Saturday, May 19, 2007

It's My Right: Putting Demands of Self over Scripture

One of the crucial issues facing the Church in the West is that the damands placed upon the Church are spoken from individuals who claim it is their right to believe and live as they please rather than submitting to the authority of Sacred Scripture. We live in a day of radical individualism where everyone seems to do what is right in their own eyes. Scripture is read with the refrain 'This is the Word of the Lord' followed by a whisper from some 'no it's not' if they don't like what was read. I know, I've heard it done! Where does this come from? I think the following article speaks to a lot of the problems we are facing in our culture and it is going to take a lot of work and patience to see us out of it; not to mention a lot of answered prayer!

Read the entire article here.

Freedom and Rights

Some people today would dispute the notion that submission is the ideal for the Christian. They claim that such an ideal is opposed to the Christian freedom proclaimed in the scriptures. Yet the submission being described here is closely related to true Christian freedom. Paul is the great apostle of Christian freedom, but the Christian freedom taught by Paul is not the same as the freedom extolled by modern man. For the modern mentality, freedom is the ability to set one's own standards, to submit to no person, to chart one's own course. The freedom Paul teaches about comes in Christ and through faith in him.(21) It is a freedom defined primarily in relationship to the Mosaic law. The two great epistles of Christian freedom, Galatians and Romans, are concerned with questions about the need for Gentile Christians to conform to the Mosaic law, especially in its ritual provisions. Christian freedom as taught by Paul, then, is first of all a freedom from the ritual provisions of the Mosaic law, at least for the Gentiles. But it is also a freedom from the (Mosaic) law in its entirety as the way to enter into the full relationship with God and the full status as his people. Behind this change is an understanding that the purpose of law is not to give life but to reveal sin (Rom 7:7-12). Life, relationship with God, power to live the Christian call, come through faith in Christ and through the Spirit of God given to us.

The freedom that Paul teaches is not, however, a freedom to disobey the ethical prescriptions taught in Old and New Testament alike, much less a freedom to set our standards and to submit to no one.(22) There was a temptation to abuse Paul's teaching in that way, but Paul understood that temptation as providing an opportunity for the flesh, that is, an opportunity to follow our own will and desires (Gal 5:13). Paul expected freedom to operate in precisely the opposite way. It should produce an ability and a desire to live the kind of life which not only fulfills the commands of the law but which proceeds to an even more complete and demanding love. It is a freedom to submit to God and to do his will with a more perfect submission than had existed under the law, when the commands of God were written on tablets of stone and not on the heart (2 Cor 3:3). It is freedom from the law, but a freedom that is meant to put us into a direct relationship of obedience to our Father as his sons and daughters (Gal 3:23-4:7). In fact, the same Paul who insisted so strongly on freedom could also insist strongly on obedience, and could act as a disciplinarian, commanding respect for his own authority because his authority and discipline were spiritual, conferred on him by the Lord Jesus under the New Covenant (I Cor 4:18-21). Freedom is another area in which contemporary man is ready to find contradictions in Paul, contradictions that never existed in Paul's mind. Here again, the contradictions are not in scriptural teaching. Rather, they arise when the scriptural texts are interpreted using a modern understanding of freedom alien to the scriptural mentality.

Submission, then, does not conflict with "freedom" in the scriptural sense. It can be undercut, however, by an approach to freedom which leads Christians to understand their lives in terms of their own rights. The discussion of the roles of men and women is often framed in a way which stresses the need to give women their rights and which urges them to claim or defend their own rights. At first, such an approach was used to claim for women basic legal protections and constitutional guarantees. Presently, it is often used to orient people toward seeking a kind of personal independence and individualism which conflict with the spirit of Christian teaching. We can often hear, for instance, that basic human rights include making one's own decisions, being independent upon reaching adulthood, expressing one's own opinions, developing one's full potential, having as much opportunity to do a particular job as anyone else. Moreover, we are sometimes told that these rights are violated not only when the government takes them away by force, but even when a group of people freely decide to establish their common life on different principles.

The term "rights" is a legal term, indicating something which gives us a claim in court. "Rights" in this sense is an ancient term, and can be found in scripture. The broader idea of basic human rights, or of the rights of man, was formulated later in human history as a way of developing certain principles for framing the constitutions of modern states.(23) The origin of this approach will be discussed in Chapter Nineteen. This broader concept has much utility, especially as a protection for individuals in a pluralistic state which cannot presuppose a shared view of fundamental social and ethical questions. The term "the rights of women" is certainly appropriate in discussions about how legal protection should be given to women in contemporary society. However, when that legal rights framework is brought into a Christian discussion, it normally orients the whole discussion in a direction that is alien to the basic Christian context. It leads to a frame of mind in which people become oriented primarily to their own welfare, it leads them to even make demands on the Lord himself. In short, the legal rights framework used as a basis for a Christian discussion leads away from an attitude of submission, of eagerness to find out what the Lord is saying, and of readiness to accept and obey his will.
Legal rights, then, is not the proper basic framework for issues concerning the people of God. The "constitution" of Israel, and that of the Christian people, rests on an entirely different basis than those of modern states. The scripture does not speak about "the rights of man." From the scriptural point of view, we have no intrinsic and inalienable rights.(24) Women have no rights, but men have no rights either. Human beings are God's creatures, totally at his disposal. In the book of Isaiah, the Lord says,

"Woe to him who strives with his Maker,
an earthen vessel with the potter!
Does the clay say to him who fashions it,
'What are you making?'
or 'Your work has no handles?'
Woe to him who says to a father,
'What are you begetting?'
or to a woman, 'With what are you
in travail?' "
Thus says the Lord,
the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker:
"Will you question me about my children,
or command me concerning the work of my hands?
I made the earth,
and created man upon it;
it was my hands that stretched out the heavens,
and I commanded all their host."
(Is 45:9-12)


Anonymous john scholasticus said...

Crude stuff.

'Human beings are God's creatures, totally at his disposal.'

No. If God is our Father, as we say every day, then He also has a responsibility to us.

9:02 pm  

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