Current Tunage: Oh, Sleeper – Son Of The Morning
New record out, sporting an inverted, “horns cut off” broken pentagram on the cover. Heavy material. Apparently it’s a concept album, where all but the last song on the record is voiced by Satan – and the last song (“The Finisher”) is God’s response. Check out an interview here that will explain it a bit better. All in all, it’s a pretty amazing record. The guest spot with Cody Bonnette of As Cities Burn on track 3 is wondrous to behold (or rather, to be heard). Either way, compelling stuff. I’ll share some lyrics soon.
This morning on Facebook, I posted a video of Dr. John Piper responding to the question “How should Christian friends respond to a friend who has entered a homosexual relationship and moved to a church that accepts it?”. During the discussion that followed, I realized there’s something much deeper at stake, namely, “How should Christian friends respond to a friend who claims to know and follow Christ but has made a truce with their sin?”. Ultimately, “Holy Ostracism” isn’t about homosexuality in particular, it’s about any mode of sin that we might make habit and be unrepentant of.
1 Corinthians 5:9-13 ESV
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people– not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 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.”
The answer? It depends on the person, and what they claim. In both cases, we love them.
If they don’t claim to be a Christian – to know and follow Jesus – we love them. In this case, loving them means that we (among other things) seek to propose (not impose) the Gospel; that God became Man, lived a perfect life, and was crucified by his enemies (namely, us) to save and deliver and redeem them… and arose again 3 days later to prove all of the above.
If they claim to be a Christian – to know and follow Jesus – we love them. In this case, loving them means that we do many things (worship together, “do life” together, bear each other’s burdens, serve Christ together, etc). It also means that, rather than sharing the Gospel with them, we hold them accountable to their claim OF it.
What does this accountability look like? Well, obviously, it’s rooted in relationship. If someone claims Christ and avoids his body (the Church), that’s a separate problem (equally grievous, but separate). So, assuming they’re in relationship with other believers – in this case, you – what does holding them accountable look like?
Simply, it looks like loving them enough to challenge them, question them, confront them, and rebuke them for their sin. Always gently, always in love, always with Truth (ie. the Word of God), always patiently and helpfully. It also looks like committing what Piper calls “holy ostracism” eventually.
Titus 3:10-11 ESV
As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
Holy ostracism is something that, prayerfully, we do when someone refuses to deal with their sin (or acknowledge it as such despite the clear teaching of Scripture). It’s not something that happens overnight, it happens in response to a pattern of stubborn and selfish love for sin – a love for sin that eclipses love for Saviour and His Name & Glory. It looks like a severance of relationship because it is – it sounds like this: “We can’t be friends anymore until you either stop claiming to be a Christian, or repent and begin the process of making war with the sin you prize.”
Quite frankly, I have some friends who – because of the way they live – need to stop claiming they know and follow Jesus. They are hypocrites to the n’th degree and, much more than that, their “peace” and “truce” with their sin declares to the world that the Saviour doesn’t save. For this reason and others, “ostracism” is what scripture prescribes for that kind of circumstance.
Of course, I also have many other friends who claim to know and follow Jesus and their lives show it. Not in perfection, but in constantly moving forward and dealing with their sinfulness.
2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 ESV
If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
If someone habitually and stubbornly refuses to deal with – for example – their pride (aka self-idolatry), they need to be held accountable and consider how, and IF, that is acceptable for a follower of Jesus. We present them with loving rebuke and correction – as brothers, not enemies – and if they consistently refuse to see the problem or to move forward against it, we break fellowship (and lovingly give them the ultimatum above). The rebuke is always loving, always geared toward restoration and reconciliation with God.
To refuse to help others in this way (I believe) weakens churches, weakens believers, and gives plenty of weight to outsider’s charges of meaningful hypocrisy amongst Christians. There is nothing to be gained by refusing to break fellowship with the unrepentant, and much to be gained from “handing them over to Satan”.
1 Timothy 1:18-20 ESV
This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.
Obviously, one must be in a place in this person’s life to know about their habits and their patterns of living – this of course means that to be in a position to do ‘holy ostracism’, you must be in a place from which to ostracize. Of course, this is complicated by the way that things like Facebook and Twitter make friends who, in past ages, would have been more “stranger” and “acquaintance” than “friend” something much more. From the wonders of social networking, people’s lives are on display, and their attitudes and sinfulness with it. We don’t have to look far anymore to see “friends” who are pregnant (or have impregnated) outside of wedlock, or living with someone they’re not married to, or carrying on with a lifestyle of drunkenness and debauchery… all while claiming to be “Christian”. The trick with this is that although we might have the data, we don’t have the relationship and thus, holy ostracism’s goal (restoration to God) is unnattainable in such loose contexts – not to mention we aren’t close enough to them to know if they’re dealing with their sin, repentant and putting themselves under spiritual discipline. It is this which leads me to believe that holy ostracism is something reserved for honest-to-goodness real life contexts where not only will it actually have meaning, but where its purpose can actually be worked out through the division of relationship. This hints at something at the heart – holy ostracism isn’t something done entirely for the sake of the person being ostracized. Why? Simply because holy ostracism isn’t always helpful for the person being ostracized. If it were, we could say that was the reason behind it. Really though, doing ‘holy ostracism’ is about God – it is always helpful for the name of Christ and for the collective integrity of those who claim His Name.
Matthew 18:15-17 ESV
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
We don’t cut off lightly, but we must do it when someone claims to follow Jesus but lives habitually in a “backslidden” state of habitually not battling the flesh, not battling pride, not battling selfishness, not battling their natural, sinful impulses. Believers are marked by war – against sin, against self, against the flesh, against pride, against lust, against everything that arrays itself against our God and Saviour. Those who claim to believe but live in contradiction need to be confronted with the witness their life gives and called to repentance – and if they refuse to agree with God and turn from their wicked ways – they need to either stop claiming to believe, or they need to be subjected to holy ostracism.