". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Living Out Our Faith

An Issues, Etc. podcast that I recently listened to included a comment from a listener concerned about the equating of Christianity with a certain political philosophy. He specifically objected to what he felt was an insistence by some in the recent presidential election that the only reasonable way for Christians to vote was for the McCain/Palin ticket. I liked program host Pastor Wilken's answer a lot. He said that while Issues, Etc. is a program that is pro-life, pro-family, and pro-marriage, it does not endorse any one candidate or political party. The business of Issues, Etc. is the proclamation of Law and Gospel, so it concerns itself with those issues on which one can read the Bible and pronounce, "Thus sayeth the Lord." Political parties and candidates take stands on all sorts of issues to which God's Word does not speak directly. Thus, said Pastor Wilken, Issues, Etc. does not presume to do so either.

Listening to this made me think of the whole question of world view and how it is informed by my faith and in turn informs the choices I make. My vote for the McCain/Palin ticket in the recent election was certainly influenced by my faith, since my faith is so much a part of who I am. Likewise, our faith is a factor in other decisions that my husband and I make, such as how we choose to rear our children. But that doesn't mean we look to the Bible for explicit instructions on whom to vote for or how to teach and discipline our children.

I therefore get uncomfortable when fellow Christians purport to know what is the right choice for other Christians on issues for which God's Word is not obviously prescriptive. I'm not talking about things like the Commandments and Articles of Faith. Our Lord is clear about what sin is and about our need for a Saviour. He is clear that there is only one path to salvation and that it runs through the body and blood of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. But there are all kinds of decisions in our lives that He grants us freedom to make. And while we may very well (and should) base those decisions on what we believe to be most in line with the living out of our faith, we should not presume to tell other Christians that our choices should be theirs. As much as I believe in homeschooling, I would never tell a non-homeschooling friend that the way she has chosen to educate her children is an indicator of a less mature or committed faith. Homeschooling is a left-hand, not a right-hand kingdom, issue. And while I believe the choice to homeschool is one way that I as a parent am fulfilling my calling to my children ("Fathers [and mothers], do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord"--Ephesians 6:5), I don't believe it is the one and only right way to do that. I just think that at this point in time it is best for our family.

Likewise, I would never presume to tell Christians who have elected to use non-abortifacient birth control that their choice somehow indicates a lack of trust in the plans that God has for them or an effort to usurp those plans. Yes, God told Adam and Eve to "be fruitful and multiply," but He did not tell them how or on what schedule to do so. Yes, he said, "Thou shalt not murder," but barrier or rhythm birth control methods and natural family planning do not put an end to a human life; they merely prevent conception. And an all-powerful God can certainly work around them! I respect those Christians who have decided to embrace "perpetual parturition" (like the charming, brilliant, and breathtakingly witty ladies whose thoughts I love to read over at the Concordian Sisters blog), and I say more power to them. We need more little Christians--and particularly Lutherans--running around! But I also think there are families for whom non-abortifacient family planning is the way in which they can best fulfill their calling to perform their own parental roles and to bring up their children in the way of the Lord.

Homeschooling is the lifestyle that my husband and I have chosen, and we have chosen it because we believe in it passionately. We will gladly share that passion with others and encourage them to consider making the same choice, because it is the best way we have found to nurture our family and bring up our children in the faith. But we would never say to those who do not home school their own children that their choice is standing athwart God's purposes and that somehow they are not following His will for their lives. It is not our place to claim to know God's will on such a matter.

Likewise, I have great respect for those men and women who have chosen a lifestyle that places the number and timing of children entirely in God's hands. I love to see large families. I grew up in one myself. And since those who have chosen this path must certainly believe in its merits, I am not offended to hear them sing its praises. But what does offend me is the attitude of some who have disavowed any sort of birth control that they are more trusting of God because they are taking no steps to manage their child-bearing years. There are those for whom another baby is a kind of tempting of fate or testing of God akin to jumping off a building and trusting God to save them. If every fiber of their being is saying "No, I'm not ready for this," then who am I to say otherwise? Maybe the mental or physical condition of the mother or father is such that the well-being of parent and/or child would be a huge question mark. Maybe there are difficult financial or logistical issues--not issues of comfort or luxury, but issues of how to feed and clothe and educate another child. Maybe there are aging parents whose care would be compromised if the caregiver had another baby. Yes, children are a blessing. But for some families the blessings that have already come their way are such that they demand an extra measure of care. And perhaps there are burdens in the mix that lead the man and woman contemplating another child to use their God-given discernment to decide that it might just be God's plan for them to hold off on a new blessing so that they can attend to the needs of those who are already before them.


The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

And if nothing else, we should approach those who make these choices with mercy, not judgment, lest we turn "perpetual parturition" ito an issue of pietism (not that it isn't for some).

When a woman (or man) looks at the issue of having another child and faces a tremendous amount of fear, for any of the reasons you listed, it *might* be lack of faith. But is judging them and condemning that lack of faith going to increase faith? Certainly not. Praying, love, etc.

Even if we believe that this might be weak faith, we bear with each other's weaknesses, we bring comfort, and we allow that to fall under God's grace and guidance.

I myself kind of lean toward one of the arguments that the Sisters put forward -- that when God told us to go therefore and baptize all nations, that we do not ever say "oh, we've got enough Christians. Time to stop. We've blessed enough and been blessed enough." Likewise, God didn't say to multiply but only X1 or X2. But like I said my LEANINGS are that way. And while we have always remained open to another baby, my heart fills with fear and dread at the prospect of another pregnancy, and having that role start over again with someone so completely dependent on me. Each (usually late) period is relief mingled with a small sadness. --

I am compassionate toward those whose fears or concerns take them one step further. I don't know if it is truly sinful or not. I'll let God be the judge, and I know His grace is sufficient for them and for me.

atara said...

Thanks for the link on the two doctrines. Why is homeschooling a left hand doctrine? I don't understand.

Cheryl said...

Atara, I referred to homeschooling as a left-hand kingdom issue to make the point that I think it is an issue of the temporal rather than the spiritual realm, but I am probably being sloppy with that usage. Here is an article I found that explains the two kingdoms much better than I could hope to:

Rev. Uwe Siemon-Netto, The Atlantic Times


I guess I hesitate to even go there with talking about how someone's outer behavior or decisions might indicate a weakness or lack of faith. I haven't always looked at it this way, but more and more when I hear someone described as either strong or weak in faith I end up feeling puzzled. Are there degrees of faith? Or is it just something we either have or don't? I have had the experience of telling someone how much I admire their faith in the face of great hardship only to be told that they don't feel strong in faith at all. We are all "beggars," aren't we?--utterly faithless except by His grace, which, as you remind us in your comment, is sufficient.

Cheryl, in thinking-out-loud mode

Elephantschild said...

RPW wrote:
it *might* be lack of faith. But is judging them and condemning that lack of faith going to increase faith?

It always puts one Christian in the place of measuring or quantifying another Christian's amount or quality of faith.

And that is what bothers me. How much faith is "enough?" Does the Bible say?

Rebekah said...

Cheryl, thanks for your thoughtful treatment of these topics. Our fragmented Church is all the illustration we need of the fact that every person finds different arguments persuasive. That isn't going to change.

What I wish would or could change is the hard feelings the differences generate. Those who prevent pregnancy perceive that they are being judged as weak in faith by those who don't. Those who do not prevent pregnancy perceive those who do to be saying, "Well, it's not as hard for you as it would be for me." So we are all sad and angry.

Christian charity would have us simply take each person at her word.

Big Doofus said...

You're spot on--so is Elephant's Child (but she knows that I respect her views).

We have three kids--two are home educated and the other is at a public high school.

I won't comment on the other issue with regards to my personal experiences because this is a PG-rated blog (heh heh). But seriously, we've been blessed to have three kids and sometimes I think God gave us just enough that my wife and I could handle.

Cheryl said...

"Christian charity would have us simply take each person at her word."

Amen, Rebekah. And thanks, everyone, for your thoughts.