Monday, July 26, 2021

Media Offered to Idols: What to Do with the Resources of the Fallen


As long as there have been Christians, there have been apostates. However, there has never been an age like the present, where both faithful Christians and apostates have had essentially equal access and influence over the church. The internet has made it possible for anyone to be influenced by anyone at any time, with no responsible gatekeeper necessarily standing in the way to impose wisdom and discernment on the sources of information rushing over the people. There are websites like this one, of course, that attempt to help people pause and think through certain things. But by and large, we're all like tree mice with small voices in a big forest, limited to influencing the creeping things that happen to pass through our tiny spot of land. There's just no way we can compete with those loud, cackling toucans and bellbirds in the trees above.

Sorry for calling you a creeping thing.

As we gather together here today on the forest floor mud, I'd like for us to consider what we do with the nests and eggs left behind by our familiar feathered friends when they fly off to another forest. When they leave us for good and, on occasion, aggressively chirp at us from their new forest, does it tarnish the resources they've left behind? Are we allowed to use what's left in the best way we see fit or should we call a meeting of all the bottom-feeders around us so that we can gather in a circle and ceremoniously burn the otherwise good supply?

Some Cases in Point

Abandoning the forest metaphor, it's time to consider real, concrete examples of the subject at hand. In this day and age, there are many ex-Evangelicals (or, Exvangelicals) "coming out" and warning others about the harm found in biblical Christianity. It's currently quite fashionable to forsake that old, bigoted, misogynistic, patriarchal, and primitive way of life for something labeled progressive and tolerant. These are obviously misnomers, but, as they say, "Perception is reality." The Exvangelicals who have gone liberal are taking part in apostasy, or "falling away." They are rightly referred to as such by Bible-believing Christians.

In addition to those who have publicly and willingly articulated that they've lost their religion, there are also apostates who are designated as such because of some sort of moral failure. They engaged in a secret lifestyle of grievous sin and, in almost all cases, they got caught (as opposed to initiating a confession). Upon such exposure, the vast majority double-down. Instead of repenting and being restored in submission to a biblical local church, the offenders feign sorrow for a season directly before seeking a new platform in a new place with new sheep. Others die before they can cause more damage.

Consider Mark Driscoll. There's no shortage of things to be said about his life and ministry. Consider also Amy Grant. She's now considered an LGBTQ+ ally, having said, "It doesn't matter how we behave." You may also ponder upon Horatio Spafford who wrote the beloved hymn "It Is Well." After writing that hymn, his doctrine didn't go so well. Here are some other contributors to Evangelicalism who eventually fell away in some form.

Sadly, the list could go on and on.

As these varying degrees of apostasy and waywardness are weighed and considered, the resources left behind by these people must be dealt with. Can their songs still be sung? Can their books still be read? Should their sermons still convict and edify? Is it all canceled out?

Meat Offered to Idols

Recognizing that each situation will be different to a degree, there's a basic principle for all of these situations found in 1 Corinthians 10. In the city of Corinth, pagan culture was all the rage. Though very similar to America's current pagan culture, the outward appearance was much different. Temples to different gods lined the streets and mythical deities were held in high regard.

Many religious ceremonies were held week-in and week-out, often involving some sort of sacrifice, and this left a question about the leftover meat from the sacrifice that was afterward offered to the general public. What were Christians in Corinth to make of it? Paul took up considerable real estate in the book of 1 Corinthians (chapters 8-10) to advise them on how they should approach this. His answer deals with the meat in a variety of scenarios in which they could potentially find themselves. (I've recently preached through this on Sunday mornings. You can listen to the series if you're interested in a more in-depth explanation.)

First, if a person merely sought to eat a meal in the temple precinct, he was free to do so if his conscience allowed. He just needed to make sure that his brother wouldn't stumble due to the perceived offense (8:9-13) and that, if he was doing this for evangelistic reasons, he was pursuing obedient wisdom while doing so (9:21).

After clearing that up, Paul explicitly stated that no Christian was to be found worshiping in pagan temples, sharing in the food from the altar, and supporting that false worship. In fact, Paul wrote that those false worshipers weren't worshiping so-called gods, they were actually worshiping demons (10:14-22).

The apostle then tackled the realm of the meat market. In that place a variety of meats would be on display for sale, having come from a variety of sources. Undoubtedly, many of the items for sale were previously used in a pagan worship ceremony -- the very type of ceremony Paul just warned them to avoid at all costs. So, what is the believer to do?

For some Bible readers, the answer may be surprising: Eat anything without asking questions, he instructed (10:25). Paul's reasoning is quite simple. He quotes Psalm 24:1, that "the earth is the Lord's and all it contains." Therefore, the Christian is to recognize that God, as Creator, is greater than what His creatures do with His creation. So some little God-haters used a heifer in one of their demon-worshiping ceremonies. "So what?" says Paul. "You didn't participate in the ceremony and eating the meat doesn't take you back in time and put you there. Buy the meat and eat it. This isn't a conscience issue."

These same rules apply when a Christian is invited to dinner (10:27). "Don't ask about the source of the meat when the plate is put in front of you. Just eat it," Paul says. However, he says that the consciences of all those present at the meal should be taken into consideration. This echoes back to his point in chapter 8: Don't cause your brother to stumble. (The ending of chapter 10 can be a tad confusing, but there are good resources to help interpret.)

Pondering the last two examples of the meat market and the dinner invitation, it seems as though Christians today are not without principle or precedent in making decisions about labeling certain hymns as taboo and what they are to do with that old Hawk Nelson CD. The instructions Paul gives to the Corinthians can be used by Christians today in relation to a variety of topics, especially the issue of apostate media.

Freedom and Conscience

Here's the thesis statement this article has been leading up to, followed by some explanations and defenses. Christian media that was produced by people who have now shown themselves to be dubious or unregenerate may still be embraced and used for spiritual edification insofar as the media is true to the word of God.

First, it's important to consider why this is truly a freedom issue. The strongest argument for this point is that God shows us in His word that some of His creatures will be used to bring forth words with enduring significance and value, even though the people themselves were not redeemed.

For example, Numbers 23:19 is a common place for Christians to turn when defending the truth of God's transcendence as an eternal, immaterial Being who never changes. This verse plainly states that He is not a man, He doesn't do anything wrong, and He doesn't change His mind. Yet, this truth was spoken by Balaam, a man condemned by Peter, Jude, and John in the New Testament. Consider also those whom Paul referenced in Philippians 1 who preached Christ, yet they did so with bad motives. He rejoiced that it was happening.

How is this apparent contradiction possible? Well, the Creator is absolutely free to glorify Himself by governing His creatures according to His will alone (see the origin of that statement here). He used Balaam for His purposes and the result was a truth that endures in its significance and value. Paul makes the same argument regarding meat. God is the Creator; therefore, appeal to His divine power and goodness as the basis for the freedom to take up and use the meat.

Second, it's key to remember that this is still a conscience issue. Paul's three-chapter answer to the Corinthians responding to the meat in question included several iterations of the fact that not every Christian has the same level of knowledge or comfort in matters such as this. Some of the Corinthians didn't have the knowledge that would lead to freedom -- they still considered the culture's gods to be real and, therefore, they were totally spooked out by the idea of being found anywhere near those temples or anything having to do with them. Others had the knowledge, but they still weren't comfortable with any level of association with pagan practices.

So it is with the media of Exvangelicals. Consider this revision of 1 Corinthians 10:27-28, with the words substituted in being found in brackets, so as not to cause any undue confusion about what is inspired and what is coming from a tree mouse.

If one of [your neighbors] invites you and you want to go, [sing] anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to you, “This is [a song written by an apostate],” do not [sing] it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake.

At this point I'm not seeking to force my interpretation into the text. I understand that fellow brothers and sisters will disagree with me about some of my assertions. However, this perhaps best illustrates the principle found in Scripture as I see it. There's just not going to be a consensus on what to do with the works of those who have departed from the faith. For instance, I've written off all Driscoll sermons -- past and present -- since his blow up at Mars Hill Church (see here). Others are able to listen and are edified. Let's all be sensitive to our God-given consciences.

Thus, it is most appropriate to approach this issue like all other conscience issues: Be wise, don't cause your brother or sister to stumble, seek to love each other sacrificially, and act only in faith.

Some Questions You May Have

Let me repeat that I am not pretending that my view is the only correct take on this sticky situation. Yet, in anticipation of responses to this article, I'd like to address some challenges to what I've put forth here.

If we continue to use the material generated by apostates, aren't we, in effect, supporting evil? 

Again, it should be said that if you believe supporting a certain thing would be evil, you shouldn't do it. Your conscience is not permitting you and whatever is not done from faith is sin (Rom 14:23).

But to answer the question succinctly: No. Again, consider the Corinthians in the meat market. If one of them, in their ignorance, helped buy up all the meat that was previously involved in demon worship, the meat market would only be incentivized to continue supporting the pagans who supplied the meat. It would keep the pagans in business, so to speak. But Paul doesn't go down that road. He doesn't link an association beyond the first degree in this scenario.

When Christians quote the words of God that were revealed through Balaam, they're not supporting Balaam and they're certainly not supporting evil. As long as a certain media is in agreement with the word of God, its usage is not sinful, even if the author of the content has since gone wayward.

How could you take this view while simultaneously rejecting the music of Hillsong, Bethel, Elevation, etc. on the basis of their doctrinal waywardness?

Great question. Glad you asked.

One thing must be said up front. I don't find the music made by these groups to be particularly helpful or good. Their songs are mostly shallow, repetitive, and stylistically predictable. I'm stating this because, for me, it's not as though I desire to use their material if only they weren't the way they are. I can honestly say I have no desire to engage with their media at any level.

To answer the question, though, I must say that using content like this should be kept as a conscience issue. If I'm at a fellow church member's house and he is playing Bethel music, I won't say anything about it the majority of the time. If I know he's being encouraged by the songs that are in line with God's word, I'll keep my mouth shut. But if a song is clearly heretical or if my relationship with the person is especially close, I'll most likely speak up just for the sake of informing. What the person does with the information is between him and God.

There is real difficulty, however, when this music is brought into the corporate worship setting. What if 100% of the praise band feels free to play this music but 50% of the congregation is bothered by it? We should all submit to one another in love.

Wouldn't you be guilty of leading your neighbor into false teaching if you recommended one of these resources or used the material in a corporate worship setting?

Potentially. There's so much situational wisdom that will need to be employed here. If your conscience is free in using one of the resources in question, it doesn't mean that your Christian brother or sister feels the same way. He or she may not be able to handle the resource with discernment. Your unsaved neighbor may be swept away into false teaching. Be careful and be wise. For your specific situation, the best play you could make is to get advice from trusted Christians.

In the corporate worship setting, the fewer dubious extrabiblical resources offered, the better. Our church does not sing songs by the groups mentioned above for this very reason. There's no clear line, though, so church leadership should keep a close eye on all of those quandaries that come up in the praise band, in the book store, and everywhere else in the fellowship, and make the best decisions they can in love.

If you apostatize, would you want us to continue to use your resources for Christian edification?

This is a sobering point.

I can't say what I would want in such a hypothetical future scenario. But, if I were to still give it a shot, I suppose I could say that whatever is to be done with my materials should be left up to the consciences of individual Christians. This answer is consistent with what I've laid out in this article and remains a true point despite how I may feel about my personal work.

I hope this helps. May God give us great unity grounded in gospel love.

No comments:

Post a Comment