Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Decisions on Doubtful Things

One of the problems sometimes found in the Christian church is not being willing to allow people to think. There is a fear that if we let people think, they might not do what we want them to. This is particularly evident in the proliferation of large numbers of rules. The danger we face here is at both extremes. There are those who feel we must have definite rules on everything, so they multiply rules in the areas where Scripture does not clearly speak. There are others who demand liberty to the extent that they feel they need not question what they can do if it is not forbidden in black and white in the Bible. The actual Biblical approach is more complicated. It is scary because it requires us to think and requires us to allow others to think.

Now there are things that Scripture states clearly and unequivocally are forbidden or required. But there are many areas in between where we have to apply general principles to decide. The first and most basic of these principles is love for others (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13,14; Matthew 22:36-40). This trumps any pride I might have in my own knowledge and abilities (1 Corinthians 8:1-3; 3:18; 13:1-3). It includes concern for the weaker brother (1 Corinthians 8:7-13; Romans 14:13-23) and the unbeliever (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; 10:23-32). However, there is a careful balance here. There is a point where I must stand up for truth even if it means alienating some individuals (Matthew 15:1-20; Luke 13:10-17; Galatians 1:10). It is often difficult to know how to apply this to a given situation. Paul circumcised Timothy lest he give unnecessary offense (Acts 16:1-3). But he refused to circumcise Titus because there was a principle at stake (Galatians 2:1-3). Paul rebuked Peter for refusing to eat with Gentiles (Galatians 2:11-16). But Paul was involved in a sacrifice marking the end of his Nazirite vow to show he was not hostile to the Jews (Acts 21:17-26). There are difficult shoals to navigate here. It means that in a lot these cases we will not always have simple cut-and-dried answers; we may have to think it through and to pray it through. It also means we must beware of judging or despising people who do not come to the same conclusion we do in these areas (Romans 14:1-12; James 4:11,12; Luke 6:37). Now there is a place where Christians need to stand on principle even if it means our life (Revelation 2:10; 2 Timothy 3:10-12; 1 Peter 3:17). And there are cases where we need to correct in love the behavior of others (Galatians 6:1; Matthew 18:15-20; 2 Thessalonians 3:14,15). But we need to be careful of making things into black-and-white issues that should not be. Sometimes it is easier to have rules on everything than to be put in the position of having to think things through and allowing others to think things through. But it is not better.

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