A few weeks ago, I ran across this article. To summarize, a longtime youth minister in a church of Christ in Pennsylvania molested a number of boys over a span of decades. In 2016, a couple of Christians confronted him about his misdeeds, and he broke down and confessed. He was charged with and convicted of multiple counts of corruption of a minor and indecent exposure. He then appealed.
Somewhere in the process, he “came forward” twice, and the elders of the congregation accepted his repentance and allowed him back into the congregation, much to the horror of the victims and victims’ families who still worshiped there. Currently, he is barred from attending services there by judicial order, which is one of the parts of his conviction that he is appealing.
As is always the case, this problem (and the larger problem of sex offenders in the church) is best solved by examination of the relevant Scriptural principles. Certainly, Christians are obliged to forgive a sinner who repents, but sinners must repent if they wish to be forgiven.
It is Scripturally appropriate to judge that repentance by its fruits. Does the sinner freely acknowledge his wrongdoing? Has he expressed remorse for the harm he has caused? Does his conduct show concern for those he has harmed? Is he doing his best to help them heal? Is he willing to endure inconvenience for their sakes? Or, conversely (as many sex offenders do), is he talking a good game while showing little evidence of repentance in his behavior?
Sadly, the latter seems to be true of this youth minister. Rather than accepting the courts’ judgment, he is seeking to minimize the punishment he faces for his crimes. Rather than showing concern for his victims, he seems intent on forcing his presence on them. I think any eldership would be justified in judging those fruits unworthy of repentance and refusing to accept him into fellowship.
Frankly, I would be suspicious of any Christian sex offender who sought to continue worshiping with those he had preyed upon. His presence could not help but cause distress to those whom he is supposed to love more than he loves himself. If there are literally no other alternative congregations, such a desperate expedient could perhaps be adopted. However, in the presence of alternatives, the offender would be best advised to seek to worship with brethren he had not personally harmed.
When the offender is forthright about his sin and no members have suffered directly, it is much easier for a congregation to admit him into fellowship. In such circumstances, the church leadership ought to consider both his interests and the interests of the congregation. No sex offender should be left alone with children, nor indeed left to himself anywhere in the building (though if possible, it’s generally a good idea not to leave anyone alone with children). If he stays in the auditorium and the lobby, no one will have any cause to be concerned about his conduct. Under those terms, the church can accept him as a brother without fearing that its children will be endangered.
Sin can be forgiven, but even after forgiveness, it can still have earthly consequences. A Christian woman is not required to accept her husband back after he has cheated on her, whether or not she has forgiven him. A congregation is not required to re-appoint an embezzling treasurer, even after he has been restored to fellowship. So too with pedophiles. Even after he has repented and been forgiven, the effects of his evil still continue, not only for others, but for himself.
Like many Christians, I’ve watched the flowering of the #MeToo movement with some bemusement. On the one hand, I wholeheartedly agree that no man should ever use his power to take sexual advantage of a woman. On the other, I cannot help but feel that those who have spent decades undermining the sexual ethics of the Bible are reaping what they have sown.
Let me explain. As with (almost?) all men, I have a fleshly side when it comes to sexual sin. The temptation to seek pleasure, whatever the cost to me or to others, is a strong one. However, it is more important to me to please Jesus, and I know that Jesus expects me to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Him.
As a result, I strive daily to put the flesh to death. What’s more, I’ve learned from experience that even though self-denial can be unpleasant in the short term, in the long term, it leads to a richer, more fulfilled life.
However, according to the Sexual Revolution, sexual autonomy and fulfillment is the highest good. “Whatever turns you on,” is a value so fundamental to our society that it is rarely even stated anymore. Men who practice self-denial for religious reasons are fools in the world’s eyes.
Sadly, once the door to pleasure-seeking has been opened, it is open. The dark side of male sexuality that men of God imprison is allowed to run amok, and the consequences are predictably disastrous. There are probably millions of men in this country who are more concerned with sexual fulfillment than with anything else. Whatever they can get away with, that’s what they’ll do.
Even men who are less crass than that are still extremely vulnerable when it comes to self-deception. The modern hookup scene is a murky, ambiguous place. When a man is animated by his strong desire, and when he has been told that satisfying that desire is the most important thing in life, it is very easy for him to resolve every ambiguity in a way that allows him to do what he wants to do. It’s very easy for him to close his eyes to the harm he is doing women, to turn his mind away from considering such things. Such a man can do great evil while still convincing himself that he’s a “good person”.
Today, these harms are more obvious to secular America than they ever have been before. They’re responsible for the rise of consent culture: “Is it OK if I do this to you?” “OK, how about this?” Such rules of engagement, no matter how faithfully practiced (and I have my doubts about that), can never create more than a shadow of the trust and understanding that exist in a godly marriage.
A true solution to the problem must be much more fundamental than that. Marriage is an institution older than the Bible, and it flourishes around the world. It has survived because it works. It restrains the darker impulses of men (because every husband with a shred of understanding soon learns the truth of “He who loves his wife, loves himself.”), and it offers women security and protection in their intimate relationships. It is admirably adapted to the flawed, fallen human condition, and no better solution to the problems of unchecked sexuality exists.
Tragically, this truth has so far escaped the fools who have spent decades undermining the institution of marriage in America, who are so fixated on sexual freedom that they countenance even the slaughter of unborn children. However, actions have consequences, even for those who refuse to see them. The unbridled pursuit of sexual license has done immense harm to men and women alike. We can only hope and pray that its advocates will see the error of their ways before the damage to our national fabric becomes irreversible.
A few months ago, one of the members at Jackson Heights asked me if I would write a blog about ordination in the Bible. Apparently, she had been talking about the subject with one of her friends and wanted to know what the Scriptures have to say about it.
First of all, it’s worth observing that the system of religious hierarchy that is present in so many denominations is absent from the Bible. Jesus says it best in Matthew 23:8, where He instructs us, “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.”
In the New-Testament church, there is no distinction between clergy and laity. Instead, all disciples share in a fundamental equality. Neither the most venerable elder nor the most famous preacher are in any way superior to the single mother sitting in the pews. We all serve in different ways, but we are all servants, and we are always to regard one another as more important than ourselves.
However, there are several places in Scripture where we do see men set apart for particular tasks, usually with a ceremony involving the laying on of hands. In Acts 6:6, when the seven are presented to the apostles, the apostles pray for them and lay hands on them before they begin their ministry. Similarly, in Acts 13:1-3, the prophets and teachers in Antioch dedicate Saul and Barnabas to the work of proclaiming the gospel through fasting, prayer, and the laying on of hands.
First-century Christians took the laying on of hands quite seriously. From the evidence available to us, we can infer that it was a symbol both of blessing and of fellowship. Those who laid hands on the worker took a share in his work. For this reason, Paul warns Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:22, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others.” Before you dedicated a man to a task, you needed to make sure he was the right man.
Today, we often think of the laying on of hands as the way in which miraculous spiritual gifts were transmitted, but in reality, its significance was much wider than that. As a result, it is appropriate for us to continue the practice today.
Most commonly, I’ve seen it during the appointment of elders and deacons. It is often the case that when a man is called forward, he will be welcomed by the one doing the appointing with a handshake and a shoulder clap. Though many onlookers don’t realize it, this is nothing other than the ancient practice of the laying on of hands, carried out in a way suitable for our culture.
The practice has value, though, even beyond the selection of shepherds and servants. For instance, before brethren travel to preach the gospel in a foreign country, it would be fitting to send them on their way with prayer and the laying on of hands. Does this make them “ordained”? No. However, it does do something much more meaningful. It ensures God’s blessing on them and on their work, without which no servant of God can hope to succeed.
For several years, one of the hot-button issues in American politics has been the subject of immigration. Such things aren’t really the concern of me or my blog. However, through the years, I’ve seen a lot of Scriptures quoted out of context in memes from both sides, and that is my concern. I don’t have any answers for what the United States should do in 2019, but I think it’s worthwhile to consider what God says on the subject and use it as a starting point for our own views.
First of all, immigration simply isn’t a New-Testament topic. The law of Christ is concerned with the Christian’s relationship with the government, but it has nothing to say about how governments should conduct themselves. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world.
However, the same is not true of the Old Testament. The law of Moses is no longer in force, but unlike the law of Christ, it does have to do with the proper conduct of a government. This legal code does not bind us today, but it does give us some insight into how God might look at a particular legal topic. Indeed, there are many passages in the Pentateuch that discuss the treatment of what the ESV calls “sojourners”:
- The law had no rules restricting the movement of sojourners into Israel. Of course, this may be because a Bronze Age confederation/kingdom had no means of enforcing border security, but it’s worth noting. Sojourners did not automatically become Israelites by entering the land, but they were free to enter.
- Sojourners were to be treated lovingly (Deuteronomy 10:19) and justly (Deuteronomy 20:17).
- They had the same rights and the same obligations under the law as native Israelites (Leviticus 24:22; Numbers 15:15-16).
- They were expected to follow many of the religious requirements of the Law (Exodus 12:19, 20:10; Leviticus 17:15; Deuteronomy 5:14). They were also free to participate in some other rituals if they chose (e.g. Leviticus 22:18).
- They were to be provided for by the natives, but only to the extent that they were willing to work. A wheatfield owner had to leave the corners of his field unreaped and the whole ungleaned (Leviticus 23:22), nor could he return to retrieve a sheaf he had forgotten (Deuteronomy 24:19). Olive grove and vineyard owners couldn’t go back over the trees/vines after they had done so once (Deuteronomy 24:20-21).
- In all cases, this was for the benefit of the widow, the fatherless, and the sojourner. None of the poor could expect their meals to be delivered to their doors if they sat at home, but they could get food for themselves if they were willing to go out and harvest it.
- These provisions existed because God loved the sojourner, just as God loved the widow, the fatherless, and all other weak, vulnerable people (Deuteronomy 10:18).
Again, none of these things determine for us how the United States should handle those who want to immigrate to it. However, if we want to use the word of God to develop and defend our positions (whatever they might be), appreciating the whole counsel of God can only help.
I maintain that Leviticus is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Pentateuch. It gets no respect. Despite its reputation as the mostest boringest book in the Bible, I find that every year, I come away with something new from reading through it.
Today, for instance, I was struck by Leviticus 19:14, which reads, “You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.” On its face, this appears to be an instruction not to engage in boorish frat-boy behavior with disabled people: “Look! I can cuss him out, and he can’t hear me! Hur hur hur!”
It is certainly that, but I think there’s a lot more under the surface. Fundamentally, this is a passage about taking advantage of others. You curse the deaf because you can do it and get away with it. You put a stumbling block before the blind because you can do it and get away with it. You’re in a privileged position, and you’re using your privilege to exploit others for your own satisfaction. You do something to somebody because you can, not because you should.
That has a distinctly modern ring to it, doesn’t it? Isn’t this, after all, what the #MeToo scandals are about? You’ve got somebody, usually a man, who is in a position of power and oppresses others for his sexual enjoyment. From Harvey Weinstein to Larry Nassar to legions of predatory clergy, you’ve got evil men who are putting a particular kind of stumbling block before a particular kind of blind person.
Why not abuse the weak and vulnerable? Who’s going to stop you? Them?
Of course, you don’t have to be a criminal to do similar things. How about the mortgage brokers 10 years ago (if indeed the practice has stopped) who were quoting higher rates to minority borrowers than they were to white borrowers? “They don’t know! They’re too dumb to figure it out! Ca-ching!”
How about the Christians who will happily gossip about a brother or sister in Christ? To too many brethren, building yourself up while tearing somebody else down looks like a win-win.
Similar examples abound. As the passage points out, though, such behavior can only come from those who do not fear God. After all, God is in the position of greatest power and advantage. He could use and abuse all of us for His amusement, and there’s nothing we could do about it.
However, God’s very nature is opposed to such exploitation. He seeks our good, not His pleasure. He continually exerts His power for us, not Himself. Rather than taking what we have, He gave us the most precious thing He had.
We don’t have to imagine how He feels about those who do differently. Read through this lens, the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18 is about a man who seeks mercy from great power, then uses his slight power to oppress someone else. He acted as he did because he did not fear the king. Not enough.
In our dealings with others, we always must remember that God is watching. If we have a measure of power, it is because He has given it to us. If we are in a place of advantage, it is because He has put us there.
However, He remains the God of both the hearing and the deaf, both the sighted and the blind. If we take advantage of the lowly, He will balance the scale, and we will not enjoy it. If we will not fear Him now, He will reveal why we should have been afraid.