My children attend a private Christian school and, for the most part, it is a blessing. Every day I am thankful to have this opportunity to send my kids to a place where they are surrounded by other believers, where they are taught the Truth of God’s Word, and where the focus on their education isn’t only their minds, but their hearts and spirits as well. As a working mother, homeschool isn’t feasible for us, and I never take for granted how fortunate we are to have the option of a Christ-centered education for our children.
But, as with everything in this fallen world, even Christian school isn’t perfect.
I received a heavy dose of this truth the other day when my seven year-old daughter came home in tears because a classmate told her that she wasn’t a “real” Christian because she watches “Spongebob Squarepants.”
I wrapped my daughter in a hug and whispered sweet assurances in her ear all while internally face palming. “Spongebob Squarepants” is by no means a “Christian” show. But, as parents, my husband and I have made the decision to allow her to watch certain episodes (the older seasons, which are free on Amazon Prime) when we are with her so we can see exactly what she’s seeing. We know the show isn’t perfect. There are some questionable insinuations (imposed upon the show by culture rather than the other way around, I believe) and immature potty-humor moments, sure. But it makes us all laugh, and I feel no sense of conviction from the Holy Spirit about allowing her to view a few minutes of silly nonsense.
And now, because of some off-the-cuff comment at school, my Jesus-loving 1st grader thinks she is going to hell if she even glances at a commercial for Spongebob.
Face palm, face palm, face palm.
Don’t get me wrong. I get it: kids are extremely black-and-white. Most are unable to deal with the nuances of culture and faith (which is why having parents and/or a school strongly rooted in Truth is so important). But I think the reason this particular topic hit a nerve for me is because I witness the same thing in people who should know better:
In Romans, Paul dealt specifically with this issue in a chapter of Scripture that is too-often twisted. In 13, he says, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandments there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.” —Romans 13: 8:10 (emphasis mine)
What Paul is saying here is that all the commandments under the law can be summed up by simply loving your neighbor. He further simplifies this by saying that loving your neighbor is as easy as not causing them harm. Not too hard, right? Call me naive, but I think it’s easy not to murder someone. Not to steal from someone. Not to cheat on someone. All of these commandments to do no bodily harm are pretty cut and dry.
It’s the things that may cause spiritual harm that get a little murkier.
Thankfully, Paul understood this too.
“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, who’s faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” —Romans 14: 1-4
We all have different spiritual convictions based on where we are in our faith journeys. Some people feel convicted about eating certain foods. Others about drinking alcohol. Still others about movies, tv shows, books, and music. What we cannot do, if we are truly going to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, is make judgements about how “good” of a Christian he or she is based on matters of personal conviction. Even worse is when we make a person doubt his or her salvation because of these trivial issues.
As a writer and avid reader, I’ve come up against this issue a lot in the literary world. I have deep love for the Harry Potter series for a variety of reasons, many of them having to do with seasons in my life that were occurring when I first read the books. Without going into too much detail, I will simply say the books are special to me; they hold a level of nostalgia and comfort with their pages, and I can honestly say I would not have become a writer without the words of J.K. Rowling.
Others feel differently. Others reject the book because of their inclusion of witchcraft and wizardry, their focus on magic, even the insinuation of a homosexual character.
I could write a thousand page treatise on the defense of Harry Potter but, because that isn’t the focus of this article, I won’t. However, because of my love for the series, I have been confronted several times and told I’m “dancing with the devil.” That I’m “inviting the devil in.” That I’m exposing my kids to corruption and evil.
And yes, that I’m not a “real” Christian.
Now (and I say this with all humility), I’m willing to deal with a lot of criticisms. But when someone doubts my love for Jesus, the authenticity of my faith, and even the assurance of my salvation….well, I do a have a line. And THAT is it.
Because, when it comes down to it, I feel no conviction in my spirit about reading Harry Potter. There are MANY movies, shows, books, and music in which I choose not to partake because of my conscious, but Harry Potter is not one of them. And, because of this, I don’t consider myself any less of a Christian because I enjoy immersing myself in the world of Hogwarts than someone who enjoys, say, true crime stories or hip hop music.
As Paul continues in Romans 14, “one man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (verse 5).
In these matters of personal conviction not specifically addressed within Scripture, the role of the Holy Spirit cannot be overstated. Each of us has different views on different things based on where we are in our faith journeys. For you, maybe Harry Potter does make you feel uncomfortable and convicted. If that’s the case, you absolutely should refrain from it. But to make a judgement about another believer’s faith and/or salvation based on their partaking in certain media is not only unkind, it is unloving–the very thing upon which Jesus Himself told us filter all of our actions.
But there’s a flip side to this issue as well. Just because I have the freedom in Christ to do as I wish (being in full obedience to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, of course) doesn’t mean that I should. To use Harry Potter as an example again, just as it would be unloving for a convicted friend to question my faith based on my reading of the books, it would be unloving of me to force that passion upon my friend by, say, encouraging him or her to watch the movies or come to my Harry Potter book club (I don’t have one, by the way, but it sounds like fun!)
Paul tells us, “make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. As one who is in Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.” —(Romans 14: 13b-15).
Me pulling out a Harry Potter book in front of someone who is convinced in their spirit the books are not appropriate for them would be no different than pouring a glass of wine in front of a recovering alcoholic. In order to live in “peace and mutual edification” (Romans 14:19), we must concern ourselves not only with the personal convictions of our own spirits, but also with the personal convictions of those around us.
Though each of us is made in God’s image and accepted into His family upon the confession of Christ, our individual personalities remain intact. Therefore, we must be careful to receive one another as individuals, loved and accepted by God, each on his or her own faith journey. Doing this means deferring to God on matters on which we may disagree and which are not explicitly outlined in Scripture. Rather than judge, we must encourage one another. Rather than tear down, we must build each other up. But, above all, we must love one another. So that “with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:6)
****One item of note before closing this out. Romans 14 says a lot of things about being loving and accepting, but it has also been twisted in recent years to affirm and receive arguments NOT in line with God’s truth. As with all Scripture, read the chapter with a strong understanding of who God is and who He is NOT. Romans 14 does NOT say that Christians should go against their own consciouses to accommodate a believer who disagrees. It does NOT say a Christian should refrain from judging a believer engaging in obvious sin (as outlined clearly in Scripture). It also does not say that strong Christians should hide their freedom for fear of offending weaker believers. Grace, mercy, sensitivity, and the direction of the Holy Spirit are all imperative in living out the delicate truths of Romans 14. This post was not meant to make light of the very real struggle it presents but rather offer a practical example of its application.