Jesus & Certainty (Part 3 of 3)

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Jesus & Certainty (Part 3 of 3)

3. Is Certainty Christ-like?

Looking back on my time as a leader of a Baptist church, the aspect of my leadership of which I am most ashamed, especially in my early years, was my propensity to jump on bandwagons, hoping they were leading somewhere fruitful. I was under pressure to grow a church to a point where it could become self-sufficient, and could come off the denominationally-funded life-support known as “Home Mission”. A great deal of physical and emotional energy is expended by church leaders whose goal it is to grow a church. We say we believe growth is God’s doing, but in reality we are blind to our inner compulsions and needs.

These drives render us prone to the temptation to carve out a niche, to offer fixed certainties and to feed people only what they want to hear.

In Mark 2 we read:

Looking back on my time as a leader of a Baptist church, the aspect of my leadership of which I am most ashamed, especially in my early years, was my propensity to jump on bandwagons, hoping they were leading somewhere fruitful. I was under pressure to grow a church to a point where it could become self-sufficient, and could come off the denominationally-funded life-support known as “Home Mission”. A great deal of physical and emotional energy is expended by church leaders whose goal it is to grow a church. We say we believe growth is God’s doing, but in reality we are blind to our inner compulsions and needs.

These drives render us prone to the temptation to carve out a niche, to offer fixed certainties and to feed people only what they want to hear.

In Mark 2 we read:

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Pharisees are comfortable with their black and white rules. For them, rules are intrinsic – good in themselves. Jesus seems to see rules as useful, instrumental – good for a purpose. The Pharisees are fixed and proud of it. Jesus knows where fixedness ends up.

In his Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus chooses two characters – a Levite and a Samaritan. What is often missed is that the Levite was doing the lawful thing: staying well away from a what might be a ritually unclean foreigner or a soon-be-dead body. The Samaritan was moved by compassion and jumped straight to action. The story is not told against religious hypocrisy, but the dangers of sincere religion. The Levite was doing the (outwardly) holy thing.

Surely Jesus’ example teaches us that people come first, and that rules that are intended for our benefit are therefore provisional. This means that every rule must be understood within the context in which it was given. Paul took this one step further when he crystallises Jesus’ promise that the Spirit will take all the disciples had been taught and will apply it to each new situation,[1] when he instructs his readers not to attempt to live righteous lives by obeying every stricture of law, but by cultivating a sensitivity to the voice of in the Spirit whose desire is that we love each other more perfectly.[2]

Yes, I am aware of the dangers of telling ourselves and others that we are free to interpret and obey eternal principles as we are led by the Spirit. And I am also in agreement with Paul that living according to biblical principles would be all we need if we were able to follow them as they were intended. But, in practise, a life of rule keeping simply leads to cover up, finger pointing and shame. James agreed with Paul, and added that any faith we claim to have is not genuine if it does not lead to righteous living.

It is my conviction that Jesus intends us to be adventurously liberated, not fearfully restricted in the way we live our lives.


[1] John 16:14&15

[2] Galatians 5:13-18

About the Author

About the Author

Craig Millward

has been a Baptist minister for over 30 years and has extensive experience of the joys and challenges of church leadership.

More Posts by Craig Millward

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