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Disputable Matters

by Tim Isbell

Like many Christians, I live lots of life in secular settings - and I also live lots of life in the church. I understand that there are some black and white issues, but there are also many gray areas. When sharing my faith with unchurched friends, they invariably bring up the grey areas. Sometimes they use these as intellectual objections to moving toward faith because they presume the Bible has only black and white answers for everything. Other times their issues are more than intellectual because they see Christian family members and acquaintances who handle the grey areas poorly. 

"Disputable matters" is a theological term for these grey areas. The Bible has many examples of when God's people needed to find their way through such areas. The Apostle Paul, especially, faced these issues in spreading the Good News of Jesus to the first-century Gentile world. In fact, he wrote a spectacular 3 chapters in his first letter to Corinth providing that church counsel regarding how to handle these disputable matters. This short 3-sermon series offers a direct teaching on how mature Christians navigate through disputable matters. It is based largely on 1 Corinthians 8-10. It is also based on my years of pastoral ministry, where I have often needed to find a gracious way to deal with someone in a grey area. And it is informed by Dr. Dean Flemming's book, Contextualization in the New Testament.

This series builds on a solid scriptural base and 11 specific applications to contemporary grey areas. The combination of scripture and application encourages the kind of Christian maturity that parishioners need in order to process the unique grey areas that intersect their lives. 

You can browse the synopses below and when you want to read or download the sermon notes, just click on the sermon title link. This takes you to a webpage containing a Google Doc version of the sermon notes. You can use your browser to print the file or download it to your computer in various formats (such as Word, RTF, or PDF). If you are using Word 2007 or later, downloading the Word format works fine. If you use an earlier version of Word you may need to download the sermon notes in the RTF format, which you can then open in Word 2003.

Disputable Matters 1 - Living in the Gray Areas (B 4Epiphany)

1 Corinthians 8-10, and especially 1 Corinthians 8.1-13. (In these 3 chapters the Apostle Paul teaches Christians about the issue of purchasing and eating food sacrificed to pagan idols. While Paul's teaching is on a particular social issue that we don't have today, his teaching is invaluable guidance for us as we live in similar gray areas in our own cultures today.

Thesis: There are gray areas in the Christian life that are critical to our witness; we can learn from Paul’s ministry in Corinth some principles of how to negotiate them.

This first sermon provides some context for Paul's writing and it also overviews the flow of scripture through these 2 chapters. It moves on to deal with 3 gray areas:

  • We attend a non-alcohol-drinking church, should we hide our wine cabinet when we open our house to church groups?
  • Should I serve on the church board if I'm not giving the full tithe?
  • Is it okay to use playing cards in our home? How about in the church buildings?

Disputable Matters 2 - Living in the Gray Areas (B 5Epiphany)

1 Corinthians 8-10, and especially 1 Corinthians 9.16-23.

Thesis: We are not given freedom in Jesus for our own indulgence; we are given freedom to carefully move into gray areas in ways that the Spirit of Jesus can work through us.

This sermon begins by unpacking the distinction between the Nazarene tradition's thinking as it applies to disputable matters. It also addresses the danger of taking license in the gray areas for our own indulgence, as opposed to taking license in order to facilitate the communication of the Good News of Jesus. The last part of the sermon addresses a few more examples: 

  • Gambling
  • Divorce among Christians.
  • Consuming alcohol in the home and/or when on business.
  • Movie choices.

Disputable Matters 3 - Living in the Gray Areas (B 6Epiphany)

1 Corinthians 8-10, especially 1 Corinthians 10.19-22 (which is not explicitly in the lectionary).

Thesis: When negotiating our way through the gray areas, we must be especially careful when the occult is present.

This sermon moves pretty quickly to more examples:

  • Should I let my kids read and watch literature about demons and such things - for example, Harry Potter?
  • What about splitting my loyalty between 2 churches?
  • What about women in leadership?
  • What about war?

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