Why don’t people from certain denominations ever make love standing up? They’re afraid somebody will see them, and think that they’re dancing.
If you belong to a certain denomination, and if you go fishing, why should you always bring along two friends from your congregation? Because if you only bring one, he’ll drink all of your beer.
Now, the cynical, critical or uneducated person would say that these jokes are about Christian hypocrisy. But this would, in almost all cases, be incorrect. These jokes are not about hypocrisy, but about the struggle for what some might call propriety. In this post, I refer to it as expediency.
Expediency is one of the things at the heart of what Paul says in Romans fourteen, and he mentions it explicitly in two places (chapters six and ten) of first Corinthians. In my previous post, I referred to these latter places by noting that Paul seems to accept a claim that was being made by at least one person in the Corinthian church: “All things are permissible.” Paul’s response, interestingly enough, was not to deny the claim, but to put it into perspective. It appears to me similar to the idea of a person saying, “I’m stronger than he is, and I can end this issue by wiping the floor with his face,” and a mediator saying, “You’re stronger than he is and you can end the issue by wiping the floor with his face… but is this the most responsible and mature way to handle it?” Paul is not denying, and seems to accept, that all things are permissible for those of faith, but qualifies the idea by noting that not all things are beneficial for the brotherhood. To whom does the burden fall to act responsibly, with the best interest of all parties at heart? To the one who has the ability to command the situation. In the case of our would-be bully, it is up to him to choose to resolve the issue with something more mutually beneficial than brute force.
It is the delicate dance of a person acting in his or her own faith while attempting not to damage the faith of others, that often leads to being accused of hypocrisy. Now, don’t get me wrong—I know that there is plenty of hypocrisy in the church. I’m just saying that most non-believers, who are not familiar with the issues at stake, mistakenly view behavior born of the weak/strong/expediency issue as being hypocrisy. There isn’t a lot we can do about this, but we should keep it in mind, because it can help us understand the viewpoints of those who aren’t enmeshed in the situation. But I digress.
At this point, it should go almost without saying that while Paul’s ideas are at one level of great comfort (a vindication, in fact) to those who believe in Christian liberty, the pill to swallow is that his ideas place a much larger portion of responsibility upon them. If your faith is strong (and, yes, therefore relatively “liberal”), then it is your responsibility to live your Christian life with a sense of responsibility to those who are not. This is not intended to sound condescending, nor should it be so. Nor is it a blanket sanctioning of the dummying-down of faith. To condescend and to dummy-down our faith are both, in my opinion, mistakes. But what is the person of stronger faith to do, especially given these last two points?
As best as I can tell, struggle. Struggle in prayer, struggle in humility, struggle in your own frustrations. Struggle to allow God to kill all the pride and arrogance in your life. Struggle to successfully teach what you can, struggle to successfully swallow what you have to. Struggle to never be condescending. Struggle to not let the message of Jesus be dummied-down. Struggle to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. Struggle to remember that Jesus said much will be required from the one who is given much. Struggle to remember that even Jesus admitted to keeping his mouth shut, and not sharing what he knew others could not bear to hear. But most of all, struggle to love your Christian brethren with the love of God. If you are strong in faith, then your strength comes from your knowledge that it is only the love of God that matters. So struggle to act according to your faith, and live in the love of God above all things.