Tag Archives: bikinis

Should Christians make rules to follow? Titus 1:10-16, Part 4

5 Jul

When my wife and I were students in Bible college, at the beginning of every semester we had to sign a document stating we would abide by the student handbook which had loads of rules.  You couldn’t go to the movies.  You couldn’t kiss on campus. There were pages and pages of rules. One rule was that you couldn’t dance.  That was in the early 90s when grunge music was popular, and our area was a hotbed for local Christian bands. Every weekend we could pick from multiple venues featuring grunge style rock and roll.  If you’ve ever been to a grunge concert, you know that you don’t really dance to that style of music.  Instead there is a mosh pit, featuring a rowdy form of jumping around and crashing into each other.  It is a lot of fun.  So because we Bible college students couldn’t dance, we would mosh. 

Were we breaking the college rules? Should the college even have rules like that?

As we continue studying Paul’s teaching in his letter to Titus, I want us to think about the intersection of Christianity and rules. In Titus 1:15-16, what we saw in our last post is that Paul was teaching something very new about rules. I want ask: are there ways in which we have been taught that Christians have certain rules to follow?  Oh yes. 

A heritage of rules is a long-held part of evangelical Christianity.  Yet, I think Paul would say the same thing to us that he said to the churches in Crete in his letter to Titus: We are free. We shouldn’t have rules like the OT Law. 

So where did our contemporary Christian rules come from?

Our evangelical heritage had a strong holiness emphasis.  It started off well and good, I believe, where people wanted to pursue the blamelessness we talked about in the series of posts on Titus 1:5-9.  But it is so interesting how a pursuit of blamelessness can lead to creating new rules. 

When my Bible college’s administration discovered, for example, that many students were moshing at grunge concerts, and they created a new rule about it. I’ll never forget the college chapel service when the dean of students got up in front of the student body and tried really hard to read the new decree that there would be no more…and he stuttered…he couldn’t get the word out right…he said, “mooshing?”  He didn’t know how to properly pronounce it, so he kept saying, “mooshing.” We were not allowed to moosh.  There was much laughter in the crowd that day. 

My dad was a professor at the time at the college, and he regularly taught in his New Testament classes the exact kinds of passages that we are looking at this week, “To the pure, all things are pure.”  His suggestion was that we should scrap the entire student handbook, and just allow the Bible to guide us.  I agree. 

This is tricky, though, because we have so many rules in a church family that we disagree about.  We’ve talked about this many times over the years on this blog.  Can girls and women wear bikinis?  Can we watch R-rated movies, smoke, drink, dance, curse, work on Sundays, and on and on it goes

Clearly, Paul was saying to Titus that those people in the church who made following OT cleanliness rules a test case for faith were wrong.  Likewise, we should not be creating any rules and regulations and trying to bind people to follow them.  We Christians are under the New Covenant in Christ, which is the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles in the New Testament.  That is what guides our lives.  When people are trying to teach us to follow some other rules and regulations, we should rebuke them just as Paul is saying here. 

But as we rebuke, we can do so using the principles of patient encouragement and inclusion that Paul taught Titus. We want to encourage people to sound doctrine so that they can be part of the church family.  We give them chances.  To that end, we pursue unity, not uniformity. 

There is plenty of room for disagreement, so long as people in a church family are willing to agree to disagree, in a gracious manner.  There is a phrase that I have mentioned before, and I’ll say it again here because I think it is so helpful to guide us during those times when we disagree.   

It is the Pyramid of Doctrine: “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

What are the “essentials”?  I would suggest that the top part of the pyramid should be tiny.  It is why I so appreciate the my denomination’s membership ceremony which does not require new members to agree with the 25 Articles of the EC Church.  Admittedly, different denominations and churches have disagreements about what should be included in this top level, but for the EC Church we only ask people to agree to faith in and discipleship to Jesus, baptism, and commitment to the church.  Some people have suggested that we Christians should just rally around the Apostles’ Creed.  Either way, the top level is reserved for the major doctrines of the faith, and we should major on the majors, and minor on the minors.  As the phrase goes, at this top level of the pyramid, we should have unity. Not uniformity, by the way, as, even at this level, we can have some differences.

What are the minors, the “non-essentials”?  I would suggest that they are things like Predestination vs. Free will, Church government format, Evolution vs. Creation, how to do baptism, communion, and worship services.  There are a great many issues about which Christians will disagree, but we should do so with grace, love and humility.  In our church, we have a variety of opinions about these matters.  As the pyramid moves downward, the levels grow larger, meaning that there will be more and more areas of disagreement.  But that is okay.  At this middle level of the pyramid, we should have liberty, meaning we give people freedom to choose and disagree, while still maintaining loving family relations with them. Again, it is unity, not uniformity, that allows for liberty.

Finally, what are “all things”?  In this, the largest level of the pyramid, there are so many areas we could include: politics, issues of ethics, gray areas in Christian behavior, and so on.  Here, as the phrase goes, we should have charity, meaning love is our focus, because we could have sharp disagreements, but we should still love and not break relationship with one another. 

Paul is saying, in other words, that leaders take divisiveness in the church seriously.  We pursue unity in doctrine and in relationships.  Paul said we should not tolerate sin and divisiveness in the church family.  Church leaders should commit to following his teaching of silencing, rebuking and encouraging rebellious ones among them to return to sound doctrine. 

Bikinis and Bibles – 1st Corinthians 8 & 10:23-11:1

5 Jun

Last week I introduced The Great Bikini Debate and Professional Weaker Brothers.  I never imagined I’d be preaching a sermon which featured bikinis.  But this past Sunday that’s exactly what happened.  Bibles and Bikinis.  Think they don’t go together?  Think they shouldn’t go together?  I envisioned a scenario where those two things might go together.  I also envision a very disagreeable response to that scenario!

So we had a great discussion about this after worship on Sunday.  If you weren’t there I wish you could have been.  What we talked about was how many things Christians disagree about, and what we are supposed to do when we disagree.  I hope I conveyed Paul’s teaching from 1 Corinthians 8 & 10 clearly enough to give the principle that Paul teaches Christians who disagree.


So what about bikinis?  Should you or shouldn’t you? Won’t bikini-wearers be stumbling blocks?

Are you a Professional Weaker Brother?  Should you be?  How can you change?

If you’d like we can continue the discussion here.  Feel free to comment below!

The Great Bikini Debate and Professional Weak People

31 May

swimIt’s pool and beach season, and that means it is once again time for The Great Bikini Debate.  Should Christians wear them or shouldn’t they?  Our culture has come a long way from the days of the picture above, where a badged beach patrol measured women’s suits to make sure they were legal!

When you consider the various cultures around the world where it is the norm for women to be topless and men to be bottomless, who gets to decide what is okay?  In the context of the church, this is quite a debate centering on a number of social issues.

I was at my denomination’s national conference this week, and thanks to one of my pastoral colleagues, I learned a new term: the professional weaker brother.

We were talking about how people can make unnecessary additions to the good news of Jesus.  In our denomination that addition has most clearly come in the form of how people who follow Jesus are to handle the use of beverage alcohol.  Historically we have been a “prohibition” or “abstinence” church, and our denomination’s book of order states that members of our churches should hold to abstinence as “the only responsible position” to the use of alcohol.  In 2008, an initiative to change the “only” to “most” narrowly failed to receive the three-quarters majority vote needed to make that kind of adjustment to our book of order.

The reasons for the prohibition against the use of beverage alcohol in my denomination are varied, but the concern of the group that was discussing this yesterday around the breakfast table was that by requiring people to adhere to a standard that is not sustained by Scripture we have added an unnecessary burden to the Gospel.  Why would we do this?  As I ask this question, let me also be clear that I am deeply grateful for the Evangelical Congregational Church, and it’s history and theology that has been faithful to the mission of God. In commenting about this particular concern, the heart in that breakfast discussion was a grace-filled desire to see our denomination become even more faithful to the mission of God.

Lest I seem to be harping on two issues, swimwear and alcohol, I want to draw attention to the fact that the principles in play here are much larger than a couple specific issues.  In Paul’s day the issue was whether or not people in the church should eat food that had been sacrificed to idols.  It was a rather complex issue with few easy answers. So Paul takes some time to walk his readers through a loving response, and in so doing teaches some wonderful principles that could be helpful to us.

Paul very clearly teaches about two kinds of Christians that he saw in the churches in cities like Rome and Corinth in his day:  The Weak and The Strong.  He was very concerned for the weak, that their new, underdeveloped faith would be crushed by the strong.  In our sermon tomorrow, we’ll look further at what he was talking about.  To address this, Paul said that the strong should not be a stumbling block to the weak.  Before we gather for worship tomorrow morning at Faith Church (9:30am), I want to ask you if it is possible that you have been a stumbling block?  The argument that some use against the wearing of bikinis is that the bikini wearer will be a stumbling block to the men at the pool or beach.  But is that what Paul was talking about?

As I prepare this sermon, I also realize that our church culture in 2014, though we have found many similarities between ourselves and the Christians at Corinth, is also different from the church culture in Corinth in 55-60 AD.  I wonder if it is because some people have become Professional Weaker Brothers or Sisters.  Are you a Professional Weaker Bro or Sis?  If so, you may be one of those who are adding to the Good News, the Gospel.  Again, please join us as we talk further about this tomorrow.