Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Be Faithful 2

The previous post.
Against this general Protestant background, the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition stands out in two clear ways. First, the Wesleyan tradition is more optimistic about just how righteous God wants to make us in this life. Most Romans experts have come to realize that Romans 7 is not about Paul's current struggle with temptation ("I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do," 7:19). It is Paul vividly acting out the struggle of a Jew who wants to keep the core commands of the Jewish Law, but who does not have the Spirit to empower him or her to do it.  Yet most of popular Christianity continues to see Romans 7 as the default struggle of a Christian with sin.

In that sense, this is a great time for the Wesleyan tradition, for Pauline scholarship has come these last few decades to affirm our basic understanding of Paul on sin in Romans. For example, one cannot take Romans 7 to be about a believer's current struggle with temptation unless you rip it from Paul's entire train of thought in chapters 6-8. In Romans 6, Paul's clear point is that Christians are not to remain in sin (6:1) and that they are not to sin (6:13). We "used to be slaves to sin" (6:17), but "thanks be to God" we have been set from from sin and have become "slaves to righteousness" (6:18).

Paul repeats this imagery throughout these chapters, including in the section that leads into the last part of Romans 7 (e.g., 7:5-6). Even within the "I don't do what I want to do passage" the same pattern emerges. In 7:14-24, Paul vividly and dramatically assumes the perspective of a person who is a slave to sin. This leads up to 7:25, where Paul presents his "thanks be to God" again as it is "through Jesus Christ our Lord" that we are freed. Romans 8 then goes on to expand on the person set free from the law of sin and death (8:1), who is not "in the flesh" (8:8) and is able to keep the righteous requirement of the law (8:4) because she walks (behaves) in the Spirit (8:5). As Paul says in Galatians 5:16, "walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh" (NASB).

We find this same attitude toward sin throughout the New Testament. Never in the New Testament do we find any default expectation that Christians will sin. For one thing, unintentional sin is a concept that, while biblical, is hardly a concern of the New Testament. Sin that is of concern in the New Testament is conscious, intentional, "high handed" sin. Many passages are misinterpreted because of later theological lenses.

For example, 1 John 1:8 speaks of having sin in the present rather than doing sin now, and 1:10 clarifies that the issue is someone who claims not to need Christ's atonement at all. In Philippians 3:12, Paul does not say that he is not perfect in the way we think of perfection in English. The previous verse makes it clear that by perfection he is speaking of resurrection. He is not yet guaranteed resurrection, because he must continue on in faithfulness to be assured the "upward call" (3:14). Only James 3:2 points to our common human failings, and here the word "sin" is not used. The notion of sin as anything short of absolute perfection is not the operational definition of sin in the New Testament, which would be better defined as to do wrong, especially to do wrong intentionally.

It thus turns out that the Wesleyan tradition, along with other pietist traditions, seems to treat sin much as Paul did in his original context. Indeed, Paul was far more in continuity with his Jewish background on these issues than the high Protestant traditions have previously allowed, and they have understandably struggled more with the "new perspective on Paul" than the Wesleyan tradition has. Wesleyan and pietist traditions thus accurately have an optimism about the degree to which God wants to empower a believer to become righteous.

Indeed, the Wesleyan tradition has taught that believers might, by the Spirit's power, go the entirety of the rest of their Christian lives without ever intentionally wronging God or another, and that they might do it with joy. If you are confronted with a choice--you know God's will is A but you are tempted by B--Wesleyans believe you can consistently, perhaps even without exception, choose A. Although Wesley used the word "perfection" in relation to this goal, that language is probably unproductive today--it can lead to unprofitable introspection and self-doubt. The basic point is clear: "No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it" (1 Cor. 10:13).


Angie Van De Merwe said...

I had always understood Romans as an individual. Romans 7 being understood as Paul's metaphorical experience of "being under law". (Romans was a way for Paul to explain to the Jew that their ethnicity had little to do with "the Body of Christ"). I have come to understand that the political purposes of any organization, is to survive and this also includes the Church. But, when power combines with political purposes, with no accountability of the law, then there is little recourse for the 'little guy'. This is what makes our country great, because our citizens are protected by law, from intrusiveness into their personal life). America is no collective State, at least in the eyes of our Founding Fathers.

Wesleyans believe in corporality. "There is no holiness without social holiness"...I am not into collective thinking or being, in principle. And I have met with Drury, DeNeff, and some others to specifically talk about this (carrying many books in my satchel to "prove my point"). There is much danger in this type of thinking. (I also recognize its good).

That being said, the Wesleyans are understanding everything in "collective terms". What purposes that the "Body of Christ" has, is to be the individual's "meat and sustenance". That means that whatever is deemed collectively by the "Body" is to be "my goal and purpose". There is no individual purpose(s). This thinking also means that whoever leadership "sets aside" to do the dangerous work, menial work, or frustrating work are to do questions asked...this is being faithful and holy. And the struggle that might be entailed is the personal cross of one's sanctification.

Not only does this way of thinking negate individuality in ALL its componants, it sets up those that are "the leaders" and those that aren't. Leadership is about making decisions and setting goals, but Americans believe that without indviduals being informed, there can not be "negotiation". This kind of leadership is dictatorship. Those that determine another's life, which is really about another's "death", are acting in arrogance and treating another as a slave (no rights). Without a right to choose what goals I want to set, who I want to be, etc. another is "taking my life" in a metaphorical sense. And it doesn't matter whether anyone thinks they take that life for "the greater good", "God's Kingdom", "scientific investigation" etc., it is still taking a life!

Because I did meet and express my opinions and convictions about individuality, and no one explained to me what Wesleyans really believe, I don't find any "moral obligation" to "be faithful". All that was said is that I knew what it was like for Christians when Nero ruled and the Christians were blamed....the role of "Scapegoat" is not a "healthy role" in the "family". Equality under law must be an individual's right, otherwise corruption will reign in our government or organization.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Perhaps, I should clarify..I understood Romans from an individual viewpoint from WITHIN the Body, as my place wasn't questioned, in the first place. Now, I understand that I don't belong to the "Body", as it is only about ingroup thinking, whatever the ingroup has collaborated is to be affirmed or "sanctioned" as "the Truth"...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Correction, It wasn't etnic identity that Paul was trying to "correct", as ethnicity is about nation-states. He was trying to correct religious identity as exclusive....right?

This is another aspect to our nation's greatness. We have allowed and believe in diverse ways of understanding faith and religious conviction....