Sunday, February 12, 2006

Under Grace, Part III

Read my first two posts on grace here and here.

I usually have many posts drafted in my blogger account and still more in the files of my brain. I have a lot of things which I would like to eventually write. I start a post, jot down a few thoughts, and then leave it to simmer until my thoughts are more clear or my time is more free. Right now I have drafted a post on caring for long hair, a post on one of my favorite L.M. Montgomery books, and a post on the negative effects of anti-male comments, just as a sampling. One post I have had drafted for several weeks is titled "Why I Want to Homeschool My Children Someday," but now that's not the post that I feel the need to write.

I have been so blessed though the pastor who has recently come to our church. Not blessed in a comfortable sense, since his sermons have made me far from comfortable; on the contrary, I am blessed in an uncomfortable sense. I have never had a string of sermons be so convicting as the last three he has given. I have a different perspective on the Christian life than I did a few weeks ago, as I have mentioned to an extent in previous posts. My sister and I were discussing yesterday the far-reaching applications of Mark 7:1-13, applications that continue to stretch farther and farther as I meditate on that passage.

Some of you may remember my posts on grace here and here, which I wrote a few weeks ago. My views on many seemingly unrelated issues have been affected just by the one sermon mentioned in the second post and still further affected by the two subsequent sermons, which tied together nicely with the first. I keep thinking that I've uncovered all the connections that relate to my life, but then I find another stone that has been left unturned. I have been (and continue to be) both an antinomian and a legalist.

The first post I wrote was a needed critique of the heresy of antinomianism. As Christians we are not slaves of sin, but we are slaves of righteousness. Martin Luther put it this way: "We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith." What I didn't know as I wrote my post on antinomianism was that the Lord was preparing to work on my heart in that area and in the area of legalism, hence my second post.

The second post, which was the harder and more convicting for me to write, dealt with the presence of both antinomianism and legalism in the lives of the Pharisees, though it mainly focused on the legalism aspect. It was a summary of a sermon given by my pastor on Mark 7:1-13. It was a hard-hitting sermon for me, as I realized that I had been living under the law to a large degree. I wasn't trusting in the law to save me, but I was seeing the law as soap to wash me clean before Jesus. I was trying to earn favor with both God and men by being a "good Christian." I was placing unneeded safeguards around my life to keep me pure before God, without realizing that my heart needed to change in order for my works to matter at all. I was focusing on the "doing" of things rather than the motivation behind them.

Last week's sermon talked about the tradition of the elders from Jesus' day. The tradition of the elders was a set of "extra-credit" rules and regulations of Judaism that were kept by the elders - special types of hand washing and the like. The common people did not generally keep the tradition of the elders, but those who wanted to be hyper-spiritual did. As my pastor talked about aspects of the tradition of the elders, I could not help but feel a twinge as I called to mind the tradition of Susan - areas in my life that I had structured to make me feel hyper-spiritual, even while denying this as I did it.

I have purposely lived my life in a radical way (even for a conservative Christian) so that I was different. I have been prideful of my difference, even as I denied that this was wrong; after all, I was concerned with not following the crowd, which is a very good thing. But in so doing, my heart was not in the right place. I latched onto many ideas that are good (and some Biblically mandated), but turned them into a way to paint myself as different than others. There I was leaping away from the pit of conformity, merely to fall into the pit of tradition and hierarchical living. I was proud to be different because I wore ankle-length skirts, I liked bluegrass music, I was ghostly pale from avoiding the sun, I was reformed in doctrine, I didn't dye or professionally style my hair, I "belonged" in the 19th century, I hated most modern music, I wanted a zillion kids, I rarely watched TV (and never reality shows), I didn't wear make-up, I cooked from scratch, I was home schooled, and I did this, this, and this that was different from our modern culture. I was proud of my distinction, and oh, so bigoted. (All of the above listings are still true for me, by the way, but my pespective has changed.)

This morning's sermon was about what it means to be clean (as were the other two) and about the barriers and distinctions we put up to keep us feeling special and distinctive. It fit perfectly with the previous sermon, which had exposed to me various aspects of the tradition of Susan. I have heard few sermons that include an illustration of race without sounding PC, but this was one of those rarities.

Racism is a consequence of fallen sinners trying to make themselves feel better. Racism builds a sense of superiority and cleanliness by demoting others. I'm white, so I'm okay. They're black, so they're dirty. If someone else is dirty, then in comparison, we're clean. Furthermore, our whiteness is something no one can ever take away from us (I'm ghostly pale, so I must get extra credit. . . ), so we're all the more secure in our superiority.

Now, I'm guessing that most of my readers do not struggle greatly with black-white racism, but if you're like me you have your own forms. My pastor gave many examples of other distinctions we give ourselves to make ourselves feel better. Your struggle may be race, or it may be gender, educational level, political views, or socioeconomic status. It may be the fact that you are physically fit, or generous in giving, or busy in work or ministry. My form of bigotry was type of education. I underscore it in this post because I have been continually prodded to do so over the past few weeks, though I have resisted it.

In my second post on grace I sketched three areas - clothing, entertainment, and education - that I had identified as ones that Christians (especially conservative Christians, and extra especially home schoolers) turn into a fencing of the law. Please see that post for a definition of the fencing of the law, which is related to the tradition of the elders and with self-cleansing bigotry. I chose the three aforementioned areas because they were areas which I recognized that I had weaknesses, either in the recent past or up to present. The rest of this post is devoted to my struggles in the third area, education.

As I took notes on each of the three previous sermons, the Holy Spirit was convicting me of something that had become a form of bigotry in my life, an aspect of the tradition of Susan, part of my own brand of legalism - home education. You may ask how home schooling could have been that in my life. I can only answer with this: home education held that role in my life because it was unnecessarily exalted and upheld by me as the answer to society's ills. You see, only Jesus is the answer to society's ills, though he may work through good, solidly Christian movements like home schooling. Only Jesus can do helpless sinners good.

The rest of my post will no doubt surprise most of my readers, but I write it as a broken Pharisee who has resisted the writing of this post for the past few weeks, though I felt it was needed. This morning's sermon was merely the straw that broke the camel's back as I have wrestled with this issue over the course of the last few weeks and even months. I am fully aware that most of my readers are avid supporters of the home school community, and before I continue I want to clarify that so am I!

I would like to make a disclaimer that the purpose of this portion of my post is in no way to bash the home education movement nor accuse others of falling into this same form of bigotry under which I was in bondage. Home schooling is something that was - and still is - very near and dear to my heart. I am so thankful to God for blessing me with parents who chose to educate me at home - and do it with excellence - and I will always cherish the close family bonds we formed as a result. I love home education, and think it is often the best choice for Christian parents. I am who I am to a large extent because of my background as a home schooler, and for that I am truly thankful.

The purpose of this portion of my post is to confess my own legalism and prejudice in this area, in the hopes that others will not make the same mistake. I am detailing my own shortcomings in this area, not others. My parents have, to some degree, recognized this problem in me for years, and have consistently worked to moderate me in this area. Sometime I feel that my parents are in my life if for no other reason than to make sure I don't leap off the cliff of the extreme right. I need their balance in my lives, as I am oft' reminded.

My problem was that I was putting my self-worth in the fact that I had been a homeschooler (and planned to homeschool my own children). I was "holier than thou" because I supported the "correct" method of education. I saw the problems with the vast majority of educational methods and latched onto home schooling as the solution. Homeschooling was the solution to negative influences, to peer pressure, to familial discord, to youthful rebellion. Because I was a homeschooler, I was more clean-cut, more straight-laced, more conservative, more focused, more educated, more this, this, and this. Let's face it, I was just better.

Now, granted, I denied that this was so. Of course I'm not saying that I'm better simply because I was homeschooled. . . , I would clarify if questioned, but I still thought it in my heart and lived it in my actions. Home schooling was the correct choice, and since I had chosen education as a "really important area" when I had played pick-and-choose with the law - see my second post on grace for more on this - then I was all the more convinced of the "rightness" of my views.

Another disclaimer is necessary here. I still consider education to be an important issue - a very important issue in fact. The training of the younger generation is pivotal to the survival and future condition of the church of Christ. Take a look at my post on the catechism just as one example of how I feel on this issue. The discipleship, training, and education of young ones is a very important issue! The purpose of this post is not to blur rightful distinctions between various forms of education. My purpose is only to confess that I have wrongly exalted home education to a "super-Christian" standing, and discredited other valid forms of Christian education. They are few and far between, but they do exist outside of the homeschooling community.

In my bigotry I was focusing on a specific method of education, rather than the mindset behind the education. The mindset behind most forms of education is wrong; I truly believe that to be so. The mindset behind (most) home schooling is very good, and solidly Biblical. Parents are responsible for the training of their children - amen! Family is important - amen! Negative influences should be carefully monitored - amen! Christ should be central to education - amen! The only way to do that is through homeschooling - say what?

You see, I had taken an important topic like education, correctly identified important aspects of education, and then safeguarded and exalted myself by forwarding a particular method that showcased those aspects as the answer to the problems of education. It was my own version of bigotry, my tradition of Susan, my brand of legalism. It was wrong.

Do I still consider home schooling to be an excellent form of education? Yes, if properly implemented. Do I still want to home school my own children someday? Yes; absolutely. Will I? I can't answer that. It is up to God, as He leads and directs me, and it is up to my (as yet, theoretical) future husband, who will be the covenant head of our home.

Today I am thankful for the gift of home education that God gave to me through my parents. I honor my parents for the sacrifice and excellence they put forth in the many years they trained me at home. Today, though, I no longer label myself a homeschooler in a bigoted sense, trying to make myself feel cleaner than others. I am still a homeschooler, but more importantly, I am a Christian. I am a sinner saved and sustained by the grace of God, and that is enough.

Thanks be to God. Amen.


Cherish the Home said...

"I am a sinner saved and sustained by the grace of God, and that is enough."

ME too! This was an excellent post, Susan...and it took great courage to write it. (o:

Cherish the Home said...

BTW, I hope you write on the subjects mentioned in the first paragraph of your post because they ALL sound interesting!(I'm growing my hair out long and would love to hear about the hair care tips too :o)

Mr. Baggins said...

How hard it is to thread that razor-thin pathway between antinomianism and legalism! This whole discussion is parallel and of a piece with the discussion of how we should engage culture. You have the monastics on one side, and the partyers on the other. By partyers I mean those who will make themselves look so much like the world that there is no distinction. I think the home-schooling movement is often guilty of the monastic view. I can say this, because I was homeschooled as well, and I saw it. I actually didn't see it much in the way we were homeschooled. I honor my parents as being some of the very few people who have the balance right between these two extremes. It is a very hard line to walk. and, as your pastor has said, if you fall on one side, you have actually fallen on the other side also.

Susan said...

Mrs. B,

Yes, a post on hair care (and the other topics) is definitely forthcoming :). Long hair is so much fun!


I didn't know you were homeschooled. I guess that means I'll have to bump you up a rung on my hierarchy. . . ;)

Yes, this conversation does all relate back to culture. The problem is realizing that Christian culture is to flow out of the heart, though manifesting itself outwardly. Affective Christian culture begins on the inside, not on the outside.

My pastor's sermon two Sundays ago was on Mark 7:14-23 - it is what comes from the inside that makes us clean. Unfortunately those verses can be twisted to mean that we can do whatever we want (the partyers - very technical term, btw), which is a gross misinterpretation of the passage.

Ben Garrison said...

I'm proud of you, Susan, it takes a lot of maturity to admit that you were wrong about something. =)

It's a lot easier to just make a mental note of it, admit you're wrong to God, and then move on and hope everyone else still thinks you're perfect. =P