Sunday, July 3, 2011

Be Slow to Define Sin for your Neighbor

"It is neither safe nor right to go against conscience"

Now, let me begin by giving a caveat - I am not going to go into moral relativism here. I am not denying absolute truth in what I am going to say. There is right, and there is wrong. But there is also the question about how this applies to you.

Recently on Facebook there has been a debate as whether or not MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) is a sin. Some say yes, as you are hurting your neighbor (to which the response was, "Does this make Hockey and Football sin as well?"). Some say no, as it is voluntary, isn't simply about causing pain, and can be used to teach discipline.

So, people wanted to know - what is it? Is it sin? Can we get a definition here? My comment was as follows:

I will not say that MMA is in and of itself sinful, but the intrinsic physicality and violence lends itself towards humoring many sinful desires.

As satisfactory answer... probably not. But it does drive home to a point which I think is often important. We must not neglect the role of conscience in a person's life.

Too often we want a checklist answer - this is good, this is bad. If I do this like that, it is fine, like this, is it wrong. But I find this approach to be often unsatisfactory. For example - It's wrong to kill... unless you are in the army and it is your vocation. This is true-- but what if you join the army because you *like* causing pain and you like the thrill of killing. Is it then good anymore?

See, this becomes the point where Liberty, our Sinful Nature, and Conscience all bash into each other. I am free - whatever God does not expressly forbid, I am free to do. Note, there is plenty that we can say, categorically is sin. Adultery is sin. Lust is sin.

So then - is it a sin to watch a TV show with gals who wear provocative outfits?

Here's where no one will like me anymore -- I answer: It depends.

Know yourself. What plays to your sinful, base desires? What tempts you -- what do you end up *knowing* is bad for you because it leads you to places where you know that you shouldn't go.

What does your conscience tell you?

In the open areas of life - in the things that we are free to do, God has given us the gift of a conscience - and the duty and role of the conscience is to keep us as individuals from leading us into places that we, given our own proclivities and weaknesses shouldn't go.

I can walk into a bar and order a beer without sinning. Some can't. Perhaps this is because they are alcoholics and that beer would be followed with many others and drunkenness would ensue. Maybe it's because their thoughts on alcohol are messed up and they are convinced that even a sip is sinful... while they are off, still, to go do something you think to be wrong... well, that's not good.

So, what does this mean? Unless there is a clear command against something, I have a very, very, very hard time telling someone that they cannot do it because it *is* sin so to do.

This doesn't mean I think it is *good*. It doesn't mean I encourage it. It doesn't mean I say, "I think we all need to have a beer for our own good." I can't simply know off the bat whether or not it would be good for them or not - whether it would be sinful for them or not.

Know your limits. Know your weaknesses. Know your conscience. And do not violate these things.

But also be aware that your brother has different limits, different weaknesses. And as such, he may be able to go and do things you can't or shouldn't, and vice versa as well.

Doesn't mean one of you is better or superior - just the way it is.

Of course, for many this approach is highly unsatisfying, because wicked man will use this line of thinking and push it beyond all bounds into wild wickedness to where they think they should just do whatever they want. Not what I'm talking about, not what I'm advocating. This is about understanding your own temptations, not pretending they don't exist or trying to justify them.

The danger we who do not wish to fall into blanket antinomianism is this -- we can want to set up additional rules and walls so that others don't fall into sin -- but we start commanding the walls be placed where *we* want them, where *we* need them for ourselves.

Just because you can't imagine yourself doing something doesn't mean that it is fundamentally a sin. Don't do it if you think it is wrong - but be slow to tell your neighbor that he *can't* do it.

Again, this is Paul - you have liberty, just don't use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh. Each of us have different ways in which our sinful Adam would give occasion to the flesh... just remember that.

I'll have my beer, and you can pass. You can pound on your neighbor -- I'll probably pass. But let us in all things strive towards ever more humility and constant confession of the sin which we know hounds us.


Bridget Cowlishaw said...

I like your answer. It seems the most Christ-like possible answer to the question. I, myself, have often run into Christians with a martial arts passion and found it hard to understand. I seems to me this constant preparedness to knock the living daylights out of another person is not a very Christian mindset. It does confuse me. I have a really difficult time imagining how one's mind can be "disciplined" in that way and still have a heart ready to turn the other cheek. But your answer is the only thing that sounds like Christ: avoid what you can feel corrodes your soul--and don't pretend you don't know what that is.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Dr. Cowlishaw,

Having a pregnant wife, I find I am much more prepared to knock the living daylights out of a person, if they appear to be a threat to my wife. (I could be like Rory from Dr. Who, if you've watched the new stuff) =o)

What I will say is that with things that involve "force" - be it martial arts, or the police, or the military, quite often people have a very kind and loving drive towards protecting others. I tend to have that drive -- just much more of a verbal defense rather than physical. I come from a long line of Marines -- it's not who I am, but I can see and understand. I know many good folks who are into the Martial arts -- and I could see where something like MMA would be a fantastic self-challenge.

Not for me - but it is not given to me to direct and control my neighbor's life. Ah well.

Thomas Lemke said...

Speaking as a Christian who happens to have a black belt in American Karate, I can say that for me there is no modicum of "violence" in what I, personally, do. Truth is, I have never been closer to a brother-in-Christ (in the David and Jonathan sense) than when we've just finished pummeling the snot out of one another. It's therapeutic and endearing in the realest sense.

On the other hand, I have been in situations where one or more of my students were violent types who only wanted to learn more effective methods of kicking butts and taking names. It's a reality, and these people are to martial arts what Pastor Brown notes alcoholics are to beer. Doesn't mean they get to spoil the experience for the rest of us, or that what we do it "sin" by extension. Just means that they have a weakness that needs to be addressed and respected for what it is.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Tough question indeed. I agree with you Pastor Brown, about the "how far do you push it" idea. We can make anything a "sin" if we try hard enough. And, in the opposite sense, we can find ways to justify anything, if we try hard enough. If we are not to "hurt or harm our neighbor in his body," then when ARE we aloud to do this? The fifth commandment deals as much with motive and attitude as it does with action. There's some grey area that is very tough to deal with.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

For myself as an individual, knowing my own self and my own conscience, there tends to be very little grey area. That's part of the purpose of your conscience - to help you draw your own line.

The problem comes in when I attempt to draw a line for my neighbor in what is a grey area on the basis of my thoughts and strengths and weaknesses instead of his.

Pr. Lehmann said...

Mr. Lemke is very right.

When I was a teacher, one of my students and I trained at the same do and were kumite partners.

Sparring with him was a wonderful thing for our friendship and for our relationship as teacher and student.

We are close friends to this day.

It wasn't about inflicting pain on each other. It more like a game of chess with kicks and punches and sweeps involved.

In fact, we worked pretty hard to not hurt one another. But a little bruise never really hurt anybody.