A young boy stood at a train station trying to sell a bag of juicy oranges. He walked around yelling, "Oranges! Juicy oranges for 25 cents!" And he did this for an hour without selling a single orange. Finally, he gave up. He sat down on a bench and, in frustration, grabbed an orange and started peeling it. The citrus smell filled the air. Then he ripped that orange open and the juice began to run all over his hands. As he took a bite, the juice ran down his face, onto his shirt, and then his stomach. And in less than a half hour, he sold his entire bag of oranges.
I wonder if the Church is more worried about selling oranges or eating them? Funny thing is, if we enjoyed more of what we're trying to "sell," we'd probably sell more of it.
Aldrich's book suggests that there are those in the Church on a mission to stifle citrus sales. They obsess over the juice on the ground, the zest in the air, the possible unsanitary conditions and the absence of a sales permit. They'd rather shut this thing down than see others enjoying unapproved oranges.
These are the Professional Weaker Brothers. They make it their job to enforce tradition, impose personal preferences, and monitor and manipulate the conduct of others. Their lists are long, and vary from person to person. But they usually begin, "Thou shalt not..."
I started this brief series by mentioning my use of the word "hell" in a story I wrote. My critique partners suggested I change the word becuase religious publishers frown upon cursing. The CBA (Christian Booksellers of America) has its own "language list," which is a topic of vigorous discussion among many Christian authors. But while I appreciate the concerns about cursing, I believe the CBA's list goes too far. Not only can't an author say hell or damn, she must refrain from fart, pee, poop, crap and fa shizzle my nizzle. Now I can understand cutting the f-word, but fart?
Which leads me to this question: Are these strictures the result of a genuine concern for weaker brothers, or a case of legalism?
This wouldn't be the first time a large religious body imposed an unrealistic set of rules upon the proletariat. Of course, the CBA is far from the worst offender. I once spoke to a man whose church routinely inspected the length of its male members' hair and the distance of their women's hemline below the knee. (After all, you'd hate to discover you were damned to hell for an inch of skirt.) The CBA's language list seems trivial in relation to some of the absurdities issued in the name of Christ. But my question is: When did these rules ever get anyone closer to God?
Yes, stumbling weaker believers is a serious sin. Real serious. However, some brothers have made a profession out of being "offended." The maturing believer is one who can discern the professional weaker brother from the susceptible weaker brother, accept those who choose to refrain from controversial matters and grant grace to those who participate. It is not my job to tell believers what kind of music they can listen to, what clothing is appropriate and if the f-word (fart, that is), is tolerable on ocassion. Of course, there are times to address all these things. But last I checked, no one appointed me to judge the world of sin, righteousness and judgement.
It is my job to eat oranges and let the juice cascade down my face.
Dear saints, if we are to build bridges to the unsaved, it is imperative that we drop our moral measuring sticks. Perhaps more people would "taste and see that the Lord is good," once the Lord's people did. The Church is far too sour. It's when the juice is dripping down our faces and tangy citrus spikes the air, that we're doing our job. Sure, there'll always be Pharisees hovering over us, wagging their fingers, condemning the awful mess. When that happens, let me suggest you do one thing -- keep on eating.