genuine repentance

See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.

2 Corinthians 7:11

This point is made to the church, not to any one individual. Yet it is the appropriate response to sin in both the church and an individual.

Of course confession of sin is at the forefront, but one needs to be sorry as well, not about the consequences, but about the sin itself.

Repentance means a change of mind, heart and life. It involves turning from that sin to God. The godly sorrow Paul mentions here, evident in the church at Corinth in dealing with sin in their midst is important, indeed necessary for change. We have to sorrow over our sin, or over the sin of others to be truly repentant. Of course we need to see to ourselves; we can’t be responsible for the behavior of others. At the same time the church is responsible to hold a sinner accountable, to help them toward forgiveness of sin and restoration.

The deep seated desire for change is part and parcel of God’s grace at work in our lives, or in our churches. Grace too often is viewed as passive, that we simply receive God’s gift and that’s that. But the reception of that gift brings not only forgiveness of our sins, but a new life. We may possibly fall into serious sin along the way, but God’s grace will give us the wherewithal to not only hate and renounce our sin, but change over time, so that we over and over put the stops on to be sure it doesn’t happen again. But no one should think that just because they’ve been through that, with a thorough repentance, that it couldn’t happen again. So we must beware.

But back to the point of the text and this post: This begins by taking sin seriously. Not excusing it for any reason at all, certainly not sweeping it under the rug and forgetting about it. No. A sign that we are experiencing the godly sorrow which leads to repentance is that we’re indeed worked up over it and intent on day to day change, confirmed over time in real life. In and through Jesus.

my own take on whether a fallen pastor/Christian leader can be reinstated

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

…God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.

Romans 11:29

Lately we’ve had a spate of Christian leaders actually leaving the faith, and right along there are examples of Christian leaders failing morally or in some other way. There’s no question that the qualifications for Christian leaders is high (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). Their lives are to be an example to the church they serve.

But what if ordained leaders such as pastors fail? I’ve gone back and forth on this one myself. I mostly have believed, given the right discipline by the church which would include a significant time out of the ministry that yes, they can be restored and reinstated. It is one thing to repent; another to actually change (Psalm 51).

Of course such need to repent, and reform their lives, and use the gift God has given them for the good of the church and for others. I think when people do that, provided they remain on the straight and narrow, they’re still open to receiving the prize the Apostle Paul mentions in the 1 Corinthians passage above.

I personally would include ordained ministry in that as well. What God gifts to be a blessing should be recognized by the church as such. Yes, the failure is always a mark left which cannot be blotted out. But by God’s grace there can always be full reinstatement as long as there’s repentance and change over time. The church, and especially the leadership of the church needs to be in charge of that.

I believe it is nothing less than a ploy of the devil for a leader to think that their ministry is ruined after they fall. At the same time, anyone who is tempted needs to grab themselves and take every measure possible to counter that temptation. Anyone who sins causes a world of hurt to their family and to the church, as well as to themselves. And you don’t just step out of the nightmare overnight. Though to think one can’t repent and be restored and reinstated over time is I think again a deception of the devil.

In the end, we need to all watch ourselves, as well as our faith in both belief and conduct. So that as we learn to follow our Lord more closely, others can follow our example. And for those who have fallen, that there may be hope for others who fail as people see that the repentance and change of life is genuine. In and through Jesus.

the opinion/knowing that matters

This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

1 Corinthians 4:1-5

I think it’s wise when a church does not rush into judgments “where angels fear to tread.” At the same time the church does have responsibility to make judgments on cases involving sin which violate covenant faithfulness. We see that in this same letter, soon following this passage (5:1-13). So this passage has nothing at all to do with that.

What Paul was getting at here is judgment of the heart: the motives, why people, specifically in this case Christian leaders do what they do. Whether it’s for the glory of God, out of love for God and for others. And that standard was not just for leaders, though they were to exemplify it.

The older I get, the less trusting I am of either my own motives, or my ability to judge them. It has been well said, people have mixed motives for what they do. Some may be good, some not as good, and some even bad. It it’s to call any attention to ourselves, or somehow to make us think we’re better than others, than of course it’s no good. I am skeptical of the idea that whenever we do something, it is bound to have mixed motives. I’m not sure that’s sound Biblically and theologically. By grace it seems to me that we can do something out of sheer love. But in the end I would go where Paul goes in this passage. I can’t judge the heart on any particular instance. Only God can do that.

Sometimes I do need some straightening out along the way. That can come indirectly through others, and always directly from the Lord through the convicting, convincing work of the Holy Spirit. Often though for me, I’m muddling along in the messiness of life, aware of perceived deficiencies, sometimes seeming to crush me in a kind of condemning way, a sure sign that God is nowhere near such a judgment.

Anything like that we need to let go of. Realizing that in the end it’s God who will make the final judgment, and in the meantime will help us along the way. The bottom line is that we need to trust in God. Sometimes in this life someone like a needed surgeon, can help us discern issues underneath the surface which are harmful to us, and likely to others (Proverbs 20:5).

In the end, it’s God who makes all the final judgments. And note that then, each person will receive praise from God. Not condemnation at all, nor even censure. The text says, praise from God. We can’t make an argument from silence, but this is encouraging. I take it that the Father will want to sound that note for each of his children, when it’s all said and done.

Does this thought lend itself to carelessness? I surely hope not. God’s grace is at work in our lives to give us a heart to follow him in love and service for others. In and through Jesus.

self-control, or self in control

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

It’s important to consider context. What precedes has some significance to this passage, but what follows seems to have more bearing: warnings from Israel’s past in failing: testing God, idolatry, and sexual immorality. We downplay the importance of all of Scripture to our own hurt. Paul certainly makes that clear here, as well as in other places.

Part of being faithful in following Christ is to exert self-discipline even in a ruthless, non-compromising way. Sometimes people who emphasize God’s grace, as all of us Christians should, make much out of how we’re not to do anything, but just rest. Yes, we’re to learn to rest in faith for sure, but grace does not at all exclude effort on our part. We’re even told in Hebrews to make every effort to enter into God’s rest. Paul is certainly talking about effort here.

Sometimes it seems for one reason or another, maybe for many reasons there’s not a thing we can do, that we’re past the end of our rope, and there’s no use even trying. We’re in danger then of crashing, or more likely, gradually drifting before the crash comes. Those are the times when we especially need to take heed and discipline ourselves in the way of the Lord, and to fulfill God’s calling for our life. Our goal must be to make this self-discipline a part of who we are. With the goal in the end of somehow by God’s grace hearing Christ’s affirmation: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

But what if we’ve already failed? Of course it all depends on the specifics and to what degree. But take the worse case scenario. Of course consequences will follow. Certainly people have to wrestle through what they otherwise would have avoided. Confession of sin, repentance, where need be- restitution, change of life over a period of time, and reconciliation as much as possible. And all of this within the fellowship and oversight of the church, led by wise leadership.

Unfortunately that seems an exception to the rule. People ordinarily end up on their own, the church doing little or nothing to help them. Surely if such happens after people are ordained into ministry, it’s different, but too often there doesn’t seem to be sufficient means in place for restoration. So people are on their own. This is another subject, and a good reminder of part of why it’s vitally important to avoid all of this in the first place.

At any rate, regardless, this should be our goal: to follow Christ faithfully to the end, a part of that self-control over our bodily passions, so that we might avoid great transgression (Psalm 51), and fulfill the calling God gives us, to be faithful witnesses in word, deed, and especially life of God’s good news in Jesus.

 

we hate all the hate that has been directed against African Americans and is still latent

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Romans 12:9

Last night I heard a documentary on the brutal hate murder of a fourteen year old boy, Emmett Till. Instead of brushing off the past as the past, we need to understand how it impacts the present, but more importantly, we need to own up to our own responsibility in a more or less willful ignorance and at least not a listening ear and heart to  understand the plight of others.

Latent racism is a fact of life. It’s everywhere, period. While there’s hate on all sides, those who perpetrated the problem are the ones that need to take the brunt of responsibility. Victims who react in hate are responsible, too, but must necessarily be held to a different standard. We honor the many victims who have been hurt and are in justifiable anger, but are ready for a good solution short of any violence, except for the righteous plea for justice.

Any association with organizations having any tie whatsoever with racial hate groups is to be judged in the church as sin. So that if a member is part of any such group, they must be confronted and disciplined if need be. Hopefully they will see fit to first of all repent of this sin, and to sever any such tie, but if not, the church should remove their membership, and appeal to them as someone outside the faith.

I live in a northern city with plenty of churches, but those whose feet are on the ground, and not only African Americans make it clear that systemic racism is alive and at least active here. It is considered a significantly racist area.

We as churches would do well to commit ourselves to having African Americans in places of leadership, including the pastorate. To have a good mix of leadership. That is what eventually can help the church be the witness to the power of the gospel in breaking down all divisions. Through the cross, Jesus broke down the wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles, and ultimately between everyone. Every human is God’s child by creation, so that we’re one family that way. Through Christ, we become one in him, reconciled to God and to each other. A love we’re to live out in down to earth ways, and with a sensitivity for the injustices which remain. As we wait together for our Lord’s return, when evil forever will be banished, and we’ll all live together in God’s love, in and through Jesus.

 

for an egalitarian ethic

Men and women are created in God’s image, in fact God’s image is not complete without one or the other. Humankind is made in the image of God, male and female, of course. But since the fall, man has ruled over women. And society by and large has reflected that, patriarchal in nature, the man ruling. When God’s kingdom comes in Jesus, I see the tables turned: women who all too often were under the heels of men having authority.

This is a debated issue, one on which good Christians disagree. The many friends and family I have who would hold to an ethic in which there is hierarchy: the man having authority over the woman, really don’t live it out much that way at all, if at all. It is usually an arrangement in which they both rule, in some cases it seems the woman gladly letting her man make some hard choice. But actually that is mutual. The woman often has her domain and the man, his. And more often than not, I think both weigh in on major decisions. Not unlike an egalitarian, or I would prefer the word (as I think Scot McKnight has said before) complementarian for  this position, although complementarian has been used for what has been called the soft patriarchal position, I just described. Practically speaking it has little or no difference with an egalitarian marriage or relationship in which all have rule or authority or place according to their gifting from God.

Of course this is a huge subject, and I could start working on it a bit to scratch the surface, providing links for any who want to explore further for themselves. But I want to call attention to what I think is an important blog post by Rachel Held Evans (thanks to Scot McKnight, for calling our attention to this this morning in your “Weekly Meanderings”). One that will be controversial, for sure, though I think she covers what needs to be said on the subject without at all suggesting that all who hold to and practice a patriarchal ethic fall into this darkness. It is entitled, Patriarchy and Abusive Churches. One quote from it:

My evangelical brothers and sisters, we have an abuse problem and we need to talk about it.  Talking about it does far less damage to Christ’s reputation in the world than covering it up.

Now obviously, abuse is a result of sin and no denomination or community is immune to sin’s effects, but we do see a trend in which most of the organizations facing scrutiny over abuse and sexual misconduct charges of late are characterized by authoritarian, patriarchal leadership and by cultures that routinely silence the voices of women.

So the point I want to make today is not that all who subscribe to patriarchy are abusive, but that patriarchy in a religious environment, just as in any environment, has a negative effect on the whole community and creates a cultural climate more susceptible to abuse than one characterized by mutuality and shared leadership between men and women.

Read it carefully, remembering that Evans is not saying that those who hold to the complementary patriarchal position are suspect at all. She is calling attention to something which I believe should be considered along with the sin that needs to be exposed according to the accountability called for in scripture.

shunning

The Amish practice shunning, which to them means not having any fellowship with those among them who depart from their tradition, their distinct practice of the faith. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he makes it clear that there is to be a strong discipline practiced to help unrepentant believers. In another passage he says that they are to be warned as those in family.

Unfortunately in our day extremes are practiced. People can go on from church to church with little to no accountability concerning ongoing sin issues in their lives. The church can’t help them, because they refuse any accountability. The high churches which are steeped in sacramentalism, are relegated to the sacrament of confession to a priest. The churches which reject that all but lose out on confession most of the time, until the sin arises and comes to a head, so that the unrepentant one is all but lost, whether or not they remain in the church.

How do we approach sin issues in our own life which may bring reproach on Christ’s body the church, as well as be destructive to ourselves and others? How do we approach the same in a brother or sister who may be close to us?

We need to look at ourselves first, and pray that God would uncover in us anything contrary to his will. We’re to cover over many sins, or pray for the one sinning, and confront when need be the sins of other brothers and sisters in Jesus. And we must hold to a balance of neither imagining that we in Jesus are without sin in this life, or that we must sin in everything we do. But there needs to be a commitment to accountability, if we’re to follow our Lord faithfully together in him. For the world.