Tag Archives: forgivness

Some Thoughts on Church Discipline…

Okay, I know I’m a bit late.  The Driscoll hysteria has passed.  But I was asked in a final exam for one of my seminary classes about the concept of Church Discipline.  And having been on the pointy end of that stick myself in the last year or so, I thought I might share my two cents here as well.

There are many varying views of the subject, and, in my opinion, there are many abuses of the idea going around in the contemporary church.  Let us begin with the words most commonly used to describe how we ought to carry out discipline in the church.  Those words are the words of Jesus in Matthew 18.  Jesus says,

“If your brother or sister sins,go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

So, what we see here is that Jesus tells us a sort of hierarchy for how to carry out Church Discipline.  We first go individually.  Then we take one or two others.  Then we tell it to the church.  Then we treat them as the pagan or the tax collector.  In contemporary church circles – specifically that of the neo-reformed movement exemplified by Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill in Seattle – this has come to mean that we ought to call people out harshly.  If that doesn’t work, we send in the church’s elders in to beat them up a bit tag-team style.  If that doesn’t work we kick them out of the church and tell anyone who is a member that they ought not talk to them anymore.

Instead of this scenario, I think we ought to approach this subject by taking these verses in their context.  Prior to Jesus speaking these words he had been talking about who will be first in the Kingdom.  He says that children will be first.  He says that whoever wants to be first in the Kingdom ought to become like a child.  And he then continues to say that anyone who causes one of these children to stumble, it would be better for that one if they had never been born.  Then he further gives a parable that illustrates God’s love for those children.  He shows God pursuing the lost child like a shepherd pursues the one lost sheep while leaving behind the 99 to do so.

Then he gives the statement of “church discipline” as a way of preventing abuse by religious leaders.  He lays out a way of dealing with those who “offend” by doing it in a loving and kind way.  After laying out the loving way to deal with “one who sins against you” Peter – apparently looking for a loophole – asks, “how many times do I have to forgive one who sins against me?”  And Jesus answers by telling the parable of the unmerciful servant.  In this parable a servant of the King is forgiven an unpayable debt.  The servant then goes out and demands payment by one of his fellow servants for a minor debt.  The unmerciful servant is then punished because he would not forgive little when he had been forgiven much.

So, the idea of Church Discipline, in this light, consists of lovingly and privately calling out the offense.  Then taking a few people as witnesses if that doesn’t work.  If that doesn’t work, we then involve the church community.  If that doesn’t work we treat them as tax collectors and pagans.  However, this doesn’t mean we kick them out and avoid all contact.  Instead we treat them the way Jesus treated tax collectors and pagans.  We leave the 99 and pursue the 1 who is astray.  We love them and love them and love them no matter what.  We have dinner at their house.  We ask them to change their ways.  But we also never stop inviting them into community.  In no way do we shun them until they get on board with our way.  It is not our job to convict of sin.  That is the job of the Spirit.  It is our job to show love and forgiveness.  And if we must call out sin, then we do so in a loving and forgiving and understanding way.

So, instead of kicking people out who disagree or offend, we love them back into the group.  One of the greatest offenses that Christianity has committed against a dying and lost world is that we have systematically removed ourselves from society by segregating ourselves, and by kicking out anyone who doesn’t fit the mold.  If we follow the model of Jesus then we will draw people to us.  Without compromising Truth, we can at the same time not compromise Love.  Our witness to the world consists in our being the type of Christians who the watching world will see and say, “Wow…look at how they love…I need some of that!”  Instead I’m afraid that they know us by who and what we oppose.  When Jesus ascended into heaven he left us one final legacy.  He said that the world would know we are his and that he was sent by God if we love one another.  At one time the Roman historian Tertullian said, “See how these Christians love one another!”  When you ask someone today what they think of when they think of Christians, that is not the first answer you will get!

So, the challenge I issue today to you and to myself is to make an intentional effort to love someone you disagree with.  Find someone who has harmed you and make an effort to forgive them.  Make every effort to reconcile with them.  And even if you can’t, make every effort to let go of the hate.  Make every effort to be the sort of person who others will look at and say, “Wow!  Look how that person loves!”

Love is the Word,

Believe,

-a

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James 1:19-21 – The Gospel of Bob and Fred…

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.  Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” – James 1:19-21

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” – Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha

“One-half of the ills of life come because men are unwilling to sit down quietly for thirty minutes to think through all the possible consequences of their acts.” – Blaise Pascal

“When angry, count to four; when very angry, swear.” – Mark Twain

As the saying goes, “God gave you two ears and one mouth because you are supposed to listen twice as much as you speak.”  These three verses, probably more than anything I’ve ever read, ring true and frustrate me at the same time.  The default of my heart is anger.  But when I sit down and really look at it, what is that anger?  It is nothing more, and nothing less than my inflamed ego.  There is a time and a place for righteous anger.  There is a time when the only correct course of action is to pick up a cat-of-nine-tails and start turning over tables.  But 99.999% of the time our anger is nothing like righteous anger.  We get angry because so-and-so gets such-and-such and they don’t deserve it.  We get angry because someone says something out of the way to us, or about us and got away with it.  We get angry because we didn’t get our way.  In other words, we get angry because we are jealous.  We get jealous because of our pride.  And our pride is the basis of every other sin that we might commit.

Robert Anton Wilson said, “Most people live in a myth and grow violently angry if anyone dares tell them the truth about themselves.”  This is what we need to understand.  James tells us that our anger stands in the way of the righteousness that God has for us.  Our anger keeps us from, as Bob Wilson so aptly pointed out, hearing the truth about ourselves.  More often than not, our anger flares up in the presence of anything that tries to pull off our mask and expose the self we want so desperately to hide.

There is an interesting thing that James adds at the end of these verses.  After telling us to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, he tells us to get rid of moral filth that is so prevalent.  This idea is a “therefore” to the idea of being slow to anger, etc.  In other words, he is telling us that the way we can accomplish the first part, is in doing the second.  We are to get rid of moral filth in our lives, be humble in accepting the Word of God, and this will be the way that we are able to do the first part.  You want to know how to tell when a person knows what they are doing is wrong?  Watch for the things that make them angry.  Tell an alcoholic that they need to watch their drinking.  Tell a legalist that they need to be more loving.  Tell a “free-spirit” that they need some boundaries.  You will find out pretty quickly when a person isn’t so sure that what they are doing is right.

I’ll take it one step further.  In general, the thing that a person thinks is “the worst” sin, is the thing that that person struggles with the most.  And it comes back, once again, to the pride of Lucifer that we all share.  A person who thinks that being a drunk is the worst thing you can do is typically someone who has fought very hard to overcome drunkenness.  That person is then putting their pride in their ability to stop drinking, and thinks “I did it, why can’t you?”  A person who struggles with lust may think that infidelity is the worst thing you can do.  A person who struggles with anger may think that violence is the worst thing to do.  The list could go on forever.  The point is that James’ advice here is twofold.  We are to get rid of our moral filth.  That’s the part that our friends I’ve listed above have done.  But the second part is that we are then to “humbly” accept the Word of God which can save us.  And there is the kicker.  Once we realize that any ability that we have to overcome this moral filth does not come from us, but from God’s Word planted in us, then we see things in a new light.  When we realize that we, like these poor saps we are so angry with, are completely helpless to do anything about our sinful selves, then we become a lot more eager to forgive them.  When we realize that we are no better than they are, then we give them the benefit of the doubt.  Jesus puts it in positive terms when He tells us to love our neighbor as our self.

One of the most devastating, and humbling experiences that a person can have is to realize that you are exactly the thing that makes you the most angry.  It is so easy for us to look at the Swaggarts and Bakkers of the world and say, “you fought so hard against this thing in public, but look at your private life.”  But if we are honest with ourselves, we are absolutely no different.  Robert Anton Wilson again stumbled on something close to the truth when he said, “You are precicely as big as what you love and precicly as small as what you allow to annoy you.”  The downfall of these men, and the downfall of us all comes when we try to correct our own actions by just trying harder.  We think there must be some program, some method, some path that we can, on our own efforts, do to overcome.  But the fact is that we are totally and completely ill equiped to do this on our own.

In the end, like every other issue, it comes back to the two things that Jesus Himself told us to do.  This “word planted in you” that James refers to is that of Jesus, The Word Himself.  We are told to love God with all that we have and all that we are.  And we are told to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  This means that we humbly listen to what God tells us.  And what God tells us is that we need His help.  It also means that we are to love our neighbors by giving them the same forgiveness and the same benefit of the doubt that we give ourselves.  Even when we beat up on ourselves, and wallow in our “wrongness,”  we are really doing so out of some sense of pride in our ability to admit that we are so wrong.

The beauty and the freedom of the Gospel is that we don’t have to change other people.  When Jesus told Peter vaguely how he would die, Peter’s first response was, “What about John.”  Jesus, in the Grace and Truth way that only He could pull off said simply, “What is that to you?  You must follow me.”  Let that play in your mind the next time you are angry.  The next time you think, “So-and-so just said blah-blah-blah to me!”  Think, “what is that to me?  I must follow Jesus.”  The next time you wonder, “why did so-and-so get away with doing whatever-it-is?”  Remember, “What is that to me?  I must follow Jesus.”  And the next time you are faced with the choice to do the whatever-it-is that tempts you.  Remember, “What is that to me?  I must follow Jesus.”

“How sad it is that we give up on people who are just like us.” – Fred Rogers