Vol. 7, No. 4
~ Page 13 ~
Most of us who consider ourselves "conservatives" or "moderates" or both, have probably taught that the persons who bind where God has not bound or looses where God has not loosed are both wrong, and equally dangerous to the cause of Christ and the salvation of souls. In this article, I wish to examine that thesis in a little more detail.
It can be proven with a reasonable degree of certainty that the Pharisees of Jesus' day made void the Word of God by their traditions by binding where God did not bind, and loosing where God did not loose. When they condemned Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, or walking through the grain fields and plucking the heads of grain and other such things, they were binding where God did not bind. When they took that which should have been used to support a needy parent and dedicated it to the Lord (as they claimed), they were loosing where God did not loose. Jimmy Carter in his book, Living Faith, mentions on page 211 visiting with a famous television evangelist in his ornate mansion. He says, "When I politely mentioned the seclusion and luxury of the place, he replied that he needed some privacy from his many admirers, and that the entire estate had been dedicated to the Lord. He and his family were just using it during their lifetime. Strangely, I did not feel that I was in the presence of Jesus." This is the kind of thing the hypocritical Pharisees did for which they were rebuked and condemned by Jesus (Mark 7:10-13). So, there is no question that it is sinful and wrong to add restrictions that God has not added or to omit restrictions that God has made.
However, there is another aspect of the question with which we want to deal at this time. Suppose a person concludes that smoking cigarettes is harmful to his body. Since he reads that his body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), he concludes that he should not defile the temple of God (1 Corinthians. 3:16-18) lest God destroy him. Since he is so addicted to the filthy habit, he decides he will not even go into a grocery store where the packages of cigarettes are displayed by the checkout counter, lest he be tempted to buy a pack. That is, he binds himself to a rule that he thinks will help him to resist or overcome temptation. Has he thereby sinned against God? I am sure he has not. If he tried to get the elders to pass a rule that anyone who went by a cigarette vending machine was sinning, and should be withdrawn from, he would be sinning.
There are two points I wish to make about this. First, we have the right to "bind upon ourselves" any practice that we think will help us overcome temptation, or try to make sure we do not go beyond the bounds of propriety. A preacher who thinks it best not to even touch a woman on the shoulder with a pat of approval has a right to so restrict himself. He does not have a right to teach that when the previous preacher comes back to visit and hugs some friend, or greets one with a holy kiss that he has sinned. A person who makes these private rules for himself should be very careful that he does not assume that by having made more restrictions than another person he has become thereby more righteous than the other, or that he has the right to make these rules for others.
Second, it is not as dangerous to one's soul to decide for himself to be more strict on himself than God has as it is to decide to loose himself from that which God did not loose him. To make my point clearer, at least to those who have seen cows in a pasture, I will use this illustration: The cow knows that her calf may get out through the fence and get lost. She knows that the electric and/or barbed wire fence is the limit for her and her calf. She can graze all the way up to it with impunity, without being shocked or hurt with the barbed wire. If she decides that when her calf is with her she will not get closer to the fence than 20 feet, neither she nor her calf are in as much danger of breaking the fence, getting hurt or lost as she would be if she persisted in sticking her nose under the lowest wire every chance she has. The others in the field should not be cowed into thinking that her rule must be followed by all, or bullied into complying with more strict rules just because others find it best. So, none of us should be bullheaded enough to classify as "liberal thinking" or sin that which does not agree with our personal opinion about what would be best when God has indicated that it is a sin to do otherwise.
If you were in the Garden with Eve, and you saw her walking toward the fruit, you would have the right to suggest that she not walk in that direction, for your great wisdom and knowledge would enable you to know that if she did not get close enough to it to feel of it, smell it or touch it, she would be less likely to succumb to the temptation. However, you would not have the right to prohibit her from getting as close to it as she wanted to. If you had been given the same prohibition as she, not to eat of it lest you die, you would have the right to decide not to go within 30 feet of it, binding upon yourself that which God did not bind. You would not have the right to assume that you were therefore better than another was who got closer. In fact, the realization that you were not better might be the very reason you restricted yourself more than God restricted everyone in general.
These illustrations may help us to be aware of some principles that are important. It is better to be too conservative than to be too liberal in terms of your own personal conduct. It is better to wash your hands all the way up to the elbow than not to wash them at all if God requires that they must be washed. It is better to teach people the values of that kind of thinking, as well as the dangers. It is not better to assume you have the authority of God to make your own brand of conservatism that upon which God will base his final judgment.
[Sometimes good brethren, while meaning well and attempting to be right with God, are said to go toward Jerusalem and pass by it to the other side. In other words, sometimes, with good intentions, we try too hard. We are not the apostles of Christ to whom Jesus delegated authority (Matthew 16:19; 18:18); therefore, when Christians bind and loose where neither God nor his apostles bound and loosed (especially making rules for others), indeed, we have tried too hard. ~ Editor]