One of the things that has bothered me most about present-day fundamentalists is their almost complete abandonment of The Sermon on the Mount. To me, this is the heart of the teachings of Jesus—and, therefore, the heart of Christianity.
Today, I found this on a fundamentalist site. It gives me a glimmer of how the fundies dance around what Jesus “actually” (in their view of the Bible as an accurate representation of his words) said:
The sermon on the mount in Matthew chapter 5 was not meant to be the “golden rule” for Christian ethics for today. Yet many think we need to obey this sermon for salvation when it was actually a rebuttal against Pharisaic Judaism and the true intention of the law as given to Moses.
Ah, ha! The Sermon on the Mount doesn’t have to be taken literally! Certainly, by this reason, it shouldn’t be, because Jesus wasn’t speaking literally, but was “actually” saying something else.
Well, they might want to be a little more careful in determining what Jesus “actually” meant. What this reasoning is based on, I think, is a deliberate mis-reading of Joachim Jeremias:
The result to which we have come is that the Sermon on the Mount is not law, but gospel. For this is indeed the difference between law and gospel: The law leaves man to rely upon his own strength and challenges him to do his utmost. The gospel, on the other hand, brings man before the gift of God and challenges him really to make the inexpressible gift of God the basis for his life. These are two different worlds. In order to make the difference clear, one should avoid in New Testament theology the terms “Christian ethic,” “Christian morality,” “Christian morals,” because these secular expressions are inadequate and liable to misunderstanding. Instead of these, one should speak of “lived faith” [gelebter Glaube]. Then it is clearly stated that the gift of God precedes his demands.
If we take up once more the triad with which we began, we may now conclude: The sayings of Jesus which have been collected in the Sermon on the Mount are not intended to lay a legal yoke upon Jesus’ disciples; neither in the sense that they say: “You must do all of this, in order that you may be blessed” (perfectionist conception); nor in the sense: “You ought actually to have done all of this, see what poor creatures you are” (theory of the impossible ideal); nor in the sense: “Now pull yourself together; the final victory is at hand” (interim-ethic). Rather, these sayings of Jesus delineate the lived faith. They say: You are forgiven; you are the child of God; you belong to his kingdom. The sun of righteousness has risen over your life. You no longer belong to yourself; rather, you belong to the city of God, the light of which shines in the darkness. Now you may also experience it: out of the thankfulness of a redeemed child of God a new life is growing. That is the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount.
As usual, the fundies have simplified a sophisticated reading and twisted it to their own purposes. They take the half they want (in this case, that it is not law) and disregard the rest.