Saturday, July 19, 2008

Judging Sin within a Body

No doubt, it will become a question in many a reader's mind what to do about 1 Corinthians chapter 5 in which Paul scolds the Corinthians for their lack of action against an immoral brother and then describes putting this one out of fellowship. He finishes the thought explaining that his instructions on not associating with "immoral" people did not mean the unenlightened masses of people who are without Jesus, but that he fully intended that those within the church be judged within the church.

How is Paul's action and subsequent explanation reconciled with other New Testament teaching on judgment?

In my view, this is not nearly as difficult as it appears on the surface. Like many other areas, however, in an attempt to practice this teaching within our modern context there are often muddying factors which leave a bad feeling in the soul over what is done "in the name of the Lord."

If the immoral brother had had the facts presented to him without condemnation, then he responded with conviction including confessed repentance that his behavior was abhorrent, would Paul have needed to address the issue? No, because the stain of the sin would have come under the blood covering of the Crucifixion. There is a hermeneutic harmony of Jesus' teaching about judging with right judgment in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus words about confronting a brother in Matthew 18 and Paul's instruction in 1 Corinthians. There exists an authorized judgment by a group of believers which is exercised against immorality defiantly held by someone professing Christ. (Other judgments, i.e. not taking a brother to court in 1 Cor. 6, are also the domain of the group, but that is not part of this post.)

The "muddying" factors that cloud this action include refusal to so judge, the process of the decision when it is made and whether or not the ones making the decision are actually moving in self-righteousness. Some groups of believers never address the continuing practice of immorality without repentance. The opposite pole is a group which addresses the issue with a cold heart of legalism, thus enduring a judgmental spirit that Jesus taught so clearly against. I was in a church once that turned someone "over to Satan." In fact, I observed two separate instances when several people were so condemned. I believe these people were mistreated, and God's intent to protect the body from a leavening effect of sin was missed.

The failing? The leadership made the call and brought it before the congregation as a finalized decision. Looking at Paul's instruction extrapolated further in chapter 6 and considering Jesus' teaching in Matthew 18 against the occurrence of a refusal of someone to reconcile with the truth, it is a judgment by the whole family which is authorized and not an action of a few hierarchical leaders.

I think more often, much more often, a confrontation with sin results in repentance. The strict action of shunning is rarely required. The rub is we do not have the patience to forgive 7 x 70 and continue to love keeping no record of wrong. That will be the next topic. :^)


Craig V. said...

We Presbyterians do seem to avoid the last step you mention. We usually bring a case of discipline to the congregation as a settled matter. We do have checks on local leaders, however, as there is always the possibility of an appeal. One sad thing I have learned from experience, however, is that any structure (even one from Scripture) can be abused.

ded said...

Certainly you are correct concerning our human ability to abuse any structure. This is one of the reasons why I think the really big issues need to be aired openly among all congregants.

I know from an administrative standpoint it is utterly inefficient.

Yet, it forces the hearing of opposing viewpoints and mitigating these in love, while providing a check and balance system on the group dynamics.

I found a blog the other day that argued Christians were not to be egalitarian. I think nothing could be further from the truth. I know there is the reality of varying degrees of maturity, and wisdom needs to be heard and heeded. However, when Jesus' words that we are "all brothers, so call no man leader" are ignored, it is our loss.

Craig V. said...

I agree. I think we Presbyterians may need to reexamine our practice (even though it does provide some protection for all parties in a conflict).

As far as egalitarianism, I suppose it depends on what you mean. Certainly the Scriptures teach that we're all brothers and sisters in Christ. On the other hand, I think elders need (and from the Scriptures have) authority in order to serve the church. Perhaps we should explore authority.

Terry Henry said...

I sense a theme here that stretches way back.

Having been there, and now prompted to look back, I agree with your assessment. However, when talking the other day with a brother who was involved in one of those situations, he was all but apologetic to the leadership involved.

I could not get him to see that we were all handed over to some sort of religious hierarchy which told us what we were to believe or not believe.

And therein lies the rub: their delusion (which still persists) was that they felt they were empowered by God to make those decisions for us.

In a new post on:

The author states that we need to start listening to one another in unprecedented ways.

I don't know what brought this post up but thanks for helping us all work through it.

ded said...

Hey Terry!

How much fun it is to have you comment here, my brother.

I appreciate your sharing that an involved brother felt almost apologetic toward the leadership.
I might guess who that was. Regardless of who it was, it is good to know he was in a position of charity toward others. That is a work of our Father.

craig v.,

There you go again naming my new direction. I hope I have the time to pursue that topic of authority before school kicks in and all my time is eaten up. You make me smile!