July 3, 2012

Navigating The Gray

In the Christian world there are black-and-white issues, and then there are the gray issues. Gray issues come in shades. Some may be a bit more black, others a bit more white:
  • Black and White Issues: Murder/Killing, Theft, Sexual Conduct, Marriage, Drunkenness, etc.
  • Gray Issues: Alcohol Consumption (in Moderation), Tattoos, Halloween, Smoking, Dating or Courtship, Music/Movies/TV/Books, etc.
Don't Make Black-and-White Issues Gray Issues. There are some things that the Bible speaks to that are clear cut. We cannot argue that having an affair with someone who is not our spouse or sex outside of marriage is a gray issue because the Bible is quite clear that as Christians we're not to do either one of those things. We cannot justify that God approves of such actions or behaviors. God has not called us to become syncretists and adopt everything that the culture says is OK for you and I to do. I hate to burst some bubbles here, but the culture is not always right, nor does it always promote the truth. You and I have to be able to look at culture, look to scripture, then be discerning of that which the culture promotes that's wrong. Culture does not get to redefine scripture. Culture is not "above" God's Word. It's the reverse. 

Don't Turn Gray Issues into Black-and-White Issues. The Christian life means living in tension, not adhering to boycott lists. It's a good kind of tension, but tension none the less. This is what I want to look at more though, because often amongst Christians this is where arguments and disagreements break out, and it's not so much that theology is in question, but rather culture is.
Don’t raise gray issues to the level of black-and-white. When you do, you’re speaking authoritatively where God has chosen to be silent. -Ben Reed
"What About the Weaker Brother?" Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 8 to watch out for the weaker brother who stumbles. I love how my pastor describes this as "love mitigating abstinence of ______ (fill in the blank)" (paraphrased). To mitigate means you're lessening something that's hard or intense... it's relieving pressure. So when put in circumstances where we know a friend struggles with a certain gray issue, out of love, we should abstain from whatever it is in order to relieve the temptation for the other. A common example to illustrate this is the consumption of alcohol. The Bible does not teach that drinking alcohol is a sin when it's done in accordance to the law (i.e. underage drinking would be breaking the law here in America) and one doesn't get drunk. Alcohol in itself is not evil, and can be enjoyed if done in moderation. But if you were to have... say a BBQ and you invite a friend who struggles with alcoholism, then the loving thing to do would be to put away the beer (or whatever alcoholic beverages) and not serve it. Don't love your Christian liberty/freedom more than you love your friends... otherwise it just makes you a really bad friend.

But at the same time, we ought to encourage "the weaker brother" to grow and become strong. He's not to stay in a perpetual mode of weakness as this is not the goal, or as one commentator calls them "professional weaker brothers." (People who expect all Christians to be bound to their views and practices on cultural things in all circumstances... which ultimately can lead to legalism... which if you've been around these types of people you know that they are not fun to be around). So while we shouldn't purposefully cause another to stumble and be considerate of one another, the weaker brother may not "bind" everyone to their weakness either (i.e. living in paradox):
The strong must limit their freedom in love for the weak, but the weak should never accuse the strong of being sinful when the Bible doesn't specifically call the behavior sinful. -Darrin Patrick
Navigating the gray is about growing and exercising [in] spiritual maturity, wisdom, and humility. There's absolutely nothing wrong with having a conviction on a gray issue... where we run into problems though, is when we enforce our convictions upon others, or puff up with pride thinking we're better Christians then other Christians. C.S. Lewis put it perfectly in his book Mere Christianity:
One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons--marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning.
N.T. Wright echos this thought as well...
Sometimes people from a narrow background, full of rules and restrictions which has nothing to do with the gospel itself and everything to do with a particular social subculture, try to insist that all other good Christians should join them in their tight little world.
Ultimately, at the end of the day we cannot allow another's conscious dictate our own on gray matters. I cannot make a gray issue an absolute because God has chosen to be "silent". One pastor put it this way: "Where the Bible stops, I stop" (Unknown, paraphrased). There are so many differing Christian groups, denominations, and subcultures across the board, all of which have differing views and beliefs about gray issues. And to me, it's sad that we'd rather spend our time arguing and debating over these things. I'm not saying there isn't room for conversations and dialogue, but when we've reached the point where we judge who is a better or more spiritual Christian or who loves Jesus more, then we've crossed into something ugly (i.e. pride). The opposite of pride is humility, and often you'll notice that humble people are not easily offended by how others approach the gray. We can't go through life always trying to cater to every Christian's preferences or worry about what they're going to think about us. We could spend our whole lives working at that... and I'm pretty sure that's not the goal. We're not to be legalists or separatists... nor are we to be syncretists (which if you were to look up my personal definition of the word, it would read: Don't be an idiot when it comes to your Christian liberty or how you choose to use your freedom). So, in navigating the gray we have to have a framework of sorts in which to decide how to act. Here's mine:

Questions and Thoughts to Consider...
  1. Does the Bible speak clearly to this circumstance or situation? If it does, then it's a black-and-white issue. If it doesn't then it's a gray issue, in which case...
  2. Does this break the law? The scripture teaches us to honor the authorities/governments God puts over us. The example previously given: drinking alcohol underage. (If you don't like it, feel free to move to Europe.)
  3. Is this just my personal preference? In other words, is this a non-sinful issue that is just an annoyance to me personally? I cannot turn my preference into to a rule that others must abide by.
  4. Does this tempt me? Note that I'm talking about each of us personally here. What may tempt me, may not tempt another, and what tempts you, may not tempt me. It's unwise for us to "flirt" with that which tempts us personally, but it's also foolish to think that everyone has the same temptations we do. ("Just because you can't, doesn't mean I can't, and just because I can't, doesn't mean you shouldn't.")
  5. Would I be mastered by this? Would it bind me? In the second half of 1 Corinthians 6:12 Paul says, "I will not be enslaved by anything." If the issue is one in which I would be enslaved by, then the voice of wisdom and reason would commend me not to indulge in whatever it is. But, as stated before, just because I would be mastered by something, doesn't mean everyone else would be as well. 
  6. Am I allowing my personal preference to interfere with building a relationship with this person? Allow me to bluntly say what I think of people who let their personal preferences interfere with reaching out to others: It's petty. You're going to be missing out on opportunities to extend friendship and participate in community if that's the mindset you're operating under. I don't have to agree with a person's view on alcohol or Halloween in order to be friends with them. I don't think preferences should prevent us from relationships. In fact, if you only surround yourself with people who think and act exactly like you, then there's a problem. Often when we let our preferences have precedence we take our eyes off the mission... the real priorities.
  7. Am I Presuming My Experience is More Important Other Peoples? Sometimes we assume our experience with a certain thing/or situation is the "norm" and then proceed to expect everyone to approach it the same way we would because of that.
  8. Is it best? Is it helpful (1Cor. 6:12)? Is this wise? Answering this question changes with each individual scenario and circumstance. What may have been best in one situation, may not be in another.
More Food for Thought...
*In scripture God is very clear that pride is a sin, therefore I think we could say that pride is a black-and-white issue, not a gray.

    10 comments :

    1. Praise God for the wisdom He is giving you. It is phenomenal. I love how you ventured in both sides: grey matters and b&w matters. We must never enforce our convictions on others.

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    2. Oh, that quote from C.S Lewis Mere Christianity is SO applicable to today! These are great thoughts Natalie. It does seem like we as Christians are often guilty of turning something that's black or white into gray, or else turing something gray into black and white. Turning to the scripture for the truth is absolutely essential!

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    3. girl, you are so wise. you have awesome insight and quotations to support your points. love it.

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    4. Preach it girl! I love how you put this. I feel like so many people try to make their issues gray so they don't have to feel bad about them! Courtney and I were talking about you last night and here you go with another amazing post!

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    5. Wow so true! I love the way you broke it down in such a straightforward way! Awesome post!

      I may link to this post actually, if you don't mind. :)

      -Zoe/Kelsey

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    6. Sure thing Kelsey =) You're welcome to link to anything on the blog whenever you like.

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    7. Thank you for writing this, Natalie! I've been trying to navigate the gray for a long time and it's really hard...this came at just the right time. :)

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    8. this is SO GOOOD!! natalie, like all the other ladies are saying, you're so wise! thank you for pursuing Him and His wisdom for you and sharing it with us!

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    9. that is really interesting.
      and so true about "navigating the gray areas"!! golly.

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    10. Wow.This is really helpfull, thank you!

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