Sunday, October 10, 2004

Having previously looked at the teaching of Paul concerning an activity that was questionable to certain people, we know not to exercise our liberty when it would offend another Christian or cause an unbeliever to bring reproach on the church.
What does it mean to offend? One person put it this way:
"This freedom I possess is a heavy responsibility. Because I am free to listen to what I want, should I? How about if I offend someone? I thought about this for a long time. I know I must obey God and be sensitive to the weaknesses of others. But how could I guard against offending everyone? What if I were eating foods, listening to music, watching baseball, chewing gum - how would I know if I might unwittingly be offending some other Christian?"
(from Dear Mr. Gothard, by Al Menconi)
This highlights the problem with our concept of "offend". What Paul spoke of in I Cor 8 as offense was not merely doing something someone didn't like, or approve of. As evidenced by I Cor 8:7&11, Paul is speaking of causing people to lose their faith. Many of the liberties that more conservative fundamentalists try to restrict by appealing to Paul's teaching on not giving offense are not anything close to that which would shake the roots of someone's faith to point where they are destroyed as a Christian.
On the contrary those who are most indoctrinated with many of "separatist" teachings (music, dress, etc.) are very securely locked into their positions to start with. They will consider themselves as having a higher level of discernment and therefore more mature. To be asked to be treated as weak Christians is disingenuous at best and a smokescreen at worst.
Those who hold "separatist" ways weakly (through influence or pressure) can give them up without damage to their faith. This is my personal observation.
The above-mentioned author continues:
"I began to understand that if I were constantly wondering if I were offending someone with my freedom, it wouldn't be Christ's freedom at all. It would be a twisted form of bondage to the opinions of others. I would be like the Galatians who turned away from freedom (grace) to a set of rules so as not to offend anyone."
He is referring to Gal 2 where Peter(Cephas) and Barnabas lined up with the Judaizers to avoid offense. Paul was not happy about this at all, but stood up to them in the face! The Judaizers not only taught works for salvation but works for sanctification (Gal 3:3).
The teachers of external separation bear more of a relation to the Judaizers of Gal 2 rather than the weak brethren of I Cor 8. Whereas the weak brethren of I Cor 8 had no wider agenda, the Judaizers were confrontational in their attacks. Whereas the weak brethren did not seek to make others feel as they did, the Judaizers continually sought to get Christians to follow their rules.
In churches that are "separatist"(external) we are often replaying the classic tale of "The Emperor's New Clothes". Joe Six-pack turns off his rock music 5 min from church. Jane Doe switches into dresses before every service. Few people care about the "rules" but everyone thinks everyone else does. As we continue to perpetuate this situation on the back of "don't offend", our children note the hypocrisy and take off.
The few people who really believe in all these "standards" would not be destroyed, they would find another church that believes like them, because they couldn't stand a church that didn't.

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