7/31/2005

The Puritan Conscience

I've recently become interested in the Puritans. The name "Puritan" was a somewhat derisive one that eventually became a positive identification (much like the term, "Yankee") for a certain type of Christian in the 16 and 1700's. These Christians were known for being thoughtful, deep, uncompromising, and heartfelt in their faith. Their writings are some of the best considerations of various theological topics that can be found today. In fact, many of the great Christian leaders of today were inspired by their writings (such as J.I. Packer or John Piper).

Right now, I'm reading, "Glorious Freedom" by Richard Sibbes, which is a study on 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, especially the phrase, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." Among many other things, one area he discusses is that of the conscience. How should our consciences be affected by our faith?

Sibbes suggests that the conscience is a changeable thing. Through circumstances, discipline, or neglect, the conscience is conformed to a particular worldview. Anything that breaks with that worldview, then, causes our conscience to kick in, whereas things within the scope of the worldview don't bother us at all. Make sense?

An example would be a program Samantha and I saw recently called, "Wife Swap". We usually wouldn't watch such a thing, but decided to try it just once. One wife was conservative, disciplined, clean, and a hard worker, but also harsh, condescending, critical, and boring. The other wife was liberal, poetic, fun, and easygoing, but also messy, whiney, lazy, and unreasonable. After the families had gone through the experience, BOTH wives thought the other had mishandled their family, BOTH thought the other had wronged their own family, and BOTH thought the other was wildly wrong! Why is this the case? Because each had created their own set of values, and both conformed closely to those values; and found it impossible to identify with someone who didn't share those values.

Back to Sibbes. What is the value of knowing that our consciences are changeable? Just this: If we desire to be godly and Christ-like, we must continually be disciplining ourselves to have the same conscience that God himself has! Think about it: God clearly tells us in the Bible what things HE thinks are wrong, and what things he thinks are right. Shouldn't we be trying to give ourselves the same set of values? Instead of saying, "I don't think a loving God would do this" or "I don't believe God would make me do that", we should be teaching ourselves to agree with God's conscience, forcing our own conscience to conform to His.

Sure, we may not want to tell a friend that they are choosing a wrong lifestyle because we don't want to offend them... but if God consistently speaks against that kind of lifestyle, shouldn't we teach ourselves to agree and to speak the truth to that friend? If God consistently honors those who make themselves last in terms of importance, shouldn't it bother our conscience when we take the highest honors for ourselves? This one has been a real struggle for me lately; Samantha is much better than I at taking the dirtiest or most annoying job, and it's easy for me to let her do it. I need to a) teach my conscience to see that as wrong and b) do more of the work myself to help her out.

Some of us struggle with over-hyped consciences. We think EVERYTHING is wrong, and lose sight of glorifying God in the pursuit of legalistic perfection. Others struggle with underdevelopment. We are unaffected by our own sin, and dishonor God's name and the title, "Christian". Still others struggle with misplaced values. The conscience reacts to issues that are entirely different than God's (Such as someone who thinks "saving the trees" is more important than sharing the gospel). Whatever the case, we must all learn to look more honestly at our own consciences and value systems, and use the Bible to mold and shape them into consciences that match God's. Only then will we have the right framework for pursuing Christ-likeness.

P.s. In honor of my recent marriage, I am abandoning the title of Monk. In its place, I shall be pursuing the deep study, thoughtful meditation, uncompromising preaching, and God-glorifying life of the Puritans. Enjoy!

2 comments:

Benjamin said...

P.s. Anybody have a problem with the new nickname?

amanda said...

nope