Monday, May 5, 2008

Being a hard liner in policies and practices

In earlier posts I wrote about being a hardliner in faith and morals. Anybody who has any belief system (and we all do) will generally be a “hard-liner” in that they stand firm in that belief system (unless they are wishy-washy or don’t have a grasp of what they are supposed to believe). Conservative Christians are criticized for standing firm in their beliefs, being called hard-liners, rigid, intolerant, etc. However, in matters of faith and morals I believe that if you buy into a belief system, you should stand firm in it (understanding there are a few areas open to differing interpretations).

With respect to Christianity, its faith, morals, and ethical principles are based on what we believe to be God’s Word, the Bible. As such, it is to be followed and obeyed, since the Bible gives us God’s blueprint for living. Some Church policies and practices have biblical origins, but some don’t. Below is a discussion on policies and practices.

Policies and Practices

Unlike matters of faith and morals, policies and practices are typically of human origin. There may be some sort of biblical basis for a policy or practice, but it is often not based on any clear instruction or command in the Bible. What are some examples of man-made policies and practices of the Church?

Since I started off this series of posts by talking about the pope, let me mention a couple of Catholic policies and practices that are talked about quite a bit.

One well-known Catholic policy is to ordain only men as priests. Before we criticize the Catholic Church for not ordaining women, we have to realize that most Protestant denominations didn’t begin to ordain women until the mid-20th century. Protestants could change their practice regarding the ordination of women because that practice wasn’t based on a clear biblical command (although it can be argued that women shouldn’t be ordained, such an opinion has a very weak biblical basis).

Another Catholic policy is the prohibition of marriage for clergy. The early church did have married clergy, and this ban on marriage evolved over time, culminating in the decision to make mandatory what had been optional. This came about at the Second Lateran Council in the 1100s. By the way, United Methodist (as well as other denominations’) policy is for clergy to exercise “fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness.” This policy is clearly biblically-based, and should never be changed.

A former practice in the Catholic Church was the Latin mass. Vatican II did away with it, and there were quite a few Catholics who were upset by that. Yet there is nothing sacred about Latin. Jesus spoke Aramaic, and the New Testament was written in Greek.

Since a number of Catholic policies and practices are hotly debated, we could ask the question: Will the Catholic Church ever make any changes in these areas? My answer is, “Not likely any time soon.” Why? We have to understand that the Catholic Church is authoritarian and tradition-bound. Therefore, making any change would give the Church a huge credibility problem in all areas, in the area of faith and morals as well as policy and practice. From my observation, the line is blurred in the Catholic Church between faith and morals on the one hand, and policy and practice on the other. If any practice is changed, whether biblically based or not, many Catholics would then ask: “What else were they wrong about?” (not making the distinction we have been talking about) There are people even today who are still angry about the change in the mass from Latin to English, as if Latin were some sort of sacred language.

Therefore, I believe it is important for Christians to distinguish between matters of faith, morals, and ethics coming out of biblical teachings on the one hand, and matters of policy and practice with a weak or no biblical basis on the other hand. I also believe Christians must not conform to the culture, but should be conformed to Christ and live lives consistent with biblical teachings. I will have some final thoughts on being a “hard-liner” in a future post.

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