Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: "Holiness And Human Nature" by Leon And Mildred Chambers

(For an explanation of the title, "Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual, see here.)

This year was the only the second time since 1999 that I could spend Thanksgiving with my parents in my hometown.  The Friday after Thanksgiving, I dined at a Chinese resturaunt with my parents and one brother.  When we got home, I read a 71 page book I had bought at seminary by Leon and Mildred Chambers entitled "Holiness and Human Nature." The Chambers' purpose in writing this is to make us aware of the differences between sins and infirmities.  The Chambers, as Wesleyans in theology, recognize that salvation and sanctification concerns the saving of people from all sin.  Yet they recognize that individuals are still the products of their genetic heritage and family background.  Family background, attitudes, patterns of thinking, emotional dispositions, preconceived ideas, habits, personal methods of problem solving, sets of values, all these can hinder saved and sanctified persons from fully reflecting the image of God.  As the authors write: "Salvation, then, is from all sin.  There is no promise that God will take away our normal human nature.  We are what we are because of genetic inheritance and what we have learned. Salvation from sin does not change one's genetic inheritance nor erase what he has learned.  Man and nature still suffer from the Fall."  These negative effects of the Fall are infirmities, not sin.  There is no promise of deliverence from them contained in scripture.  Yet they can lead to sin if saved men and women fail to mature.  When counseling, Chrisitans must learn to distinguish between sin and infirmities.  Failure to do so can lead to lasting damage to Chrisitans needing to mature.  It is this distinction between sin and infirmities that Paul makes in Phil. 3: 11-12 and 15. In verses 11-12, Paul writes: "If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended by Christ Jesus."; he writes in verse 15: "Let us therefore, as many be perfect..." (I use the KJV here because it is correct in using the word "perfect" rather than "mature".) According to the Chambers, verses 11-12 are not refering to deliverence from all sin but the presence of infirmities in Paul's makeup. These infirmites are not sin, but Paul strives to overcome the limitations these infirmities place on spiritual growth. In verse 15, Paul is speaking of deliverence from all sin, or entire sanctification.  The Chambers identify two Chrisitian responses to the presence of infirmities that has caused damage to the health of the Church.  One is to state that when one is delivered from sin, that one's basic humanity has been eradicated.  Those who promote this view treat the manifestation of infirmities as evidence that someone is not saved or has not yet been sanctified.  The other damaging response has been to treat infirmities as evidence that we are not wholly delivered from sin until death and so Christians still must sin while they remain on earth.

The Chambers identify several infirmities that can be found in a Christian's makeup:

1. Erring in judgement: Perfection, as Wesleyans believe scripture speaks of it, is a perfection of motives, not the intellect.  Also, one can behave wrongly without intending to rebel against God.  The Chambers cite Peter's reluctance to associate with Gentiles in Acts 11.  Once Peter knew that God wanted Peter to speak to Cornelius and his household, Peter obeyed without reservation.
2. Lack of harmony among the Spirit-filled: Paul and Barnabas' dispute over Mark was due to personality differences rather than whether one was Spirit-filled and the other not.
3.  Lack of physical perfection which affects personalities and abilities.
4.  Lack of perfection in one's works or discipline:  In 2Tim. 1: 5-6, Paul compliments Timothy's spiritual heritage but then urges Timothy to stir up the gift he already has.  Our failure to be diligent in exercising our gifts should not produce despair as this failure can be remedied. Failure, or refusal to follow this advise, could lead to backsliding.
5.  Memories of past sins forgiven are not sins in themselves.  Yet we can allow these memories to entice us to sin.
6.  Negative emotions such as hurt feelings, impatience, worry, anxiety:  One must understand their motivation before their sinfulness can be determined.  People differ in their emotional responses.  When counseling, we must understand this or we will stumble in our understanding of perfect love.  Emotions can lead to sin.  If the emotions affect the Christian's faith to the point that he/she becomes rebellious, then his/her motives are no longer pure.  Our goals are determined by our motives; when our motives are sinful, then sinful goals will be chosen.  The Chambers point to the example of Martha and Mary.  Had Martha's intent been to publically humiliate Mary, then her reaction to Mary's not helping her would have been sin.  Since this was not Martha's intent, Jesus treated Martha's behavior not as sin but as behavior rooted in an attitude which needed to be changed.
7.  Biological drives: We are all subject to sensory stimualtion.  However, seeking sinful sensory stimulation reflects what kind of persons we are.

The presense of infirmities does not signify that our spiritual growth must therefore be stunted, or non-existent.  We are called to grow in grace. In other words, we are to be "...perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord." (2Cor. 7:1)  When James wrote, "Confess your trespasses to one another, that you may be healed...", the word for trespass used here signified an offense, a stumbling or a false step.  In other words, infirmities.  This word from James is just one way to perfect holiness.  The Chambers identify six other ways to overcome the power of infirmities in our lives:

1.  Learn to walk with the Lord without being dependent upon others for strength.
2.  Become stable; the authors write, "Christian stability is learned.  The person who is stable in most other areas of his life is more apt to be able to be stable in his Christian life."
3.  Learn how to relate to others in a Godly manner.  This, the authors point out, will determine whether we have joy in our Church fellowship or not.
4.  Develop a good conscience.
5.  Develop sound attitudes.  Attitudes are learned and are resistant to alteration.  They are more the result of the emotions rather than of the intellect.
6.  Develop responsible behavior patterns.

The authors warn that indifference to spiritual growth is contempt for the known will of God.

"Holiness and Human Nature" was published in 1975.  It was revised from an earlier work entitled "Human Nature and Perfecting Holiness" published in 1972.  Some of the psycological and medical evidence cited by the Chambers may or not be outdated.  The only information I could find concerning the Chambers comes from the Forward to the book written by W.T. Purkiser.  "Holiness and Human Nature" was published by Beacon Hill Press.  The next "Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual" will be an examination of sanctification and genetics.    

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