Saturday, March 24, 2007

Thought for the Day

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

And “ If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” 

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

1 Peter 4:12

All Scripture quotes from The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

A look at Matthew 18:15-17

Matthew 18 is commonly thought of as the de-facto standard of how disputes between memmbers of the body of Christ are supposed to be handled. The passage itself goes like this:
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Matthew 18:15-17
There are four distinct phases to this process:

1) If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.

What Christ seems to be assuming is first, that an offense had actually occurred, and second, that the other person is completely in the wrong. In all of this one has to be aware of one's own sinful nature, take responsibility for whatever you did to contribute to the problem, and realize that in cases of disputes in the body of Christ it's rare that only one side is completely to blame for the ensuing mess.

In cases where one person has been sinned against by another person, it's clear how this is applied - you go to the other person and talk to them about it. By doing it just between the two of you, you're a lot more likely to have a receptive audience, avoid embarrassing the other person, or embarrassing yourself for jumping to a plausible, but unfounded conclusion. You also avoid the risk of offending the other person by accusing them of doing something they didn't do.

During this phase it's important to be open to the possibility the other person was doing the right thing and you didn't know something they did; that any offense you may've experienced was un-intentional; or they were not aware of the impact their actions had on you.

My post on "Combat Blogging" has some suggestions on how to approaching these kinds of issues.

What happens next?

If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

This is the most ideal result - that things are worked out amicably and everyone goes away happy and reconciled, the air is cleared, and everyone can resume their normal business.

But this is not always the case - there will be times when the other person doesn't think they've done something wrong. Then we move to phase two:

2) But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

The situation has become more serious - the offender has refused to listen to your complaint, or the dispute hasn't been resolved, so the next step in this parade is to involve other people. Christ doesn't specify who the other one or two people should be, but 1 Corinthians has something to say on the subject:
Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! ... Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers...
1 Corithians 6:2-3, 5
This suggests people who are wise and of good repute, who are able to help resolve if not outright settle disputes, aren't afraid to call a spade a spade, but won't let you get off the hook for your actions either. After all, if you've refused to listen to and accept your sibling's perfectly reasonable explanation for their action - then who'se the offender?

Unfortunately, there's always going to be cases where a sinner is sufficiently hard-hearted that even the counsel of two or three people will not move them. In such cases, we move to phase three...

3) If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church

By now the offender has refused to listen to the person they've offended, the counsel of the two or three other people you've brought in to help resolve the dispute, so now the church at large has to deal with the issue. If their collective counsel concludes that the offender is in the wrong, and the offender still refuses to repent of their sin, then the final phase of this process needs to be applied:

4) And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

By now the offender's refused all counsel and correction that the church has had to offer, and in so doing remains committed to beliefs that excludes them from the body of Christ.

As such, the only course left for the Church is to acknowledge that and physically exclude them from the fellowship of believers of which they're no longer a part (hence the stricture "let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector").

Not only does excommunication publicly recognize the error of the impenitent's ways, it also separates them from other members of the body of Christ and possibly leading the weaker ones astray with their error.

This is another way to describe what's commonly called excommunication. It's an action taken by the body of Christ as a corporate entity after careful consideration, and is not something done by one person on their own recognizance. In fact, it's a responsibility assigned by God to the church as a whole, not to any single person or office-holder.

This leads to an interesting question - are Synodical or other church structures that allow a single person holding an office to exclude a member or church from the church body as opposed to the Church body as a whole - Scriptural?

How has this been done in the past?

As an example of how the early LCMS church dealt with an issue like this is described in the paper When is Enough Enough? by Daneil Preus. The paper discusse a number of cases, the best and most succinct dealt with the case of a pastor by the name of "Schieferdecker" who promoted a doctrine which the Synod deemed to be un-scriptural.

Over the course of things, the question of Pastor Schieferdecker's doctrine was closely investigated, his position clearly established by a council of faithful and wise men, he was given plenty of time to consider his position and his answers, and when he maintained his un-scriptural views, he was expelled from Synod by an act of the Church as expressed in it's convention. After he was expelled, he asked if Synod would consider reinstating him if he ever returned to the doctrinal position of the Synod. Synod assured him that such would be the case and indeed, eighteen years later, after he recognized and admitted his error, he was readmitted to the Synod in 1875.

All disputes are rooted in sin, and should be regarded as the expression of that sin. The objective in resolving our disputes should always to be reconciled - not necessarily to each other because two people agreeing to sin have still separated themselves from God - but to God who alone is perfect and holy. If both parties to a dispute humble themselves and are reconciled to Him, then they will be reconciled to each other, because God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.

All Scripture quotes from The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

He who has prepared us for this very thing is God

For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.

For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened––not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

2 Corinthians 5:1-6

Nothing more I can think to add to this...

Thursday, March 8, 2007

A Look at Galatians 2:11ff

For today's post I've chosen to take a look at Galatians 2:11, which relates how Paul dealt with an incident where Peter (aka Cephas) really stepped in things and led a number of other believers into error.

Paul writes:
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.
So what we have is Peter, a Jew, who ate with Gentiles, was being consistent with the fellowship all believers in Christ were supposed to have. Then there's the circumcision group who held that believers had to follow the laws laid down by Moses as well as have faith in Christ in order to be saved. This meant meant believers had to have a form of "works righteousness" (ie circumcision). Long story short, when the circumcision party arrived, Peter crumbled out of fear of what they might do. Rather than remaining where he was and so testify to the unity of all believers, he separated himself from the Gentiles instead, thus denying this unity. Such was Peter's position and influence that he also led a number of other believers in his error - including the apostle Barnabas!

Paul states "Cephas stood condemned." What this tells me is that Paul's reason for acting wasn't based on anything about Paul but out of concern for Peter and the people who were with him. Paul didn't use his position, authority, or any other "worldly" reason to abuse and condemn Peter for his action, nor did he whisper behind his back, hide the issue, talk to other people, etc. Paul discharged the responsibility that God had given him - he confronted Peter and everyone else involved in that mess face to face.

An important point to get here is that while Peter was the main offender due to his position of leadership, he wasn't the sole offender. The other Jews who were with Peter could've stayed where they were, but they didn't - they chose to join Peter in his hypocrisy and separate from the Gentiles. This was an offence committed by a group of people, not just one person. As such, it was right and appropriate for Paul to confront Peter in front of these other people, because they had sinned as well. Paul was addressing a number of people who had sinned, but Peter was probably focused out because he as an apostle should've known - and acted - better. Those who God places in positions of authority and responsibility will be judged more strictly than others (James 3:1).

Continuing on -
"But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?
See how Paul opens his confrontation - not with an accusation or condemnation, but with a question. A question that had what I would surmise to be a self-evident answer to Peter and the rest of the people with him.
"We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
And here's the whole crux of the situation - the circumcision party believed other works were required in addition to Christ's work of justification in order to be saved. Were this true, then Christ's death would be for nothing.

Peter, by separating from the Gentiles who didn't follow the Jewish traditions, implicitly agreed with the circumcision party. His example then led a number of other believers into hypocrisy, which is one of the most repeatedly condemned sins in Scripture - and why Peter "stood condemned."

Looking at this from another perspective - namely how to address a person that's in error - we see Paul addressing the issue, not the person. He starts out with a rhetorical question that Peter certainly would be able to answer, and then proceeds to gently but factually show how Peter's actions was actually a denial of Christ's death and resurrection.

This is something for all of us to consider the next time we find ourselves dealing with an erring sibling in Christ.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Greetings to South Africa!

When I checked my site visits, I saw that this blog has been hit from the city of Kew, Gauteng, South Africa. It seems this particular visitor found my blog by doing a Google search on Tims Toolbox.

So I tried it myself - and found out that Googling for "Tims Toolbox" returns this blog as it's third hit.

Cool! I'm unique in the world of Tims blogging about Theology. :)