Sunday, November 01, 2009

In all things grace

"In essentials, unity; in non-essentials charity; in all things grace." This commonly quoted phrase has been attributed to Augustine, but regardless of who first stated it, its truth rings true even today. Throughout the christian community and sadly within churches, schisms frequently occur. Sometimes they occur when the essentials were not agreed upon, and in these cases, rightfully so. However, far too often I see christians, brothers and sisters in the Lord torn apart over the second part: non-essentials. Too often, Christians get so hung up in the smaller, less important issues, that they allow the bigger issues to be sacrificed on that altar. So what are these essentials and non-essentials? Whwere is the line drawn? And how does all this relate to Christian Music?

Scripture is the foundation of the Christian faith. It is God's inspired Word, and our instruction manual for how to live our Christian lives. "All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, for instruction in righteousness. That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly equipped for all good works." II Tim. 3:16-17. Therefore, withthis kept in mind, what does scripture have to say about essentials vs. non-essentials. Romans 14 holds the key to this question. Paul wrote this chapter with Christians from the early church in mind. The Christians were having arguments over eating certian meats, the Sabbath and drinking wine. All three of these, according to Paul, were non-essentials: "One man esteems one day above another, another esteems every day the sam. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regards the day, regards it unto the Lord." So while these Christians were all caught up in who was right and who was wrong, Paul said: both and. It doesn't matter because as long as you regard the day towards the Lord, you're in the right.

Paul was addressing two particular groups of people in this chapter: strong and weak Christians. In his definition, the strong Christians were those who were enjoying their new found Christian liberty and were eating all kinds of meats because God had now allowed for it. However the strong, mature Christians had this against them: they had contempt towards their weaker brothers. Instead of looking down on them, the proper response would have been to love and encourage their brothers, but not make an issue of it. The weak Christians were those who were born again, but still holding some of the Jewish traditions, such as kosher foods, etc. They were seen as more legalistic and therefore were at fault for judging those who were living out Christian liberty. Both were equally in the wrong! According to Rom. 14:10- "Why do you judge your brother? (addressed to the weak Christians) or why do you hold in contempt your brother? (Addressing the strong Christians). For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." And the important thing here is to realize that the judgment seat of Christ is not where sins are judged, but Christian's lives. Therefore this isn't an argument of sin, but of the non-essentials. The import thing is to follow your conscience.

Now, the conscience is a tricky topic, because one's consceince is not infallible! The Holy Spirit is infallible. However, a person's conscience is to be grown and strengthened and have its foundation in the Word of God. This is why reading and studying scripture is so vital to a Christian's life! But regardles, Merrill Unger writes: "Paul lays down the law that a man should follow his conscience even though it be weak; otherwise moral personality would be destroyed."

Therefore, strong Christians: do not hold your brothers and sisters in contempt. Encourage them to follow their God-given Christian liberties. Weak Christians, do not judge your brothers and sisters according to a standard that YOU have created and hold to be right. Matthew 7:1 states "Judge not that you be not judged." Jesus Christ is the ultimate judge, He holds the gavel, He writes the laws. For a Christian to judge another is a very tricky position to be in. One must be faultless in every possible area regarding the issue to even consider judging a fellow Christian.

The question now remains, what are essentials and non-essentials. While readers may agree with everything I have written so far, this is where the schisms come in. Pne believer holds that going to Church on a Sunday is an essential. Another Christian holds that drinking a cup of wine is a sin. These are just a couple examples, and while there are many, many more, I don't want to get hung up on the specifics, but instead look at the principle. Certian issues are clearly stated in the Bible as essentially right and wrong. Sexual immorality, our conversations, honesty, and the list goes on. The Bible mentions these over and over again, no exception to the rule. These are the essentials. But, in the non-essentials, in the secondary issues, Christians are not to judge, they must not condemn. Instead of forcing a new legalism on others, or sneering at those who do, how about charity? Every Christain should live a life above reproach, living virtuously and righteously, a life dedicated to God. More of this in a later post. Let it suffice right now to study the scripture. Before you hold someone to your standards, and I emphasize YOUR, make sure it is clearly articulated in scripture. And then, be certain you are living blamelessly yourself.

What on earth does this have to do with Christian music? Several questions I have been asked lately regarding different musicians and styles of worship led to this line of thinking. Is one style of worship better than another or one style right and others wrong. Are certain bands that are labeled Christian music wrong to listen to because of their lyrics, vocal styles or guitar riffs? Unfortunately, the Bible does not explicitly speak on many of these questions and issues. The Bible does not say, "if you scream your lyrics, it is evil" or "if you sing a song about your ex-girlfriend, it is wrong." The Bible does have a lot to say in regards to praising God with our voices, and that every word we speak should be God honoring. But, apart from general guidelines, the rest is left up to our discernment.

This ties in with Romans 14 because there are essentially two lines of thinking: the legalist and the liberalist. The legalist is the one who holds music toa higher standard, whereas the liberalist enjoys Christain liberties and listens to music that the legalist would hold as wrong. The problem is that this is a secondary principle, a non-essential. If the music contains no lyrics taht are dishonoring to God and do not contradict scriptural principles and do not promote sin, it's not a sin according to scripture. Which bands to listen to and which not, cannot be determined as right or wrong unless their music dishonors God. Which is better, which is best, that is another topic. But beware of labeling right and wrong when not even scripture does.

Where does this leave us? Probably where we started, with many unanswered questions, blurry lines and confused looks. But hopefully, it leaves us past the arguing, the accusing and the condescending. Remember: in essentials unity, in non-essentials charity; in all things grace.


Anonymous Maddie said...

Amazing! agree 100% check your email for more thoughts!

11/01/2009 8:06 PM  

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