How does Paul define sin? (Romans 14:13-23)

The Daily Office reading for today was Romans 14:13-23. I was particularly struck by verses 22-23: “The faith that you have, have as your own conviction before God. Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve. But those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because they do not act from faith;for whatever does not proceed from faithis sin.” So basically Paul defines sin as “whatever does not proceed from faith.” But what does this mean? Continue reading

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Is Paul a moral relativist in Romans 14:13-23?

I really was trying to stay out of trouble by sticking to the daily office readings as the source of my blog material for a little while. But the daily office reading for today, Romans 14:13-23, is filled with trouble, because in verse 14, Paul says something that sounds morally relativistic, and usually the more that Christians love Paul, the more they hate moral relativism. Here it is: “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.” Now I know somebody will say dismissively that Paul was just talking about sacrificial meat which has nothing to do with anything we deal with today (he doesn’t really mean “nothing” when he says “nothing is unclean” just like his “all” isn’t really “all” when he’s talking about grace). But why not confront this statement in its full radical nakedness? Because Paul seems to say pretty plainly that our perception of our actions is what makes them clean or unclean. And if that’s not relativistic, I’m not sure what is. Continue reading

Did Paul obey his General Conference?

If Peter was the first Pope, then Paul was the first Protestant. In the original church as today, there are two basic conceptions of Christian authority: apostolic succession and the priesthood of the believer. Paul represented the latter; he gave himself a lot of discretion as a pastor in the different congregational contexts in which he ministered. He didn’t mail a single Book of Discipline to Corinth, Ephesus, Colossus, Phillipi, Thessalonica, Galatia, and Rome. Each epistle that would make its way into our Biblical canon was practical and contextual though there are theological threads which develop and solidify over the course of Paul’s writing. In Acts 15, in what Methodists like me might call the first General Conference of the church, a council of apostles and elders convened to consider the debate between Judaizers who were teaching that the Law of Moses was necessary to salvation and Paul who was teaching salvation by faith. The compromise adopted by the council was to require Gentiles to avoid sacrificial meats, blood, meat of strangled animals, and pagan sexuality (Acts 15:20). In response to this decision, Paul doesn’t simply obey; he comes up with his own creative, contextual interpretation for at least two of the four items on this list. Continue reading

Trolling vs. Evangelism

Christian Piatt recently posted on Red Letter Christians about the problem of “trolls” in the Christian blogosphere. For those of you who are unfamiliar, “troll” is a term that’s used for people who enter into Internet discussions for the purpose of heckling and sabotage rather than genuine dialogue. As you might imagine, calling someone out as a troll is a very subjective assessment that is often unfairly deployed.

Sometimes people are wrongly accused of being trolls but other times people have every intention of being trolls. Continue reading