evil in the church

It is bad enough when sins of leaders against women go unchecked in the church, or are not taken seriously enough. What’s even worse, dare I say far worse, is when children are sinned against by church leaders, yes sexually, and the evil is covered up, yes, by church leaders. Common sense is all that’s required here, but we have the strong words of Jesus telling us what he thought about that.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.”

Mark 9:42

The punishment of drowning with a heavy weight attached is extremely gruesome and reflects Jesus’ views concerning those who cause others who believe in him to sin.

NET Bible note

We grieve over all of this, particularly over such evil being done to children. Any church leader involved either in the act or cover up should  be punished. Ministers who did the evil should face all the criminal consequences. And church leaders who covered up the evil should lose their positions in the church.

Yes, the evil of pastors thinking they can get by with the mistreatment of women should likewise be judged. But this evil is even worse.

I hesitate to write on this, because the church involved is not of my tradition in the faith. But I think we have to speak out at times on issues, or else we become more or less complicit in the sin ourselves by our silence, at least in the eyes of the world. Lord have mercy.

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speaking against other believers unlawfully

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James 4:11-12

James has a lot to say about the tongue. This section follows, or perhaps (as NIV heading might suggest) is part of what preceded on submitting oneself to God, and one can see the possible connection with the opening thought on quarreling and not getting along.

To slander is to speak some untruth against someone, but the word might only mean to speak against someone, period, even if what is said is the truth. Only God knows the entire truth, and the truth through and through, so that we must beware of thinking we know in any final sense.

And when we speak in that way we also somehow put ourselves in the place of God. God alone gave the law, and God alone can make judgments based on it. Our judgment invariably won’t measure up to God’s, nor will our application of the law. In fact we will be so amiss, that we in effect will be judging the law itself. Exactly what that means is hard to pinpoint, except to say that our judgment on others inevitably means we are judging the law, and not getting at the true meaning of it, making the law into something other than it is. It is for living according to God’s will in love. We simply are incapable of making any such judgments on others.

And that’s what might be key to understanding the passage. It is referring to judging others in a sense in which we can’t. There are necessary judgments in life which we must make and receive. And best to do so together, always in a prayerful attitude.

What we might take home from this is simply to be cautious, so that if and when we speak we will do so in complete humility, emphasizing mercy, and God’s work in the entire process. Only God can convict the wrongdoer, and bring them to repentance. We can’t. We may necessarily have to confront someone, but we do so gently in love, realizing that we can easily fall into sin ourselves. But we are included in God’s work of restoration (Galatians 6).

We must beware of taking matters in our own hands, and brashly applying the law, when inevitably we who judge do the same things ourselves (Romans 2). When we stand in that kind of judgment of others, inevitably we not only distort what they did due to our own sin, but we also distort the law itself, somehow making it conform to our own understanding, beset with a heart not right, and therefore not seeing everything clearly. Only God can judge, convict, sentence, and redeem. We can’t.

So we best take a cautious attitude. And not slander or speak against our brother or sister even when our gut reaction is to do so. When we have to consider problems, we best do so before God, and when necessary, together. And not tolerate anything that doesn’t accentuate mercy along with the utmost humility concerning our own weakness and shortcomings.

judging and favoring others versus showing mercy

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2:1-13

James makes it clear that favoritism of any kind is never acceptable. As Christians we should go out of our way to include those who would be marginalized for whatever reason in our group. And that means everyone. Certainly it’s not suggesting that everyone can be considered Christian, or members of our church. But it’s fully accepting and welcoming everyone’s presence.

And we are not to give special favors to those who we think might be a blessing to us, for example the wealthy, who might give generous sums of money. Or think somehow that they’re a cut above the rest. We’re not to think and act as the world does, but as “believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ,” as those who follow Jesus.

Loving our neighbor as ourselves is the criteria here, informed by specific commands such as not committing adultery, and not murdering, called “the royal law found in Scripture.” So that we are to be true both to the letter, there are absolutes, and to the heart which is love. In the end, we are all judged by the law that gives freedom. That freedom comes in the form of mercy. We ourselves are in need of it, and we’re to show that same mercy to others. Which through Jesus always triumphs over judgment. In other words it’s freely offered to all who repent and believe. Freely received and freely given in and through Jesus.

the prophet

In the Bible, and specifically the Old Testament, there are the roles of prophet, priest, and king. In Jesus they are summed up and fulfilled. And today somehow shared within his body the church, through the Spirit’s working. In the Old Testament the prophet is a bit different. Like all prophets along with the gift of prophecy in the New Testament, it is essentially about speaking the word of the Lord for a specific time, with an emphasis in the New Testament on “strengthening, encouragement and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3). In the Old Testament there are what are classified by us as the major and minor prophets, the difference being solely in the length of the books, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel being major prophets, and Habakkuk and Zephaniah being among the minor prophets. But David, though king, is called a prophet as well, because he spoke the word of the Lord as recorded in the psalms and elsewhere.

Old Testament prophets seem to come on pretty heavy handed in judgment, calling the people of God back to faithfulness to God and to God’s covenant with Israel as given in the Torah, and yet stretching beyond the Torah to what the fulfillment of that Torah was to be, somewhat unbeknownst to them. And their word would normally always end in God’s blessing. It is as if God’s judgment was really only a necessary means to God’s blessing, therefore judgment is called God’s strange work, because God’s heart of love is always to bless. However those who refuse God’s blessing when it’s all said and done end up under God’s curse. Of course that blessing is fulfilled in Jesus and made known through the gospel.

I believe there are a few voices now and then, here and there who speak prophetically today, even echoing to some extent the prophets of the Old Testament. They sometimes speak in a way which seems to be a stretch, yet they mean every word of it in making their point. At the heart of it is often the idolatry of God’s people, and a call to repentance. And included in that is an indictment against the whole world for its sin and evil due to its waywardness from the Creator God. But true prophets speak a message of hope, even if in the current times all seems at least bleak, and darkness has set in. The end of the story we find in scripture is bringing to full circle what was true in the beginning of an idyllic picture of paradise in a garden (Genesis 2) broken at the fall (Genesis 3), the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem added, as heaven and earth become one in the new creation when Jesus returns (Revelation 21 and 22). So no matter what is happening in this life, we can be assured of God’s goodness winning out in the end, and bringing in full justice and restoration of all that is good in the kingdom to come in Christ when shalom will be the reality at work in all relationships on earth.

In the meantime the prophet continues to wail –this message being part of the teaching ministry of the church as well– with calls to repentance, pointing to the promise of a better day, even as they hold God’s people, and the world to the standard God set in creation. But with an emphasis on living in the hope of the new creation in this broken world in which we live. A new creation present now in Jesus through the gospel, witnessed to and the beginning of it lived out in the church, in and through Jesus.

mature thought

Enthusiasm without knowledge is no good;
    haste makes mistakes.

Proverbs 19:2 (NLT)

One of the mistakes I’ve made along the way over the years is to at times jump to conclusions, or adopt a new way of thinking, or talk about something before I’ve thought it through efficiently enough, which includes carefully weighing the source, along with the thoughts of others. Something may seem either promising or good, but upon further examination and deliberation, it might well fall by the wayside.

We don’t like problems unresolved. We at least want to have a patchwork solution in place. All of this instead of being committed to the hard work of trying to come to a better understanding of the issue. And as another proverb says:

The first to speak in court sounds right—
    until the cross-examination begins.

Proverbs 18:17 (NLT)

We have to learn to wait and weigh things, and in that process, listen to others. Some things won’t matter as much as others, and may require a decision on our part before we really feel well enough prepared. But those are the kind of things where some trial and error are part of the equation. There are other matters that in their nature are too sensitive and consequential for us to experiment with. We will make some mistakes along the way, even in such matters, but we do well to take our time, and then own the degree to which we hold to any proposition. Pointing out what needs to be qualified as for example having an opinion based on the expertise of others.

At any rate, this is one area that I would have done better to follow more closely over the course of my life. Something I’m working on, so that I’ll reflect a more mature thought in days to come with the wisdom God gives us in and through Jesus.

be on the side of mercy, God’s side

Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2

There is plenty of evil in the world. It can be found most anywhere, even in our own hearts at times. We long for justice against evildoing and evildoers. And for those who have been victimized, hopefully some kind of reparation that could be done. And if we’re of a Christian persuasion, we should want no less than restorative justice when that is possible. That the one doing evil will be held accountable, but also exhorted and encouraged, yes helped to do better, so that they can go back into society and live productive lives.

Mercy, especially in this broken existence, needs to be the watchword, indeed the passion for us who follow Christ. Just as we have freely received mercy from his hand, we’re to extend that mercy to others. The mercy of the gospel, yes, but also the mercy that comes from the gospel, or we could say is a part of it.

Lest we forget, we’re all in need of mercy everyday, and in a sense at every moment, since none of us in ourselves is worthy to stand before God being stained because of our sin. And we actually prove ourselves unworthy everyday by attitudes and corresponding actions, even if they’re only words under our breath. Unworthy of God’s mercy, justly judged to have fallen short.

But that’s an essential part of the Christian message, the heart of the gospel, that in Jesus there is always mercy and forgiveness extended to us, and to others. We are to accept that mercy for ourselves, and then live out this gospel by extending it to others, so that they can see that our faith is not about judging them, but extending mercy to them when they are undeserving. And of course mercy is not just about showing love at random to everyone. It is purposefully showing the same love to the undeserving that we ourselves receive through Christ.

Does this mean that others aren’t held accountable? Of course not. We all are. Mercy always takes seriously the sin that is being forgiven, or in love, covered over (1 Peter 4). We may need to gently confront or come along side those who are sinning (Galatians 6), or for those who do not know the Lord, we may simply need to show them the way of Jesus, which was love for his enemies, a pathway in which we’re to walk and live in our following of him. The way of the gospel. Not easy, but a picture of the good news in Jesus in which we live, so that others might see and believe, in and through him.

at the heart of the gospel

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

Luke 1

It’s a little less than six months until Advent, but there’s never an inappropriate time to reflect on its beauty and meaning in the coming of the Messiah. Jesus comes as King, but in a way unlike that of the rulers and authorities of earth. He came and will come, and now comes by the Spirit through the gospel, and he comes to reign. In that reign is most certainly salvation, along with judgment, and from that, justice.

Israel is at the heart of this promise, receiving mercy from God ultimately to extend mercy to others. And Jesus himself is the fulfillment of what God promised to Israel and through Israel to the world.

And this gospel involves a shaking up which in part is the dealing with sin in each individual, including the high and mighty. This kingdom is for the humble, the poor, and the oppressed. The rich must beware, because unless their pockets are open in generosity, they will end up empty.

Mary’s Song is a shorthand for much of what we read in the Bible. The gospel is political, but not like the politics of this world. But don’t be mistaken, it does deal with the politics of this world ultimately, when Jesus returns. And somehow by Christ even now through the church impacts the rulers and authorities, both physical and spiritual.

A missing note I believe all too often in our understanding of the gospel.

For two outstanding reads on this, see Scot McKnight’s, The Real Mary, and The King Jesus Gospel.