2 Symptoms of the Same Pride

This came up tonight.  

I’ve seen it with eschatology, I’ve seen it with KJV Onlyism, I’ve seen it with the no vaccination movement.  I’ve seen it with beliefs or practices I share, such as the Doctrines of Grace (you might’ve heard of “Cage Calvinists,” so-called because you want to put them in a cage and let them mature) and with home education.  I’ve read and worked with and loved Christians who have a wedge issue, a hobby horse they (a) can’t stop bringing up and (b) must convert others to.  It excites them more than the Gospel.  They are more ready to talk and post and write about it than the Cross or the goodness of Christ or the character of God.  

Not everyone who reads the King James Bible exclusively is what I’m describing here.  Not everyone who is wary of vaccinations, either.  But many are, and here’s what I’ve noticed:  When you dig a little their lives are often on fire.  Marriages are often on the rocks, kids often don’t want to have anything to do with them, many times there’s a history of church hopping and/or inability to maintain long friendships or a history of being difficult to work a job with.  

I remember one co-worker who I really, seriously loved in Christ who would constantly come back to one single issue within his Christian faith.  We gave each other grace and were close and we honestly cared about each other, but that issue, though I would argue is incredibly tangential (not to mention misguided), was paramount to him.  And I’m fairly certain that I was pitiable in his eyes for not seeing the light.  I later found out that his marriage was unimaginably problematic, that he had broken relationships with multiple children, and that he was deeply (and vocally) unhappy and bitter about his church and her leadership.  And then he abruptly and angrily quit the job we worked together.  It’s a pattern I’ve seen, and my conviction is that the two things, the small pet project you absolutely must argue about and the personal life that is deeply fractured, are symptoms of the same virus.  The hobby horse issue that you will not let go and the regularity of broken, unhappy relationships in your life are manifestations of the same bug.  

I think the same virulent strain was in Gnosticism, the early heresy that attacked the Gospel by claiming (among other false things) that there were truer, inner Christians who had secret knowledge that the lesser ones didn’t.  It’s often (though not always, of course) in conspiracy theorists and died-in-the-wool political partyists who view their fellow humans in categories of the enlightened “in” and the foolish or sinister “other.”  It’s a kind of pride that wants to rest in its own perceptive abilities, its own intelligence, its own research and cognition and wisdom.  It enjoys the fact that it is in the minority, because it wants to be one of the few enlightened and superior or, if I can use 2018-speak, “woke” (I hope I used that right; overlook it if I didn’t) It wants to be right even more than it wants to be righteous.  It wants to be vindicated even more than it wants to be justified.  It wants to win even more than it wants to listen.  

I’ve wrestled with pride all my life.  I’m guessing I always will.  But the more I’ve read or listened on podcasts to or interacted with what I’m describing, the more I’ve wanted to protect myself (and the people I love) against this particular kind.  Paul wrote against divisiveness as a man of conviction.  It is good to have rock-ribbed convictions in Christ.  But to be more enthralled by an issue than by God Himself, to love theory more than God or people, to be willing to argue but not have the slightest interest in reconciliation (or even persuasion) but simply in being upheld and proven right and victorious, is a sign of a toxin, a poison down deep in the spiritual bloodstream.  

Something is very wrong with this one who thinks he is very right.  

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.

1 Corinthians 1:20-29


1 Corinthians 5

It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

1 Corinthians 5:1-5

It is uncomfortable to talk about in 2018 America, but since churches must be holy and Christians must be holy, churches can’t keep as members professed Christians who are walking in unrepentant sin.  

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul makes plain that he is not pleased that an especially ugly sexual sin is talked about and heard about among these people, this church, and that nothing has been done. “How have I been gone for just a little while and this happens? And you all know about it and haven’t dealt with it! Are you kidding me! Do you not understand what a church is or what Christians are?”

In this rebuke, he reminds us: We are not our own.

Specifically, with Paul rebuking sexual immorality (“porneia”) we see that our bodies are not our own. We are not autonomous kings. But it’as also a part of the broader point Paul makes. In general, Christians are not just free to roam the world and do as we please. We are not people unto ourselves. We are not each our own self-sustaining little Christian ecosystem. The New Testament does not describe individual, lone Christians who are merely accountable to God but to no other humans. By God’s design, I am accountable to my wife, my children, the other elders of my church, the members of that church, and the government of my land (and there are others).
The Bible does not know of an isolated Christian who answers only to God. Like Mark Dever once said, “If you only submit to God, you’re not submitting to God.”

And because Christians are not their own, because Christians are called to be pure and holy, Paul calls on this church to be a church. It must do what churches are to do in the face of flagrant sin from one of their members. 

Notice how strongly Paul felt about putting the man out. He passed judgment even without being there in body, and he wanted this done in the name and power of Jesus Christ. This is not just a helpful suggestion a church is just free to take or leave. Being a part of a church who takes seriously confronting our sin and helping us repent of it is a part of obedient, healthy Christianity. Churches must hold the believers in their midst accountable for unrepentant sin.

It’s also important to know that is not just someone who sins. If that were the case, we would all be put out (1 John 1:8-10). No, this man was walking in sin with no repentance, no turning, no sorrow over his evil actions. He didn’t act like what what he was doing was sin, and he showed no desire to change. So in response to that, Paul is commanding these people who are the church to put him out. 

To put him of the people.  

There is no concept in the New Testament of a church being a place. It is always a people. Paul does not write to Corinth Church; he writes to the church at Corinth. The church is the people; the address is simply where they meet. Churches are people. Not buildings, not geographical areas. If the people disappear, there is no longer a church. If the building grows the church building has merely grown.  

And God has commanded churches to do certain things, including to proclaim the Gospel, the Word of God, and to teach Christians how to live in obedience to Jesus.  Part of what they are commanded to do is to hold their members accountable for their sins. Hesitancy to be plugged in to a local church is a sign of profound spiritual immaturity. Refusing to be accountable and open up your life to fellow Christians is to be content with spiritual adolescence. If you have no one who can confront you on your sin, you are not living mature, healthy Christianity.

It’s also important to see that Paul does not command the Corinthian Christians who make up this church to go out into the city of Corinth and find sinners and tell them they can’t come to the services. Nor does he say to put out admitted unbelievers. In 5:9-13 he actually says not to do that. Instead it’s this man who is in their midst bearing the name of Christian who he says cannot stay in their midst. In v. 12 he says that there’s an inside and an outside, and that it’s the inside they are to judge.

Since Paul says there is an “out,” it follows that there is an “in.” Our church recognizes the “inside,” the “midst” who Paul wants this sort of a man put out of, by having membership. This is where we prayerfully covenant with someone we have good reason to believe is a true Christian who wants to be a functioning part of the body that is Velocity Church. Like wedding vows and wedding rings, we believe it’s an appropriate application of a Biblical concept. In this case the concept is that the church is a group of Christian people, and that a person must be removed from that group if they refuse to repent.  Paul wants this man puts out of the midst of this church, and since churches are people, not buildings, I don’t think he’s primarily interested in the address. It may involve that, but I believe his main focus is to get this man out of the midst of the people, the people who are this church. He wants this man removed from the midst of this people.

You can see Jesus referencing someone who is apparently a professing believer in the midst of a church being treated as one who is not any longer in the body in Matthew 18:15-20. And in 1 Corinthians 5 and Matthew 18 (and the pastoral epistles and elsewhere) we see these depictions of God’s will for the church to publicly say, “This one who was our brother will not repent despite our best efforts, and so he can no longer be treated like a brother.”

And when done right, this putting out is an act of love. And to not do it is unloving. 

One reason that you know that this discipline is loving in that Paul tells the church they ought to have mourned. This is not self-righteous. Church discipline should never be self-righteous or gossipy or snarky. Always remember, discipline is discipleship. It is teaching. It is applying some pain or pressure in order to save someone from greater pain or greater pressure. Paul wants this man’s flesh destroyed that his spirit might be saved. It is unloving to not deal with sin in an area in which you have authority. So it is unloving for the members of Velocity to not deal with sin in Velocity. It is unloving for parents to not deal with sin in their homes. It is unloving for husbands not to deal with sin in their wives. And it is unloving for you not to deal with sin your own heart. 

Another reason you know that this church discipline is supposed to be loving is Paul is hoping that this leads to the man being restored. Paul wants this man removed from the fellowship of these people as a part of the discipline of God that will hopefully restore him to fellowship with them. Paul has committed or handed this man over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh so that his spirit might be saved.

And it is loving for the rest of the church. Paul does not want sin spreading throughout a church. He says that a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Unchecked, unsorrowful sin among a church’s people is church suicide. His encouragement in v. 7-8 is that we, as a church, really are unleavened. People who are Christ’s really have been made, in at least one sense righteous. They have been clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. 

And so they are to live like it. 

Clean out the old leaven, so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

1 Corinthians 5:7-8

Christ has fundamentally changed the people who make up a church. If this crazy church at Corinth, with all her folly and sin, really was unleavened, then believe me when I say all of Jesus’ churches are! Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. Jesus died as a bloody sacrifice for sin. But He did not spill His blood to cleanse addresses. He is not coming back for a Bride made up of church buildings (or church logos or church web sites or cool church names). Jesus shed His innocent blood for people, and those people make up a family called His Church. He has planted little instances, little seedlings of that family throughout the world, and He has cleansed them, and so commands them to live like it.

So how do we worship with sincerity and truth? What does worshiping in sincerity and truth, as opposed to hypocrisy and immorality, look like? I think Paul’s answer to this Corinthian church would be that it is an honest commitment to the Word of Word of God, that it is true heartfelt obedience to Jesus Christ and what He says is good. He would want them to hate sin and what it does (like he clearly does), and to love God and what He’s done (like he does). 

Paul is not here advocating for churches to retreat from sexually immoral (or otherwise wicked) unbelievers. Paul makes a clear line of demarcation, a huge distinction, between people of the world and people who bear the name of Christian. If someone claims to be a part of the brotherhood, then these principles begin to apply, because Christians need to be holy and churches need to be holy. That impulse to purge the world or totally hide from the world misunderstands what the church is. She is not a people meant to stay holy by running from the world, but a people made holy so she can run to the world. She is not a helpless baby meant to be quarantined from the world’s sick; she is a nurse with the only cure that can save them. True, she can’t become sick herself or she’ll be of no use to the dying, but she is meant to go out and offer the cure, not to run from them and hide herself.

But it is those who claim the Name of Christ who cannot be left to unrepentant sin as though everything is fine. We shouldn’t have confidence in our salvation if we are in sin and don’t desire to change. Paul makes clear that there is such a thing as a so-called Christian. V. 11 says, “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.” And why? Love for the man, love for the church. So that he can be restored to God via being broken (v. 5), and because a little leaven leavens the whole lump (v. 6).  

God loves this man, He loves this church, and for those reasons this man must be put out of their midst.

True love seeks the well-being of the beloved. It wants the one it loves to be whole and healthy and happy. There is no way that you can really love someone, or some group of people, and turn a blind eye to sin. Sin kills. It destroys. It separates from God and it violates others (and even self). If we love our brothers and sisters, we must graciously confront them in their sin. If we love the church, we must remove those who claim Christ but won’t repent. 

Churches: If we love Jesus, if we love the church, if we love each other, we will not tolerate unrepentant sin.   

She Must Not Be Silent

It seems to me that 21st century Western culture says that the church may be fine, but should stay in its own sphere and not really effect public life.  By contrast, God says that the church is His instrument of salvation and reconciliation in the world, and that, however much Hell would like to triumph over her, she will stand forever.  

Two very different views.  

Our day and place seem to view the Christian church with ambivalence mixed with a smidgen of scorn.  I argue that the Bible paints her as a blemished but divine sword, being forged (and slowly refined) in a fire to cut through Hell and sin and death and damnation.  She is an imperfect instrument being used perfectly.  She is a flawed body whose Head (Jesus Christ) knows exactly what He is doing.  The church is not a joke.  She is not irrelevant.  She should not stay in her Sunday school room and leave the world to do what it thinks best.  

She has the only message of freedom to an enslaved world, and she should not stay silent, no matter what the world says.  

“But we don’t want you speaking about that sin.”

You mean that thing over there, the one that will kill you and those around you?  That evil that promises God’s wrath on you and will afflict our fellow human beings and will bring judgment on our nation?  That’s the one you want us to pipe down about?  Well then I dare say our finger is actually on a very important nerve there, I’m afraid.  For I venture to say there is a reason you want us to stay quiet about that sin, as opposed to others.  

“But you must not carry that into work or public life.”

You mean I should check my Savior at the door, then?  I’m sorry, but that’s the very thing I must not do.  Both for your good and for mine.

“But you churches don’t even agree amongst yourselves.”

In some ways and in some things we don’t, it’s true.  But if we believe and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are a part of His massive body, His Church.  And He is faithful to help us speak His Word, albeit imperfectly, for the salvation of souls and the blessing of the world, even though each of our individual churches or denominations is almost certainly honestly wrong about some things.  The beautiful thing is that His Word is clearest where it is most crucial, and so Gospel-preaching churches will always be able to agree where it matters most:  The sinfulness of man, the perfectness of Christ, His death and resurrection as God and God’s Son to save those who will believe in Him, and His future return to make all things right.  

The church of Jesus Christ should not seek to be as harmless and quiet as our present culture would like her to be.  True, she is not a belligerent Bride, but she absolutely shares the convictions and the mission of her Husband:  The rescue and repentance of sinners to the glory of God.  

Christian churches, we are not to stay in a corner and do our best to not to bother anybody.  Read the book of Acts.  We have a grand mission.  And though it will frustrate many who are hardhearted (like our Savior frustrated many who were hardhearted), it will transform the lives of many others forever.   

We have a calling that only we can perform.  

And we cannot perform it by being silent. 

This Great Revolution

The greatest revolution in history is the revolt of the Kingdom of Jesus against the ruler of this dark air, against the principalities of self-love and pride and idolatry and greed that have set themselves up as “kings” in this world.  

The greatest revolt of all time is the one eternal light is mounting against these temporary shadows.  

The church, flawed though she is, is the instrument of that revolution.  She is the people of the coming victory.  

The church, the beloved wife of Jesus Christ, is a people of dangerous love.  She is a people of violent forgiveness.  Christians are a battering ram to the world’s worst lies, both the ones it’s told and the ones it’s been sold.  Our Christian kindness undermines the world’s bloody economy.  The church’s mercy upends this world’s dark systems.  

Our love of children assaults abortion.  Our care for the poor undercuts materialism.  Our promise-keeping in marriage takes a baseball bat to lust.  Our humble serving stands against belligerence and hate.  Christian kindness towards our enemies is an assault on everything Hell stands for.  We are fighting against something just by being children of God.  

We are ice cold water thrown into the face of a world stunned and punch drunk by bitterness and rivalries and selfishness.  We make war with hate by the audacious power of love.  We overcome evil with good.   

We are the people of the greatest revolution.  

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 

Romans 12:21

Long, Long Shadows and A Light

Sin never stops where you think it will. 

Your repeated anger leads to latent bitterness which leads to relationship-destroying gossip.  

Your pornography-viewing leads to unmarital sex which leads to one parent raising a child in isolation which leads to crippling resentment.  

Unchecked sin always spreads, and kills where it does.  Like cancer.  

But one of the beautiful mercies of God is that He has given us a community where sin and its scars can be dealt with.  

The church.  

Churches are little cities of imperfect people, people who have been miraculously remade and who, by the grace of a very real and very compassionate God, continually confess and continually turn from the sins they still commit.  They know who they were (spiritually dead evil people), they know who they are (spiritually alive people being slowly made more and more like Jesus), and they know who God is (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who love to save sinners).  And because of these 3 things, these little collections of Gospel people are able to bring wicked and broken and scared and angry humans into their midst and minister to them.  Serve them.  Help to stop the bleeding in their lives.  

The world is home to all stripes of sinners who are in different stages of the pain or disarray or death that sin brings along as its trail.  And there is no one else who can get to the root of the chaos or who can apply supernatural salve to the wounds of all this sin like the church can.  She has been given the Good News that can heal and can save people from their evils, and from the evils that were committed against them.  She can rescue them from the worst of the violence and the trouble and the affliction of this world.  

Which is great, because this is not Mayberry.  This is a world of adultery and ulterior motives and hearts who will cast those they love aside for pleasure or power.  This is a world where sin has left some long, long shadows.  Sons deserted by their fathers, marriages in flames because of selfishness, grown men and women who don’t know how to be men or women.  And there in the heart of this world stands the church, giving the hope and the truth and the life that only she can give.  

This world needs her.  The single mothers and the heroin addicts and the workaholics and the shallowest of womanizers need her.  She is a city on a hill.  

She is where they can come for possibility.  For hope.  For adoption into a forever family.  She is where they can sojourn for all of the things that only Jesus can hand over.  

For everyone trapped in what sin has spoiled, churches are households of transforming mercy.  They are families of forgiveness.  They are little peoples of honest confession and honest love and honest Gospel.  

This is a world of long shadows.  Because sin never stops where it whispers it will.   Sin never keeps that promise.  

But the God of the Cross has given a light that can beat those shadows back.  His church holds that light in her hands, for any and all to come see.  

How to Kill a Church

I love the church. Christ’s bride.  The ekklesia, God’s called out people.  He died to save her and I want to live to serve her.  And in my couple of trips around the block as a church member, church planter, church elder, there are a few poisons I’d love to see get big, skull-and-crossbones warning labels so local churches don’t accidentally ingest them.  The most beautiful, God-honoring of churches can be disintegrated if you introduce the right toxin (see Revelation 2-3).*

*Note:  Some churches also just die a natural death, by God’s good will, having done nothing obviously, overtly sinful or wrong.  No single local church lasts forever.   Churches have God-ordained lifespans.  What I’m warning against is “churchicide,” or, if you prefer, church suicide.  

Some ways to kill a church:

  • Get each person in the church to have his main concern be his role or reputation.  The church will either disband within 6 months or stay together out of spite and be insufferable for 20 years.  Each of the people who leave this church or who stays in her just to grumble will be perpetually disgruntled that they didn’t get to do or be what they wanted to do or be.  And whatever you do, don’t let any of the people’s attitude be like this:  

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 

Philippians 2:3-7

  • Get them away from the question “Is this true?”  Make them instead always, always, always ask “Will this work?”  And then get them to think it “worked” if their unbelieving friends and neighbors liked it.  Before you know it, they’ll go from trying to bless people because they want them to know their Maker (Christlike) to trying to get people to like them because that means whatever the church did must have “worked” (retail-like).  If you can get the church to make her decisions based solely on the world’s reactions to those decisions, you’re one or two steps away from turning the church’s leaders into a roomful of TV executives trying to figure out which type of new fall show will draw in their key demographic.  
  • Get the church to look in all the time.  Make them thoroughly and completely overwhelmed with the church structure and the internal systems and programs.  Get them to think only about the people already in the body.  No church can outlive its current members if no new members are made.  It’s simple math.  So you can kill a church by attrition if you get it to stop obeying Jesus’ commands to preach to the unbelieving and make disciples.  This method takes a little patience of course, unlike introducing outright heresy or getting a leader to fall into a massive scandal, but it’ll get you to the same end.  A church who doesn’t care about making new Christians won’t outlive her current Christians.  

Let me pull my tongue back out of my cheek, now:  Don’t let any of these things begin in your church.  And if they’ve already begun, pray and work like crazy for their removal.  

The church is a blessed thing.  And the cities and countries of our world desperately need local churches to minister to Gospel-believers and send them back out into the darkness, as well as to preach Christ’s Good News from the pulpit and the pew loud enough for all to hear.    

I’m short, love and protect the church.  

Jesus died to do the same. 

A Healthy Christian

2 observations:

1) I almost never meet a healthy Christian who isn’t plugged in to a local church.

2) Almost every time I meet someone who claims Christ but is not involved in any local church there turns out to be some fairly noteworthy sin or lack of spiritual growth going on in the person’s life.  

The reason that both of these little anecdotal notes make sense to me is that the New Testament doesn’t have much of a category for a Christian doing the Christian life in isolation.  It describes us as citizens of a Kingdom, sheep of a flock, members of a body.  

Whether we are working to straighten the crooked path of a church like the one in Corinth or being persecuted as part of a faithful church like the one in Smyrna, the New Testament’s panorama of the Christian life shows us we should be serving and being served in local churches.  

We should be taking the Lord’s Supper.  

We should be seeing unbelievers come to faith and being baptized.  

We should be submitting to elders/pastors.  

We should be hearing the Word of God preached and taught.  

And we should want these things.  

And there’s another thing we should desire.  If we’ve been born again through faith in Christ, then we’ve been adopted into an eternal family.  We will worship with other saints from every tribe and tongue, every skin color and economic stratus and culture, forever and ever and ever.  We should want to start having that rhythm in our blood now.

So, we should want to participate in the ordinances of Jesus’ church.  We should want to submit to the shepherds within Jesus’ church.  We should want to be in meaningful, accountable relationships with the other people who make up Jesus’ church.  

We should each want to be a part of a church.  

It’s a healthy desire.  

And fulfilling that healthy desire helps to produce a healthy Christian.