The following is a guest post by Tyler Recker.
A couple of weeks back I obligated myself to writing on this topic by closing an entry with:
In closing, I must also add that practices, methods, and ways of fleshing out our faith also fit into this grid of primary, secondary, and tertiary. It’s not only orthodoxy (right thinking) but also orthopraxy (right practice) that we must filter through the grid of closed hand/open hand issues.
Now, this issue quickly fans out to issues of legalism and license, as well as principles and methods. In this entry, I will examine more of the former, while leaving the latter for a later entry.
In the entry concerning Theological Triage, I relayed Al Mohler’s illustration about how some doctrinal issues are more important than others. As Driscoll and the Acts29 camp says, some things can be held charitably in an open hand, while others must be held firmly in a closed hand.
Here, I am contending that it is important to also use this sort of closed hand/open hand issue regarding issues of lifestyle and orthopraxy (right living). This is the practical outworking of believing what we do about legalism and license.
As mutual members of a covenant community within the local church, we agree that some practices are good (reading your Bible, not neglecting the gathering, living on mission) and that some practices are bad (adultery, homosexuality, stealing, murder, gossip). As a result, were I looking for a church for my family, I would call each of these issues to be dealbreaker issues for me. “You don’t believe the congregation should read the Bible for themselves? You don’t believe that adultery is a sin? I’m going to have to find somewhere else”.
Why? Because these issues and others are very clear within the Scriptures and we ought to hold them in a closed hand, not being willing to water down the truth of the Scriptures with “Did God really say…?” (as Satan did in the Garden) about issues that are clear.
Now, on the other hand there are issues that we ought to hold humbly in an open hand because the clarity with which the Scriptures deal with the issue is less clear.
When I say this, you must understand that I don’t say that from a low view of Scripture as if God was unable to say what He meant, but rather, I say that with a high view concerning the sufficiency of Scripture because God communicated exactly what He wanted communicated.
Sometimes very conservative individuals with very strong convictions about things are tempted to hold things that are unclear in the closed hand as if they are dogma. I don’t think it is conservative to say more than the Bible does about an issue. I think whether you are adding or taking away from the Bible, tampering with the Scriptures is a rather liberal thing to do.
So, some behaviors, ways of living, and so on, we must hold in an open hand of “I feel convicted otherwise about that issue, however I still believe this individual loves Jesus and desires to live a life that glorifies him.”
Alcohol- The Bible clearly speaks of the sins of drunkenness and the sins of failing to have compassion for the weaker brother. However, the Bible doesn’t ever say that all alcohol is sin. We know that Jesus drank wine, turned water into wine (John 2), and that Paul even prescribed that Timothy drink wine for his stomach issues.
Bottom line: it’s more than possible that your brother or sister in the Lord can drink alcohol in moderation and still love Jesus. This is an open handed issue. We should not divide or look down on one another over such issues. Some may abstain from alcohol, and they are not necessarily legalists. Some may drink alcohol, and they are not necessarily compromised.
Speaking in Tongues- The Bible clearly acknowledges that not all have this gift. Likewise, this gift is given some clearly laid out instructions within 1 Corinthians 12-14.
Bottom line: It’s more than possible that your brother or sister may speak in tongues in their prayer time and still love Jesus and be seeking Him honestly. This is an open handed issue. We should not divide or look down on one another over such issues. Some may speak in tongues and they are not necessarily nutcase Benny Hinn types, and some may not speak in tongues and they are not “afraid of the Holy Spirit” or “keeping the Holy Spirit in a box” (The Holy Spirit is God. You can’t keep him in a box. That’s silly.)
Within the life of the local church, there are all kinds of differing backgrounds and interpretations on the Scriptures, I think that the practical triage that I propose here will will keep us from going on witch hunts for either legalists or worldly compromisers, instead beckoning us to better love one another.