The first question to be addressed is this: Since I am a slave to Christ, and my reading is subject to him, what are the specific rules I am bound by?
This question brings us to the heart of Christian liberty.
The fact is, I can't give you any. Don't get me wrong; the Bible has plenty of rules for what we should fill our minds and hearts with. But as I thought about this issue, I came to what I consider the heart of Christian liberty advocates: namely, that they feel drowned in a multiplicity of rules they cannot remember, and fear to break. The burden of their religion is too heavy for them. And frankly, they're burdened by rules that they shouldn't have to keep. How do we come to an understanding of the fact that we are bound by rules, but sometimes we try to follow ones that we never should?
The difference, my friends, is God and man. And I have written the following definition of Christian liberty for your consideration:
Christian liberty is the realization that I am free from the laws established by men, and subject to the laws established by God.
Let's explain this a little further.
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’ But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
"Christian Liberty" is really a cry for "Let me be free from this heavy load." Barring the instructions of your parents, you are not obligated to follow the rules of any other Christian, when they are rules that are made by men. Sola Scriptura, and that applies to the books you read. For instance, your family may think it biblically acceptable to read stories about marriage and engagement. When you meet another family who says "It is wrong for people to be filling their heads with such trash", don't let it shake you up. Simply walk away saying "They're right; it would be wrong for them to do so." But don't think twice when God himself has not given you the same conviction. You don't have to do a double-take every time someone has a different "rule" than you do. Take again The Chronicles of Narnia and other fantasy novels. I've heard everything from "the greatest Christian allegory written in the history of man" to "a dangerous minefield of occult influences". I don't go with either of these opinions; I'm somewhere in the middle. But if you do read The Chronicles of Narnia, you don't have to do a double-take every time someone else writes an article against them.
It disturbs me when I see people in bondage to "what does this family do?" or "what does that speaker agree with?" or "does this ministry think that concept acceptable?" It is right and good to fellowship with other believers, and even in some cases to debate on disagreements when the law of God is at stake. But just because someone says "this is right" and "that is wrong," doesn't mean we have to change our own convictions to match that. We only change it when we realize our former conviction has been in violation to the law of God.
In the end, it's a mistaken application of trying to make ourselves better Christians. We look at someone else's reading convictions and think they're somehow more Christian then ours, so we try to follow the "rules" to make ours as good as theirs. This is a wrong thinking that breaks my heart, because it only entraps those who follow it. We must look at the speaker, follow the example of the family, and accept the doctrine of the ministry, only as it points us to God's law--and if it isn't found in Scripture, then it's an addition, and one we don't need to follow unless God so directs us.
God judges. God sets the laws. God controls our Christian life. And it is dishonoring to Him and unfair to fellow Christians to compel ourselves to follow laws added by man.
In conclusion to the Christian liberty question: enjoy discussing differences with fellow believers. Allow yourselves to have differences without panicking; God calls us to different reading convictions (though they must all line up with Scripture). Be very careful in distinguishing man's law from God's law. We still have laws that we need to follow. We're still in bondage to Christ. But we shouldn't be bound by man-made laws that hold us in perpetual fear and guilt.
This is a personal and sometimes confusing issue. But if we bring our books to the Father to seek his wisdom and His grace, if we hold them up to the light of Scripture and Scripture alone, then He will grant us the wisdom to apply His rules for us.
Three indications that you're adding too many extra guidelines to your reading:
1. You are afraid of other people disagreeing with you.
2. Reading has lost its delight.
3. You are afraid that breaking rules set by others means breaking the law of God.
There are some of us that are weary and burdened because we're trying to obey man's opinions instead of God's commands. Let it go. Practice resisting the false guilt that has developed from trying to follow restrictions that were never set forth in Scripture. Rest in the Lord and in his commands for you. He is the one that commands, and no-one else (again, outside the guidelines set forth by your parents) has the authority to do so. Come to grips in your mind with the fact that you can agree to disagree, and still be good friends and supporters.
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
The final issue for this series is as follows:
You can't judge me. Christians aren't supposed to judge."
Matthew 7:1, as one speaker remarked, has become the new John 3:16 of our culture. "Do not judge, or you too will be judged."
Unfortunately they don't keep reading.
"For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."
They're absolutely right. We don't judge. But God's law judges both of us. And therefore:
If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.
When your brother sins against the law of God (and we must make sure that it is God's law, not our law) then Christ commands that you rebuke him. In such cases we must do so kindly and graciously, but we must do so. The passage in Matthew 7 doesn't say "forbear to remove the speck from your brother's' eye." It says "remove it". And "taking the plank out of your own eye" doesn't mean "perfect yourself" before you do so. It is God who judges. But we are not excused from lovingly pointing out the sin in our brother's reading material when it violates the law of God. Judge, and then give mercy, so that it may be done as well to you.
In a word: God judges. But He sometimes requires us to speak His judgement, so that our brother might be saved from his sin. "Do not judge" yes, but "Rebuke" and "Remove the speck" should also be coupled with this statement.
I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this series. Questions? Concerns? Comments? Leave them in the comment box or drop me a line. It's always a pleasure to hear from you. :)
And next week, I think I'll line up a couple of book reviews.