Oct 28 2013

Okay, I just couldn’t resist


Oct 26 2013

What’s up with the Lutherans? Part 2

This is an addendum to my prior “What’s up…” post. I’m not trying to pick on the Lutherans, but since I was raised Lutheran and still hold to a very Lutheran-ish theology, I just can’t help going “What??” as I encounter various Lutherans online.

I’ve already discussed that for many Lutherans, the key Lutheran writings, aka The Book of Concord, takes the place of the Bible as the foundation for Christianity. I get that the whole idea is that Lutheranism is the accurate interpretation of Scripture, but just assume for once that Luther or Melancthon may have been wrong. In fact, I’m pretty sure some of those who followed Martin made a few errors, especially in the whole 3rd use of the Law thing (no, I won’t discuss that again).  If you don’t always go back to Scripture, you’ll never know if the Confessions are wrong about something. And if they’re right, Scripture will back up your position.

The thing is…

The thing is, in my mind Lutherans are supposed to be the “grace people,” not the “follow our rules or be cast out into outer darkness” people.  Trust me, we have enough fundamentalist wackos in our country without adding those calling themselves Lutheran into the mix.  This whole “Lutheran Fundy” attitude is new to me… there’s probably a good reason why certain branches of the Lutheran Church were never spoken of when I was growing up.  Granted, my grandfather came from the Swedish/Augustana Lutherans and had been influenced by pietism. When my father was growing up, playing cards were forbidden, for example.  But by the 60’s, we were part of the Lutheran Church in America, which had lost much of the pietistic influences.

Pietistic errors aside, Luther is widely recognized as the person who rediscovered the Gospel in the Western church. The word “evangelical” was first used by Martin Luther to identify those holding to a theology of salvation by grace.  However, it would seem that for some who call themselves Lutheran, grace takes a back burner once you are baptized, and it’s right theology and rules from there on out.  At least that’s the way it reads.

This week’s stupid Lutheran discussion

I belong to a Facebook group called “Confessional Lutheran Fellowship.” It seemed like a good way to learn what’s gong in in Lutheranism, and discuss theology on occasion. I’ve seen some stupid things posted on occasion, but this past week someone asked, “Is a female pastor a pastor?”  It started out a bit surprising when the 2nd person, a female, responded, “No. She’s a sinner in rebellion to the Word of God.”  Female pastors were then referred to as false prophets, and “preistitutes.”  Seriously.  So I did what I normally do, and replied “yes.”  Some people appreciated my honesty and bravery, someone else told me that I couldn’t be a Confessional Lutheran and hold that position.

About 150 comments into the discussion, it turned to the issue of whether Communion was really Communion if “administered” by a female pastor.  Then it just got weird.  I then jumped in to point out that these rules they were discussing were not Scriptural, but based on church tradition.  While one person “liked” my comment, I also got this response:

Alden, our Lord Jesus Himself establishes the Office of the Holy Ministry as the essential public office of His Church in Matthew 28. Making disciples by means of Word and Sacrament is precisely what Jesus gives there. And we see this very thing playing out in Acts 2.42 “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” which explicitly locates the Sacrament in the Apostolic Office. This is precisely how the matter is treated in the Symbols of the Church, so if you would be a Lutheran and Christian, you would agree.

Contrary to my impulsive, combative nature, I did not respond, and for the most part abandoned the discussion. I probably could have explained that Acts 2:42 says that the Apostles taught. Period.  Since no one believes teaching is a purely apostolic function, his argument disintegrates completely.  Not to mention his presumption of “Office” in Matt. 28.

The benefits of being a Lutheran expatriate

One of the benefits of being a Lutheran expatriate is that I’ve had 35 or so years of non-Lutheran context.  In that evangelical milieu, I have retained the essence of Lutheranism. But I came back to a Lutheran theology after sitting under a variety of more contemporary theological teaching, and don’t look at Scripture through merely one filter.

I don’t have a problem with church structure.  For example, I’m very comfortable in Anglican churches, and respect those in Eastern Orthodox traditions. However, I also recognize that the New Testament does not set a “head pastor” model for churches.  Elders are discussed, as are those who serve in various functions. I am aware that while Paul makes statements about women no being over a man, I also see women being named as prophets, and being “counted among the Apostles.”  You can have a pastor, but you can’t claim it’s the Biblical model.

Besides, in the New Testament, leaders are those who serve. No one has a problem with women serving men. And when it comes to Communion, there are no requirements at all, except for Paul’s short teaching as to how it should be presented.  It was a meal, after all.  It only became a token ritual later on.  (No one could have become drunk sipping wine from a common cup.)

All this talk of “Offices” and rules are completely foreign to the NT.

The Gospel Uncensored

When I wrote The Gospel Uncensored from Ken Blue’s sermons, I never anticipating having to deal with a Lutheran legalism.  But presenting any sort of church rules—especially those that are used to disparage someone else—is not unlike requiring circumcision or dietary rules.  In the discussion thread I mentioned above, it was actually stated that women who become pastors are unrepentant sinners and are destined to hell.

Seriously?  In Galatians, the only people Paul suggested should go to hell were those imposing rules on the Galatian Christians.

It’s okay to believe that women should not be pastors. Traditionally, this has been accepted, and it’s difficult for people to change their perceptions. And, there are arguments on both sides. But, holding people to man-made rules is clearly condemned by Paul, as is judging others.  These attitudes are just plain evil.

I should mention that not everyone in the Facebook discussion were condemning, and many stood up to those who were clearly out of line. But, there seemed to be an unfortunate number of people who were so entrenched in their legalism that there was no room left for grace.

An interesting twist

I have had to deal myself with my thinking about women pastors, peeling away various filters that have been in place for years. However, I occasionally attend an Episcopal church with a female priest, and I like her. She is there to serve, and does it well.  I’ve also met a female Lutheran pastor who I think has the same heart. However, I have a greater problem with some female pastors in more contemporary churches, as the servant leadership mentality is often notoriously missing, with pastors often occupying a separate class than others. There, pastors are assumed to be “over” the church. In that case, I would firmly be against women in that role. However, I’m also against men in that role…

Bottom line, I’m thinking I should probably just leave that Facebook group, as it’s clearly a much narrower group than it claims to be.  And, I don’t need that kind of irritation.

 

 

 

 


Jul 9 2013

A Look At The Non-Western Gospel

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9, ESV)

What’s My Gospel?

There are, obviously, different gospels being taught out there. Paul called the teaching that following the Jewish custom of circumcision was a gospel different enough to suggest that those who taught this should not stop at the foreskin. Yes, he said that. Besides suggesting that they should go to hell.

But which is the proper Gospel?  As in the old TV show What’s My Line?, we should ask, “Will the Real Gospel please stand up?”  Is it the one that says we should trust in our baptism (even when we were baptized as infants)?  Is it the one that says salvation is based on our decision and our faith?  Or perhaps the one that says that however we get in, we’ve got to avoid “backsliding” or be in danger of losing our salvation?

When you look at what Paul says, choosing a gospel can be a scary proposition.

A Pre-Modern Gospel

Being a somewhat independent sort (not always a good thing, I admit), I’ve done my share of wandering, at times being sucked in by some mildly religious/superstitious forms of Christianity. Over the years, being influenced by Luther, CS Lewis, NT Wright (and a number of good Anglicans),  having spent a lot of time in Galatians, and spending 2 years teaching through the Gospel of John, I came to a number of conclusions about the Gospel.

Coincidentally, many of these conclusions are very close to the Eastern Orthodox approach to the Gospel.  I recently found a great summary of the Orthodox view of the gospel, from the Saint Justin the Philosopher Foundation for Orthodox Christian Apologetics, who seems to exist only on Facebook.  Because not everyone is on Facebook, I will reprint the article here, linking back to the original above.  I suspect they won’t mind.

I encourage you to read through it, and comment as you see fit (respectfully, of course).  I am not saying I agree with this 100%, but I think much of this is spot on.

The Gospel As Understood by the Orthodox Church

Many Protestants ask Orthodox Christians what the Orthodox understanding of the Gospel is. This is our attempt at explaining to Protestants (and others) what the gospel is:

The gospel is that the kingdom of Heaven has broken into our realm through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If we have an incorrect understanding of what  these things mean, this will lead to large errors of practice, which will seriously impair our entrance to the kingdom of God. For example, Calvinist theologian Sinclair Ferguson describes  his spiritual life as “dragging his sin before the Cross.” By this, he means putting penal substitution into practice. When he sins, he feels guilty because God is angry at him. At this  point, he remembers that God already punished Jesus for his sin, so he “drags it before the Cross” to rid himself of guilt. But what does this do to actually deify him? Note the word  “deify.” Ferguson has never used that word to describe salvation. But “deification” is the substance of salvation. Let me explain. Our Lord, the pre-eternal Son and Word of the Father, is fully divine. He has, from all eternity, had all the properties of deity common to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Man was created in  the Image and Likeness of God. The Holy Fathers interpret this to mean that man reflects certain properties of God, but does not reflect them fully. This is not a “shortcoming”, but rather  a statement that God is infinite, and the brightness of man’s reflection of God can increase forever and ever. So Adam was “very good.” But He was not as good as he possibly could be. If he  was, the Hebrew would say “very very good.” Adam was granted authority over the garden. As he partook of the grace of God, he himself would reflect God ever more brightly, and, as the  steward of God’s creation, the “high priest”, one might say, he would lead all Creation to more brightly reflect the grace of God. At this point we must briefly comment on the meaning of “grace” according to the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Fathers. Protestants interpret grace to mean “God’s unmerited favor.” This is an  incorrect interpretation.

Grace is not only “God’s unmerited favor” (not to imply that the grace that we receive is earned, but rather that this idea is not contained in the word itself), but refers to the power of God actualized in the world. For example, in the first chapter of Saint John’s Gospel, Our Lord is  referred to as “full of grace and truth.” How could Christ be full of “unmerited favor?” In the third chapter of Saint Luke’s Gospel, Christ is referred to as “growing in grace and  stature.” How could Christ “grow” in unmerited favor? A reading much more in accord with the Biblical text is the understanding of grace as “God’s power actualized in the world.” This is  what Orthodox Christians mean by the “energies of God.” In essence, God cannot be known. But God’s essential power is actualized in the world through His uncreated energies. These energies are  truly and really God, and they are the means of participation in the life of the divine. Adam would grow in His reflection of God’s likeness in energies, but because no man or angel could  ever partake of the divine essence, He would never be “subsumed” into God. He would always be a deified Adam, never losing his personal existence. Anyway, this path of deification was the right path Adam was walking. Tragically, through events we all know, Adam turned away from this right path. The serpent promised him that “he would  be like God.” Wanting to be like God was not Adam’s error. (As a sidenote, the fact that many Protestants think it is reflects how completely they have lost the concept of deification) We  should all want to be like God. The Holy Apostle Peter says that we are to “be holy, as he is holy.” So why would we want to be unlike Him? No, Adam’s error was trying to be deified (which  means more fully reflecting God’s properties) APART from God. This was not the end of the Fall. The pre-incarnate Word appeared to Adam and asked him what he had done. The Fathers teach  that if Adam at this point had honestly admitted his error, repented, and promised obedience henceforth, the serpent would have been thwarted and God would have reconciled Adam to Himself.  But Adam did not. Adam lied and blamed his wife.

Thus, Adam was expelled from the Garden, and the creation over which he was set a steward fell into corruption, death, and decay. Death  itself cannot be spoken as a literal (though the imagery can be used metaphorically) “punishment” from God. God did not say to Adam, “If you eat, I will surely kill you.” God said, “If you  eat, you will surely die.” Death is simply the natural result of turning away from the only source of life.Corruption, death, decay, these now all became a part of the human experience. And, in a significant, but often overlooked passage, Moses writes, “When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered  a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.” This is the “image of Adam” described in the New Testament. It is the image of God in a state of corruption and  imperfection. The Old Testament, even in the deified Prophets and Patriarchs, is a story of how man tries to reach God and always falls short. The ideal of ever more brightly reflecting the  Divine Image could not be attained. Even the Saints of the Old Testament could not attain full glory, because humanity was enslaved.

This is where Christ comes in. The pre-eternal, infinite, uncontainable Word of God became a human being. The eternal Divine Word acquired a human nature. That is, He acquired the set of  properties common to all human persons. In assuming humanity into Himself, He deified it. The human nature was perfectly united and brought into communion with the Logos of God and so  became completely deified at the very moment of the incarnation. Christ, the perfect Image of God (Colossians 1:15) reconstructed the Image of God in man by becoming a man Himself. Christ  grew up, sanctifying every stage of life in His own Person. When Christ announced His public ministry, this was not going to be a collection of pithy moral sayings before He got to what  really mattered, the Crucifixion. No, every miracle and act that Christ did, every word that He spoke, has immense significance in the Christian life. By subjugating himself to death, Adam  subjugated himself to Satan. Satan was the “Prince of this World” and God’s people was a small resistance movement. Most of the false gods throughout pre-Christian history have been  demonic. Many pre-Christian civilizations were under the direct control of Satan’s minions. This is a frightening truth, but if one reads the Book of Daniel, one finds references to the  demonic princes and rulers of other, specific nations. So, when Christ announced “The kingdom of God is at hand!”, this was a world-shaking truth. It was a declaration that Satan’s rule was  over, that God had come at long last to set things right. The Israelites, however, expected this to be in a carnal sense. They expected the Jewish Messiah to come and lead an army to  overthrow the Romans and establish a Jewish government in the Holy Land. The evil Roman Empire was itself only a symptom of the disease, and Our Lord understood that, so He went and fought  the source- Satan. When He cast out demons, this was a statement that God was finished with them, that they were going to be driven out. When Christ healed men from diseases, this was a  statement that the reign of corruption was coming to an end. In short, these were all means of announcing that corruption, death, demonic rule, these were finished. When Christ taught, He  was giving us the true Torah, that which the Torah of Moses was only a shadow. This Torah was one of the heart. It was how man would live in the Kingdom that Christ was ushering in. This  Torah changed the heart of man, which is why the Lord said that “the Kingdom of God is within you.” So, Christ’s ministry had two closely related functions. It was first to announce the  nearness of the Kingdom of God and it was second to describe how man would live in that Kingdom through the preaching of a Torah of the heart.

On Great and Holy Friday, Our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified for our sins. While this phrase is acknowledged by nearly all who confess the name of Christ, what this actually means is a  subject of intense debate. Most Protestants suggest that God poured His wrath upon Christ’s head so that He did not have to pour it on our heads in hell. The Scholastics suggested that  Christ, in dying a shameful death, generated an infinite store of honorable merit, which could be accessed by the Sacraments and good works. The Church, however, through its Prophets,  Apostles, and Fathers, has an altogether different doctrine. It was mentioned above that Adam had made suffering, corruption, and death a part of human experience. Christ came to reconstruct the  Divine Image through His own incarnated Person. In order to sanctify the fullness of human experience, the terrible truth was that God had to partake of death itself. He had to descend to  the lowest state of human existence. And He did. Christ suffered greatly, and died one of the most shameful deaths known to man. He partook of all our sufferings, our sorrows, our  sicknesses, and our pains. And because it was the infinite God who entered into these things, He healed all of them. This is why the Prophet Isaiah says, “By His stripes, we are healed.”  Satan, as the one who held the power of death, believed that He had won. He had taken the Messiah of God. What He did not take into account is that Christ had never subjected Himself to  Satan’s authority. Christ had never entered into Satan’s communion. But Satan took Him nonetheless. This was his greatest mistake. As Satan had no power over death, Christ broke free of it,  and released all the spirits who communed with Him into Paradise as well. Satan was disarmed. Christ said that He would “disarm the strong man”, and that He did. In the Apocalypse, Christ  says that HE “holds the keys of death and Hades.” This is a profound and glorious truth. Christ had gone down into the lowest state of human existence. He now was bringing up human  experience to the highest points of divine experience. This is the message of the resurrection! The resurrection is the ushering of humanity into the high places. It is the deification of  the body itself. The body, while before it had been a prison of corruption, sickness, and death, was now in Christ a glorious blessing. It was renewed, deified, made incorruptible.

Man, however, still has freedom of choice. God desires all men to come into the communion of His energies, His love. But true love requires freedom. If we choose not to be deified, then  that is our choice. If we desire this wonderful state of deification, how do we do it? The first thing that we must do is have faith. Faith is the foundation of the entire Christian life.  It is the particular attitude which sees God not as a distant lawgiver, but a close father, one who is merciful and good. The one who acts consistently with his faith will undoubtedly be  saved. It must be emphasized that faith does not guarantee consistently acting with that faith. One may have faith, but if one does not act consistently with it, the faith dies.  If one DOES act consistently with the faith, one chooses to be baptized. This Baptism, St. Paul says, clothes us with Christ. It clothes us with His death and resurrection. It frees one  from the subjugation of Satan, who takes every man who sins even once. This Satanic system is the system of law. When we are baptized, we are freed from it, because we become “in Christ.”  As Satan had no authority over Christ, so also He loses authority over every man who is “in Christ.” We are now in a different system, a “system” where the goal is “partaking of the divine  nature” (2 Peter 1:4), and being “conformed to the image of His Son.” (Rom 8:29) When we are anointed with the oil of God (this is known as Chrismation and is described in the Book of Acts  as “laying on of hands), we are indwelt with the grace of the Holy Spirit. This “Chrismation” is really a part of the Mystery of Baptism. The Holy Spirit is our only hope. He is the one who indwells us,  who bestows grace on us, by whose power we do anything that is good. However, salvation still requires “work.” This is not the “work” that one does in a business setting, where one works a  particular number of hours and the boss gives you a particular payment. This is the principle of obligation condemned so forcefully by St. Paul in Romans 4:4. If we work like this, there is  no relationship with the boss. One simply works and receives due payment. But God owes us nothing. Salvation itself requires intimate COMMUNION with God, so if one does these works out of  view of Christ, the communion is not improved, and they will be burned up on the Last Day. This is why St. Seraphim teaches that only good works done for Christ’s sake give us the grace of  the Holy Spirit. NT Wright describes works that save in this fashion. The only works that benefit for salvation are those that are organically related to their result. So, when you make a  new friend, you might describe yourself as “working” for that friendship. But this is only in the sense that talking, hanging out, spending time with this person naturally produces a  friendship. If you went to his house, mowed his lawn, did not talk to him, this “work” woul do nothing to produce a friendship. It is the same with God. Praying, fasting (as fasting dulls  the passions), partaking of the true Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, these are the ways that we commune and relate with God. They naturally produce communion with God.

Christ, through His incarnation, death, and resurrection,  ushered the People of God (who already existed in the form of Israel) to the highest and most advanced state possible, that of being His own Body, which we call the Church. The Church is the People of God that have  partaken of the Divine Nature in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit. The Church is “necessary for salvation” only because Christ is necessary for salvation. It is through Christ alone  that man can be saved, and the Church is Christ’s Presence in the world. This is meant this in more than a symbolic sense. The Church is a Eucharistic Community. It is the Eucharist which creates  the Church. St. Paul says, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17) The Church is Christ’s Presence to the world because of the Holy Eucharist. We become “one body in Christ” by partaking of Christ’s body in the Holy Eucharist. This is the People of God as it has been transformed by the new covenant. The Prophets and Patriarchs of Israel and the Old Covenant are also members of the Church, because the Church is not an organization that exists in this world, it is a heavenly reality, containing ALL the People of God, made manifest and visible to this world in the form of Eucharistic Communities.While man experiences a foretaste of his eternal destiny when he dies and his body is separated from his soul, this is still an unnatural state. On the Last Day, the Lord will return to Earth to Judge all mankind. This “Judgement” is simply the placing of every person in the place where the condition of their soul requires. Christ will deify the New Creation. The grace of God will be in all and through all. For the person oriented towards God, this means they will continue on their journey of deification forever. For the person oriented away from God, the energies of God only inspire further resistance to God. Thus, the person who reposed while walking the wrong path will forever walk that path. His Divine Image will be deconstructed eternally as they become more and more evil and selfish. The state of living eternally without any love for others, and living with others who are like that- this is hell. The state of living eternally, in a deified and glorified body, in a condition of ever-increasing love and bliss, and living under the direct rule of Christ the King, with others who lovingly serve Christ the King- this is Heaven. This is not to say that we won’t have something to do on the New Earth. No, we, as the Image-Bearing representatives of God to all Creation, together with Jesus Christ, the ultimate Image of God, will forever work on our mission of deifying all Creation. This is eternal joy.

 

 


Mar 8 2013

The Law – Defining Terms

I had an interesting revelation about the law a couple of weeks ago. It turns out that there are some people have some very, very different definitions for the Biblical word “law.”

In The Gospel Uncensored, I tried hard to distinguish between various uses of the word, using a capital “L” to refer to the Law of Moses, as opposed to more generic uses of the word. But, I assumed that everyone thought of “law” as something that is required of you, and for which there would be some sort of penalty for breaking.

It’s more of a guideline…

For example, traffic laws are not suggestions, or recommendations, they are rules with accompanying penalties for breaking them (and getting caught).  That’s why they are called laws.  However, there are some traffic signs which do contain warnings or suggestions, such as those warning of dangerous conditions.  It’s good to follow these recommendations, however there are no penalties for not following them (unless you have an accident, etc.).   The difference between laws and non-laws has been well-illustrated in the Disney “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies with the phrase, “It’s more of a guideline than an actual rule” (which, by the way, first appeared in “Ghostbusters,” but that’s beside the point).  There are laws/rules that must be followed or else, and there are suggestions or guidelines, that may determine our success or failure, but for which there are no legal consequences.

The Bible contains both.  There are lots of laws, and also a lot of what could be called guidelines.  These guidelines include warnings about harmful behavior (which happens to include trying to become righteous through following laws) and “how shall we then live” exhortations.

The problem is, many people can’t seem to tell the difference.

The worst definition of law I have ever heard

A couple of weeks ago someone posted a short interview by a very well-known pastor that contained what is undoubtedly the worst definition of law I have ever heard.  The only good thing about it was that he defined his term, which exposed the bad theology he was presenting. His definition was something like (from memory), “The Law is God’s statements about everything that is good.”

What?  With a definition like that, your teaching on the compatibility of “Law and Gospel” is pretty easy. The problem is, your theology sucketh.

There are a number of folks out there that are overly committed to various Reformation concepts like “Law and Gospel” that no one really understands. So, theological discussions end up quoting certain Lutheran or Reformed theologians rather than just dealing with what the Bible actually says, which is a great way to avoid dealing with Scripture if people aren’t paying attention.  To be honest, while I consider Martin Luther to be one of my heroes of the faith, he is not my source of theological authority. I believe he was wrong about a lot of things, and that subsequent Lutheran theologians were also, perhaps even more so, wrong about many things. Quoting folks is fine, I do it myself. However, I don’t base any conclusions on the Formula of Concord, which is a theological position, not Scripture. (And don’t even mention Calvin…)

Good Advice?

If we accept my definition of “law” to mean a commandment with legal consequences, such as the Law of Moses, then we can draw a distinction between that and other exhortations, which may also have consequences.  Saying “jump off that cliff and you’ll fall to your death” is not a law in that sense.  You wouldn’t get fined or sent to prison for jumping off the cliff; you’d merely die, not as punishment, but as a natural consequence to your choices. “Stop sinning or something worse will befall you” is also not the pronouncement of a law, but a warning about the consequences of choices.  When Paul says, “Walk redeeming the time,” is he pronouncing a new law? Of course not.  To confuse the two is to read the New Testament without any sort of context whatsoever.

So, perhaps besides distinguishing between “Law” and “Gospel,” we should add a 3rd category, for “good advice.” While you might react to the idea that some of what Paul or Jesus said may be considered “good advice,” just think about it.  There’s nothing unholy about good advice. The Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is absolutely excellent advice.  Paul gave some great advice in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  Is this good?  Is it a law? What if we forget to think about something commendable?

Perhaps there’s a better term for it—wisdom, perhaps—but “good advice” seems functional. That doesn’t mean it’s not inspired or true, just that it is what it is.

Bad teaching

Unfortunately there is a lot of really bad teaching out there, and people have been conditioned not to question it.  This past week I listened to part of a radio-broadcast sermon on my way to church that was possibly the worst (next to Robert Tilton) teaching I’ve every heard on tithing. The pastor actually claimed that his particular church would be punished by God if the congregation failed to give appropriately. Think about it…

But, there are a lot of well-meaning pastors who link everything—righteousness, holiness, salvation, you name it—to certain cherry-picked behaviors. Tithing is a popular one, of course, for obvious reasons.  Divorce used to be a popular one, but as so many pastors and leaders have now been divorced, it’s no longer in favor, in spite of the fact that it is one of the few “commandments” that Paul declares is not from him, but from the Lord:  “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband. (1 Corinthians 7:10)” Here we have more than just good advice, we have an actual commandment, and it’s almost universally ignored in the contemporary church. Do we have any explanation for this, other than Jesus’ “Because of your hardness of heart…” (Matt. 19:8)?

And then, there’s the little matter of women speaking in church (1 Cor. 14)…

Legalism rules

For whatever reason, many people love laws, and can’t deal with the concept that Paul encouraged us to make decisions about some things “according to our faith.”  They also have a hard time dealing with the thought that we might called to do “good works” because they are good, and for no other reason. So, the natural result is to take random things from the Bible and make them into laws, and ignore the others.

Living the Christian life and doing Good Works is not like selling magazine subscriptions; you’ll never build up enough points to earn that crown. You do good works because you are being changed from glory to glory, and the more you are being transformed, the more you want to do good works.  Reading the Bible is a good thing to do because… it’s a good thing to do.  You should not jump off that cliff because, you’d die.  Don’t sin because sin can kill and enslave you; it’s bad.

It all seems so simple, doesn’t it?  Do good things because they are good, and don’t to bad things because they are bad.  Do you really need any other reasons?

Avoid confusion

Don’t confuse Law—that which was given to to Moses to guard the Israelites for a time—with the Gospel.  No righteousness ever came through the Law, which actually increased sin rather than increasing righteousness. And, don’t confuse wisdom (aka “good advice”) with the Law, either.  Paul told us in more than one way that the Law is now (and for Gentiles, always was) inapplicable. The “old man” died under the Law, the “new man” lives free from the Law.  The Law has been “set aside,” having been nailed to the cross.

One of the biggest areas of confusion regarding the issue of grace is the belief that a reliance on grace and teaching that the Law is inapplicable stems from the fear that this somehow is akin to licentiousness; that we actually will “sin more, that grace may abound.”  That, of course, is quite ridiculous.  There is no such possibility as being “free to sin,” as we know that sin is by nature bondage. We are no longer in bondage to sin, but also no longer in bondage to the law. As Paul said, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

Freedom determines a life lived in pursuit of good works, because that’s just how it is. Anything less is not freedom.

Grace, and peace.