I like to deal with issues that are applicable to the culture we live in. For this reason I take the occasional cue from what others are writing about. When we’re all discussing it, it’s probably worth discussing.
I was in a singles’ group once that was going to cover “current cultural issues.” Most of the topics were met with confused looks from the singles because not one of us had an issue with any of the “issues.” But when we were allowed to express our own ideas about issues we faced every day, we had more than enough fodder for the discussion.
David Crabb has once again put his finger on an important cultural issue in many churches in his article entitled Forbidding What God Allows. The title is extremely clear and the topic necessary.
David’s key idea can be summed up in the following quote:
“When I allow what God prohibits, I am setting myself up as god–as the lawgiver. My rule is supreme. On the same token, when I prohibit what God allows, I am not ‘erring on the side of caution,’ but am actually setting myself up as god–as the lawgiver. My rule is supreme. If I cannot prove that God prohibits something, then I should simply acknowledge it. I might have an entire list of reasons I believe a certain course of action to be best, but far better to use words like ‘wisdom’ and ‘prudence,’ rather than absolute moral terms (e.g. ‘sinful’).”
A perfect New Testament example of this is when Jesus Christ was condemned by the Pharisees for “working” on the Sabbath (this happened frequently). First, we must recognize that Jesus never sinned. He was incapable of breaking the Sabbath. Second, we have to understand that the “laws” He was breaking had been instituted by men, not God. Therefore, the religious leaders of that day were telling God Himself that He was breaking His own law. They set themselves up “as god – as the lawgiver. [Their] rule [was] supreme.”
What’s the application for us?
David’s article was helpful, but I’d like to put a finer point on it. We have every right as believers to uphold God’s law to the minutest. Adultery is always a sin. Gossip is always a sin. Bitterness is always a sin. Gluttony is always a sin. Vile speech is always a sin. But not everything in the Bible is a command. There are many principles and even some suggestions as to how we are to live. It is up to the individual Christian to apply these principles in the most Christ-honoring way possible.
Let’s take the example of women wearing pants. I admit that this is not the hot-button topic is used to be, but it will serve my illustration well. The Bible has nothing to say concerning whether women are allowed to have one pant leg (skirt) or two (pants). Deuteronomy 22:5 is the only “proof-text” that has ever been used for this issue. It says,
“A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.”
This question has at least two main principles that apply to it. One, many of the sundry laws concerning clothing no longer apply to Christians under the New Covenant. Two, in our culture people make pants for women. There are men’s pants and women’s pants. A woman in pants is not a woman in men’s clothing. To flatly preach that a woman in pants is a direct violation of Scripture is as absurd as saying that a man wearing a shirt is a sin because women wear shirts and men aren’t to wear women’s clothes.
Millions of people have taken this verse, misapplied it, and have been acting as the Law-Giver by condemning women for wearing pants made for women.
Please understand, it is not wrong for a woman to never wear slacks. It is not wrong for a woman to think it best for her to not don pants. But it is wrong for anyone to tell a women in pants that she is sinning (barring indecency and immodesty – both clear biblical commands).
If God’s Word demands it, we must demand it. If God’s Word applies it, we must apply it. If the Bible takes it back, so should we. But where God is silent, we should tread carefully. Where God does not apply, we should not command. We must always apply God’s Word to every area of our existence, but we must not call sin what God has not called sin.