Monday, August 31, 2015

Circumcising Adiaphora

For this week's newspapers, I answered the final follow-up in a series of 3 about what makes and does not make a person sinful by answering how a Christian chooses about what to do when the action is neither commanded nor forbidden by genuine divine laws:  

Q:  If it is not the things we consume or touch, or even our actions, that determine our status before God, then how do Christians choose a course of action in decisions which involve things beyond the Ten Commandments?

When a person understands the fact that their status with God the Father is determined by Jesus and His perfect life and crucified death rather than their own performance, it can be a difficult adjustment because it seems at first to leave a vacuum in the area of ethics and morality. 

However, the Christian still honors God’s law, and even desires to keep it, but as a result of God’s goodness to them rather than as a condition of salvation.  When it regards which actions are a sin, this is guided by the Ten Commandments, as understood in the light of all of Scripture, but there are many choices where none of the options would seem to violate one of these commandments, but a choice still remains to be made. 

Sometimes, there are clear New Testament instructions on a matter, usually dealing with matters of the way the Church carries out its work.  One of the clearest examples of this is Paul’s instructions to Timothy and Titus about the qualifications for pastors and elders. 

In another instance, there was a question about whether the gentile Christians should eat certain meats or do other things that were forbidden by the Old Testament ceremonial law.  The result was that the apostles held a council at Jerusalem and determined that these laws did not apply to Gentiles when they became Christians, but that they should observe a few customs out of respect for their Jewish Christian neighbors. 

Paul Himself had to make a choice about the law of circumcision when he began to enlist the help of non-Jewish men as associates in the mission.  On one occasion, he decided that Timothy should be circumcised like the Jews were according to their law, but on another, he refused to allow Barnabas to be circumcised. 

This is because it was neither commanded nor forbidden that gentiles to be circumcised like Jewish people were before Jesus came, so Paul chose what best taught the people what they needed to understand.  This is what he means when he talks about “becoming all things to all men” in 1 Corinthians 9. 

Because Timothy would be serving in a setting where he would be among Jews, Paul allowed for him to be circumcised so that it would not be an obstacle to his congregation hearing and believing the Gospel.  On the other hand, Barnabas would be serving in a time and place where Judaizers were seeking to force the Old Testament law upon Christians, so Paul refused to allow his circumcision in order to demonstrate the Christians’ freedom from Old Testament ceremonial laws. 

In both cases, Paul made the decision that most clearly provided a path for people to hear and believe the Gospel without the corruption of false teaching—making concessions for the sake of those who might be weak, but standing firmly against those whose pride undermined the Gospel. 

Christians are called to similar commitments when faced with present customs and behaviors that are matters of controversy, but don’t relate to the sins specified in the Ten Commandments.  This would include things like alcohol or tobacco use, many expressions of language, and displays of wealth, among many others.  The Christian’s goal is to make such choices in the way that avoids being an obstacle for the Gospel or which tears down obstacles placed by others. 

So, when we make choices, we try to do what would be least confrontational to our neighbors who are offended by certain things because they are misinformed or fearful, but when confronted with opponents who seek to enforce their choices upon us out of pride, then we are called to stand against them so that our neighbors’ freedom and confidence in the Gospel would not be assaulted. 

Questions may be submitted by email to or sent to P.O. Box 195; Burt, IA  50522.

Rev. Jason P. Peterson

Pastor, St. John’s Lutheran Church – Burt

No comments:

Post a Comment