Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Speak Tenderly to My Bride ...

"Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path"

- Galatians 6:1 - New Living Translation.

"Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone and her sins are pardoned".

- Isaiah 40:2 - New Living Translation.

I have a suspicion that there is a quantity of nameless and faceless Christians hiding among the church ranks bearing varying amounts of guilt and shame because they are doing things that the church ranks as unacceptable behaviour. Most religious churches will call it "sin" - and will even unconciously rank various sins as "worse".

Whatever our views on grace and righteousness - whether we believe that Jesus Christ took ALL sin at Calvary and dealt with it or whether we believe in indwelling sin and an life-long mortification of sin battle - the fact is that these people are in churches hoping desperately that they will never be found out, seen, discovered because they fear the consequences. Sadly I am becoming increasingly aware that when they ARE found out - the church responds and deals with them harshly and abruptly. That discovery can come if the struggling individual is "foolish" enough to confess their struggles to a church leader. It can happen if they are spotted by a nosy elder's wife. The way it happens is irrelevant. The response is what I am thinking about. Because that response - I believe - can scare many off church for life.

Let's get an obvious caveat out the way;

There is behaviour that I am not endorsing and never will. Behaviour that Jesus Christ went to Calvary for. Behaviour that Terry Virgo calls; "sin as a saint with all the sadness and inappropriateness of it". Behaviour - let me make clear - that I have and still do slip into from time to time! You will not hear me say that grace makes it "okay" to sin.

But what I AM saying is that I do not believe there is any good news in lambasting the church by telling them they are sinners. I AM saying that church leaders who swiftly respond with harsh church discipline on sinners are hypocrites. If ... they have not taken the time and effort with tears and prayer to plead with the individual to abandon their way of life.

I have been so so utterly encouraged to hear Pete Greasley (pastor of an SGM church in Wales) say several times in his preaching something to the effect of; "I'm just like you! I am beside you - not above you!". Sadly - that is a rare thing to hear.

So here is what I heard recently. I heard that a church leader in this country has scared young people under his control because he said something to the effect of if he found his child was seeing a non-Christian girlfriend, he would throw them out of his home. Of course I heard that comment out of context. I heard that comment third hand. And I HOPE that I misunderstood that comment and it was highly overexaggerated. I hope that no parent would EVER contemplate throwing their child out of their home and disfellowshipping them from the family.

Maybe that church leader meant he would do so regretfully and after much tears and pleading and only if the young person in question would persist in the relationship. But what worried me is that there are young people who are now scared to admit they are seeing non-Christian girlfriends or boyfriends for fear that the church leader in question will tell their parents to throw them out of the house. But if these young people are even THINKING that such a thing is a possibility then surely something is drastically wrong in the church. Fear? Threats? Surely such behaviour cannot be further removed from the behaviour of Jesus Christ and a self-respecting New Covenant church.

Did or would Jesus Christ ever behave like that? Did He ever cast people from His Presence or endorse that parents do this? How did He behave towards people "caught in sin"? I thought of a few examples;

1. Let's imagine a worst-case scenario in a Western church. A man full of demons who keeps screaming out and beating up the church members and ripping his clothes. How would most Western churches respond? Sure - at first we would probably try and ignore the person - but I am sure it wouldn't be too long before the stewards were instructed to bar the doors. Jesus?

"When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!" For Jesus had said to him, "Come out of this man, you evil spirit!".

Did Jesus condone the "sin" or deny it's existance? No. Did He condemn the man? Certainly not. Did He excommunicate or disfellowship the man? No - the man was already pretty much disfellowshipped from the community among graves. What did Jesus do? He solved the problem with a living word.

An interesting point - when the demonised man saw Jesus - "He ran and fell on his knees in front of Him". Even with a legion of demons, the man could still recognise the bringer of grace. I wonder what would have happened if the Pharisees had landed on the shore - would he have run to them? Possibly - but only to beat them up.

2. Let's imagine another pretty-bad case scenario. A renowned and well known prostitute is a regular attender at a Western church. Something keeps her coming and sometimes she preys on men in the church and flirts with them. Everyone knows what she does but no one "talks" about it. What is the most likely response? Most probably again discipline and disfellowshipping for the "safety" of the church. The experience of Jesus reminds me of what I imagine most churches would do;

"He came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?".

What did Jesus do?

"But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not ... When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more".

I don't imagine that my ranting and raving here on a blog will persuade many - certainly not elderly church leaders set in their legalistic ways. I've got no particular interest in trying to get them to think whether what they are doing is truly Christ-like because my experiences tells me that they are usually quite sure that they are "pursuing righteousness".

A final point - do I believe there is a place for "putting such a one out to Satan"? I completely agree with a comment Pete Greasley made when we met for lunch. He said that such an action should be done - oh, so cautiously - and only after much prayer, tears, thought, and effort. Maybe there is a time where that has to be done, but I seriously fear for the church leader who finds it easy to take such an action. I know I for one wouldn't ever want to be in that position.

I want to speak to those "caught in sin" - WHATEVER sin that may be - and that's simply to say that I understand and have been there. REALLY been there. And have experienced the wrath of a church that has dragged me to Jesus and reminded Him of the law and demanded my "spiritual" death. And that's to say - you are always welcome here. I will always have a place in my heart and in my time for those who have been abandoned by the church or family. I will never say "enough". I will never say "Begone from me". As long as you want to put up with me - I will put up with you. And yes - I have got people in my mind when I am writing this. I will speak truth to you (or try to). I will remind you that you are a new creation and have the power to break sinful habits that bring you down.

But I won't spend much time talking to you about your struggles or habits. Most importantly of all I prefer to remind you that;

"The Cross does not have to be centred around me and be sustained by reflecting on my own personal failure! ... To insist on still calling myself a sinner could not add value to the Cross for me. Indeed, to call myself essentially a sinner actually dishonours the wonder of the gospel".


janelle said...

Wow Dan. Awesome post. You already know my stance on indwelling sin, so no need for me to go into it. But still, I LOVE how heartfelt this is. I'm so touched by your love and passion.

Dan Bowen said...

Thanks Janelle! :-)

I think we completely agree that whatever our differing views on indwelling sin, there has always got to be a place in our hearts for compassionate love for the struggling and the lost and the backsliders (if our Calvinism makes room in our theology for that!)

I will never forget C J Mahaneys sermon from way back on the woman who poured perfume on Jesus feet. Didn't he say something like: "he who has been forgiven much, loves

It makes me wonder when I see this harshness in church life just how aware the individuals are of the glorious gospel.

jul said...

Dan, excellent wonderful post.