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« Learning to BE Church: An Interview with a House-Church Team, part 3 | Main | Learning to BE Church: An Interview with a House-Church Team, part 4 »

October 09, 2004


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John Wesley's mother, Susanna, once wrote to him:

Take this rule: whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.

I think there is great wisdom in what she says. It works within the context of what you included from 1 Cor. 10:23.

Truth is, the Christian life is only lived in submission to the Lord. Submission includes wanting to be as much like the Master as is possible. I always try to keep that in mind whenever I think about these issues.

I try to keep away from most junk. As I get older, my desire to participate in questionable things lessens daily. That is directly proportional to my depth in Christ, I believe. I know that participation in some of those questionable things (like watching R-rated movies) is covered by grace, but I also know they exact a toll on how far I can go in Christ. Consider this:

Therefore let us also, seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us....
(Hebrews 12:1 WEB)

I don't want the "weight" and many of the things you listed may well be in the category of "weight." I'm not going to go insane pondering what is what, again grace prevails, but there is a cost incurred to what we can do for the Lord if we play around with too many "weights."

Just my two cents.

there are those i've talked with who believe that 'all' means everything. just like the other places where 'all' is used in a different context, and we say that it means everything. ie: all things are given to you for life and godliness; With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

they believe that truly everything in your list, desertpastor, is allowable. they concede that it may not be for our best. but they believe that it is not disallowed, as it says that 'all things are lawful.'

they believe that the new covenant of grace is so vastly different from the old covenant of law, that we have not yet been able to fully understand what that passage means. 'everything is permissable.'

how would you answer this reasoning?

QUOTED:"how would you answer this reasoning?"

Tammy, since you answered my question with a question -- I'll answer your question with two more questions. ;)

If everything is "allowable", then why do Jesus and Paul tell people to "go and sin no more" (Jn 6.14, 8.11; 1Cor.15.34)?

Is the "to each his/her own" mentality so prevalent in today's culture influencing the way we understand 1Cor. 10.23?

DP - I think you are implying/suggesting that the individualism in our culture would lead us to possibly interpret this scripture too liberally, too selfishly - to our own (and others') detriment. I'm not sure I would disagree.

But I do wonder if a healthy sense of individualism might lead us to feel called to actively seek God, in regards to 1 Cor 10.23, as to what things aren't profitable or edifying for ourselves, rather than just adopting some group's or authority figure's standards wholesale. And shouldn't this same desire to seek God for understanding these things for ourselves leave us in a place of humility when looking at our neighbor?

I think that one of the risks of defining "do not touch" lists is that we stop encouraging people to do the hard work of actively seeking God in how to live, and end up encouraging compliance to a man-made list (and this can lead to a lot of hypocrisy).

I wonder if there's another way to seek to understand 1 Cor 10.23, to put "shoe leather" on it, as you say - without resorting to defining "do not touch" lists for each other?

Quick, random thoughts:
Isn't Paul calling for us to possess the maturity to discern between good and evil? Paul tells us that we have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal 5:24 NASB). No longer will our passions rule us, but our spirit with His Spirit. When we begin to live as already crucified, we choose our behaviors differently - not following a list, but making choices to honor God and to fulfill His will in our lives.

If we are to "err," is not better to err in the direction of being too conservative than too liberal on this issue? It appears to me that too often we justify being liberal rather than being conservative. At least that is what I tend to see in today's churches. Would it hurt us to be more conservative than we are? If we truly are called to be a countercultural people, then why are we so loathe to take that to its natural ends?

QUOTED:"And shouldn't this same desire to seek God for understanding these things for ourselves leave us in a place of humility when looking at our neighbor?"

Hi Chris(tine)! It's good to hear from you. I'd like to think that what you're suggesting should be one of the outcomes of this mindset, rather than the "being-quick-to-judge-others" that we find far too often.

I'm not advocating a "list mentality" -- they're too often used as tools of judgment and predjudice. Yet I wonder if our vehement aversion to any and all such lists somehow contributes to our unwillingness to consider things as inappropriate, unhealthy, or wrong that we otherwise may not think of. Perhaps, in that very loose sense then, lists become - not lists of "do's" or "don't", but lists of things "worthy of our serious consideration."

Just thinkin' with you, Chris(tine). I think your insights are on-target.

QUOTED:"When we begin to live as already crucified, we choose our behaviors differently - not following a list, but making choices to honor God and to fulfill His will in our lives."

John, I agree. In the evangelical circles of which I've been part, many believers (and specifically the teachers among them) see the nature of their being crucified with Christ as positional, for lack of a better word -- that is, they see it as a "finished" work rather than one which is also "in-progress." The already/not-yet nature of our being crucified with Christ is what the Church desperately needs today. And funny thing... it's not "others" we are to crucify (which is what happens all too often), it's our "self" -- thus Christ's admonition to deny our self, pick up our cross, etc. I suppose that it's in this sense, that a "healthy" sense of individualism is called for, like Chris(tine) has suggested.

What do you think?

from colossians 2:

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ .... Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

i posted that in reference to christine's mention of the 'do not touch' list.

there's 2 things i'm pretty sure of:

1. the church still doesn't understand the freedom that we have in this new covenant. paul's mission continues ...


2. the church also doesn't fully understand that living in this freedom is not the same thing as living in sin.

we still live out of fear, rather than faith.

Chris - Hi! Hope you are surviving your work load!! Did you find a principal?

Tammy - thanks for reminding me where that term came from!

The sad thing to me about this issue is that it seems like so many people are at polar opposites about it. Either we're still steeped in the mindset of "holyness" and "set-apart-ness" that we focus on "do not touch" lists and the fear; or we have reacted so far the other direction (or started out there) that we can't even have an honest conversation about the detrimental things in our culture, 'cause it's not "free" enough.

I dream of being in conversation with a group of people where we can talk about how things in our culture affect us, without fingers pointing or defensiveness. I am very sensitive to movies and media, and I avoid most of it - but it's hard to talk to many people about that because they usually feel like I'm judging them, and I'm not! Often I learn things from other people about new movies or books, that allow me more freedom to explore new things, and I love that. Sometimes, maybe, someone might learn how some media affects me and how it can be detrimental to people, and maybe they might make some different choices. But what I would hope to do is encourage each other into a place of greater sensitivity to our own responses and how things affect us, and to listening to the Holy Spirit - rather than expecting that we all need the same boundary lines.

If that is anything like what you meant, DP, I would welcome it with open arms! More honest conversations, where previously "taboo" subjects were up for discussion, would be great!

Tammy, I think it's important to be careful with texts like Col.2:21. What I mean specifically, it that we need to resist the temptation to read too much of our 21st century cultural mindset back into the text when determining its meaning. In today's cultural reality, we "want" this Colossian passage to reveal a radical sort of "anything goes" teaching. However, this was not the "open-ended" revelation that modern readers may want it to be. I'm not sure if you're familiar with the so-called "Colossian heresy" that underlies the epistle, but there definitely is a "context" to consider before making verse 21 some sort of radical, new revelation. Although scholars are not all agreed as to whether the prohibition statements referred to food-related purity laws, or other purity-related prohibitions (e.g. sexually "touching" someone), James Dunn offers a helpful summary about this passage:

"The Colossian regulations in view in 2:21 are those of Colossian Jews who are anxious to maintain the purity they regard as necessary both to maintain their status as God's people, set apart by such purity rules from other nations, and for entry into the heavenly temple in their worship. The implication is not so much that these Colossian Jews were trying to enforce such regulations on all the Christians, simply that they were effective and forceful in explaining the theological rationale of their own lifestyle and worship. The overlap between the two groups was evidently such that several Gentile Christians were being enticed by these explanations to copy or join with the Colossian Jews in their ritual purity laws with a view to sharing their access to heaven. Paul and Timothy wrote in the hope of putting a stop to such an erosion of distinctively Christian faith and identity (cf. particularly Rom. 14.17).
--The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, NIGCT, p. 192.

IMHO, both Paul and Jesus clearly considered certain attitudes, actions, and behaviors (or lack thereof)as sin. "Everything" wasn't fair ground. I was fairly purposeful in suggesting the list I did in my original post. But I'm curious if the people to whom you were referring would also be willing to add other things to the list as well, such as:

- slavery
- genocide
- oppression of the poor
- hoarding of wealthy
- destruction of earth-resources

Is it possible that Paul's statement in 1Cor. 10:23 is "purposeful hyperbole" and not meant to apply to literaly everything? I believe so. This sets up a challenging paradox, doesn't it? We are given radical freedom in Christ, and yet we are also called to radical righteousness (in Jesus' own words: "that exceeds that of the Pharisees"). Liberty and holiness -- coexisting together. It's a biblical tension that's difficult to fully grab hold of. That's why I posed the questions I did.

I think you've hit the issue dead-on!
I'm grappling with how we can live within the tension you described (not giving-in to either extreme). I hear the emerging generations doing both: either defending their freedoms or crying out for holiness. I SO believe that both are needed. When our pursuit of holiness is devoid of true freedom in Christ, it quickly is reduced to legalism. When we set out to test our freedom in Christ without a passion for holiness, it inevitably becomes a work of the flesh. We need both!

QUOTED:" But what I would hope to do is encourage each other into a place of greater sensitivity to our own responses and how things affect us, and to listening to the Holy Spirit - rather than expecting that we all need the same boundary lines."

Yes! And I would add -- that it would also be a place where we could encourage/challenge each other (without judging) to "consider" the outcomes of our choices, engaging in thoughtful reflection, and always driven by a desire to honor Christ.

You may end up coming to a different conclusion, and thus make different choices than I do (or vice-versa), but we would have a deeper respect for one another, in part, because of the process and/or principles which were drawn upon in reaching our respective decisions.

That make sense? Are we basically on the same page?

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