Monthly Archives: April 2013

Kick More Butt, Churches

Due to our popular concept of grace, repentance is often overlooked. Heck, most of the time, we don’t even get to repentance. We tolerate all the sins that Christ condemn:

…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. 1 Cor. 5:11

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. Galatians 5:19

When is the last time you saw a church member dis-fellowshipped for selfish ambition? How about envy?

And we’ve so far considered only sin after it’s been committed. What about the anticipation of sins (sins you know are about to happen,) that are commonplace in our society? What of the man about to buy something overly extravagant? The woman wearing something inappropriate? The business about to cheat? Divorce and remarriage based on  feelings?

The purpose for kicking someone out of the church is not a punishment, but rather both a safeguard against the sinner infecting the rest of the church and as well as a stern opportunity for the sinner to repent. It should always come with the encouragement and support for changed behavior. As we tolerate sin, it becomes the norm.

Now, the question of whether the unrepentant sinner’s behavior will infect the church is a consideration. Paul’s letters were directed toward particular problems that the individual churches were having.

Paul’s admonition not to eat with the immoral etc. means eating as a collective group. Again, the concept is the whole church body. He is not talking about individuals not eating, particularly if the intent is redemption – Christ ate with sinners. The point again is to watch out for the potential for the infection of sin.

I ‘m tired of talking about Josh, so I will offer the following conclusions:

Is it any less an indictment on ourselves that we tend to turn our back on the failings of another as long as he serves our purpose?

In the example of an athlete, do we evaluate the star differently from the bench player? Do we give him the benefit of the doubt, and more room for forgiveness? Unfortunately, all too often, that answer is yes. It’s easier to be critical of, and turn away from an investment that isn’t paying off.

We’re almost always more forgiving with those who give us benefits. It’s easier to pass a blind eye. And as a consequence, when the investment stops giving back, we turn on it.

Perhaps the worst forms shows up as a mob that turns on what used to be its benefactor, or an authority that gives allegiance to in times of trouble to whoever is winning instead of what is right.

It’s disingenuous.

  • My thoughts have not been about Joshes relation to the internal church body, but his effect out in the world, what his actions say to those outside of Christianity. The suggestion is that he work on his witness inside the church before he takes it outside.
  • His fellowship with the church should be evaluated at the local level, that is, within any church he is part of. They can best evaluate his heart and actions.
  • We aren’t close enough to know what may lie beneath the surface. We can’t the presence of grace in his life.
  • We need to be careful of the hypocrisy of ignoring the plank in our own eyes.

 

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Excommunicate Him!

Portrait of Henry VIII

Portrait of Henry VIII

If you want to avoid the this stuffy discussion on excommunication, feel free to wait for the next post called Kick More Butt, Churches, to see whether we should be…well, kicking more butt rather than tolerating and accommodating bad behavior in our churches.

My first thought to the suggestion (in the comments to the last post) that Josh Hamilton should be excommunicated was one of protest.

Excommunication has always for me, carried the notion of permanent and even eternal damnation, and in no way could my previous post have suggested that for Josh Hamilton.

Where my perception of excommunication came from, I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always heard the term in conjunction with historical figures who have committed the most serious of sins such as heresy or apostasy, sins I have associated with a permanent state leading to a removal from the church, and eternal damnation. Such figures would be Henry VIII and Martin Luther (as well as competing anti-Popes during the Western Schism.)

According to Gennadios Scholarios, George Koressios, the Orthodox Confession, and Chrysanthos of Jerusalem, mortal sins are those voluntary sins which either corrupt the love for God alone, or the love for neighbor and for God, and which render again the one committing them an enemy of God and liable to the eternal death of hell. 17.

See Regulae Fusius 2, PG 31, 909A; tr. Saint Basil: Ascetical Works, pp. 233-234.

and

“Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell.” However, the Catechism does not by name say a specific person is in Hell, but it does say that “…our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back.” See “Catechism paragraph 1864”. Vatican.va. Retrieved 2012-03-13.

My understanding is that that Henry VIII who was excommunicated after his marriage to Anne Boleyn, was unrepentant (particularly since he repeated the offence over and over,) and his death resulted in a permanent break from the Catholic Church and eternal damnation.

The term excommunication, more correctly though, in pretty much every faith, carries with it the idea of temporary disfellowship, censure, and shaming, not eternal damnation.

Both Christ and Paul suggest the act of excommunication to be understood as an act of temporary disfellowship, or a “kicking out of the local church.”

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.  But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”    Matthew 18:15-17

But now 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.”     1 Corinthians 5:11

 (More on eating with sinners next post)

 The thought of excommunication however, always carries with it, the opportunity of repentance after which the offender is welcomed back into fellowship. Different faiths have different concepts of how that repentance is carried out, including regret, confession, and restitution.

So perhaps the concept of excommunication fits perfectly in our discussion of Josh Hamilton after. Should we excommunicate Josh Hamilton?

One last Josh post next time.

Josh Hamilton 2

I was tempted to let Josh Hamilton off the hook until last week when he came back to Dallas to play. When he stepped up to the plate the first time, he was met by a tremendous cavalcade of boos from fans who felt antipathy for a player they thought had given up on the team, made a list of excuses for his behavior on and off the field, and in the end, “played the God card.”

Too be fair, players are often booed when they revisit an old team, as part of a good-natured spirit of healthy rivalry. Conversely, many times you see a crowd erupt with an outburst of approval to a player who has left the team with a reputation of tremendous contribution as well as good character. (Josh was also booed during his last game as a Ranger, a one-game AL wildcard loss to Baltimore.)

What stuck in my craw though, and I believe also the public, was his response when asked by a reporter to react to the boos:

He said, “Where was Jesus got-after the most? His hometown.”

The public hears him compare himself to Jesus. Really? You’re going to compare yourself to Jesus being rejected in Nazareth in explaining why you’re not well received?

The response attested to his accurate perception of the boos—not the fun type of boos, but the kind that indicate that you’re truly not welcome.

I think that my whole purpose here is not to so much to lambast his previous bad behavior in a way that lacks forgiveness or grace. But he was given grace after grace after grace after grace. At some point, accountability has to come in.

I want public figures who prominently promote themselves as Christian in the public square to act in a Christ-like way, to “walk the walk,” and if not, to shut up, because it reflects badly on the Christian body.

But what about grace you say, what about forgiveness? Shouldn’t the public see how Christians forgive each other?

What then about Paul demanding that an immoral brother be expelled from the local church until he repents? (I’m not suggesting that Josh be expelled from the local church. Paul’s admonition is to preclude sin from infecting the rest of the body.) The point is that in the every day affairs of the church, accountability sometimes takes a more prominent position on the stage than grace.

There are many public figures who have acted badly for everyone to see, then with Christ’s help, changed. Think Chuck Colson. What a testimony he was to the redemptive power of Christ to a world that wants the same.

But if the public figure uses forgiveness as enablement, or an escape from accountability, and does so repeatedly, he does Christ a disservice, brings shame on the church as a whole, and causes those we are trying to reach to ridicule us. (Not that I am embarrassed with being ridiculed.)

So then, to those of you who the spotlight of fame lands on, get your act together so when you do, people can see the beacon of Christ working in you. We are supposed to be a light to the world, not a spotlight pointed into a dirty mirror.

Now if we are honest, when the same spotlight is pointed at us, we quickly see that we ourselves can “talk the talk,” but not “walk the walk.” So we need to be careful calling the kettle black (even as I call the kettle black.).

There does seem to be a difference though between a person not “walking the walk,” privately, and one who doesn’t “walk the walk,” publicly, even as both are firm in their faith.

Christians who are in the public eye and especially those who are outspoken proponents of their faith have much more impact on the perception of that faith to outsiders.

If a bank audit reveals that the small businessman has committed fraud, then he has done a disservice to his faith, but it has little influence outside his circle. The same audit to the company CEO in the news has a wide and public impact. His circle is bigger. We are in his circle. The public is in his circle.

Sharks tend to ignore smaller fish. It’s not that the little fish don’t taste good; it’s that they aren’t as fulfilling.

The public figure has more accountability than the private one. Not fair, but that’s the way it is in our world.

There is however, a conflicting choice to be made that complicates the situation.

On the one hand, a sincere believer should want to share his faith in the manner he feels appropriate. Some of us choose to be outspoken, to use our words as much as our actions. Others prefer to let their actions speak for themselves. There is a place for both.

But if you do have a significant vulnerability to any kind of temptation, then you should either carefully and honestly consider if you can live above that weakness in a ongoing way, and if you don’t think you can perhaps it is best to step back and limit your public exposure to avoid the judgment of hypocrisy at first to the faithful, and second to the worldly. Maybe that’s the best witness you can have.

Now that I’ve spoken to the public figure, I need to turn the attention to the flavor of our judgment.

 

 

 

 

Josh Hamilton

I planned to follow up my post “God Dooms The Fags,” with how we can go wrong in our personal relationships with those we know to be gay.

Rangers primary logo

But a timely event causes me to put that off a few weeks.

Josh Hamilton, who played for the Texas Rangers, now plays for the L.A. Angels and yesterday he played his first game in the Angels uniform against the Rangers.

(0-4 hits with 2 strikeouts – yea!)

He is player is widely known as a Christian, as he professes his faith openly, ala Tim Tebow.

As an aside, here is a great url of prominent Christian athletes:

http://www.beliefnet.com/Entertainment/2008/09/Top-12-Evangelical-Christians-in-Sports-Today.aspx

Josh was one of the most stellar and prominent athletes Dallas has seen in it’s storied past. He was the American League Most Valuable Player in 2010. No one will ever forget his magical performance in the home run derby at Yankee Stadium in 2008, or his four home run performance against Baltimore last May.

Josh has gone through a number of moral issues in the past, mainly a drug and alcohol addiction that severely hampered his early career. He was suspended by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2003 for drug and alcohol use and missed the 2003, 2004, and 2005 seasons.

To his (and the many that supported him through those times) credit, he made changes in his life and for years, as far as it appeared, straightened out his life by giving up the drugs and alcohol and welcoming a close relationship with those who could help hold him accountable.

After those changes, he was welcomed to the professional ranks and became one of the top athletes in the league. An example of redemption, and outspoken example of how God can transform any past, he was known for his involvement in local ministries and international charities.

He was a stellar athlete who was a major factor on a great, winning team; the best in fact the city had ever seen. But although his numbers were amazing, there were at times some inconsistent, and even eccentric displays.

The problems that had plagued his past rose up again, and in several incidents, he relapsed, causing embarrassment for his team, and those around him

The most notorious event happened in 2009 when, he drank to excess in a bar in Tempe, Ariz. He apologized for that a few months later when a dozen or so pictures were posted online showing Hamilton taking shots off the bar, and hugging and dancing shirtless with several young women. He said then that he had been sober since October 2005.

He responded to those public displays with references to his relationship with Christ:

“My life in general is based on making the right choices, everything as far as my recovery, as far as my baseball goes, it’s all based around my relationship with the Lord,” Hamilton said. “And I look at it like that, you all know how hard I play on the field and I give it everything I absolutely have. When I don’t do that off the field, I leave myself open for a weak moment.”

Late in the 2012 season, his performance suffered. It was widely perceived that he was not giving his best efforts and that he had given up on the team. His suffering performance might not have had anything to do with the relapses, but there it was all the same.

After became a free agent after the 2012 season and sought a lucrative contract ext

ension, he was let go and went to the LA Angels, not so much for his behavior, but due to the normal, ongoing process in which teams sign and trade .

Now, the reason I bring his story up is not as much to judge his actions, sincerity, and place with God, but to share the reaction that echoed many fans of the team he left.

Here are some of the public comments made about Josh Hamilton:

“Three years ago, a bunch of pictures on Deadspin surfaced about America’s Newest Baseball Sweetheart, redemption boy Josh Hamilton, drunk in some chintzy bar, licking whipped cream off of women.”

“Ohhhh, no.  What followed was as nauseating and sickening of a shifting of blame thatI have ever seen.”

“ Josh wasn’t blaming anyone else, no.  He wasn’t taking the blame, either.  It was the Demons, and his Demons took hold of him, and he was powerless!”

I was listening to a radio host go on about his leaving the Rangers, which was a significant topic, for it would have a big impact on the team. The conversation soon left the arena of sports, and became personal, not only commenting on his faith, but religious hypocrisy at large, especially with those who are outspoken about their faith. As I listened, his broad brush really made me sit back.

“I am suspicious of those who claim to hide behind God, he said. “A lot of them talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk.”

More on Josh next time