by Barry Newton
From fiction to the church, history exudes examples of those who have sought to impose their own will by transforming what exists into how their own imagination thought it should be. In Mark Twain’s “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg,” a mysterious stranger became consumed with discovering a perfect scheme for reshaping Hadleyburg’s reputation, that it might fall into the mire of disgrace. Through guile, he infected their pillars of society with a successful cancerous plot.
In a galaxy far away, Trekies will remember how Captain Kirk’s son in “The Search for Spock” had succumbed to pride and the allure of power by cutting corners to create the first device which if fired deep into a planet would be capable of transforming it into a paradise. Although his goal appeared noble, the ultimate result was catastrophic.
Fed up with church wars and judgmental hairsplitting not befitting the name Christian, some appear to have concocted a protein which when injected into the deepest levels of Christian DNA would transform the church. This powerful mutating genetic sequence is a-n-e-w-g-r-a-c-e. The goal to halt countless church splits over misinformed opinions is noble. However the short-cut method of redefining grace unbiblically leads to disastrous results.
Although the Bible never suggests that grace means we have been released from pursuing God’s guidance, a Christianity cultivated in a democracy petri dish exalting individualism has readily spliced a-n-e-w-g-r-a-c-e into how it thinks. When a congregation’s practice conflicts with biblical teaching, well-intentioned leaders can now feel biblically justified by simply counseling, “Grace covers it.” Wherever this unwarranted definition penetrates how churches think, callousness to the scriptural message ensues.
A biblical veneer for this grace mutation comes from “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”1 Although the context of this phrase reveals Paul proclaimed the wonderful news that Christians have been forgiven, the genetic spin doctors have re-engineered this to mean you will not be condemned for failing to obey any of scripture’s prescribed teachings. Confusing forgiveness for past mistakes as a license for future behavior conveniently obfuscates the necessary impact of the cross upon the disciple’s life. “Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin … we know that our old self was crucified with him.”/2 Cross-bearing entails saying to God along with Christ, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
In contradistinction to the way of the cross, a-n-e-w-g-r-a-c-e empowers a congregation to shape itself and its service according to whatever whims its will can pragmatically tolerate. As to what scripture describes how the body of Christ is to be, God’s servants are to seek to conform to God’s revealed will, not reshape it into their own fallen image.
1/ Romans 8:1
2/ Romans 6:1,2,6
by Barry Newton