When I was younger I saw everything as pure black and white with very little gray. As I’ve matured in my spiritual walk I have come to realize that yes there are doctrinal issues that we must take a firm and unshakable stand on, but there are other things that are more culturally driven or even spiritually unclear questions. These questions are what I want to address in this paper: things like contemporary or traditional music, liturgical or non-liturgical style services, the proper role of women in the church, gifts of the spirit and many more that I could mentioned.
How do we address these issues? How do we resolve them to the general satisfaction of the individual independent local church or denominational group?
I believe that before the Lord’s death he gave us the tools to deal with these issues. Further I believe that the book of Acts gives us a prime example of how to deal with these divisive issues. I call it the Keys of the Kingdom.
In Matthew 16 Simon Peter has declared that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God. The passage continues with Jesus blessing Peter and made reference to Peter being “a stone” but the truth that Peter has proclaimed is “a boulder” upon which Jesus will build his church. Then I believe Jesus said one of the most puzzling yet profound things he ever said to the twelve (and not just to Peter):
19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
Matthew 16:19 (NIV)
Matthew 16:19 (NIV)
To understand this verse we must remember a number of things. Matthew who records this saying is writing to Jewish believers. As such he is showing that Jesus is not only the greatest Rabbi to ever have lived but also Jesus is the promised Messiah and the very Son of God.
Rabbis had a way of teaching and they often spoke in “Rabbiese” much like many Christians today speak “Christianese” If you lived in the culture of the time you will understand what Jesus is saying. But being almost 2000 years removed and living in a western culture vs. a Hebraic eastern culture we miss the significance of the message.
When a student (disciple) was ready to graduate from his training under his teacher (rabbi or master) he would be granted permission to carry on his teacher’s work. If he encountered a situation that the teacher had not specifically covered he was given permission to make decisions based upon his understanding of training for the teacher and his followers. He was given the “keys to the kingdom.”
Now this played out in the early church with what is known as the first Jerusalem council in the 15th chapter of the book of Acts (the history book of the early church). Paul and his fellow missionaries had shared the good news with Jews and gentiles alike. This influx of gentile believers of Jesus Christ into the church had caused concern for the more traditional Jewish believers. Did these non-Jewish believers need to convert to Judaism (with all of it’s rituals and rules) or not.
Both sides presented their concerns and positions to the leadership of the church that included not only the apostles that were in Jerusalem but also the church leaders (specifically James) of the mother church. Following the discussion and after seeking God’s direction through prayer James made his judgment. Gentile did not have to become Jews to be considered full followers of Christ. The leadership of the church had practiced Matthew 16:19 and the Lord blessed their decision with a great influx of gentile believers in the years to come.
So how does all of this apply to some of the more the cultural questions you have asked me to address? My answer is that some answers need to be made based on carefully seeking God’s will for our local church. Not every church will come to the same conclusion and that is fine in not essential doctrines. Each church (and leader for that matter) will stand before God to give an account for what they decided. There will be occasions when these decisions will be right for one group but not another. And that is okay. Paul and Barnabas agreed to disagree regarding taking John Mark on a missionary journey and they separated ways. The net result was that the gospel reached more people because they multiplied their efforts. Neither was right or wrong. Furthermore what might be right at one point in our journey might change with the passing of time. Later in life Paul commented on how helpful John Mark had become to him in the ministry after previously rejecting him for that second mission.
In conclusion while I have opinions and preferences on cultural issues I am more desirous to partner with the spiritual leadership of the church to seek God’s leading and do His will regarding these and other non-essential issues. Our concern should always be what does the Lord want and not what do we want. After all we have all been taught to say “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven!”
Now if I can just find those keys…