Wednesday, October 20, 2004

It's a Harley thing . . . you probably wouldn't understand

I'm currently teaching a Bible study at my church on the letters of John. I've taught those books many times, and have even written a commentary on them (available as an ebook here). Last Sunday a visitor attended the study, a woman dressed in Harley Davidson regalia. I happened to be walking behind as the pastor's wife (who is also a member of my class) was escorting the visitor to my classroom, and I overheard the woman say that she and her fiancé were just "shopping around" to see if they could find a church that meets their needs. I momentarily shrugged that comment off.

We started the study five minutes later, and she introduced herself as a "minister" of some Christian Harley riders group--"Bikers for Christ," or something like that. I shrugged it off again. We were in 1 John 3:1-10, and right around v. 9-10:
No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.
I offered a comment on what I thought was the plain reading of the passage:

If someone who claims to be a Christian, but has abandoned obedience to Christ and submission to his word and, like the Gnostics of John's day, lives a life of gross immorality, contrary to the teachings of Christ, we must reject that person's claim. Just as each of us invariably and ultimately bears physical resemblance to our parents due to things like DNA and genes, so also a true child of God will bear spiritual resemblance to God because he has been "born of God" and his spiritual DNA (his "seed") "abides in him." It doesn't matter whether this person claims to be a Christian, is involved in the church, or even has his own ministry--if he is indifferent to Christ's claim over his life and his call to obedience, that person is simply self deceived.

. . . and the sparks from the visitor began to fly.

How can you say such things?! Why, I know many Christians who are in that category. You can't judge anyone's heart! I know they are true Christians because they're involved in my ministry to Bikers. What right do you have to lay down legalistic rules for anyone? What about the Christian who makes a habit of driving a few miles over the speed limit? Is his claim to be a Christian false too? No sin is greater than another; therefore if someone can speed and still be considered a Christian, then someone can live in immorality and still be considered a Christian.

A more blatant display of contentiousness I had not seen. Ok; that's an exaggeration. Being in apologetics, I've had my fill of witnessing contentious moments. Nevertheless, I was taken aback that a visitor would actually voice such a strong opinion on her first sitting rather than sit back, listen and see if she could actually learn something. It didn't surprise me at all that this particular woman would have many "Christian" friends like this, and that she would view moral obedience to Christ as some form of "legalism." After all, she still "loved the world" (1 John 2:15); in this case, the whole Harley-rider "freedom" mentality--yeah, I know, it's a Harley thing; I wouldn't understand.

Let me be clear. I'm not saying if you own and ride a Harley Davidson you are in sin. But this woman had still not separated herself from what that whole lifestyle represents. She still attended biker parties, concerts, and gang meetings. In fact, it came to light during the study that she was living with her fiancé. Worse, she thought all this was ok since she was "ministering" to bikers. After all, her lifestyle seemed rather chaste when compared to that of her associates.

"Bad company corrupts good character." When your standard of moral norms is the biker culture, then of course you are going to be deluded into thinking you must be ok, because just look how much higher your moral standards are than those around you.

It's always instructive to me to watch someone who is looking for loopholes to obedience, and ways we don't have to obey, rather than looking for ways to please Christ. That tells me a lot about that person. John's letters contain some of the clearest, hardest hitting statements in all the NT writings against those who are indifferent to obeying Christ. Christianity is not a claim to stake or a right to assert--it's a way of life. One who refuses to leave the world--because s/he in fact loves the world--is not a Christian

I had to point out to this woman that this is John's "legalism," not mine. I pointed out to her that Jesus himself warned that many will come to Him in that day saying "Lord, Lord," and they will claim to have performed all kinds of religious deeds while on this earth--in fact, some of them will have had "ministries." Yet, Jesus will answer them, "Depart from me you evildoers, I never knew you." The basis upon which Jesus rejects these people who, after all, otherwise appear to be "Christians" is that they are "evildoers." I pointed out that this is Jesus' "legalism," not mine. She was clearly not comfortable with that teaching.

I'm quite certain this woman will continue her "church shopping" until she finds one that won't "judge" her and her friends so harshly. I certainly don't expect her to return to my class next Sunday. After all, it's an obedience thing . . . she probably wouldn't understand.