Wednesday, April 29, 2009

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Holy Ostracism

An anonymous commenter posted a link to John Piper's invaluable site in response to my previous post about my gay friend Lou. It's well worth a read:
The Bible clearly says that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, and sinners meant sexually active prostitutes or whatever and homosexual people who aren't repentant of their actions. And so, clearly, we should not cut ourselves off from relationships with anybody who is an unbeliever if we can by any means share the love of Christ with them.

But this is describing a person who, without any sense that his Christianity is being imperiled, or his soul, is acting out homosexual desire in sexually active ways. And, in order to avoid censure, he has gone to a church that endorses it.

I think we should abstain from fellowship with that church and abstain from fellowship with him, because the Bible says that if your brother does a certain sin then have nothing to do with him. Withhold your fellowship with him.
He calls this principle "holy ostracism", and goes on to propose how a believer might approach his or her wayward friend.
In other words, you have lunch with him—one final decisive lunch—and you say, "I've really enjoyed having you as a friend. This really grieves me. I'm willing to fight with you to the bitter end to help you war against your sin, just like I would like you to help me war against my sin. But if you make peace with your sin, you're doing what Romans 6 says you can't do as a Christian. And therefore you're acting as a non-Christian, and you're claiming to be a Christian. And the Bible says that I'm not supposed to have anything to do with you, not even to eat with you. And so our friendship is going to have to be broken if you go on like this."

15 comments:

  1. The Bible puts it in a way that we can see 3 groups:

    (1) the group that believes they are Christian and are ignorant about sin - they don't know that God said "this thing you are doing is sin".

    (2) the group that considers themselves Christian and they know they are sinning and they are activley struggling to stop it.

    (3) the group that proclaims they are Christian and they decide that the sins listed in the Bible as sins, is all wrong, and then they say sin according to the Bible is not really sin at all, so they practice sin.

    The Bible addresses all three groups in different ways - the third group being the one that we must seperate ourselves from completely and remove them from the Church/Gathering/Fellowship/Group; if they refuse to change.

    The first two are very different and the Bible & God treats them different.

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  2. I too have seen Holy Ostracism work in the right situation, however one must be careful because most of us could be ostracized because we continue to break the speed limits, are poor financial stewards or are habitual worriers. Which are all sins. This must be all about love and nothing else.

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  3. Thanks for the post from Piper. Interesting. I've done some thinking about church discipline (Matt 18), and this is an interesting article. I suppose the general thought here is that we don't ostracize those who are genuinely struggling with their sin but those who are attempting to justify themselves in a Christian context? The mechanics of what to do in a church discipline situation may be complex...

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  4. Jun Jia,
    Good post. Very clear.

    The point is to approach each group in love.
    lovingly educate the first group, lovingly come alongside and help the second (always ensuring we are not walking into temptation ourselves) and lovingly and firmly confront the last group both for their good and that of the wider church!

    Sadly too often what happens is people go into all three swinging a big stick, because they have an opportunity to, as they see it, build themselves up by tearing others down.
    Then they have the temerity to call it standing up for the truth. Actually it is the worst sort of lie.
    A wrong action, with a wrong motivation, masquerading under a wrong name.

    Christian,
    Stand tall and be not ashamed of the Gospel,
    Stand strong in the strength of the Lord,
    Stand firm on the word of God,
    but...

    Walk in love.

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  5. I found your comment beautifully written, Laurie. But, as for Jun Jia's comment, I don't see how anyone can reconcile the commandment to love one's neighbor with the supposed commandment to "separate ourselves completely."

    Those who sleepwalk to the beat of certain parts of Leviticus need to wake up to the New Covenant. Did Jesus "separate Himself completely" from the sinners? Of course not. He went among them. He ate with them. He loved them.

    Let's all repeate Laurie's summation:
    Walk in love.

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  6. In your post you said, "The Bible addresses all three groups". Can you please give scriptural references for each group that you are referring to (i.e. book - chapter - verse)?

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  7. Russ,

    Here are a few verses that map it out that I learned from others over the years:

    Group (1) Being ignorant "not knowing" about one's sin

    "He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness." Heb 5:2
    "even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief" 1 Tim 1:13
    "Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?" Jonah 4:11

    Even the misinformed God deals with in a certain gentle way:

    "Now Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, "Lord, will You slay a nation, even though blameless? Did he not himself say to me, 'She is my sister'? And she herself said, 'He is my brother ' In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this." Then God said to him in the dream, "Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her." Gen 20 4-6


    Group (2) the group that considers themselves Christian and they know they are sinning and they are activley struggling to stop it.
    "In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood." Heb 12:4
    "for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith." 1 Jhn 5:4
    "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God." Rev 2:7


    Group (3) the group that proclaims they are Christian and they decide that the sins listed in the Bible as sins, is all wrong, and then they say sin according to the Bible is not really sin at all, so they practice sin.
    "But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler--not even to eat with such a one." 1 Cor 5:11
    "If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother." 2 Thes 3:14,15

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  8. Wow, I really dislike that term. It sounds like what happens when Batman gives Robin the cold shoulder.

    Not all sinners are willful sinners. Some don't "get it" that what they are doing is serious. Some do not really know the true person of God, some have been hurt and put up walls, etc.

    The bottom line is what does the Word say about fellowship with sinners who knowingly, willingly, and in defiance to God continue to sin? That's the only opinion that matters. (Ref: 1 Cor 5:5)

    When Jesus ate with sinners, do you think they were a "shove it in God's face" sinner or just someone on the wrong path that had the capacity to turn around and find God standing there ready to accept them?

    Question: Will God have fellowship with someone who willfully sins in defiance to Him? Will they live eternally with Him if they don't humble themselves and repent? Even if they are Christians in name? Just saying....

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  9. Well, this is the first time I've ever blogged, so here goes nothing...

    Why all the fuss about homosexuality? If sin can be encapsulated as "finding life apart from God" then wouldn't we all do well to address the speck in our own eye instead of wielding the plank at the nearest person whose sin is "worse" than mine...I can hear all the Christians now... "at least I'm not a homosexual"...gee, doesn't that sound familiar? I believe Jesus heard a similar proclomation from a certain religious group that roamed the earth during his time...or might they still be among us?... roaming around, looking for someone to devour...oh wait, that's someone else. Or is it?

    Are we creatively purusing ways to love people? Or are we just whittling our plank into a spear that can gouge out the hearts of people we've decided are "in sin"...

    It breaks my heart at how narrow-minded Christians can be when it comes to God's love for humanity...is that the problem? Are Christians developing a Jonah complex? Do they secretly want destruction and hey, let's start with the gays since their sin is the worst? Can I just tell you that I have had to apologize to many a gay friend of mine on behalf of Christians who have done nothing but judge and condemn them...and on what grounds? I'm probably making my point...

    Jesus looks at the heart and I am convinced that a homosexual can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ...and...(gasp).. go to Heaven! (note sarcasm)...I mean, really, there are liars, cheaters, child abusers, pedophiles, tax evaders, the list could go on...and on... and on...and on about what's "wrong" with people...Christians included...so again, I ask...what's all the fuss about homosexuality?

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  10. I think the thing that gets us excited as Christians is the way in which sexual sin is being absorbed into the church as the "normal" state of affairs. Because there is a particular, organized agenda on behalf of homosexual sin, this seems to represent a more "real and present danger" to the Western church than others.
    Also, of course, American Christians are very much attached to a Christian cultural heritage, as we perceive it ...
    As an aside, over the long term, the threat to both the church and the culture (humanly speaking) may look more Muslim than secular if demographic trends continue. Imagine a day in the future in which evangelical Christians in the US come to the defense of homosexuals' human rights in the face of Sharia law persecution (and/or are persecuted alongside them).

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  11. I worry that 'Ostracism' concentrates on cultural taboos like being gay, instead of the ones Jesus mentioned most often: self-righteousness, materialism, self-centeredness.. dangerous spiritually to ostracize one sin above others, especially when you tally up Biblical references of that sin versus others.
    Blessings,
    Joe

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  12. I think we Christians, to our discredit, place much too much importance on the issue of homesexual sin. Outsiders view us a haters, high and mighty, pompous, etc... Is homosexuality a sin? yes. But remember that ANY sin is just as sinful as homosexuality to God. God teaches us to take the plank out of our own eye before we look to take the speck out of another person's eye.

    Should we practice holy ostracism because someone is homosexual? absolutely not. That only feeds the negative perception...that "we won't associate with those sinners"..and that we are somehow better than them.

    The fact is that we are NOT better than them. Even if we are Christian, and they are not...we are still NOT better than them. God is better...and it is Him who redeems us.

    Would you ostracize someone who drank excessivly? How about someone who was prideful. How about someone who lusts after someone who is not our spouse? How about someone who (insert any other sin you've ever heard of)?

    Unless you are going to ostracise everyone (for all sins), I wouldn't recommend ostracizing anyone for simply being homosexual.

    Instead, associate with them. Share your love with them. Engage with them and let your life influence them positively. Let them know that even though God considers their behavior a sin...that we ALL sin, and God still loves us. Then encourage them to seek God and ask him into their life. Homosexuals don't need to be "fixed"...they need to be loved. God will take it from there.

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  13. O how I agree w/ Brad - Hate the sin, yes - hate all sin, hate my OWN sins -- but love the sinner. The struggle Christians have with homosexuals is not just their sin, but their tendencies to recruit heterosexuals and to deny that their behavior is wrong. Well, big deal. All unrepentant sinners call what is evil good. Believers who are unrepentant about a particular sin in their lives are often blind to their own sins or deny that their behavior is sinful.

    Anyone who should but hasn't repented of their sins could very well be in a transitory state -- they haven't repented YET. So what else is new? We all need to see and repent our sins. And if we don't? Or if we don't right now? Often that means only that we are on a path that will lead us one day to love Jesus more than we love our sins. Isn't that OK? Isn't that just the way of a fallen world?

    When the love OF God, and my love FOR God, and God's love IN me does finally compel me to repent, even that won't guarantee I never sin again. As I live my live with Christ, I see more sins – in my past and present life -- which I never even recognized before. So I repent.

    So what if the homosexual person doesn't repent? Is he or she an unbeliever? What unbeliever is NOT IN unrepentant sin? He is an unbeliever and is to be treated as such.

    And what if the unrepentant homosexual is a believer? Paul says that if a believer is in unrepentant sin we are to treat him as an unbeliever.

    Now here’s were so many of us drop the ball -- and how are we to treat unbelievers? OK, do not be unequally yoked w/ them (marry or go into some binding partnership with them) but what else … Come on. Think it through. You can do it. Aaaaalllllmmmoooossst there ….

    Yes! Love them. Go to where they are. Meet them where they are. Dine with them. Go to their homes. Invite them into our homes. See in them their infinite worth in the eyes of God, and show them that. Pray for them. Don’t stop loving them just because they haven’t changed (yet). Give our very lives for them. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

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  14. This is a very good blog with wonderful insights by all. However, I am wondering why Paul has any say in the matter at all? Why don't we seek Jesus and what he said and did as an example for all of us? Why do we judge one another as we all have sin in our lives? Is there any doubt that the church is full of sinners?

    Why else would Jesus need to make such a sacrifice for our benefit? What part of "love your neighbor as yourself" don't you understand? Paul is the only apostle who calls for ostracizing a devisive person and it is my opinion that this is a classic reason why Paul is not the spokesperson of God as he is billed by most evangelical christians today. Jesus is our example and our guide and I have yet to find a place where he ostracized anyone even Judas when he knew that Judas had betrayed him. This whole discussion is about power for the people who want to judge. In my assessment those people just do not get it about Jesus and why He stood head and shoulders above all other men in regards to His character. Homosexuals are not making the church unholy any more than a heterosexual does when he/she has extramarital sex. How many men lust after women in the church? What about no fault divorce? Where was the outcry when that became the law of the land? The church in America is caught up in its own greed and arrogance which is why blogs like this are necessary and great theologians like Piper are wrong because we are following a flawed human like Paul rather than listening to the master JESUS. Go back to the source and you will all come to agreement on this.
    Hemoguy

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  15. I have watched this thread move from biblical truth back to a politically correct worldview and a numbness toward how God feels about homosexuality and all sin. God's definition of LOVE is not the same as our own definition. Only Jesus Christ was sinless and He commanded us to separate ourselves from those who embrace their sin. In order to call oneself a true Christian, he must die to self and follow Christ.

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