For quite some time, scholars studying the Bible have been pretty sure that the Letter to the Hebrews attributed to Paul wasn’t really written by Paul at all. And by “for quite some time,” I mean since the second and third century. They’re not really sure who wrote it, but they’re pretty skeptical – for a variety of reasons – that it was actually Paul.
Not a big deal to me, personally. I think that when the early church leaders were putting together the Bible, they liked what was in this letter and wanted to include it. Maybe someone thought making it a letter from Paul gave it added weight, an additional significance because, if it was by Paul, then, hey, it must be important.
Really? So the value of the ideas is directly influenced by who said them? That’s too bad, because not everything that scholars think Paul actually wrote is golden. But that’s the case with everyone, isn’t it? One of the most quoted persons in history is William Shakespeare, but even Will wrote a few duds. Really.
Whoever did write what we now know as the Epistle to the Hebrews wrote some great stuff. Stuff like this: “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25.
I’m not sure that needs “The Stamp of Paul” to make it credible. But then, I think we spend far too much time considering something as credible or valuable or meaningful simply because of who said it. Or not credible or valuable or meaningful for the same reason. Sometimes we are far too quick to dismiss something because of who said it, rather than consider the value of the ideas or the words themselves.
I’m sometimes in awe, reading the paper or watching the news, to realize just how un-discerning we are. Sometimes people we don’t like have good ideas that get ignored or actively opposed just because of who said them, only to reappear later from someone we do like. Then they’re okay. All you have to do is look at politics to see that.
Sometimes we do it with church. It becomes less about what we personally believe and more about who said it, or what group or church or faith tradition said it.
There is a movement in a number of countries called “Back to Church Sunday.” In North America, the suggested date is usually sometime in late September. I think it’s a great idea. I don’t know who started it, but it includes churches of all denominations. Some have adapted it to “Back to Church Day,” recognizing church is more than Sunday.
The point of it is that surveys suggest that people who don’t attend church would be open to it if someone personally invited them. Why? Because whoever wrote “The Epistle to the Hebrews” was right. People find their lives improved by meeting with others who are willing to support and encourage them as we all wonder, ask questions and seek whatever it is that we know as God. That’s what makes community. And whoever wrote Hebrews knew that.
I think everyday is an occasion to invite someone to church. It’s worth finding out for yourself what really happens there, what people – all people – really think and believe. Going to church shouldn’t just be about the “label,” the name or denomination on the door, it should be about the people, the community of faith that gathers there. Sure, it’s way easier to just make assumptions, but there’s only one real way to find out who and what church is about – you have to visit. Not just this church or that church. Any church.
So, maybe it’s not “back” to church for you, but a first time. All the more reason to find out for yourself, any day. Maybe now’s a good time. You’re invited.