29 April 2009

A Sidebar on "Blameless"

by Frank Turk

I've been busy in the last week doing all manner of things, and we're still steeped in the first 5 verses of Paul's letter to Titus, but last week's post seems to have thrown a lot of people for a loop. I have tried to form up some private letters to answer some of the private questions asked, but I keep coming back to the same thing I started with last week -- at least internally.

I don't think the criterion of "blameless" is either hard to grasp, nor is it all that controversial. And in order to make my point, I found a dose of Spurgeon to help me say what I think Scripture itself is saying to us on this matter:
Where the Spirit of God comes he creates in the man a new nature, pure, bright, fresh, vigorous, like a fountain, and the fact that this new nature does exist in multitudes of men is a standing evidence that the gospel is true, for no other religion makes men new creatures, no other religion even pretends to do it; they may propose to improve the old nature, but none of them can say, "Behold, I make all things new." This is the sole prerogative of Jesus our Lord.

The existence of the new life is matter of fact. We ourselves know many whose lives are pure and blameless; they have faults before God, but before the eyes of men they are perfect and upright, blameless and harmless. The godly lives of Christians are good evidence of the truth of the gospel. Did I hear some one object, "But many professors of Christianity are not holy"? I grant you it, but then everybody knows that they are inconsistent with the religion which they profess. If I heard of a lustful Mahomedan I should not consider him inconsistent with Mahomedanism; is he not allowed his harem? If I heard of a licentious Hindoo, I should not consider him to be dishonoring his religion, for some of its sacred rites are disgusting and unmentionable. The same may be said of all the idolatries. But everybody knows that if a man professes to be a Christian and he is guilty of a gross fault, the world rings with the scandal, because it recognizes the inconsistency of his conduct with his profession. Though some may at the first breath of a slander blazon it abroad and say, "This is your religion," the world knows it is not our religion, but the want of it. Why do they themselves make such a wonder of a fallen professor? Are adulterers so very scarce that such a noise should be made when a minister is, truly or falsely, charged with the crime? The world's conscience knows that the religion of Jesus is the religion of purity, and if professed Christians fall into uncleanness the world knows that such a course of action does not arise out of the religion of Christ, but is diametrically opposite to it. The gospel is perfect, and did we wholly yield to its sway sin would be abhorred by us, and slain in us, and we should live on earth the life of the perfect ones above. Oh, may God produce in his church more and more the witness of the new life, the testimony of holiness, love, meekness, temperance, godliness, and grace: these are the gospel's logic, its syllogisms and demonstrations, which none can refute.
And as I read that, I wonder: is that actually true today? Is this who we are?

Isn't that who we ought to be? And that's merely those of us who are Christians in the broad sense. How much more should this be true of our pastors, in order that they might say, as Paul did, "Insofar as I am an imitator of Christ, be imitators of me."









35 comments:

stratagem said...

"I don't think the criterion of "blameless" is either hard to grasp, nor is it all the controversial."

Only in this age of low standards where doing exactly as one pleases is considered a birthright, is it controversial.

NoLongerBlind said...

"The existence of the new life is matter of fact. We ourselves know many whose lives are pure and blameless; they have faults before God, but before the eyes of men they are perfect and upright, blameless and harmless. The godly lives of Christians are good evidence of the truth of the gospel.

Great quote from the Prince!

Point well made, Frank. Especially with regards to the fact that blamelessness before the watching world - and other believers - is something we're all called to, and will be accountable to God for!

"Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ"
(Philippians 1:27)

And, even though "there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1), even so, "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil." (2 Cor. 5:10)

Chris said...

Frank,

Well said--both you and C.H.S.

In this post, you will undoubtedly strike postmodern nerves if readers include those who parade their love of the world (carnality) and false piety as genuine humiltiy, charity, or generosity. It will remind those who hide behind the "I'm [just] fallen, and I can't get up" mentality that Scripture does not provide an option for believers to stay on the floor, as it were.

Sir Aaron said...

"I don't think the criterion of "blameless" is either hard to grasp, nor is it all that controversial."Exactly. Nonetheless, I'm sure we'll still get many blue moon questions.

Boerseuntjie said...

NO COMMENT.

Enough said!

Thank you Team, it is good to know that the fire of the LORD still burns in the Temples of men.

Soli Deo Gloria, not because of my inabilities, but because of His Sufficiency and power.

Your fellow transforming bondslave, by the Spirit of grace and truth Alone,

W

Respectabiggle said...

Maybe I'm afflicted by pomo influences, or maybe I focus too much on the "T" in TULIP, but I have a hard time imagining that I could go to a church and say, "Hi, I'm qualified to be your new pastor, because (among other things) I'm Blameless."


Maybe my problem is that I can't see a definition of blameless that's neither unreachable (blameless= almost sinless) or too lax (blameless = has not been indicted yet).

Frank Turk said...

Respectabiggle:

Take it up with Paul.

stratagem said...

Why don't you just say:

"Hi, I'm qualified to be your new pastor, because (among other things) I'm Blameless. Humble, too."

??

Daryl said...

Or you could say:

"Hi, I'm to be your new pastor. I don't think I'm fit for the job but I'll submit to your assessment. Now turn in your bibles to..."

Daryl said...

Excellent post Frank.

I don't like it's implications though, primarily because it makes me look at myself, and I don't particularly like what I see there.

stratagem said...

I would be a lot more comfortable looking at myself if Paul had written "clueless" instead of "blameless."

Respectabiggle said...

Frank -
Sorry if that came across wrong. I'm not arguing, I'm trying to figure out what it is that I don't understand.

Frank Turk said...

Can I admit something? I am somewhat unbendable about this topic. I agree with what Spurgeon has said in this exerpt (posted today), and I have a hard time embracing the sort of theological shadow-boxing Respectabiggle is an example of here. No offense, dude.

Spurgeon is right to point out that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. He has died to the law, and now is raised to new life in Christ. This is not merely rosey bible talk: this is the "already" effect of the Kingdom of God, the "new birth" which makes it possible for us to even believe in the first place. You'd think as Calvinists that we'd be a little more serious about our status as the elect than to say, "eh -- sorry. I'm just (or he's just) a work in progess."

yes: we should reject prefectionism. Nobody's perfect -- but we must admit that we are being perfected. In that, we can seek solice from our failures in Christ, and seek our holiness in His work.

And with that all said, the call of the pastor/elder is for the mature not for the immature. That is: you can be a Christian if you are still working out the problems of your misspent youth or your addictions to the pleasures and poison, but you can't be an elder.

You know: Mark Driscoll is funny here (what? this is related to Mark Driscoll? I'M OUTRAGED!) because in his book Death by Love, he talks very boldly and starkly about the married guy who is in love with porn. In fact, I would say this chapter of his book is perhaps one of the reasons we have to keep staring at this guy and wondering if what he preaches is going to take root in his heart.

Driscoll calls the guy who is a porn-watcher an adulterer. He says he has violated his marriage. He's right.

So how come when we get to the part of Scripture that talks about the tongue as fire, and about how coarse jesting is supposed to be unmentioned among the believers, and how an Elder is supposed to be blameless, Pastor Driscoll does not take the same biblically-centered view of holiness?

"Blameless" doesn't mean "trying harder".

Think about this for a minute: I discovered last week while I was on a business trip that I was relieved that none of my fellow travellers were Christians -- becuase it meant that I wouldn't have to worry if, in the course of conversation, I swore. I was relieved that I didn't have to have my guard up.

Now: did I swear like sailor? Not hardly. I think I swore once or twice -- which, for me, is nothing short of a miracle. I can remember when I used to swear once or twice an hour when my guard was up. So on the one hand, I am clearly being sanctified. On the other hand, what is that, exactly, that I am relieved that I don't have my Christian friends around me to support me and excourage me?

That's what I'm talking about: that one can be on the road to sanctification, but not sanctified; that one still is actively carrying the Old man around.

Because I am this way, I may be a blogger, but I am not blameless. Anyone like me is not blameless. We should at least admit that we are what we are -- and confess it to God, and ask Him to deal with it. We must fight the good fight, run the good race, and repent.

Strong Tower said...

Glad you got around to the clarification about the application of the criterion.

There are variances of requirements for differing callings. One of those things is maturity. The variances do not remove the responsiblity nor the goal which is Christ-likeness in all, no matter the calling or vintage, though.

This is where many err in installing elders or following those who claim the status but do not have the qualifications.

And let me qualify that. I might follow someone who wasn't quite there yet and admitted it. I wouldn't follow someone who admitted it but thought it unimportant, unnecessary, or excusable.

Additional comment is a post all its own.

Respectabiggle said...

FT- No offense taken. I 'm not trying to shadow-box, I really am trying to understand. Real-world examples like the two you cited are helpful. Maybe some examples of what does meet the standard would be similarly helpful.

From what I'm reading here, a short definition, then, would be "while not perfect, sanctified to the extent that his behavior is uniformly above criticism from within and without the Church"?

I know, y'all are probably saying, "that's what we said in the previous 500 lines of text, doofus!" Thanks for being patient.

stratagem said...

Well, Respectabiggle, in all seriousness it's not likely that anyone would advise you to say of yourself "I'm blameless," if for no other reason than no one would believe you. I think people have to judge blamelessness for themselves, from knowing you over a long period of time.
In fact, if someone told me they were blameless I'd immediately be suspicious of them, based on a long history (in business) of observing that people who are always telling you how honest they are, usually are the least honest of all.

Strong Tower said...

from knowing you over a long period of time

Good point. The widows were not to be admitted to the roles except that they had established their faithful service to the saints. Now if elder ladies have such a high standard of proven blamless character over a long period of time, it seems that a lower standard for Elders is a bit of a contradiction. Could be that intimate knowledge of who is qualified is a necessity to determine who is blameless.

Respectabiggle said...

Strategem - no argument here. Like Margaret Thatcher said, "Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people that you are, you aren't."

Lisa Nunley said...

"insofar": ['to the degree or extent']that "I am an imitator of Christ, be imitators of me."So apparently, or so it seems, there was a degree of which he was not an imitator of Christ and we are not to imitate that part, right?

Couldn't blameless also be that one should be careful to know that he is a true saving faith believer that is 'blameless' because of the imputed righteousness of Christ... along with evident genuine and fervent pursuit of holy living for His glory? I guess I ask because I have heard of several testimonies of men as elders and pastors that were more of the lawlessness persuasion mentioned in Matthew 7:21-23.

Being perfectly blameless isn't possible on this earth while we are still clothed in this flesh... even though we are new creations clothed in the imputed righteousness of Christ, we are still tainted by sin.

Hope I haven't trailed. I obviously have jumped into this conversation late, so forgive me if I have misunderstood. It happens.

Boerseuntjie said...

I think it helpful to consider the Sufficency of the Spirit's power by the soaking of the word, as it transforms a heart of stone into the heart of Christ...

Are we saying that with God these things are IMpossible, but with men they are POSSIBLE?

It seems that when we consider the power, Almigty God has at His disposal and the Fact that He desires and wills to conform us to the Image and Likenss of Christ, given His good timing and ability, this miracle of grace is not only possible; but to be DESIRED and sought - So that he who asks will be given to, and for him who seeks will find...

Because it is the will of the Father for his children; thus all the more for His shepherds.

IF HE COMMANDS WHAT HE WILL, WILL HE NOT ENABLE US TO FULFILL THAT COMMAND BY GIVING US WHAT WE NEED to be OBEDIENT?

Your fellow bondslave for the glory of our Almighty GREAT I AM,
W

Chris said...

Frank:

Thank you for your comments regarding the struggle you have with cursing and business travel, as they were so candidly refreshing and truly "authentic" because they revolve around your obvious embrace and deep understanding of sanctification!
Nowhere did I hear in your comments a carnal, postmodern/emergent license mentality towards sin (denying it), nor was there a deluded sense of perfection attained, as some practice. Your dependence on Christ in this struggle you have is clearly revealed through your boasting in His sanctifying work in your life, NOT in YOUR failures or YOUR successes. Now, this is "transparency," reformation style!

Sir Aaron said...

So apparently, or so it seems, there was a degree of which he was not an imitator of Christ and we are not to imitate that part, right?Lisa, considering Romans 7:15, I think that was exactly the point. The problem most people have is they equate "blameless" as Paul uses it in the passage under discussion with "perfection." So since nobody can be perfect it becomes a problem to have elders. Paul lays out some examples of what he means by blameless.

Sir Aaron said...

Frank:

I find myself absolutely fascinated by your account. I easily have enough questions to last an entire lunch.

Nathan said...

My dad's pastored my home church in Montana for nearly 25 years. As his son, I can tell you he's not perfect--not by a long shot. All of us kids know his weak points, and if you want the full scoop you can ask Mom.

That said, folks at the high school basketball game clean up their language when he sits next to them. People at the rodeo have hidden their beer when they've seen him coming. When some lady tried to accuse him of fooling around with her, those who heard her rolled their eyes and promptly forgot about it.

Everyone knows my dad represents a higher standard of behavior.

No one believes he would personally tear down that standard.

That's blameless. It ain't rocket science.

one busy mom said...

"We ourselves know MANY whose lives are pure and blameless; they have faults before God, but before the eyes of men they are perfect and upright, blameless and harmless."

WOW....!!

I know "many" Christians. But most of them, like me, would be "works in progress" looking forward to -by the power of the Holy Spirit - being matured into "blamelessness", but certainly not there yet.

Seems we've fallen a LONG way since Spurgeon's day.

Sir Aaron said...

Nathan:

one of my favorite Pastors replied to those who claimed they could be perfect: "Let me talk to your wife."

Stefan said...

Frank:

Thanks for being so forthright in your comment.

Regarding "blameless," Paul used it of himself in reference to his keeping of the Law, but it's clear from his other writings that he wouldn't have considered that he himself had perfectly kept the law, since that would go against the whole point of his teaching on justification.

We could probably read "blameless" as "above reproach"; "as sinless as is humanly possible"; etc.

< math >The same way that an asymptote approaches 0, without ever actually reaching it, or how you can theoretically count as high as you like and get very close to infinity, without ever actually reaching it.< /math >

And I wouldn't put myself within a football field length of "blameless" category, even with that somewhat-less-than-perfect definition.

We still need Christ, whether we are an apostle or an ancient mariner, a Torah-observant Pharisee or a tax collector.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Nathan,

I hope your dad reads that.

Julie

Frank Turk said...

The positive example I would offer, since somebody asked, is either Phil Johnson or Dan Phillips.

Are either of these, my friends, perfect? Not hardly. Are they "blameless", men who are examples to others in terms of Christian life and practice?

Their lives, families and ministries speak for themselves.

DJP said...

Eegh. You misspelled "Phil Johnson" the second time.

0c:=

Boerseuntjie said...

Nathan, Sir Aaron and Frank have it neatly summed up for us:

Blameless does not equate PERFECT.

Blameless does not equate SINLESS.

Blemeless is, well simply: Without BLAME.
Blamelessnes is a chareteristic, not a Law.

Excellent Posts and thread!

Your fellow bondslave for the glory of Almighty YAHWEH,
W

Strong Tower said...

"Blamelessnes is a chareteristic, not a Law"

One thing that we find in the qualifications for an elder is there is no age requirement. We are all familiar with legal age, we are also familiar with the fact that maturity does not inhere in chronology.

Centuri0n has mentioned the concept of "true son." Interesting, because it is not the case that it is a statutory or progenitic reality. It means something else.

DJP- It's easy to get you guys confused. Must be the hair.

Frank Turk said...

Sir Aaron:

I am always available for a free lunch.

Sir Aaron said...

LOL, Frank. Lunch is on me. I just have to get you to Houston first.

Scott Shaffer said...

I'm obviously very late joining this conversation, but I'll add my two bits anyway.

Certainly we would consider Paul, Peter, and Timothy as meeting the blameless criterion. Yet, look at Paul's background prior to conversion, don't forget Peter's denial of Christ and how he caved in to the Judaizers in Galatia, and Timothy's timid/prone to depression disposition. Praise God for his grace and mercy, and how he truly recreates us when he saves us. Nevertheless, He isn't done with us yet. Being blameless is not synonymous with being perfect!