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Allowing Others Their Christian Liberty

on . Posted in Perspective

nunChristian liberty is the least understood and the least practiced doctrine in the Bible. I cannot prove this, of course, but based upon years of experience I believe it.

Christian liberty is the biblical teaching that once we become a believer in Christ God entrusts us with the opportunity and responsibility to make decisions about how we live. That is, he gives us the Bible as our means of knowing his moral will, then he wants us to decide what we do, what we don’t do, what practice we embrace, what practice we reject.

The Key Concept

     God gave us principles to live by. His Word presents certain moral absolutes, commands for our good requiring our obedience. These absolutes are the non-negotiables of Scripture, the will of God that does not change with culture, person or persona, gender, age, race, ethnicity, or our lifestyle inclinations. Included in this list are the big ones: idolatry, murder, lying, adultery, theft, and a few more. God’s list isn’t that long, really, but each “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not” is critical to our wellbeing and we ignore them at our own peril.

     But then there’s everything else, all the non-moral (in the sense that God did not command, condemn, or commend) matters, the myriad options we enjoy as human beings created in the image of God to be free, reasoning, and productive people. It’s the culture, i.e., way of life, we live within and create.

     This vast area of cultural expressions is where our Christian liberty should operate, with this caveat from the Apostle Paul: “’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive’” (1 Corinthians 10:23).

     This anything/everything is what we sometimes call the “gray areas.” They’re not defined by Christian teaching as black or white, so to speak, but are open to our interpretation and engagement. And because of this, they must be approached with a mature Christian worldview, what Paul wanted for the Philippian church: “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11).

     Now in the process of engaging or creating culture we often find that not everyone agrees. “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind” (Romans 14:5). Here’s the point at which people get most confused because, I suggest, they do not understand or practice Christian liberty. They do not allow others liberty to choose and/or they can’t “live with” others’ choices.

The Application

     Scores of churches have battled over music: what kind, from a hymnbook or a screen or monitor, what instruments. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this discussion. In fact, I think it’s a good one in terms of worship, art and aesthetics, spirituality, and more. What’s wrong sometimes is how the discussion, or lack thereof, is conducted and how the decisions are applied.

     I know of churches where the old hymns (with associated piano and organ) versus new worship choruses (with associated guitars and drums) battle has been fought and usually won by the New. OK, maybe this is an appropriate decision for this church fellowship. Problem is, it’s too often an all or none, my way or the highway decision, and once the New is ensconced the Old is not only no longer welcome, it (and they who enjoy it) are sometimes disrespected. I’ve watched or heard as a lover of the Old begged for the chance to put an old hymn into the worship playlist. Nope, too gray, too jarring, someone might think we’re out of date.

     But if there’s nothing wrong with either the New or the Old, why is the Old so often banished like something conquered, and along with it, sometimes also those who enjoy the Old?

     It’s interesting to me how often those supporting the New want access and respect, but when they gain it don’t return the same to the Old. And sometimes those who support either the New or the Old want their Christian liberty to choose what they like, but they don’t want to allow the other camp Christian liberty to choose what they like.

     To deal with the issue, some churches go the two-services-two-formats route. People who like the Old go to one service and people who like the New go to the other. Nothing wrong with this. But there may be unintended consequences with this approach.

     Two-services-two-formats can create a split in the congregation, not just in age or music preferences but in a capacity to grow in appreciation for the historical heritage and blessings of church music. How will the younger ever learn the old hymns of the faith if they never hear or sing them? How will the older ever learn to engage the positive contributions of new Christian songs if they never hear or sing them? Worse, how will they learn to allow for and appreciate another believer’s Christian liberty in music preference if they are never given the opportunity to sing or worship with them? And how will anyone develop an appreciation for the breadth and depth of church music if they experience only a small piece of this rich heritage? It seems to me that in our desire to meet people’s perceived (OK, legitimate) desires we inadvertently rob them of an opportunity to go deeper, grow, and mature.

     Now again, there’s nothing wrong with two-services-two-formats. I’m just asking questions about potential ripple effects. And I wonder sometimes about whether the New respects and allows for the Old and whether the Old respects and allows for the New in the context of Christian love and liberty.

     One thing might help. I don’t think that recognizing someone’s liberty necessarily requires you to like the activity in which they engage. We give each other liberty to choose different foods, but this doesn’t mean we have to like the food they eat.

The Wrap

     One last thought: understanding and practicing Christian liberty is a liberating experience.

                           Rex M. Rogers, President SAT-7 USA,,  


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