Thursday, April 26, 2007

Is there only ever one right answer?

Tim Challies is asking over here if error in doctrine is always sin. I would say yes, but that doesn't mean that a person has deliverately chosen to sin. Sin is still sin even if we act in ignorance.

Just yesterday I sent a while responding to a similar question so here's part of that response:

They wrote:
But I think what we differ on here is the fact that you say there is ONE right answer for EVERY issue in the Bible, and I don't believe that to be true.
I replied:

Let me clarify what I believe the bible teaches. It all comes down to guidance - in all matters we take our guidance from the bible. In any decision making process the Christian will find that there are 3 types of decision:
  • Right or wrong decisions
  • Wise or foolish decisions
  • 'Doesnt matter'/personal preference decisions
With regard to each of those situations the bible functions like this
  • Right/wrong decisions - Bible tells us what we are to do and not do
  • Wisdom decisions - Bible provides guidelines for what is wise or foolish.
  • 'Doesnt matter'/personal preference decisions - Bible doesnt especially speak about them, because they dont matter
Here's how this fits together
  • Right/wrong decisions - There is only one right answer - a thing is either right or wrong
  • Wisdom decisions - There is a principle which is right, but it may result in different outcomes depending on situations
  • 'Doesnt matter'/personal preference decisions - There are many right answers.
When we come to look at at issue you need to ask which category does it fit into? Depending on which category it fits into there may be more than one right answer. But not if it is a right /wrong issue. When it comes to wisdom decisions we need to recognise that the principles that guide us are the same for all Christians, but may result in different outcomes. So in a sense there is one right principle, but different outcomes, yet all Christians are bound to keep to the same principles, although some may differ as to which principles to apply.

Also some issues dont just fit into one category - there are aspects of each involved. There may be right/wrong rules to be applied, then wise/foolish principles, finally before you find you have one option left, or maybe you still have several - and you are free to choose which you want. For example - marriage.
  • Right/wrong decisions - You must marry a Christian, of the opposite sex, and not a blood relative.
  • Wisdom principles - Bible teaches that they should be good for you spiritually, and you should be able to submit to them.
  • 'Doesnt matter'/personal preference decisions - That still leaves quite a few candidates - so pick one you like!
So no-one can tell you that you are wrong for marrying Bill if Bill is a Christian, single and not related. They might feel that you were unwise, or they mighn't agree with your preference.

When it comes to any issue - marriage, work, worship, baptism, etc - we have to work through each of these categories.

They had said:
Again, from Romans 14, "He who regards one day as special does so to the Lord. He who eats meat does so to the Lord...he who abstains does so to the Lord." How can all these be right if there is just 1 answer? They do what they believe is right before God. "Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind." It doesn't say we all have to be convinced of the same thing, but in our own minds.
When we come to Romans 14 we can look at it under those headings

These people were concerned that meat sacrificed to idols shouldnt be eaten, or that they should keep the Jewish Sabbath as well as the Lord's day, or the other Jewish feasts.
  • Was it a matter of right/wrong? No, eating meat sacrificed to idols wasnt a sin, neither was not eating the meat. Keeping an extra day as special wasnt a sin, neither was NOT keeping the extra day a sin.
  • Was it a matter of wisdom? For Paul, who knew there was nothing wrong with the meat, it boils down to a matter of wisdom. The great principle at stake is - Since there is no sin involved, will one action or another tend to build up more? These people arent convinced yet that the meat is ok, so Paul will not insist on eating it in their presence, and offending them.
  • Was it a matter of personal preference? Yes - for those who didnt eat meat it was important for them to see that this wasnt a biblical position, nor was it unbiblical - simply they had a problem with the close association with idols and preferred not to eat. And it was important that both sides knew that and didnt judge the other.
The issue to note is that neither course of action was wrong in itself, therefore there was freedom. God had not spoken against it.

This is a Category 2 (Wisdom issue) hence - one principle, different answers. Or in might even be a Category 3 (preference) problem - with the people mistaking it for a matter of biblical truth. Each person is to make up their own mind on the matter, and be consistent with what they have decided.

Also they had asked:
As well, the passage in 1 Corinthians 7; 36-38, where Christians are given options of doing things. One way is "right" but another way is "better". Not wrong.
This one is a Category 2 problem - the principle is set out in v8-9. "Dont marry, unless you can't control yourself." He then applies the principle to different groups.

When you asked me was there only one right answer on issues I was thinking of Category 1 issues. Clearly there are other areas where there are multiple answers which are right, but those areas are clearly defined and outside the boundary of category 1.

There are issues on which Christians can legitimately differ without one being right and the other wrong, but only really when it comes to category three. All Christians should agree on right and wrong, and on principles of wisdom. But personal preferences will differ, or cultural preferences will differ.

You might think it seems harsh to think that another person is wrong, or even arrogant. Just because I believe someone is wrong, doesnt mean that I dont love them or respect them, and it certainly doesnt mean I think I am better than them. It is possible to be right on an issue and still expect to learn from others.

Of course it cuts both ways - they think I am wrong. I dont have a problem with that either.

One thing that is missing from much of today's Christianity is the ability to have a robust discussion about issues. Either people get angry, which is wrong, or they think that it isnt loving to disagree.

Humility doesnt mean being wimpish and vague in our belief. Humility is being sure of what you believe and yet being willing to learn from anyone. There is an idea that it is wrong to seek to be certain about anything. Christianity must not accommodates itself to this spirit of the age which says it is arrogant to says that there is such a thing as absolute truth.

However since some matters are complex and sincere Christians do differ, we must hold our positions with humble firmness.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Dale Ralph Davis Sermons online

Dale Ralph Davis writes great commentaries on Old Testament books. Now you can listen to his sermons online here. They aren't in mp3 format, but I wanted to include the phrase 'mp3' because for some reason I keep getting hits looking for 'Dale Ralph Davis sermons mp3'. Hopefully now people will be pointed in the right direction.

Also - the guy knows how to write an introductory webpage for a church. Have a look at this. Here's a snippet:
"Now I must warn you. This church is full of sinners. Everyone who comes here is one. You'll need to remember that if you associate with us – or you may be unnecessarily disappointed."

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Virginia Tech: A great American tragedy

A friend of mine, Crawford Gribben, has written a great article on a lesson to be learned from the Virginia Tech tragedy. In it he writes:
It’s not fashionable to lament the slow death of the Western imagination – but there can be little doubt that the death of our collective imagination, and our collective imagination’s preoccupation with scenes of violence and death, has lead to repeated incidents of enacted violence. Our collective imagination is the key to our social future – what we choose to fill our minds with is a real indication of what our societies will choose to become.
Read it here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Another Voice - Give us today our daily bread

First it was the power going off, then the water, then the power again. Then our car broke down. It doesn’t take much to bring everything grinding to a halt. What do you do when the electric goes off for a couple of hours? What do you do when the water stops running?

It’s funny how easily we are reduced to nothingness. So much of our homes run on electricity. You think when the power goes off, I’ll just go and phone so and so, only to find that your new digital cordless phone doesn’t work. So you think, “I’ll just sit down with a mug of tea and a good book,” but of course there’s no power for the kettle! And then proud of your creativity you think, “I’ll use the microwave to heat the water”. Nope.

We fancy ourselves as great independent people who can cope with life, but the reality is that we’ve become so dependent on progress that we don’t know how to cope when it all breaks down.

I’ve just started preaching on the Lord’s Prayer on Sundays. One of the phrases in it is, “Give us today our daily bread” which covers much more than bread – all the necessities of life – but seems obsolete in a day and age of supermarkets. After all, we earn the money with which we buy our food, and we drive to the shop in our own cars, and we cook the food ourselves. Why bother asking God? Yet don’t the recent problems with water and electricity show us that it is just as relevant 2000 years after Jesus taught it? God hasn’t become obsolete, just because we have moved a step or two away from the raw materials. Instead of reaping our own corn and grinding it for bread, or walking to the well and drawing our own water, we have it all ‘on tap’ so to speak.

Yet when the supply chain is interrupted we find ourselves at a loss. We find we aren’t as independent as we thought – and that we can’t even cope with a few shortages. Our progress hasn’t made us any more independent; it has only blinded us to our reliance upon God for even the simplest things in life.

We need to get back to seeing the need to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread”. It’s humbling, but better to be humble than find God having to humble us for our arrogant self-reliance.

(PS You can hear a sermon I preached on "Give us today our Daily Bread" here)

Friday, April 06, 2007

Prayer and Easter

...the Bible’s teaching is that we are not fit to approach God ourselves. We simply cannot wander into his presence to worship or to make requests. We are stained with our sin, and with our righteousness. Yes, stained with our righteousness. Like some child who has got covered in thick greasy oil, and then tried to cover it up with white talcum powder. It doesn’t work. Its still a mess.

The only reason Christians can pray is because Christ has made them acceptable by his death on the cross, where our sins and our shabby efforts at righteousness are placed on him, and his cloak on perfect goodness is placed on us. Like Jacob going in before his father dressed like his brother Esau, and blind Isaac knew the voice was different, but the clothes smelt right, and he poured out the blessing on Jacob. So we stand in God’s presence dressed like Christ, and our voice is different, but the Father is not some blind old man, he is fully aware of what he is doing, and says, "I will bless you because you are dressed like my son. I will listen to you because you are dressed like my son. I will answer you because you are dressed like my son. I will answer even before you cry out because you are dressed like my son."

And what was the cost of that cloak that we wear? It cost the death of Jesus, the suffering of Jesus, the hell that was mine poured out on Jesus.

Prayer is a blood-bought privilege.

And that means two things:

One – prayer is only open to those who have put on Christ's righteousness, in other words, Christians.

The second thing we learn from this is the immensity of the privilege Christians have. Prayer is a precious thing. It's precious because it isn’t available to everyone. Its precious because of who we can talk to. And its precious because of what it cost. What a terrible sin we have committed by being prayerless. Perhaps that’s where we need to start, with a realisation of what prayer is, and what it cost.

When we pray we need to keep in mind the heart-wrenching, soul-tearing, agonising cry of Christ on the cross, “My God My God, why have you forsaken me?” Part of the answer to that question is found when you bow your head and say, “Father”. How humbling. How much forgiveness we need for failing to pray.