Authority, Sin and Wisdom
“Is it a sin to kiss?”
I was as surprised at the question as you are. Asking it was a young woman, a high school senior, in a meeting with a dozen other students and myself in an informal question and answer session after I spoke at a high school in Florida a few years ago.
“Why do you ask?” “My parents have told me I may not kiss a boy until I’m engaged,” she said. I then asked the other kids if any of their parents have made a similar rule. None had.
So, I turned back to the girl and said, “Then for you to kiss is a sin, but it’s not for the rest of you.” They were as shocked as the girl at my answer.
“Let me be very clear,” I said to them. “I’m not aware of any teaching in the Bible that declares kissing a sin. It may be unwise, but it’s not a sin – except. And, here’s the exception; God has established certain authority structures on earth to rule on his behalf and to bring order to our lives. The first to be established was the family, specifically your parents. God made clear in the Ten Commandments, “Honor your father and mother” Deut. 5:16a. That means more than simply respecting them. It’s an acknowledgement of their authority over you whether you like it or not.
God has given your parents the authority to set rules and boundaries for their children as long as they don’t violate any other teaching of scripture because the Bible is the ultimate authority for all Christians. That’s why if your parents’ say you may not, or you must, for you not to obey them is probably a sin for you, until you’ve left your parent’s home permanently. However, the check and balance God put in place is that someday your parents will have to answer before God for the decisions they made, but until you are an adult and no longer live with them, they have authority over you.”
The Authority of the Church
The church too has authority. A few years ago I took some college age boys and the youth pastor of my church to Europe. At our first meal, the youth pastor asked if I was going to have wine with my meal. He asked because our church back then prohibited elders (and I was one at that time) and staff from drinking alcohol. I told the youth pastor that I couldn’t have wine. He was incredulous! “We’re in Paris – why not?” Do you believe it’s a sin to drink?” he asked. “No, I don’t,” I said. “It’s not prohibited in scripture, but you and I are under the authority of the church so for us it would be a sin to drink. Next year, when I’m no longer an elder, if I have a glass of wine, it may be unwise, but it won’t be a sin.”
“That feels like legalism,” he said. I disagreed. “In all fairness, I believe the establishment of the church policy set decades ago was legalistic. Nevertheless, until it’s changed you and I voluntarily agreed to submit to the authority of the church and with that authority came the responsibility to obey the rules of our church whether we like them or not. So, our obeying them isn’t legalism – it’s obedience and I think God expects that and honors it.”
There’s a reason I shared this story with these students. I wanted them to understand that all believers, even older adults like me, live under the authority of God, the Bible and the local church they attend. I didn’t always like that authority and when I grew up I thought my parents had some stupid rules, like these students do now. I broke a lot of their rules, but now I realize that most of the time they truly had my best interest at heart. And so does God. (Perhaps at a later date, I’ll also blog on the authority of governments and other older adults in our lives.)
Is French kissing a sin?
“Then is French kissing a sin?” was the second question these budding Pharisees asked. (Don’t laugh! All of us are constantly probing the outer boundaries of sin.) So I asked, “Has any parent prohibited you from French kissing except obviously the girl whose parents had a kissing ban?” “No”, was their reply. “Then it’s not a sin, but it’s probably very unwise.” Here’s the second point I was trying to make to these students.
All sin is unwise, but not all unwise choices are sin.
“Let me ask you a follow-up question. Have any of you French kissed and both of you were content to leave it at that - neither of you were tempted to go any further sexually?” Everyone was suddenly starring at their shoes! I had their answer. “That’s the problem”, I said.
“As young adults it’s time you began establishing your own boundaries. When you were kids, your parents established them for you, but now you’re at an age when you’re going to have to decide more than what the Bible says is right or wrong.” Here’s the question you’ll need to begin asking more. “Is this wise to do?” You have Christian freedom to do many things, but not every choice is wise. I once knew a pastor whose family had a history of alcoholism who decided the only way he could be sure he’d never have the same problem was to never drink. He wasn’t being legalistic. He was being wise. We then spent the balance of our time talking about the value of making pre-decisions and setting wise boundaries.
I’d suggest this week having a discussion with your children or grandchildren about authority, sin, wisdom, pre-decisions and boundaries. I’ve found that even if they don’t like your rules or those of their parents or the church, framing it as a wisdom issue changes how they think about moral decisions. While many students, even Christians resist moral absolutes, I’ve found that almost nobody wants to make stupid or unwise choices.
When the angel told John the Baptist’s father of Elizabeth’s pregnancy he said that John would, “Turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of righteousness.” Luke 1:17b Go beyond simply teaching them right from wrong, but understand the “why” of right and wrong – the wisdom of righteousness. If you do, they’ll have more respect for both you and for God. So consider reading this blog to your teenage children, or grandchildren and simply ask what they think.
If you’re a parent of teens, you’ll learn a lot from this interview of why teens leave the faith and what can be done about it.
Question: “Can you think of some rules you grew up with that may not be sin, according to the Bible, but were probably wise choices for your parents to make?”