FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY

Cecil Hook

he root meaning of our English word religion is to tie back; to bind again. There is a basic connotation of restraint, restriction, oppression, and bondage which has prevailed, making our religion seem to be a burden to be borne instead of a source of strength to carry us.

Too many of us have labored under the concept that God wants to kill our spirits and subdue us as slaves by binding arbitrary laws. Even though God gave us the wonderful liberty to think, we have dedicated our minds to study and learn law so as to keep its jots and tittles in a rigidly programmed life.

When a person begins to speak of our liberties in Christ, it is perceived by some as rebellion. Those who have the spirit of bondage become fearful that we are throwing off all laws, regulations, requirements, and restrictions and are writing ourselves a license to do as we please.

All freedom has limitations and all bondage has some freedoms. In jail a prisoner has some liberties within the cell. We as free citizens know that there are countless federal, state, and local laws and regulations which limit our conduct. So it is in the spiritual realm. All liberties have corresponding responsibilities. It is for the irresponsible that laws, jails, and hell are made. Paul declared, "...the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient..." (1 Tim. 1:9). This passage also indicates that there is basic law that precedes and supersedes any and all codes of arbitrary law. A licentious society, whether it be a church or a nation, decays.

God gives us both the liberty and the responsibility to fulfil ourselves in the capacity that he assigns us in using the gifts with which he endows us. This is not accomplished through the keeping of a code of law. So, Paul urges, "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery'" (Gal. 5:1).

When we begin to speak of freedom in Christ, some misunderstanding brothers begin to label us "liberal," a term about as bad as a curse word!

You might have already noticed that I like the word "free"! I have titled my books as Free in Christ, Free to Speak, and Free as Sons. Some have asked what I will name my next book and I reply Free From Church! Well, maybe not. In view of all of our hangups, it is rather silly to brand anyone in the Church of Christ as liberal. A lady called me from another state and began talking of her situation. Then she paused and said, "I had better explain to you that I am an anti." Before she could tell me what kind of an anti she was confessing to be, I interrupted her, saying, "You don't have to tell me that you are an anti. Everyone in the Church of Christ is an anti. We are just opposed to different things."

Many of our people are now understanding that God wants us to be positive people seeking the fulfilled, abundant life, believing that God wants us to be happy. They know that he wants to lift our burden and carry our load so that we may rejoice in the Lord always. They are finding a religion where his yoke is easy, his burden is light, and his commandments are not grievous or burdensome. They are seeing the merciful character of God's directives that laws were made for men rather than man being made for law. They are looking for mercy, grace, and comfort from a loving shepherd instead of the tyranny of a demanding despot. They are enjoying a religion that ties them back to God and binds them again to the Father by a relationship in Christ rather than a religion that hinds them as slaves by law.

Also, these liberated disciples understand that our works are not an effort to meet quotas, merit grace, or perform sacramental rituals. Our activities are designed to strengthen our faith, to upbuild, to bear burdens, and to honor God in short, to love God and man. They have accepted grace that freed them from the multitude of the distressed, repressed, depressed, and oppressed. They had found little comfort or security in our system which demands doctrinal correctness and human achievement for justification. But really, we are not trying to be free from other hurting disciples. We are free to grow beyond the immature anti resistant brothers but not to abandon them or show them disrespect.

Paul was the champion of our liberty in Christ. When the Jewish disciples were binding circumcision and the law on all converts, he confronted the apes-ties and the whole church in Jerusalem to keep us free from such demands. In further dealing with this issue in Galatians and Romans, he confirmed that we are liberated from works of law, from the scruples of the weak brother, and from the judgment of fellow disciples.

Paul won his case, but he would not do so at the loss of his brothers in Christ. So he made concessions to show his pure motive and his love for all. After proving that Titus needed not to be circumcised, he circumcised Timothy because of the Jews. Paul kept rituals of the law to promote peace. He would not eat meat before the scrupulous vegetarian. He demonstrated that he was not just itching for a fight but that he was trying to save people. Concessions can be made without compromising principles. Unfortunately, those who recognize their liberties in Christ usually have to make all the concessions. The sincere legalist feels that any concession is a compromise of truth. You and I must swallow our pride and accept this responsibility lest we be divisive.

Paul does not allow us to reject a brother because of his different convictions unless they destroy the basis of the gospel like the denial of the resurrection would do.

Paul demands respect for the scrupulous, weak brother. In Romans 14, he does not permit us to condemn, despise, consider lightly, disdain, or look with contempt upon a brother. There must be no condescending, patronizing attitude. We do well to become aware of the put-downs that creep into our vocabulary as we address those who differ. When we refer to a priest as one who wears his collar backwards and dresses like mother but wants to be called "Father," we are slamming the door by our contempt. I don't think I will have much of a positive influence on my black brother if I say something like, "I love you niggers and count you as my brothers in Christ, but I think you are wrong on this point." In times past we deeply resented the Baptist who tantalized us by calling us "Campbellites." I have always been turned off by anyone calling me a "Church of Christer" or a "Church of Christ Christian" for I did not consider myself as either. And one does not gain any points with me by insisting that I am a member of the "Church of Christ Church" or the "AMI Church of Christ" ("Anti-Musical Instrument Church of Christ"). Neither do I consider myself to be an "anti" or a "liberal."

Sincere argumentation to show that any of those terms apply to me is entirely different from using them as derisive, disparagements. Argumentation presented humbly is an appeal to my reasoning, but insensitivity is a door slammer arousing my emotions. Let us be sensitive of those we love in Christ. Let us not be combative. From some of the material that I read, I conclude that the writer is eager for a fight. Let us be easy to love and easy to get along with, never rejecting others even though they reject us.

In freeing ourselves from the tyranny of specific oppressive congregational systems, we cannot free ourselves from the need of continued congregational fellowship. The Lord knows that we need people and people need us. So there is legitimate purpose for assemblies. No assembling group is perfect; so there is need for continual reformation. Let us not alienate ourselves needlessly so that we can no longer be effective in giving redirection.

I have dreamed of forming a group of "my kind of people" with whom I can be comfortable in association without having to cope with the organized system of the local church with its bad-spirited people. But how could I justify such a thing? Inspired writers never advised disciples to leave unwholesome situations, even as existed in Corinth, in order to start a "true church." Every child of God is "my kind of people" whom I must love and accept "warts and all." I am called upon, not to start a new group of selected friends, but to bear and forbear and to exercise diligence to maintain the unity of God's people. Starting another "one, true church" only adds to our long list of sectarian divisions.

In saying the above, I recognize that one rule cannot apply to all because different factors are involved in different situations. In some cases, congregations reject anyone who expresses a new idea. They cast him or her out. But let us be sure that there is no ugliness of spirit on our part when that happens to us. Our freedom does not allow that.

In gaining our liberty from the yoke of law, we are still obligated to keep the law of Christ. Those who are free are never exempt from the debt to love one another and to accept all brothers even when we disagree. Our true freedom is to be guided by the highest and most comprehensive of all laws to love God and to love our fellowman.

In concluding, I would commend to you the wonderful attitude and practice of Paul, the great champion of our freedom. He wrote: "For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews 1 became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law though not being myself under the law that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law not being without law toward God but tinder the law of Christ that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings" (1 Cor. 9:19f).

And this, to that same problem-filled Corinthian church: "I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. I have great confidence in you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. With all our affliction, I am overjoyed" (2 Cor. 7:2f).