Archive for November 26th, 2007

In last week’s sermon at Mars Hill Bible Church, Steve Carter used and discussed a diagram which I believe falls at the center of many of the issues we tend to discuss, and where we tend to disagree with many ODM’s. He also uses this as a framework to discuss how we get along with one another and how to deal with the tension which often arises at family gatherings this time of year.

The Heirarchy of Values

To the left is a diagram which represents a hierarchy of values, where:

A = Absolutes (cross-cultural truths)

C = Convictions (cultural truths and values systems)

P = Preferences (what we like)

The Absolutes are those things which are true in all cultures, and are defined as such within scripture – often written in the Torah and reaffirmed in the gospels and/or the epistles. Such things would include: forbidding murder, theft, adultery, etc.

The Convictions are values which are based upon a person’s convictions, apart from absolutes, or on cultural norms. People who hold these convictions, unless they are conscious of their origin, often mistake these for being absolutes. Paul addresses these types of values in his discussions on meat and idols in I Corinthians 8 and Romans 14:

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.

Finally, there are Preferences – things that we like and personally approve of, which are typically based on tradition or simply personal likes and dislikes.

The Conflict

Where problem arise is when we fail to discern one from another. A few weeks ago, a writer asked how it is we might identify false prophets, and one of the most basic tests would be teaching that things which are Absolutes are simply Preferences – moving the lines upward. Conversely, the way to identify legalists and modern-day pharisees is to observe those who seek to make things which are Convictions or Preferences into Absolutes, and to then expect these to be enforced.

It is this second group – those who cannot discern that their convictions are not absolutes, or that their preferences are not Convictions or Absolutes – are the ones Paul refers to as the “weaker” brothers – they do not understand their freedom in Christ, and they seek to control others with that “weakness”.

In a perfect world, there would only be Absolutes and Preferences, but our own short-sightedness and the history of the church in our society have falsely created these convictions, which we now have to live with – striving always to discern what convictions we have and properly diagnosing them as either A or P – all the while, living in a way which does not fall for the conviction without flaunting this in a way that dishonors the body of Christ. It requires love and sacrifice to bring others to recognize the unbiblical boundaries they have placed upon the body without harming their walk with God.

With convictions, it is incumbent on the stronger brothers – those who properly discern the differences between A, C, and P in a situation – to not lead their “weaker” brothers into sin by flaunting their freedom in Christ. As Paul notes, “if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean”, and so for him to go against that conviction would be going into sin. So, abstaining from the particular conviction while in the presence of the weaker brother is required, out of love for them.
With preferences, though, there is no such stricture, and liberty on the part of the ‘weaker’ brother is warranted, out of love.

It’s a Wired, Wired World

Where this becomes much more difficult in practice is in a world that is no longer constrained by the immediate physical confines of where one lives. Without a modicum of love, the stronger brother is at the whim of the ‘weakest’ brother in the world, and constantly open to being falsely accused of “false prophet-hood” by weaker brothers who are convicted that their convictions and preferences be enforced on all brothers as “truth”.

Conversely, the stronger brother can end up flaunting his or her freedom and unlovingly ridicule the weaker brother for their faulty pride in non-absolute “absolutes”. They can also become a bad witness for Christ when they flaunt their freedom in front of a world which wrongly believes that certain convictions define part of what it is to be a Christian.

So where does this bring us in our conversations? Just a few examples:

“Dirty” words? Conviction.

Music Style? Preference.

Abstaining from Adultery? Absolute.

Yoga? Conviction.

Abstaining from homosexual practice? Absolute.

Location of worship (movie theater, cathedral, pub, box-building)? Preference.

Alcohol? Conviction.

Faith-based righteousness? Absolute.

Abstinence from “secular” media? Conviction.

Sharing Sermons? Preference.

Systematic Theology? Conviction.

Abstinence from celebrating Halloween? Conviction.

Women in leadership positions in the church? Conviction, I believe…*

Diagnosing where practice falls – Absolute, Conviction or Preference – is just the first step, but it seems to be the most important one, as our action should spring from this. We already regognize where the ODM’s we come into most frequent contact with tend to completely lack discernment – with ones like CR?N, AM and TP being unable to discern convictions from absolutes, and others, like SoL, being completely unable to discern their own preferences from absolutes.

Thus, our challenge in some of these matters is a) to discern the truth; b) to correct distortions of the truth which lead others down the paths to false convictions and permanent “weaker brother” status; c) to address our own behavior where we might be flaunting freedoms; d) to defend those falsely accused of heresy for violation of of a weaker brother’s conviction, while allowing for constructive criticism if they are flaunting a freedom; and especially e) to do these things in love…



*This one is actually a good discussion, as it requires discernment to determine whether Paul’s writing was specifically to a church regarding cultural practice (convictions) or a brand new absolute. I believe that there are a number of scriptural clues which point to this being a ‘conviction’, but I also believe that there is enough cultural/traditional enforcement that this freedom be handled carefully, in a manner that does not dishonor those who disagree.

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Watchdawggie at workDuring our discussion of Rob Bell’s The Gods Aren’t Angry tour (which I will discuss, most likely, in much more detail after attending it on Friday here in Indianapolis), I made the following comment:

God isn’t “angry” at anyone – even those who have not accepted grace through Jesus’ sacrifice.

Just as in the Exodus, God has provided a lamb, whose blood we can either accept, “placing it on the lentils of our doorway”, or that we can neglect.

There is absolutely nothing we can do to “appease” His anger, because it has already been appeased in Jesus’ blood.

What remains is not anger that must be appeased – it is simply judgment which may be avoided by acceptance of grace… Bell’s point in Mars Hill sermons is consistently that there is nothing we can do to “earn” God’s love (i.e. appease his anger) – He accepts us where we are when we call on Him, and anything we do from there on out is out of love and gratitude – not appeasement…

Somehow, “Pastor” (using the term very loosely) Ken Silva decided this, in itself, warranted an article of its own. In the standard Watchdoggie/ODM fashion, though, he decided to only quote the first part of the comment, neglecting to quote the italicized portion, in an attempt to mis characterize my comment as a “disciple of Rob Bell” (whatever…).

For those new to the ODM (Online Discernment “Ministry”) scene, this is a perfectly encapsulated example of why you can’t trust ODM’s to tell you the truth – their blind hatred of anything/anyone they disagree with leads them to twist words into something less than (or completely different than) what they were trying to say.

It reminds me of a comment I made to my son the other day after watching an incredibly powerful interview of Bono by Bill Hybels. While relating a story of his journey in reacting to the AIDS crisis in Africa, Bono described how, years ago, only 6% of the church thought that AIDS was something that should be responded to. In reaction to this, Bono commented, “it is no wonder I hated the church and what it was doing”, followed by a change in heart as he was surprised by the response of evangelical churches to this epidemic in the years since.

My comment to my son was this – the sad thing about that interview is that if one of these wacko ODM sites decided to write about that interview, the only quote you would see is “It is no wonder I hated the church”, and that would be the sum total of his words…

It is sad to see so much ‘false witness’ borne by those who claim to be “watchmen”, when their only function seems to be as rabid watchdogs…

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This post from puts on display two of the watchdoggies’ favorite things: false dichotomy and anonymous posting. In this case it takes the form of five sets of two solas that are placed against each other. For example:

Sola Effutio (Only Dialogue) vs. Sola Scriptura (Only Scripure)

Of course the really stunning part here is that the majority of scripture is dialogue. Dialogue between God and humanity, between prophets and Israel, between Jesus and, well, lots of people, between Paul and the churches he founded, and between the other writers of the epistles and the people they are writing to. But, even if you want to say that dialog is ok because it actually is scripture then we can start going to the various creeds and theologies through history, all of which is the result of… that’s right dialog. None of the creeds, or theologies created (including Calvin’s institutes) were created by a single voice. In fact, its fair to say that the creeds and theological works some of which are revered by the watchdoggies are the pieces of dialog about scripture that have occurred through history. Placing scripture and dialog against each other in a false dichotomy isn’t just a logical fallacy, its dishonest. The watchdoggies don’t choose scripture over dialog, they just want to only have a dialog with people who already agree with them.

Sola Tolero (Only Tolerance) vs. Sola Gratia (Only Grace)

Speaking as a gentile Christian, thank God that Jesus didn’t accept this false dichotomy. If anything grace and tolerance are complementary ideas, which makes sense since I haven’t seen either grace or tolerance come from watchdoggies.

Sola Voco in Dubium (Only Calling into Question) vs. Sola Fide (Only Faith)

Now this is one where I paused for a second to make sure that I didn’t accidentally end up on some sort of parody site because this is a bunch of people who take pride in tracing their roots back to the Reformation which by its very nature was calling into question previously accepted and settled theology. Of course today the watchdoggies look a lot like the Catholic church in the way they’ve integrated their tradition with scripture and call them both authoritative, so its only natural that they’d get a bit upset with anyone calling into question what they believe.

Solas Humanitas (Only Culture) vs. Solus Christus (Only Christ)

For a group that thinks organs and pews are just peachy and hymns are the way to go to worship you’d think they’d be a bit more careful in forcing a choice between culture and Christ.

Solas Deo Amor (Only God’s Love) vs. Soli Deo Gloria (Only God’s Glory)

Usually when two of God’s attributes are set against each other its an atheist doing the pontificating. I really hope I don’t have to make a case that Christians can and should choose both.

The entire post I linked to is, yet again, a gigantic smear against those the watchdoggies disagree with, its just a shame the author didn’t have the courage to put his own name on it. For some reason I have a hard time picturing Luther skulking in the night to a church door and quietly tapping the nail that held in the 95 theses. Then again, I’ve always had a hard time seeing any parallels between Luther and the watchdoggies.

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