Michael Spencer: on love and the demand that others be holy.

The Boars Head Tavern » Blog Archive » Biblical Convictions….and keeping my nose out of someone else’s business

I am like a lot of evangelicals in saying that I have very few questions about what the Bible teaches on the subject of sexuality. But I also have very few questions on the subject of how the Bible counsels me to view the sin of another person. In fact, I believe the Bible gives us a much unheeded admonition in this matter:Don’t be a busy-body. Mind your own business. Tend to your own concerns. Don’t be shocked at the world. Don’t so condemn the world that it doesn’t look like you aren’t a human being yourself. Follow Christ yourself first, and be less concerned about how someone else is not following him.

In Jesus’ encounters with sexual sinners (as opposed to religious and self-righteous ones) you have to be impressed with Jesus’ lack of interest in the sexual aspect of the situation. John 4 and John 8 would be the key texts, and Jesus is so matter of fact about the sexual sin involved that you can hardly imagine his words being different if the sin involved was shoplifting. (”You have five pair of Adidas, and the pair you’re wearing now were lifted….Go, and pilfer no more.”)

In other words, you can believe everything the Bible says on this subject, but the real question is how do you live next to, work with, serve and relate to the gay persons in your life?

So now I’m going to make someone really mad, but I don’t care: While you are allowed to have your convictions on the morality of human conduct, you are to keep your nose out of your neighbor’s business. What you neighbor is doing may be immoral, but it’s not your problem and it’s not your responsibility.

When I hear people say we have to “warn” sinners of what they are doing, I wonder if the person advocating that course would be OK with the BHT organizing a 24 hour a day posse to follow a subject around and hold up signs proclaiming “warnings” about their sin?

Well said. I’d add:

1. The NT texts that tell “us” to warn sinners are mostly Paul’s expositions to pastors of their pastoral responsibility over their sheep. There is no general obligation of Christians to generally warn those in the world about their sins. A pastor has responsibilites over the moral life of those in his church. As to those outside, Paul says, “God will judge.”

Too many Christians read the NT forgetting that it has in it texts that do not apply equally to every Christian. Laypeople, let me relieve you of many self-appropriated burdens: not everything in the Pastoral Epistles is meant for you!!!

2. We (the church) have nothing to do with their sins. Others’ sins are not our problem. If someone you knew took poison, and you had the antidote for all poisons in your hand, would you want to talk to them about what color the vial was and how much did they drink? Of course not! You wouldn’t care!

We relate to those outside the church as those who have good news to tell them — this is our ONLY biblical mandate for the world. The church has only the gospel, not the law. God still has the law, of course, and He enforces it non-coercively in the hearts of sinners via the convicting office of the Holy Spirit.

The church is not to moralize. She is to kerygmize. To the degree we talk to the world about, say, the Ten commandments, we are preaching to them a gospel of works. This should be most easy for Lutherans to understand.

The problem is that we really don’t believe that the grace of Christ sanctifies. If we did, we would hand out the antidote and be bored by discussions of the poison.

3. The sexual ethics of the bible are clear as a bell. Sex is for heterosexual marriage, and for no other setting, period. This is beyond argument for any honest reader of the text. That said, as Spencer points out, our obligation to love is not modified in any way, shape, or form by sin in the life of the sinner. After all, God loved us when we hated Him.

So not only do we not have the right or ability to fix sins — we don’t even have to be interested! Love is therefore a happy, free, sacred obligation. Think St. Francis, not Savanarola.

4 thoughts on “Michael Spencer: on love and the demand that others be holy.

  1. I have to disagree, and I think the Scripture is clear as a bell on this matter, too: “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you‘.” [1 Cor 5:11-13 ESV] Now reading all of 1 Cor. 5 is even more convincing, but the closing verses are a no-brainer. Yeah, it requires us to make the now-unpopular distinction between the those in the church and the world outside. But here God is referring to those who profess Chrsit (i.e., the professing Bishop Gene Robinson, in iMonk’s article) who also lead a sexual lifestyle that you admit comes under the definition of sexual immorality. Maybe some read Paul’s commandments as “suggestions” — or worse, insinuate that his plainly obvious commandment is incompatible with Christian love and thus unbiblical — but I can’t toss 1 Cor. 5 (and the myriad supporting verses) out the window so I can toss my arms around an unrepentent professing believer engaged in open homosexuality. There is such a thing as unbiblical fellowship, no matter how many warm fuzzies we inspire preaching otherwise. We talk about this matter as if handling unrepentent professing brothers is somehow unclear in Scripture and thus up to us to decide. I can’t believe that someone who reads the Scripture with integrity on sexual matters cannot also apply the same it-says-so-right-there-in-plain-text hermaneutic to this as well.

  2. In response to Phil, Christians are more than willing to purge homesexuals from the church but what do they do about the heterosexuals who are immoral? How many Christians have had pre-marital sex? How many Christians are divorced for non-biblical reasons? The only biblical reason is when a non-Christian spouse decides to leave a Christian spouse. Spousal abuse is also considered a valid reason (although some make arguments that even that is not condoned in the Bible) but that is pretty much it.

    I agree with Tim. It is the responsibility of the pastors (and elders, deacons, pastoral council, whoever is in leadership) to protect the moral integrity of the flock. When was the last time you heard a sermon condeming those who cheat on their taxes (a swindler) or workaholics (idolizing their work)? How many “Christians” drive around in expensive gas-guzzling vehicles yet don’t tithe (greed)? We have to treat homosexuality like all other sins and realize that we are daily guilty of sins that are just as abhorent to God as homosexuality.

  3. The distinction between those inside the fellowship and those outside is indeed critical, and is at the heart of what I tried to say above. A brother who leads an unrepentantly immoral lifestyle is a pastoral responsibility, first, and it is clear that lay folks are instructed not to associate with such a one. But those in the world we have no general responsibility to correct, and no tools to do so.

    And both these responsibilities are exercised within the context of a local visible church and in face-to-face conversations — not via mailing lists, TV shows, or web sites.

    Also, even the lay responsibility is corporate. There is no atomistic, individual responsibility to create discord in your local church just because they are not as pure as you think they ought to be at that point in time. This also is to usurp the place of the pastor and elders. Such lone ranger policing of morals is tantamount to rebellion.

    I also agree that if any local church is going to discipline their fellowship, they can’t pick and choose over the sin list with one eye on the latest mores.

  4. In James, Jesus says that to those who know something is sin, and do it anyway, it is sin. We are all guilty of committing sin. There are sins we do unintentionally and are quick to repent, and move on in a godly fashion, and then there are other times when a Christian becomes deceived, or falls away, and finds himself/herself caught up in a sinful pattern or lifestyle, as sexual sin (whether it’s adultery, homosexuality, or other sexual sin). Because we all are sinners, it’s not right to simply judge the sinner who’s committing a sexual sin, with an attitude that we are living a “perfect life” or are above the sinner in some way.
    “Don’t judge another with a speck in his eye, when you have a log in your own.” At the same time, we are to love one another with an agape love, especially those of the faith, and God also encourages us to lovingly reprove (speaking the truth in love) a fellow believer when we see that person caught up in a sexual sin (or other sinful habit) and pray for that person, and if allowed, become an accountability partner with that person to enable them to get back on the right path. I think the key here is doing it with the right motive or attitude, that of agape love for our brother or sister, and not one of prideful arrogance, thinking we are better than they. Such a prideful spirit was demonstrated by Lucifer bringing him down from an angel to Satan, the father of lies.
    As we daily get before God and pray for a friend caught in sin, we can depend on Him to lead us in the right way, and use the right approach to helping our friend, possibly saving him/her from eternal damnation, keeping in mind:
    “But for the grace of God, there go I.”

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