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation." (Matthew 23:14)
  3. "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." (Matthew 7:5)
    "Or how can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye. (Luke 6:42)
  4. But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, "Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites?" (Matthew 22:18)
    "Shall we pay or shall we not pay?" But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, "Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at." (Mark 12:15)
  5. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation." (Matthew 23:14)
  6. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others." (Matthew 23:23)
  7. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence." (Matthew 23:25)
    "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness." (Matthew 23:27)
    "So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." (Matthew 23:28)
    "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous... Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city" (Matthew 23:29, 34)
  8. Into Your hand I commit my spirit; You have ransomed me, O LORD, God of truth. (Psalm 31:5)
    "Because he who is blessed in the earth Will be blessed by the God of truth; And he who swears in the earth Will swear by the God of truth; Because the former troubles are forgotten, And because they are hidden from My sight! (Isaiah 65:16)
  9. "True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. (Malachi 2:6)
    But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. (James 3:14)
    Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, (1 Peter 1:22)
  10. Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. (2 Peter 1:12)
    We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him (1 John 3:19)
    We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:6)
    for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever: (2 John 1:2)
    I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment to do from the Father. (2 John 1:4)
    For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. (3 John 1:3)
    I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth. (3 John 1:4)
    Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth. (3 John 1:8)
  11. Then the king said to him, "How many times must I adjure you to speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the LORD?" (1 Kings 22:16)
    He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart. (Psalm 15:2)
    Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart. (Proverbs 3:3)
    "For my mouth will utter truth; And wickedness is an abomination to my lips. (Proverbs 8:7)
    He who speaks truth tells what is right, But a false witness, deceit. (Proverbs 12:17)
    Will they not go astray who devise evil? But kindness and truth will be to those who devise good. (Proverbs 14:22)
    And you will swear, 'As the LORD lives,' In truth, in justice and in righteousness; Then the nations will bless themselves in Him, And in Him they will glory." (Jeremiah 4:2)
    "The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain?" declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:28)
    'These are the things which you should do: speak the truth to one another; judge with truth and judgment for peace in your gates. (Zechariah 8:16)
    For we can do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth. (2 Corinthians 13:8)
    but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, (Ephesians 4:15)
    Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another. (Ephesians 4:25)
  12. [Love] does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; (1 Corinthians 13:6)
  13. Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. (1 John 3:18)
    The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth, (2 John 1:1)
    Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. (2 John 1:3)
    The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. (3 John 1:1)
  14. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
  15. but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:15)
  16. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:31)
  17. In comparison, the "golden rule" given by Confucius says, "Tsze-kung asked, saying, 'Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one's life?' The Master said, 'Is not RECIPROCITY such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.'" (The Analects Book 15:24)

  18. "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. (Luke 6:32)
    "But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35-36)

  19. "You have heard that it was said, 'AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.' But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:38-45)
  20. And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), "Let us do evil that good may come"? Their condemnation is just. (Romans 3:8)
  21. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)

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Last Modified May 10, 2008

 

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