Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Killers, Christian Freedom, Not Stumbling Others, the Conscience and Hypocrisy

The Tardy Trio got into the car and inspected the little mound of bargain bin CDs in the backseat. As we moved off, someone waved The Killers' "Hot Fuss" around and asked to play it.
Hot Fuss
We did.

"I like it!", chorused the Tardy Trio as they bounced along to Mr Brightside. [One actually thought that The Killers sounded like a band from the 70s/80s...specifically recalling the distinctive cheese of Village People...*shudder*]

In the midst of the excited boomeranging around the cabin, there was an injured silence from the instigator.

"Wait. You listen to this kind of music?!" she cried incredulously over Brandon Flowers' (his real name) voyeuristic vocals.


"But...but...I thought you were very holy!"


Unfortunately, she was dead serious. The rest of the passengers very unhelpfully rocked the car dangerously with their incredulous laughter. But Instigator was not amused.

If we have the freedom to do what is biblically neutral (that is, the Bible is expressedly and impliedly silent on it), but it stumbles our brother/sister, then we must cease to do it. Yet wouldn't it be hypocritical to pretend to not to like the things that we in reality enjoy (for example, but not reflective of me or the email correspondents ;-): having a pint at the pub, a spot of clubbing, a puff of sheesha, trick-or-treating, dressing up as Santa Claus)?
Interestingly, there'd been quite a few to-ing and fro-ing of emails on the subject in the weeks prior to this event:

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 8:
1Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that "all of us possess knowledge." This "knowledge" puffs up, but love builds up. 2If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

4Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that "an idol has no real existence," and that "there is no God but one." 5For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth--as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"-- 6yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

7However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? 11And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
and in 1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1:
14Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

23"All things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up. 24Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 25Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26For "the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof." 27If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28But if someone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience-- 29I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience? 30If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?

31So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

11:1Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
Paul tosses around 4 main concepts: freedom, limitations to freedom, not stumbling others and the conscience.

We know that an idol has no real existence (8:4). Therefore, food offered to an idol doesn't mean anything, and whether we eat the food or not doesn't affect us in anyway (8:8). So we can eat anything sold in the meat market without feeling any guilt (10:25), for God made all things (8:6, 10:26). Likewise, we can go to an unbeliever's house and eat anything set before us (which may have been sacrificed to idols) without going against our conscience (10:27) because we know that such food means nothing to us at all.

Limitations to Freedom
However, although idols are nothing, our freedom does not extend to the partaking of pagan sacrifices to these idols, for the implication of that is that we are worshipping these idols (10:14-22). And obviously, we cannot worship both demons and God or God's wrath will remain on us.

Not Stumbling Others
Another limitation to freedom is when doing what we are free to do, what we have a right to do (8:9), what is lawful to do (10:23), affects other people.

We are free to do many things as long as they do not imply the worship of idols, demons or "gods". But amongst those things that we can do, some are helpful and some are unhelpful; some build up and some tear down (10:23).

Where things are unhelpful or tear down, our Christian freedom is overridden by love for our brothers and sisters. We seek the good for our neighbour (10:24), for their advantage (10:33), that they might be saved (10:33).

The determination of whether things are unhelpful or tear down appears to hinge on the conscience of the individual. We are to have regard to each of our neighbour's consciences (10:28-9). If his conscience is weak (8:7, 8:10) in that area, we should not pursue the course of action which we would otherwise have been free to.

The Conscience
What's this about conscience? How can it be that what is right and wrong is determined subjectively by an individual's conscience? Shouldn't right and wrong be objective determinations of fact, informed by the word of God in the Bible?

Quite right. Or as Paul puts it,"why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?" (10:29-30).

Right and wrong under God is not affected by the conscience of an individual. And the scope of things within the freedom of the Christian to do are not affected by the conscience of the individual either. So, neither, are our consciences (8:12).

However, we are not to do what is unhelpful because it defiles (8:7) and wounds the conscience of the individual himself, and in doing so, we sin against Christ (8:12).

It appears to work like so:
idols are nothing and so the eating of food offered to idols can mean nothing. But to a Christian brother who has a weak conscience, that is, someone who does not yet take onboard this fact that food offered to idols is actually nothing, perhaps, through former association with such idol worship. So he is unable to divorce the idea of eating such food from the idea that it has really been offered to a real being, the idol (8:7). And if he sees someone who is supposedly a more mature Christian eating in an idol's temple, he will be encouraged to do likewise (8:10). But while it has no effect on the eater because he knows that it means nothing at all, to the weak brother he is dividing his loyalty and worship between the one true God and the false idol. And therefore, the supposedly more mature Christian would have destroyed this weak brother, the brother for whom Christ died (8:11). How utterly despicable it would be to destroy so precious and hardwon a thing as the salvation of a brother or sister, just because we'd like to selfishly flaunt our freedom and "knowledge". "...if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble" (8:13).

In the same way, if someone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," (perhaps he is a pagan himself or more likely, a weak brother who says that to you in warning) then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of not mean your conscience, but his (10:28-9).

Paul urges us to imitate him as he imitates Christ (11:1), to give no offence to anyone and to try to please everyone in everything we do (10:32-33). Isn't this hypocritical?

Not quite. We don't try to please everyone in this way for popularity or power or to win friends and influence people. We do all this for the salvation of others (10:33) and for the glory of God (10:31).


PS: But the conscience is obviously not a permanent thing. Our conscience is not meant to remain weak for the rest of our lives. We are to educate it. It should change as our minds and hearts are transformed to be more and more like Christ's. So as our brothers and sisters gain the "knowledge" that Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 8, their consciences will get stronger and there should come a point when they will no longer be stumbled by neutral things like people listening to cheesy indie rock pop.

So I guess it's be gone my olden ways be gone (but not the rest of the lyrics) while fragile ones are in the car. No problemo.

PPS: Not sure what Instigator would think of Death Cab for Cutie (which sounds like the name of a very bad Japanese goth metal band). But then again she might assume that Modest Mouse churns out extremely polite dull peasant English music. *grin*

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At November 09, 2005 5:02 pm , Anonymous gods child said...

thx 4 a gd article!! i hv alwys askd abt it n nw u hv writtn it.

god bless u

At November 09, 2005 11:08 pm , Blogger paddychicken said...

Just curious if my prompting the last time led you to try The Killers CD? It is still one of my favourite CDs for the road.

DCFC rocks and I'd be really interested to check out your whole collection sometime.

At November 10, 2005 12:27 pm , Blogger shadow said...

gc: thanks

paddy c: it's been on my list for sometime but your comment made me more curious (actually inserted your name in first few drafts of post but was then unsure if you wished to be linked). Couple that with the said CD in the bargain bin and the goth girl at Gramophone saying I couldn't sample it but it was a sure winner so "no need to try"...

Gather DCFC is a bit of EP band and I find it a bit fiddly having EPs around, so I've only got Transatlanticism, We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes, Something About Aeroplanes, Plans and the Forbidden Love EP. Maybe cupboard space can help with the rest. But you're welcome to have a listen to what I've got anytime.

At November 10, 2005 6:24 pm , Anonymous passinger said...

Focus people focus! The main point is how not to stumble weak people!


Do I get to ride your car Mr Shadow?

At November 10, 2005 6:54 pm , Anonymous (empty) cupboard space said...

cupboard space doesn't have that many DCFC cd's lah. mr shadow you have more! (actually i have no idea what i have since someone borrowed my cd's the other day, haha).

i have a DCFC t-shirt, does that help?

At November 10, 2005 10:44 pm , Blogger paddychicken said...

Alright back to the point of the article (according to Passinger) ... perhaps by exercising our freedom to indulge in worldy (but not unholy) pleasures, we make the religion more accessible to our friends. They realise that all fun is not curtailed. If we are too conservative, it could alienate people.


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