The Metadoxic Maestro of all things Economic has been pushing for a clear distinction between scriptural commands and matters of conscience, based on the relative appropriateness of third parties (for instance, Mr Doug Wilson) telling other Christians what to do. The broad test cases seem clear enough: should you happen to observe a member of the local flock passing his kid through the fire in the accepted Carthaginian manner, you’d be perfectly justified unsheathing the Sword of the Spirit and laying about you with extreme prejudice. If, on the other hand, it is the same fellow taking said progeny to soccer practice on a Sunday after church... well, maybe not so much. So that was all right, Best Beloved.
What is unclear to me, however, is how this is very reasonable stipulation of the Christian freedom of conscience can be prevented from becoming tyrannical. Because it does seem that when you get right down to it, every single command, suggestion, and footnote in the entire Book only impacts my behavior through the mediating layer of my conscience. Which is to say, we would all agree that sin is really a matter not of moving the body in some particular way, but of a rebellious state of mind. Indeed, even things which would appear to be positive commands – do not lie – become surprisingly flexible at need (cf. Rahab).
Likewise, in the case we were previously discussing, Jesus’ dictum “take up your cross and follow me” is really not ambiguous about the limits to serving we are permitted to stake out in pursuit of our own health and comfort: it would seem that they do not exist. However, the issue is never that simple. I could give all my money to the church in order to reap a hundredfold in heaven, which also seems a perfectly straightforward command, but putting my wife and daughter in the local homeless shelter somehow doesn’t seem right. Does this mean no-one has the authority to tell me to give sacrificially? In any case, it's no longer a simple choice between obeying X and disobeying X, but rather one between obeying X, obeying Y (which to some extent entails not-X), and accounting for Q, which has the (commanded) implication Z.The balance between these two(ish) things is one I find fascinating and elusive – that, to be precise, I do not generally find. But it seems there ought to be one. Let me pose the following: you’re watching the parable of the Good Samaritan unfold in a crystal ball, without the benefit of Jesus’ gloss. Later, in what is totally not the set-up to a joke, you run into the Priest and the Levite in a bar and ask them why they didn’t help. They tell you they had just gone through the steps of ritual purification, and felt so convicted about the sanctity of that ceremony that they couldn’t bring themselves, much as they would have liked, to interact with the injured fellow on the road. Do you call BS on them? Why or why not?