Monday, December 15, 2008

The Greatest Motivation for Sanctification - A Smack? Or a Tear?

Following on from yesterdays post - I was driving back up to Birmingham (about an hour and a half drive for those friends who don't live in the UK!) from my parents and was thinking quite a lot about this question: "Fallen from grace" and particularly Todd Bentley as he was mentioned in this Christmas newsletter as apparantly "falling from grace". I have no doubt that some will accuse me of suggesting that what Todd has done is acceptable. I never said that - and have no intention of ever suggesting that sin is still sin.

What I am interested in is not discussing the men and women who have fallen morally and how "dreadful" it is. My sins of pride, arrogance, hate, legalism, lying and so on are just as grieving to God as Todd Bentley's sin. What I AM interested in is this: what is the most EFFECTIVE way of following the verse in Galatians and "restoring such a one gently"?

The question was in part answered as I had the wonderful Stoneleigh album: "Covenant of Grace" - live worship from Stoneleigh Bible Week 1999 - blasting out as I drove up in the dark! There's a wonderful song on it that the fantastically talented Kate Simmonds was leading the gathered thousands in called: "Jesus loves the Church (Can you hear Him singing?)" and the one line that answered my question went like this:

"Not rejected, not forgotten, not abandoned in sin! Can you hear Him singing? I love you - I love you - Can you hear Him calling? I want you - I have chosen you to be Mine".

It reminded me of my experience growing up as a child with my earthly father. My parents believed in and were taught by Stanley Jebb at our church that corporal discipline was a godly practice to do. We were spanked as children - quite vigorously. Speaking as a child who was spanked I can't say that I disagree with it. It taught me respect for authority. Where I do perhaps differ from my parents and the church is that they delegated the authority to spank a child to the teachers in the Christian school I went to - and so I also experienced that from the teachers. That I DO disagree with. I had a profoundly negative relationship especially with the deputy headmaster and I believe it was linked to the fact that I felt he was doing things that only my parents should such as corporal discipline. But that's an aside.

But despite being spanked numerous times by my father (yes - I was a wild child!) and by the school, the one experience that sticks in my mind was when I had a disagreement with my father about something and I actually saw him cry and state his love for me. It is that experience that spoke to me far more strongly than the amount of times I was spanked. Because I realised through those tears how much my father did love me.

Christians who use the term "fallen from grace" - I am certain - would see Christians who have fallen morally as in need of severe discipline. I know that the person who wrote the Christmas letter mentioning Todd Bentley is of the view that once Christian leaders have fallen morally just once - they are "disqualified" for ministry ever again. It's a very similar view to my experience of church discipline. Rather than ever hearing talk of "restoring such a one gently" - I heard the term "disfellowshipped" being used regularly.

My point is this: I think that it is an experience of hearing the Father singing: "I love you - I love you - I have chosen you to be Mine - you are NOT abandoned in sin" will work far more powerfully than the discipline and the disfellowshipping and the disqualification that Christians seek to apply to their fellow brothers and sisters.

Or as Sheila commented so rightly in my last post - surely this is "falling into grace" when you sin morally. I may not be able to testify much in my experience to "falling into grace" because my background has been far more characterised by legalism. But I CAN speak about how it feels to be struggling with sinful practices and have the Church apply the sanctions that they do. And I can tell you honestly - it doesn't work. I've been spanked as a child and yes it hurts. But sin is far more fun. I've been told off and spanked by teachers and church elders and it hurts - but it just made me bitter and angry and resentful.

But seeing my earthly father cry and tell me he loved me? That broke my heart. And I imagine if I could get a sense of my heavenly Father singing that He loves me and has chosen me and has not abandoned me in sin - then that would even more powerfully surely even break the hardest of hearts! Look at the Cross - that historical moment in time when the Son of God was hung up. The wrath of God was poured out upon HIM! And was there any anger in His eyes? Was there any vengance in Him against us for causing Him to have to suffer the agonies of Calvary? No. Rather He cried:

"Father - forgive them for they know not what they do".

As one of my favourite songs says; "God the just is satisfied to look on Him and pardon ME!". So why would He change His mind? And why if He is satisfied to look on His Son and pardon us - who does the Church think they are by passing judgements on who and who has not "fallen from grace"? I remember hearing somewhere (I can't remember where) the saying:

"Be careful how you speak to My Bride".


dave bish said...

You're not the only one thinking that this week: Repentance in the pigsty or in the father's embrace...

The bride quote, which is excellent is from Dave Campbell

dave bish said...

Interestingly, falling from grace is as much about legalism as other sin (Galatians 5v4) but you don't hear it used that way much...

Dan Bowen said...

Thanks Dave. Good thoughts.

Peter Day said...

Another totally awesome post!!

jul said...

Yeah Dan, you're on a roll!

janelle said...

I really liked this one, Dan. Now I'm super curious to hear what you have to say on church discipline. Was the comment "church sanctions don't work" a reference to church discipline as a whole? Or just the type you are familiar with? Maybe its another post for another day:-)

Dan Bowen said...

Thanks all, and thanks Janelle! You are so amazing at picking up on the smallest comment that I often just make as an after-thought. I've been thinking a lot through the "church discipline" issue and you are right, I shouldn't have over-generalised like that! It does indeed deserve another post, because there are some key verses the Bible does mention about church discipline.

But what I'm wondering is has the Church mis-interpreted it and mis-used it?

So yes, I think I'm guilty of using my bad experience with church sanctions to govern statements! More to come I think.

Chris Welch - 07000INTUNE said...

My two pennarth on this is
whatever...whether love or has to be in the Spirit.

Fleshly love regarding matters is like Agag (Ern quote) sidling/mincing up to Samuel and saying "Surely the bitterness of death is past" and Samuel gets his sword out.

Fleshly discipline is like the disciples crowding around various individuals and saying "Because you're not hanging around with us, you couldn't be part of us." But Jesus tells them not to be so stupid...going straight to the root...people are either moving on the side of Jesus in their hearts or not...whether they actually are physically hanging out with them not the issue.
as I said once before Esther had 6 months of astringent and 6 months of quality oils in her beauty therapy. She had both. If there's pride in our life expect God to tear it down. If there's bruising, ("a bruised reed He will not break") He is there gently massaging it on bended knee.
Sometimes I get excited when I hear or read something that I feel fills in some of the details I am trying to sketch in, but haven't quite seen yet. One such item is today's posted message on Jamie's blog, featuring Gary Garner

I like people who are handling paradoxes

Sheila said...

Hi all!
Chris, don't you love what GK Chesterton said, "Paradox is truth standing on its head!"

Dan, this is one of your best posts. Breath of fresh air.

We've had to enact church discipline and disfellowship a man - one time. He was an unrepentant pediphile/child rapist. *Unrepentant*

He had nothing for us but lies and excuses.

He's in prison, and it broke our hearts to send him there. My husband and I became physically ill in the months that followed, because of grief. But the flock had to be protected, and the "law" (in the literal, human, law-of-the-land sense) had to be upheld. (A pastor has legal obligations under such circumstances.)

Someone would have to be unrepentant and unwilling to change whatsoever, and be in a sort of sin that is dangerous to others in the body for our church to enact church discipline.

But it can happen, and it does happen. And I pray with all my heart that we never have to go through it again.

This very month, three years ago, my husband was taking food and basic supplies to the young wife's house (married at the time to the man whod' been imprisoned just days before) to care for her and her children. It wasn't much, but it got them through the weekend. Three years later, on this very night, we were able to take an entire van-load of presents for them and donations from various ones. What a difference 3 years have made...this young, now-single mother is finally beginning to thrive again. In her case, church discipline helped heal her...she needed to see an entire church rally around justice and her cause.

But church discipline should really be reserved to issues THAT big...and be reserved for completely unrepentant individuals.

Merry Christmas, Dan!