Lefty counters

A friend–we’ll call him “Lefty”–sent me an email related to my previous post and a prior  discussion of that post over lunch. I thought his email was fairly representative of those who would advocate the baking of a wedding cake for an LGBT ceremony. With his permission, here is a portion of his email:

You know, Jesus taught the people that if they were told to carry a burden one mile, they were to offer to carry it two. We know that the origin of this was that a Roman soldier could require a non-Roman citizen to carry his kit at least one mile. For Jesus to tell Jews this was unconscionable. I wonder, though, how many Roman soldiers were led to Christ simply by the example of some Jewish boy offering to carry his load an extra mile and subsequently asking him why. We may never know.

Imagine the Christian baker who gets the order for a birthday cake for a gay wedding, who takes a moment with both “spouses” and says, “Look. I don’t mean to be unkind, please don’t take this that I am being hateful, but I am a Christian. I believe that what you are doing is wrong, it is sinful. I could never condone such a lifestyle. However…as a Christian, I am also led by the greatest commandment, to love my neighbor as I love myself. Therefore, not only will I bake your wedding cake, I will do it for half price, and it will be the most beautiful cake you could imagine. Furthermore, though I might personally wish for you both to ‘repent’, short of that, I wish you a long and happy life together.”

I appreciate Lefty taking my thoughts seriously enough to offer a considerate response. My reply would consist of the following:

  1. The “not one but two” analogy (Mat 5:41) is attractive but it falls flat. The analogy runs afoul of the the “apples & oranges” criteria since being coerced into carrying luggage, while humiliating, was in no way at odds with biblical morality. Now if the Jew were being put upon to carry a toddler for a child sacrifice then we might have something to work with.
  2. The “not one but two” analogy misses the biblical context. Going two miles serves to illustrate Jesus’ point three verses earlier: “You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person . . .” (Mat 5:38-39a). The point is that Jesus’ followers should be willing to suffer–unjustly–insult or injury without demanding restitution. The passage has nothing to do with acquiescing to any & all requests made of you. Take, for example, the verse following the “two mile” illustration. Jesus said “Give to him who asks of you. . .” (Mat 5:42a). Surely no one would contend that this teaching is impervious to mitigating circumstances. If a Roman demanded your virgin daughter for his sexual pleasure, would Jesus have you give your daughter (or two!) because we “do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you”?
  3. We are losing the language (and meaning) of “love your neighbor.” Disagreement over Mat 5:38ff notwithstanding, I would challenge the notion that “love” will always give what is asked for. As a father, I refuse many requests from my pleading children precisely because I love them. If, in practice, “love your neighbor” means “satisfy your neighbor” then I think our Christian witness is in more trouble than either of us realize.

Any feedback, whether from Lefty or Hoi Polloi, is welcome.

Throwing out the (dirty) baby with the bath water [pt 4]

{What follows are key statements from Galli’s review (in bold italics) followed by my thoughts in response}

I think two teachings of Jesus need to play a much larger role in any discussion of holiness…The first is the parable of the Pharisee and the sinner (Luke 18). In that parable we see that the person who has pursued holiness, and has done so with reasonable success, is condemned. The person who is unholy as unholy can be is praised. Luke 18:9-14 is the first of two passages that Galli cites to support his claim that pursuing holiness will inevitably lead to self-righteousness. This is just poor biblical interpretation. The parable isn’t a statement on pursuing holiness (i.e. sanctification) as anyone can see if they read to the end of the parable where Jesus declares that the self-acknowledged sinner “went down to his house justified” (Lk 18:14). Consequently, the central issue in the parable isn’t about how one walks before God (in sanctification) but how one stands before God (by justification). The Pharisee thinks that his right standing with God is due to his work (Lk 18:11-12) but Jesus makes clear that right standing with God is due to undeserved grace (Lk 18:13-14). How one walks after being made right isn’t discussed at all. The claim that the Luke 18 parable proves that pursuing holiness inevitably leads to self-righteousness can only be maintained by ignoring Jesus’ own interpretive conclusion or by conflating justification with sanctification. Either way Galli’s interpretive approach just doesn’t work.

The second teaching is Jesus’ admonition that our left hand should not know what our right hand is doing (Matt 6:3). On this verse at least, Galli does a better job at paying attention to the context by noting that the teaching concerns “almsgiving” before extending the application to “all our good deeds.” Unfortunately, although he sees one contextual road sign he still ends up driving off the road. Two observations should suffice. First, the teaching in Matt 6:2-4 isn’t about self-examination (as Galli suggests) but self-promotion: practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them (Matt 6:1). Second, Jesus’ warning/exhortation invites self-examination (contra Galli) in order to determine why we do our good deeds (man’s praise or God’s praise?) and whether or not our actions (public or private?) line up with our motives. There is simply no way for us to live the Christian life as the metaphorically oblivious left hand (unless you subscribe to Thing theology).

Better than examining ourselves and trying to be holy is to stop looking at yourself in the first place, and to start looking for the neighbor, moving toward him with the rhythm of grace. Isn’t moving toward your neighbor in grace a step of holiness, too? Galli seems to assume that the Christian who looks to himself will not (cannot?) also look to his neighbor but, while that may be true in certain cases, it’s by no means a biblical truism. Grace and holiness aren’t mutually exclusive and the pursuit of one doesn’t mean the abandonment of the other. Jesus ties the two together in passages like Mat 5:43-48 when He commands us to love our enemies (i.e. move in grace) and to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (i.e. pursue holiness). In fact, if we discern the relationship between grace & holiness in Matthew 5 we would have to admit that we move in grace precisely because we want to be holy!

To a certain extent I understand why Galli would balk at the notion of pursuing personal holiness. Christians will always run the risk of misinterpreting and/or misapplying Scripture’s holiness commands. However, the risk of failure doesn’t negate the command and the requisite response. The best way to carry the aroma of grace is to self-consciously shed the rotting remains of our old man.

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