Lack of Conviction

I am struck by certain parallels between two recent top-ten discussions here at Blogorrhea: those of Exclusive Psalmody, and whether Pictures of Jesus in Children’s Storybooks constitute Worship.

They are both about applications of the 2nd commandment. For both, the confessions and Reformed tradition most directly support a stricter interpretation. Both involve a question of whether there is more liberty in the New Covenant. In both, the strict camp uses an argument of the form “Why test boundaries? It is safest to adopt a strict approach.” In both, the strict have to wrestle with the labels of Pharasaism and legalism, and the liberal have to contend with accusations of antinomianism, rationalism, and personal sin.

And in both, I find myself unconvicted by the arguments for the strict approach. I say “unconvicted”, intentionally beyond “unconvinced.” There was a time when, wanting to be a nice, egalitarian, big-tent guy, I thought that women as Pastors would be a great thing. But, when faced with the clear position of scripture, I was convinced that it is condemned, and convicted that my previous position was sinful, and required repentance. I used to play movements of Handel sonatas in church, as preludes and offertories. Everybody loved them, and said they were blessed by them (at least, everybody who said anything to me). But as I learned about the Regulative Principle, I became convinced that corporate worship is about Word and Sacrament, with no room for art for art’s sake; and I was convicted that my previous musical choices for worship — regardless of my motive — were in fact distractions from worship, not contributions to worship, and required repentance.

So why the distinction between convinced and convicted? If one is convinced, aren’t they by definition also convicted? I’d say not. It’s possible for one to be convinced, but not convicted. That’s not good; that’s equivalent to saying, “Yeah, I see what the Bible says, but I don’t accept the Bible’s authority over my life, which explains why I don’t feel bad about disobeying it.” It’s also possible for one to be unconvinced by logical/scriptural arguments, but to still feel the bite of conscience; this is probably an indication that you are not really “unconvinced,” but are rather “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.” In both cases, you really need to repent.

But in both of these 2nd commandment discussions (Psalmody and Imagery), I remain unconvinced by the logical/scriptural arguments from the strict camp, and (perhaps more importantly) unconvicted that my approach is wrong or sinful. At the risk of redundancy, I remain comfortable with a distinction between worship and teaching, between use of images (even of Jesus) for the purpose of illegitimate speculation about how he looked, vs. legitimate illustration about what he did.

So I view my stricter brothers as having “weaker” consciences, who are thus bound to follow the stricter approach which they are convinced and convicted is correct. By “weaker”, I don’t mean (nor do I think Paul meant) to imply “deficient” or “sinful” — in a sense, “more active” or “stronger” would be accurate as well. And while I am bound to defer to their consciences by not parading my meat-eating freedom (not reading storybooks with pictures of Jesus to their children), would it not also be wrong for me to fully bind myself to their conscience on this issue, when I myself am not personally convicted that I am doing wrong? Until I am convicted that scripture actually forbids, would not capitulation be teaching the commands of men as the commands of God? I’m caught between the horns of a dilemma here; either Echo thinks I’m sinning by continuing to read Jesus picture-books to my kids, or I think I’m sinning, by capitulating to commands I’m not convicted of.

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9 Responses

  1. As a synonym for “weaker” conscience I would suggest “more sensitive.”

    I still need to chew through Echo’s latest comment, and so will refrain from commenting — aside from saying I appreciate and sympathize with your treatment here. You’ve dug into something I was considering blogging about myself: just how do opinions get changed? Thanks for the meta discussion.

  2. For my part, I think Scripture clearly agrees with you here. If you are not convinced, and as such are not convicted, you are wrong to bind your conscience simply by what I have said. That would be, from your point of view, adding to the law of God, and what you would be adding are the commandments of men.

    However, if you submit to the confession of your church despite your disagreement with what they say, you are not adding to the law of God. After all, the law of God says to submit to them from the heart.

    This gives you a bit of freedom here though.

    For example, if you desire to submit to your church – all the way to the denominational level – then you may manifest that desire by wanting to submit fully to the Westminster standards, by wanting to conform to them. Not because you have to, but because the leaders of your church have vowed to be in conformity to those standards, and you are zealous to be in submission to them in your heart.

    However, on the other hand, your church does not require of you submission to the Westminster Standards. You are free to disagree with them on certain points, and certainly images of Jesus falls into that category.

    If you used pictures of Jesus in an OPC Sunday School setting, I guarantee that you’d be confronted on it. You would be in my church anyway. And if you refused to repent, you’d cease to be a SS teacher, and you’d come under discipline and would no longer be served the Lord’s Supper.

    However, if you used them in your home, probably no one would want to bring you under discipline.

    So the bottom line is that your church doesn’t absolutely demand of you that you believe images of Jesus are inherently evil and sinful. You don’t have to believe that. Your elders believe that, your minister believes that, and certainly the vast, vast majority of both our denominations believes that.

    So you may manifest zeal for submission by conforming to this, even though you disagree with it. That would not be adding to the law, because you are allowing your leaders to have authority over your conscience, you are allowing them to authoritatively tell you how to interpret Scripture. There’s nothing wrong with that. They have that authority, and you are called to submit to them in that.

    However, you don’t HAVE to do that. It doesn’t make you sinful not to do that. Your church has allowed you freedom on this issue to a degree. So your position is rightly said to be in submission to your church as well. So you are by no means failing to submit to your leaders, because they have given you a degree of freedom here.

    To be absolutely SURE, if you allowed ME to bind your conscience, then you’d be fearing man rather than God. That’s why it’s important to me to show what Scripture says, not what I say. But to be sure, if you do what I think is right, even if you think I am wrong, then you are adding to the law. I am not adding to the law, you would be. You would be adding to the source from which the law comes for you.

    I am not adding to the law, however, because I am expounding the law, understanding it rightly. My claim is not that we should put away images of Jesus in order to be absolutely sure to avoid making images in any way of the invisible God – no. My claim, rather, is that Scripture specifically forbids images of Jesus Christ. I am not adding to the law. I may have misunderstood the law, but I am not adding to it as did the Pharisees.

    However, were you to say that your session permits your view, and you think Scripture permits your view – then were you to say that you will allow me to bind your conscience, then you are adding to the law.

    But what if I’m right, and the Confession is right, and all those ministers who are trained experts in biblical interpretation are right, and you are wrong?

    What will happen on judgment day if that’s the case? You’ll be declared righteous in the sight of God, covered by the blood of Christ and you will be glorified, and then you’ll know that you were wrong about this issue.

    Do you remember what it was like to be 5? I mean do you really remember what that was like? Do you remember how you used to think in those days? Would it be possible for you to stop and think about something, and really truly put yourself in a 5 year old’s shoes and actually see the issue from their perspective? Would you really be able to do that?

    I couldn’t. I can’t hardly even remember what it’s like to think like a Pentecostal. Thoughts that I used to have don’t even make sense to me anymore, and I can’t imagine for the life of me what those thoughts must have been based on. Since I can no longer imagine that, it no longer occurs to me how a Pentecostal might think. Though I grew up Pentecostal, they have become foreign to me, I no longer understand them.

    And so it will be in glory. After a few years of being glorified, perfectly united to Christ, unable to sin or even have sinful desires, I suspect we’ll begin to forget what it was like to sin or have sinful thoughts and desires. I suspect it won’t even make sense to us anymore. Just imagine what a thousand years will do! I think we’ll even forget what it means to WANT…anything. We won’t know what desire is anymore, because every desire we’ve ever had will be fulfilled in Christ continually. We will be utterly satisfied, and I doubt we’ll be able to remember what it ever meant to be unsatisfied. It will be so foreign from our experience that I bet after a while we’ll forget all about it.

    So when we get to glory, if you were wrong on this issue, it won’t ultimately matter in the long run. That’s why we are free. We are free because we are righteous in Christ, and neither you nor I will have a greater share in the eschaton.

    Conformity to the Scriptures only matters insofar as it is a reflection of your devotion to God. There is no benefit to being outwardly good while remaining inwardly wicked.

    For example, let’s say your wife starts nagging you one day, saying, “You never buy me roses anymore. I want some roses!” Eventually, you’ll get sick of her, and you’ll buy her roses just to shut her up. And you’ll probably totally resent her for it.

    Meanwhile, now imagine that you are at work, and some man, a friend of yours, comes to you and tells you how he found his wife in bed with another man yesterday. Inspired to new appreciation of your own wife, you stop at a flower shop on the way home, and buy your wife some roses. When you get home, she is pleasantly surprised, and her heart is warmed, because you tell her how much you love her and appreciate her, and how you bought her roses just as a small token of that love and appreciation.

    In which instance have you done something that the Bible would commend you for when it says, “Husbands love your wives”? The outward action looks very much the same: buying your wife roses. But one is done out of bitterness and resentment, the other out of love and desire.

    Well, of course, the only one that has any real value is the latter.

    If getting rid of any and all pictures of Jesus from your life and home is like buying roses, then it will be of no value to you or to anyone else if you get rid of those images out of bitterness or spite, anymore than buying your wife roses out of spite to stop her incessant nagging is of any value to you or to her.

    If you get rid of the picture book that your kid loves, and he asks you why, what are you going to say? That someone told you that it was evil? The only way to make your kids understand is to believe it yourself. Only then will you be able to properly shepherd them through an experience like having their favorite books thrown away. If you are not convinced, you won’t convince anyone else.

    In the same way, if you give your wife flowers to stop her nagging, when she gazes upon them, what will she see? Will she see her husband’s love for her? Nope. She’ll see a man conquered by his wife through nagging. That will only encourage her to continue the battle, because victory is within her grasp. Of course, those victories are not victories to her benefit at all, but rather destroy the relationship.

    Well, I’ve said plenty.

  3. If you used pictures of Jesus in an OPC Sunday School setting, I guarantee that you’d be confronted on it.

    For the record, as a Sunday School teacher of (literate) 3rd-4th graders, there should be no images of Jesus in my class, and as a consumer of “official” GCP (OPC/PCA) Sunday School curriculum, I assume there are no such images of Jesus anywhere in the 2-year cycle of handouts/posters/etc.. I certainly can’t remember any off the top of my head, but you can bet after all this discussion I’ll be on the lookout…

  4. Well, even if you were teaching 2 year olds the same would hold true…

  5. For the record, GCP SS curricula are not official OPC curricula.

  6. Well, as official as it gets, since GCP is the publishing arm of PCA/OPC. Wouldn’t that make their SS curricula as “official” as the Trinity Hymnal?

  7. Nope. The OPC does not, at any level, give explicit approval to the contents of the materials.

    In other words, if you open up a GCP curriculum, you should not assume that the OPC as a denomination has given its approval to the contents of it.

    For my part, I think a lot of it is complete garbage.

    Where as the General Assembly actually approved the Hymnal.

  8. In any case, I did find at the GCP website this unclarifying statement:

    In lesson artwork, we further seek to honor our heavenly Father by not depicting him with any earthly image.

  9. Right, not helpful

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