Love, Liberty and Christian Conscience by Randy Jaeggli

Love, Liberty, and Christian Conscience

I grabbed this short (58 page) work because this is an issue that frames many of the struggles and divisions within American Christian society. For the amount of content, this should be a little cheaper (ahem, Suzette…), but still worth buying (even on impulse like I did).

For the record, I believe that few Christians are properly balanced on this difficult issue. Generally, two sides exist: those who proclaim (like Charles Swindoll) that no one may ever lay specific rules of conduct on a believer except where Scripture explicitly prohibits or demands certain actions. And then it is occasionally debatable…. Then there is the other side that argues for strict adherence to standards and codes of conduct that were common and culturally acceptable in the 1940’s and ’50’s. Any deviation is termed backsliding and a Christian is viewed as “sinful.”

I should probably moderate those statements a bit. I actually think that there are only a few people who hold to either extreme, they are just vocal and everyone around them generally espouses the same view publicly even if they hold a differing view in practice. This problem arises from many areas and Randy Jaeggli does a fantastic job of sidestepping the various causes as these “causes” really only lead to finger pointing. One side claims the other intolerant. The other shoots back that they are remaining “faithful” to the word of God. Who’s right? Well, at that point neither, but for different reasons.

Jaeggli begins by explaining the nature of the controversy and the redefinition of legalism. For the record, a legalist believes that their works will save them or at least incur favor with God. For some reason, those who wish more freedom to do whatever they please have redefined legalists as those who would place restrictions upon others.

Jaeggli then focuses on the role of conscience in the believer’s life. The conscience is not bad; rather, Paul exclaimed that the conscience was good and necessary (repeatedly…). Further, Jaeggli, beginning with a tremendous discussion of Genesis 3, traces the explicit and implicit teaching of the conscience throughout scripture. One point that he makes very coherently is this: a conscience is trained through the regular communication with God and the study of His word.

Finally, Jaeggli ends by proving that liberty and freedom require restrictions. In the US, freedom to own requires an injunction against theft. Freedom of speech has a corresponding injunction that prohibits the gagging of dissenters. For a freedom to exist, some form of restriction must also exist to protect and control the freedom; else, instead of orderliness we would have anarchy.

As a Christian you need to read this book. Come on, it’s only 58 pages and sells for $10 or so. It is a great foundation stone for this controversial and important topic. (The book is a great foundation, but it really was just that, there is so much more to this issue than what was covered in these few pages.) There are some other questions that I have.

* What do we do when two Christians have consciences that disagree?
* In 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 (esp. 5), Paul writes that only the judgment of Christ matters. He ignores the judgments of other believers and non-believers. In fact, Paul goes so far as to say that judgments of believers should wait until the final judgment.
* How do we reconcile that with Paul’s judgment of sin in the Corinthian church? And with Christ’s command that we judge the fruit of people in Matthew 7?

I would postulate these answers, and I would enjoy hearing your responses.

* To the first question, we seek the needs of our brother first: see Philippians 2.
* With regards to the second and third questions, I notice that Christ told us not to judge unless we have properly cleaned our own life. We would be judged within the same manner that we judged others. Therefore, don’t rebuke someone for whining a bit when you whine and gripe incessantly. You get the idea.

Following that, Christ’s command to judge fruits was within the context of false teachers. Taking that to apply to everyone might be stretching it. Mind you, I am NOT saying that you can’t apply it to everyone, but one should moderate it with 1 Corinthians 4.

I would argue that we reconcile Paul’s actions and teaching this way: believers must rebuke other believers who are in clear violation of the explicit teaching of Scripture. For everything else, which are extrapolations and applications of biblical teaching, we don’t judge. How do I know that your definition of long hair on a guy is the correct interpretation? How do I know that mine is correct? How does one clearly define modesty? What one guy considers modest on a woman another guy considers immodest. So who is correct?

Here is my current understanding of this morass of entangling stuff. I will educate my conscience in the Word by studying the Bible and seeking to honor the Lord in all that I do. I won’t worry about other people who do things a little differently unless the Bible clearly and explicitly defines it as sin.

What do you think? And by all means, lets have plenty of believers weigh in on this one. You don’t have to agree with me to have a worthwhile opinion.


2 thoughts on “Love, Liberty and Christian Conscience by Randy Jaeggli

  1. Your overall lack of examples is commendable, given how easy it is to poke fun at those in a different place than yourself. Great reveiw.

    To the first question, I agree: G_d gave us leeway to define certain issues for ourselves (in judicious liberty), provided we do and express that definition in love and understanding humility. I should note, the Bible gives hints on most issues (even by example counts quite well enough: consider polygamy, never expressly forbidden except for kings and yet every single example of multiple wives multiplied the disasters in family life), so whether the two persons in question have consulted the Word on the subject would have a bearing.

    Second, Paul was talking about general condemnation (I think), not whether or not the person is wrong. We as mature believers can have opinions on what is right and wrong, and we should be able to discuss those veiws in a manner that is uplifting and enlightening (ie, we are called to witness to unbelievers, something you can’t do and at the same time claim that its just an opinion). Love the sinner and hate the sin (and, the warning probably implies not to preach about that specific sin every time you see them)

    Third, false teachers are (once proven heretically wrong via the Word) not only wrong but can contaminate the body by spreading thier false doctrine. To hold a wrong theology within the church is not good, but to allow such a one to teach it is unacceptable. The injunction not to condemn does not apply to clear heretical beliefs within the church (the Corinthians were wrong by obvious biblical standards), and it is the responsibility of the elders (or in Pauls case, as the authority over the elders) to maintain the purity of doctrine within the church.
    The discussion of fruit is almost another topic entirely, relating to being perceptive (wise as serpants) about who is a good example and who you should not be spending copious amounts of time with (or take advice from, since if there is no fruit, they are not a strong christian). Fruit applies in the Jewish tradition to children, which is where I think the passage is focused; families who want to improve the fruit of their womb should look at the result of other people’s “gardening” techniques, and spend time with those who got the best results, avoiding the weed patches. The fruit example seems more introspective than prospective or outward (as in judging), since it can apply to our own lives as well (if your life is a weedpatch of sin, you need to get on your knees). But I digress.

    Anyway, I basically agree with you, merely adding to the discussion for discussion’s sake. I hope someone who disagrees comes along to hang out on the comments section; its easier to define one’s postion when there is opposition.

  2. I think that what struck me the most, having read the book then 1 Cor 4:5 was the realization that I should not worry about other people’s opinions or condemnations as long as I could justify my behavior before God. Also, the reverse was true. I should not look down my nose at someone with a “lesser” standard than I. Both of us should leave it up to God’s judgment.

    This leads to my favorite discussion: can we apply post modern ideas to biblical interpretation? I.E. is it legitimate for two different people to come to the Bible and reach opposite conclusions after much prayer and study? Can the Holy Spirit lead two different people to completely opposite interpretations? Or is their only one correct interpretation of Scripture?

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