The What and Who of Meandering About

Monday, February 7, 2011

Freedom for...

As I was saying...

"Freedom is such a HUGE concept.  What it means in one context may not be what it means in another.  What one considers freedom, another may consider an absolute impossibility.  I think this is what makes talking about freedom across cultural lines so difficult.  There appears to be no universal meaning of the word let alone a universal understanding of how freedom should or could be fleshed out" (For the entire discussion, see For Freedom below).

I often get asked this question in a wide variety of ways, "As a Christian, is it okay if I..." (insert anything you want in the place of ellipses - e.g. drink, curse, dance - yes, dance). This question, and others like it, appear to me to be an extension of the discussion on Christian freedom.  "If I have been set free from the bonds of law and sin, then can't I just do whatever I want?  After all, we believe that 'God alone is Lord of the conscience.' " (Taken from the Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church (USA) G-1.0301a)

Indeed, the Presbyterian Church (USA) holds fast to this understanding of Christian liberty.  It has been an important expression of what it means to be Presbyterian for hundreds of years.  Through this understanding, we are guarded against any tyrannical edict designed by the human mind to imprison, enslave or oppress another.  As Christians, we believe that God is indeed the only authority to whom our conscience must bow. 

However, there is another important part to this discussion that must not be missed.  In his letter to the church in Galatia (the passage that was quoted in For Freedom), the Apostle Paul writes, "For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery...For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Galatians 5:1; 13-14 New Revised Standard Version). 

And then in his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes these words in his discussion on whether or not it is right for one who follows Christ to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols, "'All things are lawful,' but not all things are beneficial. 'All things are lawful,' but not all things build up. Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other..." (1 Corinthians 10:23-24, NRSV).

So where is our liberty limited?  Freedom is limited when it compromises the conscience of another.  Liberty is limited when it becomes an excuse for selfishness or self-absorption.  Independence is limited when it no longer takes into consideration the life and liberty of the other.  If our actions are not loving to our neighbor, then we must reconsider our actions and our decisions.  Our freedom is not simply a freedom to do whatever we wish as if it were something we had earned for ourselves.  Our freedom is a gift that has been given to us by the Author of freedom itself.  The manner in which we live into our freedom is our response.  

We are free to live.  We are free to be in communion with one another.  We are free to love.  We are free to be!  Let us not become enslaved by the "death-dealing ways" that often dominate our world.  May our freedom be a source of life and liberty to all with whom we are blessed to come into contact. 

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