The Gospel and Conscience in the Local ChurchFriday, July 21, 2006
Almost every Christian has personal convictions on things the Bible doesn't address explicitly. One of the greatest disruptions in the local church is the inability or refusal to understand and properly handle such issues of conscience and personal conviction. I'm not referring to issues of conscience and conviction which every Christian should hold. Those are things that are explicit in the Word of God, things that God clearly instructs and teaches in the Scriptures, things on which there is little if any disagreement. Those would be, of course, the gospel, and the other orthodox doctrines which encircle it.
But on other matters where God has not been so explicit with us in the Bible, Christians differ from one another....frequently. For example, if we were to consider Bob Christian we would find something that is intriguing to us. He and his family do not believe in observing Halloween, so they refrain from the festivities in which their fellow believers and church members may participate. But Bob Christian also enjoys secular rock music. He enjoys collecting CD's and listening to songs of old.
Now consider Susie Believer. She is a fellow believer and church member looking from the outside in on Bob's life. She see's nothing wrong with participating in sanctified festivities surrounding Halloween so she and her kids go trick-or-treating that evening. But she does think that secular rock music is not very godly.
Enter Joey Church Member. He's looking from the outside on both Susie and Bob's lives and sees contradiction. What's the big deal with Halloween and rock music? Nothing. But David Disciple says since rock music and halloween are not in the Bible we shouldn't be involved in either one. Oh my word!!! This is no joke. Churches are filled with people just like this. And you are one of them. So am I.
The difficulty in all this is obvious. If each of us uses the same standard we use in one conviction to critique the other, we end up inconsistent. The fear I have is that we also end up hypocritical. When we invest more emotional energy into thinking through and defending one personal conviction than we do another, we may be hypocritical, especially if we purposefully neglect or reject that other conviction.
The hypocrisy continues when we begin to judge and criticize other Christians by our personal convictions of conscience. It's hypocritical because (1) we hold others to a standard that God doesn't hold forth, and (2) we hold others to a standard that is also based on a system of thought we don't hold in every other area of our lives.
Here is another difficulty with this constant disruption in the local church. We establish and maintain philosophical structures of thought in our minds and hearts regarding what we believe is right and wrong. There's nothing wrong with this, except when the issues regard things the Bible never speaks to. And the inability to understand these issues and know how to handle them is precisely the cause, more often than not, of the many disruptions that occur in faithful, loving, diligent, growing Christians in any average local church, especially among those churches which emphasize the reading, studying, meditating, and utilizing of the Word of God in all of faith and life.
In three posts to follow I plan to address three solutions to this inherent problem. These solutions will not guarantee a permanent fix. But if followed carefully, they will overshadow almost completely those issues that are not focused on the primary importance of the local church, which is proclaiming and living the gospel of Christ.
How should we handle these issues when they crop up?
1. Recognize that God holds us responsible to follow what is explicitly in His Word and not what we think is implicit.
2. Realize your "fences" aren't mandatory for everyone else.
3. Remember to be patient with others and encourage them to be patient with you.