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Sure, you can be a Christian polygamous, petrol sniffing, right-wing racist if you like.

We’ve all heard the argument. “Well, the Bible doesn’t say anything about _____”. Or, with more sophistication “That is not a matter about which the Bible is clear, so we really shouldn’t make judgements”. The idea behind both statements is that if the Bible doesn’t speak to something specifically, we are left to our own opinions and conscience.

The key reason why such arguments do not satisfy me is that I have yet to see how they can be applied consistently. Why, exactly, don’t they lead to the conclusion put forward in the title of this blog post? When does the Bible become specific enough to listen to? There are many things that the Bible does not specifically mention which the Christian church has long held to be sinful or at least unwise (and being unwise is not, as I’ve attempted to demonstrate, much of a step up from outright sin).

I have shocked people when I pointed out that the Bible says “nothing” specific about the evils of paedophilia or polygamy . . . I didn’t mention de-facto marriage, slave owning, or membership of the Nazi party. Yet surely Christians must face and explain these things if they are to put forward the argument that if something is not mentioned specifically it is an area of Christian freedom. If an argument does not work when it comes to large matters, does it work for small ones? If so, how do we make the distinction?

I believe that the Bible does speak, directly or indirectly, to almost all areas of life. The Bible doesn’t use the word paedophilia, but it forbids sex outside of loving marriage. The Bible doesn’t condemn polygamy outright. It shows its destructive consequences and deviation from God’s plan. There are areas where the Bible specifically says we are entirely free: what we eat and drink and what days we keep (Romans 14). In these cases, the Bible does speak – and tells us to follow our own conscience.

As we seek to grapple with what the Bible says, there are many things to keep in mind:

  • We are to seek peace with one another, and it is wise to hold our tongues (read Proverbs!). I often fail on this one!
  • Many of us struggle to live out the Bible’s obvious teachings, and we need to focus on these. How many of us can say we’ve “arrived” when it comes to forgiving others or helping the poor?
  • Some areas of life are less important than others, and the very clear (love on another) must never be forgotten in our attempts to understand other matters.
Even when Christians are genuinely seeking to find out what the Bible’s implications are for a particular issue, they will not always come to agreement. It is still better, however, to attempt to make a Biblical case for one’s position. Otherwise, what will you have to say to the Christian polygamous, petrol-sniffing, right-wing racist when he tells you not to judge him? In my opinion . . . ?

Laura  – (March 25, 2009 at 12:37 PM)  

Hi Sherrin,

I definitely understand what you're saying and I think you're right to an extent. But I think, as we attempt to "Biblically justify" our positions, we can risk stretching what the Scriptures actually say into an absolutely prescriptive mandate for our lives and even the lives of others. Do you think it's possible to say, "We thought about it and decided (nursing on demand, going vegan, homeschooling, etc.) was best for our family"?

I guess I just want to avoid having a, you know, Christian view of whole grain bread or something (lol) without going all the way to libertinism. And I think we can say, for example, that the Scriptures DO prohibit huffing petrol as an extension of both the commands to obey the laws of the land AND "do not be drunk with wine."

Blessings on your little family!

ambersun  – (March 25, 2009 at 5:16 PM)  

Hi Sherrin

Funny you should mention racism.

I was on the bus one day several months ago when a man said to me "I don't like these Africans!"

I asked him how many of them he had met in order to come to this conclusion.

In response he said "I'm entitled to my opinion."

I was stuck for what to say.

It struck me that such an apparently straightforward issue could be clouded by the whole 'freedom of opinion' card.

Anyway, just some food for thought.

God Bless

Amber

Radagast  – (March 25, 2009 at 8:36 PM)  

To some extent, I think it's fair to say that the OT tends to be rule-based, focussed on not doing bad things, and the NT tends to be principle-based, focussed on doing good things.

So all food is permitted, but the principles are "give thanks to God", "do not be drunk with wine", "do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died", etc.

Problems seem to arise when people read the NT with rule-based glasses, ignoring the principles, and saying "it's not mentioned, so it's OK for me."

And, of course, "I'm entitled to my opinion" is not one of the principles. All too often, that phrase is used to justify a lack of love.

Sherrin  – (March 26, 2009 at 6:01 PM)  

Hello all,

I thought I responded to Laura and Amber last night, but it appears my comment hasn't shown up!

Thanks for your thoughtful response, Laura. I certainly identify with where you are coming from. I too don't want to become a person who is an advocate of the Christian view of whole grain bread.

I do think, however, that we can make a distinction between these issues which are clearly in the "food" category, and other issues like homeschooling. The issue of education is certainly something to which the Bible speaks (especially if we choose to substitute the word "education" for the word "teaching"!). I am not arguing that home schooling is the only way - simply that the Bible gives us guidance as to what education should look like, and this should be much more important to us than our opinions of "what is best for me".

I acknowledge that these things are tricky - some would, I'm sure, argue that petrol-sniffing is in the food category! However, I think that these tricky matters are best tackled through searching the Scriptures.

Hello Amber - so sorry you had such an unpleasant conversation! Your question was a good one. Well done!

Hello Tony,

Thanks for your thoughts. It is important to understand the differences and similarities between the OT and NT - and I don't claim to be anywhere near fully there yet!

What do you see as the distinction between a command and a principle? More flexibility?

One of my pet dislikes is the argument that if something is only mentioned in the OT it is not relevant to modern Christians. Often, when people say "The Bible doesn't say anything about . . ." they really mean "the NT doesn't say". To me, this shows a disregard for the many insights into God's character and commands the OT provides for us.

Laura  – (March 27, 2009 at 4:33 AM)  

Hi Sherrin, thanks for your reply!

I see petrol-sniffing as clearly prohibited by Scripture, along with any other activities that a) intoxicate, b) are illegal, and c) do harm to our bodies. It seems to me that anyone arguing otherwise is making excuses for their own petrol-sniffing! :)

I agree with Radagast about the principle-based ethic of the NT! The principles of the NT are higher, more communal, heart-level behavior. I think they're exemplified by Jesus' "You have heard it said... but I say unto you..." teachings. Adultery is prohibited, for instance, but Jesus shows that lust is the heart-level parallel to adultery. So no, I don't think "flexibility" is the issue, I think the heart is the issue -- the heart in community, specifically.

I think you're absolutely right to say that we often ignore what God has to say to his people in the OT and what the OT says about God! We surely can't say, reading the OT, that God doesn't care about even seemingly little things in his people's lives.

If we are to acknowledge with the apostles that Christ's perfect obedience fulfilled the Law, then it's not that the OT "doesn't apply" to the Christian, but rather that it's as if we too already obey the whole law, because we're in Christ!

Changing gears... Using the homeschooling example, I also don't think the Scriptures prohibit sending children to school. I think it's absolutely possible for parents to fulfill their responsibility to educate their own children (which I fully agree is a Biblical mandate) while sending them to school.

I can't remember if I told you the "biblical justification for cosleeping" I've heard. I remember it now because I literally just saw it the other day on a blog -- a woman pulled a verse from Jesus' parable about the persistent neighbor (the man says something about having gone to bed, and his children being in bed with him) and used it as "biblical justification" for cosleeping! That, to me, is an utterly irresponsible use of Scripture to justify one's positions! (Incidentally, I've also heard the reverse -- that the fact that Mary put Jesus in a feed trough is biblical justification for putting your child in a crib. AUGH!)

It can get quite silly, I think. Those examples are making me chuckle...

Anyway, thanks for the discussion! :)

Radagast  – (March 27, 2009 at 11:25 AM)  

On rules vs principles, Laura expresses it very well. It's about the heart. And Jesus' "You have heard it said... but I say unto you..." teachings do exemplify this, as do several of Paul's epistles.

One aspect of this heart-nature is taking responsibility for the consequences of our actions on other people. That's part of Christian love. Another is that something may be allowed, but not beneficial (1 Corinthians 10:23).

Sherrin  – (March 28, 2009 at 11:56 AM)  

Hello friends,

Thanks for sharing your insights about the heart - I feel like I've learnt from your comments. The OT has a lot to say about the heart but I agree that the NT especially emphasises it.

Laura,

I think some of these issues like homeschooling, people's strong views on where babies sleep, etc., would be worthy of posts and discussions in themselves!

While I agree that the Bible doesn't prohibit sending children to school, I don't agree with those who think it has nothing to say about educational methods. I think it is fine to hold one's view on homeschooling partially on the basis of one's beliefs about what the Bible says the best way to teach is.

With the baby sleeping example, I agree that it is ridiculous if people are using those examples to say "everyone should do . . . ". However, provided they are not

a) saying their conclusions are the main point of the passage (!!!!)
b) saying that everyone should now do this

I think it is fine to gain insights about lifestyle choices from Bible passages . . . e.g. it really is OK to sleep with your baby (people have done it for a long time) and it really is OK to sleep separately (Jesus didn't seem permanently damaged).

I have done this with our decision to have a home birth. Lots of people don't think that is a wise choice, and I'd never want to try to convince them to do what we do. To me, however, the fact that the Bible portrays birth in lots of different situations is a comfort! To me, the Bible "speaks" and says that it really is OK to choose to give birth at home . . . after all, Jesus wasn't born in a hospital and the Israelites just had midwives!

This may seem ridiculous to you, but these issues can get so heated that I find it a comfort to come back to the Bible even on these things.

Radagast  – (March 28, 2009 at 12:27 PM)  

The Bible certainly indicates that parents have a responsibility to God to bring up well the children He gives them. This isn't easy, and all parents can, no doubt, empathise with Manoah's prayer: "O LORD, I beg you, let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born."

Christian freedom allows parents to either send their children to school, or to home-school. But, I believe, it's a failure of parental duty to, on the one hand, send children to school while not caring what the school does (there's that "heart" issue again); or, on the other hand, to home-school, but do so poorly.

Laura  – (March 28, 2009 at 1:17 PM)  

You're having a homebirth! That's fantastic! I'm so glad it's an option for you (midwives and doulas can actually be criminally prosecuted here in Kentucky for attending homebirths). I don't know how I've missed that bit of information, but I'm glad I know now. It'll give me more specifics to pray about!

Praying that your homebirth is as sweet, calm, quiet, and beautiful as you hope it will be.

Laura  – (March 28, 2009 at 1:20 PM)  

Sorry, got so caught up in the homebirth thing (which I love) that I forgot to reply to the other issues!

it really is OK to sleep with your baby ... and it really is OK to sleep separately

Absolutely. And I think this is a good use of Scripture -- as a reminder that we have much freedom to take many different courses of action, as people in ancient times did. So glad you wrote that! I think we are in agreement! :)

Sherrin  – (March 28, 2009 at 4:21 PM)  

Hello Tony,

Great Bible quote! Dave and I often pray such things - not for men of God, but certainly for guidance!

The question of parental duty is an interesting one as well, I think (another topic worthy of whole blog posts and discussions). The over all duty is love, in this issue as in all others. I believe Bible can help to define the limits as well as the extent of duty. With education this can perhaps be particularly helpful, as parents are not necessarily obligated to give their kids what is accepted at this moment in time as a "good education". In the past I've made judgments about particular homeschoolers I know, which I wouldn't be willing to make now because I don't believe I have biblical warrant.

Hello Laura,

Yes, home birth it is! In fact, Dave just practiced blowing up the birth pool :). It was fun.

I am sure you missed it because I never wrote about it on my blog. I have been avoiding broadcasting it as it is often unpopular. I'm sorry to hear about the situation in Kentucky! I'm glad they are not that unpopular here! Your prayers are very much appreciated.

Radagast  – (March 28, 2009 at 5:01 PM)  

The overall duty is love, as you say. The only limit the Bible puts on that is "as yourself."

I think parents are obligated to give their kids the best education they can arrange, one that will teach them to love God, and will nurture their God-given talents, preparing them to work in God's kingdom. Matthew 25 is quite negative about the man who buried his talent in the ground, so I don't think God will be look kindly on parents who bury their children's talents in the ground (I'm not saying anyone does).

Of course, schools probably don't do a great job here, and I'm amazed at how little I learned in 12 years behind a desk. A good home-educator can surely do much better than that!

Sherrin  – (March 30, 2009 at 12:52 PM)  

Well put.

Your biblical argument for your position on this illustrates the point I was aiming for in my original post. We can make arguments for/against things on the basis of the Bible, and it is valuable to do so, even where the Bible does not address a topic specifically.

Some of the concepts you've raised are those I plan to include in our family's vision statement for education.

The only point at which we may differ is that I think the idea of a "good education" or "the best education" is often culturally determined, and we need to be careful of imposing cultural rather than biblical norms as a duty. I'd go as far as questioning literacy as a requirement in every circumstance (although I accept that in modern times even the most remote groups may be disadvantaged if they are not literate).

Radagast  – (March 30, 2009 at 1:04 PM)  

See, I'd say teaching literacy to both children and adults was a Christian duty, so that they could read the Bible, and evangelise others.

And yes, the idea of a "good education" is often culturally determined. My personal belief is that, as Christians, we should do much better than the benchmark set by the world around us. After all, we're doing it for God.

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