Theological Musings

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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Going too Far

First of all, I must apologize for the length of time without posting. Where has the time gone?! I've been super busy with the stage company (my summer gig as Music Director) and getting my act together for the start of the fall semester at the University, as well as beginning our first year of homeschooling, and the time has just kept slipping by! But in the short time I have available this morning, I want to try to put down my thoughts on a topic that has increasingly disturbed me. That is the general topic of going too far in our beliefs, our applications, our interpretations of Scripture, etc.

To start with the typical disclaimer (i.e., this is not what I'm talking about in the upcoming paragraphs!), I recognize that application sometimes means deriving principles from Scripture and applying them to other situations. This can be completely valid, and when done under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, allows us to read Scripture as much more than just a collection of stories, sayings, and sentiments. However, it is vitally important that we recognize the danger in application. That danger is the ease of crossing the line into turning a principle into a law, or turning a story into a propositional command.

For example, if I were to share the story of Nehemiah with you, and talk about how vitally important it is for a leader to continually re-cast a vision every twenty-six days, would you find that absurd? Yet, this is one of the foundational principles in Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven Church. He calls it the "Nehemiah Principle". Half-way through the 52-day task of rebuilding the walls, Nehemiah had to remind the people of what they were trying to accomplish. And so, Warren turns this into a "principle" that leaders need to remind people of the vision every twenty-six days. This is taking things too far.

A valid observation from Nehemiah might be that leaders need to be aware of when their group is losing focus and remind them of the vision. Or, a valid application might be that leaders should never assume that the people with whom they work continue to follow the same vision. But to turn it into a principle based on the number of days smacks of "proof-texting". Perhaps some groups can retain their focus better than thousands of people who had been in captivity for most of their lives!

Another example was a recent comment on my post about Tim LaHaye's public comments. The comment simply said, "Dont [sic] forget the godless told Noah to sit down and shut up as well. Your words are unwise." I've already replied to that comment, but I think it bears repeating here. As far as I can tell from Scripture, we have absolutely no record of what interaction (if any) Noah had with "the godless" prior to the flood. It's a common telling of the story that includes people mocking Noah, ridiculing him for building a big boat so far away from water, etc. But it's not biblical. We can add dramatic elements to the story all we want, but we have no right to then draw application from the very things we added to the text. The extent of the revelation about Noah's time is that people were just going on with their daily lives right up until the flood came. And we know that God did not find any righteous among those who lost their lives in the flood. That's it! We must approach Scripture with the humility to say that God has not chosen to reveal anything else about that.

Yet another example is when we just pull things out of thin air (or from non-biblical analogies altogether) and then turn them into principles and teach them. For example, my wife is currently reviewing a book that is generally meant to be an instruction manual on how to be a Proverbs 31 woman. I won't give too many specifics here because she has yet to write and submit her review, and I don't want to appear to be trumping that. But there was one particular part she read to me that illustrates my point very well.

The author referenced another author's use of the metaphor of an embassy for the Christian's home. The basic idea was that when an ambassador lives in a foreign country, the embassy where that ambassador works is located in the foreign country, but is filled with sights and sounds and customs of the home country. The author went on to use this analogy to say that we should view our homes as "embassies" reflecting our true home with God. And the application of that? Everything should be kept neat, clean, orderly, and beautiful. The author went on to stipulate that this is also part of being a "good steward" of the homes God has given us.

My response to this was not a positive one at all. Why? Because the analogy itself does not even work biblically. First of all, we, not our homes, are the temple of the Holy Spirit. In fact, God does not dwell in man-made buildings (Acts 7:48) at all. So while I'm sure we can come up with other reasons why it would be helpful and beneficial to keep our homes clean, it is very inappropriate to imply that this is a requirement of properly representing God! I would like to speak even more strongly against this sly legalism, but I will refrain.

(As an ironic side note, I once saw an ad in a Christian magazine for a firm that builds church buildings. They used as part of their ad the single phrase from Acts 7:49, "What kind of house will you build for me?" If you look at that statement in context (and Isaiah 66:1 to which Stephen refers in his statements in Acts 7), you will see that God is making it clear that it is impossible for us to build any kind of dwelling for Him since He created everything. Appropriately applying this passage would more than likely put that company out of business, not be an effective marketing slogan for them!)

Let me share one final illustration of something that popped up recently in the blogosphere that turned my stomach in this regard. I don't regularly read Purgatorio, although it is frequently a humorous and fun diversion from heavy blog reading. However, recently, I was directed there by a link somewhere else to see an entry about a "Cowboy Church" here in North Carolina. Now, to be fair, I will point out that Marc, the host of Purgatorio, was not commenting one way or the other. So it is not Marc, with whom I take the biggest issue (although when pressed in the comment thread, it doesn't appear that Marc really wanted to discredit some of the vicious comments). It is some of the comments that were made with which I take issue. Here is a sampling:

WHY, WHY, WHY do we feel the need to custom-tailor everything in churches to some kind of "lifestyle"? Churches are like Barbie dolls... there’s Cowboy/Girl, Biker, Rocker… why do we care about personal affinities that matter nothing to a holy God? God never commanded us to make our services into experiences that people can "relate to". There is only one thing needful, and that is the preaching of the unvarnished Gospel. NO ONE is able to "relate to" that without the sovereign work of God in their hearts. These kinds of things make me sick. "Wow... cool... as long as they remember to put in a Bible message, then they can play cowboy dress-up all they want."
While we’re at it, let’s have "The Church of Christ for MENSA members", or how about, "The Holy Church of Christ for Computer Geeks", and "The Gardener's Fellowship of the Lord". Was the apostle Paul not concerned about factions and sects arising within the body of Christ? What if some God fearing computer geeks showed up at the cowboy church wanting to worship God? Would this cause division or unity? Should the common denominator be "cowboys", or "Christ"? Isn't this the difference between God-centered and man-centered worship?
The Lord's Day is not an option as far as I see it in the scriptures! I work as a Care Aide and am forced to work some Sundays to take care of the mentally challenged, but my heart pines to be with the people of God in church. I would council a new convert who was not employed in a work of mercy (police man, fireman, nurse etc) to seek to stop working on Sundays and be in church. It is sin to engage in work that will draw others away from church on Sundays (ie: Rodeos). I thought cowboys took a stand on principle...even if it cost them money.
I would be more comfortable if they would call it cowboy "chapel" or cowboy something else rather than cowboy "church." Church seems to imply that it is its own separate entity off to the side of the local church.
Ehh, just another way for a church to draw people to them while they can sit on their hands and wait to preach the gospel to them when they come in the door. I thank the Lord that He saves souls that way! But if men were truly devoted, they would be going to the cowboys' farm on every other day of the week and presenting the Gospel to them, and wouldn’t have to worry about making a church to suit their needs.
You get the idea. And the basic theme from all of the negative commenters is that this can't possibly be pleasing to God because it's so...so...not what we do! And since what we do must be what pleases God, well then these cowboys just need to come do our thing. And for many of them, that's the biblical position. As one commenter noted above, because this Cowboy Church meets on Tuesday nights, it's unbiblical right off the bat because it's not "The Lord's Day". And some are speaking about division. Ummm, how many of those people are part of a denominational church?!

So basically, the bottom line I'm trying to convey here is that it is quite necessary for us to search the Scriptures and find what God has revealed. And it is quite necessary for us to walk in the Spirit and be led by the Spirit. But let's not take that to a point where we begin to pile legalism on others based on something that's not even there.

Until next time,

steve :)

8 comment(s):

Dear Steve:
I am so glad to see you posting again here. I did go to your homeschool site just make sure you were still alive :-). I realized that you were probably really busy with 'real life' but I was a little concerned that you would let the effect of the notorious "Anonymous poster" put you off of posting here. Oh me of little faith!!

Riley

P.S. I also agreed very strongly with this post. So many of us are very happy with a God who would never, never do anything that would make us uncomfortable or embarrass us or, God forbid, challenge us to do things differently than the way we have always done them (i.e. The way God told us to, way back when in nice KJ language).

By Blogger Riley, at Sunday, September 03, 2006 11:46:00 PM  

Riley, thank you so much for the encouragement! I appreciate your comment very much.

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Monday, September 04, 2006 12:01:00 PM  

Welcome back to blogland! :)
Its so human, so fallen to draw legalism from even the vaguest sources. Man just has to have a "how to" guide, doens't he?? Not God's way though....He delights in the vague and desires us to seek Him out personally to see for ourselves who He is and what he would have us do...formulas won't work forever...

By Blogger Jada's Gigi, at Tuesday, September 05, 2006 9:41:00 AM  

Hey Steve, great to see you posting again.

I like this article. I think what you have described here is especially true concerning O.T. stories. I have (as I am sure you have too) heard some horrendous sermons preached from these O.T. narratives.

If we don't exercise discretion in applying Scripture, we will soon be no better than the Pharisees with secondary and tertiary laws that totally miss the whole point of God's law.

By Blogger Gordon Cloud, at Wednesday, September 06, 2006 4:13:00 PM  

I'll buy that. Good sound musings Steve.

Just Another Christian,
Todd

By Blogger Todd, at Saturday, September 09, 2006 2:46:00 PM  

JG, Gordon, and Todd, thank you all for stopping by.

Gordon, you have definitely voiced one of my primary concerns about some of the legalism I see done in the name of "contending for the faith".

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Sunday, September 10, 2006 7:51:00 AM  

I'm just going around saying thanks for your prayers while I was freaking out recently.

By Blogger Michael Pendleton, at Sunday, September 10, 2006 12:51:00 PM  

...this is way off topic, but I see you live in Boone, NC. What a beautiful area! My son played a few weeks ago at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. He took piper of the day (grade 2). We've homeschool all three of our kids all the way the highschool (for our two daughters) and we're still homeschooling our son (junior, HS). I wouldn't trade any of it for what God has graciously done.

By Blogger Earl, at Monday, September 11, 2006 11:27:00 PM  

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