Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Five Laws of Christian Freedom


As Todd Wilken admits in a recent article in Issues, Etc., the combination of the word "freedom" and "law" seems out of place. "What does the Law have to do with Christian freedom?" However, Wilken is addressing an issue that is often used within the Church as a license for abuse or excess in the name of freedom. The issue is sometimes referred to by its technical Latin name, adiophora, which refers to the area of theology concerning matters that are neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture.

Within the LCMS the appeal to adiophora is often used by pastors and churches to justify massive overhauls of the liturgy and the ministry with the justification that the details of these areas are not spelled out in specific terms within Scripture. However, as the saying goes, "the devil is in the details," and much mischief has been attempted by tampering with the little things that often go unnoticed by the general observer.

Christian freedom has therefore been used in some cases to abandon the historic worship forms of the church, disregard fellowship restrictions in Holy Communion, and mingle the genders within leadership and worship of the church. So, is Christian Freedom a 'blank check,' theologically speaking, that leaves even matters of worship to the whims of the masses?

In an attempt to better define the area of Christian Freedom, Rev. Wilken presents what he refers to as "Five Laws" that govern this area. If you do not currently receive Issues, Etc., I would recommend subcribing and reading articles like this in full. I can only summarize in the space here.

Law 1: Where Scripture speaks, speak; where Scripture is silent, be silent. Wilken is responding with this "law" to the "Regulative Principle" of the Calvinist Reformation that says: "If the Bible doesn't specifically command X, Y, or Z, then the Bible forbids X, Y, and Z. We have seen this principle in action where Christians forbid things that are truly open to Christian freedom (within the limits of decency), such as dancing and the drinking of alcoholic beverages.

Law 2: Don't confuse your refusal to listen with Scripture's silence. Here Wilken is responding to the logic that says if the Scriptures do not address an issue specifically by name, then it must not be important enough to limit or regulate and we are free to do as we wish. This is the "Regulative Principle" turned on its head: "If the Bible doesn't specifically forbid X,Y, or Z, when the Bible approves of X, Y, or Z. An example here could be such 'hot button' topics like gay marriage, cohabitation, or women's ordination. Does the Bible address in detail any of these issue? Not really. They didn't impact the people of this time in the way they do ours. Still, the principles at stake are addressed: sexual immorality, the nature of marriage, and the role of women and the office of pastor. The Bible also does not address genocide, wife-beating or incest, but it clearly condemns such actions as violating the very essence of marriage and family as he created it.

Law 3: Your freedom stops where false doctrine begins. Is the Bible silent on how Christian ought to worship? It is true that the exact form that worship takes is left within the area of Christian Freedom. However, the Bible is never silent about what that form communicates. Today many in the Church are confessing that they are Lutherans, but they worship like Baptists or Pentecostals, and they sing songs that clearly undermine and counter our Christ-centered and sacramentally-based theology. Wilken quotes John Pless who demonstrates how the issue of historic liturgy is actually an issue of faith: "The liturgical crisis is a crisis of faith, for faith lives by the Word of the Lord. The contemporary uneasiness with the liturgy is really an anxiety over whether the Word of the Lord will really do what the Lord promises us that it will do." He is referring, in this case, to those who insist that the historic liturgy be jettisoned because it hinders the evangelistic efforts of the church to proclaim Christ.

Law 4: Your freedom stops where your Christian brother's conscience begins. The first note Wilken makes is that this concerns the "Christian brother" not the unbeliever. He mentions this because some have used this principle again to justify major changes in the church in order not to "offend" the unchurched, such as removing the cross from the sanctuary. This principle, however, is concerned with what Paul would refer to as the "weaker brother." The issue here, therefore, is will my actions undermine the Gospel? Wilken uses examples in this case of Paul's different decisions regarding the circumcision of Titus and Timothy (cf. Gal. 2 and Acts 16).

Law 5: Just because there is more than one right way to do it, doesn't mean that there is no wrong way to do it. Here we confront the the principle of "anything goes." The reasoning is: "I have my way; you have your way; there are no wrong ways; it's all good!" Wilken remarks that "This is the single greatest and most dangerous misconception about adiophora and Christian freedom." He says that it replaces Christian freedom with license. "In the name of Christian freedom, these churches have left free to give sinners less and less Jesus, and in some cases no Jesus at all." Unfortunately too many churches today have given into such license and permit atrocities that would have been condemned as heresy or heathen in an earlier, more faithful era. And with worship - Is there a "wrong way" to do it? I once sat in a church as youth members cart-wheeled down the isle and handled out balloons to children in the pews. I remained in that sanctuary only out of respect for my mother. Should I have been upset? Should such behavior seemed inappropriate for a sacred setting devoted to the worship of God? You be the judge....

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