Cut and Dry

12 02 2009

I wish issues today were easily resolved. I’m slowly realizing that many of the problems out there are far more complex than I had first thought.
What do I mean? I mean that the issues of abortion, crime, poverty, AIDS, divorce, the recession etc are not as clear cut as we make them out to be.

When I first started out on this blog I was incrediblty green. I thought that my posts would change peoples minds. I thought that everyone who disagreed with me was just not reading their bible correctly or holding onto some secret presuppositions. I was dogmatic about the truth. Growing up in the church I often got into heated arguments with people over the issues. Today I feel myself drifting towards the other extreme. I want to run and hide from the issues as if they’re not there. I want to be nice to people, and never tell them the truth about what I think. I don’t want to cause offence.  Both ways are incorrect extreme positions. What we need is not just a middle road, but a whole new road altogether.

When I was growing up there were three things that were considered the worst sins possible for teenagers. The first was to get a girl pregnant. The second was to have sex before you were married and the third was to get drunk or take drugs. Lord help those teenagers who managed all three in one night. In my early twenties I would have included abortion and divorce in that too. A few experiences have changed my views.  My wife and I have a friend who had an abortion. We know couples that are getting divorced. Christians who regularly get drunk, and have gambling addictions. Christians who suffer from depression and so on. We expect these things from unsaved people, but not from Christians and here in lies the difficulty. We don’t know how we’re supposed to deal with these issues in light of the Gospel. We’re not sure what to do with these people either. Are we supposed to kick them out of the church to get themselves sorted? Perhaps they are bad witnesses? Are we supposed to help them and if so how? Are we just supposed to love them and hope that God changes them while we allow them to continue in their lifestyles? After all Christians aren’t supposed to judge are they?

There are no easy answers to these questions. But the only way we can make any sense of them is through a Christian worldview. A way of making sense of the world that comes from our relationship with the Father, through Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit, grounded in the scriptures. We must tell and retell the story of the Bible. The greatest love story in the world, filled with action, mystery, intrigue and a a strange climax thats actually an anti-climax.  The story that proclaims Jesus as messiah, Lord and God in the flesh. The story that challenges all other worldviews out there and shows them to be a parody. We see this clearly in Acts 2 after Peter’s speech when the crowd were “cut to the heart”. We see it clearly in Luke 24 when the two men meet the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Their hearts “burnt” while he opened the scriptures to them. When we tell the story the Holy Spirit works on the hearts of those who listen. He convicts the hearts and minds of people to bring them to repentance. 

So  what do we do with texts like Matthew 18 and Pauls advice of “with such a man, do not even eat!” (1 Cor 5:11). I guess we must see those in light of our duty to discern by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus gives the unrepentant brother in the church 3 chances to change his ways. After that he’s clearly shown what’s in his heart. Very important to see that this relates to believers in the Church and not people outside it. Paul shows that expelling a brother is actually the way of love. The way to bring him back to repentance. I recently read John Burkes book “No perfect people allowed“. He runs a church called “Gateway” who’s mission statement is “Come as you are…“. People love that idea, but often miss the subtitle: “…but don’t stay that way“. As Christians we are not called to be perfect. We never will be this side of eternity. But we are called to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, to be salt and light, and to love Jesus with all our whole lives. We do this by the power of the Holy Spirit, not on our own strength. But it also means we are not static Christians. We are growing constantly even if we don’t realise it. Paul commands us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling because it is God who is working in you to will and to do (Phill 2:12-13). Even when it feels like we’re going backwards and everything around us is crumbling. God works all things for the good of those who love him (Rom 8:28).

With everything we do we need act in love, showering people with the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ shown to us on the cross, and confronting them with the truth. We need to encourage people to live lives worthy of their calling while loving them even when they fail.  The problem comes in when we emphasise one element of the “formula” over the other. We cannot speak the truth without love and grace, and we cannot preach grace without the truth. I don’t know if I’ve solved anything, or even come to any conclusions.  But I hope it contributes to the conversation.




3 responses

13 02 2009
Cut and Dry von DTM Blog

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14 02 2009

Great post Grant. I read it late Thursday but it’s deep enough that in my drowsy late evening state I figured I couldn’t respond properly.

I quite liked this line from the book subtitle, “Come as you are…but don’t stay that way“. I think that holding both of those, while sounding simply, is in reality profoundly difficult for individuals and churches.
Most of the churches and people that really care that others do not stay in the trap of sin and self (and other) distraction, end up giving the impression that you must get everything together before they will be willing to embrace you.
On the other hand the road of inclusion often leads to laxity in our ethical standards, and in the end is deeply unloving (though it looks kinder) because if we really cared for the person we wouldn’t want people to remain in the place they are now.
I think that holding both elements in tension is vital for the church and for all of us personally.

I can very much relate to the pendulum feeling you describe, that once you move from a place of being radically sure about the details of your particular theological stance, it is easy to swing too far the other way into an attitude of ‘to each his own’.
I’ve been in both places (though the first one for longer) and I have to say in the end neither is helpful or healthy. I think that there is a since where we need to distinguish between the non-essential, which we ought still to discuss and even debate but at the same allow for quite a broad range of options, and the core essentials which we need to approach no less humbly and thoughtfully while at the same time holding them as boundaries that those who call themselves Christians ought not to cross.

15 02 2009

Thanks Mason. I’m starting to see things in a completely different light to when I first started this blog. I pity those who read my first posts, but I guess we’ve all got to start somewhere? I’m working through the whole “why do bad things happen to Christians” thing. I may post some more on it. I know we’re not promised a life of roses when we become Christians, but why is it that so many Christians suffer? I wish I could explain it. More than that I wish I knew what or how I could help.

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