Thursday, October 20, 2011

Semper Reformanda

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about continuing reform of the Church:

Q:  Is Christian teaching something that is always developing and evolving or must it remain the same from age to age?

The most direct answer to this question is that Christian doctrine cannot and must not change.  Since God does not change (Malachi 3:6, James 1:17, etc.), the truth which He has established and His will for humanity are also without change. 

This is not to say that new generations of Christians do not face challenges unfamiliar to those who have gone before them, or that the Bible is not a valid guide in such matters.  Even though the truth can never change, it may be applied in new ways in response to new ethical questions. 

For example, topics like genetic engineering, human cloning, and embryonic stem cell research are brand new issues for Christians today that were not faced by former generations, but the Scripture still informs Christian responses and actions as they address new questions.  While Christian doctrine never changes, it is constantly applied to new circumstances and ethical questions.

Likewise, the language and illustrations which Christians use adapts over time in order to best communicate the message of Jesus in present circumstances.  For example, the Apostles make use of a wide variety of language to describe the work accomplished by Jesus.  While that truth is singular, the Church has emphasized some of these descriptions more in some periods of history, and others in another period of history because it finds a greater resonance with the people of that culture. 

So, while the truth about Jesus remains the same from generation to generation, the Church may draw more or less from the various portions of Scripture to proclaim this truth in different generations, and it may apply this same truth to new questions while remaining in harmony with what has been taught before.

At the same time, we can look back at history and see where Christian teaching has gone astray and was in need of correction.  The events of the Reformation nearly 500 years ago are an example of this.  The teachings of the Roman Catholic Church had departed from truth, and men like Martin Luther and John Calvin called church leaders to correct these abuses while teaching the public the truth which had been obscured.

An important thing to note about this Reformation, though, is that it did not seek to teach anything new, but rather to return the Church to the truth that it had left behind.  This is the case with all valid reformations in the Church. 

It has been said that “The Church is always reforming” or “The Church is always in need of reformation.”  While this is true, it has often been misunderstood.  This saying does not mean that Christian doctrine develops and evolves over time, but rather that because the people and leaders of the Church are sinners, someone is constantly trying to adapt truth to match their opinion rather than conforming their opinion to the truth. 

As a result, reformers are constantly arising to call the Church back to what is true.  Today it is often being said that “God is doing a new thing,” or “The Spirit is moving us in a new direction,” or even “God is still speaking,” but these slogans are not examples of true reform if they contradict or abandon established truth.

Even the definition of the word “reform” itself indicates going back or returning what has gone before, and not progress toward something new, and so it is that Reformation is the continual calling of the Church to repent of its doctrinal innovations and return to the truth. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Definition of Covet

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about coveting:

Q:  What does the word “covet” mean in the Ten Commandments?  What is the difference between coveting and desiring success or a better life?

The Ninth Commandment says that we should not covet our neighbor’s house, and the Tenth Commandment forbids coveting our neighbors, wife, workers, or animals.  To covet is to have a sinful desire for something that belongs to someone else.

Most often when we think of coveting, we think of coveting the possessions of another person.  For example, one might covet their neighbor’s house or their brother’s car and seek to find a way to make it their own. 

In explaining the Ninth Commandment, Martin Luther said that we should not scheme to get our neighbor’s possessions or obtain them in a way which only has the appearance of being right, but rather that we should help and be of service to our neighbor in keeping what is his.

When explaining the Tenth Commandment, he went on to say that we should not seek to entice away another person’s wife or workers, or turn them against him, but rather that we should encourage them to stay and do what is their duty toward him. 

In the Tenth Commandment, we see that the object of the sin of coveting might also be a person.  For example, one man might desire to be with a woman who has already been married to another man, or an employer might desire the services of an employee who is already contracted to work with another company.  If they plot or attempt to lure the wife or the employee away and make them their own, they would be coveting. 

Coveting differs from greed in that greed is simply the desire to trust possessions above God and the sinful desire to obtain them, even if through means that are otherwise lawful and moral, while coveting specifically refers to the possessions of another person. 

If a person desires to improve their standing in life or to achieve greater success and compensation, this is not an act of coveting.  In fact, it is a wise an noble aspiration if it is done righteously rather than by taking what belongs to another. 

The simplest summary of the sin of coveting is as the desire to commit any of the other sins listed in the previous commandments.  If a person covets another’s possessions, they would also be breaking the seventh commandment.  If they covet another’s spouse, they would be sinning against the sixth commandment, and if they covet another person’s authority or reputation they would be sinning against the fourth or eighth commandments. 

Ultimately, all of the commandments relate back to the First Commandment.  So that when a person sins against any commandment of God, they are placing someone in a superior position to God, and therefore committing idolatry.  To steal is to make money or a possession one’s idol.  To commit adultery is to make another person or an act of intimacy your god, and likewise with the other commandments. 

Instead of covetousness, God’s desire for humanity is contentment.  This is reflected in verses like Philippians 4:11, where Paul says, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances,” and 1 Timothy 6:6, where he says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” Christians are called to recognize all things as God’s blessings and give thanks to Him for whatever He has given—whether it is great wealth, or the basic needs of life—rather than comparing their blessings to those of others or expressing discontent over the quantity of their blessings.