Monday, January 13, 2014

The Radical Christian Always Loves The Sinning Christian

The theme of my previous blog was about loving our neighbor by overcoming our instinctive self-righteousness.  But some Christians may use passages such as 1 Corinthians 5: 11-13 to expel and disassociate from their fellow Christians. If this teaching is univocal in its application, expelling or disassociating from our fellow Christian sinners may be the right decision always. But is this teaching univocal in application?

In other words, is the Bible instructing a Christian (a sinner by nature) not to associate with a fellow Christian who sins? Is the Bible also instructing the church to expel this [willfully] sinning Christian from the church?

Please read the verses in three different translations in the table below:

1 Corinthians 5: 11-13 (Emphases mine)
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
New International Version (NIV)
J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
…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…Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.
…I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people…Expel the wicked person from among you.
…I tell you not to associate with any professing Christian who is known to be an impure man or a swindler, an idolater, a man with a foul tongue, a drunkard or a thief…Don’t even eat with such a man…It is your plain duty to ‘put away from yourselves that wicked person.’
The sins necessitating disassociation and expulsion from church fellowship are, Incest (v1), immorality, greed, idolatry, slander, drunkenness and swindling. These sins could be described as follows:
1. Immorality: Prostitution and sinful sexual intercourse of any kind.

2. Greed: Greed of gain, especially at the cost of others. Greedy are the power hungry people within the church of Jesus Christ. They could be those not contesting for positions in the church but also sponsoring unworthy candidates through unworthy means.
Then there is a personal greed for greater personal glory – material and spiritual, within and outside the church. Amassing wealth, being corrupt and aiding corruption are included in the sin of greed.

3. Idolatry: Person(s) worshipping (revering / following) false gods. Since the context of this passage refers to Christians, it is obvious that Christians will not be worshipping false gods, such as the deities of Hinduism, Islam etc.
But there could be other gods the Christian worships. A Christian’s work, career, talent, materials are some false gods. 

4. Slander: To slander is to defame or abuse others with or without using foul language. Slander includes ‘false accusations.’  

5. Drunkenness: Getting intoxicated through substance abuse – alcohol, drugs etc.

6. Swindling: To rob / take ownership of anything that is not rightfully one’s own.

7. Incest: Sexual relationships with any member of family where marriage is forbidden.

Sinner’s Character
The context of 1 Corinthians 5 implies that the sinner was unrepentant and willfully continuing in his horrendous sin, maybe even disregarding valid biblical counsel. Since the sinner within this context is a Christian, one could question this Christian’s truthfulness or maturity as the Lord’s disciple. No one claiming to be a true or a mature disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ would willingly and hedonistically continue sinning.

Biblical Consistency
Is this teaching to disassociate or expel in 1 Corinthians 5: 11-13 biblically consistent?

The teaching ‘do not associate and expel’ seems to be a commentary of Deuteronomy 13: 5, 17:7, 19:19, 22:21-24, 24:7 and Judges 20: 13. This New Testament teaching is consistent with the Old Testament.

The Bible advocates ‘disassociation’ for other sins as well.
Romans 16: 17; Titus 3: 10
2 Thessalonians 3: 6-10
Laziness and refusal to work
2 John 10-11
Teaching heresies

Did Christ teach similarly? Yes, Christ’s condemnation of the Pharisees, Scribes and the teachers of the law are very similar. Christ’s condemnation of the religious leaders of HIS time appears to be an eternal condemnation (Matthew 23: 33). The disassociation and expulsion taught in 1 Corinthians 5 is temporal aimed at saving the sinner  (1 Corinthians 5: 5).

So yes, the teaching is consistent with the biblical teaching on the whole.

Practical Pitfalls
Is this teaching easy to execute or are there any practical pitfalls that demands greater diligence before executing?

Identifying sins of drunkenness, swindling, slander, idolatry and greed are more complicated than identifying the sins of incest and sexual immorality.  Take drunkenness as a case in point. A Christian may get intoxicated in one drink and another may drink like a fish and still remain normal and stable. There are some who drink once a week and get intoxicated, while there are others who cannot live without their one or two drinks every day. If a Christian cannot be at peace without his daily drink, he is an addict. How then should the church disassociate / expel fellow Christians, and based on what policies?

If a Church or a Christian disassociates or expels a practicing sinner on account of one of these sins, it ought to disassociate or expel sinners practicing all the sins mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5. If all churches are firm in disassociating or expelling fellow Christians on account of these sins, then these churches could eliminate a great number of her members. Moreover, every Christian would have less or no Christian friends. Correct me if I am wrong! Expelling one member and not others is an inconsistent practice amounting to partiality, which in itself is a sin.

Disassociation or expulsion is not a case of perfection judging the imperfection. It is the case of one imperfection judging another. Those who enforce expulsion or disassociation are not superior to the one being disciplined.

Given this scenario, the church should exhibit greater grace and love before embarking on disassociation or expulsion.

Preeminence of Love and Grace
The Lord in HIS incarnation was abundantly gracious to sinners. HE taught against sin but at the same time, HE forcefully emphasized grace through forgiveness. The Lord’s words to the woman caught in adultery was to ‘go and sin no more,’ the statement in the Lord’s prayer was to ‘forgive us as we forgive our debtors,’ and HIS teaching that we should forgive always (Matthew 18: 22) should remain in us always.

Apostle Paul echoes his God in Galatians 6: 1-2, “Even if a man should be detected in some sin, my brothers, the spiritual ones among you should quietly set him back on the right path, not with any feeling of superiority… (Phillips). 

Disassociation and expulsion should be the last step of restoring the believer to HIS maker. Love and grace should precede and possibly supersede disassociation and expulsion. 

Case for Disassociation and Expulsion

Disassociation and expulsion could be affirmed from the perspective of church discipline. One corrupt man can ruin the whole group, so in the interest of group’s spiritual wellness it is better to expel that one corrupt person. The Bible affirms this action.

The benefits of this action are:
(1) To restore the sinning believer (Galatians 6: 1).
(2) To keep the sin from spreading inside the church.
(3) To protect church’s purity.

It would be grossly unjust if a person who has not sinned is either expelled or disassociated. Thus disassociation and expulsion should be implemented if accusations are proven, the sinner clearly convicted of his sin, and if he is unrepentant and willfully continuing in sin.

I believe hell to be a reality. God’s grace is active only until HIS righteous judgment. Christ’s judgment does not offer grace to the unbeliever. When an unbeliever willfully rejects Christ, God allows the unbeliever to remain without HIM throughout eternity. Thus, expulsion of an unrepentant sinner from the church or from a Christian’s domain is valid because grace ends when the sinner rejects Christ’s teaching to not sin willingly.1

If the sinful Christian in contention is a church elder, he/she should be treated as per the teaching found in 1 Timothy 5: 19 – 21.

Having said this, I do not consider this teaching to be the only viable option for the church when it encounters sins in her members. Disassociation or expulsion should be the last option for the church or a Christian. Valid biblical counsel should essentially precede expulsion or disassociation. It is the church / Christian’s sole responsibility to ensure that expulsion or disassociation be soaked in love than rejection or condemnation. 

Being Radical

If a professing Christian is sexually immoral (incest, premarital sex, homosexuality etc.), and if he is unrepentant and willfully continuing in his sin, then, as a last option, he could be expelled from the church, but graciously and lovingly.

However, a radical Church / Christian would continue to love this person. But doesn’t the Bible teach us not to eat with this unrepentant Christian (1 Corinthians 5: 11)? Yes the Bible does teach that, but the Bible also teaches that we should restore a fellow sinner, so we could follow Galatians 6:1.

I would rather err on the side of grace than on the side of law. I would do this in hope and prayer that my brother/sister would stop sinning and be restored by the grace of God.

While loving this person, we could teach the Bible and the real meaning of being a disciple of the Lord – that discipleship includes hating and not practicing sins. Thus this person can grow into truth and maturity as the Lord’s disciple.

Radical Christians would continue to love their fellow sinners for they have little or no means to identify their fellow Christians who are greedy, idolatrous, slanderous, drunken, and swindling.

Personally I don’t think it’s wise to expel one sinner and at the same time allow ten sinners to prosper and grow in their sins. This is not the Christian life Christ would want me to live. So I would rather err on the side of grace than on the side of law.  

1 Christians who do not believe in hell and believe in universalism will reject this teaching of expulsion and disassociation. If these Christians accept the teaching of expulsion and disassociation, then they are hypocritical in their practice. Why would you reject a sinning Christian when God, according to the universalistic belief, does not reject anyone – even the most compulsive sinner?  

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