Completing the Reformation
A Letter by Philip McPherson Rudisill to a Friend
Several times over the last few years in our conversations you have mentioned that the bible should be looked at as containing and exemplifying certain principles that God would have us live by. I have heretofore not taken much notice of this idea, but find it interesting now.
The principle, it seems to me, would be that from which the actual rules and regulations for actions would be derived as applications of that principle in certain circumstances.
Now it seems to me that to be able to do this we need to extricate ourselves from the specifics and look then to the circumstances surrounding them in order then to imagine what the principle is such that the given derivation in scripture arises, e.g., Paul's condemnation of long hair on men. This means then also that the specific is not important on its own at all,but rather only by virtue of the principle from which it is derived. A good case in point, it seems to me, is Jesus telling the multitudes to comply with the Golden Rule. Here we see an explicit reference to a principle. According to this principle, if Jesus is right that it is the law and the prophets, then all that was told to the Hebrews would have been a specific application of this rule. It is difficult to press this point unless you also assume that the specific application is made in a context of human understanding at the time of the derivation from the principle, e.g., that a refusal to permit work on the Sabbath was a means of keeping the children of Israel distinct from the rest of the world through what was otherwise an inane rule (somewhat like the insistence of the Islamics to get on their knees and kowtow to Mecca, namely something which is thoroughly arbitrary and which is commanded as a sort of public circumcision, i.e., to say that "we are different"). If the goal of Moses was to keep the Hebrews uncontaminated from the immorality of the surrounding gentiles, then this Sabbath rule would have been appropriate in accordance with the Golden Rule, namely: Moses is required by the Golden Rule to dream up whatever rules he thinks will serve in this purpose of keeping the Israelites "clean" whereby then the blessings of God would accrue to them (according to Moses' own understanding of the relationship of the righteous Jew vis-a-vis God). And so keeping the Sabbath would not itself be derived from the Golden Rule as far rather Moses' insistence upon the Sabbath rule was so derived in order that he might treat the Israelites as he would have wanted to be treated if he were a mere follower and another were in possession of this knowledge of God's reaction to human behavior.
Therefore we can see how Jesus might have said what he did, namely not that the Sabbath work prohibition is derived from the Golden Rule,but rather Moses' prohibition was given as an aid to the Israelites by virtue of this rule, and somewhat as a mother might tell a child a story in order that the child then in turn might come to behave better, e.g., to stop making "faces").*
[* The expressed opinion of Paul in this regard is not far from my own thinking here, for he suggests that the law was given to the Israelites because they were still children in their faith and had not yet had the opportunity of relating to God through the freedom that comes in and through Christ, i.e., as a freedman. I think Paul talks in these terms in Galatians.]
[You can see where this is going, of course, for the great test of the freedom of the Christian to work entirely per the Golden Rule is homosexuality, and with the solution of the ensuing cultural problems being given in Romans 14. In fact if you will read Romans 12 through 15 as a unit, then you will see that the key to this unit is Romans 13:8-10 with regard to the individual's own decisioning (in the same way that Moses also decided to prescribe rules and regulations to his charge) and then Romans 14 with regard to the problems that develop (presumably only temporarily*) as different people, based on their own respective understanding of "medicine and poison," come up with different rights and wrongs and still seek to live together in a single community. The conception is wondrous in its power.]
[* The march of science should finally give us unity with regard to what is good and helpful to the development of the human psyche and what is evil and bad, at which point then people of good will and intelligence and practiced sharing should come to the same conclusion, e.g., that while there is nothing on its own which is good or evil, it is evil to use another person as a means only and not always as an end in and of himself.]
Now with regard to the commandment that we are to love God: in order to give this commandment its pronounced honor as supreme, it is necessary to turn to a very Wesleyan conception, namely that by virtue of our dedication to the 2nd Commandment we open ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit and by virtue of that in turn we become progressively better and then, upon that experience, are filled with hope of total perfection and its concomitant joy and then as a final result turn spontaneously and love God (and adore Christ) with our total being. Thus when Jesus pronounced the Golden Rule by itself in Matthew 7:12 it can be understood that the first commandment was implicitly (and practically) included in that.
Now more specifically to the subject of homosexuality. This is a wonderful test case for the doctrine which I have sought to summarize here in this e-mail. You are right to state that the only way that we could have come to the notion that homosexuality is wrong per se is by reading this in the scriptures, i.e., by being told this by some authority; for certainly there is nothing right or wrong about anything on its own (as Paul himself has said). Now there is something terribly wrong about using a person as a means to some personal and selfish end, but that has nothing to do per se about how a person positions himself sexually, any more than eating blood sausages in France and Germany is right or wrong on its own (despite strict rulings against "eating blood" in both the testaments [and it is mentioned three times in Acts, plus once or twice in conjunction with complaints against the churches in Revelations]). The human has no need of scripture in order to determine what is right and wrong (and this fact is acknowledged in the clearer part of the otherwise garbled verse, Genesis 3:22), but merely the strength of will to do what he or she sees to be right and good. Therefore the scripture cannot be seen as a law book for the Christian nor even, for that matter, as the source of principles (although the teaching of Romans 14 on how Christians of differing opinions on right and wrong can coexist is certainly a practical guide for us in this regard); for it is solely the history of our faith* and how it is that we came to be free of the law (and indeed all law, excepting merely the form of law, namely the second commandment). Therefore I argue now that it is immaterial whether Paul thought that homosexuality per se were wrong or not,** for we are not bound by his thinking on this, or on the length of hair for women, or on whether women should not be pastors, or on anything else whatsoever. The scriptures give us the history of how Paul came to reject the law through his insights into the meaning of the life of Jesus, but it is up to each Christian now to apply that freedom as his own conscience dictates (and following the example of Paul in Romans 14).
[* The most important usage of the Old Testament for the committed Christian is to seek to discern the state of mind of Jesus, both as he is being raised by Mary and then later as he seeks to use the Old Testament to bring about a new heart on the part of his charge (as the Son of God), namely the Jews in Palestine.]
[** And I don't think that he so thought, for the references in Romans 1 seem to deal with people who are so satiated (and yet unsatisfied) in their clamor for sexual excitement that they are no longer able to distinguish between the prudent,i.e., the self serving, and the moral, the community serving. He undoubtedly had Tiberius and Caligula in mind, but would hardly have stated that publicly, and chose rather (I submit) to speak abstractly due to the damage that would have accrued to his still immature churches by being totally candid. Both of these emperors turned to homosexuality after a long heterosexual experience, and this is more in keeping with the actual verbiage used in the text than an across-the-board condemnation of practices.***]
[*** And how out of character of Paul to condemn any practice including murder except that he discerned a clear derivation from the Golden Rule, or else unless he, as we have suggested above of Moses, dreamed up rules and regulations, e.g., short hair for me, which was beneficial to the Christian community at that time given Paul's understanding and perception of circumstances at that time!]
We might then say that only now (at the end of the second millennium) is the reformation of the church completed, where we cast off now all dictates of external sources (and go Luther one better by not even keeping the scriptures as a law book) and instead walk in the freedom conveyed to us through the death and resurrection of Christ.
PS Has any denomination gone so far as to declare that acceptance of the scripture as a law book for the Christian is an integral part of what it means to be a Christian? Some have praised the scriptures for being authoritarian, but I know of no denomination which would refuse to admit a person being a Christian purely on that point. Do you? If so then that denomination opens itself up to total defeat by the Islamics, for their entire thesis is that God does have certain specifics which have to be done in order to have his favor, and that the Jews lied about them and the Christians were confused about them, and so God finally spoke with impeccable clarity to Mohammed in order to make sure that there will be no mistake, which is something (they say) that he will never do again, for nothing could be clearer than the requirements of that faith. These requirements are mainly inane, but are clear and not very difficult (except going to Mecca, which is not an absolute requirement) with the result that every man may certify to himself that he has complied with all that God would ever require. The only thoroughly convincing defense the Christian possesses* against this Islamic argument from clarity is that it is already clear, namely everyone must comply with the Golden Rule, and with the further notation that God, who gave Barabbas a second chance through the death of Jesus, will work with us to insure that we do in fact come not only to comply with the Golden Rule, but to do so gladly. And that is the ultimate proof of the Christian faith (which, again, is a very Wesleyan notion with its emphasis on the experience with the work of the Holy Spirit on the heart of sinful man).
[* It is not convincing to say that all God really requires is for someone seriously to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior during some point in their adult life,** which is what I generally call the "prudence heresy", and which naturally tends either 1. to antinomianism, or 2. the questioning of the assurance one has of one's own salvation. It's purest expression is given in the conclusions which follow logically from the so-called doctrine of "eternal security."]
[** This thinking is reflected in the simplicity of the salvation and rewards doctrine of the Islamic conception, except that the Islamics utilize some specific and rather easy tasks to give some semblance of reasonableness to their fables, e.g., praying to God five times a day.]
See also Liberty of the Gentile Christian.