21 April 2011

Easter and Holy Week 2011- Part 2 (Binding the Conscience Where God Does Not Bind)

As I said in the last post (#1) we can apply the concept of binding the conscience and legalism to a host of issues.

What about to be a good Christian you need to give up certain foods for 40 days prior to the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox?

This falls under 1 Timothy 4.

What about, to be a good Christian you should worship at dawn on this particular Sunday and 'unofficially' you're not 'in' you're not a good Christian unless you do so?

It's the same thing.

If we can appeal to an authority base OUTSIDE of Scripture, then Luther was wrong, the whole Reformation was wrong. Because if tradition can develop ways to please God, then why can't the 'church' come up with things like indulgences, the Mass, or whatever else?

I realize Luther only wanted to remove the worst abuses and keep what he considered the good traditions. By what standard? The Reformed rightly challenged him on this point...they wanted to Reform all things, not just in part. They never reached a consensus and today there are very few who claim that label that even think in these terms. Most have in the end followed the Lutheran argument.

The Reformed argued that in terms of the Christian life whatever God has not expressly forbidden is permitted...with wisdom of course.

But as far as worship, whatever God has not commanded is expressly forbidden.

The Lutheran position was on both points, unless expressly forbidden, it is permitted. So unless it specifically contradicts Scripture, we are allowed to innovate and come up with new ways to worship God and also employ the traditions of the past.

Contradicts Scripture you say?

The Roman Catholics have an easy argument for that....

Well, that's your mistaken interpretation. We have the Apostolic Tradition. How can you interpret without the consensus of the Church to guide you? Does every Tom, Dick, and Harry have the right to just come along and make up new practices?
You see there's nowhere to go with this.

The issue is the Sufficiency of Scripture. IF they are sufficient for the life of the Church, then we don't need traditions and innovations, in fact we must reject them.

If the Scriptures are not sufficient, then we really have a blank check. At that point we have theological relativism, pure chaos. There are no right answers. The folks who want the piano and hymns have no basis to critique the Praise Team. It's not about principal anymore, it's simply a question of taste and style.

Or arguments about Tradition, often rooted in Constantinian categories.

This is the setting for most of the arugments today, most of the worship wars. From my vantage point the vast majority of these books and radio shows are a colossal waste of time. No one is addressing the real issue and the two sides at odds really hold the same position.

As for me, I do believe the Scriptures are sufficient...a Covenantal Canon and that has implications for our lives and the life of the Church. I also think the Old Testament is full of examples of this principle, that when it comes to our life of worship, when it comes to gathering of God's people, when it comes to how we 'know' or 'experience' God...man doesn't get to define the terms.

I think the whole notion of Easter ought to be questioned. Many get hung up the fact that Easter was an Anglo-Saxon goddess and that the pagans also had Spring holydays associated with fertility (rabbits and eggs)…but that's missing the real point. Those forms of syncretism are obviously wrong…except for Dominionists that argue we SHOULD be doing that, co-opting the pagan forms and 'claiming' them and redefining them for our own.

My reasons for questioning it are theological.

Many have felt this burden and responded by coming up with Resurrection Sunday. Nice try, and no doubt an improvement, but you're still assuming the overall paradigm….

Man has the power and authority to innovate beyond the Scriptures and develop ways that we can worship God.

What about Romans 14?

We addressed this before in the discussion about Christmas, but we'll touch on it again. Paul isn't giving a blank check to those who want to keep or regard days. He's talking about the weaker brother who thinks he still needs to keep or regard Passover, Sabbath or any of the Old system that had passed away. He's saying that we ought to bear with those who believe themselves to be bound by dietary restrictions or day-laws, those sorts of things. They wrong to think they're under obligation, but they mean well and we ought to bear with them.

This ties in nicely with the discussion from 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 where he talks about the weaker brother who thinks he can't eat the meat from the market…presumably because it was blessed by pagan priests? Because it was offered in their temples? Paul is saying that the pagan gods are nothing and we don't have to be superstitious about it. Nevertheless out of love we bear with that brother and we don't want him to stumble. If he thinks he shouldn't eat the meat, then he shouldn't. Romans 14.23 declares whatsoever is not of faith is sin. So even though the weaker brother is wrong, we understand that he's still God's child and that the Holy Spirit is by no means finished with his sanctification and because of love we would abstain from those things in his presence. Paul would say don't drink the wine, don't eat the meat if it will offend. But IN NO WAY is he acquiescing to the legalism whether outdated (as in Old Covenant) or contrived (as in innovations). He has no problem with having it to himself. It's not sin, but love can shall we say, 'trump' our liberty in some cases.

The idea of innovating and making up days to 'regard' is not in scope. That falls under Matthew 15.9, Colossians 2, and certainly 1 Timothy 4.

If Romans 14.23 is true…..Whatsoever is not of faith is sin……how can we 'in faith' trust in tradition? If we can, then myself and just about everybody reading here needs to re-think their whole concept of Christianity. If there's a living tradition that we can 'rest' in, rest 'in faith,' then all I can say is…the proto-protestants of the Medieval Underground were wrong, and certainly the Reformation was wrong. Our Authority must come from somewhere else….continuing revelation? A historical Magisterium?

At the end of the day, in light of eternity is this really that important? Aren't I making a mountain out of a molehill, straining at a gnat but swallowing the camel?

Yes and no.

I don't believe my fellow readers who celebrate Easter are going to hell. Not at all. I believe that many people in absolute sincerity, devotion and a desire to please God celebrate Easter and a lot of other extra-Scriptural practices. I also know full well that just about everyone reading this celebrates Easter and will continue to do so.

But that doesn't make it right. We are to be constantly renewing our minds, dying daily. We are to live as those Born Again, growing in wisdom and in the knowledge of God.

I hope if anything some readers will begin to see that how we answer these basic questions will have huge implications. The ideas play out. Consequently in the modern Church the whole concept of Authority is largely in chaos at the moment. Everyone cries Scripture Alone, but very few…very few even have thought about what that might mean.

Rather than study the Scriptures they use them as a code book, a quick-check to validate what they're doing, or an reference index of proof-texts for their man-made systems. Most are just unfamiliar with it or they have read it in a very disjointed manner and have missed the crux, the theme, the story. Many have fallen prey to man-made systems and without realizing it they bring this baggage with them to the Scripture.

I've been guilty of all these things and have worked hard for a long time to try and divorce myself from this. I'm playing the role of agitator, if anything to just get people thinking about some of these things and why it is they do what they do.

A big theme that I often revisit is that in the New Testament you see Paul battling two forces….the Judaizers who were trying to bring the Church back under the Old Covenant, it's types and symbols. Some would say I'm guilty of that as well….(smile)

And he also battles with the group I call the Paganizers….those who introduce elements of Greco-Roman Hellenistic culture into the Church, through philosophy, notions about material and matter, even notions about society.

He's steering a course between these two errors which have continued to plague the Church right up to the present day. I'm arguing and most readers will disagree that he argues a unity in substance and a discontinuity in form. There are aspects in which the Old Testament is tied in very closely with the New and aspects in which they are radically different. Theonomy and Dominionism would be theologies that I argue over-emphasize the unity and Dispensationalism would be something that over-emphasizes the disunity.

But these are both systems trying (at least) to build on Scriptural foundations. Then we have other systems like that of the Roman Catholics and Orthodox who both Judaize and Paganize as well as the modern Church movements (Emergents, Seeker-Sensitive, Mainline Theological Liberals) all large scale Paganizers…trying to synthesize Christianity with culture.

Authority. This is THE issue.

Then what do we do with it? Do we add to it? Subtract from it? Do we systematize it? Subject it to our concepts of logic…if it doesn't fit our understanding do we have to explain it away?

Or do we submit to it?

Even if that means we stand against history, traditions, culture, and yes, even the church itself?

Groups like the Waldensians did this…or tried to. They muddled their way through it, because it's hard. It's not always easy to know what to do and how to respond. Scripture is both simple and very complicated.

And thus I have a great deal of charity and tolerance for those who are at least trying to understand, conform, and submit.

I have very little for those who stubbornly cling to traditions.

And even less for those who cling to them and try to insist they're Scriptural but then refuse to make their case or when they are refuted refuse to reconsider.

At that point they make it clear what their real authority base is……it's the same one we find dominating American Christianity…….themselves.

But if I'm saying not to celebrate Easter or any of these holy days…aren't I being the legalist? Am I not binding your conscience by saying you can't or should not keep a day?

First, it's hard to say you're subscribing to Scripture Alone and then engage in religious observance not found in Scripture. The burden of proof is not on me but on those who would introduce these innovations.

Second, I could be a legalist if I was running around saying you're going to hell if you celebrate Easter…implying that your righteousness with God is dependent on something like that…and observance, conformity with a code. Thankfully we have the gospel or else we would all be condemned, for none us can keep God's laws, let alone bear the 'yoke' as Peter put it.

What about binding? From my perspective, I'm trying to argue that you're free from all such obligations. Let no man judge you in regard to food or holy day. From my perspective, I'm liberating you, not binding you. You want to celebrate the Resurrection? Then do it every day and the Church should be teaching that every week when we celebrate the Lord's Supper (or ought to be) that we do what?

Show the Lord's death…till he come. The Supper is the Sign given to us for the Resurrection, the surety and hope of the New Covenant.

Now if the Scriptures Alone are NOT the standard, then not only am I being a legalist, but most of what I'm saying falls under that condemnation.

Strange though that those who impose tradition would be exempt from the same charge?

You see once the moorings are lost…who's in charge? Who gets to decide? The Church? Which one? The Baptist? The Presbyterian? Why? Who gives them the right? Rome at least has history on her side.

But not the Scriptures.

I'm not going to tell anyone that they cannot celebrate Easter. But I will not be bound, feel guilty or under some kind of obligation unless an argument can be made from Scripture.

I can hear it now…someone saying, "Fine, I'm not making you celebrate it either."

Oh? What Church can I attend this Sunday that won't be doing it? Help me find a Church this Sunday morning that isn't engaging in this extra-Scriptural practice. The only way I can NOT celebrate it is to stay home…excommunicated for the day.

If I want to simply follow the Canonical Scriptures as given to us by God...I am forced (at least this Sunday) outside the camp.


A Watchman on the Wall said...

I am reading your posts on Easter and I appreciated your last comment:

If I want to simply follow the Canonical Scriptures as given to us by God...I am forced (at least this Sunday) outside the camp

wish I had done that today. I did not and was distressed over the Easter Egg Hunt for the youngsters during the church hour, BUT next year......

John A. (Protoprotestant) said...

Well I certainly don't think you need to beat yourself about it. As I said, in and of itself....in light of eternity probably not the most pressing issue.

But there are larger principles at stake that many seem to miss.

As you say....next year. You've got a whole year to think throught these things and pray for wisdom as we all must as we deal with individual church situations, family and everything else.

It's not easy, but sometimes we have to upset people because we have to follow Scripture.

Thanks for your encouraging words.