Monday, April 28, 2008

Love Is Tough Sometimes...

It is very fashionable to look to Jesus as a limitless agent of love and tolerance. In a recent Christianity Today interview with “progressive” evangelical Jim Wallis (where I found a surprising amount of agreement with him on several views), he discusses the attitudes of evangelicals (mostly himself) toward homosexuality:

“I don't have all the answers on homosexuality. Fifty years from now, when we understand more what's going on, we'll look back and we'll ask: How did we treat gay and lesbian people? Did they feel like we treated them the way Jesus might have? And how do we treat each other in this conversation? When this becomes the defining issue of our time, I get nervous” (italics added).

The inference is that Jesus accepted everybody, all the time in spite of their sinfulness and their rebellion. That is not the case. When I look at Matthew 18.15-20, I see Jesus walking his disciples through conflict resolution. And not only conflict resolution, the implication is that one member of the body of Christ has wronged another, has been confronted face to face, confronted with two or three others who act perhaps as arbitrators, and confronted by the church. When these steps are taken, and yet the wrong party continues in his/her sin and rebellion against the authority of the church (where the Spirit is present in the witness of two or three), then the offender is sent out from the community and treated as a second class citizen. The purpose of this action, if we examine the whole counsel of Scripture, is redemptive. When we look to Paul to shed light on the subject (no doubt leaning on the tradition of disciples concerning this matter), he states that the purpose of expelling someone from the community (deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh), so that eventually he may be saved (1 Corinthians 5.1-13). I believe that this expulsion from the community is done to show the offender what life is like apart from the community and hopefully cause the offender to repent so that he/she may come back into the fold.

My point is that sometimes the church, at the instruction of Jesus, must deal ever severely with unrepentant rebellion and sin. Tolerance has a limit. Love continues to abound, for there is the hope that discipline will lead to repentance, but we do see a picture of loving Jesus excluding a member of the community because of willful, continual failure to conform to his image.


matt gallion said...

As an American, I will now exercise my right to disagree and agree at the same time (a phenomenon that excites me more than a little). I'll begin with the title and work my way through, exegetically, bit by bit.

First, your title is a statement I would not disagree with in any way. It summarizes your ideas, while at the same time catching my attention and sucking me in. Well done.

As to the ideas of the notorious Jim Wallis, I'd say he might have a point, to a certain extent. In the next 50 years, for good or for ill, I imagine that the issue of homosexuality in culture will certainly be "resolved," and it is likely the question might even have some form of "answer" in the church. I'm not sure that it will be the best answer, as I don't have any idea what a "good" answer might be. Regardless, I wouldn't be surprised if there is some finalized closure that we as a Christian society will have or must come to terms with. And I do think that, like in all things, our motivation should be to be like Christ.

Does that necessarily mean that Christ was all-accepting all the time? I think the answer is yes and no. The people he tended to reject, correct and rebuke were the religious folk. The people he tended to gravitate to were the utterly sinful. The passage in Matthew really doesn't help clear things up as much as it makes it more difficult. Jesus, in the closest thing he ever gives to ecclesiological advice, says to approach the offender to a certain point. Then, the people are to treat the offender like "a Gentile or a tax-collector". The question I ask is this: how did Jesus people in those roles? Yes, they were to be treated like second-class citizens; the kind of second-class citizens of the current kingdom who made up the first-class citizens of God's kingdom.

As to Paul's advice, I can grant you more credibility. He was the master ecclesiologist of the first-century, establishing and monitoring churches in most of the Roman world. His advice is much more explicit than that of Jesus, his understanding of the church much more institutionalized. His insight to the inner workings of a fully developed church, as we find ourselves in now, might be, in themselves, more fully developed than those of Jesus of the historical gospels, who, as far as we can tell, did not necessarily intend or assume that an institution called the church would exist in the ways that exists now.

In principle, I tend to agree that "love" is not always equal to "tolerance," in the strictest of senses. But I do believe that love is always "patient and kind." Too often, the church that knows that "love is tough sometimes" tends to interact with people of other values and viewpoints with all the tough and little of the love. Love may be tough sometimes, but a tough love should still be easily recognizable as loving.

billy v said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
billy v said...

First off, what makes you think the issue of homosexuality will be resolved in the next 50 years? It has been a taboo subject for thousands of years and hasn't been "resolved."
Second, I do think that Christ in this passage was talking to "confessing people" within the community not necessarily sinners outside of the community. (I realize that wasn't clarified in my post). My point was that sometimes it is best to exclude unrepentant rebels for the community for their own good and for the good of the community.
I do want want to caution that it seems as if you walking down the road of a bifurcation between the historical Jesus and Paul the founder of Christianity. I think Paul in 1 Corinthians was appealing to the Jesus tradition as he does throughout the letter (see also chapter 7 and 11). I also see a continuation of this mission in that Luke as gospel writer and recorder of the "Christ of faith" was also a companion of Paul. You may not have been going that way, but it might seem like it.
Thanks again for your thoughtful reply (as always).

matt gallion said...

What makes me think that it might be resolved (and I will emphasize that I only think; I certainly don't know) is the movement towards a more definitive legislation. I simply don't think that, as a society, we will continue to allow this issue to be up-in-the-air for the next 200 years (assuming we make it that long). I think this is particularly true with the coming generations that seem to be one part disenfranchised and disinterested in the church's position, and one part sold on their view of the world through the rose-colored glasses of relationships and the maintenance of those relationships as the driving force for most moral decisions. Couple this with the indivisible politics and religion of the more mainline denominations and their continued movement toward an answer. Though they are dividing on the issue, they are constantly working towards a solution that is based on their faith and their social policy. And I don't wonder if these issues might not be resolved sometime relatively soon. And I think that like Jim Wallis might say, the question that we will ask when the dust settles, whether it be 50 years or 5,000, will be, How did we live? Did we live and love like Jesus even though the people we loved had different ideologies and beliefs? Did we successfully love our theological enemies and the sinners we faced?

Secondly, whether confessing members of the community or total outsiders guilty of all sorts of unacceptable behaviors, the point remains: Jesus did not exclude outsiders as much as he embraced them. (Though I still agree with your basic premise)

Third, I don't think that by admitting that the church has developed over time compromises my belief in a Christ of faith who was the same as the historical Jesus. Nor do I think that assuming that the Church as an institution might have developed over time discredits the Jesus movement. If it weren't for ecclesiological or theological developments, we would both be out of work without a doctrine of the Trinity. This doesn't mean that we have neglected the heritage we have received, rather, it means we must have embraced it. If Paul helped to develop the church in order and structure, it must have only been because he truly believed the Jesus material he received. He must have been so passionate about that he could not help but continue to flesh it out in new places and situations.

As to the potential challenge of a non-omniscient historical Jesus, I would question whether the gospels really portray Jesus as constantly and fully aware of the future, or whether that was an insight made in hindsight by a Christianity that had expanded. A great deal of what we believe now as "orthodox" may not be explicit in the gospels, or even the New Testament canon as a whole, seeing as how "orthodoxy" was not defined until the third and fourth centuries, and even then only by the guys who got the most votes. All that aside, Christian ecclesiology, like Christian theology, has developed over time as this message has been truly timeless and truly universally available to all.

I'm just not sure that Jesus sat on the side of the hill muttering, "I can't wait til they invent air conditioning."

billy v said...

Well said, Matt. I don't think we are in too much disagreement on the basic premise of the post. I do appreciate the spirit of your third point.

The MAN Fan Club said...

Help me out on how to approach a pastor who insists on saying DEMONcrats from the pulpit or on a men's retreat that I was just on. I was looking for scriptures on this and found out that Billy Graham admits to being a democrat. Should I ask the pastor if Billy Graham is going to hell?