Saturday, July 2, 2016

Dead Rabbits & Dumb Questions

"Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels."
- 2 Timothy 2:23 (ESV)  

Once there were two rabbits hopping carefree through the forest when, suddenly, two dogs came running after them.  The dogs were ferociously barking, their lips curled and their teeth snarled with every beat of their paws on the ground.  The rabbits, knowing the forest very well immediately took shelter in a thicket of trees where they were confident of safety.  There between the trees the two rabbits begin to converse.

"My, wasn't that an adventure!  I never expected to be chased by two such vicious English Coonhounds," said one.

"It was quite an adventure," replied the other, "but I must correct you.  Those dogs were American Foxhounds.  In fact, I have never been so sure of anything as I am that we were chased by a pair of American Foxhounds."

Puzzled by this statement the first rabbit protested, "You are quite mistaken!  We were most certainly chased by a pair of English Coonhounds; two of the most splendid specimens of that breed I have ever seen!  A finer example of English Coonhounds could not be found."

The argument continued for some minutes.  All the while, the dogs had ceased their feverish search as their ears perked with the sound of two small voices coming from a remote corner of the forest.  Slowly they inched their way toward the point of emanation until they could not only hear the argument clearly but could also see the form of the two rabbits among the trees.  As the rabbits continued their preoccupied chatter they were ignorant of the presence of the two dogs.  In a flash the dogs burst through the underbrush and there inside the very spot the rabbits had believed to be the safest in the forest the dogs enjoyed a very tasty rabbit dinner.

It should be noted that the two rabbits were both rabbits.  That is to say, they were each rabbits.  The story is not that of a rabbit and a chipmunk or a rabbit and a squirrel.  The two animals were of the same species; equal in nature and characteristics.  The only difference between the two was a matter of perspective and opinion.  For the one the specific identity of the dogs was absolutely certain: they were English Coonhounds.  It was unquestionable.  Furthermore, there was no way the first rabbit was going to recant his established belief that the dogs were English Coonhounds.  For the other rabbit, it was unthinkable that anyone could make such a grievously incorrect identification of the dogs in question.  They were obviously American Foxhounds and any other opinion was fundamentally wrong.

In this, the two rabbits were all the more identical.  While each held to a contrary opinion in regard to the identity of their pursuers, their attitude about their individual opinions was identical.  Neither was willing to entertain the possibility that their identification of the dogs was errant.  They were equally self-assured of their own absolute correctness.  All the while they became blind to the fact that the vicious, growling dogs were still on the hunt and within earshot of their argument.  Their difference of opinion was causing enough noise so as to alert their common enemy of their location resulting in their mutual destruction.  Certainly a few obvious parallels are already being drawn in your mind.

The Apostle Paul frequently found himself in the middle of great debates in regard to Christian living.  This was only natural considering the bridge the Holy Spirit was using him to build between the "two arms" of the Church - Jew and Gentile.  As difficult as it has been for some to realize and embrace, there is no such thing as Jew or Gentile in the eyes of God anymore in regard to salvation.  Everyone must pass through Jesus Christ, the Door of the Sheepfold, if they intend to have eternal life.  The book of Galatians is written to help Christians understand that all, physical Jew and physical Gentile, are now Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise because of their position in Jesus Christ.  Ephesians 2:15 tells us very clearly that God has torn down the middle wall dividing Jew and Gentile and created one new man in Christ Jesus.

But there were still cultural and societal differences between Jew and Gentile.  Their way of looking at serving Jesus Christ was absolutely different because of their social conditioning and natural predisposition.  This shouldn't surprise us.  Take any two people from two completely different parts of the world and ask them to explain the proper way to do a certain thing and you'll find that, more than likely, their answers will differ along cultural lines.  What is more, take any two Americans, one from New York and one from Mississippi, and ask them what the proper third person plural pronoun is and you'll not only get two different answers but one really heated argument.

Which one is right?  Is the Yankee right in saying "you's" or the Southerner right in saying "y'all?"  The answer is a reluctant "yes."  Both are correct inasmuch as both are addressing the same crowd of people for the same purpose and, for all practical purposes, in the same way with the exception being their personal preference on how the pronoun should sound.  This is equally true for those poor, misguided souls in the Midwest using "you'n's."  The difference is only one of opinion and culture.

Take a look at Romans 14, for example, and you see the same sort of problem arising between Christians.  The Christians with a Jewish heritage were still convinced that they needed to keep parts of the Law of Moses.  As a result, some developed a self-righteousness and considered those who ate certain types of meat to be sinners.  The Gentiles were no different in looking at those Jews who refused to eat meat with them as transgressors.  One side said meat was wrong while the other side said meat was right.  Two rabbits arguing in the brush about a dumb issue.  Yes, dumb.  One person defined being dumb as "a thickheaded imperviousness to ideas."  In this case, whether or not eating a certain meat would send someone to hell was really very dumb.

The Apostle Paul made the case for leaving matters like this to personal opinion and being satisfied with differences between Christians.  He begins Romans 14 by saying to receive those who are weak in the faith but not for "doubtful disputations" (KJV).  In other words, don't start picking fights over differences of opinion.  Throughout the chapter the issues of dietary restrictions and observing days is addressed with the argument being made by the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul that Christians should leave each other alone in regard to their personal convictions and to "follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another" (Romans 14:19).  The Apostolic Doctrine in regard to matters of differences of opinion is given clearly in verse 22:

"Your personal convictions [on such matters] - exercise [them] as in God's presence, keeping them to yourself [striving only to know the truth and obey His will]..."  - Romans 14:22 (Amplified)

So where do we draw the line?  That's simple - THE WRITTEN WORD OF GOD.  To do less than what is written is lawlessness and unacceptable in the eyes of God.  To do more than what is written is acceptable BUT no Christian has the right to demand another Christian do above that which is written.  In other words, if the Spirit of God convicts a certain individual of a particular thing which is not found explicitly or in principle in the written Word of God, that individual has absolutely no right to condemn another Christian for not sharing that conviction.  Furthermore, the one who is not convicted of a particular thing which is not found explicitly or in principle in the written Word of God has absolutely no right to condemn another Christian for not sharing that liberty.  The Spirit of God knows what an individual needs to live a victorious Christian life.  The Word of God forms the "bottom-line" of that need; the Spirit of God supplies the rest individually.

The Corinthian Church of the first century must have been an "entertaining" congregation.  In the very least, they kept the Holy Spirit troubled enough to inspire the Apostle Paul in writing two letters in an attempt to help them sort things out.  First Corinthians is filled especially with exhortations and rebukes directed toward the problems within the local Assembly which, let's face it, are not different in any way from issues continuing to plague the modern Church.

One of the issues addressed very early on is the subject of division.  The Corinthians began dividing over the issue of who baptized them.  Some felt superior because they had been baptized by Peter.  Some because they had been baptized by Paul.  Others understood that they were baptized into Christ (in the name of Jesus Christ) but developed a perverse attitude about their baptism as though others who were also baptized in the name of Jesus Christ somehow weren't their equals.  The Apostle Paul begged for the cessation of such lunacy in terms too clear to be misunderstood:

"Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and there there be no divisions among you..."  - 1 Corinthians 1:10  (KJV)

Their divisions were well known to Paul because of the ill report from those of the household of Chloe (vs. 11).  The underlying rebuke was as clear as the plea.  His words could be translated in our modern vernacular: "My Brothers, I'm begging you in the very name of God - stop your petty arguing over such dumb things and return to unity!"  It is a rebuke that would be echoed again in 1 Corinthians 3:3, "For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?"  In this passage, "walk as men" could be translated "according to man."  In other words, the Corinthians were guilty of dividing because of themselves and not because of true godliness.  There was nothing holy about their holiness.  They were claiming division in the name of righteousness when, in reality, they were only satisfying their own flesh.

Carnality.  Indulging the will of the flesh.  Many times division is encouraged in the name of doctrine when, in reality, it's nothing but the flesh of the individual seeking to divide with no real spiritual purpose.  Things like pride and ego.  It's easier to divide than forgive.  It's easier to divide than admit you're wrong.  It's easier to divide than peacefully co-exist with someone who doesn't necessarily agree with your every opinion.  It's easier, but it's also the two-fold hellish spirit named Pride and Haughtiness.  We who are of Christ have NO reason to divide.  Not now; not ever.  It simply isn't God's will.

How shameful it is for Brethren of like precious Faith who, in 99 points, agree with one another and yet for lack of 1 point (that one matter of personal conviction or opinion) cannot even speak to one another when passing in the store.  What does this tell the world?  What does this say of the Church?  Worst of all, what might this be telling the world of the Church's regard for the teachings of Christ and His Apostles?

"A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." - John 13:34-35 (KJV)

Later on the Apostle Paul developed his argument against division further by appealing to the comparison of the Church to a single human body.

"That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another."  - 1 Corinthians 12:25 (KJV)

A Minister once declared very boldly that it was every Christian's duty to "cut out cancers" from the Body of Christ.  The context of the sermon from which this quote is derived was that anyone with the Holy Spirit was qualified to drive out those among us who were not "toeing the line" so to speak or, in other words, held to contrary personal convictions.  Now, while that's not how the Minister in question said it nor is it likely that he would agree with that interpretation, that was, in all reality, the crux of the matter.  He had interpreted personal convictions as universal doctrine and, in doing so, had not only violated the Apostle's Doctrine on the subject as found in Romans 14 but had also encouraged that which the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul tried so vehemently to stop in the Corinthian Church.

The fact of the matter is that no one on earth is qualified to do surgery on the Body of Christ.  Absolutely no one.  It's God's body and no one in their right mind would lift the blade of a knife against it.  When we divide from other Christians over personal opinions, what are we doing if not presuming ourselves to be qualified to operate on the Body?  Does the fact that another individual doesn't share our personal conviction mean they are not part of the Body of Christ?  Absolutely not!  Why would you cut off one hand just because it isn't exactly like the other?  Some individuals are left handed and others right handed.  Would a left handed person be wise to cut off their right hand because it was less dexterous than their left or a right handed person their left because of the same condition?  Not at all!  Each is fundamentally similar (four fingers, one thumb and a palm) while different in some regards (dexterity, size, blemishes).

Cutting away a member of the Body does nothing to help the Body in general nor does it help the members in particular.  Yes, a blind man generally develops better hearing, but does that justify removing one's functioning eyes?  The Apostle Paul used the most basic element of human existence, the human body proper, to undergird his logic and, in doing so, left a most damning argument against those who seek division.

An epitaph dating from the early 1900's can be found in an English Cemetery on the grave of one Michael O'Day.  It reads:

This is the grave of Mike O'Day,

Who died maintaining his right of way.

His right was clear, his will was strong,

But he's just as dead as if he'd been wrong.

Is a person wrong to hold to a personal conviction?  Absolutely not as long as that conviction does not contradict the written Word of God.  But there comes a point when an opinion can become fatal.  That is when one becomes so convinced that their opinion is absolutely and universally right that they demand it of others.  Is a personal opinion really worth disobeying God's command for love and unity?

The two rabbits in our opening paragraphs are dead.  They got caught up in a matter of opinion which each though was an issue of absolute truth.  "But the dogs were of a definite breed," some would object.  Certainly they were.  But was that the important point?  Or was the important thing realizing that the dogs had murder in their eyes, death in their mouths and were going to consume both rabbits regardless of their breed?  Whatever the rabbits thought about the dogs, they would have been wiser to have kept their mouths shut, watched for one another, loved one another and kept their opinions to themselves.

And if that sounds like familiar advice, it should be.  That's the very advice God has given to the Christian in matters of opinion.

"Your personal convictions [on such matters] - exercise [them] as in God's presence, keeping them to yourself [striving only to know the truth and obey His will]..."  - Romans 14:22 (Amplified)

The rabbits are dead for lack of wisdom.  How many souls must die at our hands due to our negligence before we take the right steps to rectify our carnal ways?  Or it could be asked this way: How long before our dumb questions make us all a bunch of dead rabbits? Print this post

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