Monday, August 20, 2007



I dragged my feet for a while on this as I have written other things. Here is the end of the series: Apostasy, Heresy, Serious Error, Sin and Adiaphora.

Everyone sins and everyone is infected with the spiritual virus of sin.

The spiritual virus is original sin. Somehow we become sinners because we’re human. It wasn’t always this way. Adam and Eve weren’t born sinners. They chose sin, disobedience to God.

The Bible sees humanity as both a collective and a group of individuals. We westerners aren’t used to thinking of ourselves as mainly part of the collective so we have a problem with original sin. But Paul clearly sees us as a collective. He says that just as in Adam all die so in Christ all have new life. As individuals, however, we have to choose Christ to be released from the virus of sin.

Actually the problem is more difficult than we think. Our Calvinist ancestors in Holland said that we are totally depraved. That doesn’t mean that we set out each day to sin as much as we can or that everything we do is sin. It means there is no part of any human being that is without sin. Some like to think our reason is untainted by sin. This simply isn’t true. Just look at the contortions we go through to say that what we think is reasonable when it isn’t at all reasonable to our loved ones.

So before someone becomes a Christian that person has no choice. That person lives in sin. Without faith in Christ and the salvation he offers there is no release from sin. We inherit sin and death. If we have faith in Christ he releases us from the power of sin that utterly corrupts us.

The real problem for Christians is that when we become Christians we don’t automatically stop sinning. There is a distinction between justification, (being declared guiltless because of Christ’s death and resurrection for us), and sanctification, (becoming holy in our daily lives). Justification sets us free from the power of sin but not the powers of temptation or habit.

So, we sin. Everyday we Christians get up in the morning with the best of intentions. We want to spend the day living as God’s people, living holy lives. Yet everyday we fail somehow. By the end of the day we find ourselves confessing our sin to God, asking for forgiveness and hoping tomorrow will be different.

I’m not going to provide a detailed list of sins. It would take too much space and I probably would leave something out anyway. The clear message of how to live a holy life comes from Jesus, “You shall love the Lord with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I know, it isn’t an exact quote but the point is there. If we love God with our complete beings and love neighbors in the way we love ourselves, (or better, for those of us with self image problems), in the way God loves us, we won’t sin.

So the Christian life follows a pattern of moving away from God into sin and then moving back towards God as we confess, repent and ask for forgiveness.

Sanctification is the process by which we give up some of our sin. It takes work but we can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, stop sinning a particular sin. With the hard work of prayer and thinking before I speak I can stop swearing. Of course that is only one small category of sin. I might stop swearing out loud but I would still need to work on the things I think about others. And in each of us the list goes on and on.

I am convinced that the best way to work at sanctification is in small groups. The problem is to do so we have to trust others. We need the people in our small groups to keep their big mouths shut. We need the humble acknowledgement from all that all of us in the group are sinners, looking for help. We need the prayers, specific prayers of the others in our group, asking God to help us change. We need the group to be bold and ask us how we did in the past week working on that particular sin. Finally we need the certain knowledge that the group will not hate us or kick us out because we fail.

That is a real and important task of the Church. Unfortunately we don’t do it, for the most part. We want to talk just with God about our sins. We want to be lone ranger Christians. And that is not God’s intention for us. Being a member of the Church, a Church filled with sinners, should be terribly freeing. When we gather with our particular congregations we should know as we walk in the door that everyone in the room is a sinner, including the leaders of the congregation and the pastor. No one is exempt. Tthe great good news is that the congregation is a group of forgiven sinners. And when we are at our best we help each other, with humility, to overcome our sins.


Don’t you love the way the leaders of the Church toss around words that most members don’t understand? Adiaphora is one of those words. Adiaphora means things indifferent. Despite our assurance that God cares about everything in our lives there are some things that don’t really matter. God doesn’t care what color we paint the sanctuary. God does care if we use lead based paint because it might harm someone, but God doesn’t care about the color. God doesn’t care about the order of worship. Get the essentials in and God is completely satisfied as long as we come to worship with an attitude of praise and humility.

The list of things that just aren’t important is pretty long. God doesn’t care if the pastor wears a robe in worship or not. God doesn’t care if men wear ties to worship or if women wear pants. God likes rock anthems and classical anthems. I suspect that God would prefer that we not spend so much money on church buildings but God doesn’t care what the building looks like. After all for centuries Christians met in living rooms, on hillsides and even in tombs, (the catacombs under Rome). God doesn’t care how long or short your hair is although God doesn’t want you to spend a whole lot of money on your looks.

Curiously we humans seem to care more about adiaphora than we do about sin, heresy, serious error or apostasy. The biggest church fights I have ever seen were about what color to paint the back stairwell and what hymnal to use. And don’t even get me started on traditional worship and contemporary worship. We seem to major in the minors. God cares about gossip, the enduring sin in the Church that everyone seems to accept as acceptable. God doesn’t care if the pastor uses perfect grammar or not.

So I have a suggestion for all who read this. Take a look at your life and the life of your congregation. Go ahead, make a list of the things that you know God wants you to change, a list of your sins. Read the Bible and see what God wants and doesn’t want. And then make a list of the things that simply aren’t important. Try, very carefully, to suggest to your fellow Church members in the midst of an argument that God doesn’t care if there are pews or chairs in the chapel.

Try to distinguish between sin and adiaphora. Then maybe we can get down to the real business of the Church.

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