Wednesday, August 25, 2010

flexibility and tolerance

Romans 14
Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

5One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

9For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. 10You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. 11It is written:
" 'As surely as I live,' says the Lord,
'every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will confess to God.' " 12So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

13Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. 14As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. 15If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. 16Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. 17For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.

19Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.

22So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

I've been thinking about why Paul is important, recently. I was talking to another Christian recently who doesn't like Paul, thinks he was judgmental and didn't deal well with other people and that perhaps a lot of his teachings aren't necessary.

I was surprised because I really like Paul, as a 'character'. He comes across so vividly despite the fact that the books he wrote are almost two thousand years old. I recognise that he may have been a 'difficult' person to be around, in some ways, but I think that is absolutely necessary. The Church needs to hold itself to incredibly high standards and one of his most important roles was to keep the earliest churches solid; straight and true; out of the grip of false teachings and rejecting corruption.

On the other hand, I think he was incredibly necessary for the early Church in his approach to tolerance. Bearing with each other. I think Jesus created the Church and gave its most important instructions, like this: 'By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.' I think Paul showed the people he wrote to what this love might look like. What this love was not. I think Paul helped to address the inevitable misunderstandings of Jesus' teachings that arose throughout a Church that still did not have a written gospel. I hesitate to say that he made Jesus' teachings practical, but I sort of mean that, without saying that Jesus' teaching wasn't practical!!

And I think the fourteenth chapter of Romans is a masterpiece of Paul's (and, of course, the Holy Spirit's). Somehow, it asks so much of each member of the church - put others first, don't put any stumbling block in their way, OR judge them for doing a 'disputable' thing that you may think would be wrong. To love one another and always to work for peace amongst the believers. But it also gives a remarkable freedom to each Christian, to judge from your own conscience what is best, to use the wits God gives you. I LOVE it. If I were dictator of the world, I would insist that every church building had this passage inscribed indelibly on their wall.

However, I think the passage makes it clear that even disputable matters do matter (no pun intended). I think it is implied very carefully as well that this teaching applies to disputable matters. So, this passage doesn't make all the doctrines of the Church a matter of personal choice.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Christianity gets maligned for entirely false reasons. One vivid illustration of this is when a geologist like Plimer can write a thoroughly credible book, on how Christians are guilty of 'telling lies for God'. It is a sad situation when Christians become such easy pickings for unbelievers, when unbelievers can be counted on as being more reliable for communicating the truth of God in science than Christian believers. All this is nothing short of a tragedy for the Christian cause. ... We all agree that Christian Apologetics in defence of Christianity to the unbeliever is a good thing. But I cannot so support Creationism, it is neither Christianity or God's truth. It is not defensible on either a scientific or a biblical basis.

This is an excerpt from my uncle's new book, An Orthodox Understanding of the Bible with Physical Science. Hooray! You can buy it here. Whether you agree or disagree with him I think it would be a good read. I can't understand half of it, not being a scientist, but that which I can understand is very very interesting.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

when the Church lets us down

So, Anne Rice has attracted some recent publicity for leaving the church she was re-converted to. It seems pretty plain, however, that she is by no means rejecting Christ, but she is rejecting the Church and organised religion.

A reporter from the San Francisco Apologetics Examiner asked her this:

"Do you disagree that if you haven’t left Christ, you haven’t left the church, because the church consists of all those who believe in Him? Would you agree you still belong to ‘that’ church (those who believe in Christ)?"

Ms Rice replied:

"Possibly I still belong to the Body of Christ. I don't know anymore what that is. I just know I cannot mislead people into believing that I support organized religion. In Jesus' name, I cannot be complicit with many of the things organized religion does."

I know how Ms Rice feels, being ashamed of the members of the religion, or the institutional body, one identifies oneself with. And I know a lot of Protestants would immediately pounce on the Roman Catholic Church as the culprit here, but Protestants are just as guilty of corruption and evil as the Catholics have been, although this has sometimes been in different ways.

At this point, however, I do not think that the answer is to leave the Church and to call myself a Christian no longer. I know plenty of people disillusioned with organised religion who continue to meet with fellow Christians in home groups, and I think this is an option that works for them. I also find it difficult to ignore all the benefits of organised religion. The charities, the mass movement that can be possible through an organised body of believers. Besides, in the end, to renounce the title "Christian" is to renounce the reality that you are, literally, "Christ's one", and how on earth can you continue in faith in Christ without belonging to him in that sense? Yes, the term has been tainted for many people, but all the more reason to reclaim it.

How to do so, though?

The first place to start is in ourselves. Overquoted but nevertheless valid: "Be the change you want to see in the world."

The second place: We must take a stand against evil infiltrating the Church. We must be intolerant of anything that shames the name of Christ.

However: it is a reality that we must come to accept - perfection is not available to sinful human beings and the Church is always going to disappoint in some way. We have to admit that we shame the name of Christ and we cannot blame everything on the worst sinners within the Church. In some ways we must celebrate the Church as the only place to which lost sinners can turn. I am thinking of a song by Switchfoot, called 'The Beautiful Letdown'.

We are a beautiful letdown,
Painfully uncool.
The Church of the dropouts, the losers, the sinners, the failures and the fools.
Oh what a beautiful letdown,
Are we salt in the wound?

And I continue to think that abandoning it will not help. Those who see the darkness that tries to encroach on the Church must stay, because they are the ones who will fight it.