Of Sin, Justice and Remorse

In the oft forgotten Bible Book of Numbers, God says to His people, “Be sure your sins will find you out.

As a Pastor, I have seen this truth play out time and again.  In my own life.  And in the life of those claiming to belong to Jesus.  A large part of God’s sanctification (making holy) of His redeemed people involves teaching us to just “come clean.”  Own our sin.  Confess it and then begin the process of repentance (renouncing it and turning away from it as you pursue Jesus Christ).  God’s initial questions to Adam after he fell into rebellion are aimed squarely at inviting Adam to “come clean.”  Adam failed that test miserably, by the way (see Genesis 3:8-12).

God takes this so seriously that He actually expects members of the Church redeemed by the blood of His Son and our Savior, the Lord Jesus, to “confess your sins to one another” (James 5:16).  Our Lord has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light and now expects us to “walk [live] in the light as He [God] is in the light” (1 John 1:7).  We should not hide our sins, Christians!  Jesus has paid the price for our sins and set us free from their bondage and guilt.  Hallelujah!  We can be transparent.  Nothing to fear in confessing and repenting of sins.  It’s the way of the Christian.  We have been given Divine grace, making us people of ongoing confession and repentance.  Keeping dirty little secrets is the way of the first Adam.  Walking in the light is the way of the Second Adam.  God gave justice to our sins in the body of His Son on the cross, so that we believers could walk in righteous freedom (1 Peter 2:24).  Knowing there is “no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1) rightly empowers us to “come clean” time and again with God and one another, with the humble acknowledgement that we are a community forged and refined by Sovereign Grace!  We are forgiven.  So forgiveness is in our DNA (Matthew 18:21-35; Ephesians 4:32).  No need to fear confession in the community of saints.  It is our joy and power and freedom bought by Christ.

The NCAA recently hammered the University of Louisville with penalties in response to their sex scandals revealed in a 2015 book by Katina Powell, Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen.  Initially, Ms. Powell was castigated and mocked.  But turns out her allegations were true.  Basketball recruits between the years of 2010 and 2014 were having the pot sweetened by UofL, with a high level coach hiring prostitutes for them!  Want to flood your athletic programs with the best of the best?  Just give them “free” sex.  All of it they want.

Now, the Head Coach, Rick Pitino has denied any knowledge.  Whether you believe that or not is not my bone to pick.  Coach Pitino and the UofL leadership self-imposed several penalties to show remorse.  They even removed themselves from post-season play in 2016-17 and reduced their number of scholarships for that same season.  But the NCAA did not think it was enough.  They wanted more blood and so socked them with numerous penalties, which may even mean Louisville has to essentially “erase” its National Championship season.  Coach Pitino and the Administration reacted with incredulity.  Shocked.  Outraged.  Crying “not fair.”  And “over the top.”  And “injustice.”

While the UofL is in no way the Church or a church, and while I obviously do not expect a secular university to joyfully submit to the commands of King Jesus, I do think there are lessons here for us as Christians in the Church.

  • Sometimes we as Christians demand “more blood” from one another too, even after a brother or sister has confessed and asked for forgiveness.  Per Matthew 18, this is a high crime against our forgiving God.
  • Sometimes we say we have forgiven one another, but give the relational cold shoulder for months or years thereafter.  No doubt UofL and the NCAA will have no love for each other in years ahead.  But we, dear Church, are not the UofL nor the NCAA.  We are the forgiven in Christ filled with His love and Spirit.  When we confess and repent to Jesus, does He give us the cold shoulder for months or years afterwards?  (See 1 John 1:9)
  • Sometimes we are shocked by justice.  If you think the NCAA is harsh, consider that God Almighty under the Old Covenant with Israel imposed the death penalty on the very behaviors of those sex-crazed athletes!  We so often try to make little of our sins against the Lord.  But God never sees sin as little. It’s so big to Him that He crushed His own Son on the cross so that those who trust in Christ alone for forgiveness will never have to endure the everlasting death penalty of God’s wrath against our sins (Isaiah 53).
  • We should be shocked by grace and mercy.  Justice is simply what we have earned and deserve (Romans 6:23). But our culture has imbued us with a sense of entitlement.  And it’s spiritually deadly to our souls.  May we resist in the power of God’s Spirit and sing with tears of joy, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound!”

Let’s not allow the University of Louisville and the NCAA to be our paradigm, dear Church!  Let’s walk in the Light. Let’s confess.  Let’s repent.  Let’s forgive.  Let’s live as a Community of “Come Cleaners” who stand in awe of our Savior’s love and mercy.  For Jesus is worthy of us living in just such ways!

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).      

 

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Leaving a Church Well (Post #4)

At the end of God’s book, the angel escorting the Apostle John through his apocalyptic vision says, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:9).  Just a few verses later the Bride of Christ is described as “those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”  And a few verses after that, “His servants” who will “see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.”

These are descriptions of the Church given by the angel of God!  What grandeur and glory and beauty are captured in these words.  We do well to regain a high view of the Church, of which every single gospel-proclaiming local church is a part.  Jesus loves the Church.  And so should you!  And so should I!

To bring this series to an end, I want to share with you some passages and comments I have sometimes presented to those who are considering / wanting to leave the local church I serve for what we might call “less than biblical” reasons:

  • Given what the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2-4 (especially 2:11-22, 3:10, 4:1-16), do you think he would accept your reasoning for wanting to leave if he were the pastor here?
  • Giving the clear command to view ourselves as a “team” striving towards holiness together in Hebrews 12:14-15, how does your decision reflect that spirit?
  • Given the instructions of Philippians 2:1-4, how does your decision not violate those commands?
  • How does this decision make Jesus look really great and powerful and glorious?  Does it show off our Savior’s power to reconcile people to one another?  Is the spirit of 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 manifested in your decision to leave this church?  How would lost neighbors or friends come to see the love of Christ in this and be drawn to Him?  (see John 13:35)  We dare not forget that Jesus started His Church with 12 men who could not have been more “abrasive” to one another in their personalities and occupations and stations in life!
  • If Paul expected Jews and Gentiles (who were taught from childhood to hate one another), as well as former sexual  and moral deviants of all kinds to be able to serve Jesus together in a church (1 Cor 6:9-11), then how do you manage to justify “personality differences” or interpersonal struggles as a legitimate reason to leave a church family?

Can I tell you I have never had a single person wanting to leave for less than biblical reasons even attempt to engage with these passages face-to-face with myself or our other elders.  Not once.

It reinforces the truth that people simply do what they want.  Period.  We are all driven by our hearts (Prov 4:23; Matt 6:21; Mark 7:14-23).  We go for what we want.  And if we want to leave a church, for reasons that are clearly not warranted by the Scripture, we will proceed to do so over any protest or guidance or counsel.  But it seems to me this is a very dangerous thing for a person who claims to be abiding in Christ and His Word (John 15:6-9).  Think on it.

And now, let me conclude by sharing with you a story of “Victory in Jesus!”  We had a member leave us last Sunday, and she honored our Lord and His Church.  She had been in discussions with pastors for months.  She was so respectful and thoughtful throughout the process as pastors helped her find a new church home (she had moved to another city).  And she came back Sunday to say goodbye face-to-face, express love and gratitude to her church family, offer to tie up any loose ends that anyone was aware of, and seek our commendation to her new church home.  Praise God!  There are still a few believers who prize the love and unity of the Body of Christ over and above their personal preferences and comforts.  What a blessing to see this sister in Christ leave us so well.  She will make an amazing member and servant in her new church to which we commended her.  No doubt.

God is good.

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Leaving a Church Well (Post #3)

Earl Blackburn’s little workbook Jesus Loves the Church and So Should You is worthy of every church member reading and working through.  I could see great benefit to small groups studying this material together, as well as incorporating some of it into a membership class.

For the last two posts, we have been reviewing highlights of the Chapter on “When it is Right to Leave a Church and How It Should be Done.”  Having covered the “when is it right,” let’s move on now to “how it should be done.”

If you are convinced you have biblical warrant to leave a local church, Blackburn says this is how you should do it:

  • With the Word of Christ dwelling in your heart and directing all your actions (Colossians 3:15-17);
  • With love to God and your brothers and sisters in Christ characterizing your exodus (1 Corinthians 13:1-8);
  • With the fruit of the Holy Spirit exuding from your person (Galatians 5:22-23);
  • With the mind of Christ governing your attitude (Philippians 2:3-4, especially see the context of vv. 1-12);
  • With the wisdom that is from above controlling your conduct (James 3:13-18);
  • With a forgiving spirit, void of bitterness, attending your exit (Ephesians 4:32; Hebrews 12:14-16);
  • With a sacrificial heart beating within you towards your brethren who remain (1 John 3:16-18);
  • With a face-to-face farewell (3 John 13-14).

Well, again, this makes me happy and sad.  I have almost never seen a church member leave this way.  I especially think the final point is important.  I have requested members leave this way, only to be ignored.  I can only believe that the reason a person would refuse to give a face-to-face farewell to their forever family in Christ is because he or she is leaving for wrong reasons!  

Blackburn then leaves us with these few practical suggestions:

  1. Seek counsel before deciding to leave, especially from your pastors and elders (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 24:6);
  2. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; in other words, leave as you would like to be left (Matthew 7:12);
  3. Clean up any unresolved matters before you leave (Ephesians 4:1-3);
  4. Leave in a way that does not cause confusion or division after you leave (1 Corinthians 14:33);
  5. Leave in such a way that you can be heartily commended to another church (Philemon 12 and all the verses that deal with commendation);
  6. Leave in such a way that your attitude and conduct will not hinder your coming back;
  7. Upon leaving, do not think or speak evilly of those who remain (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, especially v. 5);
  8. Make sure you know where you are going.  Do not leave without a plan as to which church you will go.  Many leave and stop going to church altogether.  Again, I remind you that the NT knows nothing of a churchless Christianity!

I am resisting the urge to write a 500 page book on #’s 1, 3, 4, 5, and 8!  In our church we have seen some seek counsel from pastors before leaving, only to completely ignore their counsel!  Rarely have we seen messes cleaned up and resolved prior to departure.  And usually pastors are left holding a bag of rottenness to try and explain to the congregation because the departing member is unwilling to give a face-to-face explanation to the congregation himself or herself.  This almost forces pastors to gossip!  And when it comes to #8, knowing where you are going, well, that just doesn’t fit with our church-shopping consumer mentality now does it?

As you can tell, this is definitely a sore spot with me.  I yearn for Christians to return to a biblical vision of church.  I pray often for God to make Corydon Baptist Church a radically different body of believers from the “typical” churches in our society.  And I believe He is doing just that, for His glory alone in the Gospel.  But for those who sometimes continue to treat the Church poorly and view her in more secular ways, we mourn.

I sometimes wonder what it will take to force American Christians to once again love the Church like Jesus does.  That thought scares me a little.  The Bible does say “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17).  And that is within the context of suffering and persecution.  This is how God has always purified His people on earth.

May we be a church ready to “suffer according to God’s will entrusting their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19).

Our Lord and Savior suffered for the Church.  Why should we expect any different?

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Leaving a Church Well (Post #2)

Last post, we heard good reasons someone might leave a local church. These were taken from Earl Blackburn’s book Jesus Loves the Church and So Should You.  

In this second post, I want to share Blackburn’s reasons you should not leave a church, and I am quoting him at length from pp. 133-34:

  • Because you reject hard sayings and teachings of the Holy Bible and their implications . . . Other examples include biblical doctrines that are not palatable, instruction on church discipline, penetrating sermons, Sunday School lessons that seek to address today’s lawless practices, pastoral counsel that people do not want to hear.
  • Because you do not get your way about non-salvific matters (Philippians 2:3).  People often make idols of their own ideas or desires.  The church vote did go the way you wanted.  The pastors/elders or deacons did not do what you thought was best.  “I don’t like they way they did it …”  However, you must remember that the church in not about “you.”  The church is all about Christ! (emphasis in original)
  • Because you are unwilling to deal with personal sin when confronted (Matthew 18:15-17).
  • Because you will not work out personal differences with another brother or sister in a biblical manner (Philippians 4:2).  NOTE: Learn to work through difficulties with brethren in a biblical manner.  Do not run away to another church.  You will only carry your “dirty laundry” with you, see your problems resurface or worsen, and pollute the new church you attend.
  • Because you are under church discipline and you refuse to repent of flagrant sins or doctrines or teachings that caused scandal, division and offenses (see Romans 16:17-19).
  • Because you fail to live the way you should live within the covenant church community and before a watching world (Colossians 3:12-16).
  • Because you love the world more than Christ (2 Timothy 4:9-10) and you wish to return to the things that temporarily gratify the flesh.
  • Because you get angry and reject exhortations.  This often happens when fellow church members carry out exhortations and admonitions through mutual ministry (1 Thessalonians 5:14) or when pastors caution members of carelessness they observe.
  • Because the church does not have all the “programs” you want.  Activities and programs, which can create “busyness” to entertain or occupy children or teens, can easily deter people from the authentic purpose of the church.
  • Because the worship or preaching does not meet your “felt” needs.  Society today is so sensory-oriented and emotionally driven that objective truth is often overrun by subjective feelings.  NOTE: The full-orbed exposition and declaration of the whole counsel of God’s Word is more important than people’s desire for programs or their “felt” needs!  A consistent expository ministry will eventually meet all “felt” needs.
  • Because you are not a true Christian (1 John 2:19).  If you are a church member and come to believe you are not a true Christian, the thing to do is not leave the church, but repent and believe the gospel.  Let the pastor(s) know of your conversion, be baptized as a believer, and then truly join the church.

Well, this list makes me both happy and sad.

Happy because I am in such agreement with it and have been for many years.  This is a truly biblical vision of church cast by the New Testament itself!

Sad because of how few pastors and church members I see and know who embrace this full-orbed New Testament view of the church.  And even sadder by how many people and friends I have known who have left churches for these very reasons.  These very poor reasons.  These very shallow reasons.  These very reasons that mock the Doctrine of the Church as it has been given to us by Jesus Christ and His Apostles.

May God forgive them and us.  May God enlarge our vision of church. May we be given grace to do church in the way that makes Jesus look best and biggest.  Whatever man may say.  Make it so here at Corydon Baptist Church, O Lord.  And begin the work in my own heart!

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Leaving a Church Well (Post #1)

While it might seem odd for a Pastor to write a blog titled “Leaving a Church Well,” I for one think the subject has been ignored long enough!  Sadly, I have seen too many members (now former members) of the church I pastor leave poorly.  Even those who have said they were trying to leave the right way seemed to have butchered it somehow.  It’s saddening and sometimes maddening.

Last month I read a little book study by Earl Blackburn titled Jesus Loves the Church And So Should You.  I really wish every member of every evangelical church would read it.  The book is a treasure trove of practical biblical instruction on all things church.  To say this book is sorely needed, even among the members of the church I pastor, is an understatement.  Chapter 17 is titled “When is it Right to Leave a Church and How Should it be Done?”

Practical to the core.

Blackburn writes, “To leave a church in a godly manner means to depart correctly (for the right reasons) through proper resignation of membership.”

Lots in that one sentence.  Over the next few blog entries, I plan to present some of Blackburn’s points for us to ponder.  For starters, he asserts there are only a few biblical grounds for a person to leave a church.  I have argued this for years, only to be ignored by people refusing to engage with the biblical texts I have asked them to submit themselves to while considering whether they have good warrant to leave.

For Blackburn, here are the biblical reasons to leave a church:

  1. when a church departs from the gospel and the preaching thereof;
  2. when a church embraces and teaches heresy;
  3. when a church tolerates open and scandalous sin in the church leadership or membership and refuses to deal with it via biblical church discipline;
  4. when a church changes doctrinal positions not consistent with the church’s original Confession of Faith, doctrines, or practices (e.g., becoming paedobaptistic or charismatic);
  5. when a member (who is not under discipline) changes his major doctrinal position from that of his church;
  6. when a member is providentially moved to another location far away from his or her present church.

And there you have it.  I think he nailed it.  I have frequently told people that there are only about five reasons I would leave a church family.  Blackburn’s list closely mirrors my own.  And yet, the vast majority of members leaving churches in our culture do so for reasons other than those listed above.

Our view of the church matters greatly, friends!  And whether we stay or leave, and how we leave if we do leave, speaks volumes about our relationship to Christ and His people.  And those two things are always connected at the hip!

Next week, we’ll chew on some reasons NOT to leave a church.

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