Posted By Matthew on June 18, 2014
The avoidance hermeneutic has influenced much of the Restoration Movement (Harrell 175-99). The morality of that movement was against card playing, dancing, mixed swimming, and social drinking. All of these avoidance actions were equated with godliness. One could have seen the false teachers in 1 Timothy 4:1-5 arguing for the avoidance of food and marriage on moral grounds. It would have certainly been safer to avoid marriage and meats. But Paul does not advocate a withdrawal mindset. Of course, there are extra elements to Paul’s dislike of the false teachers, but based on doctrine alone, these false teachers are binding laws on God’s people. Paul considers these actions to be placing the false teachers outside of the fellowship of God. To bind rules on God’s people is to deny the one faith of Jude 3. The false teachers are destroying the body of Christ through binding where God has not bound. All the charges that are levied against those who loose where God has not loosed should also be directed towards those who create laws where God has not spoken.
Congregations or preachers that make rules limiting the freedom of Christians are acting in the same spirit as these false teachers. Where maxims of morality speak louder than Biblical morality, an avoidance mindset of Christianity is practiced. Instead of enjoying God’s creation, Christians are forced to suffer the ever increasing moral judgment of other incorrect interpreters. Broyles states, “The combination of Biblical maxims lifted from their contexts leads to more and more eccentric interpretations of scripture’s intent” (150-51). Soon culture influences what morality is or is not. Because of the desire to remain culturally pure in a perverse society, there will always be the temptation to be polemic toward morality. Instead of seeking temperance, morality becomes a simple “black or white” affair. Those who are truly spiritual will avoid these actions, and those who are of the world will engage in these behaviors. The false teachers of 1 Timothy 4:1-5 were promoting this ultra-spiritual living by binding these practices on Christians. If one was to be truly holy, he or she must avoid eating certain meats and marrying.
To Paul, the “safer approach” is not always the better approach. Hermeneutics must be grounded in proper exegesis of the text. After the text is studied, one in doubt must not automatically jump to the safer conclusion or practice. Being safer is not always being saved. But within the movement, where no action is typically acceptable, this pulls one back to the need to practice godliness with positive actions. Morality is not avoiding the all questionable practices, but practicing the right actions. The “no action” response is not always the correct action to take.
It is easy to see false teachers as the ones questioning the traditions from the past, but it becomes more difficult to discover the false teachers in the corner teaching Christians to be safe by doing nothing for the Lord. Paul in his ethics is not of an avoidance mindset. He is for enjoying the fruits of creation. But when false teachers enter the church binding man-made laws on God’s people, Paul feels the need to warn Timothy of the coming danger. These false teachers are pictured as insidious leaders from within the church. They are creating laws and binding them on God’s people. They consider marriage and the eating of meat to be unacceptable to the truly spiritual. But Paul disputes their legalistic ways by showing that God has created all things to be enjoyed by the mature Christian.
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