Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Corinthian Fallacy: Church Discipline in the Age of the Internet, PART II

False gospels and false Christs abound in our day. They largely thrive because they thrive in churches across the Western world. The church has far more influence in our lay culture than it usually credits to itself. When false Christianities go unchecked within the church, the result is a laity that witnesses to false Christianities to the general public. What we get is a Jesus who loves inclusively, rather than exclusively, a Holy Spirit who isn't so concerned about holiness, and a Father who doesn't mind His children being consumed by predators. Along with that, we get a false gospel that tells us that God just forgives because He is forgiving, not because He is just and deals with sin by killing the sinner in one way or another. We get a Christianity that is not about becoming like Christ, but only taking from Christ His salvation while ignoring the oneness through faith with the Holy Christ by which salvation comes to us. In essence, when the church does not clean house, there is no reason to believe that the houses of individual believers and their witness to the world will be clean.

What I have put forth in the preceding installment was the biblical means by which we are to clean house. We all have our theories, as the Corinthians had their own, but there is only one revelation from God on the matter. When an individual goes off into unrepentant sin and refuses to listen to the voices brought to him through the method Christ has laid out, excommunication is the only path believers are to take. And this is a cooperative process. Believers themselves will become partakers in the sin of others if they do not participate in the cleansing of the community from the chaotic agent and those who seek to restore the individual through the biblical means provided, as the church directs them to do so.

Claiming that you have a better way of love and grace is to commit the Corinthian Fallacy of thinking that you know better than God when it comes to saving His people. It seems too harsh to you, so those Scriptures that tell us to do it must be in the wrong, culturally irrelevant, misinterpreted, interpreted in a different way (i.e., you just withhold the fellowship of communion but still associate with the person), etc. But in the end, all is rebellion and will lead to the further corruption of the church in the dethroning of Christ and His gospel.

For many, the Corinthian Fallacy is obvious. They argue that grace and love requires us to tolerate explicit sin in a fellow believer's life because it allows us to convince them through our loving acceptance to repent. Despite the fact that it does no such thing in most cases, the person committing the fallacy often argues for it as though it is a proved method. In reality, when it does "work" we can only say one of two things: (1) God can use even our disobedience to Him to save another, but that doesn't mean we ought to hate God and others as a rule by disobeying Him; (2) what is likely happening instead of repentance is that the person decides to identify him or herself as a Christian and stays within the church community. The person committing the fallacy chalks that up as a saving of the individual, even though no repentance has taken place. In other words, the goal isn't to get the person to repent, because repentance is not seen as necessary to be in Christ, but rather the goal is to get a person to have warm fuzzy feelings about the community and continue to identify himself as a Christian. This evidences that the person committing the fallacy has a false view of what is required for one to have the gospel applied to him, i.e., repentance and faith--a turning away from self lordship to Christ's lordship.

Hence, what is really happening is that the individual who argues this way wants the sinner to feel good about him or her, and possibly make him or her feel good about the sinner's salvation. But this has little to do with what God has purposed salvation to be, and the means by which it is applied to an individual.

It is clear, then, that such an attitude that refuses to shun an unrepentant sinner/apostate is itself in sin and is proclaiming a false love, a false grace, a false Christ, and a false gospel. They themselves, therefore, are to be found in sin, and if they persist, even when rebuked, they too should be put out of the church, having participated in the evil work of corruption and sided with the devil in his pursuit to destroy the people of God.

A good example is in the current acceptance of homosexual Christians as real Christians who are saved. Those who support their rebellion are themselves a part of their deeds and will receive their punishment with them.

But there is another way we can commit the Corinthian Fallacy that is less obvious. This was brought out to me the other day when looking at one of the million conversations going on concerning whether homosexuals who claim to be Christians should meet opposition in the church.

A homosexual who identified as a Christian came into the chat and three different approaches became evident. The first looked very much like the one above. People wanted to "love" and "accept" the homosexual Christian, who was clearly in defiance of the biblical teaching, arguing against it and arguing that God loves homosexual relationships because He loves loving relationships in general, back into repentance. These Christians wanted to let the homosexual "brother" know that he was accepted and wanted him to stay in the church, identifying himself as a Christian, since that saves him.

But there was a stark contrast of two other approaches, one of which is usually seen as faithful, but is just as much of the Corinthian Fallacy as the other. This approach attempted to reason with the homosexual "Christian" by arguing that homosexuality is a sin, something this homosexual had heard many times before, and was told by his own community. Where the first person attempted to "love" him into repentance by associating with him, the second person attempted to "reason" him into repentance by associating with him. Both have committed the same sin in allowing this person to be a part of the community. It does not matter that the second person was solid in his biblical views of the sin and communicated that to the individual. He did not obey the command that would cause him to no longer acknowledge and have associations with the person. If we are not to even eat or say hello to an unrepentant "Christian," why would that allow me to have an association based upon dialogue, even if it is dialogue about his sin?

There is a report of the Apostle John walking out of a bath house when a well-known Gnostic teacher came in. He did not try to "love" or reason him into repentance. He just walked out. He had nothing to do with him. And the message was loud and clear. If you have no relationship with Christ by submitting to His lordship, you have no relationship with His people (i.e., you are not a part of the saved community). I do not have the right to say or do anything different than that.

The point here is to say that it is not through our reason, or tolerance, about a sin that will cleanse the community and communicate the holiness of Christ to the individual who has already rejected it. This is our way of thinking, but Christ commands us to do otherwise. This brings me to the third approach.

The third approach was not to love, tolerate, or reason the individual back into repentance, but rather to speak to the community involved and let them know that the homosexual was not a Christian and was not saved, and thus, was not to be listened to. Instead, it was to simply say that judgment has been rendered and the individual needs to now repent. If we are to say anything to an apostate, that is it. No reasoning out what is clearly an issue of rebellion in the mind and heart. Reason is not the power of God. It is the gospel and the holiness of the Spirit of Christ that calls one to repentance. That is God's kindness. His kindness is discipline, not communicating a false means of salvation to the unrepentant sinner. This is why Paul calls the Corinthians arrogant boasters who think they know better. They are fools, who do not understand how God works to cleanse His own community and save wayward sinners.

The Church should always be ready to forgive when repentance is finally achieved, but it needs to understand that we cannot run out to the prodigal and throw our arms around him until he starts to walk home. Until he turns and walks back, he is dead. Our purpose is to save the rest of the household from his corrupt thinking and lifestyle by acknowledging that he is dead, and only in repentance will he be made alive.

What does this then mean for our daily relationships and internet conversations?

Well, first, we should not consider everyone an unrepentant sinner simply because he or she is in sin. Some are untaught and need further instruction. Some are in sin but need to be convinced by another Christian to repent. These brothers are to be lightly disciplined because of their immaturity in understanding, but still considered brothers (1 Thes 3:14-15; 2 Tim 2:25-26). This does not include shunning but patient teaching and instruction.

But there are many others, and you often know them when you hear them, that have no intention of repenting, but rather wish to convince others that their sin is OK. These people need to be shunned by us. We need to declare them to be dead to God and His people, having no life in them, and we need to cease communication with them other than that. That is what tough love calls us to do. Love is exclusive, it disciplines, it seeks to exalt God, save His people, and restore others to Him. It does not tolerate a false profession, let evil go unchecked, and dethrone God by allowing an individual to make a mockery of His holiness in the midst of His community.

What this means is that you may have to make some hard decisions, as discipline is never easy. Ideally, it would fall upon the elders to decide, but in many cases, our internet church has created a need for individual decisions to be made. Our associations need to be ones that would reflect those that Christ would want us to have. This might mean that we give up dialogue with a particular person who is an apostate because they are beyond repentance. It may mean that we should address their apostasy in the third person rather than in the first in order to warn others of their evil and to not be persuaded by it.

Of course, all of this is completely foreign and seems ludicrous to our pluralistic culture. Our mentality is live and let live, even when we try to convince others to live rightly. But Christ often calls us to something strange and radical, especially when He means to do miracles through it. We do not reason people into repentance and faith, but rather proclaim the truth and the Spirit regenerates and convicts through it. He calls people to wash themselves in dirty rivers in order to be cleansed of skin diseases, and to cast nets out where there are no fish. He calls us to hit dry rocks to get water from them, and to die in order to live. He is a strange God with strange miracles that come to us through strange means. Many times we think the opposite will happen if we obey, so we choose our own ways over His. But if we trust in Him, and seek to discipline because we love Him and His people, we might just see some great miracles in the life of the Church, the unrepentant sinner, and in the world.

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