Tuesday, August 19, 2008

By Way of Concession, Not of Command

My church culture often thinks of the New Testament as a rule-book about what can and can't be done in a religious manner, but I think it's important to point out that, at least in some cases, what we consider "rules" are not rules but rather concessions to varying cultural norms.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 7:4-6, the King James reads thus:

4The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.

5Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.

6But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.

Notice verse six: this was not a commandment, but rather an "allowance" for the Corinthians' habitual way of doing things. Look at the way the New American Standard Bible renders verse six:
But this I say by way of concession, not of command.
There are other examples of making concessions for cultural habits. In the book of Colossians, 2:16-3:2, Paul makes it clear that if some folks want to observe the Sabbath, fine; if others don't, fine. If some want to observe a religious festival, fine; if some don't, fine. These earthly observances, with their "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!" rules, are meaningless one way or the other, and insisting on these types of rules sounds good and religious, but really doesn't have any effect on who you really are on the inside. What matters is having your mindset on Christ.

So maybe it's time for us to quit looking at the New Testament as a "rule book", and instead focus on it as a guide to focusing our thoughts on the things above. If your church culture has ingrained in you some practice as being "holy", such as fasting from marital relations or observing "Good Friday" or burning a menorah candle at Hannakuh, it's okay to let that practice have some sway in your life, but don't let it become a substitute for the real saving power, which is Christ Jesus.

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