One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind (Romans 14:5 NIV).
I just returned home from my mission boarding school reunion in Texas. One topic of conversation among the MKs (Missionary Kids) was the memories of what activities were forbidden growing up (going to movies, dancing, playing cards) and what our parents permitted us to do on Sundays (not much!).
How does one determine in the Scriptures what is an Old Testament command or a promise for the Israelites and what is intended for the believer today? How can we pick and choose which of Paul’s admonitions are meant for us and which for the church in his day?
When Paul asked believers to pray for him while he was in jail, this is obviously not a command for us in the 21st century to pray for him. But when he asks us to remember those who are in prison, we can certainly apply that injunction to someone today who is incarcerated.
What about when he told the Corinthian women to cover their heads? Was this a command for every woman across every culture and ethnic group and time period? Some people believe so. I’m not one of them.
How then do we discern and determine what commands God has for us today? The apostles grappled with this very thing in the first century. Were they permitted to eat meat offered to idols or not? I think every generation must struggle with and debate the controversial topics that arise at the time.
I remember back in the 70s when male Christians were admonished not to grow their hair long or wear facial hair because—at that time—it represented a worldly symbol of rebellion. Today, that connotation is gone. (In fact, I quite like the look of my sons-in-law with their beards.) And a time when women’s hair must never be cut, for that was their glory. Is God less pleased with me because mine is short?
Or take the subject of modesty. There was a time in our country’s past when it was considered inappropriate for a lady to show her ankles. And a time when showing cleavage was quite fashionable (though only in the evening)—and then it wasn’t—and now it is again. Yet where I grew up in an African village, the women all went bare-chested. (Today, not so much.)
So who gets to dictate the standard for modesty? Can it change over time? From one culture to another? Are there any absolutes, or is it always first and foremost a matter of the heart?
So I have to ask myself where is my heart today? Do I hold some pet traditions that I think are biblical mandates when in reality they’re merely cultural preferences? Is it okay for men to wear ball caps indoors today, whereas in the past it was considered quite improper? Does the Bible address this issue?
The Scriptures say each person must examine his or her own heart and be fully convinced as to what’s right for him or her regarding sacred days. We are to listen to our inner conscience as directed by the Holy Spirit. But I don’t like that. I’m just enough of a Pharisee that I want absolutes: put on this, don’t wear that. Give me rules any day over principles and then I don’t have to grapple with the subject. With principles, my judgmental spirit is required to relax and be more grace-filled with those who differ from me.
Guess I’ll go buy a headscarf and see if I’ll feel more spiritual—or not!
What issues, cultural or scriptural, do you grapple with today and why?