Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Jesus: The Alternative to Legalism

As I review the wild ride that the past two weeks have afforded me, I feel the need to recap for those who may have gotten lost in the details or on one of the side trails that seemed to materialize out of thin air. I will make my main points larger in an effort to promote clarity.

My original post took the form of a question, born out of the passion of an experience. Not a new experience, sadly, but an experience which with each new occurrence burns more deeply into my conscience a question for me… How can you remain silent? For many years it was not hard to remain silent. What difference would my voice make anyway? And what do I have to offer other than just my preference or my opinion?

Well, the years have come and gone. I have now experienced life in ways that at one time I only pondered from a distance. I have been a child, an adolescent, an adult, a student, a teacher, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, and a seeker of truth. From the time I was in public Jr. High school the most important people in my life helped me insist on “squeezing” all of life to get out of it what is true and valuable. I have lived long enough to see some of the results of living that way. I have also carefully watched the lives of others who have chosen different paths, and I have now lived long enough to have learned somewhat from their experience as well as mine.

The issue that my original post was galvanized around has been described as a “hot-button” issue. Some have accused me of intentionally using it to create a ruckus. The fact is, while I am fully aware of the energy with which it is defended and condemned, I am also fully aware that there are honest-hearted people on both sides. There are those, who because of how they were raised, can’t imagine why anyone who is committed to purity, simplicity, and modestly would want to adorn themselves with gold; and there are those, who because of how they were raised, can’t imagine why anyone who is committed in marriage would not want to proclaim that fact to the world.

But my original post was carefully limited to those who fall in the first category--those who were raised without jewelry but who now want to make a change.

None of us can choose our own parents, but all of us must at some point choose our own path, and it is at this critical point that culture propagates or begins to disintegrate. Now, I am fully aware that just because a culture exists is no proof that it ought to. But on the other hand, just because most of the world is different is no proof that we should all be like them.

However, it has been my experience that for most people who change, it comes down to one thing; is it lawful? No matter what concerns are raised, the response is the same, “There is no law against it. It's only tradition.” To the concern raised about loss of past relationships, the answer is “There is no law against it. It's only tradition.” To the concern about future influence, the answer is “There is no law against it. It's only tradition.” To the concern that it opens a door of opportunity to the flesh, the answer is "There is no law against it. It's only tradition." To the concern that for some it becomes an item of idolatry, the answer is the same, “There is no law against it. It's only tradition.”

A troubling pattern has quickly become evident.  To this I say, wait a minute! Look at what you are doing! You are rejecting an old legalism as illegitimate only to embrace a new legalism which is more radical; a legalism which says not only “there is no law against it” but further says, “There is nothing else to consider but the issue of legality” and further “if I lose any relationships over this 'non-issue' they weren’t worth much anyway!” This is astonishing logic!

There is a strong tendency in conservative circles of most stripes to be generally suspicious of thinking and of people who advocate it. I dare say that more than one person reading this blog has been told, at some point in their life, something like, “You need to quit thinking and just do what you’re told.” This is a serious mistake. If we don’t develop and hone the skills of right thinking, the world and the conversation about truth will be dominated by Sophists and prejudice.

I have held off engaging in the following response to an earlier comment because I didn’t want to be overly harsh toward any particular commenter. As usual, I’m leaving the name off because my response is to the ideas not the personality. As I have previously stated, there are times I seek counsel when I blog. I have done so in the following response. The original comment is in blue, my response in black. Readers, you must understand, this is a direct response to ideas that challenge the validity and foundation of everything I have expressed. For me, the approach used by this commenter is an example of what gives "thinking" a bad name. My response is straightforward but from a heart that says, “Abba, I write in Your presence, fully aware that I am human and will stand corrected if I error in discernment. Since I have carefully, prayerfully pursued an understanding of what we are discussing here, I submit this with open palms, while fully convinced we are discussing ideas that have led many of my precious CHM comrades away.” I care. That is why I write.

A commenter (in blue) says:

I’d like you to examine the question even further than currently done, though. And please note: This is just for deeper reflection, and the sake of truth – following the Spirit of Truth into all truth, even when it is not comfortable for tradition. I respect your life, and respect your heart-felt dialogue with others – all this is being stated as a brother in Christ, with no desire to prove a point, other than all of us being better followers of Jesus.

First, please note a hidden assumption in your question: The question as framed necessarily implies that the item at issue [namely, NOT wearing wedding ring] is a valid principle of divine law/will. Otherwise it would not even be asked.

This is false. My original question was "was it worth it?" There is a wholly unhidden assumption which the context fully illuminates. That assumption is not that "the issue is a valid principle of divine law/will." That assumption is that "there is something of value to be lost by those who are raised this way and change." I explicitly label the issue as "valuable admonition;" this is neither the linguistic nor logic equivalent of "divine law/will." I explicitly characterize what is lost as "an influence over thousands of needy souls." This commenter's assertion has no basis in fact. There is no "necessity" that an issue be "a valid principle of divine law/will" in order to ask if it has value. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:12, "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any." I intentionally follow Paul's mind in my question by asserting there is something of value here beyond legal mindedness.

Second, flowing from the unspoken legitimacy given to the original issue in the question, it treats the wearer of the ring as the party guilty of breaking the covenantal fellowship. Very crucial, this unstated assumption and application!

If you strip all the logical red herring out of this paragraph you get something like this: Second, it treats the wearer of the ring as the party guilty of breaking the covenantal fellowship.”

OK, therefore what? The CHM is made up of a number of organizations. Organizations have rules. If you want to be a member of an organization you play by the rules. What is the commenter's point? Well, the choice of words and the use of bold type seem to suggest that to "treat the wearer of the ring as the party guilty of breaking the covenantal fellowship" is somehow wrong. In fact the commenter makes no cogent argument of any kind with this paragraph. But to the possible implication, I will say it is pure sophistry to argue literally or by innuendo that all members of an organization are somehow "guilty" if they refuse to accept one member's decision to change the rules.

Be aware that this is the precise logic that the religious elites of Jesus’ day used against Him. Among other things, they asked in not so many words:

• Jesus, is it worth it to break fellowship with your religious friends over healing on the Sabbath? Couldn’t you just as easily wait till Sunday or Monday to heal?
• Jesus, is it worth it to be ostracized for shucking corn on the Sabbath? After all, that is specifically mentioned in our traditional application of the law – you are needlessly breaking fellowship with the true church!
• Jesus, really, is it worth it to drink wine and eat with sinners? Everyone is calling you a winebibber and a glutton! You certainly aren’t reflecting well on our holy traditions, and you are risking your fellowship w. our conservative synagogues.

My friend, you are playing fast and loose with scripture here. I wish I could plead ignorance for you but that would be a hard case to make. I don't know what theologians call this kind of interpretation of scripture, but in the secular world professionals lose their jobs for tricks like this. Your prejudice has simply taken the original words and facts out and replaced them with the words and facts that make the point you want to make. Both of the first two incidents to which you refer involve the Pharisees. The Pharisees make no distinction between "tradition" and "law." For them their tradition is the law of God. In the text they specifically are concerned with whether the behaviors are "lawful." There is no textual justification for inserting the concepts of "breaking fellowship" or being "ostracized." This is simply a reckless attempt to create a parallel where there is none. In fact, the logic of the Pharisees is not "the precise logic" of my post. I have clearly claimed the issue involves something of value apart from "lawfulness." The only thing the Pharisees care about is "lawfulness."


The necessary position of the religious elites is that their view of divine law/will is completely valid, therefore the breaking of fellowship is on the head of Jesus and NOT their own. Their necessary position is that Jesus is NOT doing these things for the sake of TRUTH [and truly following/revealing divine will] but for the sake of personal freedom – and woefully misguided in that, even to the eventual point where they blame Him for His own death. ‘He made himself to be God after all – and we know He couldn’t be from God, for He didn’t honor our traditions. He didn’t keep fellowship with us.’

The repeated insertion of the word "necessary" is a distraction. What is the point of saying it is a "necessary position to hold that one's view of divine law is completely valid"? Have you ever known someone to hold a view that they thought was invalid?

Their necessary position is that Jesus is NOT doing these things for the sake of TRUTH [and truly following/revealing divine will] but for the sake of personal freedom –

Not only is this not "necessary," it’s not even true. The Pharisees didn't think in terms of the categories "TRUTH" vs. "personal freedom." History is clear, scripture is clear; their only concern with regard to behavior was "is it lawful." Once again you have inserted the language you want to use into scripture. This does not transform your notions into being "scriptural."

Please note that I’m not putting the CHM on a level with the religious elites of Jesus day, Laura. I’m only showing that the underlying religious logic is the same, when for the sake of a wedding ring covenantal fellowship is broken, etc.

This is a wholly disingenuous contrivance. If I or the CHM or you or anyone is found to be using the same "precise logic" as the Pharisees, why wouldn't we be on the same level? It is wrong to demonize the Pharisees, to put them in a category that is so bad no one else could really be that way. We are the ones who crucified Jesus—we, the human race. And if we continue to refuse His mind and to think legalistically, we crucify Him anew.

So, with that in mind, I would respectfully say that the question you ask is flawed in assumption.

There is no flawed assumption behind my question "Is it worth it." It is based on 1Cor 6:12.

And for the sake of truth, I would ask a different question, hopefully one that you can agree with – even after much soul-searching. And here is the question:

Is it possible for a person to be truly holy – holy in the sense of divine holiness, and not traditional holiness – and break fellowship with another Christian over a wedding ring?

"And for the sake of truth"? I've yet to see any evidence of your interest in objective truth. However, at every opportunity you promote your prejudice. Again here we see not a neutral question offered for the sake of truth. This is a half-stated thesis dressed up in the garb of a question. It seems that what you want to say is "breaking fellowship with another Christian over a wedding ring is wrong." You then encumber the whole point with some sort of technical distinction between "true holiness" and "traditional holiness"... it seems that one of them is "divine"... wouldn't it be nice to be able to prove that the CHM doesn't even have "true holiness" since they break fellowship over a wedding ring? The whole thing is more of the same. A "new" legal opinion advanced for the purpose of pinning a label on someone else.

If you are really interested in a question "for the sake of truth" you will need to start out with no pre-judgment. No inclination. No preference. Then you need to ask, what is the question? Can I ask a question without prejudging or influencing the outcome?

The answer to that question calls into stark relief the entire house of cards of the CHM. The entire edifice of a movement that would ban people from its programs, platforms and fellowship over such a thing rests on the answer to this question.

The house of cards my post calls into question is not the CHM but legalism, whether inside the CHM or out; legalism, not as a fuzzy notion of “restrictions and bans” but legalism as a mode of thinking—a mode of thinking which bases right and wrong on law; a mode of thinking which says to God (or anyone), “You can’t criticize me; I did what you said;” a mode of thinking which in radical form even says, “You can’t criticize me…there is no law against what I am doing.”

Legalism is wrong for Christians not because it’s intrinsically evil. You can’t raise children or have an ordered society without it. Paul notes “the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.” Legalism is wrong for Christians because it’s not Christian. The Christian basis for right and wrong is Christ himself, not Christ as a new basis for law minded thinking, not the mind which says "if Jesus did it so can I" but the mind which says to the Father, "Yes, Daddy," a mind which says to God, "I trust fully in Your example of right thinking. I embrace Jesus as the only pattern of thinking by which to please you."

Now, if you begin to follow Jesus, you soon become aware of an entrenched obstacle…what I want, my will. Not just my will on a single decision but my will about what is valuable, what is good, how to treat those who don’t like me, in fact how to conduct myself in every aspect of life. Choosing to follow Jesus beyond this point will change everything about your life, because it requires you “to die.”   To die: to yourself, to all you have been, to all that you want to be.

It is only in following Jesus through the garden and to the cross, even to the point of dying, that we find new life as He did. With every step through the garden, every agonizing foot to the cross, in every drop of blood He shed, Jesus is speaking to the Father for the whole world to see, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

We sometimes overemphasize the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ death. Yes, He died for us, but He also died as God’s example of how we must die if we are to find life in Him.

My friend, from my experience, I can say you greatly misjudge the CHM.

Yes, we have plenty of baggage. Yes, we manage to camouflage the essential elements of the message to the point that often our own children don’t even get it. But also, yes, I find here a remnant who are living the truth that the only way to please God is with a heart and life that fully embraces God’s example for man; a heart and life which proclaim, “Not my will but Thine."