REBLOG From Nine-Marks: Church Discipline

22 Mistakes Pastors Make in Practicing Church Discipline

Article

09.18.2015

Pastors sometimes make the following mistakes regarding formal church discipline.

1. They fail to teach their congregation what church discipline is and why they should practice it.

2. They fail to practice meaningful membership, which includes (1) teaching people what membership entails before they join; (2) encouraging casual attenders to join; (3) carefully interviewing everyone who wants to join; (4) giving regular oversight to all the flock; and (5) maintaining an up-to-date membership list that accurately reflects who is present at the weekly gathering.

3. They fail to teach their congregation about biblical conversion, especially the need for repentance.

4. They fail to teach new members as they enter the church about the possibility of church discipline, and that preemptive resignations don’t work.

5. They fail to ensure that the church’s public documents (bylaws, constitution, articles of incorporation, etc.) address the procedures of church discipline, thereby exposing the church to legal risk.

6. They fail to follow the steps of Matthew 18 or 1 Corinthians 5, depending on the circumstance. In a Matthew 18 situation, for instance, they fail to begin the process by confronting sin privately.

7. They misjudge how quickly to move toward formal discipline, either by dragging their feet or by rushing into judgment.

8. They fail to adequately teach and explain to a congregation why a particular act of discipline is necessary.

9. They tell the congregation too many details about a particular sin for which they are recommending discipline, embarrassing family members and causing weaker sheep to stumble.

10. They treat the processes of church discipline entirely as a legal process with little consideration for shepherding the unrepentant individual’s heart.

11. They give little attention to the differences between kinds of sinners and how that might affect how long a church should bear with a pattern of sin before proceeding to subsequent stages of discipline (see 1 Thess. 5:14).

12. They forget that they too live by the gospel’s provision of mercy, and therefore prosecute the discipline from a posture of self-righteousness. Other mistakes follow from this wrong posture, such as an overly severe tone and standoffishness.

13. They fail to truly love the sinner . . . by not begging the Lord for his or her repentance.

14. They demand too much from a smoldering wick or bruised reed. In other words, their stipulations for repentance are too high for someone who has been deeply enslaved in sin’s grip.

15. They fail to properly instruct the congregation on how to interact with the unrepentant sinner, such as how to relate to him or her in social situations and how to pursue his or her repentance.

16. They fail to invite the disciplined individual to continue attending services of the church so that he or she might continue to hear God’s Word (assuming there is no threat of criminal harm). Also, they fail to inform the church that everyone should hope for the disciplined individual to continue attending.

17. They put the responsibility for leading the discipline process entirely on the shoulders of one man, the senior pastor, thereby tempting individuals in the church to accuse the senior pastor of being personally vindictive.

18. They fail to have sufficient elder involvement in the congregation’s life, such that the elders are unaware of the state of the sheep. This failure of formative discipline will inevitably weaken the church’s ability to do corrective discipline well.

19. They fail to teach God’s Word on a weekly basis.

20. They allow the congregation to approach a case of discipline with a wrongful spirit of retribution, rather than with the loving desire to warn the unrepentant sinner about God’s ultimate retribution to come.

21. They pursue discipline on nonbiblical grounds (playing cards, dancing, etc.).

22. They pursue discipline for any reason other than for the good of the individual, the good of the church, the good of the onlooking community, and the glory of Christ.

Editor’s note: These are from the appendix of Jonathan Leeman’s book Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus.

What is Your Favorite Quote: Evangelism Opportunities

 

A team building event within a human resources group that sits within a large, liberal, progressive western corporation is typically not the sort of place one sees many opportunities for sharing the gospel. But sometimes, it does. And this time, it did. I want to share this recent experience with you as an encouragement to always be on the lookout for ways to share the gospel.

 

In a team exercise, we were handed a card with two questions on it that we had to answer with a partner that we had selected. My card read: “What is your favorite quote?” “Why?” The challenge was that we were not given any time to think about it. We had to respond within seconds of reading the card. So, I read the card, swallowed hard, and said to my colleague: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that those who believe in him would not perish but have everlasting life.”

 

My colleague responded: Wow. Why is that your favorite quote?

 

I said, it’s simple really! I am a Christian and I believe that all human beings are created by God and for God’s glory. Nothing glorifies God like the love demonstrated in the crucifixion of Christ. It is the epitome of love. There is no love like that love.

 

My colleague stated: Well…I don’t know about that. There are people all over the world throughout history who have made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their own lives for the life of someone else or for a cause they deemed greater than their own life.

 

My response: That is indeed true. But I know you have child as do I. I have four. But let me ask you this question: you may be willing to give your life for the life of another or a cause. But can you imagine ever being willing to give up the life of your child for someone else or for a greater cause?

 

My colleague: stunned silence.

 

The speaker then interrupted us and the exercise was over.

 

What if we had another 2 minutes? I would have asked my colleague if she could ever imagine giving her child’s life for the life of someone who was evil, wicked, a child-molester, murderer, thief? Because that is exactly what God did. And there is no greater love, no love more profound or stunning as that love!

 

There are opportunities for evangelism all around you. The first step is to be aware. Have an evangelism mindset, a gospel-sharing-proclaiming outlook.

The Bully Pulpit and a Culture of Intimidation

ManipulationOn the one side, we have the Christian community, and on the other side, we have the pagan community. The Christian community is made up of those individuals whom God has personally brought into covenant relationship with himself. The pagan community, on the other hand is made up of everyone else. Essentially, this latter community is the world system, representing those human beings who have willingly and deliberately rejected the values and principles of divine law. These are those who knowingly, willingly, and deliberately withhold worship from God, deny God, refuse to acknowledge God, reject the truth of God, and refuse to submit to God. They are, quite frankly, pagans. I know, I know, that is such an offensive term. But so is the term sinner! Eventually, if we continue to allow the God-hater to frame up how we speak truth into their lives, there won’t be any truth left to speak into their lives. So, before we go any further, you should immediately discontinue your attempts to make the Christian message inoffensive. I know, I know, the gospel is good news and good news should not be offensive. In the case of the gospel, the good news is that God’s righteous wrath has been demonstrated in the death of Christ, you know, that wrath that God has assigned to those who have rebelled against his Word. The good news of the gospel is good because it flows from the bad news of divine judgment on those who deserve it, which, of course, is all of us. Now, time to get back on track. The Christian community is always surrounded by the larger community in which it finds itself, the pagan community. And the pagan community is incredibly influential. In fact, in modern American culture, the pagan community has rapidly deteriorated into a mindless, uncritical herd. And that herd engages in certain techniques and tactics to direct itself. That is to say, the herd is self-policing.

 

Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics. By advancing the interests of the manipulator, often at the other’s expense, such methods could be considered exploitative, abusive, devious, and deceptive. The pagan culture in which Christians find themselves here in the west has honed its psychological manipulation skills almost to perfection. The first step was to neglect or even undermine critical thinking. The way this works is that you identify a behavior or attitude that is clearly reprehensible to all, say, slavery or rape, or an historical event like the holocaust. Second, you work hard to stigmatize that event. Third, you identify a belief or attitude that you want to destroy, say, opposition to abortion or homosexuality. Fourth, you equate this attitude with an established one that is universally accepted within the culture. Being opposed to homosexuality is equivalent to racism because it is bigotry. Hence, opposing homosexuality is in the same category as approving slavery. The targets are polarized by such a description and the weak-minded quickly get back in line and march in-step with the rest of the platoon like the good soldiers they are. We have witnessed this in American culture over the last couple of decades and it has proven to be extremely effective. The problem is that this pattern of psychological manipulation is, unfortunately, not limited to the pagan community. It exists in the church.

 

This psychological intimidation shows up around most of the issues that American society deem important. Abortion, the murder of innocent children in their mother’s womb is recast as a woman’s health issue, and therefore, a woman’s rights issue. Anyone who opposes abortion is then characterized as one who belittles women’s rights, and therefore, one who belittles women, and therefore, as misogynist. Homosexual marriage is said to be about love between two consenting adults of the same sex who have not chosen to be gay. Homosexuality is said to be genetic just like race is genetic. Therefore, anyone who opposes gay marriage or the gay lifestyle is characterized as hateful and bigoted just like racists. By identifying certain categories this way and then polarizing those categories, the members of a society become desperate to avoid being viewed by society as fitting one of those categories (misogynist, racist, bigot). This forces weak-minded people to submit to the views of the herd or else be isolated and vilified by the herd.

 

Regrettably, we have witnessed this same psychological manipulation on display lately in how some Christian leaders are reacting to certain issues. Unless you get on board the apology and reparations train, you are not obeying the commands of Scripture that speak to justice and to loving your neighbor. The apology and reparations train is the view that all white people ought to apologize to all black people (primarily) for past slavery and racism. If you aren’t riding on the apology and reparations train, you are considered unloving, unjust, and part of the problem. In other words, unless you preach against racism and engage in certain activist causes when and where these people demand, then you are a racist. That is the hidden message, even if those words are not stated. The pressure is real. The same is true for those who are attempting to legislate the end of abortion. Unless you get behind their cause and do as they do, then you don’t love your neighbors. And if you don’t love your neighbors, you cannot love God. The real message is: you are a dirty rotten hypocrite unless get in line and oppose racism and abortion and sex trafficking, and “fill in the blank” or else! This is also true for smaller matters such as Christians who drink an adult beverage on occasion. It doesn’t matter that Jesus drank wine.

 

What people need to understand is that historically, the church has described this as the sin of binding the conscience and the reformers and puritans had something to say about it because God has something to say about it. It is deplorable for anyone to go beyond Scripture and attempt to bind the conscience of another. When this happens, the response ought to be a serious and sober rebuke accompanied by loving and immediate correction and instruction.

 

The 1689 LBCF, XXI.2 says, God alone is (m) Lord of the Conscience, and hath left it free from the Doctrines and Commandments of men, (n) which are in any thing contrary to his Word, or not contained in it. So that to Believe such Doctrines, or obey such Commands out of Conscience, (o) is to betray true liberty of Conscience; and the requiring of an (p) implicit Faith, and absolute and blind Obedience, is to destroy Liberty of Conscience, and Reason also.

 

The apostle Paul wrote to the Romans the following stern warning: Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Rom. 14:4) To the church at Corinth the same apostle wrote, “For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?” (1 Cor. 10:29b) To the church at Collasae, Paul wrote the following: Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Col. 2:18-23)

 

Jesus had something to say about those who took the Scriptures and then went beyond them and from there, attempted to bind the behavior and conscience of others with their own traditions: He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matt. 15:3) Mark records it this way, “And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” (Mark 7:9) What is the application of these passages to my point about the bully pulpit and the practice of manipulation by some Christian leaders in modern culture?

 

Let’s stick with racism and abortion as good examples of bullying and manipulation in the church. The Scripture commands that a brother in Christ is to correct sinful behavior and thinking in his brother when he sees it. You, as a brother in Christ are to correct me as your brother when you see me sinning. If I see a black Christian brother using language of hate or exhibiting an attitude of unforgiveness regarding racism, I am duty bound to go to him and show him his sin according to Jesus in Matt. 18. That is the commandment of God. I am bound by that commandment. Yet, in the current environment, I was informed by one SBC pastor that because I am white, it would be inappropriate for me to correct my black brother on such issues. I am not qualified because of my race. This is exactly what the Pharisees had done concerning their tradition. Some Christian leaders have decided that it is more important to please society at large, to please a certain race, than it is to please God. Essentially, the tradition or dogma of man has eclipsed the commandment of God. The same is true regarding abortion. The group known as Abolish Human Abortion insists that every adopt their methods in opposing abortion or else, you don’t oppose abortion the way God demands you oppose it. In both of these cases, Christians are made to feel like racists on the one hand and insensitive unloving hypocrites on the other. Why? Because we are not following a particular man’s prescription, or a group’s prescription for how we should behave and think. This same tactic is used for a number of social issues in the world. The idea that the church is supposed to work hard at making the world a better place is most often framed in social and political terms. The gospel ipso facto makes the world a better place. Disciple-making ipso facto makes the world a better place. Beyond that, there is no mandate for the Christian community to work hard politically or socially to improve the conditions in the world. We are not tasked with the goal of protecting human rights around the world. We are not tasked with the goal of ending abortion, racism, hunger, or abusive laws and governments in the world. Christianity is not that!

 

There is even a theological issue that falls into this category. It’s called Calvinism. There are many Arminians within churches like the SBC for instance who despise Calvinism. They paint it with a brush that is completely and totally inaccurate. They straw man Calvinism at just about every turn. They use the tactic of claiming that Calvinism makes God a moral monster. Who wants a God like that? Not me? So, if you are a Calvinist, your God is not loving, not kind, cold, heartless! This makes it nearly impossible to teach people accurately the truths of reformed theology because it poisons the well upfront. Such a tactic is either employed by those who are ignorant of reformed theology or those who have abandoned the principles and decency and Christian charity where this matter is concerned. So in many cases we can say that the anti-Calvinist movement employs psychological manipulation in order to protect itself against the teachings of Calvinism. It is both sad and shameful.

 

These tactics are tactics borrowed from the pagan community. This is how the world system behaves. This is how the Pharisees behaved. When we behave this way, we betray the Christian community because we invalidate the Word of God. John MacArthur has an excellent perspective: “During the past twenty-five years, well-meaning Christians have founded a number of evangelical activist organizations and sunk millions of dollars into them in an effort to use the apparatus of politics—lobbying, legislation, demonstration, and boycott—to counteract the moral decline of American culture. They pour their energy and other resources into efforts to drum up a “Christian” political movement that will fight back against the prevailing anti-Christian culture. But is that a proper perspective? I believe not. America’s moral decline is a spiritual problem, not a political one, and its solution is the gospel, not partisan politics.” Concerning the social gospel that has served to eclipse the true gospel even among many conservative evangelicals, MacArthur rightly says, “Serving as salt and light is not about our social agenda—it’s about God’s spiritual agenda. Those vivid metaphors of salt and light apply to the work of the gospel alone—not the social justice issue du jour.”

 

It is important that we as Christians take care not to adopt the practices of the culture in which we find ourselves. Pagan communities will inevitably tend to employ tactics that are antithetical to godly principles and values more often than not. We should always search our heart motives where our attitudes and behaviors are concerned. What I see taking place within certain groups of the Christian community is in many ways, reprehensible and contrary to the gospel. We must be on guard against using our influence to bully others into submission to our agenda. To bind the conscience of another brother with your own personal convictions about an issue is a behavior that ought to be avoided at all cost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Uncritical Mind – An Enemy of the Faith

Robert Ennis defines critical thinking as “reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do.” What should I think about a certain claim or proposition? What should I do in a particular set of circumstances? Nancey Murphy writes, “If Christianity in the abstract is to be reasonable, then the concrete individuals who embody it must exercise the skills of reasoning in their writing, reading, and speaking.” (Reasoning and Rhetoric in Religion) Harold Netland comments, “Whatever the case in the past, however, there is little question that the traditional links between Christianity and Western culture have been loosened considerably, through both the diminishing cultural significance of Christianity and the growing impact of non-Christian (especially Asian) religious traditions in the West.” (Encountering Religious Pluralism) The historical ties between the American west and Christianity have created an intellectual culture within the Christian community that has grown lazy, stagnant even. The cognitive respect that had previously defined the relationship between American culture and Christianity historically, has rapidly faded into the background. Some Christians are finally beginning to see that America never was a Christian nation as if anything like that could exist in this world. The rapid shift in the environment has left the Christian community with a considerable gap in her intellectual skills. Christians, many of them, most of them, have not had to use their intellects while living out their faith. Jesus loves you was understood by all or most and accepted by most without question. “The Bible is the good book” is a claim that millions received without any hint of push back. But times have changed and they have done so rapidly. The church is playing catch-up, or at least, she should be. What changes have we seen in the Christian churches as culture has shifted? I see few but I also think some pastors are becoming acutely away of the fact that their people are not prepared for the new post-Christian America.

The early Christians were faced with a Christianity that was so infinitesimally small that it wasn’t even large enough to qualify as a minority, so to speak. Luke describes Paul as engaging his culture this way: But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ. (Acts 9:22) And again: And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” (Acts. 17:2-3) And yet again, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. (Acts 18:28)

Paul commanded his successors and appointed leaders to equip themselves to deal with opponents of the Christian faith in the same way he himself had done. He tells Titus as it relates to an elder: He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:9) In our postmodern, politically correct culture, we do everything we can to promote an undisciplined and unbounded tolerance. As Christians, such behavior is not an option. While we must be respectful, gentle, kind, and patient, we do not have the option of being silent or of tolerating any teaching that contradicts sound doctrine. We are duty-bound to act. That action begins with thinking. Paul here is using a basic law of logic, the law of non-contradiction, to instruct elders how to deal with people who are opposing sound doctrine. Those who oppose sound doctrine are actually speaking against it. You can speak against sound doctrine directly by denying it or you can speak against it by speaking and teaching doctrines that contradict it. Even though the Greek word ἐλέγχω (elegcho) is translated rebuke, we must take care to understand the fuller sense of this word. The word is used 17x in the NT and only 4x is it rendered rebuke. The range of translations are as follows: convict or convince 5x; reprove 4x; 3x; tell 1x.

When we think of rebuke, we are thinking of a scenario that is much more stinging than is the case with this word. The ESV uses the word rebuke 32x in the NT. Only 4x is it translated from this word in Titus. We should note that the Greek word that is typically rendered rebuke is ἐπιτιμάω (epitimao). Of the 32x it appears in the ESV, rebuke is translated from this Greek word 25x. The word means to express a strong disapproval of someone, and even to punish. It is critically important that we see the differences in these Greek words and ensure that our actions toward others in this area are submitting to biblical principles.

The Christian loves the Lord with all his being, which includes his intellect. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deut. 6:5) God’s people love God with their entire being and they do so with all their energy. The Hebrew word for strength is mĕʾōd. It means very, very much, or greatly, and in some cases utterly or completely. Jesus himself also was clear that this is the greatest commandment of all: And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The Greek word translated strength is ἰσχύς (ischus). It means one’s strength, power, might, the capability of functioning effectively. We are to put every effort into loving the Lord with all our being. This is the greatest commandment of all. Obviously, the intellect, our cognitive functions should be aimed at loving God entirely.

Modern, American pastors have dropped the ball. In their zeal to grow the number of professing Christians, they have created a hollowed-out version of Christianity, a Christianity that is intellectually bankrupt and empty of anything remotely resembling intellectual potency. Men like Andy Stanley have all but surrendered the intellectual high-ground that is Christian belief by employing a strategy that does not defend the faith but one that relinquishes core Christian truth all in the name of wanting to remain intellectually acceptable to unbelievers. If the virgin birth is offensive, we shouldn’t preach it. If the Bible is offensive, we should avoid quoting it. Worse, we can quote it so long as we don’t tell people that the quote is from the Bible. If we attributed the sayings of Jesus or Paul to Gandhi, I doubt people would be offended. The point is this: rather than train Christians to trust God and take him at his word, we are training them on how to compromise. The Church has a serious gap in training and teaching her people. It is a gap that Sunday morning sermons alone cannot close. It is a gap that Sunday school classes and small groups cannot close.

The church, the Western church in particular, must wake up from her slumber. Pastors have to recognize that times have changed and are changing rapidly. There has to be an emphasis on training, not just checking the box. The training has to increase, not only in its frequency, but in the kind of training that is made available. The staff has to make training a priority. There has to be a conscious effort to recognize the seriousness of the problem and then do something about it.

Training the church should begin with a plan. First, structure your staff, paid and voluntary around the goal of training. Place leaders in charge of training, not in title only, but in execution. Expect things to change. Talk about it, all the time. Second, create an annual learning plan along with the budget and other ministries. This is more than just purchasing a Sunday school curriculum. Most SS curricula are part of the problem, not the solution. They are shallow, misguided, and contribute to bad habits to include poor Bible study methods as well as poor thinking. If need be, build your own. But that is not enough. Look at your congregation and create a learning plan. Perhaps a high-level learning plan that extends 2-3 to even 5 years. Then narrow the focus to next year and be very deliberate in what you want to teach your people for the coming year.

Next, turn your attention to the Sunday school and small group leaders and teachers. Place a leader (elder or pastor) over your Sunday school program. If you don’t have the staff, place a qualified non-staff person in charge. Structure the teachers in a way that they realize that being a teacher under your leadership is a serious matter. They should feel the weight of that responsibility. The teachers should have someone they report to and they should meet on a regular basis. Teachers should be teamed up with each other as accountability partners. The group should be close. Relationships among the teaching team should be tight. There should be on-going training for teachers. They should be receiving instruction from their pastor and providing information to the pastor and leadership regarding the members in their class. Teachers should be expected to build relationships with their class members, calling them, meeting with them, getting to know them. They should have a hand in their discipleship.

What I am suggesting is that the current model in our churches in the west does not support the sort of equipping Paul talks about in his letter to the Ephesians and elsewhere in the NT. The environment of the NT churches was remarkably different from the last 400 years of Christianity in Western culture, especially the Americas. Because of the cognitive respect extended to Christian principles and values for so many years, the church slipped into a pitiable state. Our training became sloppy, lazy, shallow, taking far too much for granted. We stopped asking questions and diligently searching the text for answers. Secondly, the philosophies of the enlightenment started to take root and the 3% grade has turned rapidly, becoming a 10-20-30% grade. The point is that Christians in Western culture are encountering views, beliefs, and opinions that contradict Christian belief at a rate much higher than ever before. Moreover, not only are those views contrary to Christian belief, they are more than a little hostile to it. I cannot count the number of times that pastors have expressed concern that I ventured too far into a particular subject. My response is usually something like this: I have doctors, accountants, and lawyers in the audience. If they can do their job, they can spend some time and energy learning about the One Person who is supposed the most important Person in their lives: Jesus Christ.

Here is the picture. Christians should be the best thinkers in their culture. They should be the best thinkers because they are the only thinkers who actually possess true knowledge about reality.

 

  • Every church should have a 2-3-5-year high-level learning plan.
  • Every church should have a focused learning plan in place for the coming year.
  • Every church should structure their staff in such a way to support a learning structure.
  • Sunday school teachers should report to a leader be it a staff member or a qualified volunteered leader.
  • Sunday school teachers should be required to complete an initial training program as well as on-going training.
  • Sunday school teachers should report to a leader responsible for providing oversight to the Sunday school program.
  • It wouldn’t hurt to reconsider changing the name from Sunday school to something else.
  • Every church should create a Sunday school teacher community.
  • The Sunday school teachers should be paired together with an accountability partner.
  • The Sunday school teacher should organize small groups within his Sunday school and appoint group leaders.
  • Sunday school teachers should be responsible for training small group leaders.
  • Sunday school teachers should also be expected to be in regular contact with their class members.
  • Sunday school class sizes must be capped in order to ensure they are manageable.

 

This list is not intended to be exhaustive or even prescriptive. It is intended to serve as a straw man so that others may review it, see where I am going with it, and then take it and bend it to fit their unique situation. The point is that we must turn up the intensity of our training in our churches. The truth is that it should have never been turned down!

 

 

 

The Hazards of a Quarrelsome Outlook

I spend a good deal of my time engaging people who are hostile to Christian belief. This includes those who outside as well as many who claim to be inside the Christian community. There is no question that we need to stand against those claims that exalt themselves against the knowledge of Christ. And these claims come from without and also from within the visible Christian community. But as is true with anything else, this practice can be perverted unless it is disciplined with godly humility and Christian charity. And I will be the first to admit that I have crossed that line more than once. It is a hazard that everyone who is concerned with the proclamation and defense of truth must be concerned about. Otherwise, a profound darkness can emerge where there should be only light. Keep reading and I will explain what I mean.

 

One of the most convicting texts of Scripture, at least for me anyways, is 1 Tim. 6:4-5. One of the descriptions of the false teacher, according to Paul, is that he has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words. I have seen this in the cults, the agnostics, militant atheists, and even some Christian apologetics sites. And I have to wonder if others have seen it or felt it in me. To be sure, there is a difference between contending and defending, and just plain old being contentious any everyone regarding almost everything. I am convinced I have crossed that line on more than one occasion. I pray for grace that God would grant me the ability to see where that line is and the strength to resist my sinful urge to cross it. Some of us, and I am including myself in this group, have a proclivity in that direction. That isn’t all bad. But it can move from good to bad in a hurry. It’s like drinking an ice-cold drink just a little too fast. There is no stopping the brain freeze.

 

According to Paul, one of the behaviors that is common with the teacher who teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound or healthy words of Our Lord is that he has an unhealthy craving for controversy. Now, I don’t think this only applies to false teachers. It is obviously a behavior that even solid teachers can fall into just like any other sin. Good teachers can be guilty of envy and slander which are words Paul uses to describe these false teachers. It only stands to reason then that good teachers can also let themselves get carried away with chasing one controversy after another but worse than that, blowing every disagreement up into a serious controversy when they are actually nothing more than imperfect men doing their best to understand the teachings of Scripture. In our discernment, we must be able to tell the difference and that is very often not easy to do. It is especially not easy to do if you do not know the person you are critiquing and if it is not clear that the person is in serious error. It is always better to begin with grace, humility, love, and patience and to work forward from there. It is best, when possible, to give someone the benefit of the doubt rather than rushing to judgment. Perhaps it would be useful if I included a couple of scenarios in order to help drive this point home.

 

The Greek word rendered unhealthy craving is νοσέω (noseo). It falls within the semantic domain of “Attitudes and Emotions” and the sub-domain, A desire, wish, want. It carries the sense of an unhealthy or morbid desire for something. It is quite literally a sick desire for something. In some languages, it means a desire for something that one should not have. This seems to be a theme in the pastorals. 1 Timothy 1:4 says, for example, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. There is an underlying warning regarding baseless speculation and wrangling about words that shows up in the pastoral epistles. We would do well to keep this in mind as we promote and defend the truth of the gospel. Paul commands Timothy to avoid worthless discussions because it leads people into more and more ungodliness. (1 Tim. 2:6) There is no question that there is a need for apologetics, for correction, for rebuke. But it is equally clear that there are some of us who have a natural proclivity to seek out controversy after controversy because, well, we like a good fight. That sin is in us. It is part of our fallen nature. It is a desire that we must learn to discipline and keep in check. Far too often we do not give this desire the attention and supervision it needs and as a result, not only do we accomplish some good by calling out true heretics and enemies of the faith, we also end up doing harm by attacking good men who love the Lord with whom we just have a disagreement. We can and must do better.

 

Everyone, including the good guys, becomes a target

Paul commanded Timothy to conduct himself in this way: Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:23-26)

 

First of all, the servant of the Lord must have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies. Literally, Paul says that Timothy must have nothing to do with the foolish and ignorant debate (controversy). I have not always successfully and consistently obey this command. I must do better. We all must do better. These controversies do nothing but breed quarrels. We so often address issues that are well within the bounds of Christian freedom as if they are not and because someone takes a different view of the issue, we feel the need to engage. Removing civil war era statues is a perfect example. I may have no position on the question while you might. My only position is that tearing down statues will not purge sinful behavior and it is never a good idea to erase history. Nevertheless, I should question my urge to debate people on an issue like this. Such a scenario can quickly deteriorate into a foolish, ignorant controversy, and from there, further deteriorate into endless quarrels. We damage relationships that ought not to be damaged when we behave this way. There is room for grace, always, and kindness, and respect and charity, and most important, humility. We must learn to patiently endure evil. What does that mean? It is an interesting phrase and the context is of great help.

 

To be quarrelsome is to be unkind. Paul says the servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be kind to everyone. To quarrel is to engage in a heated or emotional dispute. Timothy has apparently been pulled into some disputes that Paul deems unhelpful, unhealthy, and distracting. In fact, these disputes threated the real mission of the gospel: repentance. Instead, the servant of the Lord must be gentle to all. This word gentle comes from the Greek ἤπιος (epios). It falls into the semantic domain of gentleness, mildness. It is used in 1 Thess. 2:7 of nursing mothers. How kind is a nursing mother to her child? This is the picture Paul is giving Timothy of the soldier of the Lord!

 

Be a competent teacher. The phrase “able to teach” is the Greek word didaktikos, and it means a skilled teacher. Those who take up the practice to correct and engage and defend the faith must not only be kind and gentle like a nursing mother, but they must also be skilled teachers. This is necessary if you are going to help others see the error of their ways. Modern culture has devalued human beings, especially on the internet. Insults fly a million a minute. Rhetoric substitutes for sound arguments far more often than not. And if we are not careful, we fall into the very same behavior. Helping others see their error is our goal and repentance is our hope. Being a skilled teacher is a requirement. Being kind and gentle are required behaviors.

 

The servant of the Lord must be tolerant. We must be able to endure error and patiently correct it. We also must be able to recognize what is serious error and what is not. It is one thing to take on heresy and serious error and another to see every disagreement as a candidate for serious dispute. Removing civil-war era statues is an example of an issue about which Christians really have no business engaging in serious dispute. We may have small talk about the matter and come to different conclusions but that should in no way affect our relationships or create tension. Getting emotional over such issues is an indication of ego and pride. This can easily serve as an impediment to Christian unity. And that is a far more serious issue than a statue. For some reason, unity has been devalued by many of us with an apologetics bent. This ought not to be the case.

 

The servant of the Lord must correct those who are in opposition with gentleness. We are literally commanded to educate with gentleness. The word gentleness in this case is the Greek word πραΰτης (prautes). It is different from the word Paul uses in v. 24. This word expresses the quality of not being impressed with one’s own self-importance. It means to be courteous and considerate. It is in the same semantic domain as the word ἤπιος used above in v. 24. Paul then says something very interesting: God may perhaps grant them repentance. The idea seems to be that it is because that God may grant the offender repentance that we should conduct ourselves in a certain way. Peter says the same thing in his great apologetics text in 1 Peter 3:15-16.

 

The error with which we are dealing should determine how we deal with it as well as the person promoting it. Should I attack John MacArthur because I reject the rapture theory? Should I obsess about it and fire at him every chance I get? Should I devote tremendous time to James White’s recent decision to hold dialogue with Muslims? First, I am not convinced that Dr. White was right or wrong. It is an issue that I hold without expressing an opinion at this time. But I am convinced that those who are attacking him are in error themselves. The attacks seem to me to be unmeasured and misplaced. Dr. White is a man of the gospel. No one who knows him or is familiar with his ministry can accuse him of being weak on Scripture or the gospel. And his apologetic work on Islam is unimpeachable.

 

The charlatan is treated differently than the brother in Christ with whom we disagree. And in the context of 2 Tim. 2, the error seems to be substantive. Despite that fact, Paul is still demanding that we treat the offender with respect and courtesy on the possibility that God may grant them repentance. It seems best to me that the servant of the Lord error on the side of caution.

 

In summary, it is not easy to treat those who contradict with courtesy and respect. Far too often we take “shutting their mouths” in the modern sense and use it as a license to be rude, condescending, unloving, and totally lacking in Christian charity. The truth is that we shut the mouth of the opponent with a kind, measured, educated, gentle correction of truth. We give them the truth of the gospel of Christian revelation with conviction but we do so in love, respecting them as being created in God’s image. Second, every issue is not a matter of the gospel. There are a number of issues that are subject to Christian liberty. Is dispensationalism heresy? Are Arminians not saved? Is everyone who talks about racism just talking about it to look good before men? No, no, and no. Perhaps a little humility would go a long way in helping us treat one another better when we are in disagreement over some of these matters. Perhaps we should ask ourselves just exactly how much error exists in our own theology at the moment before we toss others to the curb. All I am suggesting is that we increase the humility meter a bit and do better when it comes to treating others with dignity. If we don’t know someone personally, they should get the benefit of the doubt. It is amazing how getting to know someone can make all the difference in the world. Only then do we see them as God’s object of love, as God’s creation. It’s about awareness. The purpose of this blog is to help those who do what I do become a little more aware of themselves, how they come across, and of others. It’s mostly a therapeutic post for me. I need to read this post as much or more than most. Should you benefit from it, then hey, even better.

See Justin Taylor’s post here:

The Marks of a Crusty Christian

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Christian Certainty: Epistemic Certainty & Doubt

The main objective of this post is to interact with the Biblical teachings on the issue of doubt within the context of Christian apologetics. For some, the idea of epistemic certainty is not only an impossibility, but it is also one of the most arrogant claims anyone could make. For others, skeptics in particular, knowledge requires certainty, and because certainty is impossible, knowledge then, is viewed as impossible. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy says, Certainty has been taken in philosophical usage either as a state of mind or as a relational property of statements or propositions. The former is known as psychological certainty and the latter, logical certainty. It is obvious that whatever is certain is also known. However, the converse that whatever is known is certain is not the case. In our culture, doubt has been extolled as a virtue. Christians leaving the faith (so-called) have made statements that they are honestly following wherever the evidence leads. And it just so happens to lead away from Christian belief. It is true that in the field of philosophy, doubt is often admired as a virtue. And it is also true that many Christian apologists, and even Christian philosophers today, are not alarmed when some professing Christians express doubts about the basic claims of Christianity, such as the virgin birth, or Creation ex nihilo, or some of Christ’s own miracles. But is that an appropriate response to a professing Christian’s admission of doubt?

 

Where does the psychological phenomenon of doubt begin? What is the root of doubt? What is doubt? According to the dictionary, doubt is the feeling of uncertainty, a lack of conviction about something. Atheists claim that they lack belief in God. In other words, they lack conviction that theistic belief, and Christian belief in particular, is true. But doubt cannot arise in a vacuum. Doubt is not something that just is until the appropriate amount of evidence comes along to remove it. Doubt is the opposite of trust, the denial or withholding of reliance. However, doubt is not groundless. It is not the case that doubt is simply anchored in nothing. That would be absurd. A person only withholds trust in one belief because they have a great degree of confidence in other beliefs. And those other beliefs either inform the person’s doubt about a belief or a person’s trust in a belief. What this means is that the question of doubt regarding particular beliefs is really a question about their ground for doubt, or their beliefs that serve to give room for and ground doubt or that serve or give room to trust. Those beliefs are the beliefs that prop up and give room for other beliefs. We call these presuppositions. Every doubt has, at its foundation, a presupposition. And where Christian belief is concerned, and belief about God is concerned, every doubt has its roots in the presupposition of human autonomy. What I mean by human autonomy is the belief that men are not absolutely and totally dependent on God for all things. The denial of human reliance on God for all things is the necessary precondition for doubt.

 

James 1:6 says, But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. Recently, Andy Stanley has promoted the point of view that Christians ought to be free to doubt some parts of the Bible, such as the virgin birth for example. Indeed, there are numerous accounts of events in the Christian Scripture that are fairly arduous to the modern senses and even offensive to the modern intellect. The point of view Stanley is taking is that these events or records are obstacles to faith and we should allow for their removal so that people don’t throw Christianity out altogether. Apparently, this is Stanley’s solution for those leaving the faith. It is the secret sauce of North Point Community Church as Stanley seeks to create a community where unchurched people love to go to church. In other words, Stanley has created a community of people who are free to doubt whatever parts of the Bible they wish, well, except for the resurrection…for now at least. But James has a remarkably different description for those who doubt. He calls the doubter a double-minded man who is unstable in all his ways.

 

The Greek word translated doubt is διακρίνω. The word falls within the semantic field of holding a view, a belief, trust. It means to think that something may not be true or certain. Here is means to be uncertain, to be at odds with oneself. The word is a compound of κρινω which is the word for judge. There is clearly a judgment, an evaluation, an analysis, and finally a decision bound up in this word. No one doubts without making a decision to doubt. And that decision is an expression of trust in the autonomous human’s ability to determine what merits belief or trust and what does not. To doubt one thing is to not doubt another. The decision to doubt A is always a decision not to doubt B. The atheist decides to doubt God’s existence because he has no doubt about his empiricism or scienticism, etc. To lack doubt in God is not to lack doubt in the one thing you should: yourself.

 

James tells us that the doubter is double-minded. The word is δίψυχος is from the same semantic domain as διακρίνω but from the sub-domain of “Believe to be true.” It has to do with being uncertain about the truthfulness of something. It is unattested prior to NT writings and is only attested in Christian writings. The only other place it appears in the NT is James 4:8, Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Here it is associated with sinners and impure hearts. That is not virtuous company.

 

Finally, James tells us that the doubter is ἀκατάστατος (unstable) in all his ways. This word falls within the semantic domain of control, rule. The word pertains to having to do with being unable to be controlled by something or someone. The word appears twice in the NT and once in the LXX. James 3:8 references the tongue that no man can tame or control. In the LXX it is rendered from the Hebrew סער transliterated, sʿr. You would pronounce it something like sa-ar. The sense of this word is closely associated with a storm, a strong wind, to be blown away. As I write, Irma, a category 5 hurricane is moving close to the east coast of Florida with winds around 200 mph. This is the image that comes to mind when I think about the instability that James says is associated with doubt. It is not a pretty picture. And it is anything but virtuous. There is a lot more to this subject of epistemic certainty. Volumes of books have been written about the subject. It is a highly complex subject in the field of philosophy. However, theological speaking, biblically speaking, the idea of knowledge, of certain knowledge, is more closely concerned with the ethical nature of refusing to trust God. Refusal to affirm the truth of God’s Word is a sin for which all human beings are culpable.

 

One final point demands attention. There is a difference between doubt and discernment. 1 John 4:1 commands every Christian: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. The Greek word δοκιμάζω is rendered test in this verse. It falls within the semantic domain of “trying to learn.” Here is means attempting to learn the genuineness of something by examination and testing. It simply means to make a critical examination of something. This leads me to the conclusion then that not all doubt is sinful. It depends on what it is one is doubting. To doubt me may not be a sin, but to doubt God is. To doubt my promise is not the same as doubting God’s promise. To doubt God’s word is to trust my own. Sinful doubt is the product of misplaced trust. It is the product of human autonomy. The standard by which everything must be tested is God’s word. God’s word is the only infallible rule of faith for the Christian. This does not mean it is the only authority in our lives. But it does mean it is the final authority and if any other authority contradicts Scripture, it must be rejected as authoritative at all. Every claim must be tested against that which should never be doubted: Scripture.

 

If everything is doubted, nothing is. Unless there is certainty about something, there can be no doubt about anything. There is no uncertainty without certainty. Descartes was right, at least about something, even if he was mostly wrong about everything else. James, writing for God to us, tells us in no uncertain terms that doubting God’s word is anything but virtuous. Anyone who belittles doubt or worse, extolls doubt, regardless of their station is life, is disputing with God.

 

Racism: A Biblical Perspective

A lot is being written and stated these days regarding the church’s responsibility where the issue of racism is concerned. The torrent of views coming from within and without conservative evangelical circles is mind-boggling and at a minimum, disjointed and confusing. Somehow, the church has not been saddled with the responsibility to end racism and worse, she has been indicted and convicted for being a contributor to the problem. The objective of this article is to provide a biblical perspective on the issue of racism without regard for the modern attitudes that seem to be influencing most of what is said about the subject.

And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. (Gen. 11:6-8)

By the time we get to the historical event at Babel, the human race had fallen from divine fellowship with God through Adam. That fall sent the race spiraling downward into extreme moral confusion until finally, God looked down and saw that the hearts of men were given over to wickedness continually. God called Noah and his family out from the human race and then eradicated every evil doer from the planet by way of the flood. However, it wasn’t long before the human race was again rapidly declining toward a level of depravity that God would not abide. And here, in Gen. 11, we see the culmination of depravity and, yet another curse issued by God upon the human race. As a result, the human race was divided into various people groups and scattered across the earth, resulting in mass confusion. So the, from this account we come to understand that the existence of the various races that make up the humanity, is directly attributable to another divine curse as a result of sin on the part of humanity. The existences of the various races are the resulting tension and confusion among them is the direct result of the curse of Babel.

Paul said in Romans 5, in Adam, we all die. We all experience the curse of Adam’s covenant failure. The curse was universal. The flood was also universal. God destroyed all but eight souls. After Babel, we are all sentenced to the curse of racial confusion. The issue with racism is seen in the way human beings classify themselves and then elevate their race and themselves above others. The issue isn’t skin color. The issue is self-promotion. The issue is the idolatry of the race of which we happen to be apart. The issue is the age-old problem of the idolatry of self. We are prone to worship ourselves and we are prone to worship our race. In so doing, we necessarily relegate other races to a lower place than our own. This practice of partiality is the heartbeat sin of racism. It isn’t about being black, white, brown, or red. It is the idolatrous exaltation of one race or type of human over another. It extends far beyond skin color, cultural differences, or language. It extends into social status as well. To be sure, Scripture has a lot to say about the matter.

To begin with, Gal. 3:28 explicitly informs us that there is neither Jew nor Greek in Christ Jesus, there is neither slave nor free, male nor female. The benefits of the New Covenant are extended to all. While it is true that Paul did not have racial equality in mind as he penned this text, it is just as true that the text carries irresistible inferences regarding the issue of race. God shows no partiality for men based on anything in man, including his race, gender, or social status. Just as babel shows us the curse of God with the resulting confusion, Pentecost is a picture of the reversal of that curse. Peter made this point abundantly clear in Acts 2 when he pointed to Joel and thundered that God was now pouring his Spirit out on all flesh without distinction. Man, or better, humanity is created in the image of God. No one race was created in the image of God. All of humanity, being descended from one couple, is the image of God. As a result of this truth, all humans are people cut from the same divine cloth: God’s image. Yet, we make off boundaries for each other based on all sorts of criteria, race just being one of them. The Christian must understand that it isn’t the criteria for discrimination that is the problem, but the discrimination itself. Discrimination is the showing of partiality and as the New Testament clearly teaches, such partiality is worldly and ungodly on every level.

James, when dealing with the issue taking place with his audience says this, have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:4) The Greek word διακρίνω (diakrino) means to differentiate by separating, to make a distinction, to evaluate by paying careful attention, to render a judgment, to be at variance with someone, to be uncertain. This word appears 19x in the NT. It was this word that Peter used in Acts 15:9 when he rehearsed the Gentile conversion that took place back in Acts 10: and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. (Acts 15:9) Peter’s point was that God made no distinction between the Jew and the non-Jew when he poured out his grace upon both groups in the New Covenant. James, who is writing not long after this event in Acts 15 commands his audience, My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. (James 2:1) James’ audience lives in a culture where the rich are distinguished from the poor in that they receive special or different treatment. The attitudes toward the rich are different from what they are regarding the poor. This worldly way of thinking and behaving has entered the churches and threatens to contaminate the godly communities. James is taking action to ensure that this leaven is purged from the churches.

The Greek word employed by James is προσωπολημψία (prosopolempsia). It appears 6x in the NT when we take all its forms into consideration. Paul uses it in Eph. 6:9 to inform slave owners that there is no partiality with God. He uses it in Col. 2:25 to say that there is no partiality in the divine judgment. Finally, Paul also uses it to say that there is no partiality with God. The entire idea of partiality is attached to unjust thinking. James informs his audience in 2:9 emphatically that partiality is sinful behavior. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. While James is dealing with the partiality displayed between the rich and the poor, it seems equally true that any kind of partiality of this stripe would be sinful and meet the same rebuke. All partiality is sin. There is no partiality in God. Therefore, there should be no partiality in us.

The practice is racism comes under the category of showing partiality, which as I have pointed out, is a sin. We would say it like this, racism is the symptom of a problem but not the problem itself. Racism is rooted in the showing of partiality, which is itself rooted in an idolatrous heart. You begin with idolatry, move to showing partiality, which then manifests itself in a number of ways, racism being one of them. The truth is that most people who condemn racism are guilty of showing partiality in other ways. And if that is true, then we have to talk about hypocrisy. I will leave that aside for the time being.

I was told by one pastor over at SBC voices that I could not call a black man to repentance over his issue of unforgiveness regarding racial discrimination because I am white. Such a view is clearly showing partiality. And the Scriptures are clear that God does not show partiality, that there is no partiality in God, and that for Christians to display such partiality is sin. So, this man, despite his political ideology and intense rhetoric, finds himself in the position of displaying the very attitude he is supposedly condemning: partiality. We must be better thinkers than this.

There is partiality in the church and that is far more obvious to all of us than the narrower sin of racism. We do treat people differently. Large contributors are given more say than small ones. Celebrity pastors and preachers are given far more weight than their lessor known counterparts. We, as Christians, are enthralled with the guys who are “up there” in the lime light. We gather “in clique” with certain people and not with others and we set boundaries, even if those boundaries are subconscious. We break down our Sunday Schools by age, marital status, and gender. While that may not be egregiously wrong, we should ask if it is at all helpful or productive. I don’t think it is. I think it contributes to a sub-cultural divide between us and them. See, there it is. The “us and them.” My older group, but not that old, and the younger groups. If we believe that diversity enriches understanding and strengthens our bond as a community, it seems to me that we should structure our most fundamental programs to reflect that philosophy. For some reason, we don’t. I am not saying there should never be a men’s class or a women’s class on particular subjects or as an opportunity to gather as men and as women. But I think such opportunities should be secondary rather than part of the fiber of our training programs.

There is no room for partiality within the community of Christ. James writes concerning such partiality, So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:17) Partiality is worldliness. Partiality is sin. Genuine faith purges worldliness and sin from our behavior, from our mindset. Faith, if it does not purge the mindset of partiality from you, is dead. Racism is partiality! Can you see where I am going with this?

For some people, the issue of racism is an opportunity to take what does not belong to them in the name of reparations. For some, it is an opportunity to ascend to positions not rightfully earned. For others, it is an opportunity to manipulate others, from the civil authorities to politicians, to the boss, small businesses and even the church. For some, the issue of racism is an opportunity to look righteous in front of others through political posturing and extreme rhetoric. Still for others, it is an opportunity to appeal to black Christian communities to join their organization and to increase numbers and dollars within that organization. We are all sinners and we all have a tendency to use the pet sins of our respective cultures in unhealthy and ungodly ways. We use them to manipulate others. We use them to make ourselves feel good. We use them to make ourselves look good. Make no mistake about it, many pastors who are riding the current racism train at the moment are some of the very same pastors who do very little to correct the plethora of partialities going on in their respective denominations and many of their own churches. This is not much different than watching thousands of pastors refuse to discipline unbiblical divorce over the last several decades, all of the sudden get worked up over gay marriage. They use God’s design for marriage as an argument against gay marriage, but never brought it up to enforce biblical principles of marriage and divorce. Sorry pastor, but if you permit unbiblical divorce in your church for years without discipline, then you have lost your right to talk about God’s design for marriage to anyone, including the gay movement. And for you pastors who are beating the soapbox of racism, I suggest you also start working on the sin of partiality that very likely permeates your own congregations, and perhaps, possibly, your own heart. Do you treat people differently based on your own personal set of criteria? Search your heart. Do some merit time from you while others do not? Do the opinions of one person weigh heavier than the opinions of another based on some sort of shallow criteria, like giving? Do you unwittingly promote partiality in your church through programs, structure, or other subtler ways? Don’t point the finger at the racist until you can at least be honest with yourself about ALL issues of partiality.

The guilt by association message in this discussion is not the sort of approach I see in Jesus or any of his apostles. It is unjust judgment to indict someone for the sin of another on the basis that they belong to the same people group. All Germans cannot be indicted for the sins of the Nazi party, or of Adolf Hitler. To say that all white people should feel guilty for the sin of slavery is like saying that all black people are guilty of whatever any other black person does within the black community. Just as it is a sin to indict all rich people for greed on the ground that many or even most rich people are greedy, it is also a sin to indict all humans within a people group for racism on the ground that many or even most in that people group are racist. Christians are to render judgment, but that judgment must be just. God does not judge me based on the sins of America or the sins of Germany or the sins of Ireland or England (my ancestors got around apparently). God judges me based on my behavior, not the behavior of those in my family, in my community, in my church, or in my broad people group. If I am guilty, I am guilty before God. If God has declared me innocent, I am innocent.

We are all sinners battling sin, first and foremost in our own hearts, and in our own families, our own small groups, and our own churches. It is far too easy to focus on issues like racism all the while ignoring the obvious sins right in front of us. Are we more concerned with what God sees in our hearts or with what others hear from our platforms and pulpits? Is it our appearance before God that drives our actions or our appearance before men?

 

 

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