According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Are All Sins Really Equal?

I wanted to include Dr. Olson's reflection on sins in order to begin a discussion on this topic. When reading, please keep this article to topic (re: whether "all sins are equal") for I can readily see additional sidebars topics such as forgiveness, reconciliation, atonement, sin(s) of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, matters of church discipline, positional salvation vs. functional states of fellowship, among others, as problematic areas requiring greater discussion. And as I read along I found quite a few items I may disagree with as presented, but assume that Dr. Olson, given the brevity of space to discuss each "sin" area, simply glossed rapidly over these areas so as to make his main point that not all sins are equal per society's general reasonings (sic, what he calls "folk religion").

To any new Christians reading this article I apologize beforehand for the many questions its throws up in the form of morality and social/ethical issues. It can be all very confusing and requires time, the fellowship of believers, and maturity in Christ, to sort out and digest. I have heard many good sermons and have read or produced myself many good writings in all these areas - not as authoritarian pieces but as suggested directives, which may help sort out the conflicts and doubtful areas that arise from such discussions. Through prayer, guidance of Scripture, counsel and wisdom will come answers but none that I wish to thinly answer with overly brief explanations and analysis.

With that said, here is an area of agreement that I would definitely feel comfortable discussing between my Protestant faith and another's Catholic faith. For with this popular Catholic sentiment comes an honest description to the profound guilt that we - as overly sincere Protestants - may too easily trip over and unnecessarily burden ourselves with, in our misguided pursuit of "holiness". That said, overall may we let Jesus bear our sins as we forebear another's sin, forgiving all trespasses in love and honest communications.



Something Protestants should borrow from Catholics

By Roger Olson
August 15, 2011

Earlier (some months ago now) I posted an essay here arguing for a Protestant version of purgatory. (Hold your fire unless you’ve read that post!) -

Now I’d like to argue for a Protestant version of categories of sin–something like the Catholic categories of mortal and venial.

Recently someone commenting here repeated the Protestant cliche that all sins are equal. I think that is folk religion UNLESS it has been reflected on critically and a strong biblical case made for it. Far too many Protestants simply mindlessly repeat it having no idea that it conflicts with scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

Now, IF all it means is that all sins (like sinfulness itself!) offend God and harm (if not destroy) relationship with God…fine. We could easily transfer that to human experience and say that every little act of selfishness harms any relationship. But we also know from experience that, in a relationship of love, not every act of selfishness equally harms the relationship.

So what is my biblical evidence for this distinction between sins that can destroy a relationship with God (at least in this life if not in the next) and sins that harm but do not destroy it? Romans 14:23 says that whatever is not done with faith is sin. Can anyone claim he or she always does everything with faith? What about sins of ignorance and omission? Jesus talked about a sin that is unforgivable. 1 John 5:14-17 talks about sins that are mortal and sins that are not mortal. This distinction appears throughout Christian history–even in the Protestant Reformation. But Protestants have generally relegated “mortal sin” to the one “unforgivable” sin.

I would like to suggest that this Protestant tradition (and the cliche that expresses it in folk religious style) is simply an over reaction to Catholicism. In fact, something LIKE the Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sins makes a lot of sense–biblically, rationally and experientially.

IF we say that all sins are equal, even “in God’s sight,” then we have to say that kidnapping, raping and murdering a little child is on the same level as telling someone their new hair style is becoming when it isn’t. That just doesn’t make sense. Sure, of course, both child murder and the “little white lie” offend God but surely not equally!

Let’s apply a little mind experiment to test this. Suppose a true Christian–a saved person–gives into an awful impulse and rapes and murders a child and does NOT repent of it. Then suppose another real Christian–a saved person–gives in to the temptation to deceive a co-worker with a hideous new hair style by saying “It’s so pretty” and does NOT repent of it (for whatever reason but for the sake of argument let’s say she forgets about it).

Do both sins equally break the persons’ relationships with God? (Let’s not get into a debate about “once saved, always saved” over this. For now, in this context, I am simply asking whether both sins equally damage a person’s fellowship with God in this life.) Will God equally withdraw his blessing from each person? Will communion with God be damaged equally by both sins not repented of? I think that’s ludicrous–to think so.

I remember these debates in church youth group and in Sunday School–many years ago. We were told by some of our mentors that every little sin, including a “little white lie,” breaks off your relationship with God until you repent of it. But we were also told (sometimes by the same mentor!) that the condition of “sinfulness” causes everyone to commit sins of omission and ignorance but these are “covered” by the “blood of Jesus” so that they do not break off fellowship with God or God’s blessing. (Although we were also always encouraged to ask God’s forgiveness in “blanket style”–for all our sins known and unknown to us.)

What is that but something LIKE the Catholic doctrine of mortal versus venial sins? And yet, our mentors would ALSO say “All sins are equal.” I remember struggling with these contradictions but being afraid to point them out or ask for clarification. Then–during my years in a fundamentalist Bible college I DID ask about them and was harshly criticized for doing so!

So what would a Protestant version of categorizations of sin look like? I see no problem with borrowing the terminology “mortal” and “venial” sin from Catholic theology, but I know many especially evangelical Protestants will choke on those words EVEN IF they agree that not all sins are equal in terms of damaging our relationship with God. However, I haven’t come up with alternative single words for the two categories. Do we necessarily need them?

I suggest we teach our people that there are sins that damage and even break off one’s personal relationship with God and that SHOULD result in church discipline if discovered–unless the person repents. Some of them should result in the committer being barred from some levels of leadership for a time of restoration. (The fact that many Protestant denominations and churches already do this supports my contention that most Protestants really do NOT believe “all sins are equal!”) Then there are sins that do NOT break off a saved person’s relationship with God even if no specific repentance follows. We don’t have to say these are harmless or unimportant; we can say that if they become practice and a part of a person’s lifestyle they CAN add up to serious sin that harms or even breaks off the relationship with God.

In my book Questions to All Your Answers I have a chapter on this issue and I use an example from my own family history. I recall that occasionally a letter would arrive not postmarked so that the stamp could be cut off the envelope and re-used. My father insisted it was okay to do that. My stepmother insisted it was sin to do that. My brother and I listened with some amusement (but also confusion) to their discussions about this. Now, one of my parents was right and the other one was wrong. But let’s say my stepmother was right and, in God’s sight, re-using the stamp was a sin. Did reusing a stamp break my father’s relationship with God? I can’t imagine it. Years later he was caught embezzling from his church. Did that break off his relationship with God? (I’m not talking about the being caught but the first willful, conscious, presumptuous theft he did not repent of.) I think so–unless and until he repented.

Now, was there some connection between my father’s re-using a stamp and his later embezzling from his church? Perhaps. But that doesn’t make them equal! What it means is that even those things we think are not sin but MAY BE should be carefully considered and avoided if possible–but not to the point of scrupulosity about everything (like Luther’s spending hours in confession confessing every thought that might possibly be sinful until his confessor told him to go away and not come back until he had something really sinful to repent of!).

In short, I think “all sins are equal” is simply a cliche. We should drop it–and challenge it when overheard. It doesn’t make any sense–biblically, in terms of the Great Tradition, rationally or experientially.

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