Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pharisees versus Freedom Freaks

There are two common approaches to issues of “Christian liberty”, both of which can be damaging. I term these two (1) Pharisees (not exactly original, I know), and (2) Freedom Freaks. Let me explain.

First, the “Freedom Freak”. This is commonly found in mainstream Evangelicalism but is practically nonexistent in Fundamentalism. The Freedom Freak does everything in excess and out loud. He is often unconcerned with how others might find some of his “liberties” offensive. For instance, it’s not enough for this guy to simply say that he cannot in good conscience support a tee-totaller view on alcoholic beverages based on what Scripture has to say on the subject: he feels compelled to proclaim his favorite beers and rate his top ten favorite mixed drinks on his Christian blog. It never occurs to him that there is a point where Christians might need to take advantage of the liberty they have to abstain from certain things in order to not violate the conscience of a fellow believer. This guy will draw no distinction between peripheral issues and truly contentious ones. In his mind, whether the subject is dress, hair length, music, alcohol, entertainment, language, worship style, or any number of other things, the answer is the same: “Those Pharisees aren’t going to squash my liberty”. The “Freedom Freak” usually understands that Christianity is about a relationship with Christ, but he often neglects to view Christ as a holy and mighty God, choosing instead to focus on the fact that Christ had relationships on earth with some “undesirable” people. They will often paint Christ as kind of a “happy go lucky” guy who would probably avoid most Christians in favor of hanging out at the local pub if He were on earth today.

Then there is the “Pharisee”. This guy is the antithesis of the “Freedom Freak” and is more commonly found in Fundamentalist circles. The “Pharisee” cannot process the idea that some people examine Scripture thoroughly and simply come to a different conclusion about certain things than he does. To the “Pharisee” the Christian life is about a fairly detailed list of do’s and don’ts. Even in matters in which scholars through the ages have differed, this guy sticks to his rules. After all, he probably knows better than some guy who lived 200 years ago and studied Scripture for his entire life in the languages in which they were originally written. The Pharisee tends to not engage in any sort of debate or conversation about the controversial issues. “It’s just wrong…you can see all through the Bible that it’s a sin!” is a summary of the best argument this guy will tend to lay out to defend some of his more difficult positions. The heart of the Pharisee tends to be on target…sort of. He has a desire toward righteousness…toward becoming more like Christ. However, in his zealous approach to sanctification, the Pharisee tends to relegate the Christian life to something that is more about a “look” and a “list” then it is about a relationship. Indeed, a relationship with Christ is more about reading the Bible every day than it is about anything else as far as this guy is concerned. The “Pharisee” tends to paint a horrible picture of God as some angry ogre in the sky who is going to punish you for any misstep you might make.

While there is plenty of good and bad to say about both the “Pharisee” and the “Freedom Freak”, they both tend to miss the mark. They both have an incomplete and, consequently, a distorted view of Christ. They also both have a horrid understanding of the liberty and freedom that we enjoy in Christ. One makes the Christian life impossible and the other makes it look no more difficult than eating a snow cone. Both are horribly selfish in that they ultimately make life about themselves. Both would do well to lock themselves up in a room for a month or two and carefully study Romans and 1 Corinthians.

11 comments:

Jim Peet said...

Good thoughts .... thank you

Chris Cole said...

I think you err in criticizing some believers for not abstaining for the sake of the consciences of others. The bible certainly urges us to respect the weaker conscience, but not to be bound by it. Rather, the stronger conscience should work to bring the weaker to a healthier perspective. It would be fair to urge Christians not arrogantly to FLAUNT their liberty. However, it is not fair to expect all believers to march according to the dictates of the weakest among us.

Ellis Murphree said...

Chris,

I agree with you and I think you misunderstand me. By "abstain" I don't necessarily mean total abstinence. Abstaining might simply mean something like refraining from alcoholic beverages or the discussion thereof around a fellow believer who strongly believes that it is a sin to drink even in moderation. Perhaps "refrain" might be a better word to use in this context.

Remember Paul's example on this...while he could partake of meat offered to idols with a clear conscience before God, he would willingly abstain from such a thing for the sake of another believer. Paul seemed able to let these believers know what his stance was on these things, yet he was also able to abstain out of deference.

Marty Colborn said...

So, Chris,

"Here, my brother, try a little of this. It won't hurt you." - Is that your healthier perspective?

or, would you try to help your brother be able to say that it is okay for you to drink alcohol, even though so many are enslaved by it as a habit they simply fell into in a weak moment, a habit that is extremely dangerous, and very difficult to get out of?

I think being bound by a weaker conscience is the exact sense of the Scriptures; for love's sake not insisting upon my "liberty" to do anything that will cause my brother to offend.

"Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend."

It seems a liberty to eat meat ceased to be a liberty at all, if it caused a brother to stumble. There, a higher law takes over: the law of Christ, which takes away even the idea of such a thing being a liberty.

Ellis,

I think you need to be careful in ascribing a "stance" to Paul, as if he were a fellow blogger, and not writing the very words of God. But, perhaps I misunderstand you. I seem to do that a lot.

MC

Ellis Murphree said...

Marty,

If you misunderstand me "alot", it's only because of a lack of precision on my part!

I understand these are the very words of God, but I also think it's valid to point out Paul offering his personal perspective up as an example. While he did so under inspiration, this was obviously a life decision he had made prior to the Holy Spirit inspiring him to pen the words. Make sense?

Ellis Murphree said...

By the way, Marty...I don't know if Chris was speaking about alcohol or not - I just used it as an example in my original post. To a certain degree I understand where he is coming from in his original reply. Here's a real life example:

I've got a friend who thinks that all men need to where a dark suit, tie, and WHITE collered shirt to all church services. He truly believes that anything other than this is a sin. The church he attends - a fairly well known (in some circles) IFB church with a very well known pastor - practices this. Personally, I think this is incredibly foolish. You know very well how I dress for church....rarely do I wear a white shirt, even more rarely do I wear a suit, and the only time I wear a tie is if I'm teaching or preaching.

That being said, there are certain things that I would and would not do and say should I, for some reason, find myself in that church with that friend for an extended period of time. To Chris' point, I may not "flaunt" my liberty, but I would certainly attempt to edify, encourage, and educate my friend in this matter.

Should I adhere to some ridiculous, non-biblical standard in order to not offend these people? If I put myself under the authority of that church, then yes. Otherwise, no.

I have no desire to offend, nor do I have a desire to encourage my friend (and other brothers and sisters) in their error. In my opinion, however, until we begin to dwell in areas of doctrine, my objections ought to be "restrained".

Marty Colborn said...

Ellis,

I wrote a really good response to yours, but it didn't post, for some reason. I won't rewrite it except for this:

Chris, I interpreted your response in reference to drinking alcohol because of what Ellis was saying about it. If it was not your intention to defend drinking as a Christian liberty, please forgive me for my comment; it was out of order.

and this:

Ellis,

With respect to drinking, if a man does it in the privacy of his own home, he has not offended me or caused me to offend: I know nothing about it. When, however, he talks about it, or writes about it on the internet, he has put it out there for me to see. Is that not flaunting it? I am not telling anyone that it is okay to drink in private so long as no one knows. What I am saying is that if those who are in favor of drinking as a Christian liberty practiced what they preach, they would not be preaching it at all. Somehow it seems that, by "going public", they want to twist my arm so I will say that it is okay for them to do it. No way.

MC

Chris Cole said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris Cole said...

I certainly do defend the moderate use of alcohol as a Christian liberty. In fact, I go further. Ps. 104:14-15 says, "You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread to strengthen man's heart." To claim that moderate use of alcohol by all persons under all circumstances is reprehensible is to despise something explicitly given as a gift from God.

Ellis Murphree said...

Marty and Chris,

Regarding the alcohol issue...I side with Chris on the issue as far as defending the moderate use of the consumption of alcoholic beverage. However, that comes with a caveat. Where many passages of Scripture tend to take a negative view of alcohol, there are many others that present it (as Chris points out) as a gift from God to be enjoyed by man. Drunkenness is without question a sin, so there is a fine line to be walked here. I have seen alcohol destroy many homes during my life. As a matter of fact, I grew up in a home with a father who chose to let alcohol control him. He seemed to love the bottle more than his family. In the end he lost his family and, ultimately, his life to strong drink. While this subjective example could certainly lead to an emotional appeal to abstain, I tend to recognize it for what it is. My father was a fool in the way he dealt with it. He had no control over his flesh.

Here’s the fine line….I will, without hesitation or apology, defend moderate consumption of strong drink. I can do it from Scripture and I believe I can drink in moderation with a thankful heart to God while maintaining a right relationship with Him. However, I will never…NEVER….”encourage” others to drink. Frankly, there’s no reason for it. IF I drink alcohol in moderation, I will never knowingly do so in the presence of other believers whom I know to have a deep problem with it. This is the type of flaunting of which I speak.

To your question, Marty…a Scriptural defense of moderate consumption is, in my opinion, not necessarily “flaunting” some liberty. Some of the defenses I’ve seen for it here and there on the internet have been quite gracious just as have some the defenses I’ve seen for a tee-totaller take on the issue. Again, there’s a fine line here, but I think that Spirit-controlled Christians ought to be able to discuss their differences with an open Bible in a transparent method….One putting their views “out there” for all to see doesn’t always equal “flaunting their perceived liberty”.

Chris Cole said...

Proverbs 31:6-7: "Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more." There are circumstances under which the Word of God encourages some to drink alcoholic beverages. I will trust the wisdom of God in this matter, since I know that I do not have the wisdom or compassion to match God's.