September 18, 2015

Biblical Conviction or Personal Preference

[Subtitle: Legalism or Liberty] 

I suppose now is a good time to delineate between what is personal preference, personal convictions, Biblical convictions and Biblical belief. All of these delineations are necessary in a Christian’s life and must be properly divided up and understood or things like personal preference and personal convictions (issues of conscience like 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, 10:23-33) turn into legalism. Biblical Convictions and Biblical beliefs need to be delineated from both personal preference and convictions or doctrines can become cultic or doctrines end up being abandoned for heresies.

1 Corinthians 10:23-24 ~ “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.

It is best to understand that except for personal preference and person conviction which are subjective and relative to the believer, all other issues become an issue of dogma, objective or absolutes. We are obliged to obey and believe the objective because they are objective truth from an objective God that has provided inerrant Scripture to validate our belief. When in doubt we must consult with Scripture to assure what we believe is correct.

Personal preference and person conviction allow for a bit more freedom and liberty and should not be viewed dogmatically. If people become dogmatic about them it amounts to nothing more than Pharisaical legalism based on their perception of Biblical principles. Furthermore convictions and beliefs can be further broken down into essentials and non-essentials. If these seem confusing I will break it out below into four distinct categories.
  1. Subjective-Personal Convictions-Essential
  2. Subjective-Personal Preferences-Non-Essential
  3. Biblically Objective-Biblical Convictions-Essential
  4. Biblically Objective-Biblical Beliefs-Non-Essential
I may get a little pushback in the personally subjective category but my attitude is where it is not absolutely imperative to salvation, I need to see things with liberty not dogmatism. As with anything, excess, overindulgence or gluttony is never a good thing. Moderation is desired in most situations yet it is still a person’s discretion how much is too much and is dictated by conscience.

So how do these categories break out? Consult the descriptions below. I of course will not list every possible example but merely giving a quick set of examples to base decisions off of. The following I would consider properly categorized concepts, precepts or principles.

Subjective-Personal Convictions (Essential to Individual Believer’s Well-Being):

Alcohol consumption (in limitation or moderation). If you’re going to have a beer have a beer, not a case. If you are out with an alcoholic friend though you should reconsider. Dancing? Really? I need to tell you there is nothing wrong with dancing when it is all over the Bible in worship to God? I should say that the exception to this is today’s “dancing” in nightclubs though is subject to interpretation. Especially some of the drug and alcohol influenced “dancing”. Sexually provocative and sexually suggestive movement and a “bump and grind” isn’t really dancing. It is more akin to a mating ritual and should be avoided. Clothing seems to fit in this area too. What people wear is pretty much their choice. Again it is an issue of moderation or modesty. Does a man wear a tank top to Sunday worship? Does a woman wear a halter top, skin-tight mini skirt and stilettos to the 10:00 service? There is a difference between what is accepted/acceptable and what is inappropriate.

If the clothes distract others from worship, you are causing people to stumble in their walk. Apply commonsense in this situation. Types of education, should children be homeschooled to avoid secular influence or should Christian children attend school to be acclimated to it and to also integrate their Christian worldview into world around them as salt and light? Your call. Politics? Does every Christian need to lean right? Doesn’t pigeonholing Christians to an either/or proposition of left of right defeat Paul’s idea of all things are lawful? Tattoos and music for me fit into this category also.

Subjective-Personal Preferences (Non-Essential to Individual Believer’s Well-Being):

This category is pretty much wide open. In this category I would place value/worth judgments. What kind of car should I buy? Again the clothes enter into this here too. Colors of clothes and styles. Gratuitously sexually suggestive wardrobes might be socially or culturally acceptable but are they appropriate for the Christian? What kind of pet should I have? A dog, cat, snake, lizard, etc. How should I spend my leisure time? Should I keep it personal or perhaps communal? Do I practice hobbies? Engage family? Community service? Do I study the Word of God? Study science? On a lighter note, do I put the toilet paper in so that it will unroll from the top or the bottom? Do I part my hair to the left, right or no part at all? Can a man have long hair and a woman short? You get the picture.

Biblically Objective-Biblical Convictions (Essential to Individual Believer):

This is the category where the ship begins to tighten up. This is where people begin to balk and complain of legalism, dogmatism and a host of other complaints that people claim are unnecessary restrictions on their lives. I suggest that those that would say those words do not fully understand their Bible or theology. These “restrictions” people claim are being forced on them by the Bible (as it were). These issues are now no longer issues of conscience or obeying one’s subjective (personal) measure of morality but issues of disobeying God’s Word and issues of people digressing from God’s objective truth (apostasy). Objective Biblical convictions keep us on the path to holiness and righteousness. Holiness and righteousness which can only be found in God as He is the only true possessor of it and we are ontologically dependent on him for it. Without which we are condemned.

What are the ideas and principles in this category that cannot be negotiable for the Christian? The Trinity. The Deity and humanity of Christ. Holiness of God, Total depravity of Man therefore Original Sin. Man was originally created holy to be in relationship/fellowship with God but fell into sin. Mankind and Creation has therefore been subsequently cursed. Substitutionary atonement in Jesus Christ. Physical Resurrection of Jesus on the third day after death and burial in accordance with Scripture. Salvation by grace through faith alone. Sanctification of believers. Physical return of Christ. Final judgment.

Like it or not a few of the hot-button issues of the culture today fit here too. Why? It’s an issue of obedience to an absolute moral standard without which apostasy and a fall way from God inevitably ensues. Homosexuality and same-sex marriage, abortion and euthanasia reside here as well because they are violations of morality which still apply to humanity from the Old Testament and are upheld morally in Jesus Christ. In other words, anything in the Old Testament Law that continues to make you more holy and pushes you in the direction of God’s attributes of morality and holiness still apply. Civil and ceremonial Laws like seed and/or fabric mixing do not. As they were abrogated or absorbed by Jesus Christ at the Cross.

Biblically Objective-Biblical Beliefs (Non-Essential to Individual Believer):

In our final category we again we loosen up and enjoy the freedom and liberty that a higher umbrella allows. Personal holiness is required by the principles of Scripture but how exactly we go about it is the working-out of our individual salvation (Philippians 2:12-13). What exactly we believe based on interpretation of Scripture is given some leeway in some instances, other times not. In the leeway category we have things like personal holiness and how we pursue it. We’ve been given many options in many aspects of our lives to pursue holiness and our relationship with God. How we live dictates this because the more we incorporate God into our lives the higher the prevalence of moving towards holiness even in our fallen sinful state. How we pray and frequency of prayer is also our choice. More prayer is obviously better but we are not given strict criteria, merely encouraged to do so. We also have the role of women (not in leadership), forms of church government/administration. Even the position of and conditions of the Tribulation and Rapture (Post, Mid, Pre-wrath, Pre, no rapture).

In the “other times not” category we have things like exact type of hermeneutic (conservative or liberal, the Psalms, historical narrative, parables), account of the creation, Calvinist/Arminian debate, etc. Psalms need to be understood as poetry/song. The Genesis account is historical narrative, a letter is a letter and an epistle is an epistle. Where you fall on some of these, is what I believe to be an issue of maturity and holistic comprehension of Scripture. Many will say that knowing exactly whether or not the Creation is based on Gap Theory, Young Earth theory (4000 years old Creation and literal Adam) or Old Earth theory (billions of years old, mythical Adam). 

Many will say it is irrelevant and not worth splitting hairs over but any astute theologian or student of Scripture will note that it is indeed important to know where you stand on a figurative or literal Adam. Why? Because Jesus believed in a literal Adam.

The same goes with the Calvinist / Arminian issue and issues of freewill and predestination. Why? Because your understanding of God’ sovereignty dictates your view on His omnipotence and omniscience. They might  not be strictly salvational issues but they are critical to your relationship with God. Why? Because part of a true relationship with someone is your understanding of them. Real love drives you to want to know the reality of the One you love....or it isn't true or real love. If you don't fully know them how can you fully love them? You only understand and love a part. Hence it is an issue of maturity.

If God is indeed sovereign and in control of time and space…he had to have at least foreknown the outcome to things and should’ve had the ability / control to inevitably affect their outcome. I personally believe in a doctrine or belief of Concurrence in this situation. This merely states that underneath the umbrella of God’s providence, God chooses to condescend and cooperate with created beings and system in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do. In Ephesians 1:11 Paul says that God “accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will.” The word translated “accomplishes” / ἐνεργέω indicates that God “works” or “brings about” all things according to his own will. No event in creation falls outside of his providence. Of course this fact is hidden from our eyes unless we read it in Scripture. Like preservation, God’s work of concurrence is not clearly evident from observation of the natural world around us like His existence is.

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