Pastor, Defend Christian Liberty

Defend your people’s freedom in Christ with your life if necessary. But do not impinge on their freedom, even if you think it’s for their own good.

Certainly there are extra-biblical things you will require because it’s a necessary consequence of biblical fidelity. There are also things like affirming a statement of faith or taking a membership class that you should probably require for the sake of unity as a particular church, in order to teach what obedience to the biblical command to church membership looks like. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about requiring the many good things that can serve to mature or encourage a saint, but are not necessary in order to live faithfully as a Christian.

 

Christian liberty has gotten a bad rap. These days, it’s almost inseparable from a discussion about alcohol. For that reason, some only consider the doctrine of Christian liberty to figure out how much they can get away with. That or it gets co-opted into efforts to prove how cool Christianity really is.

But before it is freedom to something, our freedom in Christ is an assertion of our freedom from something. Christ’s people are free to eat shrimp cocktail, pork rinds, or chicken feet fundamentally because they are free from the Law. Our freedom in Christ is freedom from the commands or requirements of anyone other than our Lord, because he has fulfilled the Law on our behalf, having lived the perfect life we could not. No one can legitimately impose any requirements on us as Christians other than those Jesus Christ himself has for us as his people.

LIFE IN THE CHURCH

How does that relate to the church?

Pastor, do you require any particular behavior or lifestyle of your church members that Jesus does not? Are there things that someone must do in order to be a member in good standing of your church that they do not have to do in order to be a Christian in good standing?

Remember what Paul said to the Galatians: “For freedom Christ has set us free: stand firm therefore and do no submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).

Paul was addressing the false teaching that Christians should be circumcised. The Galatian believers seemed happy to adopt this standard (see Gal. 1:6). Paul, however, saw it as another gospel―not because it denied anything about Jesus’ person, but because it denied the sufficiency of the gospel. If circumcision was something Christians needed to be saved, then Christ’s atonement was in some sense deficient.

Certainly there are extra-biblical things you will require because it’s a necessary consequence of biblical fidelity. There are also things like affirming a statement of faith or taking a membership class that you should probably require for the sake of unity as a particular church, in order to teach what obedience to the biblical command to church membership looks like. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about requiring the many good things that can serve to mature or encourage a saint, but are not necessary in order to live faithfully as a Christian.

You probably don’t struggle with whether or not to re-impose the Levitical code on your people, but could there be more subtle ways you’re tempted to add things to the gospel? Maybe it’s requiring participation in small groups. Maybe it’s heavily pushing non-biblical means of devotion because of how it has served you in your own spiritual growth in such a way that it becomes an identity-marker of your church. Or maybe it’s just that book you feel like every Christian simply must read.

Pastor, guard your flock carefully. As you encourage useful tools, books, or practices, work hard to ensure you only encourage and do not require. You may think that homeschooling is the most prudential way to instruct your children. But do not require that of your church members.

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