Christianity can be deucedly inconvenient and confrontive.
It starts out with us being brought face to face with our sin (see Romans 1:18 - 3:20, for instance). We are forced to accept that we're guilty, we have no one to blame but ourselves, and we deserve punishment. More, we can't fix the problem; we have to be rescued. Still more, our rescue can't be on our terms, has to be on God's terms; what is required of us is unconditional surrender and submission to One who calls Himself Lord, and actually means it (cf. Luke 6:46).
Then that same God to whom we've bowed the knee sends us off necessarily to local fellowships, where we will be under the care of at least one pastor, and the rest of the fellowship. Both are tasked by God, specifically, to put pressure on us when we wander off into sin. The pastor is to reprove, rebuke and exhort us Biblically (2 Timothy 4:2). So are our fellow-Christians (Hebrews 3:12-13). Ideally, it should start and end privately (Matthew 18:15-20). But if the sin was a public leader's public sin, it may start (and perhaps must end) publicly (Galatians 2:11ff.; 1 Timothy 5:20).
So we start off with this notion in mind: sin is bad. (Deep concept, eh? Maybe I'll write just on that, sometime.) It kills, it destroys, it defiles; it is attempted Deicide. We want none of it. We come to Jesus to be saved from sin. Jesus gives Himself to save us from sin, He gives His Spirit to steer us from sin, He gives His Word to guard us from sin, and He gives us pastors and brothers to administer needed rebuke and reproof to part us from sin.
Seems clear enough, no? Well, evidently no. Because in evanjellybeanicalism, we've developed a number of potent ways to ward off — not sin, but — anyone who tries to call us to repentance from sin.
Here are just four. It is by no means an exhaustive list. You will be able to suggest more:
- The "grace" card. This is antinomianism, whether nascent or in full-bloom. What? How dare I? Don't I believe in grace? Brother, hear me: I not only believe in grace, I have staked my eternal destiny on the grace of God in Christ. But Biblical grace is how God freely saves me FROM sin's guilt and power (cf. Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 2:11-14). The moment you adduce grace as if it were how God makes it "okay" for me to live under sin's power without feeling guilt, you're no evangelical, you're at best dangerously close to being an antinomian, and you're having crumpets and tea with a virulent heresy (cf. Jude 1:4).
- The "judge not" card. This may be the laziest and silliest. Jesus says "Judge not" (Matthew 7:1), then immediately tells us how to bring others' sins to their attention (i.e. not hypocritically, vv. 3-5); then tells us not to give holy things to pigs and dogs (v. 6). So we have to judge enough to identify sin, pigs, and dogs. What mustn't we do? We mustn't judge others' hearts, which we can't see (Proverbs 14:10; 20:27; Jeremiah 17:9; 1 Corinthians 2:11). In a very similar vein, there is the...
- "Yeah... but you did it with the wrong attitude." As a response to a truthful confrontation, this is barely more contentful than "Oh yeah?" and "So's your old man." It's more along the lines of, "Oh, well, er... hey, look! A comet!" — except phrased as an accusation. Oddly, the "wrong attitude" set is very judgmental when it comes to mind-reading and heart-examining anyone who dares to try to obey Jesus' command to discern (Matthew 7:3-6) and rebuke (Luke 17:3). At its worst, it evolves into...
- Three magic words: "You're not loving." Ahh yes, consider the incandescent splendor of The Love Card™. Do you tell me (truthfully!) that I'm breaking the first, second, third, fifth, and whatever-else commandments? Oh yeah? Well, it doesn't matter, because... you're not loving! So there! Now I don't have to deal with my sin! I'm a victim, you're Torquemada! The beauties of this pathetic, craven dodge are literally countless. Behold, and marvel:
As one has somewhere said, "My brothers, these things ought not to be so."
- Hey, presto! The subject is changed! Mission Accomplished! We're not talking about my (actual) sin anymore, we're all about your (alleged) lovelessness in pointing it out! It's... er... Martinelli time!
- It's like calling someone a "racist": you are in sin, but your brother is now The Accused, he's assumed guilty, and the more he tries to defend himself, the worse he looks.
- The bar remains unreachable, and can be raised world without end. "I think you missed this... what about that?... I still think you're...."
- Unlike your sin, this standard is so vast and borderless that you can use it and re-use until everyone loses interest or dies. Who ever loves enough — purely enough, selflessly enough, heartily enough? Suppose the poor chap works diligently on his attitude of love three or four times; then you get to say, "Why do you keep harping on this? I think you have issues!" It's sheer genius, of a dark sort.
- Here's the kicker: you (or the person whose sin you're enabling) are the ones in sin, but now you look holy and pious, and the other guy looks bad!
- You can simply run out the clock until everyone wearies of the subject, and the person who brought it up (to honor Christ with believing obedience, guard the holy name of God, and do you good) just looks bad.
- And, hey! You get to keep your sin! Because evanjellybeans just don't care about God-shaming, sinner-hardening, testimony-ruining, soul-destroying, kill-Christ sin anymore!
Yes, the rebuker should do his task humbly and lovingly. Without doubt. But do it he must. It is, after all, what Jesus would do, and did do, and does do (Revelation 3:19).
And we must also remember Scripture has a good deal of wisdom for the rebuked, as well. Here's a mere smattering:
Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness;In closing. The story is told of President Calvin "Silent Cal" Coolidge returning from a church service.
let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head;
let my head not refuse it (Psalm 141:5a)
If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;
I will make my words known to you (Proverbs 1:23)
...reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;
teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning (Proverbs 9:8b-9)
Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life,
but he who rejects reproof leads others astray (Proverbs 10:17)
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
but he who hates reproof is stupid (Proverbs 12:1)
There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way;
whoever hates reproof will die (Proverbs 15:10)
Whoever ignores instruction despises himself,
but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence (Proverbs 15:32)
"What did the pastor preach about," his wife is said to have asked.Would Coolidge find such unambiguous clarity in evangelical pulpits — or congregations, or blogs — today?
"Sin," the taciturn president responded.
"What did he say?"
"He was against it."