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Are cookies, coffee and calories sinful? Should you put a spoiler on your minivan? Are drums from the devil? Will you become an alcoholic and go to hell if you allow a drop of alcohol to pass your lips?  Is it wrong to watch secular movies? Will you become demon-possessed if you look at paintings by the likes of Picasso and Van Gogh?

Is it always wrong to generalize…?

(RUSSO: “Purple Earth”)

I must confess I really prefer the British spelling of “gray” ( g-r-e-y).

THE ULTIMATE CHRISTIAN REDUCTIONIST

When I first became a Christian I was so intent on parting myself from my former way of life and all that I perceived to be “of the devil”, that I purged myself of almost everything I possessed, everyone I knew, and all I had previously enjoyed. I cut myself off from all my former influences and pleasures. Friends thought I had been brainwashed by some American cult (cults from anywhere else in the world were acceptable). They were so “concerned” that they avoided me like the plague (a little irony there)…perhaps a hint that I was actually on the right track, because:

“What fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14).

Having been a bass player by profession, I sold my bass and my amp. I detached myself dramatically from my musical and theatrical contacts. I disposed of all my books, memorabilia, photographs, and my entire record collection-all the music I had loved, enjoyed and been influenced by for years.

For a time I was terrified that if I so much as puffed on one cigarette again or had a single sip of beer I would be sliding uncontrollably down that slippery slope to perdition. God would reject me, the rapture would pass me by, and I would be “left behind” to suffer all the evils of the Tribulation and subsequent judgment.

All I had left was a bed and a Bible, and I was considering getting rid of the bed…

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SWINGING BACK AGAIN

About two years later I underwent my first and my deepest bout of backsliding. I didn’t reject the Lord in my life: I just put him to the back of my mind so he wouldn’t become a hindrance. The cause of this pendulum-swing turnaround was my own loneliness. I was so hurt that God would not give me a lover, a family and some Christian friends as he seemed to do for everyone else, that I allowed myself to slide at least part way towards that perdition, in a quest for company and for a girl.

I expect I’m going to disappoint some of you by fast-forwarding to the present without sharing the intervening juicy details (for details, send a check or money order for $500 to this address…)

IN THE MIDDLE

Now, many years later, I find myself enjoying things which some Christians would consider unacceptable, un-godly, far too worldly, and maybe even damnable. In fact, I regularly thank the Lord for what he allows me to enjoy and blesses me with.

No, I’m not one of those people who gets high every day and has a string of live-in lovers. Such things are among the “black and the white” as far as I’m concerned, the things we can know are wrong in the eyes of God, and as Paul said:

“…those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

I’m speaking of things which are not forbidden or perhaps not mentioned in the Bible, but which some self-appointed judges among men and women decide are sinful and shameful.

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Grey areas do require some thought and prayerful Biblical consideration: are they really grey areas or are we just trying to excuse our disobedience?

WINE OR WHINE

As an example of Biblical consideration I have to admit to enjoying the occasional glass of wine or beer. At this confession, some of you are gasping and hitting that little “x” in the top corner…

I’m aware that some people just can’t stop drinking, and some Christians are convinced that it’s the same for everyone: that if I drink a single glass of wine I must be-or soon will be-an alcoholic, that I have ruined my testimony, and that I have already broken fellowship with my God. They insist that when Jesus turned water into wine, and when Paul said “drink a little wine for your stomach” (1 Timothy 5:23), the wine referred to was obviously grape juice and not alcoholic.

If this is the case, how could anyone get drunk on non-alcoholic grape-juice (Ephesians 5:18), and why should a deacon “not indulge in much wine” (1 Timothy 3:8)? How could wine be used as an effective metaphor for Mystery Babylon’s intoxications if it’s only non-alcoholic grape juice (Revelation  18:3)? The Greek word used to describe her wine and what Paul warned deacons about is the same word used to describe what Jesus made out of water (John chapter 2), and to describe what would be good for Timothy’s health (1 Timothy 5:23).

Ah, but there is a Biblical counter-weight to my Biblical argument, which is the frequent warning not to become a drunkard. If you don’t get drunk (Ephesians 5:18) you won’t turn into a drunkard and you won’t get addicted to wine (Titus 2:3). It’s the “drunkard” part which leads to ungodliness, a denial of faith, and separation from God (1 Corinthians 6:10; Galatians 5:21), but let me make it clear that real repentance always leads to forgiveness…

So then it’s a matter of control: can I control my grey area, or does it master me?

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GREY MUSIC

Another example of a grey area is the enjoyment of certain secular music. There are those who are convinced that listening to any secular music is going to lead the listener away from God and into the clutches of the devil. Some of these will even hypocritically take on board the sounds, the instruments, the styles and the postures of those in the secular popular world, in order to enjoy or “create” their own music with Christian-sounding lyrics.

I wrote a post some time ago called “Thank the Lord for Secular Music”, because I hear no experimentation or pioneering in contemporary Christian music, just a re-hashing of what the secular world has already created and used for some time. For this reason, I enjoy some carefully selected secular music in order to satisfy my tastes and avoid the tedium I experience with the clichéd and the mundane. I do avoid anything with un-godly lyrical content, and I find that there are many very talented people out there with great imagination, whose music does not take away my faith and does not lead me into immorality or rebellion. I totally disagree with the notion that anyone who creates something wildly different to the norm must be “on drugs” or possessed by demons: some may be, but many are not.

I realize that the freedom I allow myself in music is not for everyone. Some people (particularly teens) gravitate to the more sensuous emanations of human creativity, and they’re easily or unavoidably swayed and influenced by charismatic performers and their powerful marketing teams. Parents need to keep a loving check on what enters the minds of their kids.

COOKIE-CUTTER CHRISTIANS?

There are some in the Christian world who, if they had their way, would have us all be identical to them or their favorite preacher in every detail. Even the discussion of grey areas is out of bounds in their eyes. But God has called us to freedom within his clear laws, not to a regimented tyranny (2 Corinthians 3:17).

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I don’t believe it’s God’s desire for us all to be the same (and how boring life would be if we were). Why does our DNA contain so much potential for variation, if we’re supposed to be cookie-cutter Christians? This variety in our make-up and our personalities is bound to lead to some disagreement over what we consider to be permissible.

What kind of guidance does the Bible give for our consideration of grey areas?

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The example of the use or abuse of alcohol gives us one means of gauging our steps and deciding whether or not we should indulge: can we control the things we want to allow ourselves, or do they take control of us? Can we enjoy them without disobeying the clear commands of Scripture? If not, it’s time to stop and avoid them completely:

“Everything is permissible for me-but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me-but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12).

Paul counselled the consideration of others as our ultimate guide in those grey areas:

“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak… “…so this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge” (1 Corinthians 8: 9, 11).

This doesn’t mean we all have to conform to the life of the ultimate Christian reductionist in order to avoid creating stumbling blocks (phew!), but rather that those little things which we may allow ourselves and which others are not able to enjoy or accept, are not flaunted in front of others whose faith may be damaged by them.

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