Q Recently I was attempting to park my car in a crowded lot. The only two open spaces happened to be vertically adjacent to one another. A car from the next aisle pulled into one of the spots, and I prepared to pull into the other. To my chagrin, the other car rolled forward into the spot I was planning to occupy. When the driver saw me he smiled and shrugged. He could have easily backed up but clearly preferred not to. By the time I circled around to the next aisle, the other spot was filled. I think moralists need a category called the “morally tacky” to describe behavior of this type. It is more than simple rudeness, because not all rudeness involves moral wrongdoing, but less than morally abominable. Do you buy this idea?
A In the 1960s a philosophy professor named Roderick Chisholm articulated this idea by proposing a category of acts called offences. An act of offence is morally blameworthy but falls short of violating any moral obligation. His example is lingering after finishing one’s meal in a restaurant when others are known to be waiting for tables. You are under no moral obligation to vacate the table upon the completion of a meal. Yet not doing so when you can see a line of people waiting is morally blameworthy to at least a minimal degree.
Some moralists reject this category on the grounds that a morally blameworthy act always violates duty. But this strikes me as an ethic that is far too demanding. Saying that the violation of duty is a one-size-fits-all category that includes the morally abominable and the minimally blameworthy seems mistaken.
On the other hand, Christians ought to recognize that all of the actions under discussion qualify as sins. An act that is only minimally blameworthy is still sinful behavior. The same applies to omissions. An omission that is minimally blameworthy qualifies as a sin of omission.
Q Several years ago a man from our church left his wife and married a woman from our church who had also left her marriage. They left the community but now have moved back into the area. How do we relate to this couple? Does befriending them imply approval of past actions?
A Broken marriages are an all-too-common, painful reality—also within the church. Couples today are less willing to continue in marriages that are so dysfunctional, or so sterile that breaking their vows seems preferable to keeping them. Some couples betray their vows by creating illicit sexual or emotional relationships that threaten and sometimes end up breaking their marriage.
What every marriage break-up has in common is that each arises from situations that are complex.
What every marriage break-up has in common is that each arises from situations that are complex. In many cases it takes an exceptional faith and trust in God to continue to hope and struggle for healing in a marriage that, humanly speaking, is dead and should be buried.
When a divorce is past and a new marriage has been created, a new reality exists. With repentance and forgiveness, the old has passed away and the remarried couple are invited by God to be faithful in creating a new marriage that is healthy. This is not an easy task. Statistics show that second marriages break even faster than first marriages.
So I encourage you to accept and befriend the couple you speak of without feeling the need to judge their past. You can certainly leave it to them and to our gracious God to sort out their past. Feel free to develop a relationship based on the present reality of their marriage.
Q Why doesn’t the CRC preach the baptism with the Holy Spirit? What is our denomination’s stance on speaking in tongues?
A Our denomination teaches that the Spirit is God’s gift, given when a person becomes part of the believing community. At Pentecost Peter says, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Paul says, “When you believed, you were marked in [Christ] with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph. 1:13).
This means there are not two classes of Christians—those who have received only water baptism and those who have also been baptized with the Spirit. It does not mean we can be complacent about the manifestation of the Spirit’s presence in our lives. Paul calls us to “keep in step with the Spirit” and to “be filled with the Spirit” (Gal. 3:25; Eph. 5:18) and warns us not to “grieve the Holy Spirit” or “put out the Spirit’s fire” (Eph. 4:30; 1 Thes. 5:19).
The gifts of the Spirit are also present today. Unfortunately some have elevated the gift of tongues and give the impression that Christians are not really filled with the Spirit unless they speak in tongues. Paul, on the other hand, indicated that not all Christians will possess this gift (1 Cor. 14:39).
Note: You’ll find the synodical study report (“Neo-Pentecostalism”) that deals with these matters at crcna.org in the resources section under “Reports.”
—George Vander Weit