Black & White & Gray All Over: Part 2
Of Bird Watching & Spiritual Eyesight
“Wow, lookie there! That’s a Yellowthroat sparrow!” Those were the words of a twelve year-old boy, perched on a neighborhood fence, peering through the eyepieces of a pair of camouflaged Simmons binoculars, furiously scribbling notes.
“And look over there! That’s a…well, it sort of resembles a….Ugh, I can’t see anything through these stupid binoculars!” These were the words of a frustrated, and often squinting, twelve year-old boy who decided not to take his father’s advice and clean the lenses of said binoculars. Bird-watching doesn’t work too well when your visual enhancement tool isn’t so visually enhanced anymore. In fact, it can be easy to mistake one bird for another, as that young boy would learn on more than one occasion.
But what about statements and questions like this: “Can you believe the pastor let’s them play that kind of music in the church!”? or “Shouldn’t we be taking communion at a table together, instead of at the altars or in the pews? Isn’t that what Jesus and the disciples did?…I think I remember a verse somewhere that says…well, I can’t remember, but it’s in there somewhere!” I’d be willing to bet most of us have heard statements such as these countless times from countless fellow Christians and churchgoers.
Whether its confusion over bird watching or internal church issues, the conversations can often and easily turn into embittered, finger-pointing dialogues between participants—and the reason remains the same in both areas: poor eyesight and a need for clear visual enhancement. For believers, that enhancement comes in the form of the Scriptural truths found in the Word of God, our spiritual binoculars. And in the case of today’s Christians and church members, there is a desperate need for a regular renewal and cleansing of our spiritual eyesight, before attempting to make a discernment, ruling, or even form an opinion on a gray area. Unfortunately, the majority of contemporary Christians know what they believe, yet many remain unable to support these beliefs, stances, and opinions with solid Scripture.
In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul is writing to the Corinthian church, discussing the controversies over certain Christian liberties and freedoms. Note his words in verse 23: “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” (New American Standard-updated edition). If you know you’re New Testament well, you know this isn’t the first time Paul has used this phrase: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12, NASU, emphasis added).
According to renowned Christian author, pastor, and speaker John MacArthur, three of the most important questions to ask yourself when confronted with a controversial decision or gray area within your spiritual walk are: 1. “Will it benefit me spiritually?”, 2. “Will it bring bondage?”, and 3. “Will it further the cause of evangelism?” (Grace To You Radio Ministries-2003: “What To Do in the Gray Areas”). Besides matters such as entertainment choices and clothing (some of which can easily imprison us), these same questions can and do apply to ambiguous issues within the church. For instance: “Will implementing contemporary worship music benefit and build up church members spiritually?” (Edification). Or “Will adding such music aid us in our desire to reach the local un-churched, unsaved youth and college students in our area?” (Evangelism). MacArthur notes that when Christian individuals (as well as churches) begin to run controversial issues through the aforementioned grid of principles, what was once unclear will soon become clear. What was once seen as useless can become eternally useful. And what was once dividing can become uniting.
After being careful to discuss and warn about the dangers in such divisions and decisions becoming a stumbling block for fellow believers (1 Corinthians 8:8-9), Paul, in chapter 10, concludes by masterfully communicating that everything is done for the ultimate glory of God: “Whether then you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God…not seeking my [or our] own profit, but the profit of many, so that they may be saved.” (1 Cor. 10:31, 32b-c, NASU, emphasis added). Granted, this may (and likely will) mean sacrifice on our part. We may not always have the kind of church music we want. We may not be able to go see the kinds of movies or purchase the kinds of CDs we think we should be able to. But once again, for Paul, it’s all about respecting our fellow believers, giving God his due eternal glory, and furthering the Gospel. And isn’t that the ultimate purpose of the church anyway? Isn’t that the ultimate purpose of the Christian life?
-Josh Givens, Underground Staff Writer & Childhood Bird Watcher