How much bandwidth can you give controversy?

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Whenever I read news of a church imploding, some sort of scandal arising involving sexual abuse, or any other scandal really, I can’t help but think, “I wonder what it would have been like to live during a time when the entire world wasn’t at my fingertips?”

Now, obviously, I’ve never been one to entirely avoid controversial issues (or people). And when we see a celebrity pastor lose his mind, or when patterns of abuse are revealed that affect anyone, man, woman or child, it is hard to ignore. But at the same time, though we should grieve these things—and if a crime has been committed, we should report them—we can only give so much mental bandwidth to these things. Here are a few reasons why I believe this is so, at least from my perspective:

1. Because I really can’t do much to help. Without (I hope) sounding callous toward those who’ve experienced abuse (sexual, physical, or emotional), there’s not a lot I can do to help in a specific situation happening in Florida, Texas, or, honestly, even in a different town 30 minutes down the road. I can pray and, if the issue warrants, I can say something where I feel compelled to, but that’s about it.

2. Because I have people close by who need my attention more. What I am responsible for is not so much what happens out there, but what happens in my local church and within the various communities I associate with. I am required to love and serve those whom I am closest with differently than those who are far off. So if there is someone in need within my local congregation, or within one of the groups I’m a part of (our homeschool co-op, for example), I have a greater sense of obligation to address that need. If I become aware of a pattern of behavior that is concerning, I need to say something in the appropriate way. If I’m aware of a crime being committed, I am obligated to report it.

3. Because it can lead me to despair. There is no shortage of bad news out there—no shortage of controversies, abuses of authority, violence and all the other evidences of humanity’s desperately wicked state. Knowing about the ugly things that are happening in other congregations, other communities and other nations doesn’t add a sense of urgency to the call to love and serve others, or tell me anything I didn’t already know. It’s just more.

4. Because it tempts me to become even more distrustful. Many who report on abuse issues within the church have been severely harmed by an experience in a local congregation they were once a part of. And my fear is that for some, confusion has found a foothold, and authority exercised by a godly individual is seen as authoritarianism.

I’ve got to be honest: I’m already distrustful of some of the leaders God has placed over me, some with more reason than others. But what I find myself needing to do more and more is praying for those leaders, rather than trying to parse the meaning of every word they use, attempting to find some hidden meaning or a message between the lines. I want to be lead by people that are worth following, and the only way for that to happen is for God to be at work in them. And if I am not praying for them, what does it say about what I think about them?

5. It tempts me to put myself in the place of God. The truth is, none of us know the full story of what goes on in any given scandal. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care, but it does mean we need to be cautious. When I judge too quickly, I often find myself thinking as though I am standing in for God, and therefore capable of rendering a sound and infallible judgment. And a lot of the time, I’m completely and totally wrong. That isn’t to say that wrong isn’t wrong or sin isn’t sin (far from it!)—it’s just that we ought to be very careful about what we put out there in our outrage. There are certain things you say that you can never come back from. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in this regard, and I’m not eager to repeat them.

So getting back to the question at hand: how much mental bandwidth should we give controversy that doesn’t directly affect us? Speaking only for myself, only as much as my conscience allows—and only in so far as it doesn’t become a distraction to loving and serving those with whom I am in relationship. For most, that means almost none. For some, it means a great deal of attention. But for all, it means learning when to say “when” so that I don’t neglect the things that are most important.

Four guidelines for literary evangelists

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For my apologetics and outreach course, I’ve been reading Michael Green’s Evangelism in the Early Church, which is a wonderful study of the evangelistic practices of Christians during our first three centuries of existence (even if it’s got a couple of points I’d question). But in it, there is something deeply troubling. It’s not one of the author’s views; rather, it’s the author’s assessment of the work of the Apologists of the second century.

In the earlier generation, such what we find in the work of Luke, there is a deep desire to persuade people of the truth, and to do so in a way that is “loving, tactful,” and “subtle.” (352). However, Green notes a marked turn in the character of the Apologists. Where once Christian literary evangelism was in the spirit of Luke, something ugly had crept in. And though they desired their readers to come to know Christ, “the tone in which the writing had been couched would have effectively stood in the way of such an outcome” (351-352).

You understand why this is troubling, I hope.

Reading this hurt a little bit, not because I disagree, but because I can see it’s still a problem today. I’ve seen how easy it is to fall into this trap. In less than thoughtful moments, I’ve certainly been guilty of doing so. And I’m tired of that. I’m tired of Christians arrogantly running around as “jerks for Jesus”—being apparently so concerned for the faith, all the while failing to use words that reflect it. I’m tired of it, again, because I recognize how easily I can fall into this pattern of thinking and writing. But when we act in this fashion, it doesn’t win people to Christ—it pushes them away from the truth.

This has been weighing heavily as I consider how to respond to a very serious issue in my home province, one that’s got a lot of people riled up to the point that there’s nothing but angry rhetoric coming from either side. (And for that reason alone I’ve shied away from any public commentary at this point.) However, in watching it both sides have at it, it makes me consider how to best address any controversial issue. Here are a few guidelines that may help:

First, understand the issue firsthand, as best as you are able. Don’t rely on commentary from others.

Second, determine what issues are truly matters of first importance. We should always discuss secondary matters civilly, and likewise we should always affirm whatever is good and true in any circumstance (for if it is true, it belongs to God).

Third, pray for wisdom and clarity. More often than not, we put our feet in our mouths because we are rash with our words, or we overlook an important point in our opposition’s argument. However, God will not leave us in the lurch if we are faithful to ask for his help in communicating well.

Finally, seek to be truly evangelistic in my approach. I’m not interested in winning an argument (as much fun as that may be); I want to win the person reading. Fiery rhetoric and angry polemics won’t do this. Genuine love and compassion for the people involved in any given issue, however, just might.

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today is also $5 Friday at Ligonier Ministries where you’ll find a number of great resources on sale, including:

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A Biblical Theology of the Trees of the Garden

Nick Batzig:

At the outset of the biblical record, two trees stood at the center of the God’s covenantal dealing with man–the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. Far from being mythological concepts, these trees were–in a very real sense–just like any other trees in the Garden. God did not invest these trees with magical power to confer something out of their own resources, ex opere operato,  to our first father; rather He set them apart to represent a reality beyond themselves and to stand in the place of that for which they had become symbols. Like baptism and the Lord’s Supper the two trees were sacramental. They pointed to a reality beyond themselves. Though they had no power within themselves to confer anything, nevertheless, God had so invested them with spiritual meaning so that the covenantal arrangement into which He entered with Adam was signified and sealed with these trees. Their significance cannot be underestimated. They can only now be explained in light of a third tree–the cross on which our Lord Jesus died. The cross is both the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. Jesus restores what Adam lost both with regard to moral uprightness and with regard to life. Consider the following biblical-theological aspects of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life.

7 Millennial Traits That Baby Boomers Need to Learn

Baby boomers took over the workforce when they came of age, and made a huge impact. It comes of no surprise that they raised their children, the next generation of the workforce, to do the same. Now millennials are flooding into corporate America, and many baby boomer managers, entrepreneurs and leaders are re-evaluating what it means to be a millennial–what their needs and passions are.

Below are seven traits that most millennials have that baby boomer employers should keep in mind.

Hatred & Heresy: Why Words Matter

Aaron Earls:

But if I have spent years yelling “Wolf!” and pointing at every sheep that has a spot of dirt on it, no one will listen if I call out an actual theological wolf attempts to devour the flock. I’ve bargained away the trust others have in me for a temporary advantage in online debates.

So how can we fix it? What can be done to change the tone of discussion across social media and blogs?

Church Splits

Tom Ascol:

When an atom is split, its overall mass is reduced and a tremendous amount of energy is released. The results, graphically demonstrated by the two atomic bombs that ended World War II, can be massively destructive, with effects that linger for generations.

The reactions that result from atom splits have their counterparts in the spiritual realm with church splits. When a congregation experiences division, the consequences are often devastating, widespread, and long lasting.

Three things I’d like to see in the Christian blogosphere in 2015

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Over the last few years, I’ve developed a bit of a tradition: thinking about a few things I’d like to see in this strange corner of the Internet known as the Christian blogosphere each year (here’s a look at the 20122013 and 2014 editions). For me, this is somewhat therapeutic—and not in the “venting about all the things that grind my gears” sense. For me, it’s a chance to look back and consider where bloggers–particularly me—can grow and change as we represent Jesus on the Interwebs.

Here are three things I’d like to see (and am hoping to do) this year:

1. Fewer blind eyes turned to serious issues. This is a strange one for me to include, since I’m not a fan of chasing controversy. But one of the reasons controversies happen in the first place—at least to some degree—is because people are silent. As the curious ethical decisions and/or compromises of many Christian-famous types continue to come to light (see, for example, Christianity Today’s recent piece on buying your way onto bestsellers’ lists), my encouragement would be that we not shut down discussion, ignore or turn a blind eye. Instead, we should actually wrestle with the issues being raised—and talk about them.

 

2. More admonishing with tears. However, even as we do speak up about problems, we must avoid seeming prideful and arrogant in how we address them. Ad hominems should not be known among us. Instead, we should model ourselves after Paul, who wept for those he warned. Where I feel compelled to offer correction or speak up on an issue, I want to do so in a way that makes it clear that I’m doing so out of great concern for those involved.

3. Write like you like writing. If you’re a blogger, I’d hope it’s because you do it for a really good reason… like because you enjoy writing. It’s easy to get overly concerned with figuring out how to drive traffic to your website; but the problem with getting overly concerned about numbers is it’s easy to start caring more about traffic than writing content you care about. (I’m especially talking to myself here.) Don’t worry about finding the perfect formula, or the right combination of times when to tweet a link or update Facebook, or whether or not you’re SEO-ing hard enough. Write something you like. Something that matters to you. Play. Have fun. Write like you like writing, and let the Lord sort out the rest.

That’s what I’m hoping to see in the months ahead—and what I’m going to be trying to do. What about you?

Should you separate the message from its messenger?

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Maybe I’m too cynical for my own good.

I’ve been wrestling with an article written by one of America’s more abrasive mega-church leaders on how the best pastors, like the best athletes, are the ones who aren’t afraid to take a hit. Taken on its own, it’s certainly a fair enough encouragement. But at the same time, whenever I see the name of this person show up on a blog or on Twitter or…  well, anywhere for that matter, it’s rarely in connection with anything godly or virtuous (though perhaps that simply means I’m following the wrong people).

And this brings me to my struggle: should we separate a half-decent encouragement from its author’s ministry? More pointedly, is this even possible—can our content stand alone, or do we need to pay more careful attention to the context from which the message stems?

When I think about pastors embroiled in controversy, I can think of no better example than the apostle Paul. Wherever he went, he was dogged by groups of false teachers determined to subvert his teaching and turn people away from his message. In Corinth, so-called super apostles questioned his ministry and turned the people away from Paul. And being maligned, Paul—though he called himself a fool for doing so—defended himself (2 Corinthians 10-11).

But what was strong about his defence was what he ultimately pointed to. He didn’t simply encourage the Corinthians to look at the fruit of his ministry, though he could have. He didn’t tell them to consider his teaching. He told them to look at how he conducted himself in ministry—his humble disposition and his refraining from taking financial support from them so that it would not be a stumbling block.

You could look at Paul himself—not the results of his work, but the man—and discern whether or not the criticism he faced was valid.

I’ll be honest: I don’t see that with a lot of modern church leaders. There doesn’t seem to be a willingness to open their lives, and to ask people to verify for themselves. To test the messenger, as well as the message. Instead, when controversy comes, it seems most often to be met with claims of unjust criticism.

And this is where the struggle comes in for me. Even when the message is fine taken on its own, how much should the author’s own baggage factor into how we interpret it? I tend to struggle to be able to easily separate the two. When I read warnings of unjust criticism from those whose names only ever come up in the context of controversy, to me, it seems a bit disingenuous.

But should it? Is it fair to wonder what prompted an author’s words, or to potentially second-guess them—or is it a sign that I, as a reader, am simply too cynical?

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Hate to fly? It’s your own fault

This article presents an interesting point.

5 Ways to Love (or Hate) the Church Nursery Workers

Aaron Earls:

Look, let’s be honest. If there is anyone at church who deserves all of our respect, appreciation and perhaps hazard pay, it’s nursery workers.

There are times when I drop off my two year old and yell, “I’m sorry! Good luck!” as I run off to a nice, peaceful (adult) small group time.

Despite nursery workers’ value and obvious sacrificial love for the church body, we parents often don’t help matters when it comes to creating a smooth experience in the nursery.

Would Jesus buy his way onto a bestseller list?

Jackson Dame responding to Christianity Today’s piece debating the merits of the practice.

What to Say to Church Members Leaving for Bad Reasons

Jonathan Leeman:

There are better and worse reasons to leave a church. Are you moving to another city? That’s a good reason. Are you harboring bitterness toward someone who has offended you? That’s a bad reason. Does the church neglect to preach biblical sermons weekly? Good reason. Don’t like the church’s style? Probably a bad one.

So how should you respond to a fellow member who is leaving for what sounds like a bad reason?

Is The Bible Too Complicated For Those Who Struggle To Read?

Adam Prime:

Is the Bible only for the professors, the boffins, the academics, and the geeks? Is it only for John Owen and not for Andy Prime? Is it only for the preachers and not for church members? Is it only for the middle class? Can it be for the schemes in my neighborhood or the slums in yours? Is it too difficult? Is it beyond the reach or normal people, and only for a select few?

What to Do When Someone Is Wrong on the Internet

Mike Leake offers some good thoughts here.

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Why I Repented from Twitter Following Everyone

Joey Cochran:

One sunny day in March I woke up and decided to follow everyone on Twitter. I’d like to think that I had no real reason to do it, but if I’m honest the stunt was stimulated from the base desire of wanting more followers. It was shallow. I wasn’t going to buy them because that’s just crazy. But I thought, maybe if I followed a bunch of people, they’d just follow me back. I justified it by calling the following act a wave. I told myself: “You know what, I’m gonna wave to everyone in Twitterdom, and see who waves back.”

The Case for Face to Face Meetings

Erik Raymond:

Technological advancements have made communication much easier. We can email, text, instant message, call, or Skype. While this makes meeting easier it does not necessarily make it better. As Christians we should endeavor to be loving in everything we do. This requires thoughtful intentionality when considering the medium for communicating information. Ease must never trump love.

In my experience, particularly in pastoral ministry, the preferred format for meetings is face to face. If there is ever a potential to be misunderstood or if the subject matter is wired with emotion then a face to face meeting is nearly essential.

Is Open Theism Still an Issue?

Jeff Robinson:

Much has changed since members of ETS wrestled with open theism more than a decade ago. You will not find papers in defense of open theism being read in seminars at ETS today. Books are less likely to emerge from evangelical publishing houses to debate the merits or demerits of this theology over against the classical Christian view of God. Instead, open theism mainly finds its voice through more popular means. A quick internet search reveals numerous blogs written by pastors and laypersons espousing open theism. Open theism today makes its case not so much through books and refereed scholarly journals, but through the mostly unfiltered voice of the blogosphere.

“You are cured of MS!”

David Murray shares the testimony of Gary Timmer, whose son Trent was diagnosed with MS in 2012.

It’s a dance-off!

Imagine if this had been the ending to Guardians of the Galaxy:

HT: Aaron

Why we become deaf to the warning cries

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Whenever a controversy erupts, you’ll always find a group of people who, when everyone else finally realizes there was a problem, are saying, “We’ve been saying it for years!”

And it’s true. They have been saying it for years. There’s no question about it. There have been many—many—people who were warning about Mark Driscoll, for example. Notably among them were John MacArthur and many of his followers such as the Team Pyro folks.

So why didn’t we listen?

I wonder if the reason is two-fold:

The first reason is many of us choose to not hear. Honestly, when a church leader appears to be being used by God in a pretty powerful way, it’s tempting to just shut down any negative criticism with a slightly patronizing, “But look how God is using him”. Which is completely stupid, of course, but it’s true. Many folks did this with Mark Driscoll (something I admitted to). Many did it with Rob Bell, too. Many still do it with Steven Furtick, and Perry Noble, and Joel Osteen, and TD Jakes, and…

We need to not just look to (dubious) fruit as a reason to excuse  un- or anti-Christian conduct, character or creeds. When there are warning signs, we need to pay attention and we need to take them seriously.

The second is that many of those voices raising alarm only raise alarm. I remember attending an event in 2011 during which the alarm was raised a great deal over the seep of paganism into the church. During the final Q&A session of the event, one of the attendees said something to the effect of, “We’ve heard a lot about the dark, and this has been a real wake-up call… but what about the light?”

The truth is, we need both light and heat1. The alarm needs to be raised over false teaching, abuses of power and actions and attitudes that bring reproach to the name of Christ—we need to offer reproof in those instances.

But we are also called to encourage, to build up and edify the body of Christ. There needs to be a balance, of the sort you see in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation. There, when addressing each church, Jesus offers specific commendation to five of the seven churches (Sardis and Laodicea being the two exceptions), before offering any rebuke. Jesus shone light on their sin, but also on their good works. If all we say is a constant stream of warning, we risk becoming clanging symbols that deafen those we wish to persuade.

Five opportunities to glorify God in Mark Driscoll’s resignation

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So… Mark Driscoll resigned.

There’s a lot that could be said about this, and undoubtedly much will be. Some of it will be helpful, some of it will be… less so. Hopefully this will be the former, and not the latter.

In all honesty, I’m very glad that Driscoll is out of ministry. After years of controversy, and in recent months the unceasing barrage of issues coming to light—including plagiarism, financial mismanagement at Mars Hill and a pattern of abusive behavior—this needed to happen, for the good of the people who have been hurt, for the people at Mars Hill and for Driscoll himself.

And while, undoubtedly, there are going to be some who will read his resignation and point out some of the troubling aspects (including his not being found disqualified despite being disqualified by his “domineering style of leadership,” [1 Peter 5:3]), I would love to focus on five opportunities to glorify God arising from this:

The opportunity for Mars Hill Church

Mars Hill’s at a crossroads: if the church is all about Jesus, now’s the time to prove it. The best place to start? Honestly evaluating their structure.

The model they’ve been running on—with an outside board of accountability—simply doesn’t work, nor is it biblical. If they’re serious about getting healthy, they need to put in place a model of governance where every leader really is one vote at the table, and are held to account. They need to become autonomous churches with elders who are biblically qualified and capable of preaching the Word.

They need to not be what they’ve been for the better part of the last decade if they’re serious about getting healthy and continuing on with Jesus’ mission to make disciples of all the nations. If that can happen, I believe God will be glorified.

If not, then it’s time to turn off the lights and shut the doors.

The opportunity for Mark Driscoll

Mark Driscoll is also at a crossroads. The pattern of public behavior we’ve all witnessed over the last several months have shown us what can happen when a man with natural ability but lacking in spiritual maturity puts himself in a position of great authority. One cannot escape from such a scenario unscathed.

While he says he was not disqualified by the investigation (and really, did anyone expect him to be), one thing is unquestionably clear in all of this: he desperately needs help. Driscoll desperately needs to do some real soul searching and ask himself hard, honest questions: How did things get this bad? Is he seeing his own role in this drama correctly? What would God have him do going forward.

And although, I’m glad he says in his resignation that he and Grace will be receiving support and counsel from men and women across the country, he needs something else: to be a member in a local church. He needs to be under the authority of someone (or rather, multiple someones) for the first time in his adult life.

To be perfectly honest, my hope for Mark Driscoll is that he stays far away from the spotlight and far away from ministry for a long, long time. He’s got serious issues that need to be worked out. The best place for him to do that is as a member of a local church, not as a leader in one. If that can happen, I believe God will be glorified.

The opportunity for those injured

For those who have been injured over the years at Mars Hill, I’m not certain the news offers much comfort. Some, understandably, had hoped to see him disqualified and fired. Instead, he’s resigned of his own accord.

Regardless, he’s gone. Whether the church stands or falls remains to be seen. This is an opportunity to be at peace and heal, even if the way the end came about isn’t the way they’d hoped. If that can happen, I believe God will be glorified.

The opportunity for those on the sidelines

Finally, those of us on the sidelines have a number of choices to make. Some have made their reputations blogging about these sorts of controversies (to varying degrees of helpfulness). For these bloggers, their work is more or less done, at least as far as the negative side of these events is concerned. My hope for them is they’ll be able to focus on what is good and pure and true, and celebrate what God inevitably does out of this situation.

Some bloggers have chosen to be silent about these sorts of issues in general and this one in particular. Sometimes it’s for good reasons, such as not having anything to say or not wanting to be accused of chasing controversies. I don’t really have an issue with that. But my hope for all of us— particularly those of us who claim to be “gospel-centered”— would be an increased willingness to confront evil, especially when it appears in our own houses. We should be willing to decisively condemn such practices. If that can happen, I believe God will be glorified.

The final opportunity

Finally, we all have one final opportunity to glorify God in this, and that is to pray. We need to pray for God’s will to continue to be done in the lives of all who have been affected by the drama at Mars Hill Church over the last several months and years.

  • That those who have been injured would find peace.
  • That humility would reign in the hearts of the remaining leaders at Mars Hill as they choose how to move forward.
  • That God would truly break Mark Driscoll’s heart in a new way so he can be closer to God as he says he desires to be.
  • That we wouldn’t just wait for the next rockstar megachurch pastor to implode, but would pray that God would cut through the garbage they’ve surrounded themselves with.
  • That we would put our houses in order and not sacrifice people and mission on the altar of celebrity.

If we can pray for those things, I believe God will be glorified.

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The First Court of Controversy

Joey Cochran:

You never win in court unless you’re really not-guilty. And who in court is? Really, we’re all guilty of something. It just may not be what we’re actually on trial for. You’ll get what I’m getting at soon enough.

Mansfield’s a lot like Eden; it has all the makings of controversy: disagreement, differing perspectives, and someone wins. The black gown always wins. Though this was my first ticket, it wasn’t my first trial. Despite what you might think.

Cut

Lore Ferguson:

It has been a strange dichotomy for me. Before 2010 I lived most of my life perpetually mistrustful of God, with a brooding anger at him. Since 2010, though, his goodness and prevailing trustworthiness has been steadfast and immovable. I have never known anything like it and still am in awe of what a constant God he is when not encumbered by the caricatures and Sunday School stories we make him out to be like. 2014, though, has been a year where I have seen my glaring disappointments and failures front and center. If there were places of pride in my life and heart, places I thought on the brink of full sanctification, this year has wrecked every one of them.

 

Saeed Abedini’s Letter to His Daughter on Her 8th Birthday

Trevin Wax shares a very moving letter.

Be Yourself in Prayer

Stephen Miller:

Sometimes it seems as if many believers feel the need to alter who they are when they come to God in prayer, particularly when others are around. As if God will not hear them if they are themselves, they play characters, hoping to be more acceptable to God and others.

I have personally struggled over the years with what to say and how to say it when I pray. I’m in good company. Even the apostles asked Jesus to teach them to pray. And with kind, compassionate patience in his voice, he taught them to pray simply, humbly, confidently, according to God’s word, and for God’s glory.

You could sum up Jesus’s teaching into a few guiding principles.

How To Listen To Sermons

Jeff Medders:

Many Christians on Sunday mornings are hearing sermons, but they aren’t listening to them.

Hearing and listening aren’t the same thing.

I can hear music playing in the background and not be listening to its message.

I learned the difference working at Starbucks while going to Bible college. I could hear blenders, customers, music, cars, and coffee being ground—but it was vital that I listened to the orders coming through my headset. I could hear all kinds of things, but I was listening for one thing.

Listen to sermons. Do more than hear them.

What we get wrong about church discipline

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Over the last few years, we’ve seen a number of stories come to light about evangelical churches practicing “shunning” as part of church discipline. This typically happens as part of the final stage of church discipline, when a congregation member persists in unrepentant sin is excommunicated—and then cut off socially, with friends (and sometimes family!) actively distancing themselves socially.

And herein lies the problem.

The key passages on church discipline

There are a few key passages of the New Testament that describe church discipline, the most famous being Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:9-13:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

The first deals with personal sin in general, while the second deals explicitly with sexual immorality (specifically, a church member who was having [a possibly incestuous, but regardless incredibly icky] adultery with his father’s wife).

There is a simple point here: habitual, unrepentant sin in all its forms should not associated with the people of God. Whether someone is a perpetual gossip, slanderer, malcontent, fornicator or adulterer, these things should not be known of among us, at least, not if we are to be people who are above reproach.

About the gentile and the tax collector…

But notice, something else, something very important that we see in Matthew 18:17: “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

What Jesus says here is what is so often missed in our approach to church discipline (or more correctly, in the approaches of certain mega-churches): we forget that we have an active role to play in the offender’s restoration. We are called to pursue them with the gospel.

Before going further, I want to be 100 per cent clear: I am absolutely for church discipline, provided the way we handle it is biblical.

So consider Jesus for a moment. During His earthly ministry, we find numerous occasions where Jesus commends the Gentile’s faith, rather than the Israelite’s. Among them, the Syrophonecian woman (Mark 7:24-30), the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-45), and the official at Capernum (John 4:46-54). And among the tax collectors, we see no less than two breathtaking examples of repentance, including the apostle Matthew (9:9-13), and Zaccheus (Luke 19:1-10). In both instances, Jesus makes it very clear: His mission is to seek and save the lost. He does not pursue the righteous but sinners to repentance.

In other words, in church discipline we are to treat unrepentant offenders as though they are not believers. Which necessarily means we are called to share the gospel with them. 

Restorative and evangelistic1

And yet, it seems we’ve forgotten this. Instead of pursuing those who have been “handed over to Satan” with the gospel, we entirely ostracize them. We are right to not permit them to serve in the church, to bar them from taking communion and no longer recognize their profession of faith as genuine until proven otherwise. But, we may go further in our application of this than Scripture does in the way many churches cut off contact.

Again, to be clear: we must be absolutely committed to the purity of the Church. All who continually besmirch the name of Christ through their ongoing, unrepentant sin should be dealt with appropriately. But we still face a tension: without compromising the purity of the body, we need to consider how we pursue these people evangelistically.

Yes, they are to be cut off from fellowship, as Paul says—but we also need to show fearful mercy to someone continues in sin, even as we carefully protect the purity of the Church—we are called to both reprove and exhort. We tear down pride with the Word and build up in humility. This is what Jude stresses in the final verses of his epistle when he writes, “have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 22-23).

Thwarting the schemes of the devil

We are not alone in our goofing on this. It seems the Corinthians fell into the same trap. Prior to writing 2 Corinthians, word came to Paul that while the church had, largely, repented of their rebellion against Paul and apostolic teaching, they had not reconciled with the one who was responsible for the rebellion. And so, Paul encouraged them to forgive and be reconciled.

Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (2 Corinthians 2:5-11)

“Reaffirm your love for him,” he wrote, “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan.” There is nothing the devil loves more than to mar the name of the church. And when we handle discipline wrongly—when we fail to pursue those who persist in unrepentant sin with the gospel and welcome those who have turned away from their sin back—we are undone. The devil “wins”.

So yes, let’s practice church discipline, biblically. Let’s also make sure our practice includes the earnest pursuit of those in sin with the gospel, so that they might come to repentance and fellowship can be restored.

 

How now shall we act online?

A while back, I had the opportunity to sit down with my friends Dan Darling and Derek Rishmawy to discuss how Christians should approach using social media and engaging online conversations (and controversy) in a Christlike manner:

Thanks to Dan and all the folks at the ERLC for the opportunity to be a part of the conversation!

Links I like

eBook deals for Christian readers

The Pastor’s Kid by Barnabas Piper is $3.99 for the Kindle. Meanwhile, over at Westminster Bookstore, you can get any of P&R’s eBook titles for $1.99 each until September 6th. Here are a few you might want to consider:

Ruined by the Bell

Richard Clark:

Zack served not only as the central protagonist in the series, but also as the primary communicator with the audience. He had a habit of breaking the fourth wall, explaining the insane inner workings of the high school to the audience. And, while all of the other characters maintain a cartoonish and unthinking stereotype, Zack exhibits his ability to indulge in shallow self-awareness. Essentially, Zack seems keenly aware of the startling fact of his existence: he lives in his own television show.

8 Questions To Help Guard Your Heart

Mark Altrogge:

…we must pay attention to what is going into and coming out of our hearts. We must watch what we’re thinking. This doesn’t mean we should become self-absorbed or become overly introspective or constantly be thinking about ourselves. But we should be aware of our thoughts because our mindset affects our life. Here are seven questions we can ask ourselves to see how we are keeping our hearts.

Controversy: What Is It?

Joey Cochran:

But rarely do people ever step back and think about the very nature of controversies themselves. What are they? What makes them what they are? How are they resolved? Why do we never seem to get away from them? Is controversy all bad? What are the advantages to controversy? These are some of the question that I hope to answer over the course of time.

This Was Not My Plan

Courtney Reissig:

We had been in Little Rock for more than a year, having moved to plant a church with another couple from seminary. Because of the nature of a church plant, my husband took a corporate job. He was bivocational with the intent of going on church staff once we settled our school debt and the church could pay him.

In that first year and a half of working, though, he started noticing something about himself and his job. Others noticed it, too. He liked sales, and sales seemed to like him. His “day job”—which started as a means to a ministerial end—had suddenly become the end in itself.

Hearing that the trajectory of our lives might change, though, was unsettling for me. When he asked, “What if I am meant to do this forever?” all I heard was, “You will forever be alone with twins while I travel with my job.” I panicked. This was not how I envisioned my life.

Even now, the Lord is betrayed

spurgeon

Just now, the Lord Jesus is betrayed by not a few of His professed ministers. He is being crucified afresh in the perpetual attacks of skepticism against His blessed gospel; and it may be that things will wax worse and worse. This is not the first occasion when it has been so, for, at various times in the history of the Church of God, His enemies have exulted, and cried out that the gospel of past ages was exploded, and might be reckoned as dead and buried. For one, I mean to sit over against the very sepulchre of truth. I am a disciple of the old-fashioned doctrine as much when it is covered with obloquy and rebuke as when it shall again display its power, as it surely shall. Skeptics may seem to take the truth, and bind it, and scourge it, and crucify it, and say that it is dead; and they may endeavour to bury it in scorn, but the Lord has many a Joseph and a Nicodemus who will see that all due honour is done even to the body of truth, and will wrap the despised creed in sweet spices, and hide it away in their hearts. They may, perhaps, be half afraid that it is really dead, as the wise men assert; yet it is precious to their souls, and they will come forth right gladly to espouse its cause, and to confess that they are its disciples. We will sit down in sorrow, but not in despair; and watch until the stone is rolled away, and Christ in His truth shall live again, and be openly triumphant. We shall see a Divine interposition, and shall cease to fear; while they who stand armed to prevent the resurrection of the grand old doctrine shall quake and become as dead men, because the gospel’s everlasting life has been vindicated, and they are made to quail before the brightness of its glory.

C. H. Spurgeon, in a sermon at Metropolitan Tabernacle, 1878, (as quoted in C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, vol. 4, 253)