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.