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A Biblical Approach to Liberties Versus that of Evangelicals and Many Fundamentalists

March 25, 2009 84 comments

The internet is new.  Just look at Al Gore.  Social networking sites (SNS)  are even newer.  In this era of modernity with the explosion of the information age, there is more to come.  C. H. Spurgeon faced new kinds of entertainment at the end of the nineteenth century.  He had words of warning based on scriptural principles for issues not found in the Bible.  These require the development of spiritual discernment.  God didn’t give church leadership a mandate to bury its head in the sand.  We should give guidance in new areas of potential danger to the church.

A common opposition to biblical application to cultural issues is argument by moral equivalence.  I’ve heard a couple different types even this month.  One goes like this:  “You can get in trouble with any kind of communication device.  You can sin on the phone or on the internet too.  SNS are no different.  You could get hit crossing the street.  Are you going to stop doing that too?”  How did you know?  I’m putting my finishing touches on my no street-crossing post, the father of all safety-patrol.  I’m kidding, but I do believe there is a biblical answer to this.   It’s 1 Corinthians 10:12:  “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”  We have admonition against presumptuousness about sin.  Certain places are of greater temptation than others.  Some have worse associations.

Another moral equivalent has been the “SNS isn’t that much different than writing on a blog and you do that” argument.   I could waste time here.  I could violate scripture.  I could cause damage to a church.  I could get puffed up with pride over readership.  I say “yes” to all of those.  I could do any four of those “couldas.”   So I should look at blogging with scrutiny as well.  I do.   I’m not going to write about it, but I do.  However, as I have, I see them as very different activities.  My blog posting doesn’t parallel with the activities of facebook.

The responses I’ve read and heard in this SNS discussion remind me of the major differences in the approach to liberties.  What I am often reading from evangelicals and even fundamentalists are several unscriptural and indefensible perspectives of liberties.  They’ll deny it, but I’ll also explain how it is that they do take on these three at least.

1.  We have liberty to sin.

They say, “Do not say that.”   I say, “You don’t say it, but you do it.”  How?  Some commands in Scripture require a secondary premise.  Let me provide a syllogism.

Major or First Premise:  The woman who wears the male article is an abomination to God.

Minor or Second Premise:  Pants are the male article.

Conclusion:  The woman who wears pants is an abomination to God.

I’ve found that Christians today won’t even agree on the major premise, even though Deuteronomy 22:5 says:  “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.”  “That which pertaineth unto a man” is the male article.  I often ask men, what is the male article.   Most don’t want to answer it.  They know it’s pants, so instead of replying to it, they say:  “the cape,” “the derby,” etc.  They take a position of mockery akin to those who scorn the coming of Christ in 2 Peter 3.  Without pants, there is no male garment any longer, and people know it.  And they don’t care.  It isn’t an abomination to them, only to God, so it doesn’t matter.

I recognize that I’ve chosen a more controversial example, but this isn’t a liberty issue.   We don’t have liberty just because there’s a controversy.  We don’t have liberty just because men have muddled up this issue.  This is how Christians have practiced for centuries.  Since the onslaught of feminism and unisex, men have changed the practice in favor of one more acceptable to pagan society.  We have liberty in non-moral issues, and things that are an abomination to God are moral.  It’s a sin to violate God’s instruction.  There are many other examples.

2.  We have the right to cause someone to stumble, to be a bad testimony, to offend another person’s conscience, to conform to the world, or to profane worship.

They say, “I do not say that.”  I say, “You do too.”  How?  Evangelicals and now many fundamentalists turn 1 Corinthians 6-10 and Romans 14 on their head.   Those passages don’t emphasize demanding rights.  They emphasize limiting liberties for the sake of weaker brothers, of unsaved people, and for the greater glory of God.  And yet the evangelicals and fundamentalists now see this as a basis for many unscriptural activities.

3.  I don’t practice personally unpopular biblical application.

They say, “I do not say that.”  I say, “You do too.”  How?  Evangelicals and many fundamentalists say something like what Nathan Busenitz wrote over at Pulpit Fellowship:

[T]he Bible tells us “not to exceed what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6). We cannot add to the Scripture without subtracting from its effectiveness in our lives. If we elevate personal preference and man-made tradition to the level of God’s Word (Mark 7:6-15), we risk entangling people in the bondage of legalism and diverting them from the true issues of sanctification (Romans 14:17).

It sounds good.  They say we don’t want to exceed what is written.  And yet Phil Johnson recently wrote what he believed determined what foul language was:

Culture determines this. It’s quite true that the standard may be different from culture to culture and generation to generation. But both history and literature prove that it’s not nearly as fluid or as nebulous as postmodern language-theorists suggest.

You read it.  If you want to know what cuss words are or what smutty speech is, culture determines this.  Really?  I agree with Phil wholeheartedly.  To make application, you have to do that with truth not found in the Bible.  Certain words, based upon the culture, we can conclude, “Yes, that’s foul language.”

We can also determine by the culture what is worldly dress, what is pagan music, and all sorts of other important application of Scripture.  We do it the same way.  Here’s what happens.  Busenitz and Johnson (and me) don’t like the profanity in the pulpit.  That’s wrong.  So there, it’s OK to “exceed what is written” in Scripture.  They throw that verse around at what they want to throw it at.  But when it comes to these other cultural issues, they are blind in their application.  What you will see them do is make statements like this monumental and mocking strawman that Johnson  threw out for areas that he does not prefer to make application:

Yeah, but no one here (except maybe Kent Brandenburg) has ever seriously suggested that 1950’s style is the standard to pursue, either. What I have consistently argued for is clarity, biblical language (as opposed to some subculture’s hip patois), sound doctrine, and boldness in our proclamation of the truth-claims of Scripture that aren’t currently fashionable.

It’s weird how that keeps getting morphed into 1950s-style haircuts and poodle skirts in the thinking of some of the very same people who are so keen to keep up with postmodern fashions. I’ve said nothing whatsoever about dress codes, hair styles, or ’50s fashions in corporate worship or music. Let’s not pretend this post is about that.

What do you think of those arguments?  See what evangelicals and fundamentalists do?  They pick and choose the kind of applications they want to make and then veto the others.  In this case, he talks about 1950’s style (who would make that argument?) or “poodle skirts” as a way to frame what is what Zephaniah 1:8 calls “strange apparel.”  Evangelicals and fundamentalists commonly protect their popularity by making these areas of application matters of “liberty,” and the ones that they don’t like, they say they can be determined by the culture.  You can see it yourself.

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