Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Christian Duty

Many months ago, Dave and I had a disagreement/discussion about Christian duty. He said there was no such thing. I said there was. He also asked me to post a scripture reference about it if I found it. I found it in Luke 17. To give others a bit more context, this relates to a longstanding debate the Dave and I have had about the Sin of the Pharisee (Legalism). We both know that the Pharisees did four things: paid attention to rules, made new rules, ignored more important virtues, and thought they were doing just fine. What Dave and I disagree on is whether Jesus had a problem with the attention to rules (we agree that Jesus condemned the last 3).


Michael said...

Hey don't leave me out, I argued with you on this one too.
I kinda thought we agreed that we did have a Christian duty. That of love. My problem was with the connotations of the word "duty" as something you HAVE to do but really dont want to (the letter of the law) whereas I see Christ encouraging us to a response of love out of the abundance of His great love for us. ("The Lord loves a cheerful giver", etc..)
If we only do something because "it's our duty" then are we not doing it from a wrong motive. How then is the new law of grace fullfilled?

Dave King said...

Mike: I don't think you ever argued this with Richard. You argued it with me. Are only duty was Love and sex with our wives. Tough stuff

Richard: Thanks for linking to all of chaper 17 that helps a ton.

So let me get this strait

Jesus: Forgive your brother, even if he's hurt you six times today, for give him the seventh as well.

Deciples: How can we do that? Increase our faith!

Jesus: The is no try, fogive or fogive not! After you've done that seven times or more, don't get thinking you're something special! Grace and mercy are the norm when walking in faith!

How does forgiving someone 7 times (or 70x7 times) being the norm of faith prove that Jesus wanted us to keep rules? And if that's the norm Jesus expects from us, what Grace can we expect from God?

Yes the NIV uses the word duty, but the context does not put it in the there are a minimum set of things you need to do context. Remember my "there is no Christian duty" was in recaction to the "some things are required and some things are optional statement" you made.

This passage says two things to me:

We either walk in faith or don't.

When we achive what we think is amazing in faith, it's nothing to get all puffed up about.

Big Scarry Spiritual Stuff!

Richard said...

Dave, I think we must be experiencing some sort of language issue for I'm getting a completely opposite reading of the text.

To me, the norm of repeated forgiveness does in fact prove that we have a rule Jesus requires us to keep. Extending forgiveness is one of the things required, the amount of money you give to charity is optional.

In Catholic language, the duty to forgive is under pain of mortal sin. In the language of Dallas Willard, to ask God to forgive you while refusing to forgive others is to become a Vampire Christian.

To apply the passage to the late Pope John Paul II, he might say that by forgiving Ali Agca he was only doing his duty rather than going above and beyond the call of duty.

So what am I missing here? How does this passage NOT prove we have a solemn duty to forgive repeatedly?

Mike, if we forgive because it's our duty, I would argue that it is a reasonable starting point despite the imperfect motives. To forgive with imperfect motives will hopefully grow into greater love for others as long as we do not become smug and do not get puffed up by the notion that we have fulfilled our duty. Start with the duties and grow from there rather than ending there.

This reminds me of Dave's most profound reference to the purgative way in a separate post.

kris said...

In order for me to understand your arguments fully, you guys need to share your definitions of the terms love & duty.

For me, love is being committed to someone else's wellbeing above my own. Duty is the externally imposed obligation to do something.

When I had this conversation with Dave the gist of it seemed to be: act out of love only, never out of duty. Every time I tried to think of a scenario though I found myself saying, "Why do I follow that rule? Because of my committment to the community of believers."

I think keeping rules for the benefit of others is love.

Steve said...

I don't like the word 'duty' either. Let me blow the dust off my SA songbook here - ah, there we go, "By the pathway of duty flows the river of God's grace." Any problems with that!?!

kris said...

No, I don't have a problem with that (though I admit, most people in the Army do, which makes me think I must be missing something.)

God calls me to live a life that involves me doing things that don't come naturally, e.g. letting someone strike my other cheek. I withold my revenge out of a sense of duty, with the hope that God's grace will allow me to be truly forgiving and self less.

Without a sense of duty I'd just keep hitting back until God zapped me with infinite love and patience.

Dave King said...

Richard, I doubt its a language thing. It feels like making the jump from Procedural to Object Orientated thinking. You can take every example of Love and unroll it to a set of rules, say see rules are love! Just the way Procedural guys can look at any OO solution can unroll it to procedural code, and they wonder what the fuss is about.

Notice how binary Jesus is in Luke 17. Faith == 1 you can do anything, and that's just normal don't get all uppity about it. He's not saying forgiveness is some basic required thing and there are optional things above that. This is the abide in me and you can do anything, apart form me you can do nothing Jesus.

If Forgiveness is required and Charity is optional then what's up with this?

Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

Yeah I know, you have a rule to cover that too. A nice clean rule that puts you on the right or left. 10% of gross income to the right, less on the left.

Jesus just doesn't show any interest in that type of thinking. It's not where you worship (clean testable), it's that you worship in spirit and truth. How do you test for that again?
It's not who's your neighbour (testable) it's being neighbourly that's important. It's not keeping the all the rules but dealing with the one thing we lack.

I'm not talking about cheap grace, I'm talking about watching what God does and imitating that. Being generous cause we've noticed how generous God is with us. Forgiving, cause we know we're forgiven. That's hard, costly, easy and rewarding. You can flatten it into rules all you want but the DomainOfGod is more than that. Rules are evil, like statics are evil, they worked in the old way but can block our understanding the new way.

[sorry to the non geeks reading this]


Steve said...

I'm on the same wave length, Dave. I just cannot believe that a God of love (period) is going to place any condtions on that love. I don't believe that God's love flows within the confines of a set path to those ONLY who are carrying out their Christian duty. Would that not nullify His all encompassing love? I think so. I also think that whether I carry out Christian duty(ies) or not I have all of God's love. He doesn't love me any more or any less depending on how I live. That doesn't cheapen His grace but it sure is a difficult place to get my head and heart around. From there, as you say, love because you've been loved; forgive because you've been forgiven - not dutiful, oppressive service but gracious worship.

I truly believe that if it were still all about rules there would be no Jesus as High Priest. We'd still be struggling to accomplish something rules were set up to show us - it's all about God's grace through Jesus, otherwise, we're screwed!

Richard said...

Dave, did I ever say that everything had to fit into the nice clean testable category? What you say that nothing fits into that category and this is where I disagreed with you. We both know Jesus condemned the Pharisees for stuffing charity into the nice clean category defined by 10% of gross income. Where we disagree is that you say there are no nice clean categories and rules. I say that there are nice clean categories rules and duties. Charity is not one of them. Forgiveness is.

Did I ever say that by fulfilling my clean well defined duties, this let me off the hook for the less well-defined ones? You know I did not and that I know I run just as at least as much risk as you do of facing the Lord and hearing the words "depart from me you who are cursed... for you did nothing to help me".

Steve, did I ever say God's love was conditional upon fulfilling our duties? I merely said we had some clear, well-defined, duties. Luke 17 suggests that extending forgiveness repeatedly is one of them.

Dave, back to your OO vs procedural programming. We both know that under the hood of a good OO source lies solid procedures. Procedural Programming has a worthy and useful place as does OO. The trouble starts when you stick exclusively to one when the other fits naturally.

Dave, we both know you can find examples where clean and clear rules do not work. We both know I have a disordered tendency to seek out clear rules when there are none and that Phariseeism may very well be my worst sin.

But how can you convince me that there are absolutely no clean and clear rules? The very principle threatens to feed back upon itself by becoming a new legalism which allows you to simply and cleanly dismiss an idea just because it falls into the category of a clean, clear, testable rule.

Anyways, back to the original example, how does Luke 17 not clearly lay down the rule, norm, law, and duty that we have to forgive repeatedly?

Dave King said...

Richard: is getting stuff to jump into the sea a Christian duty? When Jesus says we should consider what we do by faith duty, it would cover that example as well.

Yes Jesus sets forgiveness as the norm. No question. Yes some things are clear. But's the whole, this is duty / this is optional mind set that I think Jesus wasn't interested in. It's all a free gift, it's all required.

- Peace

kris said...

You guys are going to find this even more blasphemous: vs. 2
"But this path that we call duty
Is the way the Master trod..."

Dave: you're swearing now aren't you?

Since I'm not in on the optional vs. mandatory part of this debate, I realize that I may be on a differnt page than Dave & Richard.

I agree that the word "duty" seems to take away from the "all we need is love, love" gospel message. However, Paul also uses language that has the potential to do the same, e.g. Romans 6 talks about being slaves to righteousness. A slave isn't one who freely gives as he has freely received. He's one under compulsion to serve the master he's chosen. What I'm trying to say is that I still think the word duty has merit and can be used carefully. In a group of people who aren't reacting again legalism I think the word could be used appropriately.

If you guys, Dave & Steve, could answer a couple of questions for me, it might clear this up for me.

Dave said: "I'm talking about watching what God does and imitating that" Do I have to imitate God to be considered a good and faithful servant? Or is imitating God optional? Or is there another alternative?

Steve said: "love because you've been loved; forgive because you've been forgiven" Are you saying I have a choice? I can choose to do this or I can choose not to and I would still be considered a faithful Christian?

PS - I'm not asking if God will love me more or less I'm asking if I'm living as God wants me to.

PS - Dave, if you've already answered this is geek-speak, I didn't get it. Sorry for being redundant.

Dave King said...

Kris if you know a way of following Jesus, without paying close attention to what he's doing, let me know.

- Peace

Dave King said...

Kris, When paul makes his Slave to Righteousness comment, he's tallking about transformation from slaves to sin to slave Righteousness, where are character is transformed.

I don't think following rules helps transfrom our character. Following Jesus does.

If just trying to do the right thing, for the wrong motives formed our character then the Pharasies would have been a great bunch of guys.

BTW I am deeply thankful for you and Richard, we need stretch on another, even when we disagree pasionately. Love you both.

- Peace