Monday, August 13, 2012

Thou Shalt Not...

My wife and I recently attended one of our community's largest churches. The pastor gave an admonition to "Avoid Evil" and listed the following: don't drink alcohol, don't go to R-rated movies, don't skip church, don't fail to pay the tithe.  (Reminds me of this article I wrote last October.)

I emailed the pastor asking, "Have you seen The Passion of the Christ?" He said he had. I asked him how he could do that when he says don't watch R-rated movies. "Of course," he said, "what I meant was don't watch movies that dishonor God." I left it there.  I’ve had quite enough of this slight-of-hand whereby preachers “walk back” what they clearly meant to say when they’re called on it.

To myself, I wondered if he had seen G-rated "FernGully" or PG-rated "The Goodbye Girl" - two examples of "OK"-rated movies that are despicable offenses to the will and wisdom of God. In my humble opinion, "The Goodbye Girl" does more to offend the heart of God than "Kill Bill 1 & 2" combined, maybe with "Boondocks Saints" added in.

Recently, my son was back at that church. His Sunday school lesson was an admonition to not listen to secular music - only listen to Christian music... and be careful about some of that Christian music.   Now seems like a good time to catch a word from our Sponsor:

All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor. Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience’ sake; for the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains. If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks? Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (I Corinthians 10:23-31)

All this legalism (do what I say) reminds me of the "Gezeirah" - Jewish "fence laws" that put up a spiritual fence lest you get close to breaking an actual law. For example, Jews are forbidden to touch a pencil on Sabbath because if they get it in their hands, they might forget it is Sabbath and write with it - and writing is work and you can't work on Sabbath. (Also see "a dicto simpliciter".)

Jesus dealt with legalism frequently - and often fiercely.  The Jews were heavily burdened with laws.  There was even a law about washing hands that particularly irked Jesus.

Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated?  But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.   For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.  These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.” (Matthew 15:17-20)

The problem is that laws (and law keeping) create a FALSE SENSE of a healthy relationship with God.  Example: “Don’t go to R-rated movied, you’re a good person.”  But Jesus, and Paul, tells us that FAITH is the key to a right relationship with God.  Faith doesn’t need laws.  Faith seeks to do things that bring glory to God.  That’s what the life of following Jesus is all about.  Whether Christian or Jew, our duty is to grow in faith and help others grow in their faith. When we make fence laws we admit we don't trust ourselves or others and we are too lazy to emphasize a faith that seeks to love God. Instead we create rules to keep from making God mad at us.

If you’d like a little more on this topic – specifically “free moral agency” – I recommend this short paper.

Unless something else arises, next week I plan to discuss what Christian are to do with our freedom to do as we please.  Now that should be worth reading, shouldn't it?

Clark H Smith