Christianity 201

November 12, 2014

When God Reads Your Report Card

After a two-week break, regular midweek contributor Clarke Dixon returns to the subject of generosity. Click the title below to read at source where you’ll find previous entries in this series.

Being Sheepish in Our Generosity

Offering PlateThe following is a very familiar passage, so familiar perhaps, that we might skip through it rather than read it carefully. So to help us slow down and read more carefully, let me ask you as you read it to identify what the sheep are and are not aware of:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you? ’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. (Matthew 25:31-40 NRSV)

What are the sheep aware of? People in need and how to help. That was easy, now, what are the sheep not aware of? Easiest to spot is that they are not aware that in serving “the least of these” they are really serving the King. They are also not aware of the potential for a reward through their service. Finally, the sheep are not aware that not only are they serving the Son of Man, the King, through serving others, they are emulating Him. Being generous in a time of need is the kind of thing God does. Consider the exodus from Egypt:

7 Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt (Exodus 3:7-10 NRSV)

God saw the need, he heard the distress of the people in need, and he helped. That rescue of God’s people in the Old Testament pointed to an even greater rescue to come for people facing the greatest need ever. In Biblical times, and today there is slavery, there is oppression, there is division and painful dividing. There is addiction, there is violence and violation. There is conflict, international, and interpersonal. What is at the heart of all that? Exactly that which God came to save us from: sin. There are many who are unaware of sin, who are unaware of needing a rescue, but before we are ever aware of our need for God’s love, God knew our need and had the rescue already planned out. Sin separates us from God and destroys our ability to be fully human and in full relationship with other humans, but God was moved to help: “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28 NRSV)

As sheep, we are called to emulate the Son of Man, Jesus, and be gospel people. Yes, sometimes we will sense and know a specific call from God to “go here and do that” or better, “go there, and help them.” But whether we sense that specific call or not, we all have a call to be gospel people. What do gospel people do? Gospel people proclaim God’s gospel, the good news of God’s rescue of us from the penalty and power of sin in Christ. But Gospel people also live the gospel. Having been rescued, we seek to rescue. Having been helped in our need, we seek to help others in their need. How much of ourselves are we to give? How much generosity is enough? To answer that we do well to remember “the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9 NRSV)

Being in the midst of a bathroom renovation I was interested in a recent tv show highlighting some really spiffy bathroom renovations. One such cost over $500,000. I don’t know about you, but I do not want to stand before the Lord someday and explain why I felt that was necessary. Nor do I want to stand before the millions living without running water and explain why I need a loo worth half-a-million American dollars. But are there financial decisions I will be ashamed of? Are you and I really aware of the need and our potential to help? What does generosity look like in your life?

41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. ’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you? ’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. ’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:41-46 NRSV)

February 7, 2013

Should You Call Out the Sin of Those in Leadership?

In the life of the local church, stuff happens. As you continue to follow Christ, you will be exposed to things that will frustrate you or even cause you to question how certain people got into Christian leadership in the first place. Some will tell you that you shouldn’t interfere with people who have spiritual headship over you. “Touch not the Lord’s anointed;” is the most commonly quoted verse. But others will tell you that sin is sin and needs to be so identified.

What will you do? Well, this blog is called Christianity 201 and not Christianity 101 for a reason: It’s about digging a little deeper into the Word, and that sometimes involves digging a little deeper into issues. So I decided to include this article by Steve Scott at the blog From The Pew. I always tell you to click through to read; I especially recommend doing so here because there is going to be at least one other part to this. (We’ll add the link as soon as it’s available.)  Steve called this: Elders Behaving Badly: Speak Up or Hush Up? (1)

“But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints;”  Ephesians 5:3 NASV

“Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful to even speak of the things which are done by them in secret.”  Ephesians 5:11-12 NASV

In the debate that has taken place over the rise of so-called “spiritual abuse” or “survivor” websites and blogs, one argument that has been made is that such people ought not discuss any sins of spiritually abusive pastors due to the above verses.  But before I go any further, I want to note that there has been more than one way that this passage is interpreted.  And the interpretations I have come across can lead to opposing beliefs about speaking up.  They are…

Hush Up

I have heard this interpretation my entire Christian life.  People have been taught to interpret these verses so that we should be silent about sin.  This is not a rare interpretation, and I think it has led to comments like this one.  The commenter asserts that it is shameful to even talk about their misdeeds.  Here’s the thinking behind the interpretation.  “…for it is disgraceful to even speak of the things which are done by them in secret.” v12.  One grammatical possibility for this verse (and there are more than one) is this.  I emphasized the word “even” to show the point.  Not only is it disgraceful to speak of the things done openly, it is even disgraceful to do so in secret.  So we can’t discuss the sins in question among us, even in secret, for it is a disgrace.  So, in this interpretation, the speaking about sin is what is in view and it is disgraceful. 

The sin itself is not in view.

This is given support by the same type of interpretation of verse 3.  The two interpretations go together.  “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.”  This interpretation puts forth the idea that the names given to various sins should not be used in our conversation.  The sins should not be named.  And this is proper among saints.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, or a coincidence, that some of the people speaking out against the abuse blogs are people influenced by John MacArthur.  I found a site that compares commentaries of scripture, and if you scroll down far enough here, you will see that he warns about describing sin in his Eph. 5:12 comments.

So what does this interpretation have to say about exposing sin, as in “but instead even expose them”?  As the commenter said in my first link, we expose sin by the light of our proper living before God.  The summary of this “hush up” view is, “we shouldn’t discuss or name the sin, but expose it by godly living.

Speak Up

A “speak up” interpretation might look something like the following.  Contrary to the “hush up” view, the disgrace mentioned in verse 12 lies not in speaking about the sin, but in merely speaking about it in secret.  Secrecy is not where the sin should be spoken about, but rather it should be exposed: “but instead even expose them.”

And the exhortation in v3 to not have immorality named among the saints does not mean that we should not name sin, but that none of us should commit those sins so that the name can be pinned on us.

This does appear to be a difficult passage to interpret and apply consistently.  I will attempt to speak more to it in another post.