Monday, 7 July 7777

Welcome to the Musing Monk's blog

I have written extensively about various issues, particularly in the homosexuality debate.

The best way to find these is to use the "tag cloud" on the right to choose your keywords.

All are welcome here, even those who disagree.  My only request is that comments remain courteous and respectful of others.

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God bless


Saturday, 31 May 2014

Coping with disagreement

I was visiting a blog from a more conservative Christian recently.  People who know the writer personally, who are friends of mine, tell me he is a lovely, kind and nice person.  Yes, he cares passionately about his faith as many conservatives do, but he also cares about people.

Yet mysteriously, on his blog, I have only encountered hostility, rudeness and illogical hatred of the views I share.  And this is usually in response to comments I make about loving one another, accepting difference and tolerating different views.  His prefered criticism of me seems to be that I spread poison.  When challenged on this, he says he will always fight for the truth.

So what happened to the kind, loving and nice person my friends describe?

I don't want this blog to be about a person, but rather about a strange occurence that can happen when people interact in different ways.

When Jesus gathered his followers about him, they began to learn more about each other.  They spent time together and talked, listened and shared life experiences.  From this position of relationship, Jesus built the most influential organisation the world has known - the Christian Church.

The people around him asked questions, even challenged Jesus and his ways.  But from the love they shared, they grew together in faith.  The people who exhibited the most hostility (and ultimately killed him, but thankfully that was not the end!) were the religious people of the day who didn't know him personally (with the notable exception of Judas).  These people heard about him and his influence and occasionally dropped in the crowds to hear him speak and they hated the message he shared because it challenged their own positions.  But crucially, they did not have deep relationship with him.

And there's the rub.  Disagreements between friends can actually be very healthy and can lead to growth on both sides.  Disagreements between strangers rarely do.  When we encounter people we don't know personally, we see them less as individual people, and more as positions.  This depersonalisation of the person behind the position gives us psychological permission to attack the position and view, and consequently the person.

What I noticed in my interactions with many more conservative Christians is that it puts them in such an uncomfortable position to hear me describe myself as an evangelical Christian who disagrees with certain views (e.g. homosexuality).  Were we gathered as friends around a campfire eating fish caught that day or in the home of Mary and Martha, we might have had some very interesting conversations.  Who knows, perhaps my views might have been modified after hearing different views.  Yet this does not happen.  Instead, I am forcibly relabelled as some kind of liberal, heretic or poisoner.  At times I've even had my own relationship with Jesus questioned.  After all, how can I be a Christian if I disagree with them?

To be fair, I've noticed this effect with others too (including liberals, atheists and agnostics).  It causes more pain when it comes from fellow evangelicals, but the primary cause is the same.

Jesus once said "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples".  I have heard attempts to get round this powerful teaching by people saying true love speaks truth.  I have even heard the argument that if someone is walking off a cliff, the loving thing is to shout at him, rather than politely smile!  Yet we know that Jesus was not meaning this.  He was asking us to model the relationships he taught his disciples.  A self sacrificing, loving relationship.  Yes, there was space for disagreement and difference and sometimes some people were right and some were wrong, but never at the expense of that relationship between brother and sister.

What is interesting is that when conservatives view disagreement they like to compare themselves with the old testament prophets or they use the words of Paul about heretics.  Yet we cannot truly understand these other human examples without the lens of Christ.

Jesus had his most critical words reserved for the religious establishment who were making a relationship with God rule-bound and difficult.  James in the council of Jerusalem summarised it wonderfully - "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God".

So, as Paul writes to the Church, let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

God bless you.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

A study on the book of Romans (part 4)

Following on from our last study, we can appreciate that at this stage in the public reading of Paul's letter, the tensions between the Jewish Christian and the gentile Christian would lead to the question being asked which is, what value is there in the Jewish way? Having highlighted the hypocrisy of the Jewish Christians who judged gentiles for their sinful ways (remember that the Jews had long lists of prohibitions and regulations that God seemed to be allowing gentiles to ignore once they found faith), Paul now affirms the Jewish Christian, but crucially, not at the expense of any non-Jew.

Romans 3: 1-31

"3 What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? 2 Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God.

3 What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? 4 Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar. As it is written:

‘So that you may be proved right when you speak
and prevail when you judge.’

5 But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) 6 Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? 7 Someone might argue, ‘If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?’ 8 Why not say – as some slanderously claim that we say – ‘Let us do evil that good may result’? Their condemnation is just!

[A rather unusual argument, but one which Paul clearly felt the need to refute, was that our sin and imperfection gave greater glory to God's holiness. Part of this might have emerged from Jewish criticism of Paul's ministry to the gentiles in a way that stepped down from some of the legalistic requirements believed to increase man's holiness before God. Paul was affirming the place of gentiles in God's kingdom through the love of Christ rather than by works.]

9 What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. 10 As it is written:

‘There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.’

13 ‘Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practise deceit.’
‘The poison of vipers is on their lips.’
14 ‘Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.’
15 ‘Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 ruin and misery mark their ways,
17 and the way of peace they do not know.’
18 ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

[And here is Paul's core message: Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. The law does not increase sin nor does it protect us from it. Instead, it serves to make us aware of sin, not so that we can strive to be sin free in our own strength, but that we might realise the need for the mercy and grace of Christ]

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished 26 – he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

[Paul is here affirming both Jew and gentile - affirming that they both are sinners and that they all can be made righteous in God's sight through faith in Jesus. There is no greater unifying message and we must learn from this example in our current debates in the Church to resist the temptation of judging one group of believers as less righteous because of their beliefs in certain areas. Discussion, debate and even disagreement are of course acceptable if conducted in a loving way. However, Paul clearly condems the judgmental attitudes we can so easily have against one another.]

27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the ‘law’ that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law."

[Paul is a very skilled debater and is very knowledgeable about the Law. We can sense the tightrope he constantly walks in his teachings. When stating that righteousness does not come from observing the Law, his opponents from the more conservative wing would jump and state he is trying to do away with the Law (as many conservatives still do in our Churches today when a more progressive view is expressed). However, rather than take this position, Paul instead affirms the importance of the Law and goes on to explore this further. However, he is clear that we must free ourselves from the false teaching that we can be made righteous by our actions or that our attempts at holy living can in any way make us superior to any brother and sister in Christ - and we certainly should never judge another Christian's salvation by their works or different views on contentious issues.]