Saturday, October 1, 2016

Principle and Practice

Editor Harold Phillips (GT/VC) is a friend from yesteryear. He was a friend to all young writers in the church. In the October 19, 1969 issue of “VC”, a year that found me both a pastor and a seminarian, Harold editorialized on the theme of “Principle and Practice”. He told this insightful story from  Daniel Callahan (Honesty in the Church, Scribner 1965).

A certain Christian layman owned a supermarket. He made the difficult decision to stay closed on Sundays, although that gave a decided edge to his competitors. A short time later he bumped into a friend at church and she encouraged him to continue his announced policy of Sunday closure.

Splendid! That same afternoon, however, the grocer chanced to pass the establishment of one of his competitors and guess who he saw! “Emerging with a heavily laden cart of groceries, was that same lady. Now says Harold: “This is not to say that the matter of matching practice with principle is simple or easy. That is not the case. It’s tough, and elusive, and perplexing. But the gap between professed principles and obvious practices is much too wide today.”

Is it any wonder that we are so often labeled ‘hypocrites’ and ’phonies’, Harold wonders as he calls to mind comments of an anti-Christian philosopher who concluded, You Christians don’t look very redeemed to me.”

This was a problem when Editor Phillips wrote his op-ed. It remains a problem in 2016, even as it was a problem when I accepted my first pastoral charge in Harrison, AR in 1951.

It is the perennial problem of the ages! Matching practice with proclamation, of practicing what one preaches, is always easier said than done. The Editor is quite on target when he opines, “Words cost less than deeds.” I suggest, he added, “that in some cases at least, the ‘conversion’ experience has been only verbal and tearful and not deeply penetrating.”

Is it possible that “believing the doctrine” sometimes becomes our Church of God substitute for actually committing our lives to God and living in biblical obedience to his will? It appears to me to be a problem In this election year, when we are electing a President that will be a global leader of the world God has placed us in, Too often the opinions expressed are political prejudices that shape the contours of our biblical interpretation rather than our principle shaping our practice.

Consequently, too many Christians become so focused on the politics of ne-or-more favorite moral issues that when push comes to shove they simply fail to think through so as to biblically structure their lives consistent with how Jesus lived. I find D. S. Warner a man ahead of his time when he stepped out of denominationalism so as to fellowship every “blood washed believer” as the old song suggests.
I further conclude that “Warner’s followers” may not have always been right in bashing Babylon and insisting on walking the path of holiness and unity in solitude, rather than establishing a basis for cooperating in the larger Christian context.     

May God open our eyes and heal the blindness that in the language of the Editor fails to “see the discrepancies between what the church commonly professes and what the church usually does.”

From Warner’s World this is

offering a prayer that we both see our shortfalls of discrepancy and that we have enough discipline
to be transformed by the renewing of our minds,
thereby proving what is the will of God that is good
and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2 RSV)

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