Monday, February 7, 2011

You're Known By the Company You Keep...Or Are You? - Part 1

I grew up in a "camp" of conservative Christianity that placed high value on what is referred to a "doctrine of separation". The proof text for their doctrine is a verse in the New Testament that says, "Come out from among them and be ye separate". (I use the KJV wording because they would be offended if I didn't.)

And throw in the verse that says, "Avoid all appearance of evil", too. That's a biggie among that camp.

At the heart of their thinking is the idea that Christians, who now have a new "family" (the church) and a new life (the life of Christ) and a new citizenship (the Kingdom of Heaven) should be tee-total avoiders of anything "sinful", including hanging out with infidels (the unfaithful).

That doctrine kept me out of movie theaters my entire adolescent life. The Christian college I attended even had a rule prohibiting attendance at movie theaters! It was the idea that even a decent family movie was taboo because the money paid to see such was going to support evil, wicked people in Hollywood. As I recall Liz Taylor was the poster girl for that crowd.

Even as a teenager I found it interesting that while going to see the movie at a theater was unchristian, watching the same movie at home on TV was somehow OK.

And I remember the shock I created one Sunday night when I went to church wearing a collar-less shirt and "hippie" sandals!!

Is that what God meant by "being separate" or "being holy as He is holy"?

Questions I asked as a Christian teenager in such an environment were...
...Why is it wrong to go to the theater and see the movie but OK to see it on TV at home?
...If we are so separated from "worldly" people, how will we ever get to talk with them about Christ?
...If that's what holiness is about wouldn't be all do better by becoming monks in a monastery?
...Why should the devil have all the good music? OK. I stole that one from Larry Norman.

And if being separate wasn't enough, a doctrine of "secondary separation" was also in vogue. Secondary separation says that even if my life radiates Christ, if I associate with someone who doesn't fit the bill, then I'm in sin. I'm "unclean".

Then I read this about Jesus.

As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office, and He said to him, "Follow Me!" So he got up and followed Him. While He was reclining at the table in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came as guests to eat with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" But when He heard this, He said, "Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do. Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mt. 9:9-13 HCSB)

The "Pharisees" were the strictest of Judaism's "denominations". Today they would be called "fundamentalists" (a word that has been twisted, by the way). They saw appearances as the standard of holy living, and Jesus was violating every standard. And He did so just to push their buttons. He intended to get them to question their legalisms, which were man-made standards not God-given.

Certainly nothing indicates Jesus became a tax-collector, a drunk or a prostitute because of this lunch. His purpose wasn't to indulge in their lifestyle but to invade their lifestyle with His own. He was able to connect with them without conforming to them.

So, is this call to holy and separate living so much about where I go and with whom I associate? Or is it something deeper. And can we impact a world that doesn't know Jesus by avoiding them?

Just be warned: if you attempt to mimic Jesus and "eat with tax collectors and sinners" you can expect the Pharisees to rise up against you.

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