Archive for the ‘immorality’ Tag

Corinthian Hot Potato   1 comment

Paul had just ordered the Corinthian church to expel a sinning Christian for the purposes of disciple. You should go back and read last week’s post if you haven’t already. Casual readers of the Bible or those who use search engines to cherry pick will accuse Paul of being abusive at this point, but it’s important to recognize that he had a long-standing relationship with the church at Corinth and this wasn’t the first time he’d communicated with them on this point.

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. In no way did I mean the immoral people of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13.

This is not the first letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Paul indicated in verse 9 that he had previously written to the Corinthians on the subject of separation. In that first letter, he instructed them not to associate with immoral people, including unbelieving sinners of all kinds, those who are immoral, those who are covetous, those who swindle, and those who are idolaters. The Corinthians either misunderstood or twisted Paul’s words to mean something other than what Paul intended. They apparently had the Pharisaical notion that equated holiness with separation from unbelievers. Now, Paul clarified his instructions. He wasn’t talking about avoiding contact with unbelievers. In Corinth in the 1st cenutry or the United States in the 21st century, there is no way to avoid contact with unsaved sinners. The only way to avoid “the world” is not to live in the world. I don’t know about you, but I like electricity and running water and access to a grocery store. That requires a job and living at least on the edge of society. Besides, Christians are not tasked with avoiding sinners. We’re supposed to live among them in such a way as to reveal Christ to them (see Matthew 5:13-16; 1 Peter 2:9-12)

Image result for image of church disciplineThe Christian must rub shoulders with the world in order to be a witness to the lost. What a Christian cannot do is participate with the world in sin. We are to be in the world, but we are to be unlike the world, living out the life of Christ as lights in a dark place (see Ephesians 5:3-14).

Paul never meant for the Corinthians to try to keep the church out of the world. They were supposed to keep the world out of the church, meaning that those who profess to be saved must live like they’ve been saved. Among those practices, we should not embrace a believer whose profession and practice are in contradiction to Biblical teaching. The Corinthians were not to associate with a person claiming to be a Christian, who continued to live in sin. Immorality is not the only basis for church discipline. Paul touches on them briefly — there’s covetousness, idolatry, slanderous speech, drunkenness, or swindling. Fellowship with someone who falls into this category is forbidden. This does not simply mean that this person is disfellowshipped from the meetings of the church. It means that individual believers must withdraw any manifestations of fellowship. This includes the sharing of a meal, which in biblical times was an intimate act of friendship (see Revelation 3:20).

Church discipline is a form of judging that is not only permitted but required. We’re not supposed to judge outsiders, but the conduct of those who profess Christ are to be scrutinized. God will judge unbelievers at the proper time. Some unbelievers will be saved by the grace of God and, like us, escape the wrath of God through faith in Christ. Others will be judged by God, but this is not our responsibility. The bottom line for the Corinthians is that they must put this immoral man out of their church.

This last expression, “Remove the evil person from among you,” is virtually a quotation of Deuteronomy 17:7: 

Suppose a man or woman is discovered among you – in one of your villages that the Lord your God is giving you – who sins before the Lord your God and breaks his covenant by serving other gods and worshiping them – the sun, moon, or any other heavenly bodies which I have not permitted you to worship. When it is reported to you and you hear about it, you must investigate carefully. If it is indeed true that such a disgraceful thing is being done in Israel, you must bring to your city gates that man or woman who has done this wicked thing – that very man or woman – and you must stone that person to death. At the testimony of two or three witnesses they must be executed. They cannot be put to death on the testimony of only one witnessThe witnesses must be first to begin the execution, and then all the people are to join in afterward. In this way you will purge evil from among you. Deuteronomy 17:2-7

The expression is similar to that found elsewhere in the Old Testament (see Deuteronomy 24:7). What Paul called for in the New Testament church is not significantly different from what Moses communicated to the nation Israel. We forget that God dwelt in the midst of His people in the Old Testament and thus the Israelites were required to remove sin and sinners from their midst. In the New Testament, Paul informed the Corinthians that God now indwells His temple, the church. They too must remove sin from their midst, because a holy God indwells them. In both cases, it is recognized that removing the sinner may include death. This is a serious step that can only be taken by Christians who take sin and God’s commandments seriously.

It’s hard for us in this day and age to read Paul’s words to the church of Corinth. He’s reminding the Corinthians of their duty to play a part in this process by removing the wayward and willful sinner from their midst. That raises several important issues for 21st century Christians.

Whatever happened to sin?

Dr. Karl Menninger, a secular psychiatrist, wrote a book entitled Whatever Became of Sin. Though not a Christian, Menninger recognized that evil was become “psychologized”. Had the Corinthian sinner lived today, I can just imaging the diagnoses that would be applied to him in order to explain away his behavior. Here’s a man, living with his father’s wife, so a psychologist would probably look for childhood sexual abuse while another advocate would insist it’s a genetic predisposition. Some would argue that his behavior is perfectly normal and that the narrow-minded church people are the real problem. There were be long, expensive, and intensive therapy prescribed … perhaps to the man and woman, but more like to the church members since church discipline would be considered harmful rather than helpful. Paul’s diagnosis was simple, and so was the prescription. The problem was the sin of immorality, and the prescription was to remove him from the church. When the Bible is the standard for conduct, and it is viewed and used for defining sin and righteousness, the diagnosis of this man’s problem is not that difficult.

Whatever happened to discipline (church and otherwise)? The Corinthian church failed to exercise discipline on the immoral man to whom Paul was referring. At the same time, Paul accused the church of being arrogant. To exercise discipline is to acknowledge that you have done all that you can, and that you have failed. If we are thinking clearly as Christians, we realize that there is nothing spiritual which we can accomplish. We cannot save anyone; we can only proclaim the message of Christ crucified, and know that God, through His Spirit, will draw those to Himself whom He has chosen. We cannot bring about the right living of a believer. Once again, we can, as faithful stewards, do what God has given us to do, but we cannot produce the results. In Paul’s words, we may plant or water, but it is God who gives the growth.

In our arrogance, we sometimes convince ourselves that, given enough time, we can turn someone from their sin. There is a great deal of emphasis on counseling in our culture, even in the church. There is a place for counsel, but we often give ourselves and our system of counseling too much credit. We don’t want to admit failure, and so we refuse to take that final step of “removing the wicked person from our midst.” Just a little more time and we can correct this person’s thinking. Church discipline is based upon the recognition that we have done what we can in the context of the church, and that God can turn that wayward person to repentance apart from us and apart from our ministry.

The modern churches have unconsciously begun to think of themselves as support groups. There are times when we rightly act as a support group, but the overall support group mentality is a very dangerous one. Support groups can cause individuals to put their trust in “the group” rather than in God, priding themselves for “being there,” no matter what the wayward one has done, or will do. The support group purposes to always “be there,” while the church is called not to be there indefinitely for the one who refuses to heed a rebuke and to turn from willful sin.

The therapeutic movement within Christianity has propagated an assumption is that we must love one another unconditionally. There is a sense in which this is true, of course. But we are not to “love” others unconditionally if we are attempting to redefine what love means. To exercise discipline on a wayward saint is to love that person and to seek their highest good. To unconditionally accept that person is to never refuse to have fellowship with them, thinking which directly opposes Paul’s teaching in our text. Popular theories about psychology and theology must never set aside Biblical commands. Paul’s words to the Corinthians in chapter 5 end with a clear command. When called for, we will either obey this command, or we will sin.

Image result for image of church disciplineWhatever has happened to church discipline? I have seen very little of it. Even when such discipline is taken, all too many church members are tempted to second-guess the church and to privately continue to fellowship with the one under discipline. That’s pretty serious because, if I understand the Scriptures correctly, to do that is to become a partner with that person in his or her sin.

Church discipline is a very clear duty of the church and individual Christians. So why don’t we practice it? I think arrogance plays a large role in that, with a huge sidecar of fear. I think we’re afraid to take a stand against sin because we are afraid of rejection because we’re being viewed as narrow and unloving. We may be unwilling to lose the friendship and the fellowship of those we love. Some church leaders are afraid of being sued for taking disciplinary action against a church member. It can and does happen and I think we’ll see more court actions in the future.

Sometimes we are afraid that the work of God will be thwarted by church discipline. I know of several instances where a Christian leader was the brother in sin. That leader, when rebuked, would not repent. It would ruin their career. And, when the church became aware of it, they feared the harm publicity would do to the work of God. Some of those Christian leaders are still on the field. Brad and I left a church we loved because of it. God’s work is bigger than any man or any organization. God’s work is making sinners holy, to His glory. When a leader continues in sin, the church should discipline him publicly, as an example to all (1 Timothy 5:19-20). When any saint is placed under discipline, it serves notice to the world that the church does not accommodate sin.

Finally, the teachings and practices of the “church growth movement” discourage church discipline. The church growth experts generally measure the success of a church by numerical growth. This movement seeks to attract unbelievers to the church by being “seeker-friendly,” by making unbelieving “seekers” feel comfortable with the church and with the Christian message. If you’ve stuck with me through Paul’s teachings in Chapters 1 & 2, you know this is impossible. The message of the cross is foolish. Divine truth concerning God is incomprehensible to the lost. Men and women are not saved by getting comfortable with God, but by becoming uncomfortable by the conviction of the Holy Spirit that they are sinners, that God is righteous, and that judgment awaits the sinner (John 16:7-11). When God struck Ananias and Sapphira dead for their deception, the unbelieving world was not comfortable. It caused them to stay away from the church. Nevertheless, many were being saved (see Acts 5:11-16). Sinful men should not and cannot be comfortable in the presence of a holy God, save through the cleansing of their sins by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Men and women cannot come to faith without first becoming uncomfortable about their sin and God’s judgment. That is what being saved is all about—being saved from the wrath of God.

Now for the bottom line. Why would we discipline a wayward saint, when we will not discipline ourselves? I’m remarkably passive and quiet about those sins in others that I also have in my life. Self-discipline is often harder than church discipline.

God takes sin seriously. Just think about the cross of Calvary and you’ll see what I mean. God took our sin so seriously that He stepped down into history as Jesus to die in our place, to suffer the punishment for our sins. The good news of the gospel is that while God takes our sin seriously, and our sin must be judged, He has judged our sins in Christ. To enter into this forgiveness, all we need do is to receive the gift of salvation which God offers to us by faith in His Son. When we see how seriously God has taken our sins, we see how serious we must be about sin ourselves.

Limiting Fellowship   Leave a comment

I believe, because I have seen it work, that limited fellowship should be extended to brethren who have drifted into the kinds of error we’ve been discussing.

What do I mean by limited fellowship?

In some instances the local churches these people are members of should discipline them and, if necessary, even withdraw fellowship from them. This is not done very often and, sadly, the congregations themselves frequently are led into the errors of these individuals.

But what can the larger Christian community do when a church will not discipline its wayward minister? Though formal withdrawal of fellowship is principally a congregational matter, fellowship extends further than the local church, so limitation of fellowship can also go beyond the local church.

When the Southern Baptist Convention voted to disfellowship New Heart Community Church it was withdrawing its financial support and disallowing its delegates to vote in the convention. While Pastor Danny Cortez had a point about churches that allowed their pastors to officiate at remarriages after non-permitted divorces, he had the Godly instruction backwards. We are not to embrace such immorality, but discipline it when it occurs in the churches. If churches would cease to support teachers who go into error, some of the rogues might be brought to repentance. Certainly their influence could be curtailed.

My husband Brad is a recovering alcoholic who will point out that Alcoholics Anonymous is not anonymous for the drinking drunk. If you’re not involved in AA, you may not realize that. If you’re off the wagon, they do not protect your anonymity. They will tell your pastor, your wife, your boss that you need help. They will call the cops if you’re driving drunk. It is only when you are sober that they will refuse to even share that they know you.

Churches really need to remember that. AA got it from us, by the way. Bill W. talked about it in his book. Yet, these days, when Christians face unsound teaching from the pulpit or Christian pen or open immorality in a church, we all get quiet and pretend it’s not happening. A form of discipline can be exercised by making the brotherhood aware of the sinful situation.

Christians have a right to know where a teacher or preacher stands on fundamental issues before they use his services. Some brethren complain about the “gossip journals” that are devoted exclusively to digging up church dirt and sometimes that’s justified, but more often than not, there’d be no muckraking if there was no muck.

If more responsible brethren would muster the courage to kindly and forcefully chastise erring teachers, there would be no need for the world to take Christians to task for our hypocrisy.

If Christian schools, churches, and journals would cease to use men and women who are openly known to advocate radical ideas or cause division, it would send a message. A preacher with no audience, or a writer with no readers, doesn’t have nearly the power of one who is being listened to.

This is not a call for head-hunting. We should not withdraw from every Christian who may disagree with us regarding various points of Bible interpretation. That’s a fanatical approach that has fragmented churches and made Christianity a reproach before an unbelieving world. But it is equally foolish to shut one’s eyes to blatant false teaching that undermines the spiritual and moral foundations of the churches. When the Bible says stay away from certain doctrinal aberrations, we should.

Church discipline needs to be exercised in love, but love needs to be tough. Discipline doesn’t need to be abusive, but it does need to interrupt the influence of evil coming from supposedly Christian pulpits and pens in the hope that it might lead to repentance or that the false teachers will at least be identified as false and no longer considered Christians.

If the churches truly want to be relevant in a sinful world, we need to start by taking the logs out of our own eyes before we try to deal with the dirt in the eyes of non-Christians.

Got Some Compromise?   Leave a comment

So what should Christians feel or do about those who, based on anti-Biblical ideas, promote, encourage, or condone immoral acts such as sexual immorality (in its many flavors), unethical business practices, gluttony, or false teaching? A case can be made for toleration in the greater church community for a period of time, but that time needs to be limited.

In His letter to the church in Thyatira (Revelation 2:18), Christ commended the brethren there for some things, but then He took them to task:

“I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess; she teaches and seduces my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time that she should repent, yet she had no inclination to repent of her fornication. Behold, I will throw her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her — into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he who searches the mind and heart: and I will deal with each one of you according to your works.” (paraphrase)

There was, within the church of Thyatira, an influential woman who is called Jezebel. The choice of the epithet, Jezebel, suggests she was similar in character and teaching to the ancient queen who corrupted Israel (1 Kings 16:29; 2 Kings 9:30). This “prophetess” doubtless claimed to teach with divine authority and was persistently seducing and teaching Christians to commit fornication and perform pagan rituals.

Despite her wicked behavior, the Lord gave her time to repent, but she ignored His patience. Judgment was now imminent.

Of more importance to our discussion, Christ strongly rebuked the brethren in Thyatira because they continued to tolerate (apheis — present tense) her false teaching.  Shouldn’t we learn something from this inspired narrative?

What can we learn?

There were those of the ancient church who, by their misguided teaching, promoted adultery and idol worship. There are those in the modern churches who are doing the same thing. The glaring example from this series are the anti-Biblical doctrines regarding divorce and remarriage that actually encourage Christians to continue in adulterous arrangements.

How long can the church go on tolerating compromising views such as these? The debate among modern churches has been going on for decades, but many congregations show no sign of changing their corrupted views and some churches are openly moving in a direction that wholly rejects the Biblical teaching on morality.  Should other Christians ignore their corrupting influence forever?

No!

Church at Corinth   Leave a comment

Yeah, we came back to it!

Why?

Because Corinth was a troubled church that used its God-given blessings for the wrong reasons and therefore needed discipline. Paul’s two (actually three)  letters to this church deal with many issues that exist in the churches today if we will just look beyond the 2000-year-old trappings and see that it is essentially the same.

Chapter 4 of 1 Corinthians talks about a moral cancer that was eating away at the church there. A brother in Christ was fornicating with his father’s wife and even the community around the church was shocked. The church itself was proud of being so open minded and accepting of human foibles.

Yeah — just like welcoming and affirming churches today, but I’ve already argued that many churches that are not welcoming and affirming have as deep an issue with other varieties of sexual sin and with other kinds of less scandalous sin.

I am not picking and choosing sins here. We need to get over the idea that God accepts some sins as less and others are greater. He doesn’t. We will answer for all of them.

Whatever the Corinthian Christians privately thought of their church member’s behavior, they were publicly accepting of it and proud of their affirming attitude. Paul dealt with both their attitude and the sexual sin harshly. Asserting his apostolic authority, he rendered judgment on the matter. Unless the church at Corinth wanted him to come there and discipline the church as a whole, they must discipline the individual sinner. The brother in Christ was guilty of adultery. Therefore, by the authority of Christ (Matthew 18:20) the church was to assemble and remedy the problem.

It’s important to note that the woman is never mentioned for church discipline. I think we can presume that she was not a Christian and so was not subject to church judgment or discipline. The offending brother in Christ, however, was to be “delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.”

What does that phrase mean?

  1. It is not capital punishment for church heretics, as practiced by historic Catholicism and early Protestantism. The early Christian church did not practice such. There’s no historical evidence that they did.
  2. It was not physical death, as many commentators allege. The historical evidence again says not.
  3. It was designed to “save” the spirit of the person (v. 5b), (which necessitates a living person, by the way).
  4. The procedure was the equivalent of “putting away the wicked” person, and withdrawing one’s fellowship from the individual (1 Corinthians 4:9-13; 2 Thessalonians 3:6).
  5. The ultimate goal was that the fornicator might “destroy” his ungodly “fleshly” urge, and reclaim a life of purity. See also 1 Timothy 1:20.

Paul was very insistent upon the actions of the church in this regard. The church must desist in its pride and “glorying” (v. 2) and get serious about morality before the entire congregation became infected, just as leaven permeates dough. In the Old Testament, Passover required the purging of all leaven from the entire house. Christ is our passover, Christians, and we must rid ourselves of malice and wickedness, and pursue the unleavened bread (figuratively speaking) of sincerity and truth.

Paul had written previously to the church at Corinth. Although the letter was not preserved, Paul refers to it. He had admonished the Corinthian Christians to “have no company with fornicators.” He specifically mentions he had not meant to include pagan fornicators as Christians cannot avoid all associations with the world. While we are to have no fellowship with the world’s sinful practices (Ephesians 5:11; 1 Peter 4:4), we are not to isolate ourselves as hermits or monks. Instead, our “light” and “salt” must be allowed to influence others (Matthew 5:13-16).

Paul was discussing renegade church members and here the matter was altogether different. After formal disciplinary action, the faithful Christian is “not to keep company” with:

  • fornicators (those engaged in illicit sexual intercourse),
  • the covetous (brothers obsessed with materialism, either to obtain or retain),
  • idolaters (those who place “things” or “persons” above God),
  • revilers (verbal abusers),
  • drunkards (people who become intoxicated on alcohol or, I suspect, recreational drugs), and
  • extortioners (those who take from others by force or inordinate pressure).

These are specific actions worthy of radical “surgery” (verses 9-11). While we are not licensed to discipline the world (God will handle that), Christians have the moral responsibility to check outrageous sinfulness in the church (verses 12-13a). The unrepentant sinning Christian is to be expelled from church fellowship (v. 13b). Looking at that list, it appears there may be a lot of church members who are subject to church discipline.

In his second letter to the Corinthian church (written perhaps 6 months to a year after the first letter), Paul appears to discuss the disciplinary case addressed in 1 Corinthians 5 (refer to  2 Corinthians 2:5-11). His comments reveal that the greater part of the church had yielded to his previous instruction, and the fornicating brother had been disfellowshipped. The withdrawal had been effective in that the rogue brother had abandoned his sinful activity. From Paul’s statement in verse 6 we know:

  1. The punishment of fellowship withdrawal was inflicted.
  2. While some (a minority) refused to honor it, the majority did.
  3. After a forceful and sustained isolation of the offender, sufficient to produce a convincing result, the apostle urges the Corinthian saints to “forgive” and “comfort” the penitent brother, that sorrow over his sin might not “swallow him up” in grief, and prevent his continued fidelity.

Sustained and stubborn rebellion generally cannot be cured quickly. In a disciplinary action the church must be “tough,” and let the offender feel the full measure of the consequence of his or her sin. When it becomes apparent that the offender truly has changed, in contrast to a quick, “I’m sorry” that hasn’t been evidenced by fruit (Matthew 3:7; Jonah 3:10), he or she should be warmly embraced and encouraged in faithfulness.

There are very few churches that actually do this anymore. In fact, I can only think of the Amish and the Mennonites as practicing this form of discipline in an ordered and recognized way. Yes, they have some who leave and never return, but they also have a great many who return, repentant. An older lady in our church who was raised a Mennonite tells me that the beauty of this system is that when you repent, the church never brings it up again.

And, yeah, we’re going to discuss it.

Evidence for Church Discipline   Leave a comment

I’m a semi-anarchist who really does not think the world is a better place when the government imposes discipline upon the individual. That is tyranny and I’m okay with a little uncertainty in my social and business interactions in order to keep government tyranny at bay. I am also a born-again Christian who tries to submit to God’s discipline in my life. That is self-discipline. Still, I would not want to live in a world where citizens could flaunt the basic rules that human civilization operates on (ownership of self and respect for the self-ownership of others, property ownership) and absolutely no consequences would follow. It would be total chaos. Imagine a home where the children were allowed to do whatever they pleased with no parental discipline imposed? Actually, you don’t need to imagine that one. There’s probably at lease one family on your block who generally subscribes to familial anarchy with the well-known and awful results.

We generally accept that people need discipline in home and society for the good of themselves and society. Yet, there are countless congregations belonging to Jesus Christ across our land where little or discipline of the wayward is ever enacted. Is it any wonder that the churches are weaker today than they have been in decades?

So what exactly is church discipline? Broadly, it involves everything from the most basic instruction that the new-born child of God receives at salvation all the way to the “radical” act of the withholding of fellowship from impenitent apostates. For the purpose of this post, we’re going to talk solely of that terminal act—the church’s obligation to withdraw its fellowship from those who cannot be reached with more moderate approaches. I hope to suggest some more moderate approaches later.

Why go to the worst case scenario first? Because Paul, Jesus and Peter did.

Every serious Bible student knows that there is ample authority for the practice of church discipline. Just look at the Scriptural evidence from the New Testament (YES, the New Testament).

Jesus taught that one who had wronged his brother, and who could not be persuaded to repent—either by the offended party, other independent witnesses, or the church in general—should be treated as “the Gentile and the publican” (Matthew 18:17). In the context of a first-century setting, this means that the church was to have no social contact with hardened offenders. That’s Jesus saying that.

Paul instructed the saints in Rome to be on the lookout for those “who are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling contrary to the doctrine.” He declared that the faithful should “turn away from” these self-serving egotists who were deceiving the innocent (Romans 16:17).

The entire fifth chapter of 1 Corinthians deals with the matter of discipline. A fornicating church member had pursued his immoral lifestyle relentlessly, and the apostle rebuked the Corinthian congregation for not having disfellowshipped the man. This instruction is quite explicit.

The inspired Paul commanded the church in Thessalonica to “withdraw” from every brother who persisted in walking contrary to divinely received traditions (2 Thessalonians 3:6). Such persons were to be identified and social company with them severed. Excommunicated brethren, of course, are not to be treated harshly; rather, they are to be admonished in a brotherly fashion (vv. 14, 15; cf. Galatians 6:1).

In Titus 3:10, inspiration affirms that a factious person, after appropriate admonition, is to be “refused” further association.

These passages do not exhaust the New Testament information on the subject of church discipline. They are sufficient, however, to provide ample instruction of the churches’ responsibility to discipline their members.

It’s More Than Sex   Leave a comment

A lot of Christians pick and choose which sins they get incensed about and that is a problem for us that highlights what is wrong with the churches today.

I’ve spent a good deal of time dealing with sexual immorality within the churches. I’ve been careful to state that none of this applies outside of the churches. Non-Christians are already the walking dead. Christians need to be concerned with presenting the gospel to them so that they have an opportunity for Life. Until they are alive, we’re wasting our times (and more importantly God’s) by dealing with the symptoms of their death. Stop doing that and do what you do not want to do!

Look at yourself and ask “Do I reflect the Life that is within me?”

Before we can be good stewards of the ministry God has given us, we must make sure we are properly reflecting the Savior.

And, we’re not, folks!

Why are there ashtrays outside the doors to most churches? We don’t want cigarette butts on the steps, but let’s be honest with ourselves. If our church members truly believed their bodies are the temple of God, would we need those ashtrays? What about the pianist who is 100-pounds overweight? What about the businessman with the reputation for greed and fraud? What about the angry man who screams at the bank teller on his way to the building and grounds meeting? Or how about the gossip-mongers whispering in each other’s ears?

True, none of us is perfect and sometimes the world is just looking for our failures. And certainly the world loves to jump all over what it perceives to be failure when in fact it is pressing its phony standards of morality on us. And also sometimes the world redefines what is moral and then calls us evil for choosing to obey God rather than man. I’m not denying it.

I am pointing out that often Christians fail to live up to God’s standards, but then we love to point a finger at non-Christians and judge them for also not living up to that standard. Non-Christians (who are essentially spiritual zombies) are under no obligation to live under God’s standards. They’ll reap the consequences of rejecting God’s invitation to salvation. I think that status blinds God to whether they are sexually immoral. That’s the dirt on their feet when they have a stake through their hearts. Expecting non-Christians to care whether they are sinning is like expecting good table manners from zombies.

Christians, however, do have an obligation to at least try to live up to God’s standards. Jesus died for us. We accepted that gift. The least we can do is try to live our lives as accurate reflections of who God is and admit it when we fall short.

And we will fall short because we are human.

Your Morality Should Not Be Moralism   1 comment

There is a difference, but it is one that the modern churches don’t seem to understand.

Christians practice morality for two reasons.

The first is because we are grateful to God for His loving care toward us, for what He chose to do on the cross so that we could be right with Him. Our “good” behavior did not earn us salvation because there is no way we could ever be good enough to match the goodness of God. He did it for us because we couldn’t do it for ourselves. And it was no easy thing. The sinless God, Who absolutely hates sin, left the perfection of His spiritual realm to take on human flesh, struggle with the weakness toward sin, and then die on the cross and take on the sins of every human being that had ever lived or ever would live, so that every individual who chooses to accept that sacrifice can be forgiven and eventually enter into God’s eternal realm where there will be no sin. Imagine coating yourself in something you consider to be vile for the love of folks who mostly reject what you’re offering? That’s the love God showed toward us and for those of us who have accepted it, our applause for what God has done for us is that we make disciples for Him wherever we go. We do that in part by living moral lives by His standards of morality.

The second reason we live moral lives is that the world is watching us. Regardless of what the world says about our morality, make no mistake, they judge God by how well we keep that morality. Even as they say “Quit struggling and live like us”, they watch to see if what we believe has any positive impact upon our lives. When we live just like the world, the world judges that and finds God wanting. If God really has power to change lives, they think, then His transformative power would be evident in the lives of His followers.

Regardless of what they say, that’s what they’re thinking (I used to be one of them, I know).

BUT …

There is a difference between morality and moralism. There are things I don’t do because God has assured me they are not good for me and there are things that I don’t do because God has assured me they are not good for others. Conversely, there are things I do because God has assured me they’re good for me and things I do because God has assured me that what I do will be seen by others and have a positive effect upon them. That’s morality, which involves fleeing immorality to embrace Christlike living. Fleeing immorality can look different from Christian to Christian, which we will discuss later, but whenever the Bible speaks on something definitely, we should not argue with God, but do what we know to be right.

And, yes, sometimes God asks us to do things that are difficult and uncomfortable or to not do things that are pleasurable and fun. That’s another topic.

Christians live in this world, but are not of this world. We’re still human. Our flesh still desires the comforts and pleasures that our neighbors enjoy, but our God requires that we live different lives from the society around us. Why? Because it will be noticed, whether or not we are even aware of it. Jesus even told us in John that the world will hate us because we follow Him and if the world hates us for reflecting Jesus, we should not be ashamed.

For the first three centuries of Christianity, Christians understood this. Often persecuted, always considered less-than outsiders, Christians lived in this world but were not of it. During those 300 years, the Christian population grew from less than 200 in Jerusalem to more than one-quarter of the population of the Greco-Roman world. How? If you look at history, it was definitely not through the sword. Christians had no power. What they did have was love, but not the phony “love” today’s society wants to see. While not excusing the sin around them, they gave selflessly to the society they lived in.

An example? In Rome, Christians were accused of spreading the plague. They might have actually been partially responsible. When plague broke out, the Roman officials sealed off entire neighborhoods to try and control the spread. No food went in, no one came out. Christians would volunteer to go into these plague-ridden areas to feed people, to care for the sick, to dispose of the bodies. I’m sure many of them got sick too and as disease-transmission was not well understood at the time, they may have been accidentally responsible for the spread, but consider what they were doing. They were volunteering to go into a no-man’s land to carry God’s love into dark places — they were risking their own lives to care for others. Some of the survivors, impressed by this, became Christians.

This was how Christianity grew in the early days, before the Church had the power of the state behind it. Not only did it do charity among those society had written off, it rescued the children Romans abandoned to the element and lived lives that were different enough from those around them that some people found it attractive.

After the loosely affiliated churches reformed into the Roman Catholic Church, things changed. Instead of showing their light before the world so that the world either hated them or were attracted to them, the Church had the power to order people to become (nominal) Christians. Of course, they weren’t really Christians, because Christianity is an inward transformation that is evidenced by a moral life, not a series of rituals and regulations that your body follows to please some moral code. And, we’re still in that mode, folks! It’s been 1700 years and we’re still thinking we can change the world by changing how people act.

We can’t. Paul warned us that we can’t in Galatians, Corinthians, Romans and Philippians. You can’t make dead people alive by forcing them to live moral lives, because living moral lives is not what made us alive. The grace of God imparted by the death of Jesus on the cross did that. How can we believe that we are saved by grace through the blood of Jesus and not of ourselves (which would only make us boastful), and think that somehow we can set moral standards for the world around us and drag them along to heaven with us?

Worse, however, is that we think if we make the world just moral enough, we can mostly live like the world and that will be fine with God. Then we wonder why the churches aren’t growing and our children profess faith as children and then walk away from the church as young adults.

The churches today, in the United States at least, have become social clubs for prudes, bossy-bosses, and the unnaturally happy. We talk a good talk, but in reality, we don’t look substantially different from the world around us. We get divorced at about the same rate as the world. Our children have premarital sex at about the same rate. Our remarriage rate after divorce is actually higher than the society around us. Why are we shocked that there are churches that now think God is fine with homosexuality? Will we be shocked when in the next generation, churches begin to accept polyamory and, eventually, paedaphilia? All of these activities existed in abundance in the 1st century world that Paul ministered in — in the society surround the churches at Corinth, Thessalonica, and Rome. Paul, writing in God’s authority, told these Christians to flee immorality.

And, the churches grew by leaps and bounds even as the world hated them.

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