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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

With Freedom Comes Responsibility

I've been doing some deep pondering lately. I have been comparing my "progress" as a Christian while I was in Armstrongism, and what has changed since I left in August of 2008. Oddly enough, and though I know it is a natural progression, I feel that I was more mindful of my pursuit of Christ while I was within the rigid confines and authoratarian structure of Armstrongism. To put it more bluntly, the freedom of New Covenant Christianity has given me room to slack off lately.
(I am going to get a little preachy here, so please excuse me, and bear with me.)

Here is a warning for all who are leaving Armstrongism: Freedom means responsibility! If we will not take the responsibility upon ourselves to do the things we know we should be doing as Christians, then we have only ourselves to blame. Without a minister to intimidate you - not can you (because you can now more than ever) but WILL you keep up on your relationship with Christ on your own? I pray that you will!

There is a reason why James felt it necessary to write what he did in his epistle.
(JAS. 1: 22) But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
(JAS. 2: 14-17) 14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
(JAS. 2: 24) You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.

Armstrong greatly twisted what James was saying. Instead of clarifying James, who simply wanted people to actively practice what they preach, Armstrong modified James into saying 'If you don't keep the Old Covenant, you will die.' (I paraphrase, but that is the gist of it.) Armstrong said that "works" means 'Old Covenant law', when it means absolutely no such thing! "Works" here means simply enough 'deeds', GOOD deeds, some of which James even points out bluntly for us: put away wrath and wickedness, bridle your tongue, be impartial, care for the needy, be humble, do not condemn, be patient, persevere in trials, help the wayward brother... all of these are 'deeds' which come from the Spiritliving within us and bearing fruit, not mere rote acts of obedience to Old Covenant law (especially not a cherry-picked, partial keeping of the law).

Many people try to misinterpret - or sweep under the rug - what James is saying. It sounds too much unlike Paul, from a certain point of view. In reality James compliments Paul (God is not the author of confusion). James wants us to actively nurture our relationship with Christ, and put our money where our mouths are. It means a great deal to God! What James is saying means a lot to me right now. The problems I see potentially creeping into my own life are the very same James and the rest of the Apostles and Church shepherds dealt with from that day forward; the New Covenant offers us room to slack off. 
Now, don't get me wrong, I am not saying there is acceptance towards slacking off in the New Covenant. I am merely saying that there is freedom, and with freedom comes the natural tendancy of humans to do the least to get by. It's not the Covenant's fault, but our nature's fault. And it is something we should all, as Christians, be working against! Hence the warnings time and time again to persevere.

Look at what Christ said:
(REV. 2: 7, 11, 17, 26) ["To him who" or "He who"] overcomes...
(REV. 3: 5, 12, 21) ["To him who" or "He who"] overcomes...
(REV. 21: 7) He who overcomes...

Overcoming here clearly means overcoming not just the world, but our selves. I perceive that we are our own greatest obstacle. A tendancy to slacking off will simply not get that job done!

And we should very much take these warnings to heart. I have heard from some people that once we are saved, we are always saved. Peter himself disagrees!

(2 PET 2: 20-22) 20 For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. 21 For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”

If there were no possibility of this coming to pass, then there would have been absolutely no reason for this warning from God through Peter.
What I am implying is that I am a firm believer in the slippery slope, and I believe that a little slacking off now can head down that slope to destruction.

(PRO. 6: 6-11) 6 Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, 7 Which, having no captain, overseer or ruler, 8 Provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest. 9 How long will you slumber, O sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep? 10 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep— 11 So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler, and your need like an armed man.

Considder these words from Solomon as referring to Spiritual harvest, and you see my point.

(PRO. 24: 30-34) 30 I went by the field of the lazy man, and by the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding; 31 And there it was, all overgrown with thorns; its surface was covered with nettles; its stone wall was broken down. 32 When I saw it, I considered it well; I looked on it and received instruction: 33 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest; 34 so shall your poverty come like a prowler, and your need like an armed man.

Here is a person with an otherwise perfectly good field. Rather than bearing fruit of the Spirit, it is choked with briars. Does this remind anyone of Matthew 13?  And here it was all due to just a little rest; just a little laziness and slacking off.

So I asked myself, and I'm interested to hear what others think about this thought --
Knowing that all things work together for good to those who love God (ROM. 8: 28), is it perhaps a good thing that groups such as Armstrongism have this rigid structure? Could it be, could it possibly be, that these people who migrate to these types of groups do so because they need that rigid structure? Could it be, could it possibly be, that God has allowed this - not to bring them into subjection to men and frustrate their salvation to a vain chasing after the law - but to by any chance save those who are given to slack off in freedom through providing a more rigid and authoritarian structure for them? Could it be that there is a silver lining to such things as Armstrongism?

Anyhow, take this post for what it is - just my thoughts on my performance thus far. I am disappointed in myself. I needed to preach, not to you, but to me, for just a bit. I feel a bit better now. I hope it has helped you too. 
And especially for those who are exiting Armstrongism, loved dearly by God, please take it deeply to heart. I thrived under the rigid structure. When freedom came, a greater opportunity also came for wandering off. It will be much more difficult to 'know' the way that you should go, until you grow in the New Covenant and see clearly the simplicity in Christ. Keep up on your studies and your prayers!!!!! Write to me and we'll talk. Whatever I need to do to encourage you, I'm here to do. And there are plenty of success stories out there for you to draw inpiration from. Don't be intimidated. I promise you - it is so far better to step fully into the New Covenant! God bless you and keep you, but DO step in to that better covenant!


Byker Bob said...

Great post! You raised some issues which should concern us all.

Christianity is a process of transformation of the heart. The Holy Spirit works with each of us as individuals. This is not a process which flourishes under a legalistic system of government from the top down. It is more grass roots, from the bottom up, and it is only pure if it comes from the heart. Legalistic enforcement is actually counter to the process, because it comes externally from others rather than from God, or from the workings of the Holy Spirit within our hearts. Legalism doesn't work. It's what blinded the Pharisees. There is no man between ourselves and God. The vail to the Holy of Holies was torn at Jesus' death, and we can now enjoy a direct relationship with Father God through Jesus Christ. There is great freedom in Jesus!

Once you invite God to walk with you, and have submitted your very being to God as a channeling vehicle for Jesus Christ, who comes to live His life through you, God is not going to let you go. You could make a deliberate choice to abandon God, but He will continue to set up circumstances in your life to draw you back to Him. Your devotion to Him can rise and wane. You can make bad decisions, and sin. You will be forgiven, but in many cases suffer God's consequences for your actions. This is part of His love. Jesus Christ is the good shepherd, who will always go after that one sheep that strays. He is not willing to lose any of us!

The root problem I have found with Armstrongism is that they did not understand or trust the power of the Holy Spirit, and His or Its ability to work in a Christian's life. That is why they emphasized the law, and used intrusive control measures on us all. When you think about it, they attempted to usurp the role of the Holy Spirit! We're all on individualized plan, with God understanding what we need for our long-term spiritual good, and having the keys to unlock our minds. He can harden or soften our hearts according to His will.

It is important to have that "Abba Father" attitude, but even if we falter, the greatest comprehension of the Father's love can be gleaned from Jesus' example of the prodigal son. When we sin, there is no fooling God. He knows instantly what we've done, and what our attitude is, just as we often know this as parents when our children stray. But, He doesn't hate us for this, just as we don't hate our children when they disobey. He wants a relationship with all of His children. Like any good parent, He loves us more than He hates disobedience. It is a long-term thing.

It is very difficult, when we come from a system where the law was an idol, or false god, to understand these principles. The law was made for the evil, or the nonobservant. The overlying concept behind the law was God's perfect love, evidenced by the intentions we all have behind our actions. Transformation of the heart, where sin actually begins, is what Jesus was truly teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. No law can produce this! People with His love are going to bear good fruits in their lives. It is perfectly natural, unavoidable, and is what Paul so eloquently described in his epistle to the Galatians.

That is my understanding at this point in time. Hope it is helpful.


xHWA said...

IF there is any good in the post, then I thank God for that. But thanks, Bob, for addressing my questions!

You bring up some fine points. I hope people benefit from this conversation!

Byker Bob said...

Cool! One thing I forgot to mention, and that is I also ebb and flow, rise and wane, or whatever else we could choose to call it. It's part of our very human condition. The thing is, waning does hit us where it counts, right in the conscience God gave us! It often ends up spawning a totally new level of spiritual awareness by making us desperately seek an ever deepening relationship with the Father. God causes our higher highs to catapault from our lower lows!

Blessings to you!