I suspect the Pope has been poaching my posts! Just last week I explored the toxicity of legalism, and that post engendered more visits and replies than any other (OK, the blog’s been up less than two months. But even so…). Within a few days, an interview with the Pope came out that created a firestorm of discussion, both within the Roman Catholic and Protestantism, of protest and support and uncertainty. Francis’ premise: the church needs to move away from emphasizing rules to focusing on faith.
Many critics seemed to miss the entire context: both are necessary, but one is primary. The material from Francis below was taken online from Christianity Today on Sep 20, 2013.
“The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all…The rigorist washes his hands so that he leaves it to the commandment. The loose minister washes his hands by simply saying, 'This is not a sin...' But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing."
So easily we slip into one to the exclusion of the other. Legalists validly talk about the importance of commands, but seem to miss passion. Others stress faith so much that behavior gets ignored. Both are biblical.
But one, just one, is primary. Faith. Not just Francis, but Jesus said so. The most important command is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:29-30). Paul began and ended Romans with the importance of “the obedience that comes from faith” (1:5, 16:26, emphasis added).
Once we come to believe in Jesus, our behavior should be in the process of continual change. Notice the continual, because we never behave perfectly. But the “saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives.” Being good, doing good, can never save us. But it must flow from genuine faith.
I’ve fallen into both traps. When I’ve focused too much on being saved by faith, then I get sloppy with my obedience—it doesn’t seem to matter. When I’ve focused too much on following the commands, then I get rigid with my faith and it becomes a duty.
Let’s leave legalism behind. Not obedience. Let’s focus on faith, as the cause of behaving. Maybe that passionate following would intrigue those outside Christ and the church.
So, has the Pope been perusing my posts? Or has the Spirit been moving across the face of the church? I suspect the latter.
Kickstarting the Discussion
How have you balanced the tension of belief and behavior? Of faith and obedience? What’s worked for you? What hasn’t? How do you keep faith primary, and the cause of obedience?