Drawing Lines and Little Boxes

April 27, 2013

I have been described as one who draws lines all through their sermons. I was also told that I have a very small theological box and it was easy to surmise that neither comment was meant to be a compliment or to affirm that these were traits to hold on to and for others to emulate. I believe that the person was trying to be constructively critical of me. He was at least trying to be sure that I understood that I possessed these dubious qualities.
The observation was also made that I would be uncomfortable in a church whose box was larger than mine, and that I would make the larger box people uncomfortable. The uncomfortable part is a fair assessment of my time spent with folks with a much larger box the last few years.
For those who are not business oriented, getting out of the box means to be a paradigm challenger. It is a new catch phrase for an old concept of trying to stay of out of ruts and being open to new ideas and innovations. In business, such advice is very sound since a company that does not stay abreast of technology and market changes will fail. I can see a need to be looking out of the box in methods and means of reaching people for Christ, but I find it a deplorable concept for theology or doctrine in particular.
I have been a paradigm challenger most of my life. Again, for the not so business or motivational tape oriented, a paradigm is a model or the mode in which things are done. I challenged authority in the sixties. “Why?” was my favorite question when I was told what I should do and when I should do it. If they told me why, I asked why that was why and why not some other reason why was why.
I was the only real hippie in a redneck town. Did I have a problem with breaking out of the box or challenging paradigms? Even in the military, I was really only a civilian in uniform. There are a few suggestions in the archives from my military days that questioned the unquestionable – military tradition. I believe in tradition. If tradition is truth, treasure it. If tradition is just tradition, trash it. I was almost tossed out of college because I asked too many questions about people and things that folks did not want to have asked. Fortunately, a couple of other paradigm challengers spoke up for me and I was able to complete my degree.

At my job, I am not known for my shyness in resisting political silliness. I am far from being politically correct.  As far as I know, I am the only Baptist in a family of mainline denominational ties. I was the first one to join the Air Force and one of the few to complete college. I think I can break out of boxes fairly well if they are too small and can cut them down if they are too large.
Now, I did draw some lines in those paragraphs and some of you are saying, “Yep, the old boy has a fairly small box.” Well, shucks, I t’ain’t got started yet. C];-)}|> Before some of you think that I just like drawing lines and trying to squeeze everyone into a little box, I want to tell you that you are wrong.
Remember I am an old hippie and lately, the emphasis is definitely on old. I don’t like people telling me what to do and I got out of supervision because I don’t like getting people to do what they know they should do and yet don’t want to do. Here is the irony of me wanting to be a pastor. In my experience, the bulk of a pastor’s job is getting people to do what they know they should do and also to get them to stop doing what they know they should stop doing. I reckon that is what makes the pastorate a calling instead of a career field as we have made it into. Were it truly a career field, I would never choose it, but as a calling I cannot refuse it. I do not draw lines just for fun and frolic.
I am a joiner. Maybe it stems from me being raised the only child of a widow, but I love to belong. I have had memberships in various organizations because I identified with them or their causes and wanted to be a part of that cause. I was proud to show my membership card. I was proud of my Air Force uniform. A joiner usually has to have a big box to include people if he wants to be included in their box. However, I have left groups and at times have been a loner because the group went too far or for some other reason. I can be alone if I have to be alone. Some boxes are far too large and I must get out of that box if it will not shrink. Sometimes a member of a large box should get out of it and see if it is too large rather than boast on the size of the box. Bigger is not always better.
Sometimes the big box is described as inclusive while the little box is exclusive. Sometimes the line drawing is described as being narrow minded while the no line drawing concept is portrayed as being broad minded. The slogan might be borrowed from the car ad; “Wider is better.” While that may work in cars and business, it is not a Biblical pattern. Let’s start from the beginning and see if God draws lines and how big a box He creates.

Gen 2:16-17
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. KJV

In a way, God’s box for Adam and Eve was fairly large. They can have fruit from any tree in the garden except for one. However, He drew a very fine line. One tree is forbidden and you are in deep trouble if you eat from it. Now, Eve tried to make the conditions a bit tighter by adding neither shall you touch it. (Gen 3:3) Her intent may have been a misunderstanding of what Adam told her or a desire make it easier for her to resist temptation, but by redrawing God’s line and box, she sealed her own doom. The devil used it against her. Adam, on the other hand, knew exactly what he was doing. God told him the conditions face to face. There are several reasons why he may have done this, but that is not the discussion of this sermon.
You can travel through the Old Testament and see many, many instances of where God said that one thing was good and another was evil and woe was pronounced upon the one who decided to reverse the order. (Isaiah 5:20) Aaron’s sons offered up strange fire and were literally fired from the priesthood. (Lev 10:1) God drew His lines and drew very small boxes.
He was inclusive and exclusive. The Jews were His chosen people, but the blessings of Abraham would fall upon all the families of the earth and if you blessed Abraham, you would be blessed. (Genesis 12:1-3) You could have faith in YHWH and find acceptance in Him, like Rahab the harlot and even end up in the genealogical line of Christ like Ruth the Moabitess. You can come as an arrogant general like Naaman and find healing of body and soul through the Jewish prophet, Elisha. Yes, God was very inclusive in that all could receive blessing from Him, but exclusive in that it had to be through faith in Him and He had to be approached through His servants and in His way. He had a small box, but there was room for those who crossed the lines to His side and trouble for those that did not cross over or decided that they were the ones called instead of whom God had called. (Exodus 32:26; Numbers 16)
Yes, He drew lines and small boxes, but some of my theological friends would cry foul because that was the Old Testament. We are now under grace. If I quoted Christ in the Gospels, some would say that they were transitional and we cannot base church doctrine upon transitional texts. Acts is also considered transitional by so some so I am going to go to the epistles to prove my point, but if I use the main writer of the epistles, I am going to have more trouble. Some folks do not like Paul. That is sad since God seemed to have been pleased with him inspiring Paul to write sixteen, if you include Hebrews, of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. You have major trouble doing anything in the church if you question His writings.
Indeed Paul was a line drawer and his box was smaller than some would make theirs today. They like to dismiss or rewrite Paul to please their culture. That is not something Paul was known to do. He theologically smacked both Jew and Gentile alike when their ways did not match God’s ways. Oh, how I wish old Paul could come back and interpret plainly his epistles to those who want to revise them. I might go to a debate and a wrestling or boxing match would break out. C];-)}|>
Maybe his naysayers should read the Corinthian epistles again. Paul had to “prove” himself to his own converts after the ThDs from Jerusalem came to town. I am sure that some of his modern critics came to faith through the Romans Road or some other combination of verses from the Pauline epistles. They would do well to examine their faith for if Paul is such a sexist, cultural accommodater as some of them think, then maybe he did not have the Gospel written correctly as well, which leaves them in jeopardy. (II Cor. 13,5,6)
He did have the Gospel written correctly. In fact, he drew another box so small that he told the Galatians that if even he came back and decided to revise or “clarify” what he had already preached to them that he should be accursed. I placed clarify in quotes because many hide revision or excision of Scripture under the guise of clarification.
In 1 Corinthians 11:16, he drew a box and said that there was only one custom for the churches of God and if anyone did not like it they would just have to be contentious and wrong. To those who find this passage as cultural and passed away, please note that in his argument, he uses relationships that are eternal and the argument that the practice should be done for the benefit of the angels who are far removed and above any earthly culture. He never has a problem discussing what the Jews do and what the Gentiles do and then telling them what they should be doing. He is establishing a practice here for the church that is just as valid and binding today as is the rest of the passage on how to participate in the Lord’s Supper. Yes, that makes a line to cross and a small box to be in, but then cross the line or get out of the box for the Lord’s Supper and you can be ill or catch the next train home. Culture makes the lines too hazy and the boxes too big. Paul never uses that standard. God gave His Word to change the culture. Culture does not change the Word, but that is another sermon.
Paul even told folks that had various gifts how they should use them and even how many could use their gift in one service. He did not want them to get carried away like the idol worshippers of their culture. (1 Cor 14:26-33; 1 Cor 12:1,2) We would say that is quenching the Spirit. There goes that small box thing again.
Paul wished for radical circumcision of those who troubled the Galatians and that there was only one body, one Lord, one faith, one baptism. (Gal 5:12; Eph 4:4,5) Where is the love and inclusiveness there? My how can we have ecumenicism and other meetings where everyone just tries to get along regardless of our doctrine or whom we call Lord? Instead we have a line to cross. The box is big enough to hold anyone that crosses that line and enters the box, but it is a small box. That line is the biblical, not the cultural or cultic Christ and that box is His body or church. You are either in or out.
And of course we have the line of submission of wives that both Paul and Peter teach. (Eph 5:22-33; 1 Peter 3:1-7) Oh, how we hate that line and find that box constricting. Nevertheless, it is there and we either accept it or reject it, but since His Word is eternal, we will not erase it no matter how hard we try. The roles of men and women are eternal or at least as long as this age continues. In Heaven, many things will change and we are not told of all those changes.
Women are not to be pastors or deacons. (I Tim 2:11-3:16) Personally, I would have no problems with women in these positions except God did not ask for my opinion. He just drew a line and a box. I can trust Him to be wiser than I am or I can exalt myself above Him and end up being a satan in my own pride. I have enough problems. I will trust Him on this matter and not the pseudo-intellectuals and compromisers of my day.
We want a love and grace only Gospel, but Jude is rather judgmental. Peter said that judgment starts with the house of God. (1 Peter 4:17) If that is the case, there must be some lines we aren’t to cross and some boxes we need to stay out of to avoid judgment. Even John, whom Jesus loved and is the temperamental opposite of Peter and Paul called folks antichrists and warned of a sin unto death. (1 John 4:1-3; 5:16) He drew a couple of lines there and refused to enlarge his box.
The churches in Revelation crossed some lines and were warned that they better step back to where they had been if they did not want their lamp stands removed. There were some folks that they had included that they needed to kick out of their box like the Nicolaitanes and Jezebel. The mark of the beast is a line that best not be crossed or there is no return. That will place you in a box that has enlarged itself called Hell. (Isa 5:14) Oops, forgot those who don’t like the OT. OK, a lake is a defined area that holds liquid like a box. So, how about the lake of fire as the box you enter if you cross the wrong line? (Rev 20:15)
This is by no means an exhaustive study of lines and boxes in the Word. Y’all can do your own study, heah? So, do I draw lines and small boxes? Yes, but only as the Word draws them. I am still learning and in the future I may have to actually decrease some boxes that I made too large and there is a possibility that I may have drawn one or two a tad too small. Peter had to enlarge his box in Acts 10, but like him, it will take the Word of God for me to enlarge a box. I would rather have my box too small than too large. From the testimony of Scripture it is far more dangerous to have too large a box than too small a one. More people got into trouble by enlarging their box than those whose box may have been a bit too small.
I have crossed many lines in my life that I deeply regret and I try very hard to stay on the right side of God’s lines. I am deeply indebted to grace and 1 John 1:9 and know I will be needing them a lot throughout my life.
What lines are you crossing? Hurry up and get back across them to God’s side or the grass you thought was greener will be set aflame and you will be burned in the process. (Heb 6: 7,8) Have you gotten out of your box lately and looked through God’s eyes to see if it might be a bit too large? It may seem spacious and thrilling from the inside, but you won’t see if God is getting ready to pick it up and throw it in the incinerator unless you look outside. Sometimes it is difficult to get back across the line to safety. Your best bet is not to cross God’s lines at all. Read the signs and heed. If someone else’s box is bigger and prettier don’t envy it. It may be in ashes tomorrow. Keep looking up!!!  Maranatha!


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