Buried Talents: How Do We Decide?

What is the rule in this case? Do we presume a rule or do we presume freedom? What does the Bible say?

(Gal. 3:25) Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

Why do we insist on replacing the law that Christ died to free us from with a new, equally strict law? Can you tell any difference between our debates over whether a man must resign as elder if his wife dies or if his only child (or one of his two children) dies or is divorced and the debates the Pharisees had as to whether it is right to heal on the Sabbath? I can’t. They thought they were honoring God by strictly construing His commands to be “safe.” They built fences around the law to be doubly safe. They are burning in hell. Let’s not follow their example.

In fact, I well remember attending many a Sunday School class where we were advised that the Pharisees were condemned because they built fences around the laws of God, imposing rules that God did not. And yet I also have attended many a class where I was taught that we need to be safe, and that to be safe, we need to impose rules that aren’t necessarily in the Bible. These rules would be imposed by the church to protect us from what violating these rules “might lead to.” These rules would also protect us from any accusation by other congregations or the most traditional members of our own congregations. I’ve even been in classes that described this process of being doubly safe as “building fences.” I can be very dense at times, but this kind of thinking started to bother me a long time ago.

(2 Cor. 3:3-6,17) You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant-not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. … Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

(Rom. 7:6) But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

If we turn the freedom that is in Christ into a new Law of Moses, replacing one law with another, we will receive our reward — death. Law brings death. The Spirit gives life. The New Testament is not a new Deuteronomy. Paul doesn’t replace the old letters with better letters. The Law of Moses is not replaced. It is abolished. We don’t have better, more modern rules — we have salvation and an indwelling, and we have freedom.

(Col. 2:8) See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

Recall that the “basic principles of this world” are the results of God’s curse on Creation — man’s sinfulness, the reign of death, and the domination of women by men (Gal 4:6-9). Hebrews says much the same thing, drawing a contrast between the new order and the old:

(Heb. 9:1,10) Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. … They are only a matter of food and drink and various external washingsexternal regulations applying until the time of the new order.

The writer’s point is not that the new order will have new regulations. Rather, he is saying that external regulations for worship are characteristic of the Old Covenant, but in the new order, God will regulate us, not through rules, but internally, through His Spirit.

(Heb 8:10-13) “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord.

I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.

The Hebrews writer quotes from Jeremiah’s prophecy of the Messiah to make his point. In the Christian Dispensation, God’s relationship to His people will be fundamentally different. We will not be saved through better scholarship, but because God Himself will writes His laws on our hearts through His Spirit (see also Romans 8:1-15).

(Rom. 4:14-16) For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring-not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.

Paul says that the only way that we can be sin-free is to be law-free. Our salvation is by faith because making our salvation by works — even a little bit — will make us sinners and we will be damned. To allow us to be saved, God had to put into place a system where “there is no law.”

Thus, those who find arbitrary, external rules in the New Testament must be misunderstanding the scriptures. In the new order, the “rules” will come from our relationship with the Spirit. We are to become Spirit-filled people who are ruled from a Spirit-filled heart, not from a “written code” or “external regulations,” which can only bring spiritual death.

Thus, the “gifts” or “talents” view of church order makes perfect sense and is exactly what the writers say is the new nature of things. The idea that we are bound by a host of elaborate rules regarding how many children deacons and elders must have and whether a man must be married to lock the building or whether a woman can head the primary department is, pure and simple, Old Testament thinking. If we instead look at each person’s God-given talents, we are thinking spiritually and relying on God’s internal regulations.

Despite knowing that we are Christians freed from law and regulations, we think we are under very strict regulations on which our very salvation depends but which we frankly cannot interpret with any consistency! I don’t doubt for a moment the inspiration of these passages. I seriously doubt that we’ve understood why the passages were written.

Because we don’t really know what role is exclusively the role of deacons, we try to structure our works and programs in whatever way will work, and then we put the best face on it so that our more traditional members don’t protest too vigorously about the expanded role of women. Thus, we are glad for the Ladies Bible Class to take on providing food for the sick, but we’d never name the woman in charge of this very vital program a “deacon.” We are glad for our youth minister to run the program for the teenagers, even if he has no children. But because he is (1) male and (2) has a title (“minister,” which is from the Latin word that translates diakonos!) we invite him to our elders and deacons meetings and give him a voice and authority equal if not superior to any deacon.

We cannot effectively run a church and simultaneously limit every job that carries any authority at all to married men with children. Therefore, we rationalize our way around the rules while simultaneously insisting that we are obeying the rules and that all who disagree with us are going to hell. The solution is not stricter or even more consistent legalism. It is an end to legalism and an acceptance of the work of God’s Holy Spirit.

The Bible plainly teaches that it is the Creator of the Universe who works in us to give us the gifts and talents needed to serve Him. We need to honor God’s work in us. We need to put aside our assumption that the New Testament is a law book. We need to admit that we’ve always ignored passages such as 1 Timothy 5:11 that is as much a list of qualifications as those dealing with elders and deacons and confess that we only try to enforce those passages that happen to be consistent with our own biases and presuppositions. And we need to read the Bible with spiritual eyes.

(1 Cor. 2:14-16) The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

I don’t have all the answers, and certainly don’t pretend to be able to plumb all the depths of these passages. But neither am I willing to ignore their plain teachings. Over and over again, the Bible tells us that we are freed from laws, rules, regulations, and written codes, and over and over again my brothers insist on imposing laws, rules, regulations, and written codes. Is it safer to take a doubtful passage and assume that there is a rule? Or is it wiser and more Christ-like to interpret passages to be consistent with the plain teachings of the Bible regarding the Spirit’s gifts?

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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14 Responses to Buried Talents: How Do We Decide?

  1. Alan says:

    Why do we insist on replacing the law that Christ died to free us from with a new, equally strict law?

    It’s not up to us to do that. But Christians are called to the obedience that comes from faith (Rom 1:5). Obedience implies that there are commands to be obeyed. Paul spoke of being under the Law of Christ (1 Cor 9:21).

    Consider what Jesus himself taught:

    Mat 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
    Mat 7:22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’
    Mat 7:23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

    Note in verse 23, Jesus says “depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” They called Jesus Lord, but they lived as though he never gave them a law to obey. And that disqualified them from entering the kingdom of heaven.

    So, what is this “will of God”, this law, that they failed to obey? Surely Jesus was referring to the things he had been preaching about in that same sermon, since chapter 5. As he said a few verses later:

    Mat 7:24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
    Mat 7:25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.
    Mat 7:26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.
    Mat 7:27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

    The wise builder heard “these words of mine” and obeyed. The foolish builder heard “these words of mine” and did not obey. The will of God to which he referred was the teaching he had been giving in the sermon on the Mount.

    There is a narrow gate and a narrow road leading to heaven. Few find it. The other road is broad, and leads to destruction. That is the road that most people travel. A good tree bears good fruit, and a bad tree bears bad fruit. A tree that bears bad fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

    Obeying Jesus is not optional. His teachings are not mere suggestions. As Paul said:

    Gal 6:7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.
    Gal 6:8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

  2. Alan,
    Perhaps this is too simplistic. But the difference I perceive between you view and mine is this: You seem to say we should "obey" because of commands and laws.

    My view — which I think is also Jay's, or at least very close — is that we try to follow those guidelines in some real world context, because they are guidance for how to love people the way Jesus loved them and see people the way God sees them.

    The implications may be similar, but the perspective is dramatically different — which is what I think Jay is trying to get across.

    Which is the difference between rules and grace.

  3. Alan says:

    Rules and grace can (and do) coexist. Grace does not eliminate the commands of God.

  4. Jay Guin says:

    It's really a question of hermeneutics — if we find a command that violates God's own principles, we've misunderstood the command. Maybe it's peculiar to its own time and place. Or maybe it's not really saying what we think. It's just a matter of taking God to be self-consistent.

    Of course, we obey his commands. But when God himself tells us how to interpret God, well, that's how we need to interpret him.

  5. Alan says:

    if we find a command that violates God’s own principles, we’ve misunderstood the command.

    Or else we've misunderstood God's own principles.

    To introduce a novel interpretation of so many scriptures in the 21st century, on the basis that God's own principles demand that interpretation, seems highly presumptuous. to me. What makes us think we're so much better at understanding scripture than the best minds in the church for almost 2000 years?

  6. Jay Guin says:

    1. The identical argument was made as to slavery in the 19th century.

    2. For much of history, the church has taught error on any number of subjects. Indeed, this is the essence of Church of Christ theology. Bishops ruling over churches goes back to the Second Century. Many other errors are quite old.

    3. Someone has done a great job of compiling the Patristic texts that refer to the role of women at http://www.womenpriests.org/traditio/overv_fa.asp

    The earliest reflect a positive view of women. However, by the 3rd Century, the texts become decidedly bigoted, beginning with Tertullian. The bishop found that only the male is made in God's image.

    "And do you not know that you are (each) an Eve? … On account of your desert – that is, death – even the Son of God had to die.”

    http://www.womenpriests.org/traditio/tertul.asp

    By the 4th century, even sex in marriage was frowned on. Jerome wrote:

    Letter 71. To Lucinius, § 3. (Lucinius was a wealthy Spaniard who had made a vow of continence with his wife Theodora).

    “You have with you one who was once your partner in the flesh but is now your partner in the spirit; once your wife but now your sister; once a woman but now a man; once an inferior but now an equal. Under the same yoke as you she hastens toward the same heavenly kingdom.”

    In Jerome's thinking, when a woman has sex with her husband, she became his inferior. By remaining a virgin, even in marriage, she becomes "now a man."

    Augustine teaches that husbands should despise having sex with their own wives:

    Thus a good Christian is found to love in one and the same woman the creature of God, whom he desires to be transformed and renewed; but to hate the corruptible and mortal conjugal connection and sexual intercourse: i.e. to love in her what is characteristic of a human being, to hate what belongs to her as a wife.

    And the story continues through the centuries. Even only a few decades ago, it was commonplace in the Churches of Christ — and many other denominations — to defend the traditional interpretation of Paul's writings on the premise of female gullibility and inferiority.

    Burton Coffman, who is normally a very sensible commentator, in a note captioned “On the Deceivableness of Women” (1978), states,

    It is a gross mistake to view the natural capacity of women for being deceived as in any manner whatever a reflection upon womankind. It is positively her most adorable characteristic. …

    But are there not historical examples of strong-willed, powerful women, impossible to deceive, who now and again have held the rod of empire or the affairs of state with great ability? Yes, indeed! But exceptions do not make the rule. Wherever such leadership exists in women, it is still a masculine trait. … Nature produces a two-headed calf now and then, but that is not the rule.

    This is hardly the sort of history that we should emulate.

    For nearly 2,000 years, the idea of women being uniformly and inherently gullible and incapable seemed obvious and shows up in commentaries from many denominations.

    Of course, today, now that women are being given greater opportunities than ever before, universities are having to develop affirmative action plans for men, because on entirely objective criteria, there'd be far more women than men on our campuses.

  7. Helez says:

    How many preachers speak at least weekly on how truth is being perverted? Do you hear how everyone and everything is falling into apostasy (a charge so popular that I wonder how many truly appreciate its gravity)? How many speak of how we must fight to maintain the truth of The Bible (or, rather, the truth of our traditional understandings)?

    Now, how many times have you heard a CENI-tradition speaker speak of the necessity of raising holy hands, the holy kiss, washing feet, or anointing a sick saint with oil? Have you ever heard anyone speak against church buildings because of “lack of authorization” in scripture? We hear about and teach the command for baptism, and rightfully so, but have you ever heard a sermon based on “The absolute necessity of forgiving others for the remission of our sins (and understanding that's what it's for)” (Matthew 6:14,15)?

    Scripture is indeed inspired, but it was reveled through the hands of human writers in historical contexts. Similarly, our zeitgeist and traditions deeply color our reading of scripture. We’re simply comfortable, and we’re comfortable with what we’ve been told. It’s the easy road, and it’s understandable… we’re human. We're not lazy, but we do fear. Contrary to what many teach, however, "the perfect" is not yet revealed to the world. Still, Jesus had no trouble discerning God’s will and setting the record straight – “You have heard that it was said…”

    We must learn to be confident in the Spirit, and not deny the power of our Godliness. We must learn to shed the baggage of tradition and set our hearts and minds on Jesus, and learn to know God. It isn’t as easy as following a set of laws, or a creed (written or unwritten), but we’re commanded to do so. What more could we desire, as Christians?

    The times are changing, not only for our tradition but for all traditions. Not all of the changes are bad. Some will fall to legalism, some to relativism… let’s pray for all of Christendom, that we should stay strong in the spirit and in the truth until all things are made clear.

  8. Helez says:

    P.S. Thank you for your honest efforts in finding the truth, and for your work in leading your flock. Your research and writings have been a blessing to me, and I'm sure to many others. I will pray for you in your work.

  9. Nancy says:

    And I will pray that Helez will post here more often.

  10. Alan says:

    Jay,

    I remain uncomfortable (to put it gently) with the sheer number of passages that must be reinterpreted in order to sustain your position. On virtually every passage, the argument for the new position is unpersuasive to me. The cumulative effect of the weakness of all of those arguments is overwhelming evidence against your position IMO.

    However, I have probably posted too often to express my deep disagreement on this series. If I have done so I apologize. The irony is that both you and I hold that this is not the sort of disagreement that should divide brothers. Yet we have strongly held and diametrically opposed views on this particular topic. I think the real importance of this topic to our relationship is this: it is the platform from which we can demonstrate how unity deals with disagreement. That is a message that needs to be communicated throughout the Restoration Movement, but especially among churches of Christ.

  11. Nancy says:

    Alan, although I disagree with many of your views, I find your posts very respectful and non confrontational. Both you and Jay model "how unity deals with disagreement" very well.

  12. Nancy says:

    Oh, I think non combative is better (instead of non confrontational). Sorry, I hit submit too soon.

  13. Jay Guin says:

    Helez,

    Glad to hear from you. And thanks for the kind words. It's been a hard week so far, so nice to be appreciated.

    But I'm fixated on your screen name. How do you pronounce "Helez"?

    My eye keeps wanting to read "Helen" and then it realizes that the N is sideways, and I just can't get past it.

    Is it …

    In Texas they might call it Helen with a lazy N.

    Heal EZ?

    Heels?

    Hell EZ? 😯

    He lez?

    Heals? 🙂

  14. Jay Guin says:

    Alan,

    It's great to be able to disagree without being damned to hell. I very much appreciate your irenic spirit (I learned that word from James Deforest Murch in "Christians Only." It's not one that gets used much in the Churches of Christ.)

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