Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sometimes I realize that I might be wrong...

I was thinking the other day about how things have changed in my life in the last 15 years. 15 years ago I was enjoying my second year at NBBC while eagerly anticipating my first summer on staff at the WILDS. With more than a year of Bible College under my belt, I was fairly certain (at nearly 20 years old) that I had all the right answers to all of the that I'm nearly 35 years old, I've grown increasingly sure that I have very few of the answers! However, I have adopted what I believe to be a more balanced and biblical approach to things. Believe it or not, I'm far less opinionated about things and I'm learning to adopt a more silent stance regarding matters about which the Bible is silent. With all that said, I'm going to post a partial list of some things about which I've changed my mind (or as I like to say, "grown") over the last decade and a half. This will be boring to most of you, but the beauty of this blog is that it's all mine!!!! If you don't like it, go write your own!

This is a conversation I've had in several different posts on this blog, so I won't say too much about it in this entry. Fifteen years ago I made some rather foolish arguments regarding music.....I considered percussion instruments to be somewhat demonic and CCM was the "devil's music". I remember arguing with a friend who's older brother was a bass player in a somewhat successful Christian rock band - I informed him that his brother was likely not saved; that God was not glorified by the music; that the Jesus his brother claimed to serve was not the same Jesus that I served, etc. I made this argument without ever hearing the music, reading the lyrics, or meeting the musicians. If you haven't already, feel free to read some of my thoughts on music here, here, here, here, and here. Enough said on that subject.

Soteriologically, I would classify myself as having been a "4-point Arminian" 15 years ago. I viewed salvation as being more or less my gift to God. I didn't go so far as to say that I could lose my salvation, but it was an idea that occurred to me more than once. As I followed the logic of the system I had embraced, that seemed to be the logical conclusion.....I had no real concept of what grace was all about.

Now I consider myself to be fairly Calvinistic in my soteriology. The Calvinism that I grew up despising as the asinine ramblings of some maniac who was possibly demon-possessed (I'd even heard that John Calvin turned his back on "calvinism" later in his life) is a Calvinism that I've not yet encountered by anybody other than those who hate system and choose to throw out straw-men attacks against the system. That sounds much more antagonistic than I intend....I don't begrudge anybody who would embrace a soteriology that differs from what I've come to embrace. I realize now that there is room for disagreement (as long as said disagreement doesn't deny the sufficiency of the shed blood of Christ and the necessity of repentance).

Don't throw stones at me until you've read this entire entry..... 15 years ago I considered imbibing in any amount for any reason to be sinful. Granted, I was somewhat influenced by the fact that my father was a raging alcoholic (a weakness that killed him before he reached 50 years old), but the idea of "drinking in moderation" seemed to me to be nothing more but an excuse to embrace the world. These days I can't read a "teetotaler" position into Scripture no matter how hard I try. I don't personally imbibe, although I have drank 2 beers over the last 5 or 6 years or so. With all that said, I don't have a problem with an abstinence position regarding alcohol use, nor do I have a problem with a moderation approach.

Personal Devotions and my relationship with God
For years I ran around with a great deal of guilt every time I failed to have my "daily devotions", or didn't get something new and profound out of what I read. It was really a rather miserable existence. My entire spiritual experience was a valley with no peaks. I was an utter failure in my relationship with Christ. I spent so much time energy trying to become "good enough" for God to hear my prayers. It was lonely, dark, and hopeless and ultimately, I gave up trying. You know, I think it was this approach to sanctification and salvation that caused me to struggle so much with "assurance" issues. The frustration came to such a head that I ended up attempting to abandon church and God altogether. I chose drugs, sex, and alcohol instead and found myself living an even more miserable existence with the constant pain of guilt and conviction pricking me at every turn. Wow! I don't miss that life at all...

These days I've come to appreciate that remarkable, unconditional, unmerited love and mercy of the Almighty. I've come to approach my personal worship to God as a response to His love for me rather than some chore that is part of the Christian life. As a result, my love for God has increased, my zeal for the Word is growing, my "walk" is consistent, and I have come to appreciate those quiet times with my Savior. This shouldn't be should be refreshing!

There are many more items I could mention, but this is a sufficient list for now. I've come to realize that, as I grow in Christ, I might have to face the reality that I've been wrong about some things (perhaps even some of the things on this list)...may God give us all the grace to accept that and move on!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Why I hate titles...

This article over at SharperIron is worth a read. I've got several problems with the underlying points of the article that the author of the SI article is referencing; however, I don't want to get into that at this time. In the comments portion over there I wrote the following:
"This is the part of the debate that gets under my skin like nothing else: people on both sides of the argument - particularly on what I call the extreme sides of the argument - would mandate that you adhere to something you don't feel is defensible biblically if you are going to claim a particular "title" to help define your beliefs to others. This is why a tend to deplore most titles, although they are generally helpful. I used to rely on the title "biblicist", but that's extremely vague....besides, who wouldn't want to claim that title for themselves in these conversations?

I've embraced Dispensationalism as well as the 5 soteriological points of Calvinism, while rejecting paedobaptism as well as the notion that the Lord's Supper and Baptism are "means of grace". I also reject the idea that the Atonement was not sufficient for the entirety of mankind (I could go on...). I find these things to be completely compatible with one another (as have many much more studied men than myself through the years).

Quite frankly, I'm quite comfortable with those on the fringes of the argument taking issue with what they perceive as inconsistencies in my theology."

Friday, October 19, 2007

One more statement on Bob Jones and Mitt Romney.

A poster over at SharperIron provided a link to an article by Chuck Baldwin regarding Bob Jones, III's endorsement of Mitt Romney. It's a good read and is written much better than my article on the same subject earlier this week.

Here's a small excerpt:
Bob Jones' endorsement of the former Massachusetts governor illustrates just how low the Religious Right will go in compromising bedrock principle for the sake of political expediency. Jones says he is supporting Romney so as to help defeat Rudy Giuliani. I very much want to see what Jones will do if and when Giuliani gets the Republican nomination. I would anticipate that he will continue to follow his current modus operandi and support Giuliani, because he would then say that Giuliani is the "lesser of two evils."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

There's a black sheep in every family.

As long as I'm posting about ridiculous politics....

Perhaps you've already heard, but Lynne Cheney (wife of Vice-President Dick Cheney) has revealed that Dick Cheney and Barack Obama (Democratic Presidential hopeful) are 8th cousins. An Obama spokesman is reported as saying, "Every family has a black sheep."

Really...I'm not making this up. Entire story here.

Bob Jones supports Mitt Romney

You've probably already heard that Bob Jones, III has thrown his support behind Presidential candidate (and Mormon), Mitt Romney. His reasoning is, "This is all about beating Hillary, and I just believe that this man has the credentials both personally and ideologically in terms of his view about what American government should be to best represent the rank and file of conservative Americans."

I've got several problems with this line of reasoning and, for that matter, with anybody with as much pull as Jones supporting Romney. I'm not going to discuss them in great detail right now simply because I'm crunched for time.

First of all, if it's truly "all about beating Hillary" (a fundamentally flawed reason to support anybody, in my opinion), then perhaps it would be good to throw your support behind somebody who actually stands a chance at beating her! Romney versus Hillary isn't exactly a fair fight. I think the only ticket that the GOP can throw out there that will beat Hillary is a Guiliani/Thompson or Guiliani/Huckabee ticket. There are some things about Guiliani that I truly dislike, but I think he can stomp Hillary...nobody else out there has a prayer.

Secondly, and this isn't referenced directly in the article, but why is it that the only issue that conservatives really seem to care about in this country is abortion? If a candidate isn't pro-life, we pull our support without question. Why not a candidate who is loudly supporting things like a fair tax, smaller government, the sovereignty of the individual states.... Abortion is an important (and polarizing) issue; however, I'm not convinced that it's the right issue to serve as the litmus test for who we'll support for President.

Thirdly, it's baffling to me that Jones sees Romney of all people as the best representation of the ideology of rank and file conservatives. What about Brownback or Huckabee? What about anybody who is not a member of the wackiest mainstream cult in America? For Pete's sake, Jones just threw his support behind a guy who believes that someday he'll become the god of an entire solar system (just like God who, according to LDS theology, was once a man). Romney believes that Jesus Christ and Satan are blood brothers. They )Mormons) believe that God actually had intercourse with Mary to conceive Christ. It seems to me that if you've got some pull in this country (and Jones does) that you would throw your support behind a more stable-minded individual....

More later. I won't be back to bloggin until next week.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Those ugly Calvinists.....

Calvinism has gotten a bad rap in Fundamentalism. Growing up in Fundamentalism, I "knew" the following about Calvinists:
  • They didn't believe in witnessing to unbelievers
  • They believed that if babies died, then the babies went to hell
  • They were unhappy
  • They hated pretty much everybody
  • All they cared to do was fight and argue about petty things
  • All they ever talked about was Calvinism
There were other things I "knew" about Calvinists as well, but you get the picture. As I got older I met some folks who were completely different than what my caricature of a Calvinist was. The day I discovered (through reading his sermons for myself) that Charles Spurgeon was a Calvinist, it felt like somebody had hit me in the stomach! I felt like I'd been duped! This guy was supposed to be one of the great heroes on our side, and now I find out that he's a stinkin' Calvinist?!?!? Of course the more I read for myself, the more I began to realize that most of the great theologians throughout history were, in fact, Calvinists. Men like Augustine, Calvin, Beza, Luther, Zwingli, Cromwell, Knox, Bunyan, Edwards, the Puritans...The list could go on. Nearly everybody that I had been brought up to admire as a hero of the faith turned out to be a Calvinist!

I felt betrayed, but determined to get to the root of all of this. What I soon discovered is that the gross caricature of Calvinism that had been painted for me was not a Calvinism that I could find anywhere. As a matter of fact, I've been unable to locate anyone who subscribes to Calvinism as I used to understand it. That Calvinism seems to only exist in the minds of people who aren't Calvinists, but I digress.

So, just what does a Calvinist believe regarding salvation anyway? I can't answer for all Calvinists, because we are all a tad different, I suppose; however, some of the basic elements are universally accepted, and that's what I intend to write about in this article.

It must first be understood that we believe that a man must repent and believe the Gospel in order to be saved. Peter says this in Acts 2 and Paul in Acts 16. One of the first systematic theologies I went through (in a small SBC church in southern Kansas) was taught by a former, well-known, IFB evangelist. He had left the IFB movement and joined the SBC sometime in the 80's. When he was teaching this class - with a decided Calvinistic bent - it surprised me when he made the following statement; "All who truly desire to be saved will be saved!" I thought to myself, "what a strange statement for a Calvinist to make". Later, I would learn what he meant by that and I would come to believe the same thing - even after embracing Calvinism.

So man must repent and believe the Gospel in order to be saved. My next statement may be startling to those of you reading this who have come to believe the demonized caricature of Calvinism as being the true face of Calvinistic thought.....I believe that these two things are the free acts of man. This is thoroughly Biblical, I think, and is supportable with Scripture. In his tract, "God's Part and Man's Part in Salvation", John G. Reisinger says the following:
Men, with their own mind, heart, and will must renounce sin and receive Christ. God never repented and believed for anyone - and He never will. Turning from sin and reaching out in faith to Christ are the acts of man, and every man who so responds to the gospel call does so because he honestly desires to do so. He wants to be forgiven and he can only be forgiven by repenting and believing. No one, including God, can turn from sin for us, we must do it. No one can trust Christ in our place, but we must personally, knowingly, and willingly trust Him in order to be saved.

Now someone may be thinking, "But isn't that what the Arminian teaches?" My friend, that is what the Bible teaches–and teaches it clearly and dogmatically. "But don't Calvinists deny all three of those points?" I am not talking about or trying to defend Calvinists since they come in a hundred varieties. If you know anyone that denies the above facts, then that person, regardless of what he labels himself, is denying the clear message of the Bible. I can only speak for myself, and I will not deny what God's Word so plainly teaches!

"But haven't you established the doctrine of free-will and disposed of election if you assent man must repent and believe and it is his own act?" No, we have neither proven free-will nor disproved election since it is impossible to do either. We have merely stated exactly what the Bible says a man must do in order to be saved. Let us now look at what the Scripture says a sinner is able to do and what he is not able to do.

At this point in the conversation,we come to a fork in the road so to speak. Thus far, I've not said anything with which my Arminian friends would take issue....but that's about to change!

There are several beautiful pictures of salvation painted in Scripture, but I'm going to use just two in order to illustrate the next point I hope to make. 1 Kings 17 records the account of the death and resurrection of the son of the widow of Zarephath. As you read this account, you find that this boy was unable to do anything. Try as he might, Elijah was unable to do anything for him, as well. It wasn't until God gave life back to that boy that he was able to "do" anything. I'll make my point a tad more clearly in a moment.

A second picture of salvation that we can see in Scripture is in Mark 5:1-20. The story of the Demoniac of Gadara. This man was out of control and completely uncontrollable. Try as they might, there was nothing that people could do to change him. Christ, in Mark 4:35, decides to head over to Gadara. There appears to be only two reasons for this trip. First, to reveal a bit of His Divine nature to the twelve by calming the storm and secondly, to save this man. This demon-possessed man is a beautiful illustration of what we are prior to salvation - wild, hell-bound, and unable to do anything in order to save ourselves.

Now to make my point, let me spell out clearly why I chose these two examples. Firstly, in the story of the dead lad in 1 Kings, we see a person completely unable to do anything for himself, which is a beautiful illustration of the human condition. Secondly, we see a man of God (Elijah) who is unable to do anything for the boy. He stretches himself out on the boy as if he could pass life from himself into the lad. He does this again and again, but it's not until God did something that the boy received life. All the efforts of Elijah were in vain had it not been for God showing mercy to this boy.

Similarly, the demon-possessed man in Mark 5 was not able to do anything but act like a maniac. Well meaning people had attempted to help him conform to some standards of decency by binding him with chains and clothing him, but he would simply break the chains and tear off the clothes and continue acting wildly. It wasn't until Christ chose to reach out to that man that he was truly changed. After his encounter with Christ we find this man sitting, clothed, in his right mind, and desiring to commune more and more with his Savior.

So here's the point: man left to himself is unable to do anything to save himself. At the point that God chooses to show mercy to a man that man is able to respond and, as seen in these illustrations, that man does respond. I'll point you again to the tract by John G. Reisinger regarding man's complete inability to respond without the moving of the Holy Spirit:

To believe and preach points one, two, and three, without also preaching number four is to grossly misrepresent the gospel of God's grace. It is to give a totally false picture of the sinner and his true need. It shows only half of the man's sin. It misses the most crucial point of a lost man's need, namely, his lack of power or ability to overcome his sinful nature and its effects. The gospel which is concocted out of this view is only a half gospel. It is at this point that modern evangelism so miserably fails. It confuses man's responsibility with his ability, and falsely assumes that a sinner has the moral ability to perform all that God has commanded. The cannot texts of scripture are either totally ignored or badly twisted by this perversion of the true gospel of God's saving grace.

Please note a few texts of Scripture that dogmatically state some things that a lost man cannot do:

Man cannot see - until he first be born again. John 3:3.

Man cannot understand - until he first be given a new nature. I Cor. 2:14.

Man cannot come - until he first be effectually called by the Holy Spirit. John 6:44,45.

We do not have space to go into all the cannots, but these three are sufficient to show that a sinner absolutely cannot (notice it is not will not) come to Christ until God first does something in that sinner's nature. That something is what the Bible calls regeneration, or the new birth, and it is the exclusive work of God the Holy Spirit. Man has no part whatever in regeneration.

So let me summarize what I've said thus far:
  1. Man must repent in order to be saved - this is an act of free will
  2. Man must believe the Gospel in order to be saved - this is also an act of free will
  3. Man's free will is under the bondage of sin
  4. Given the truth of point 3, we find that man is unable to repent without a miraculous work
That brings us to my final point - the miraculous work. We call it regeneration and it is not the same as salvation. Here's a great quote on this subject that I've carried around with me for years: "The root error of the Arminian's gospel of freewill is its failure to see that man's part, repentance and faith, are the fruits and effects of God's work and not the essential ingredient's supplied by the sinner as man's part of the deal. Every man who turns to Christ does so willingly, but that willingness is a direct result of the Father's election and the Holy Spirit's effectual calling. To say, "If you will believe, God will answer your faith with the New Birth," is to misunderstand man's true need and misrepresent God's essential work."

This is where the rubber meets the road in this discussion. Do you believe that a man left to himself is able to respond? Do you believe that a man left to himself will even desire God? What does Paul say in Romans 3:10-12? This is the crux of the whole matter, I think. Calvinism stresses the inherent and complete depravity of man, whereas Arminianism stresses something else. Arminianism would paint a picture of a man who can choose if man's nature was only somewhat altered at the fall rather than becoming helplessly and hopelessly depraved.

I've got more to say on this subject of regeneration, but it will have to wait for another time. Perhaps in my next article on the subject I will offer a side-by-side comparison of the two systems of thought.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

What is "worldliness" anyway?

Romans 12:2“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

2 Corinthians 6:17 “Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,”

2 Corinthians 7:1“Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”

1 John 2:15-17 - “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

Luke 11:39-40And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleans the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also?”

I’ve been in Fundamentalism most of my life and, until the last 5 years or so, I’ve always known what “worldly” looked like. It was actually a fairly comfortable position to be in…I could take one look at somebody and tell you if they were “worldly” or not. Perhaps it was their hair style, or a man’s facial hair, or a particular style of clothing. Maybe it was an ear ring or a tattoo. Maybe it was the music I caught them listening to, or the church that they attended…worldly was essentially anything that was different from me.

In Fundamentalism we’ve always had it down pat. As a guy I had to do the following to avoid the tag of “worldliness”:

  • Keep my hair cut short and combed out of my face – nothing on the ears or collar.
  • Keep my shoes tied (80's) and my pants pulled up (today).
  • Wear a belt (even if you don't need one).
  • Tuck in my shirt (even if it was t-shirt).
  • Keep my face clean shaved.
  • Don’t listen to loud music…..
In essence, by simply looking a certain way, I was guaranteed to avoid being accused of wearing that mantle of worldliness. This is the way I got by for most of my life, but then something changed.

I’m not going to go into details of what happened (I’ve touched on those things off and on elsewhere on this blog), but I’ll tell you about a couple of situations that happened some time ago that I never quite got over. When I was 19 or 20 years old, I had dropped out of college due to a lack of money. During the ensuing semester, I worked at a small church – leading the music and youth programs – and worked several other jobs in order to save up some money and…..grew my first goatee. The goatee was really rather pathetic, but I was proud of it. It went pretty well with my new sideburns (they came all the way to the bottom of my ears – prior to that I’d cut them completely off so as to avoid the look of worldliness). I grew the goatee and sideburns, not as an act of rebellion, but simply because I wanted to – I thought it was a nice look. Some time later, while visiting friends, I found out that some folks had been praying for me. “That’s nice”, I thought. When I asked what they were praying about, the answer kind of stopped me in my tracks. Due to my “appearance”, specifically my choices in facial hair, some people had come to the conclusion that I was in rebellion and running from God. There was even a pretty good rumor going that I was singing in a “hard rock” group! Beginning with that insane incident (that has stuck with me for 15 years now) I began to question what this thing called worldliness really is.

In Fundamentalism we have chosen to define worldly almost exclusively by the outward appearance. Five years ago, had I come across a guy that looks like me, I would probably describe him as worldly. Why? I have a “soul patch” (kind of like this guy, but much cooler!) and I comb my hair forward rather than back…sounds silly, doesn’t it? I don’t mean my “look”, but that insane definition of worldliness! I’m coming to realize that the “worldliness” we are called to separate from has less to do with outward appearance than it does with an attitude, associations, and perhaps countenance.

Yesterday while listening to a new CD, the words in the first line of the last song kind of arrested my attention:

Which Jesus do you follow?
Which Jesus do you serve?
If Ephesians says to imitate Christ
Then why do you look so much like the world?

I’m not sure what the author is saying here…particularly since he looks a lot like what I used to consider “worldly”. This song is one of my favorite songs period (complete lyrics here), but I’m not certain that I understand that part. What does the world “look like”? I'm not sure that one can biblically answer that question. In Fundamentalism we've always been really good at putting out a list of do's and dont's in regards to this subject, but we are really lousy at backing it up scripturally.

An excellent set of articles on the subject can be found here, here, and here. The comments sections are worth a read as well - folks on both sides of the conversation discuss the question, "What does worldly look like?"

By the way, one more excellent article can be found here. I agree with the author when he says,

"The sin of "worldliness" is the tendency to set one's affections on things of the earth rather than on heavenly things (cf. Colossians 3:2). "Friendship with the world is enmity with God" (James 4:4). It is positively sinful to love this present world and imbibe its values more than we love heaven and order our lives according to heavenly values (cf. Philippians 1:23; Romans 8:5-6; Matthew 6:19-21; 16:23). In other words, worldliness is a sin of the heart."

Friday, October 5, 2007

"A flower quickly fading..."

At 34 years old, it's probable that I still have more life in front of me than behind me.... However, I was recently hit right between the eyes, so to speak, with the realization that this body of mine is dying. A couple of weeks ago I had an annual eye exam and my optometrist was concerned that my left eye seems to be getting worse. I've already got severe enough astigmatism in that eye that seeing out of it is sometimes a bit challenging, but this was something else. He ended up running some more tests and diagnosing me with a degenerative disease that, while common in teenagers, is slightly rare in men of my age. There is a slight chance that it will take care of itself, but most likely I'll have to undergo a corneal transplant in that eye sometime in the near future. Everything I've read on it leads me to believe that this is a relatively simple procedure that successfully restores sight nearly 90% of the time. Nevertheless, the thought of a knife and my eyeball meeting up with one another in a doctor's office is not one I particularly care for!

I'm reminded of 1 Peter 1:24-25 where the Apostle reminds us of our weakness and the very temporal nature of these old bodies. The fact that we began creeping towards death from the very moment of conception is sometimes a bit distasteful to grasp.

To tell you the truth, I tend to hold on to things like this...not out of fear, anxiety, trepidation, or some sort of depression; but rather as motivation. I'm at an age now where the scales are beginning to tip....I said earlier that I likely have more life in front of me than behind me, but (best case scenario) not much. When I see these small flaws creeping up that cause me to cast a glance at my mortality, I tend to evaluate my life a bit closer. What have I done? What am I doing? What do I plan on doing? Am I content with being a decent manufacturing manager, an honest man, a good father, and a faithful husband who sometimes preaches / teaches? Is this really all that God has called me to? If not, why am I still doing it after more than 10 years?

At the risk of exposing myself a bit too much on the internet, I'll admit that these sorts of questions will keep me awake at night on occasion. I can't think of anything more tragic in the life of a child of God than to live that life without ever really approaching what God desires of that life. That's a thought worth thinking on a bit, I think. So I'll close this little article with it just hanging out there.....

Why I Love Church Business Meetings.....

(ht: Josh Gelatt)

Tallahassee, FL - A church calls a special business meeting in order to inform the pastor that he is no longer the pastor. His response? He attempts to choke out one of the deacons! Full story here.

I've been a part of one business meeting that came close to this point...I laugh about it now, but it was one of the catalysts that nearly drove me out of church back then. During my time in that church I never attended a positive business meeting. They were nothing more than times to air grievances. The pastor's response at one time (before we began attending there) was to simply not have business meetings. The church (which was a completely pastor-ruled entity) actually went more than 2 years without a business meeting, budget meeting...anything! Yep - nothing can go wrong when the pastor is making all the decisions (financial and otherwise) without counsel or church knowledge! Wow, I'm glad I'm out of that sort of environment now....

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

I won!

As I was on my way home from work today I was listening to Dave Ramsey on the radio. When a commercial came on I flipped over to an FM station (a Christian station I listen to regularly), and they were playing the song "My Jesus" by Todd Agnew (I blogged about that song briefly here). After the song finished playing the DJ said he was giving away the CD that contained that song to the first I called, AND WON! This is the first time I've ever tried to win something by calling in to a radio station - perhaps I'll try this more often!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Liberty, Arrogance, and Appealing to the Flesh.

I’ve always heard that anything that “appeals to the flesh” is sin. I suppose that’s true depending on how one is defining one’s terminology. The term “appealing to the flesh” is one I’ve seen defined (used) in a few different ways:
In this brief article I’ll examine these three definitions, define them a tad more clearly, and conclude with my thoughts on the whole matter. The crux of what I want to say is at the end, so if this becomes a tedious, mind-numbing read to you, please feel free to skip down to the last few paragraphs!

Anything that “feels good”.
This is one of most common concepts regarding the lust of the flesh and one that is applied the most inconsistently. I can’t count the number of pastors I’ve heard give this definition in one form or another, while at the same time displaying an incredibly impressive pot belly! They’ll preach on the sins of doing things just because it “feels good”, yet everybody knows to stand clear of the dude whenever there’s a church “pot luck”! Most generally, this definition is applied to all matters of life…with the exception of good food and marital sex. The concept is that if you do something simply because it feels good, then you are obviously pandering to some base instinct that is completely counter to anything that God might have for you. It’s almost as if God’s will for you is to be free from any physical or emotional pleasure. This is foolish of course, and nobody would present it in the same manner that I am here; however, we’ve all seen this presented in convincing arguments (usually with little Scriptural support). A typical presentation would go something like this:

“Love not the world, neither things that are in the world. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, are not of the Father but are of the world. The world passes away and the lust thereof, but he that doeth the will of the Father shall abide forever.” Now we see here that ALL that is of the world appeals to the flesh in some manner or another, and that is displeasing to God….
At this point, the preacher is free to launch into a diatribe regarding the evils of drinking, or smoking, or going to movies, or dancing, or rock music, or pants on women, or any number of other things…..This leads me to the second definition.

Anything whereby you come down on a different side of a matter of liberty than I do.
There is quite a bit of crossover between definitions 1 and 2, but there are some distinctions between the two. In definition 2 there is not time wasted in attempting to prove that some matter of liberty is right or wrong…it is simply a given and anybody who would partake of said thing is pandering to the flesh. This definition is most commonly used when dealing with the “fuzzier” areas – music, movies, dress, drinking, smoking, television, etc. I’ve not met anybody in fundamentalism who would be willing to make an argument that there isn’t potential to sin in each of these areas; but rather than teach solid, proven, biblical principles and discernment, some chose instead to simply draw a line of right and wrong where one may not exist. This sort of methodology has run amuck in fundamentalism and is one of the greatest contributors to some of the increasing dissatisfaction that people like me are experiencing in regards to the movement.

I keep hearing the argument that we need to simply worry about what’s in our own back yard and not worry abouth the rest. I suppose there’s some truth to that; however, if you are part of the fundamentalist movement, you’ve got an awfully big back yard. And regardless of what side of the movement you identify with, you’ve got some of these issues to contend with. I’m not familiar with a single branch of fundamentalism where a line hasn’t been drawn on some matter of liberty. I’m not saying that’s all bad, mind you. I consider drinking in moderation to be a matter of liberty, but I’m much more inclined to identify with teetotalers than I am with groups that encourage social drinking (do such groups even exist within fundamentalism?).

There’s a real danger here, though. Anytime we elevate matters of preference to separation issues, we are in trouble. When a matter of liberty is definitively described in terms of “right and wrong”, a dangerous line has been crossed. When we begin to claim (as an over-the-top example) that anybody who wears silk shirts is doing so simply because it feels good and is stylish and said person is, therefore, acting out of a desire to satisfy the lusts of the flesh, we’ve crossed a line....Let’s move on to the 3rd definition and wrap this thing up.

Anything that seeks to sacrifice giving glory to God in favor of satisfying some base desire.
This is a fairly biblical definition, I think, and it’s also as far as Scripture goes on many things. When it comes down to what we are going to do – or not do – in matters of liberty, there are some questions we must ask:
  • Why am I doing this? Is it simply because I can, or am I seeking to glorify God in this?
  • Am I acting in love? For the sake of illustration, let’s say that I drink one alcoholic beverage with my dinner on a regular basis. This is an activity I can do with a clear conscience and I believe that God is pleased with it. Tonight I am having a friend over to dinner who has extremely strong feelings on the subject. As a matter of fact, he has said that he is convinced and convicted from Scripture that drinking alcoholic beverages is sin. Even though I still have the liberty to drink (it’s my house, my food, my liberty), would I be displaying my love to this brother by drinking in front of him? This isn’t an issue of causing a “weaker brother to stumble”…for all I know, I might be the weaker brother in this scenario. This is an issue of restraining myself because I love Christ and I love my Christian brother. Too often I find in my own life that I want to display my “freedom” in order to just show somebody that they are wrong. This isn’t love, and this isn’t a proper motivation.
  • Will I offend someone in this activity? This is, once again, a struggle for me. Here’s a real life example….I enjoy listening to Todd Agnew and Casting Crowns. Both of these are Christian rock groups, and I am (I assume) part of an extremely tiny minority of people in my church who listen to this sort of music. I don’t feel compelled to hide the fact that I listen to it (that much should be obvious by the number of posts I've made on the subject on this blog); however, I don’t want to flaunt it to someone who will be offended by it. Some might say this is hypocritical, and I suppose that it can become that way if one allows it to. However, I don’t pretend to be what I am not – I just don’t feel the need to offend others who may not feel they have the same liberty as I…or even worse, who may feel that what I consider to be a liberty is in fact, sin.
  • Does this activity bring glory to God? If the answer is no, don’t do it. If you’re not sure what the answer is, then perhaps you should refrain from said activity until you have an answer you can anchor in Scripture.
By no means is this meant to be presented as a comprehensive discussion of the subject of liberty - I’ve barely scratched the surface on that – but what I’d like to do is cause us to take pause and think! It’s not a bad thing to ask whether or not something is right or wrong. As a matter of fact, we should be asking that regularly in light of Scripture and the teaching of the Holy Spirit. This article is nothing else than my simple observations (for what they are worth). Furthermore, I hope this can serve as a gentle reminder to us (or perhaps just to myself) that we should not allow pride and arrogance to become determining factors in how we choose to behave and conduct ourselves.

I tend to struggle with pride when it comes to this issue of personal liberty. My natural reaction when I discover that somebody has an issue with the way I _____ whatever, is to say, "Who cares? It doesn't matter what they think - it's all about giving glory to God!" While there is truth to such statements, no amount of pious statements such as this will be sufficient to counter my fleshly motivations. I Corinthians 13:4-5 hold the key, I think. The love I am supposed to be showing to those around me is a love that is not arrogant, rude, rash, or's completely selfless and should put that other person first. Examining issues of liberty in light of passages like 1 Corinthians 13 should cause us to take pause.

I've got more to say on this later, but this thing is already longer than I intended...