Last Sunday’s readings used in many liturgical churches included 1 Corinthians 9:16-23. In all honesty, what sticks out for me the most when I encounter this passage isn’t anything I associate with something preached from a pulpit. Rather, it’s a heated online exchange that I was involved in shortly after getting online and discovering the world of Internet message boards (I guess I’m dating myself here).
In 1998, I was in high school and frequented a site called The Student Center geared towards high school and college students, which is now defunct. There were some interesting discussions there, and I even made an online friend I’m still in touch with. There were also some true “live ones” there, too.
Having been raised nominally Episcopalian and confirmed as one, my exposure to fundamentalism had been very limited. This board had attracted several evangelical and fundamentalist posters who were very militant about belief in a pre-millenial rapture and dispensationalism. There were also a few posters affiliated with a college campus ministry who were very adamant about pushing a need for a personal conversion experience that attacked virtually every expression of faith besides the ministry’s own.
I wasn’t going to lightly take being told I was a hell-bound apostate for not being a pre-millenialist or that I was lost because I wasn’t affiliated with their ministry. After taking so much of that, I told them why I didn’t buy into their thinking, and the message board literally lit up. Most others stayed out of the fray altogether or were at least curious about different views, but a few persisted in keeping the back-and-forth going.
Back then, I had a lot less restraint in dealing with difficult people online than I do now. Part of what worsened the overall encounter was when one of the posters accused me of having a “warped theology” and proclaiming “Woe to you, IrishLass, you are not preaching the Gospel.” Whoa, who, whoa – wait a minute people! – whose Gospel are you talking about?
I think this exchange was a classic example of proof-texting and taking a verse WAY out of context. These message board posters equated the Gospel with their own sectarian beliefs about the end-times, not the universal message of grace and reconciliation. Were I to encounter these people again, I would be glad to remind them of the words of John 3:16-17 and Romans 8:31-39, among others.