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Jerry Bridges Judges Judgmentalism

January 12, 2011 54 comments

Jerry Bridges published Trusting God in 1991, Transforming Grace in 1993, and The Pursuit of Holiness in 1996.  I read all three over ten years ago.  They were about as strong as you’ll read from evangelicals.  As is typical of those who disobey the biblical doctrine of separation, Bridges falls short in application.  If you trust God, you will separate; if God’s grace has transformed you, you will separate; and if you are pursuing holiness, then you will separate.  The constituency of Jerry Bridges and Navigators, the parachurch organization he served for many years, would enjoy the squishy softness of his books.  People not pursuing holiness would enjoy The Pursuit of Holiness.  They could read the book and still not be sure what unholiness might be.

Bridges exposes himself in a recent book, published in 2007, entitled, Respectable Sins:  Confronting the Sins We Tolerate.  Bridges always has much solid material in his writing.  However, what some might call grace and love really is weakness.  I can’t tolerate Bridges’ mushiness anymore.  It’s not always what he says, but what he doesn’t.   A respectable sin we shouldn’t tolerate is mistaking love for syrupy sentimentality.  That will stop a pursuit of holiness in its tracks.

I’m especially referring to chapter 17 in Bridges’ book on what he calls the sin of “judgmentalism.”  Many evangelicals love the chapter.  However, try to find judgmentalism in the Bible—that’s a bridge to nowhere, pun intended.  Since judgmentalism isn’t in the Bible, is Bridges guilty of making his own opinion into the commandment of God?

Bridges judges judgmentalism, but how can he do that and not be judgmental?In order to understand sins that we shouldn’t tolerate, well, we’ve got to judge sin.   There’s an assumption that we can judge and we should.  Not judging would be a sin that we shouldn’t tolerate.

Bridges essentially says that judgmentalism is when we don’t show toleration for disputed practices.  What I’ve noticed, however, is that almost everything is disputed now.  At one time we were much more sure about what the truth was and its application.  And so if it is disputed, which is now about everything, then you’ve got to just agree to disagree and learn to get along, and then not doing that, with the view of Bridges, is judgmentalism.  You’ll have to do a lot of getting along.  Getting along has become the most important doctrine.

Bridges says that “the sin of judgmentalism is one of the most subtle of our ‘respectable’ sins because it is often practiced under the guise of being zealous for what is right.”   Hearing that sentence, you just know that evangelicals are going to love it.  Then he gives examples of disputed practices where the sin of judgmentalism is practiced, and comments on each:  dress, music, and alcohol.  If his book can stop evangelicals and now fundamentalists from being judged in those areas, he might have a bestseller on his hands.

Now as you are reading this post at home, and are judging my tone, I ask “What verse tells you that my tone is wrong?”  Aren’t you adding to Scripture if you can’t give me actual text from the Bible that says my take on Bridges’ chapter violates God’s will?  Or is it just a feeling that you have?  How do you know that feeling isn’t the Holy Spirit convicting you?  Are you being judgmental?  I think you know, my reader, that you are busy judging all the time.  And those to the left of me are judging my tone right now.   Tone isn’t even one of Bridges’ “respectable sins.”  I’m judging that non-separatist evangelicals liked the chapter on judgmentalism (my spell check says it’s not a word), not for themselves, but for “fundamentalists” who are judgmental.   For them at best it explains why they should be free in the areas of dress, music, and alcohol.

DRESS

Bridges writes a shallow, ultra-superficial section on dress, that if it were almost any other subject, would be dismissed out of hand, but evangelicals so crave this sort of freedom, they suck it up like a strawberry shake.   He says (pp. 141-142):

I grew up in the mid-twentieth century, when people dressed up to go to church.  Men wore jackets and ties (usually suits and ties) and women wore dresses.  Sometime in the 1970s, men began to show up at church wearing casual pants and open-collar shirts.  Many women began to wear pants. For several years, I was judgmental toward them.  Didn’t they have any reverence for God? Would they dress so casually if they were going to an audience with the president? That sounded pretty convincing to me.

In the next paragraph he observes, “There is nothing in the Bible that tells us what we ought to wear to church. . . . Reverence for God, I finally concluded, is not a matter of dress; it’s a matter of the heart.”  What is lacking in this level of analysis is good judgment.  Why did men start showing up in casual pants and open-collar shirts?  Why did women begin to wear pants?  And who were these people?  Why did the culture start to change?  What was this new emphasis on creature comfort and convenience?  Do these changes have no meaning?  How much, if at all, should the church be conforming to the spirit of the age?

Bridges’ dealing with all of the subjects in his chapter miss an important aspect of obedience to God’s Word, that is, the application of the principles of Scripture.  The Apostle Paul taught the financial support of the pastor in 1 Timothy 5:18 from Deuteronomy 25:4, a verse which teaches the fair treatment of a domestic animal (“Thou shalt not muzzle the ox which treadeth out the corn.”).

Most of Scripture requires application and to make the right application certain truths must exist in the real world.  To abstain from corrupt communication, you’ve got to judge what bad words are with no help in the Bible.  Regarding dress, Paul ordered the believing women of Corinth to wear their head coverings (1 Cor 11:3-16) without any previous verse of Scripture to authorize that specific practice.  If women didn’t wear the head coverings, couldn’t they just warn fellow church members not to participate in the respectable sin of judgmentalism?

MUSIC

Then Bridges moves on to music:

I also grew up in the era of the grand old hymns sung to the accompaniment of piano and organ. It was majestic. To me, it was reverent worship of God. Today, in many churches, the grand old hymns have been replaced by contemporary music, and the piano and organ with guitars and drums. Again, I was judgmental. How could people worship God with those instruments? But the New Testament churches had neither pianos nor organs, yet they managed to worship God in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (see Colossians 3:16). I still have a preference for church music sung as we did when I was younger, but it’s just that—a preference—not a Bible-based conviction. It’s true that a lot of contemporary music is shallow and human-centered. But there is much that is as God-honoring and worshipful as our traditional hymns. So let’s avoid being judgmental.

How did Bridges know if the old hymns were grand or majestic?  Why are churches replacing them with contemporary music?  What’s the difference between the music with piano organ and that with guitars and drums?  How does he know that the New Testament churches didn’t have instruments?  What verse says that they didn’t use instruments?  On what basis does he judge the contemporary music to be God-honoring and worshipful?  He is judging that, so what is the basis?  He says, “let’s avoid being judgmental,” and yet he’s obviously making his own judgment and criticizing.  He’s judging that people have no basis for judgment, so that if they do judge, they are sinning.  He’s calling people’s judgment about the contemporary music “sin.”  I don’t know if I like his tone.  My pursuit of holiness says that I need to judge worship, whether it is acceptable to God, since it is being offered to Him.

Is Jerry Bridges saying that only the words have any meaning in worship, and the music is meaningless?  Is music meaningless?  Can we use grunge music?  What about rap?  Is heavy metal fine?  Is there any line that Jerry Bridges draws?  If so, he’s judging too.  I guess some people would think that such pablum as what Bridges writes is significant enough to conclude everyone who judges some worship music to be wrong to be sinning in doing so.  We’ve got the thing that we should be the most picky about in the world, our worship of God, and Bridges wants to tamp down that pickyness so that people won’t feel so criticized.  God gets disrespected and blasphemed so that men can have fun and feel good—party time at church at God’s expense.

ALCOHOL

Bridges completes his triumvirate with alcohol, the last of three pets close to most evangelical hearts.  He writes:

We have convictions that we elevate to biblical truth on a number of issues. I wrote somewhere that I had finally come to the conclusion that in most instances, the Bible teaches temperance not abstinence. I had to work through that issue also because again I found myself being judgmental when I would see Christians having a glass of wine at a restaurant.

Bridges’ second sentence in that quote I judge to be ridiculous.  I wish he had an editor who was a little more judgmental, but I guess that’s what happens when you throw this kind of judgment under the beer truck.  The Bible can’t teach both temperance and abstinence.  He says that in most instances it teaches temperance.  If it teaches abstinence in a lesser number of instances, those instances would be contradicting temperance.   His judgmentalism, he testifies, caused him to “work through that issue.”   Some people have a hard time working through even simple problems when they are under the influence of one drink of alcohol.  If the Bible teaches abstinence even a few times, shouldn’t we judge drinking a glass of wine as disobedience to Scripture?  Shouldn’t we applaud that judgment?  Now what he’s going to do about it is another thing, but it’s a fine thing to make a judgment.

I understand that there are professing Christians that think that drinking alcohol is acceptable to God.  There are many others that believe that alcohol is prohibited by God in the Bible.  The ones who understand it correctly, that is, that God forbids alcoholic beverages, really should continue to judge people who are drinking it, despite what Jerry Bridges seems to be trying to do with heavy applause from a large evangelical audience, that with this chapter and the present condition of evangelicalism, will be growing even larger.

Conclusion

Here’s what has happened.  Rationalism in the 19th century placed truth under human reasoning.  In the 20th century, every person’s opinion stands as his own authority.  The only permissible dogma is tolerance.  That philosophy now is accepted by many if not most churches.  Bridges’ chapter against judgmentalism represents the influence of that philosophy.  If you follow what Jerry Bridges writes here, you shouldn’t judge if your church were to have a rock concert, serve alcohol at it, and everybody came in their shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops.  They can call it “worship” ta boot.  Evangelicalism already does this and some of the younger fundamentalists are totally kewl with it.

To be effective, Scripture must be applied.  To apply God’s Word, Christians must judge.  They make decisions based on biblical principles.  The most prominent present attack on the Bible in evangelicalism and fundamentalism is against its application.   The attack says, “Don’t judge.”  It means, “You can’t know how the Bible applies.”  God’s Word then loses its authority in many practices of churches and their members.

My recommendation to you is don’t listen to Bridges.  Keep applying the Bible and biblical principles to dress, music, and alcohol.  Keep judging in those areas.

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The Hypocrisy of Contemporary “Conservative” Evangelicalism pt. 2: Dovetailing with ‘Reacquiring a Christian Counterculture, pt. 2’

Not too long ago I had written the first part of an essay entitled “Reacquiring a Christian Counterculture.”  It was only part one, but we moved on to another topic here.  I post-scripted it with:  “I will be continuing this next week, Lord-willing.  I want to talk about the way that the scriptural understanding of holiness was forsaken for pragmatic purposes.  I will get into the point of reclaiming a Christian culture.”  That short paragraph fit nicely with what I was writing at the end of the first of this multi-part post.

I began breaking down Romans 15:15-21 as a choice passage to expose the hypocrisy of conservative evangelicalism.  I believe that fundamentalists are also hypocritical as it relates to conservative evangelicals.  Someone has mentioned that in the comment section here.  How so?  They complain about segments of fundamentalism that are revivalistic and man-centered, and yet they seem to turn a blind eye toward the conservative evangelicals who participate in revivalism and man-centeredness.  In this regard, I like the comment Art Dunham wrote:

I believe the time has come for us to be independent MEN of God and state the truth whatever the consequence to any affiliation, friendship, or Bible College.

Bravo Art.  That’s what we need.  We don’t need to move from one big, bad example to another big, bad example.  It reminds me of the historic Baptist martyr, Balthasar Hubmaier:  “Truth is immortal.”

Back to Romans 15

There are many truths to flesh out of this text in Romans 15, but the first we called to your attention was “instrumentality.”  I drew your attention especially to the end of v. 17, the teaching here being that Christ is glorified or worshiped only “in those things which pertain to God.”  Paul was ministering as an Old Testament priest, who presented to God his sanctified sacrifices, and he wanted these Gentile converts to be acceptable offerings to the Lord.  For this to occur, all of His service must be found within the confines of those things which pertain to God.  Things which pertain to men won’t fulfill the goal of glorifying Christ.  They are not the instrumentality that God will bless with that result.

I think we should be able to understand how that the things that we use to accomplish the noble goals of glorifying Christ and offering up acceptable sacrifices to God must be those things which pertain to God.  It is very much akin to the use of carnal weaponry to attain spiritual ends in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.   Paul didn’t war after the flesh.  In the end, that warring wouldn’t even work.  As I have read from many different sources through the years, “You will keep them with what you get them.”  Carnal weapons can’t succeed in spiritual warfare.

Here’s what happens today.  Hard packed, stony, and thorny hearts today don’t want the incorruptible, life-giving seed.  The idea is that if we could package that seed in something that those hearts do want or love (zoom to 2:25 on the link), then we could make the seed work.  The seed needs a little help.  It needs music.  It needs entertainment.  It needs stage lights or a night club environment.  It needs to look like a theater.  It needs a trap set.  Maybe even some tattoos.  It needs syncopation and driving drum beats.  It needs the enticement of some hormonally charged boy-girl interaction.  It needs the license of personal expression in the hip-hop cap, soul patch, or oversized shirt.  It needs stylin’.  It needs “dude.”  It needs the emotionalism of some rhythm induced hand-waving.  It needs the hip, ghetto, graffiti font on the decaying, urban brick background.  It needs youtube ads that mimic the twittering hand-held production values of the Blair Witch Project (this defines authenticity).  It needs sensuality and things conforming to the world and its fashion (play numbers one and two, you’ll get enough of a sample).  These are all things that hard, stony, and thorny ground might be able to relate to or with.  Today we might call this missiological or contextualization, you know, just to make it sound like it is spiritual, when it isn’t.  The adherents know everything they are doing and the meaning of everything they do, and yet they’ll often say that it is meaningless and can’t be judged.   It smacks of the spirit of this age.  It pertains to man.

Holiness Pertains to God

To comprehend this more, we should unpack the theological understanding of “those things which pertain to God.”  Those things which pertain to God are holy.  Holiness is not just moral purity.  It is God’s majestic transcendence, His otherness, His non-contingency.  Holiness is sacredness, which means it is not common or profane.  It is distinct, unique to the attributes and character of God.

The Old Testament term kadesh or the adjective form, qadesh, translated “holy,” is not used just for that which pertains to God.  It is used to describe, for instance, the temple prostitutes of pagan religion of strange nations (Deuteronomy 23:17).  That means that those prostitutes had qualities that were unique to their gods.  The root of the word means “to cut,” that is, “to separate.”  Holines is related to consecration.  When an item was holy, it was devoted for and only for the worship of the Lord.  Items associated with pagan and defiled concepts could not be used in the worship of the Lord.  Something that is holy is designated as sacred and was distinct from the profane or common.

The Christian does not look to the world to find worship forms.  He looks to scripture.  He sees certain qualities of this world system—sensual, carnal, of the spirit of the age, making provision for the flesh.  A basic element of Israelite worship was the maintenance of an inviolable distinction between the sacred and the common.  They guarded against the sacred being treated as common.  While the realm of the holy was conceptually distinct from the world with its imperfections, it could nevertheless operate within the world as long as its integrity was strictly maintained.

Holiness was not and has not been just a separateness from sin.  It is a maintaining of distinctions between those things consecrated to God and those that are common.    The common may not be sinful, but it is not sacred.  God’s name and His worship should not be treated lightly.  They should not be brought into association with that characterized by earthliness.  Certain aspects of the world are not redeemable as sacred.  They were invented by men for men’s passions, to touch his will through the body to influence affections inordinately.

Opponents to holiness today say that worldliness is only a matter of the heart, only an attitude.  They fall far short of what scripture says about worldliness.  Romans 12:2 commands, “Be not conformed to this world.”  “Conformed” is not internal.  It is external.  1 Peter 1:14-15 reads:

14 As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: 15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;

“Fashioning” is external.”  “All manner” includes internal and external.  Sure, being a friend of the world is internal (James 4:4), but the external manifestations also anger God.  That’s why God said through Zephaniah (1:8):

And it shall come to pass in the day of the LORD’S sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.

He would punish those clothed with strange apparel.  In other words, they were appearing like the world, associating themselves in their externals with pagan culture.  God didn’t want them fitting in with the world.  He wanted a sacred Israel.  He wanted to keep a difference between the sacred and the profane.

I believe that the redefining and the dumbing down of holiness comes because of professing believers, maybe unconverted, who want to fit in with  the world.  They know how to do it.  Almost everybody does.  The philosophies of the world can be seen in dress, music, art, and more.  We can know on the outside what message a particular form is communicating.  We know when a man is acting effeminate.  We know when a woman is acting masculine. We know a foul word.  We know a term, an appearance, and a composition that carries ungodly associations.  The conservative evangelicals are using these to reach their desired ends.   When they succeed, they say that God was responsible.  God was also responsible for giving water to Moses when he struck the rock.  That end did not justify the means.  And men who drank became carcasses in the wilderness.

Hollywood knows what it is doing with styles.  It knows how to play something sensual or sexual.  It knows how to target certain human emotions (emotionalism) and carnal passions.  Conservative evangelicals imitate them.  They offer their adherents the same thing as the world with some Christianity mixed in.  This is called syncretism—“worshiping” God and using worldly means.  It blurs the dinstinction between the sacred and the common, between God and the world, between the Divine and the worldly.

Limitation to Scriptural Parameters

To accomplish the glory of Christ and an acceptable offering to God, Paul limited himself to Scripture—he would only regulate his audience according to a Divine message (vv. 18-19).  To make the Gentiles obedient,” in either “word or deed,” he would not “dare to speak” anything but that which was given Him by Christ.  Those were all that were authoritative and authenticated by means of “mighty signs and wonders.”

The Bible wasn’t given to us to read between the lines.  Certain actions aren’t forbidden in God’s Word.  That doesn’t mean they become our means of accomplishment or a strategy for success.  God gave His Word as sufficient to regulate any area of our lives.  Even if our own ideas aren’t sinful, they aren’t what He said.  Only what He said, when obeyed, will give glory to God.

Conservative evangelicals often expose scripture.  However, they are just as guilty as revivalist fundamentalists at looking for non-scriptural techniques to influence believers toward what they believe will be salvation and spiritual growth.  Even if they “worked,” they wouldn’t give glory to Christ or be acceptable to God.  They would not require faith and so they couldn’t please God.  Paul kept just preaching the gospel.  He limited himself to the activity God endowed to fulfill His work.  We must limit our means if we will glorify Christ and send up that acceptable offering to God.

Reacquiring a Christian Counterculture

We’re to be regulated by Scriptural precept and example.  We’re to be distinct from the world.  We should have a unique Christian culture.  Culture itself isn’t amoral.  Many ways that a culture expresses itself are filled with meaning.  Some of those expressions may honor God and others may not.  God laid out some very detailed laws to distinguish Israel from the rest of the nations on earth.  He wants us to be different.

If we’re going to reacquire a Christian counterculture that separates from the world’s culture, however it is expressing itself, we must get a grasp on scriptural holiness.  We must understand it, let it influence our affections above indifference, and then choose to be holy as God is holy.  Our music, dress, and other cultural expressions will change.  They will become distinct from the philosophies of the world and from the spirit of this age.  The change will not allow us to fit into the world.  The world will also know that we’re different–not just in matters of righteousness versus sinfulness, but in those of sacredness versus profanity.

A Bonus (a comment I wrote under a blog post about Peter Master’s recent article about worldliness).

In the Bible, not once is music directed to men. Never is it said to be for evangelism. Preaching is for evangelism—not music. At the most, unbelievers “see” the worship of believers (Ps 40) and fear. They don’t sway and laugh it up because it is the same stuff they’re accustomed to. As a byproduct the music can teach and admonish, but we would assume that it does so only when it is pleasing to God. And it is more than the words, because of what we see in the psalms again and again, Ps 150 for instance, and then in Col 3:16 (psallo–making melody, which is literally “to pluck on a string”).

Men talk about rich theological content. Let’s just say that we all agree with scriptural content that is befitting of the worship God shows He wants in the psalms. This can’t be an either/or—neither the music or the content justifies the other. The Word of God should regulate the words and the music. When we present it to God using a worldly, fleshly medium, this is the syncretism that Masters is talking about. And the medium truly is the message. The vehicle for conveying the message, the music, must also fit with God’s character.

What we seem to be really talking about here is whether music itself can be worldly, fleshly, make provision for the flesh, relativistic, conform to the world, or be unholy, that is, profane. The world knows what it is doing with music. The world uses certain aspects of the music to communicate all of the above that I listed earlier in this paragraph. The world talks about it in its own descriptions of its music. And we can catch the philosophy behind the music itself in the history of the music.

Jonathan Edwards described genuine Christianity as involving religious affections and not men’s passions. He distinguished the real from the counterfeit by differentiating between affections and passions. Affections differ than passions in that they start with the mind and then feed the will. Passions, on the other hand, begin with the body. Not only are passions not genuine affection but they also harm discernment. What is thought to be something spiritual is actually a feeling that has been choreographed in the flesh.

This is a second premise scriptural argument. It is akin to applying Eph 4:29, which commands believers not to have corrupt communication proceed out of their mouth. Based on some of the comments I’ve read here, certain foul language could not be wrong, because the English words aren’t found in the Bible. This, I believe, is part of the attack on truth part of postmodernism. We can ascertain truth in the real world. We can judge corrupt words. We too can judge when music conforms to the world, fashions itself after our former lusts. We can know when it is that passions are being manipulated by music, that it isn’t joy, but a fleshly feeling that impersonates happiness. It is actually fleshly self gratification.

Much, much more could be said about the relationship of externals and internals in the matter of worldliness. The four books by David Wells could be referred to for those who would want to understand. Evangelicals seem not to recognize the danger of accepting the means pagan culture expresses itself. We blaspheme a holy God, profaning His name, by associating it with these worldly, fleshly forms.