Who has the keys? (A post on Christian conformity)

cfl-in-incandescentsSince this is one of my lengthier posts (uh oh RED FLAG RIGHT THERE “I’m out.”) I’ve decided to try and split this up into a few sections. (Eh…maybe I can deal with that.) Understand my ultimate audience in most of these is…me. Yet my goal is to write in such a way that you may follow along with me. So, let us engage an issue that has been taking up my brainwaves for a little over a year. 

Part One: Logos
Right after the Florida State Seminoles won the 2013 College Football National Championship, the university announced a re-brand of the long traditional and famous logo that’s been plastered on every FSU item since the seventies. When the new logo leaked many of the fans were outraged. Petitions, protests, beggars begging for it to be left as it was in all of its perfect glory.

Our. Good. And true. Logo.

But time passed and people began to accept that this was how it was going to be. The university was not going to budge. So people stopped complaining, people started identifying, people stopped signing petitions. It seems as though all but a small few remained loyal towards their passions against it. And the rest moved on…allowed it…accepted it….proclaimed it….identified with it.

So here’s a question: Should Christians be the same way?

We are called not to conform. Romans 12:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

 

Humble Service in the Body of Christ

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

So on this idea of conformity:
Is the change in our previously firm stances a result of patience to think or a result of giving up your stand.

I mean these types of issues come up all the time. Slowly the church makes a stance on it and other Christians will disagree for some reason. And then churches fight and they divide over it because everyone thinks they have God’s answer on the issue in question. The renewal of our minds business. We grant authority in what we find our approval of God’s will just is. (We maybe think of ourselves higher than we ought to here.)

So how do we know when we are conforming?

Holy means set. apart. Are we too often trying to adapt our customs and stances to fit the change in society? I mean Christian dub-step is a thing.

Now we’ve taken from culture since the start. Things like the term “Church” or the use of pagan holidays as our own. We’ve taken things otherwise sinful and made them our own. Since the very first days of the church.

So how do we balance this?

My questions:
God can use anything. But does he delight in me connecting with a teen by talking about something as dark fueled as game of thrones or breaking bad? Like if talking about these shows gains me the trust of a child that opens the door to talk openly about Jesus should I go for it? Is this a conformity paradox?

Or how bout an extreme and deliciously controversial example. The bible tells women to remain quiet in church. (1 Timothy) Now we as society have advanced towards a stance of equal treatment and respect for women. Millions of people have come to identify themselves as Christ followers through the likes of modern female evangelists like Beth Moore or Joyce Meyer.

What do you do with that?

It’s not a hard argument to make the claim that this reality just might be highly unbiblical. And yet some of the best communicators of the gospel I’ve heard are….women.

You have Paul rejoicing WHENEVER Christ is preached no matter the motive (Phillipians 1) and also saying women shouldn’t and aren’t even permitted to partake in that???

Have we conformed? Is this something a never changing God now is rejoicing?

You have to wonder what would happen if Paul walked in to Joyce Meyer’s mega church. What reaction would he give?

Back to the main point.

Part Two: Yokes

So all the questions we come to ultimately end with how do we know what we have interpreted today was right from the start? Whose to say the logo Florida State has now wasn’t the logo they were meant and destined to have since day one? Maybe the logo of the last forty years was actually the wrong logo and only just now are we returning to our true holiness.

Well to believe that you would have to determine the reasons to which the old logo that has become the doctrine of the university. The tradition of its practices was somehow off track from the original thought.
To which we shall drop some jaws.

For Protestants this is a near impossibility. For Catholics this is easy as pie. I’ll let you have your own reserves about either of those claims.

In Matthew 16 we read Jesus’ response to Peter’s affirmation that Christ is Messiah.

 

“16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter,[b] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[c] will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be[d] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[e] loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.”

Jesus was by all means considered a Rabbi. A Jewish teacher. Part of this Rabbinic process would be to interpret scriptures and oral teachings. Often using words like “You have heard it taught this way, but truly I tell you it means this.” And this new and more close to the truth interpretation of the teaching was called a Rabbi’s yoke. Jesus himself used this language often “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”-Matthew 11:1. This process of coming up with your yoke was called binding and loosing. To bind something would be to negate it, forbid it. (You’ve heard it taught that way but no, it was not the correct way.) To loose it would be to permit it. (You have heard it taught correctly, or HERE is the correct way to interpret it.)

So Jesus was this supreme rabbi who would bind and loose but he was so much more than that. This was the Word made flesh binding and loosing. All these various torah traditions well here I am in their fulfillment and truly I tell you they mean this. A collection of his bindings and loosings (his yoke) are given in Matthew as the Sermon on the Mount. So it would seem this whole process of binding and loosing. Giving authority on topics and issues stopped at Jesus Christ…but it doesn’t.

When one of Jesus’ followers finally gets it. Finally affirms who he is. Jesus promises that individual a very important role. He tells Peter I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever YOU (PETER) bind on earth will be bound in heaven, whatever YOU (PETER) loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. God gives one man this authority. And on this ROCK (PETER) Jesus says he will build his CHURCH (US). Christ establishes his church and leaves the authority (leaves the keys) to a man to permit and forbid all the future issues that Jesus will not be around to deal with.

*Head explosion*

I will say that despite whatever darkness and controversy you may cast (and no doubt has existed) on the lineage of papacy you cannot deny its biblical background. Christ gave Peter the authority to determine holiness in the wake of issues Jesus never had to tackle. A way to have Christ’s voice when approaching issues we wont necessarily find through his words in the Gospels. So that dilemma of well hey Christ never said a word about homosexuality….well no…but he gave someone the authority to. Imagine how irresponsible it would have been of Christ NOT to do this. You could claim anything! Yet Protestants aren’t likely to take the Pope’s word even if it is rooted in the reality that Christ started the process that still exists to this day. (Impressive) Nor is there any immediate concern about having any authority over the scriptures rather than your own educated interpretation.

Maybe that is the issue of the modern Christian culture though. We are all our own binders and loosers.  We hold our own keys to our own kingdom. The ultimate authority for each of us is ultimately ourselves and however we choose to accept and interpret the scriptures towards the world of today. Most of us with no biblical studies behind us. Only spoon-fed theology that most will never challenge or question. (Which granted is a popular concern of Protestants towards Catholics.)

I think of the bumper sticker “don’t believe everything you think.” There’s this sense that something else has the authority.
Conformity and the pattern of this world moves things and people towards what is easier. It is the exact opposite of what it means to be holy. Conformity means to become similar. Holy means to remain set apart.

There’s a lot of baggage that comes with that when implemented. You don’t really want to jump right on board with it.

The bible says not that we should seek hatred of society rather that if we are living out our faith as we are called society WILL hate us. Often I think society hates or looks down on Christians for reasons not to do with following scriptures. More so for reasons of NOT following scriptures. So often rather we see cultures hatred of us Christians so Christians engage and imitate culture to provide cooler and more hip ways to meet this culture.

Rather than imitating Christ to show holiness that would grant us suffering and hatred we imitate society to try and introduce Christ and remain comfortable.

We have formed an intercultural Christianty. Rather than countercultural.

Which is more likely…over time we’ve come to know and understand the scriptures more today than 2,000 years ago? Or that we’ve placed 2,000 years of cultural change into modern interpretation, digging the scriptures and shaping them to make the conformity of the world a more acceptable and justified reality. Stating things like well Paul didn’t really mean it the way we’ve understood for the last thousand years.

Freedom from the law never meant to encourage you to completely disregard it.(Romans 3:31) There is still great benefit and strength in it. Jesus said he wasn’t abolishing it, he was fulfilling it!(Matthew 5:17) We simply are not trapped by the ways of following it. Rather by love we uphold these laws and bring benefit to earth and to heaven. Yet we have socially conformed so far away from it that most rules make us laugh at their absurdity in our world. Various elements of the law were brought to clarity through the yoke of Jesus. Things like sacrifice, and distribution of money, eating the shellfish and pigs, anger, adultery, making promises. These things Jesus talks about bring in some cases far more severity to issues and brings to a further fruition the need for a Savior. Jesus took adultery as an act and included lustful thoughts into it. But he brings these up for your benefit not to merely be thrown to the side. It does not benefit you or a girl to look at her in a lustful way. Such a thing will pollute your mind. Paul is constantly telling Christians things they should put to death. For their benefit. If our freedom was not meant to call us towards an obedience of God’s will then there would be no need for the New Testament. Just a brief paragraph stating “Hey guys, God here. Just wanted you to know I came and suffered some agonizing pain for you. (Did some pretty incredible stuff while I was around too.) But hey now you’re free to keep on going against me. Don’t really have any more notes to add. Enjoy the destructiveness sin brings you cause…everything’s cool now.”

It is also important to remember the scriptures Paul upholds and references were not the scriptures of the New Testament. That didn’t exist yet.   This is especially relevant when Jesus says if you love me obey my commands.  This is not to take away authority from our New Testament rather draw attention to a cultural disregard of the Old in modern Christianity.

Part Three: Love In Action

So perhaps this whole thought I am hunting comes out of this simple desire. I want to follow Christ with all the love I am able because I believe He is worthy of it. My hold ups come into effect when so many people have such different views and beliefs of these commands Jesus calls me to obey. It’s not some bondage to do what’s right it is a deep desire to love what is right and to live out that love.
Jesus is the way….but which Jesus and which way? The Bible says there’s one God and Father of all who’s over all and through all and in all yet when I hear some professing Christians talk about Jesus it’s like I have no idea who they are talking about.

Just take the most divisive and nowhere leading concepts of Calvinist and Armenians. Which if you are unfamiliar with them just go ahead and stay that way. Those who side with one or the other and get caught up in these debates will both say “it ultimately doesn’t matter we are both Christians.”

That doesn’t work for me. I think it very much matters. What we believe about God drives what we DO and who we are. What we DO shows the world who Jesus is. And that REALLY matters. Our beliefs drive our behavior. Which is just one of the reasons Christians can be so divisive because our beliefs drive us to stand very passionately (I mean this is GOD we are talking about) for things that others will oppose. Even other Christians.

Most Protestants I know just have a natural prejudice against Catholicism. I don’t even think they know why or understand it. It’s almost something natural. But we both say we are Christians yet we treat each other like we are living in completely different camps. Statements like…”Well, we’re all going to be Catholic in heaven…” Interpretation: “You’re wrong now but when you are with God you will see we Catholics were right all along.”

So say we try to bridge the gap. Say we have this authoritative leader who has the actual authority of Christ over the body of believers what then? Because immediately you have to ask well…what if he gets it wrong? For many Catholics the answer is simply he won’t get doctrine wrong God is too invested. The Pope’s authority is infallible. Sure he might mess up in his life some way or another but not in his authority.

But can Christians believe that? (Many already do) but can you?

So which is worse becomes the question. There not being any doctrinal, modern issues, authoritative figure? Allowing all Christians to do their own thing? Or all Christians having one large authoritative leader and all of them following the doctrine in one wrong way?

And if this all seems to end with you saying “you are getting very caught up in the dos and don’ts of faith Devon. Christ set us free upon the cross so that we may have freedom to make those mistakes freedom to falter. Therefore we don’t actually have to worry about these things.” Well, while I absolutely would agree with you about that freedom I would also ask “but who taught you that?”  What authority gave you that information? Because I could show you verses where Christ says pretty clearly

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”-Matthew 6:14-15

OR

“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”-1 Timothy 5:8

OR

“21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if (WOAH <-WHAT?) you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.”-Colossians 1:21-23

Well…that doesn’t quite seem like the freedom to mess up? And in fact there are many proclaiming Christians (maybe you have seen them on your street corners) who would and do take it to that extreme. “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you”….unless you don’t forgive. Or provide for your family. Or you remain on the path. And thus people cling to this doctrine rather than THAT doctrine and claim that they sin no more. And we would say well….they just don’t really know Jesus. (And yet I’d feel comfortable saying they would beat you in a Bible quiz any day. Though knowledge of scripture is not wisdom of it) And they would argue back the same thing. All of us using the exact same words from the exact same book.
I mean if you are reading this now thinking I have got this whole thing wrong and so backwards well then you are only proving my entire point to begin with.

Part Four: Reformation

So how in today’s broken theology where we all hold our own keys to our own kingdom do we reconcile the need for unity and authority in the church?

One could argue it was conformity that polluted the Catholic Church and brought in many questionable things that led to a reformation. But do we now neglect something that was God ordained? Something Christ himself started? Because to be fair the purpose of the binder and looser of God’s church existed to prevent the anything goes reality we have had since we decided to stray from it. (Good reasons or bad.) Because if we don’t accept it in a way (and I remind you I am in the camp known as Protestant) aren’t we saying Christ got it wrong or the bible is lying? Or perhaps you’re saying they’ve just interpreted it wrong further proving the need for authority.

Say it is up to you. Whatever you bind on Earth will be bound in Heaven, whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven whatever you do not permit will not be permitted in heaven. Is it to say we get to decide our own right and wrong? “Where there is no law there is no sin!” You are merely judged then by your beliefs and your obedience of those beliefs. By all means ponder that. But also realize that that is to say there is nothing inherently authoritative about the scriptures. Merely you are the authority over words on a page.

So to bring a conclusion to this. At the very least to raise awareness. To understand conformity there must be authority. The authority of the scriptures in and over our lives is one thing. Who gets to decide what they mean and how they are meant to be applied is entirely something else. It is why the bible is so harsh about false teachers.
“3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:3-5
We can leave it to ourselves to which you could argue “hey, Jesus said he was going to send his spirit of truth ahead of us and we would be able to know right and wrong, so I really do have the authority within me! So Haha author of this post! BUSTED!” But I think if you were to simply look around at every Christian you personally know and ask them about things you accept with firm confidence to be true I’m willing to make a serious bet they wont see everything or believe everything the exact same way. Therefore it seems clear that while discernment and renewal of mind brings forms of clarity. It cannot bring authority because the multitudes under this body called the church do not share a unified faith in a way that would suggest so. It is either this…or that we as proclaiming Christians in today’s time were not given this spirit.

It seems then rather, that this ancient rabbinic process of binding and loosing came to near completion with the teachings of Jesus. Jesus who understood that the world was still enabled with a power to create. Both beautiful things and dangerous things. That Creator in the flesh was aware that as creation continues after he has ascended, things will arise that at the current time of his teachings were unheard of. Conflicts yet to happen. Divisions yet to stray. Classifications yet to be socialized. Acceptance out of conformity. Jesus did the thing that makes the absolute most sense in a next step for the post-ascension community. He passes the torch. Hands over the keys. A worldly presence to speak his authority.

In the book of Luke it says that of the disciples, Jesus “opened their minds to the understanding of the scriptures.” Something only God could do to a person.

So can we trust that that has been done from Peter to Pope Fancis? Or could you at least marvel at the idea of that?  Has God steered this ship for over 2,000 years as he claimed he would?

Or do we continue to leave these sacred words to whatever strong voice may communicate them from whatever motives, whatever translation, whatever inspiration, whatever education, whatever revelation. Because the reality and fault and divide of the church today is exactly this. The bible speaks of teachers seeking a unity of the faith and teaching so that their followers (the followers of Jesus) would not be like infants being tossed back and forth between waves. And as Paul addresses rumors of arguing in the church in 1 Corinthians:

10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. “

If this is a command then the leaders of the church have been breaking it.

So perhaps the solution to conformity was there all along.  To resolve conformity one must reform. One must submit.

Does Reformation negate Conformation?

Which leader shall we follow?

Are we the holder of the keys?

And who get’s to drive?

Which raises another question for another post. Is the best God has for us in the past? Or is he shaping the direction in which we go? Are we trying to get things back to the way they were or are we being taken along in a always new direction God is leading us?

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