What’s So Amazing About Grace?

The following entry’s words are from Philip Yancey, currently one of my favourite writers.

“You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness…. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Jesus, to the religious leaders of his time.)

Jesus did not fault the Pharisees for extremism in itself – I doubt he really cared what they ate or how many times they washed their hands. But he did care that they imposed extremism on others and that they focused on trivialities, neglecting more weighty matters. The same teachers who tithed their kitchen spices had little to say about the injustice and oppression in Palestine. And when Jesus healed a person on the Sabbath, his critics seemed far more concerned about protocol than about the sick person.

I have seen many modern-day illustrations of legalism’s trend toward trivialities. The church I grew up in had much to say about hairstyle, jewelry, and rock music but not a word about racial injustice and the plight of blacks in the South. In Bible college, not once did I hear a reference to the holocaust in Germany, perhaps the most heinous sin in all history. We were too busy measuring skirts to worry about such contemporary political issues such as nuclear war, racism, or world hunger. I met South African students who came from churches where young Christians did not chew gum or pray with their hands in their pockets, and where blue jeans made a person spiritually suspect. Yet those same churches vigorously defended the racist doctrine of apartheid.

A U.S. delegate to the Baptist World Alliance Congress in Berlin in 1934 sent back this report of what he found under Hitler’s regime:

It was a great relief to be in a country where salacious sex literature cannot be sold; where putrid motion pictures and gangster films cannot be shown. The new Germany has burned great masses of corrupting books and magazines along with its bonfires of Jewish and communistic libraries. 

The same delegate defended Hitler as a leader who did not smoke or drink, who wanted women to dress modestly, and who opposed pornography.

It is all too easy to point fingers at German Christians of the 1930s, southern fundamentalists in the 1960s, or South African Calvinists of the 1970s. What sobers me is that contemporary Christians may someday be judged just as harshly. What trivialities do we obsess over, and what weighty matters of the law – justice, mercy, faithfulness – might we be missing? Does God care more about nose rings or about urban decay? Grunge music or world hunger? Worship styles or a culture of violence?

Author Tony Campolo, who makes a regular circuit as a chapel speaker on Christian college campuses, for a time used this provocation to make a point. “The United Nations reports that over ten thousand people starve to death each day, and most of you don’t give a sh–. However, what is even more tragic is that most of you are more concerned about the fact that I just said a bad word than you are about the fact that ten thousand people are going to die today.” The responses proved his point: in nearly every case Tony got a letter from the chaplain or president of the college protesting his foul language. The letters never mentioned world hunger.

Much of the behavior considered sinful in my upbringing is now common practice in many evangelical churches. Although the manifestations have changed, the spirit of legalism had not. Now I am more likely to encounter a legalism of thought. […]

I have already mentioned the abuse that Tony Campolo has received for his pleas that we show more compassion to homosexuals. […] Eugene Peterson’s “tampering with God’s Word” in his New Testament paraphrase, The Message, made him the target of a self-proclaimed cult-watcher. Richard Foster dared to use words like “meditation” in his writings on spiritual discipline, which put him under suspicion as a New Ager. Chuck Colston told me the ugliest mail he has ever received came from Christians in response to his accepting the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, which sometimes goes to non-Christians. “Our brethren were far less charitable than the secular media during the days of Watergate,” he said, in a terrible indictment. The mail heated up even more when he signed a statement of mutual cooperation with Catholics.”

Hannah has a big heart for the youth, she loves to read and is a regular contributor to reflections on life@COOS.


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