The Narrowing

I wonder if I’ve been out of the loop for so long that I’m starting to loose my grasp of Christian spirituality. Perhaps it’s the nebulous tendency to make a words have several different meanings. One thing I have been concerned about is what people mean when they say they are following “the narrow path”.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” – Matthew 7:13-14

I’m fairly familiar with the old saying “the straight and narrow” as a way of saying that somebody is virtuous and moral and doing everything they ought to be sure they’re going to heaven. But the way that some people talk about this narrow path, it’s almost as if it’s isn’t enough to have been saved; but as if it’s asking much more …

Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”

He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’

“But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’

“Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’

“But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’

“There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.” – Luke 13:22-30

This narrow path is not an easy one. You have to give up a lot of people and places and things in your life – because the more narrow the path before you, the less you can take with you. So you get rid of all the unnecessary luxuries, the things that you give more time to than God. Then you get rid of all the gatherings that take your time away from God. You end a few friendship here and there in the name of narrowing down your relationships to only the most godly among them. You stop living like a normal person and start living differently.

But such an idea doesn’t have wings to fly in a number of cultures. I know that in some, the idea of spending eternity somewhere separate from the rest of your family is terrifying. Isn’t the joy of heaven just as much as being around all the people you like even if they’re not examples of godly perfection? I wonder if there’s such a thing as the narrow road asking too much. One of my favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone, “The Hunt” features a man who gets upset that what he thinks is heaven won’t let his dog in. If his beloved dog can’t go to heaven, then that’s the last place he’d want to be.

Or is it our human tendency to take things too far? I remember reading about the Ascetic movement in early Christianity. In lieu of persecution, countless Christians chose to leave everything – no exceptions – behind and live in the deserts of Kellia, Nitria, and Scetis to do absolutely nothing other than to think about God. Such a lifestyle was usually demanding one – and while yes some of our great thinkers were Ascetics, so were some the great heresies of our time.

Ultimately pursuing an increasingly narrow way of life stands opposed to the idea that it’s only when we widen our connection to others are we truly a part of the whole. Hiding from the world is a good idea from time to time, but it was never meant a permanent lifestyle. Even Jesus – who would have moments of alone time – would eventually find himself out and about and among the crowds. We were meant to belong and to connect. Narrowing down our lives shouldn’t be our main goal, as if narrowness itself were something we could truly achieve – it is missing the point. Sometimes some doors are so narrow, no human can enter them – and they don’t do anyone any good at all. Let’s try not to live that way – for the sake of narrowness as if it were the goal.

 

An Untrustworthy Compass

Most of us live by a moral compass that tells whether what were doing falls into the “right” or “wrong” category. We know the difference between a guilty conscience and a clear one. We like to punish guilt and praise innocence. That’s just how our society works.

Jesus’ society was that of an an honor/shame dynamic. For them, that which was honorable was right, that which was shameful was wrong. It often also took an outside party to confirm honor or shame as being of good esteem and well-known, or having a bad reputation and being infamous, depending on your perceived character.

Being in an honor/shame society is a tricky proposition for those who are outsiders. After all, whatever restores honor is right, whatever tarnishes honor is wrong. So some actions our society would declare wrong could be viewed as right in that culture. Somehow, our society’s morality was informed by the ideals found in Scripture and it diverged from honor/shame into guilt/innocence. Our moral compass changed.

And it’s still changing. I was reading a conversation where a Christian drew up a scenario where a home was being invaded and it’s owner had two options: kill or be killed. It was obvious the answer the Christian was looking for was that the home owner should kill the invaders. But I began to wonder: Is that the only option? What reasons motivate the invasion in the first place? Can the invaders be reasoned with? Would being disabled or wounded be a better option? I wondered why the thought of hypothetically assisting God render his verdict of eternal condemnation and torture in Hell by speeding criminals to the afterlife didn’t register even the slightest moral concern on their radar. This value happened to be the opposite of the early Christians who were so sure of their eternal salvation, they wouldn’t kill others, giving them as long of a chance as possible to repent and join them in heaven, where they could forgive them for murdering them as they ate together around the Lord’s table. Think about it – Saul persecuted Christians, was on the wrong side of Stephen’s martyrdom, believed and became Paul, and will spend eternity in Heaven with Stephen. Quite a turnaround!

Likewise, I’ve seen Christians get so riled over their side of their favorite cause, they loose sight of the individuals who would be affected by their ideas and the circumstances involved. Sometimes there aren’t easy one-size-fits-all solutions or answers to the toughest questions of all and it’s marginalizing to decide for other people what they get to choose from without any direct interaction with those who are most affected by the decisions being made. Unique individuals become part of some faceless crowd, “the victims” or “the sinners” or whatever label they want to use to describe them this week – and their whole story gets erased alongside with their identity, as well as any desire to be respectful because of the distance involved from the matter because it’s all being argued on some higher hypothetical plain that we forget affects everyday people who sometimes live a lot closer to us than we think.

We have this big cosmic battle of changing morality playing out in this very day and age. Things that were utterly immoral not that long ago have found a measure of acceptance as we question the original assumptions about what’s right and wrong. And we’ll continue to question and change our minds about morality as the years go on. It seems that we’re finally asking the right questions. One of my favorite moral teachers is Martin Luther King, Jr. who had quite a bit to say on the subject said it best during his sermon explaining his opposition to the Vietnam War:

“A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing, unconditional love for all men. This oft misunderstood and misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of mankind. And when I speak of love I’m not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of John: “Let us love one another, for God is love. And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us.” “

I so wish Christians would learn to erase the divisions and shift their loyalties and learn to see the world as an “all of us, together” kind of people. Sadly, I’ve read so many End Times stories where any attempt to unite the world, declare peace, put an end to famine and poverty and feed the hungry is viewed with the utmost suspicion that the Anti-Christ is somewhere active in the world and is just about to take it over. I’ve seen regular Christians talk about the Mark of the Beast as if it’s just a day away from being something real and tangible.

And I wonder what’s become of Christian morality, that broken compass that swings wildly as if it’s confused and lost it’s way. Each believer seems to read it differently and point to a different direction to head in as the true way to salvation; but I’m not so sure that any of us have it right.

The Answers

Catechesis. It’s one of many spiritual terms that aren’t exactly in my vocabulary and with which I lack experience. When I was growing up, any Evangelical worth their salt would have said something like: “Oh, that’s what Catholics do.” And went about their merry way thinking themselves superior to have moved beyond such traditions. But like all fashions, things that go out eventually come back again. (And as it is with all fashions, once they’re in, eventually they go back out again.)

The Gospel Coalition partnered with a church in order to create The New City Catechism. Admittedly, I’ll have to mention that I’m slightly biased against anything and everything associated with the Gospel Coalition; I suspect that in some way, shape, or form, their material reflects their pre-existing beliefs even though others might have completely valid differing opinions.

At any rate, it asks questions like:

What is our only hope in life and death?

And it tells you the answers for you:

That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.

Fifty-two questions. Fifty-two answers. A basic overview of the faith designed to be easily memorable call-and-response type teaching as an instruction for little children just learning the gospel and adults discovering it for the first time.

But what really bothers me is that I can’t come up with my own answers; that any answer other than the one they’ve chosen for me is – for lack of a better word – heresy.
For me, faith has been just as much about the journey as it is the destination; I like to continually learn things and to keep on searching. I don’t want my answers given to me on a silver platter and be told that’s that. It’s probably why I’m not keen on membership covenants – just being told to accept these things, sign here and you’re golden? I don’t think it’s supposed to be that easy.

That’s why I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom in the Fourth Principle of Unitarian Universalism: “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;” or more accurately,

“As responsible religious seekers, we recognize that we are privileged to be free, to have resources to pursue life beyond mere survival, to continually search for truth and meaning, to exist beyond bonds of dogma and oppression, and to wrestle freely with truth and meaning as they evolve.

“This privilege calls us not to be isolated and self-centered, believing that our single perspective trumps all others, but rather to be humble, to be open to the great mysteries of truth and meaning that life offers. And those mysteries may speak to us through our own intuition and experience—but also through tradition, community, conflict, nature, and relationships.

“As a faith tradition, Unitarian Universalism makes sacred the right and responsibility to engage in this free and responsible quest as an act of religious devotion. Institutionally, we have left open the questions of what truth and meaning are, acknowledging that mindful people will, in every age, discover new insights.”
Rev. Paige Getty, UU Congregation of Columbia, Maryland (read more from Paige in The Seven Principles in Word and Worship, ed. Ellen Brandenburg)”

I think God would be more pleased if when we’re asked to talk about our faith, our answers are organic and unique rather than formulaic and memorized. Besides – what about questions that the book doesn’t even think to ask? Fifty-two can’t possibly cover everything that somebody might want to know and it most certainly isn’t all there is to know about the faith; or rather, a faith as defined by a particular denomination in a specific branch of Christianity. It doesn’t give all the answers for all of Christianity’s other denominations whose teachings differ.

Seek and you shall find … I think I’ll just keep on looking to see what else is worth finding.

Rest in Pieces: The Obituary of a Church

Stormcard

Not long after we moved down south, we stumbled across a church that made us moderately happy – for a time. The sermons were decent and best of all, they had contemporary music. We had hoped that it was similar to the non-denominational church that had breathed life into us after a bad church experience up north.

It was a church in the middle of a vast field; but the church itself wasn’t particularly old. Inside, the sanctuary was large and open – it had rows of chairs that could be stacked against the wall to make room for fold-able tables for potlucks and other get-togethers. They also had all the typical offerings – men’s groups, women’s groups, youth groups. For a time, it was a nice church home and a good church family.

But behind the scenes, things were a little different. The men in charge were the pastor, the elder, and the deacon. The pastor liked making everyone happy, so more often than not he’d end up siding with the elder unless the deacon could persuade him otherwise. The deacon was the only one who’d offer an alternative opinion to the elder; but he was often away on business, so the elder could get just about anything he wanted done when the deacon wasn’t around to challenge his opinions.

the elder laid the groundwork, slowly he introduced his favorite teachings. Then when the pastor left, the elder carefully chose a replacement, a younger guy, freshly graduated from a seminary, whose theology more closely resembled his own to frame up the structure as they remodeled the spiritual life of the church. He chose well. The new pastor has been preaching on Biblical manhood and Biblical church membership via resources from groups like The Gospel Coalition and 9 Marks among others; something the old pastor never did.

All that change has come at a cost; the church I knew is no longer the same. The people are mostly the same, but the teaching is so different. I guess we left because we saw it coming; an environment with a “it’s my completely Biblical way or the highway” mentality. We knew that we would always be the project, the heretics in the bunch who just refuse to listen to God’s word as interpreted by God’s shepherds overseeing the stubborn and dumb sheep who just won’t listen. We knew that we didn’t really belong in that kind of a church.

Still, it’s sad to watch a church fall for another gospel, choosing legalism over the legacy that was handed down to them, becoming something else entirely. I know it’s probably advertised as being more biblically-minded, more true to the gospel message, more faithful and winsome to the sound biblical teaching of the gospel known as the doctrines of grace. It’s the same pain every Arminianian has felt when their southern baptist church choose to go whole hog into that new kind of Calvinism because the church that used to accept you and worship side-by-side with you now rejects everything you believe – and by extension – you and how your beliefs make you who you are. Now that the church is being spiritually remodeled; it’s out with the old and in with the new; the building itself will always look the same, but it’ll never feel like home again.

Remember Me

“Hey, great news! I’m cancer-free!” A recent acquaintance of mine happily beamed. “I just wanted to thank you for being one of the ones who were there for me, praying for me, making sure my needs were heard up there.”

I was truly happy for her, beating cancer is the greatest of all victories. It’s just … I felt it wise to not mention that I had forgotten to actually pray for her. Don’t get me wrong, I wish her well, and hope that the blight that is cancer gets eradicated; I wouldn’t wish it to happen to anyone. But I haven’t really been on speaking terms with God lately.

I tend to be the sort of person that just falls through the cracks. I’m not that big of a troublemaker, so I attract very little attention. I’m really healthy, so I don’t need medical or divine intervention. I guess you could describe me as one of the random people you see in the background while somebody famous is giving a speech – I’m a nobody and if I weren’t there, you wouldn’t notice I was gone because you wouldn’t know to miss me. At least, that’s been the experience I’ve had from attending church for such a very long time.

Maybe God just likes being a miracle worker like Scottie; it’s not enough to do the job properly and without fanfare – maybe he just likes to estimate it’ll take twice as long so that he’ll be done in half the time. Perhaps he really shines in the big things – beating cancer, saving lives during natural disasters, and making sure the best team wins the game. It can be easy to feel that God doesn’t like to show up in the little things because then he would be something we could control and have him do our bidding.

It can be hard to find the faith when someone gets to celebrate their victory over cancer knowing that someone out there gets to mourn the loss of someone who lost that battle even though they prayed just as much. But its enough for me to know that I should celebrate with those who celebrate and morn with those who mourn. God’s going to do as he pleases with or without my input, no matter how much or how little I pray.

Every now and then, even King David would write: “Remember me” (Psalm 25:7, 106:4). Samson prayed: “Remember me” before his final act of strength (Judges 16:28). Hannah desperately prayed: “Remember me” because she just wanted a son (1 Samuel 1:11). Nehemiah also prayed: “Remember me” for all that he had done (Nehemiah 5:19, 13:14,22,31). Job also prayed: “Remember me” in frustration for all that he had been put through (Job 14:13). Jeremiah prayed: “Remember me” while asking God for vengeance (Jeremiah 15:15).

This prayer doesn’t show up much in the New Testament; the most notable example is the thief on the cross next to Jesus: “Remember me” (Luke 23:42). Perhaps that’s because the veil, the separation between us and God was supposed to be torn. With the Holy Spirit inside us, we aren’t supposed to feel so alone; but sometimes we just do and we can’t help it. Perhaps that old prayer still has some mileage in it: “Remember me, O God …”

In Good Company

(It’s hard to believe that it’s been seven years since I had the honor of visiting The Church of the Company of Jesus in Quito, Ecuador. When I arrived, I was given a pamphlet about the church which I had never read – until today. The fact that it’s in Spanish isn’t a problem given that my Spanish has finally gotten usable and for the most part I understand what it’s saying. For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, I’ve included the Google Translate version towards the end – with some minor corrections as there were some flaws.)

Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús

Quito, Ecuador

La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús

Quito – Ecuador

La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, cumbre del barroco latinoamericano, construido por vario jesuitas entre 1605 y 1765, fue inspirada en dos emblemáticos templos jesuitas romanos: Il Gesú y San Ignacio.
El templo tiene planta de cruz latina, nave central, norte y sur, transepto, crucero, presbiterio, antesacristía, sacristía y capilla. La nave central cubiera por una bóveda de 26 m de altura, realiza con ladrillo y piedra pómez y finalmente decorada con yesería, policromía y pan de oro en estilo mudéjar, es un importante aporte a la arquitectura colonial quiteña del Hermano jesuita italiano Marcos Guerra, quen colaboró también con la construcción de las cúpulas ubicadas in las naves laterales y en la cúpula mayor del crucero.
El templo de la Compañía fue levantado con las manos de innumerables artistas de la Escuela Quiteña, quenes perpetuaron su habilidad y entrega para tallar y dorar con fina lámina de oro de 23 kilates cada centímetro de la iglesia.
Durante 160 años se edificó y decoró la iglesia con magníficas obras de arte; muestra de ello son los 16 Javier Goríbar, artista quiteño del siglo XVIII. Al pincel de Hernando de la Cruz se le atribuyen los dos grandes lienzos originales del Infierno y del Juicio FInal, obras Alejandro Salas en el siglo XIX hoy se ubican en los extremos norte y sur de la iglesia. Se admiran en las enjustas sobre los arcos de medio punto de la nave central las escenas bíblias de Sansón y Dalila, y de José, hijo de Jacob, obras anónimas del siglo SVIII. En las naves laterales se destacan 6 imponentes retablos atribidos a la afamada escuela de arte quiteño del siglo XVIII: el de San José, El Calvario, y San Luis Gonzaga en la nave norte y La Virgen de Loreto, La Inmaculada y San Estanislao de Kostka en la nave sur. En los transeptos norte y sur sobresalen los retablos gemelos de San Francisco Javier y San Ignacio respectivamente, atribuidos también a Marcos Guerra, y en el presbiterio destaca el dorado del retablo mayer realizado por el tran imaginero colonial quiteño Bernardo de Legarda.
La fachada de la iglesia es una sobresaliente obra de estilo barroco, construida toda en piedra gris de origen volcánico. Tiene cada espacio cubierto con el más mínimo detalle finalmente labrado; así se admiran flores, ángeles, arcángeles, símbolos eclesiásticos y varias imágenes representativas entre las que se descubren: …
Dos hechos religiosos importantes están ligados a la Iglesia de la Compañía: uno de estos fue el fugaz paso de Mariana de Jesús, la primera santa ecuatoriana que se consagró en este templo y lo escogió para morar para siempre; Mariana murió en 1645 (siglo XVII) y es en el altar mayor donde ahora se veneran sus restos. El milagro de la imagen de la Virgen Dolorosa del Colegio, es también un hecho de fe profunda sucedido en el comedor del antiguo Colegio San Gabriel en el interior del edificio jesuita, el 20 de abril de 1906.
La torre de la iglesia, en época colonial reconocida como la más alta de la ciudad, sufrió dos embates telúricos: en 1859 el primero, luego de lo cual fe reconstruida, y en 1868 , año desde el que permanece tal como lo conecemos.
Durante los últimos diecinueve años, 1987-2005, la iglesia ha vivido un importante proceso de restauración integral, el mismo que ha sido reconocido por el profesionalismo con el que instituciones nacionales así como centenares de técnicos, arquitectos, restauradores, y obreros realizaron, con abnegado trabajo y mística personal para alcanzar la total restaución del templo.
La Residencia San Ignacio y la Fundación Iglesia de la Compañía encargadas de la conservación y mantenimiento del templo le invitan a admirar la iglesia y de esta forma apoyar en la promoción del compromiso que como ecuatorianos tenemos de preservar este legado cultural.


The Church of the Company of Jesus
Quito, Ecuador
The Church of the Company of Jesus, serves as a peak example of the Latin American baroque church, was built by several Jesuits between 1605 and 1765, and was inspired by two emblematic Roman Jesuit temples: Il Gesu and San Ignacio.
The temple has a Latin cross plant, central nave, north and south, transept, transept, presbytery, antechrist, sacristy and chapel. The central nave was covered by a vault of 26 m high, made with brick and pumice stone and finally decorated with plasterwork, polychrome and gold leaf in Mudejar style, is an important contribution to the colonial architecture of the Italian Jesuit Brother Marcos Guerra, Who also collaborated with the construction of the domes located in the lateral naves and in the greater dome of the transept.
The Temple of the Company was erected with the hands of countless artists of the Quito School, who perpetuated their ability and delivery to carve and gild with a fine 23-karat gold foil on every inch of the church.
For 160 years the church was built and decorated with magnificent works of art; 16 Javier Goríbar, an eighteenth-century artist from Quito. Hernando de la Cruz’s brush is attributed the two great original canvases of Hell and Final Judgment, the works of Alejandro Salas in the nineteenth century today are located at the north and south ends of the church. The bible scenes of Samson and Delilah, and Joseph, son of Jacob, as well as anonymous works of the SVIII century, are admired in the area over the arches of the central nave of the central nave. In the side aisles there are 6 imposing altarpieces attributed to the famous eighteenth-century Quito school of art: San José, El Calvario, and San Luis Gonzaga in the north nave and La Virgen de Loreto, La Inmaculada and San Estanislao de Kostka in the southern nave. In the northern and southern transepts, the twin altarpieces of San Francisco Javier and San Ignacio, respectively, also attributed to Marcos Guerra, and in the presbytery stands out the gold of the greater altarpiece made by the visionary colonial of Quito, Bernardo de Legarda.
The facade of the church is an outstanding work of Baroque style, all built in gray stone of volcanic origin. It has each space covered with the finest detail exquisitely worked; Flowers, angels, archangels, ecclesiastical symbols and several representative images among which are discovered: …
Two important religious events are linked to the Church of the Company: one of these was the fleeting passage of Mariana de Jesus, the first Ecuadorian saint to be consecrated in this temple and chose to live forever; Mariana died in 1645 (seventeenth century) and it is on the main altar where her remains are now venerated. The miracle of the image of the Sorrowful Virgin of the College is also a fact of deep faith happened in the dining room of the old San Gabriel College inside the Jesuit building, on April 20, 1906.
The tower of the church, in colonial times was recognized as the highest of the city, suffered two earthquakes: in 1859 the first, after which was rebuilt faithfully, and in  the year 1868, from which it remains as we now know it.
During the last nineteen years, 1987-2005, the church has undergone an important process of integral restoration, which has been recognized by the professionalism with which national institutions as well as hundreds of technicians, architects, restorers and selfless workers and church ministers to achieve the total restoration of the temple.
The San Ignacio Residence and the Church Foundation of the Company in charge of the conservation and maintenance of the temple invite you to admire the church and in this way support in the promotion of the commitment that we as Ecuadorians have to preserve this cultural legacy.

Love is Obedience

Sometimes it’s so strange to listen to my co-workers freely talk about drinking alcoholic beverages. Half of our conversations seem to be which drinks I’ve never drunk or the fact that I’ve never been drunk. At most, I’ve been able to have a sip or two of various kids of drinks – but I could never bring myself to drink more than that. Even when an opportunity presented itself to go out drinking; I passed it up. I always do.

I remember listening to a young believer talk about the Bible’s prohibition against the evils of drinking; she could quote any negative verse on the subject. But she wasn’t quite sure what to make of the verses that were neutral or mentioned that people should drink under specific circumstances; it was almost as if she didn’t even know that they were there. Indeed; in the era of the Bible, not drinking was not an option – the water wasn’t always the safest thing to drink and that’s why Paul advised Timothy drink a little wine to help him feel better. Drinking was okay and even necessary; drinking to excess and drunkenness was to be avoided.

Even though that I know that much of the rules against alcohol is a result of a human tendency to make rules out of everything; I still find it a hard one to break. For many, drinking is just a good time – letting loose and hanging out with trusted friends. But I don’t know what sort of drunk I’d be and truthfully, I don’t have people I’d trust when I’m in a drunken state and lack self-control or any sense of inhibition. So for me, I’m afraid that I’d say or do something that would ruin a perfectly decent relationship or at the very least be awkward.

Jesus had this reputation of being a drunken party-goer yet he has this entire denomination of followers that’s anything but. That same young believer who was against drinking talked about how she couldn’t stand parties as they were too loud and the music was so unchristian. She was so uncomfortable – as if she knew that if God caught her there, he might send her to Hell for being somewhere sin was so prevalent. Being raised in that mindset is extremely hard to overcome.

These rules may not be in God’s word, but they are made from God’s word. Disobeying God’s word is a sure-fire ticket to an eternity in an extremely hot environment. Your salvation is at stake. What did Pastor Sproul say? “Sometimes, after we have studied the background of a text thoroughly, we are still not sure whether it is giving us a principle or a custom. But it is better to treat a custom as a principle than a principle as a custom. If we think a custom is a principle, we are only guilty of being overtly scrupulous. However, in disregarding what is really a principle because we say it is a custom, we disobey God. When faced with unclarity, treat the biblical teaching as if it is a principle. “ Erring on the side of caution in an attempt to be better safe than sorry seems to have made rules that go beyond what is written; adding to the word extra commandments.

It’s something we have done of old, it’s something we still do even now, and will continue to do as the future stretches before us – until the very end of the last second of all the time that there will ever be. A concept like modesty is a prime example: we have varying and conflicting rules about what is modest and what isn’t. Now the Bible doesn’t say in so many words that a particular item is immodest; but so long as something causes a weaker brother to stumble by inciting lust – that breaks the rule and is added to the list of forbidden items and by now we have a pretty big list.

Those are just those “thou shalt not” rules – don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew, don’t curse, don’t dance, don’t be immodest; but there are also “thou shalt” rules as well; ways of living that are according to a biblically-informed way of life. It’s that erring on the side of caution thing I mentioned; because if it’s bad to do something the Bible says not to do; it’s even worse not doing something the Bible says ought to be done. But I can’t help but wonder, is it really the Bible that says this is how I ought to live; or some interpretation or teaching based on the word of a person who is fearful and overly scrupulous who has made commandments where none are to be found and who is trying to bind my conscious to something that was never meant to be? Does God only want me to pass the test of being obedient to unwritten rules?

Everyone talks about how if God really wanted obedience, he could have made Adam and Eve as robots and hard-wired them to obey him. But that’s not what he was after. He gave them free will – a choice. Does he want us to choose to obey? Is having free will a means to an end? Why bother giving people free will if the test of Christianity is to give it up and just obey? And yet – how is it today that obedience and submission seem to be the end-all and be-all of Christianity? Are we misreading God’s Word?

It seems to be a darned if you don’t and a darned if you do situation; somebody reads the Bible and makes a teaching that’s accepted enough to become a custom or at least a principle. At which point it must be obeyed because it’s from God’s Word. It gets added to as people flesh it out in the day-to-day living. If you don’t, then you’re being disobedient and that proves you don’t believe in God and aren’t saved. If you do, then at worst you might be overly scrupulous, but you’re certain to go to heaven – and you must obey everything without exception or question because it’s in the Bible somehow or other. Because that’s how you prove you love God and are saved.

Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. – Jesus, John 14:23-24