Adiaphora and Analyzing Ambiguous Activities

July 24, 2017 at 2:45 pm | Posted in I Corinthians | 1 Comment
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Adiaphora is a word used in Christian theology to describe activities about which it would be questionable for Christians to participate, even if such activities are not explicitly condemned or forbidden in Scripture. The word had a connotation in its original Greek and Latin contexts of things about which it “makes no difference.” It should be noted that, when it comes to a Christian’s conscience, and the the principles and precepts about which the Bible speaks, Scripture is not as silent on as many behaviors as most people think. And while there are certainly things which are what we would call “morally neutral,” especially things having to do with purely personal preferences and tastes (such as whether a church building should have chairs or pews, and whether a man’s hair should be parted on the side, in the middle, or at all), there are other matters (whether a Christian should get a tattoo or buy a raffle ticket) about which we should think (and pray!) carefully, and do an exhaustive study on what the Bible might or might not have to say about them, before making a decision. One danger when dealing with adiaphora is that we fall into the trap of legalism, condemning things which are permissible under our Christian liberty, but another danger is that we seek to justify behavior that we happen to like in our flesh on the basis that it is not spelled out word-for-word as sinful in the Bible.

We looked last time at some important considerations in this regard in I Corinthians Chapter 10. Now we will continue with some specific steps that can be utilized in analyzing whether we, as Christians, should participate in ambiguous activities.

1. Will this activity capture my heart or mind, or create a physical addiction?

All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.

I Corinthians 6:12

2. Will my participation in this activity cause someone else to stumble, or will it build someone else up?

Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.

I Corinthians 8:13

3. Will it make ME stumble, or will it build up MY testimony or fellowship with God?

All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.

I Corinthians 10:23

4. Will this activity bring glory to God, no matter how much I enjoy it?

Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

I Corinthian 10:31

5. Will this activity help or hinder my evangelistic efforts?

Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.

I Corinthians 10:33

Post-Flood Church Services

August 23, 2016 at 3:55 pm | Posted in Social Media Shares and Mass Emails, The Flood | 3 Comments
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It didn’t take long. The good feelings and perceived unity generated when people of various skin colors, ethnic backgrounds, political persuasions, and economic classes put their differences aside and came together to help each other survive and rebuild after a catastrophic flood, started eroding faster than the banks of the tributaries and bayous around the Amite River – beginning on the following Sunday morning.

It seems that some local churches, despite doing everything they could to help their church members (our first obligation) and neighbors, and despite devastation to their own buildings, managed to clean out enough debris, and to dry out the mold-producing moisture just enough, to have a worship service to thank the Lord for sparing us from what we truly deserved (greater damage and destruction) and to praise Him for Who He is.

Some of the complaints sounded like this:
“I can’t believe they are having a church service while people are hurting and need help!”
“People need their homes cleaned out, while these so-called ‘Christians’ are singing and praying!”
“Jesus would be helping people. He wouldn’t be attending church after a disaster!”

I will admit that the church I attend was one of the ones that did have a Sunday morning church service on the Sunday after the flood. We did not have one on the Sunday of the flood, because on that Sunday our church building was in the middle of a newly-formed lake roughly the size of our whole parish, and because our church building had several feet of water inside it! Before the flood waters had even finished rising our church members were out rescuing people and trying to help. Two of our pastors and our church secretary lost their homes and most of their possessions, along with about 75% of the residents in our parish, including many of our church members and families. Those of us who barely stayed dry began to provide shelter, food, and clothing, and began the time-consuming and costly process of debris removal and salvage for those without flood insurance. A huge percentage of the homes affected were in “non-flood” zones, and therefore did not have flood insurance. And, yes, many of us worked hard on our church building, too, since it is our ministry headquarters, and since we believe that, as good stewards of the property that God has given us to manage, we owe a duty to protect it so it can be used for future ministry – including the most important part of ministry: the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We also needed the property to be a staging area for the distribution of food, clothing, and other necessities.

That Sunday morning service was special. People with dire physical needs came and were helped. They also received comfort and were helped spiritually. For this we do not apologize.

Many of our church members went right back to work that same day, helping each other and others in our community. Anyone who would begrudge us ninety minutes of prayer, singing, preaching, and worship after one of the busiest and most traumatic weeks of our lives, has greatly misunderstood what the Bible teaches about the purpose of the Church.

He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

Ephesians 4:10-12

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

Hebrews 10:25

As for this idea that, by trying to preserve our church building and by having a church service while others were working on their homes, we were doing what Jesus would not have done, let me remind you to be very careful playing the “WWJD” card that has become so fashionable in “Pop Christianity.” People tend to be very selective and biased in claiming to know what Jesus “would” do, when, in reality, we are far better off looking in the Bible and seeing what Jesus actually did do.

No offense, but the family who lost literally every worldly possession they had in the flood, but who live in 21st Century Livingston Parish, Louisiana, is still far better off than a Jewish family, under Roman occupation, in 1st Century Nazareth on their very best day. Yet:

And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.

Luke 2:43-36

He was “in the temple.” Not helping other families carry their belongings, not providing food and water. In the temple.

Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.

Matthew 26:6-11

Jesus did not condemn those who gave their resources to be used in worshiping Him, even though there were always poor people who could be helped with material and physical needs.

People read about Jesus healing on the Sabbath and going about the countryside helping and miraculously feeding people, and they somehow get the idea that Jesus would be opposed to church attendance, but:

And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.

Matthew 4:23

Jesus did both. He attended worship services and He ministered throughout the land. Do you think there were people who were not hungry, who did not need help, while He was teaching and preaching? Of course there were! It is a peculiar brand of legalism which condemns Christians for focusing on church when a disaster strikes, but gives the critics a pass when things are normal. If you are tempted to criticize our church for having worship services during a flood recovery effort, you also need to be just as hard on yourself for preparing for a Spartan race or taking a family vacation while there are homeless people living under bridges in Baton Rouge and beggars on every street corner in New Orleans. Self-righteous hypocrisy can cut both ways, can’t it? I would not condemn those who skipped church that Sunday morning, under these exceptional circumstances, so they could bless people in need, but neither would I criticize those who assembled to worship.

Finally, as our Pastor pointed out on that first Sunday morning after the flood, we do have something of a Biblical precedent. Noah, upon exiting the ark with his family and the surviving animals – before he began rebuilding and even before they began repopulating – made a point of stopping to worship:

And Noah went forth, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons’ wives with him: Every beast, every creeping thing, and every fowl, and whatsoever creepeth upon the earth, after their kinds, went forth out of the ark. And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.

Genesis 8:18-21

Making the Proper Comparisons

September 22, 2014 at 11:34 am | Posted in Galatians | 3 Comments
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Galatians Chapter 6 deals with the troubles that the legalists were causing. Obviously, they were trying to corrupt the Gospel, but they also interfered with, and hurt, the spiritual life of the church.

Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden.

Galatians 6:2-5

Legalists are interested in adding to burdens instead of alleviating burdens. People in church will fall into sin. We can use that as on opportunity to pick them up, or to step on them and try to make ourselves look higher. Meekness preserves love and causes God to help us resist sin. Pride alienates others and provokes God. A good indicator of my spirituality is not how I measure up to others (Can I carry a heavier load than him?), but “Am I bearing my own burden when it used to be too heavy for me?” In other words, the test is how I measure up to what I used to be.

There are burdens which are not meant to be carried alone, and then there is the soldier’s pack, which it is his responsibility to bear on his own as he serves a greater cause.

As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.

Galatians 6:10

In giving help to others, we are also helping ourselves, but the secret is to give in love: not giving to get.

For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.

Galtians 6:8

Sowing to the flesh reaps corruption.

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

Galatians 6:9

Remember, the reaping is in “due season.” Not every day is harvest day. Remember to pray to keep from fainting (Luke 18:1). Remember to eat (read the Bible) for spiritual strength.

Near the end of Galatians we are reminded that freedom brings responsibility.

As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.

Galatians 6:12-13

We have a responsibility not to brag about our freedom, or what it allows us to do.

But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

Galatians 6:14

We should “brag” on the Redeemer, rather than the “elite” status of being redeemed.

Clean Hands and Pure Hearts

September 12, 2012 at 9:40 am | Posted in Mark, Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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There is a famous quote that says, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” Jesus’s disciples found themselves in the middle of a dispute about tradition and traditionalism in Mark Chapter 7.

Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders.

Mark 7:1-3

When the Pharisees and scribes pressed Jesus about His disciples’ hygiene habits, He must have felt pretty fed up.

He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.

Mark 7:6

Here He was – seeking and saving sinners, fighting Satan, teaching eternal, invaluable, and indispensable truths – and the critics wanted to nitpick about hand-washing!

Tradition can be a valuable thing. We have over 2000 years of New Testament Christian history from which to learn if we will apply ourselves. When we try too hard to escape traditionalism, we often fall into the trap of rebellion just for the sake of seeming more “modern” or “fresh.” It is true that repetition over time does not always make a thing right. But it is also true that, in the final analysis, the Bible itself is our ultimate standard for faith, practice, and worship. Jesus told the Pharisees and scribes that they were…

…[m]aking the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.

Mark 7:13

Doubtful Disputations Deter Doxological Demonstrations Displaying Desired Decorum

October 5, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Posted in A Little Alliteration, Romans | 14 Comments
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I find it easier to explain Romans Chapter 14 by skipping ahead just a little and looking at the very first Verse of Chapter 15:

We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.

Romans 15:1 (emphasis added)

The “then” means, “Considering what I just said…” Romans 14 deals with the problem of pleasing ourselves at the expense of others’ “infirmities.” Those who have infirmities are called the “weak in the faith.” How we treat our fellow Christians will be determined by answering the question, “Who do you love?” You are going to please those whom you love. Should you be trying to please the exuberant, loud, extroverted believers? Or should you try to please the mean, quiet, bored-looking believers? Those are overt questions, but they are only masking the real question: Am I going to please God, or am I going to please myself?

If you are a parent of siblings, then you know one of the most pleasing things you can experience is watching your kids “prefer one another.”

Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;

Romans 12:10 (emphasis added)

Similarly, God is pleased when, instead of a “me first” attitude, I have a “you go first” attitude toward my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.

Romans 14:1 (emphasis added)

When a fellow Christian is weak in the faith, we need to receive him – but not for the purpose of disputing with him over his personal convictions. Those who are counted as “weak in the faith” in this passage of Scripture are those who have trouble understanding their freedom in Christ. They think they’re more spiritual because of what they eat or drink (or what they don’t eat or drink) or because they keep certain days holy. Here are two misconceptions which are both dangerous ditches on the sides of the road:

Misconception #1: The rule-keepers are “better Christians.”

Misconception #2: Those who have personal convictions are “legalists.”

We must stay balanced on the road and not fall into either ditch. Here are some examples: I strongly prefer the King James Version of the Bible. It is the translation I study and the only one from which I teach in church. I believe it’s the one that everyone ought to use. That does not make me a legalist. I often wear ties, dress shirts, socks, and shoes to church. That does not make me a legalist. I have friends who use other translations of the Bible. I have friends who wear flip-flops to church. I have friends who wear leather motorcycle chaps to church. I have friends who don’t eat pork because it was forbidden to the Jews in the Old Testament. I have friends who enjoy few things better than killing a deer. I probably eat about a pound of bacon a week, and I wouldn’t shoot a deer unless it was attacking me. Which of us is the “weaker” Christian? I don’t know. But I do know we need to have Scriptural reasons for doing what we do, and, when we disagree on non-essentials of the Christian faith, we need to receive each other in Christian love.

What’s the reasoning for this “receiving in love?” Why is it a good thing to do?

1. God wants us to do it.
2. Ultimately, people are answerable to God, not to me.
3. No true Christian is an island unto himself.

For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.

Romans 14:7-8

I’m not your ultimate judge and you’re not my ultimate judge. In Christ, we are free from bondage, not enslaved to each other. We will give an account of our freedom one day – not to each other – but to Whom?

For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.

Romans 14:11

Notice that the verse does not say that every eye will wink, every hat will tip… No, it says the knees will bow and the tongues will confess.

If you are not in Christ Jesus, that verse should horrify you. On judgment day there will not be any mumbling about a lot of different ways to Heaven. No one will be saying, “You called Him Jesus, I called him Buddha, but it was all the same thing.” You will be face to face with the Christian God of the Bible and none other.

So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.

Romans 14:12

In a previous post, I addressed the truth that Christians are not free to sin. We are free from sin – from its power.

Let not then your good be evil spoken of: For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.

Romans 14:16-18

The manifestation of freedom is not breaking rules. The manifestation is in joy in the Holy Ghost. Some Christians spend every day reviewing every little mistake and wringing their hands over how mad God is at them. We have to remind them over and over how nothing can separate them from the love of God. Little kids fight over the “last word” or whose “turn” it is. How freeing it is when we don’t feel the need to enforce our freedom! When we can enjoy the true freedom of letting our brothers and our sisters have “our” turn, or the “last word” if they want it. True Christians still battle with the flesh. The flesh will always have a tendency to look at something questionable, and ask, “Why can’t I do that? What’s wrong with it?” But the Spirit asks, “What’s right about it?”

Marriage and War

January 21, 2011 at 11:22 am | Posted in Romans | 11 Comments
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Romans Chapter 7 addresses the Christian’s relationship to the Law of God. On the opposite end of the spectrum from those who thought that grace created a free license to sin, were those who thought that grace created an obligation to follow the letter of the Law in such a way that the spirit of the Law was negated. This is one area of the Bible that people will point to when they want to condemn “legalists.”

Here are some common misconceptions about legalism. In other words, here is a list of things that many people mistakenly use to label someone a legalist:

1. You dress up for church or encourage others to dress up for church.

2. You carry your Bible anywhere besides church.

3. You think there ought to be some restrictions for ministries in church.

4. You won’t do certain things so you can avoid temptation.

5. You recommend to people whom you love that they should or shouldn’t do certain things (such as use the King James Version of the Bible or come to church on Wednesday nights.)

None of these things make someone a legalist in and of themselves. Technically, a legalist is someone who thinks that keeping the Law of God is the way to earn God’s favor so that God owes them a debt for their self-righteousness. There is also a sense in which a legalist is someone who believes that keeping rules makes him more spiritual than other Christians.

In Romans Chapter 7 we find the illustration of a marriage to explain the believer’s relationship to the Law. A husband and wife are one flesh. They come under the “law” of marriage as long as they live. If the wife marries somebody else, she’s a bigamist, but also an adulteress. But if the husband dies, she is free to remarry. The law of marriage did not die, and the wife did not die, but it’s as if, when her husband dies, she is now dead to that law and that law is now dead to her. The only way to get back into a marriage relationship with her deceased husband would be a type of re-birth or resurrection. Christians are the bride of Christ, resurrected with Him in a new relationship.

Remember, a main function of the Law is to show up the unbeliever, to point out his sin, to make sin abound, to point the way to salvation.

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.

Romans 7:7

Coveting is usually considered among the least of sins to men, but, from God’s viewpoint, it is the sin that leads to other sins.

But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.

Romans 7:8

An “occasion” is a foothold, or an enemy camp inside walls which had been designed to keep an enemy out. Concupiscence is like lust, but carries a connotation of being more determined, more scheming, like a combination of coveting and lust. From it, we get the word “Cupid.” Sin, using the Law as an “occasion,” can kill – both physically and spiritually.

For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.

Romans 7:11

One of the dangers of misunderstanding the Law is that we begin to compare ourselves with those we perceive as holy. We have to remember that our faith is not in a pastor or anyone else – but in God. Our role model is Jesus, not another godly person.

The Law is holy and good.

Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.

Romans 7:12

But it is good because it shows the sinfulness of sin. This is true for the unbeliever, obviously. When we believe, neither sin, nor the Law, have dominion over us. So, how do we wind up in the same condition as Paul:

Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.

Romans 7:13

When sin uses that which is holy and good (the Law) to work death in me, then I’m in big trouble. But at least I’m not alone. We call the Apostle Paul “St. Paul,” but he was a also a wretched man.

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

Romans 7:24

There is a war going on between two natures. This is a description of our sin nature:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

Jeremiah 17:9

The carnal man – the “old” man – is too long accustomed to the old ways, and it has the advantage of maturity over the new man – the new nature. What’s going to give my new nature a fighting chance? The truth that my new nature is not really “my” nature. It should be the Holy Spirit living inside me. The Holy Spirit of God is not some floating, amorphous, fickle entity. My condition is not that one day He might “fall” on me, and the next day He might not. He’s a Person. He’s God. He’s going to win the war.

But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

Romans 7:23

The Law pointed out my sin and showed me the way to salvation, but it is not my motivation for living a holy life. I can force my kids to obey (sometimes…maybe), but do I really want them to be motivated by laws and rules, or do I want them to obey me because they love me?

In the battle of the sin nature versus the new nature, the nature that wins the war in the “wretched man” when he’s weary from battle is the nature that’s been fed the most and the nature that is yielded to the Spirit that gives it power.


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