Monday, June 20, 2011


Listening to sermons at work at around 15 times the rate I normally hear them has given me a good sense of some of the recurring themes at Hope. (Also just how repetitive Pastor Steve's jokes are, and how amazing it is that they're still funny) One of the biggest things I've noticed is just how much they dislike "religion", or as he sometimes refers to it, "churchianity". (Which I've already blogged about) One of Steve's sayings is "If you hate organized religion, you'll love Hope Community Church!" During a bike ride today I thought about how both dangerous extremes for Christians, legalism (or "religion", as some call it now) and license, have important deviations in their view of morality (that is, a system of "oughts" and "ought-nots" that govern your actions). Legalism effectively equates morality with God, and turns Christianity into a pattern of good behavior--confusing an effect of faith with the whole thing. License takes the forgiveness of Christ and runs away with it, leaving behind morality altogether and basically saying "Jesus took away my sins, now I can do whatever I want."

Then I started wondering about how peoples' natural consciences could agree on the morality of some things (that murder is wrong) but not others (like homosexuality).

Note: 12-day writing break here...

Hm, okay, let's try and salvage this train wreck. Now that I've thought about it more, I'm starting to wonder if the idea of a "conscience" is really just culturally trained and imprinted values, which vary widely across time and space. Of course the values acquired by a southern Conservative Christian and a Seattle hipster will be different. And I think it was in a C.S. Lewis book that I read that a newly converted Anglo-Saxon, hailing from a culture that valued duty and honor, would have easily accepted the Biblical teachings on sin and justice and struggled with the concept of grace, while in today's culture it's just the opposite. Behind cultural values is our innate drive for self-preservation, which when universalized leads to most of the values that nearly everyone shares today. I'm not trying to "explain away" or undermine our morals, just offer a theory on where many of them some from.

Christian morality, of course, comes not from culture or within us, but from the Word of God and the example of Christ. But I don't think it's as clear-cut and rigid as fundamentalists like to paint it. Yes, the Bible has plenty of teaching on what a renewed life in Christ should look like (not how we gain this life--effects, not causes)--the commandments of Jesus and fruits of the Spirit are good places to start. But they hardly provide a comprehensive picture of how Christians should act at all times; this would make us little more than automata, and why would God give us free will if we had as much freedom as a single-threaded computer program? (I notice pastors never use computer analogies in sermons) Paul commands us to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling"--clearly he doesn't mean that we have some part in earning our actual salvation; he makes that clear in Ephesians 2. Rather I think he means that it's our responsibility to, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to manifest in ourselves the new life God purchased for us. How this new life shines through will look different for everyone in the particulars--it's up to us and our relationship with God, not clear-cut rules. I've been listening through Hope Community Church's series on 1 Corinthians, which contained a whole section on our freedom and how we should seek to use or even sacrifice it for the glory of God. Ultimately, it's up to us.

And, of course, trying to get non-Christians to uphold Christian morals, even universal ones in the Bible, is not only futile, but counterproductive. It's basically forcing them to be legalists. We are transformed from the inside out, not the outside in, and trying to go it backwards can interfere with God's process of sanctification. If you have a non-Christian friend who does something, you know is wrong, they don't need you to tell them they're sinning, or to cut it out, or read such and such book. They need Jesus. You can't transform anyone. He can.

This train of thought has also helped me in thinking about some political issues. I used to stick with the popular saying, "You can't legislate morality." But this is false, as every law upholds some kind of morality, imposes some kind of "ought-ness" on the people living under it. My stance on turning Biblical commands into legislation should be clear enough from the previous paragraph. I wish more Christian politicians would realize this and help associate the name of Christ instead with integrity, compassion, and leadership.

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