August 06, 2007
by: jovial_cynic
This may come as a surprise to many of my readers who are not Christians, but believers spend a lot of time debating with one another about issues. We go through the evolution/creation battle, the separation of church and state, and everything else, because... for the most part, we don't all agree. It's unfortunate that the media only presents the position of the conservative evangelicals, but I suppose reports of believers who agree with modern science and agree that government and religion should be separate is hardly newsworthy. I mean, who wants to hear about Christianity that's in alignment with mainstream views, right?

There's a Christian forum on which I've spent a great deal of time posting messages (often causing quite a stir), and after seeing post after post of violent opposition, I had a realization. If we Christians can be accused of any particular great sin, it's our own failure to love one another. And I don't just mean that the right-wing Christians have failed to love me in my opposition to their views; it goes both ways. My own unjustified anger boils up into hatred, and I too become guilty of violating the second of the two greatest commandments -- that is, to love your neighbor. And for that, I repent.

I posted a very long message on the forum, and hopefully it'll open the doors to more reasonable discussion. If Christians cannot love one another in our disagreements, we certainly cannot begin to love the unbelieving world.

Here's what I posted on the forum:

It's disheartening to me that Christians disagree so violently on issues, such that the church is fractured beyond recognition. Brothers opposing brothers, walking away from arguments with anger and resentment... it's no wonder the world pays the church no mind. I hear Christians say that listening to rock music and drinking is what makes us look and act just like the sinful world... but I believe it is the lack of love for one another that makes us lose our separate identity, and not anything else. "It is by your love that they shall know you," says Christ.

... and from a bird's eye view, nothing reveals the sinful nature of man more than the inability for believers to simply love one another. And I'm guilty, too - there are times when I, in frustration, throw up my arms and state to my computer screen that I will be vindicated on that Last Day when the Lord returns. Sinful pride. Lord forgive me.

I want to believe that much of the disagreement is based on misunderstanding, and that if we just sat and reasoned together, we could walk away as brothers and sisters and simply agree to disagree, not in a haughty "I still think you're wrong" kind of way, but in the way two men might look at three stars in the sky, one seeing a triangle by connecting the points, and the other seeing a circle by drawing an arc between them. Neither are wrong, but they disagree; they cannot help what they see. By understanding, each can show the other how they came to their own conclusion.

This leads me to the conversation about sin, and what it means. It seems that a lot of the issues here on the board revolve around whether particular behaviors are "sinful" or not, which leads to how we should deal with people engaged in those behaviors. If it is sin, repentance is necessary, but if not -- what then? And how can people who disagree on the definition of sin even begin to have a conversation about the behaviors?

As I see it, there are two main schools of thought on the nature of sin. They're mutually exclusive, so if you fall into one camp, you are bound to disagree with folks in the other camp... but hopefully we'll all be able to see the circles and triangles.

Camp #1. Sin is disobedience to the written Law of God.

If the Torah (first five books of the bible) is the written law of God, and every old and new testament reference to "the Law" refers back that written text, one can make the argument that sin is a violation of that law. If the law says "don't chew gum," chewing gum is a sin and repentance is necessary. On the other hand, if the law outlines five prohibited acts regarding sex (no animals, no people of the same sex, no close relatives, etc), one can argue that there is no sixth act prohibited. This makes for a very clear and accurate moral code, such that one can always refer to a specific law in the Torah that guides behavior. If you say "that is sin," the answer "show me which law I have violated" becomes an appropriate answer, because the law should indicate this clearly and accurately.

Based on this definition, drinking, smoking marijuana in the Netherlands (where it's legal), having two wives in Nigeria (where it's legal), and many such activities aren't "sinful." They might be foolish, and foolishness is often met with consequences... but to call them sinful is incorrect because it doesn't violate any written law.

Camp #2: Sin is any deviation from God's perfect will.

This suggests that God has a perfect will for us, and that by exposing ourselves to anything that might draw us away from God is a sinful act. Watching an "R" rated movie that has a sex scene or some profanities would be considered sinful because it isn't what we would call "holy" or in 100% accordance to God's perfect will. But by that measure, drinking diet soda (introduces toxins into our body), or driving a car (releases pollutants into God's creation), is sinful, and we're forced to conclude that none of us can be in God's perfect will because we live in a fallen world. Strictly speaking, everything except prayer, reading scripture, worship, or other "church" activities becomes sinful. The actions listed in the camp #1 description are viewed as certainly sinful, because foolishness is clearly a deviation from God's perfect will.


These are opposing and mutually exclusive viewpoints... and people tend to fall into one or the other. And from each viewpoint, the rest of what Christians are to do about "sin" branch off, leading to great disagreements.

I don't mean for this to be an opportunity to attack either viewpoint, but rather to point out that both viewpoints exist... and that if you can comprehend both viewpoints, you're more likely to step back and say, "oh, I see why you believe that," and then let it go, instead of spiraling into a debate over particular issues. The definition of sin is the root of these debates. Of course, that makes it challenging, because if you believe that xyz behavior is sinful, you think it's wrong and must stop, and any understanding of why somebody else thinks it's *not* sinful probably won't change your position.

In any event, hopefully this helps to open the eyes of people who are debating these issues. Somehow, in the midst of these debates, we cannot forget to LOVE one another. It's so heart breaking to watch believers withhold grace, ripping each other apart on here instead of trying to reason together.

God's grace be on all of you.

I'm kind of excited to see the response.
np category: theology


The Conservative Manifesto said:
"It's unfortunate that the media only presents the position of the conservative evangelicals..."

Hahaha. Oh that's good. I needed that.

Thanks for the chuckle.


August 06, 2007

jovial_cynic said:
I think you took that out of context. I mean that it's unfortunate that the media doesn't give the bigger picture; it only gives one side, and the whole of the church is portrayed. I don't mean that to say that the conservative evangelicals are the cause of anything unfortunate.

... at least, I'm not saying that in this post. ;)

August 06, 2007

jovial_cynic said:
oh wait... did you think I was saying that the media is biased towards conservative evangelicals? Because that's not at all what I'm saying.

Here's a re-wording of the phrase I meant: When covering stories about Christians, the conservative evangelicals are the ones that make the headlines; the rest of Christianity is often ignored on account of not being considered as newsworthy.

Does that make more sense?

August 06, 2007

The Conservative Manifesto said:

Thanks for the clarification -- I was indeed confused (and amused in my confusion).

Thanks again.

August 06, 2007

Ken Silva said:
Here let me clear up the sin thing for you. It's really pretty simple. Sin is hamartia, which is to "miss the mark."

The thinking person's going to ask, "what mark is it we miss?" The perfect righteousness of Christ Jesus, God Himself in human flesh.

Once you understand that and hear Jesus inform us of the greatest commandment, then man's total depravity becomes clear. And total depravity does not mean there is no good in man.

It means man cannot do anything on his own to stop missing the mark. And then the Lord informs us of this greatest commandment: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all mind and with all your strength."

Note here that this is not a "good idea," it's not a "suggestion," it's not a "good goal," it is a command. As in "you must do this." And frankly, it is impossible for a human being to do on his own.

So once you define sin properly you should see why one must be born again, why God's grace is so important and why living a life of complete obedience and surrender to God will eventually reveal those of us who have truly been regenerated from those who haven't.

August 06, 2007

terri said:
why God's grace is so important and why living a life of complete obedience and surrender to God will eventually reveal those of us who have truly been regenerated from those who haven't.

So tell...what happens when someone fails? Are they cut off from God's grace and salvation? No?....well then how often are we allowed to fail before we run out of grace?

Do we get one mistake....maybe two? What is the margin of error? I mean after all....are you completely obedient? What's that you say? You are?

Wow...that's really cool.

August 06, 2007

terri said:'s time like these when I lose the control button on my sarcas-o-meter.
August 06, 2007

jovial_cynic said:
I believe that "missing the mark" could just as easily be applied to the clearly defined Law.
August 06, 2007

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