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The Local Church and Personal Ministry IV

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Question #1:   Hi Bob, The closer I get to the Lord, and the more I know Him and can feel His presence and hear and live truth, the worse my relationship gets with the church. This seems to be a pattern. It drives me nuts! I really feel that God has gifted me in quickly and easily developing rapport with individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds. I really enjoy people and love to entertain and encourage/exhort. I wanted to include a few people in my bible study who were unbelievers (because otherwise, how would they hear?) and the church told me no, that it was not only for believers, but also only for church members. That doesn't seem like Jesus to me. I want to let all who will, come. IN fact, I don't even want to wait for them to come. It seems so pretentious to me that "we" think that if we build a church and develop good worship and youth programs, etc, that people will flock in of their our accord. I don't think it really works that way very often. I want to go out in the community and serve and show people how God helps His people love and care for each other. I want to invest my life in people. The church I go to actually told me that if everyone did that, we'd all be exhausted. That we can't spend so much time with any one person, that's why we have to get them in the church, so we can minister to people through the word all at one time. I'm just a bit disheartened with those who call themselves God's children, but they don't act anything like Jesus. I'm not saying I am better than them, just that I want to be. It's a strong word, but it is the one that keeps coming to mind: The church feels incestuous. I am coming to the place where I may have to leave the church proper, because I just keep getting shut down and told to be quiet and that the ideas I have are just not the way they do things. I need to do what God is telling me. If I can't do it via the church proper, I'll have to do it by myself. If I quit the church, I will obviously not be eligible to lead a bible study and will have to bow out and say goodbye to "my" girls. That makes me so sad. There is not one among them who is ready and willing to take over yet. Maybe one will step up to the plate, but most had a lot of issues going in to the group, and are still processing a lot of stuff that is usually conquered in childhood and adolescence. Is there a negative correlation between knowing God deeply and church membership? That's the way it seems. I am scared to do everything on my own. I know God is with me always and for that I am eternally thankful. I'd also like someone with skin walking alongside to keep me accountable and humble and to help me up when I stumble. Do two people ever share a vision? It seems so difficult sometimes. Do you feel that you are walking alone with God in your purpose? I was hoping somehow that I could be one of the blessed few who could find a church body within which to learn and grow and serve. Sadly, I don't think that is going to happen, and I am having a hard time letting go of the desire, and trusting that God knows exactly what I need, who I need and when. I KNOW He knows best, but I'm not acting as if I really believe it. There is a cost to pay when one truly seeks to follow the leadings of the Lord outside of the complacent church circle, isn't there? I thank you for being always willing to read these messages. It is nice to know that there is someone with skin on who is trying to fight the good fight, and persevere in the face of difficulties.

Response #1:   Always great to hear from you. I am somewhat reluctant to offer any advice on this topic. By now I have shared with you whatever scriptural guidance I have on the "stay/go" dilemma, and you know my own misgivings about the state of the present day church-visible in general. For most Christians I fear that this is a bit like what the apostle Paul said to the Corinthians: "I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God" (1Cor.7:7a). For just as in the issue of the relations between the sexes, while the ideal situation from a Christian viewpoint is universal celibacy, in practical terms, most people are not gifted to be able to withstand the pressures of the world while living a single life, and in the end it is far better for them "to marry rather than to burn". So in the case of church membership it does seem to me that for the vast majority of my brothers and sisters in Christ, whatever the drawbacks, problems, and complications of being seriously involved in a local church, the alternative comparatively lonely non-involvement is, all things considered, often even worse for their spiritual lives than the lukewarmness, compromises, and all-around silliness of a church where at least there is direct contact with a sizable family of believers. Ideally, of course, one should be able to have both: a fulfilling and meaningful Christian fellowship where one's worth and work are properly utilized and appreciated, and a doctrinally correct and bountiful source of spiritual nourishment. Personally, I long ago reconciled myself to the fact that this ministry's primary contribution in most cases would be to supplement the latter rather than to replace the former, and I certainly don't have any problem with that. My main concern and only advice for those who have come to see this ministry as a support to their spiritual growth is when and if the so-called Christian group to which they are giving of their time and resources becomes so intolerant of the truth generally and spiritual growth in particular that continued fellowship gets to be on balance more of a detriment to their spiritual lives or even a danger to it rather than a necessary help. For the groups we hold dear inevitably influence us at least to some degree. The trend in our present Church age and the predicted intensification of the slide as the Tribulation approaches and commences lead me to be up front about the dangers, even as the aforementioned need for most of us to have a flesh and blood fellowship makes me reluctant to argue for separation – especially as only the person concerned can hope to make such decisions successfully.

Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the [legalistic] teaching of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.
Matthew 16:12 NASB [insertion added]

Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
Luke 12:1 KJV

A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.
Galatians 5:9 KJV (cf. 1Cor.5:6)

From what you have shared, it seems you are doing some genuine good in your present place of service. This on its own would make me reluctant to "throw the baby out with the bath water". I will certainly say a prayer for your guidance, and am confident that with your knowledge of scripture and the unction of the Spirit you will be able to endure the present difficulties – if that is what you are being called to do – or take the hard decision to move on – when and if that is really what the Lord would rather have you do. Like many life decisions, this is far from being an easy or completely straight-forward one. But I have learned that when we put such things completely into Jesus' hands and seek what we know in our hearts is most pleasing to Him, we come both to understand what we ought to do and to have a complete peace about it, with no regrets as it is Him whom we are really trying to please.

In the One who sought not to please Himself but the Father who sent Him, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #2:

Bob,

Thanks for all the good words. I'm starting to think maybe I just need to reframe the issue. I realize that humans are not, and will never be perfected on this world. Since institutions are created and maintained by humans, they too, can never be perfected. Maybe God wants me to practice patience, tolerance, holding my tongue without denying the truth I know? When I sin, I say that my intentions were good, and I seek grace. When someone around me sins, I tend to attribute bad motives to them and judge them. That is a hard understanding to own, but it is true. I think I apply this same error to the church. I think somehow it should be better than all of the people in it combined somehow, because I see the church as God's, not a creation of men. Really, how can I believe that 1000 sinful, prideful, shortsighted people (including myself) can create an institution that perfectly meets anyone's needs, much less everyone's? And then, how can I attribute the dysfunction of people and the church to God after so many generations of sin after sin and the corresponding exponential sickness in the human spirit? Each journey on God's path is unique. Maybe the church I attend is helping many people work out their own salvation. I just don't have the wisdom to see through the Lord's eyes. I used to laugh at myself, realizing that I only prayed for the first 3 or four fruits of the spirit…love, joy, peace, maybe patience if I were feeling especially courageous. But to pray for long-suffering? Wow. I am not there yet. But maybe the Lord wants me to be? Hmm. Interestingly, right when I start to give up or in, God drops something perfect in my lap. This time, it came in the form of a Christian service organization that ministers "under-cover". They serve wherever service is needed, or in any way they can think of without a building or a formal hierarchical structure. Examples: Collecting food for the food bank, foot care for diabetics, giving clothing to the homeless. Sitting and talking with the homeless. Manning a crisis hotline. They also do things like start discussion groups, book groups, etc. Anything to build relationships with people in the community, whether it leads to immediate talk of God and accepting the gift available through the sacrifice of Jesus, or whether that takes some time after developing the relationship. This sort of thing is right up my alley.The thing that is so hard is that current church leaders are praying that "I will come to my senses and believe the truth" (as they see it), so I can continue in ministry. Otherwise, I am unfit for leadership activities (their words). I don't believe what they believe. I don't believe in tithing, I believe in offerings. I don't believe in telling believers what they can and cannot do (re: drinking, smoking, overeating, etc), I believe that we are to share what the bible says and let the Lord convict people in the areas He would like to start with. I would like to accept unbelievers and people from outside the church into my small group, but that is not allowed. So, we will see how long they will allow me to be involved at all. I am guessing that it won't be for much longer. But for now, I have decided to stay and at least let the Spirit minister to me through corporate praise and worship (so sweet, and the thing I am most looking forward to in heaven and on the new earth). I am still being edified by the general message, just not by my personal interactions and resulting conflict with leadership. Perhaps resisting mindless acquiescence to authority is strengthening me for a future endeavor. I am not sure. But, I am going to continue to at least listen to the word as preached, and start to serve more through this newly found service organization, so as not to have, colloquially, all my eggs in one basket. Objectively, does this seem a sensible course of action to you? Stay connected to the church body, serve elsewhere, and continue to strive for greater levels of personal holiness? Am I missing something? Again, thanks for your encouraging words and insight into the struggles in the Christian life. May God continue to lead and guide us into all Truth, and may we recognize it when we see it.

Response #2: 

You seem to me to be taking an eminently reasonable approach. For the record, I would have the exact same "issues" which you have and the same objections too, were I in your shoes. This is always the balance that, due to an unfortunate lack of commitment to the scriptures in the vast majority of places of worship, most of us are forced to strike. As one whose primary area of service and spiritual gifts focuses on teaching the Word of God, it has always proved impossible for me personally to make any such accommodations, even when I tried mightily to do so; inevitably, some one else would make an issue of the differences in what was being taught even if I did not. In the case of your church it seems an acceptable (if not a perfect) balance is possible without terminal spiritual compromise. Since you are clearly reaping a spiritual benefit from your fellowship, and are clearly contributing to the growth of the Church of Jesus Christ in your service, whatever uncomfortable factors may obtain may well be things that should be endured for Christ's sake, at least for the time being. I certainly applaud your service, your commitment to the Word of God, your tenacity, and your mature judgment in this matter.

Perhaps your subject line should read "two steps forward, one step back" – and that is a record of which any of us should be proud.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #3:  

 Dear Sir;

I want to clearly understand the text of 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. This, of course, is often taken as instruction to shun church members who do not repent (turn away from, change) of various 'serious' sins. Given what we know of the psychological and neurological effects of ostracism, this may suggest that God would use pain as a motivator. Would you please be so kind as to give me an understanding of this text that is a direct interpretation - and sensible in the language culture of Paul's time?

I thank you again for your helpful comments.

Response #3:    

There are several aspects to this question. First of all, there is no doubt whatsoever that the Lord uses pain as a motivator (if sometimes only in our consciences): all divine discipline is supposed to hurt (whether or not it is "corporal") so that we may learn our lesson and "not do it again"; just as we would discipline our own children, so our heavenly Father disciplines us (see the link: in BB 3B: "The Fact and Purpose of Divine Discipline"):

You have not yet resisted to the point of [having to shed your] blood in your struggle against sin. And you have forgotten the encouragement scripture gives us as to the sons we are: "My son, do not treat the Lord's punishment lightly, and do not lose heart when you are rebuked by Him. For the Lord punishes those He loves, and flays everyone He receives to Himself as a son." So take your punishment in this spirit – God is behaving towards you as to sons. For what son has never been punished by his father? And if it should be that you are not receiving punishment (in which all [true sons] share), then you are illegitimate and not sons at all. Now we all had human fathers who punished us and we respected them for it. How much the more then shall we not submit ourselves to the Father of our spirits and live? For while our human fathers meted out our punishment for a relatively short time according as they saw best, when He punishes us it is definitely for our own good – that we might partake of His holiness. Now no punishment is a cause of rejoicing as it is being experienced, but rather of regret – only later does it bear fruit for those who have been trained through it – the fruit of [personal] righteousness that makes one whole and complete. Therefore (going back to the race analogy of v.1), pick up those hands hanging slack at your side, put some strength back into your weak knees, and make straight tracks for your feet, so that, [even though you fell down,] what you sprained might not be twisted completely out of joint, but might instead work its way back to health.
Hebrews 12:4-13

Secondly, the passage you refer to, 1st Corinthians 5:1-13, is a very specific case wherein Paul, under his apostolic authority over all the local churches, commands these believers to throw this person out – in order that the individual may repent and come back to the Lord. The point here is that there are no apostles today, so any decision to expel a brother or sister from the local fellowship would have to come from the church itself, and, in keeping with the pattern exemplified in this passage, from the established authority in that church, whatever that may be (typically, pastor and other elders). This is important to emphasize, because, although we are all free to decide with whom to associate or from whom to separate, and indeed are responsible to the Lord for these decisions, the idea that individual believers or any group of believers in a church should take this decision on their own, that is, decide to start shunning a person as a group effort, is not only not supported by scripture but is a case of wrongfully arrogating church authority, and doubtless worse than the sinfulness putatively being punished. If an individual or group of individuals "has something against" another member, well, there are or should be procedures established in every local church for handling such things (cf. 1Cor.6:1-8). If the issue is not dealt with properly, these believers should consider finding another fellowship that adheres more closely to the Word of God. The steps to be taken by individual believers when they come across some problem of this sort, moreover, should follow along the lines of the ones our Lord Himself outlined:

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he 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 he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Matthew 18:15-17 NIV

And as Paul says later in the same book by way of a similar complaint, there should be procedures established for dealing with believers wronging other believers:

If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother goes to law against another—and this in front of unbelievers!
1st Corinthians 6:1-6 NIV

The case in 1st Corinthians chapter 5 is unique in that in contrast to the two passages just cited it is not so much a case of this person harming anyone in particular directly (except himself and his father's wife), but we see very clearly from the discussion in this chapter that the idea of "victim-less sin" is nonsense, as is the idea that because "consenting adults" are the only ones involved that the church should be unconcerned or uninvolved. The church is part of the fellowship of the Body of Christ on earth, and associating with or allowing the fellowship at large to associate with members (or at least putative members who may actually not be Christians) who are involved in gross, obvious, public sin that defies every principle of sanctification the Church stands for (and should stand for) is a none too subtle form of hypocrisy that will easily become like gangrene, eating away at the whole moral fiber of the fellowship. For if members can do whatever they please, even when their outrageous conduct comes light, then the witness of the whole fellowship is sullied on the one hand, and the whole fellowship is emboldened to "go and do likewise" on the other (according to their own individual wants, desires, and lusts, if not engaging in precisely the same sort of sin that first rears its head publicly).

It should also be pointed out that a key concern in such institutional "ostracism" or "excommunication" will always be not only the protection of the reputation and sanctification of the fellowship as a whole but also the recovery of the sinful party. That is certainly what Paul says in our passage: he commands this course of action "so that his spirit may be saved on the Day of the Lord" (v.5). That is to say, giving oneself over to a life of sin is the first step toward apostasy and the death of faith because of the impossibility of serving two masters for very long. The "sin unto death" which Paul invokes here is meant either to bring about rapid repentance or to take this person out of life before faith is completely gone (see the link: in BB 3B "Apostasy and the Sin unto Death").

Scripture, of course, also says quite a bit about keeping away from other "believers" who are not walking in a way that is honoring to the Lord:

I entreat you, brothers, to mark those who are creating conflicts and pitfalls contrary to the doctrine you have learned, and stay away from them. For such men do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own stomachs, deceiving innocent hearts with their fancy sermons.
Romans 16:17-18

Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
Titus 3:10-11 NIV

If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.
2nd John 1:10-11 NIV

As is evident from the verses above, this exclusion and separation is often not because of gross sin but rather due to false teaching on the part of those trying to infiltrate the fellowship. For while sanctification is very important (the "defense" of the Christian way of life), spiritual growth (the "offense" of the Christian way of life) will quickly be brought to a complete standstill once false teachers and/or false teaching enters the fellowship in a significant way. That is why the key component to this issue in my reading of scripture is the individual believer's choice of fellowship in the first place. It is clear what individuals are to do; it is clear what the leadership is to do. But the individual believer has control only over him/herself, and is completely responsible him/herself for the decisions made in regard to association, be it with individual Christians or with the fellowship which he/she decides to attend. These decision cannot be made "once and for all", because both people and organizations change, and, sadly, often not for the better. It is our responsibility as individual Christians to find good fellowships where the Word of God is accurately, responsibly, and consistently taught, and it is our responsibility to refrain from close "Christian" association with those who are walking as "enemies of the cross" (Phil.3:18), whether individually or collectively.

You can find more about these issues at the following links:

*False Teachers (and shunning false fellowship: in CT 2A)

Religion and the Occult (in SR 4)

Cult Characteristics (in "Read Your Bible")

The Insidious Nature of False Teaching (Pet#27)

Please do feel free to write me back about any aspect of this question or the passage which you would like to discuss further.

In the One who was forsake on our account that we might have sweet fellowship with Him forevermore, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #4:  

Dear Bob,

Here is what I sent you most recently with additions and reworking. If you have not yet read what I sent, please have a look at this. I am most interested in your comments, including those related to a translation from the Greek of the cited passages. Forgive me for the rough draft here. My question has to do with 1) the issue of the necessity of continued shunning whether or not a person has repented and 2) Paul's intent as testing obedience in this specific instance as opposed to instructions to all churches for all time (2 Corinthians 2:5-10 NIV) to shun until the person has stopped the sin. The surrounding material is to provide a sense of the context of my questioning.

I will greatly appreciate comments, based on your interpretation of the passages.

Thank you.

In His Name,

Response #4:     

Well you have certainly given me quite a lot to chew on here. I will try to address all relevant issues as best I can, but do feel free to write back in case I overlook anything you would like commented upon.

The first thing I should mention here is that the consensus of scholarly opinion based upon internal evidence is that there were actually three letters to the Corinthians (biblical conservatives would not see the middle letter, which has not in any case survived, as canonical), and that the incestuous individual in chapter five of the first book is not the same person as the one mentioned in chapters two and (possibly) seven of 2nd Corinthians. On the second point, while there are in my opinion arguments to be made either way, I am inclined to agree at least that the passages in 2nd Corinthians do not respond to the incident in question (the possibility of a "middle letter" I do not personally find likely). The language Paul uses in chapter two to describe the "sorrow" he caused seems to be related to a relatively minor issue (which the toleration of incest clearly cannot be), while the language in chapter seven seems to me to be more general and to be speaking of all the harsh words used to correct all the bad behavior as Paul addresses it throughout 1st Corinthians. You are certainly free to disagree, but the scholar (or pedant) in me thinks you should at least be aware and acknowledge that your assumptions about the historical situation in Corinth are not universally held (see e.g., Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction [1965]).

Secondly, the case of 1st Corinthians 5 is not merely a matter of "shunning". Paul tells the Corinthians that in the first instance they should have corrected the problem themselves. A process of confrontation with the offender would be the first step (similar to Jesus' instructions on this procedure as you quote it, but please see below because this is really an individual and not a group process), with those first aware confronting coming first, and separation by expulsion from the group coming at the end of the process. What Paul does is much more dramatic. He makes use of his special, miraculous apostolic powers to "hand such a one over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh" (1Cor.5:5). This is not merely expulsion nor allowing natural consequences to take their course; this is a special fast-track to the "sin unto death" which only an apostle could empower.

Two important things are often missed in treatments of this passage, one unique to this situation, and one apropos to the question of "shunning" as you are considering it: 1) the purpose for the treatment of the individual is first and foremost for his own good ("for the destruction of his flesh so that his spirit might be saved on the day of the Lord Jesus"). Extreme rebellion and the flouting of divine authority to the egregious extent evidenced in this person's behavior (and apparent flaunting of it at that) will either result in apostasy or the sin unto death, the difference being that in the former case, the person is led by sin to abandon his/her faith entirely and so is lost, whereas in the latter case while the end is ugly, at least the person is saved. Paul is taking no chances that this brother will be lost, so this apostolic fiat is actually for his great benefit (and of course if he were to repent, then even the sin unto death might be avoided; please see the link: in BB 3B: "Apostasy and the Sin unto Death"); 2) Paul's concern in having the Corinthians separate themselves from such extreme and unashamed sinful behavior has very little if anything to do with his authority; he was by all accounts and by what he has written one of the most humble men who ever lived. Paul is concerned with the spiritual welfare and spiritual health of the congregation at large (so when you say, "Paul said that the reason for his instruction was to see if the Corinthians would obey him", I am not convinced he is speaking about this incident in 1Cor.5). That is to say, in 1Cor.5 he is not at all concerned with establishing his own authority or "punishing" one bad apple; rather he is concerned with keeping the whole barrel from going bad (and this is the correct biblical principle to apply to the issue of expulsion and "shunning" generally). If we go to church with people who brazenly and unashamedly flaunt their extreme sinful behavior, it cannot help but degrade our own spirituality and embolden us to be more "experimental" in our relationship to sin. At the very least, over-exposure to outlandish behavior is tortuous (as it was for Lot: 2Pet.2:4-10), and close "Christian" association with those so involved not only sends the wrong message to everyone (including those so involved) but will burn us in the end. However, I would argue that this is an individual judgment call, not, generally speaking, a matter for to be corporately addressed except in the most extreme cases.

Thirdly, therefore to the extent that expulsion is practiced in a local church today, it is only done biblically so if it has these motives and these motives alone: protection of the congregation as a whole and the good of the individual concerned (who will, without this extreme step of correction, only go from bad to worse). Much that passes for biblical on this subject in churches today is far wide of the mark in my view, and I would certainly draw a very sharp distinction between "what some groups do" and what the Bible teaches (that certainly applies to the fallacious notion that water-baptism has anything to do with sin, "post baptismal lapses", and "three 'major' sins" etc.; for a biblical treatment of sin in general, please see the link: BB 3B: Hamartiology). In fact, as with all other major issues of church polity, the Bible is generally silent. I have written a fair amount about this, but to put it in a nut shell, in my view scripture deliberately leaves governance vague (since that is an area where flexibility in regard to the times and the circumstances should be the rule), at the same time that it is deliberately adamant about biblical principles (see the links: "Church Polity" and "Questions on Church Polity"). So scripture does not give us a detailed procedure for shunning or disciplining members of our fellowship; but it does make it quite clear that we are not to associate with those who embrace and flaunt their carnality.

There are many reasons to exercise good judgment in regards to the question of with whom we ought or ought not to associate, but they all come down to one thing: spiritual safety. For example, of the passages you quote, it seems to me that all of them involve very serious reasons put forward for caution which are in strong contradistinction to common practice in many churches today. Romans 16:17-18 plainly states that those involved in false teaching should be avoided. The most likely application for that passage today would be for a Christian to avoid becoming involved in a cult and/or to avoid having anything to do with some of the churches you describe and their non-biblical activities! In Matthew 18, Jesus is talking about how an individual should handle a situation of personal abuse (rather than giving a policy for Church polity). 1st Corinthians 5:11-13 is likewise addressed to individuals rather than the assembly. The passage requiring the most comment here is 2nd Thessalonians 3:14-15. I interpret it to mean that Paul is defending his sheep much more than his reputation. False teaching by false apostles was a grave danger in the early Church; it still is today, but today at least we have a complete Bible and the means to understand it. This command is likewise given to all believers rather than the assembly, and the aim is 1) to protect those who have not been influenced by false teaching by encouraging them to avoid the influence from those who have, and 2) to save those who have been led astray; merely operating toward them in misplaced tolerance will not cause them to be ashamed of their folly, nor would they then be properly warned.

In all of the biblical instances it seems to me that there is no mandate today for a church as an assembly to engage in "shunning" (and while we are at it, what that word connotes today, silent treatment and mental cruelty, is not biblical in the least – the Bible only relates situations where unrepentant apostates and teachers of lies were to be avoided). While I don't find any biblical provision for it, it does make sense that if a person was, say, advocating the violent overthrow of the government, taking actions in that direction, and trying to suborn others to follow, that the leadership would be well within their rights to ask said person to leave. While it says nothing about rebuking members, there is scriptural provision for the public discipline of church leaders who stray in egregious ways (1Tim.5:20), but it is very interesting that many churches that are very willing to "rebuke publicly" members of the flock, never get around to rebuking elders.

What I find significant in all of the biblical cases treated above is that the threshold for separation and/or expulsion is very high, and always involves either 1) egregious sin made public coupled with an unrepentant attitude, or 2) false teaching. Both of these behaviors lead to serious spiritual trouble and a quick descent to the sin unto death or apostasy unless swiftly resolved. Also, these are most often to be (and are best) addressed on an individual rather than a corporate basis. In the contemporary practices you relate we see an entirely different situation, a non-biblical one for the most part. I would most certainly agree with you that no one is perfect, that we all sin, and that publicly making an issue of particular sins (non-egregious nowhere on the level of incest as in 1Cor.5), where the person in question is not flaunting and defending an egregiously sinful lifestyle, is wrong. To the extent that a group is involved in such a practice I would separate from that group. Clearly, if an organization is over-focused on the outside of the cup, and myopically concentrating on one or two types of sin it finds more offensive than others, this is the worst sort of legalism, and it is very unlikely that anything good can be going on within its doors. For legalism is the most insidious form of leaven, and soon leavens the entire loaf.

So my one concern with what you are writing here is with the distinguishing between what the Bible says and what contemporary churches do. They often have little in common.

I hope this is of use. Best wishes for you production. I am currently also in the process of publishing my second (secular) book (part of my job as a professor), and I am well aware of the challenges involved.

In our dear Lord Jesus, who died for all of our sins.

Bob L.

Question #5:  

Dear Robert,

I am working on a section in which I do not agree with you. I have sandwiched material from you between some of my comments. My question is. do you think my use of your material reflects your opinion fairly in this context? I am most concerned that your meaning be accurately portrayed.

I am also interested to know if your comments "...who brazenly and unashamedly flaunt their extreme sinful behavior" is in regard to people who have, by their confession, accepted Jesus as their Savior.

Thank you so much for your time and efforts in responding to me.

In Christ Jesus,

Response #5:   

Thank you for checking with me first on this. While I cannot fault your quotations (they appear to be accurate), nevertheless it does not appear that you fully understand what I am saying. First of all, my comments in loc. are directed exclusively to the specific case of 1Cor.5, and only by extension to cases which are equally flagrant. From the contextualization here, if I didn't know any better, I would get the impression that "Luginbill" would apply this principle widely. But as I have consistently said in my communications to you, and as I have always consistently maintained in all my other writings, I believe in a very private relationship between the believer and God, dramatically more so than is the case in any brick and mortar church you are likely to attend where they really do not give more than lip-service to the Word of God.

I do not see shunning as biblically authorized. And I only see a biblical mandate for expulsion in very extreme cases like the one in 1Cor.5, namely, where a person is doing something outrageous (in this case, sleeping with his step-mother), and then rubbing the congregation's nose in it. That is to say, I only see expulsion as even biblically authorized when the person in question 1) is doing something so clearly evocative of apostasy that it is a sure sign that their very salvation is at issue, and 2) when this person also makes a public issue of it and therefore puts the spirituality of others at risk. If a person is involved in some horribly sinful behavior but does not communicate that to the rest of the church, expulsion is not authorized (indeed, it would be impossible since the behavior would be unknown); or, if the person realizes he/she has a problem and goes to the church leadership for help, then help rather than censure is appropriate (as long as the person legitimately responds). Otherwise, our sins and the responsibility for them are between ourselves and our God. He is the One who disciplines us, and we are responsible to respond to that discipline, repent, confess, recover, and turn away from past sinful practices. Were I a pastor of a local church rather than pursuing an on-line Bible-study ministry, I would not even want to know the sins of my parishioners. It would be my hope that response to the truth as taught from the pulpit would be more than enough "pressure" on the conscience in league with the Spirit to cause a person to "straighten out and fly right" or alternatively to depart if he/she was determined to persevere in sin rather than in faith. I would only be concerned with such matters when such a person took it upon themselves to drag down other members of the congregation by preying upon them in one way or another. Being involved in gross sin and boasting about it or proclaiming that it is "really not sin" is an example of this, and in such a case it would be my Christian duty to take action. That is precisely what is happening in 1Cor.5.

However, 1Cor.5 was written by an apostle, and Paul had many gifts and powers that the rest of us do not. He was able, for the sake of the Church, to "hand over to Satan" any individual who was involving him/herself in such activity, and he did just that in the case of this particular offender. First, I think it is important to note that Paul did so not to destroy the person, but 1) for the sake of the local congregation lest their spirituality be ruined, and 2) for this person's own welfare as well "so that his spirit may be saved". For it is clear that someone who can do something so outrageous and brag about it without a thought of repentance is in need of the most dire discipline if he/she is going to turn around and not have their faith destroyed.

The above introduces my major objection as far as the first quotation goes (i.e., the one not in italics). You say "In one point of view, when a person's sins are grievous in the extreme and he will not stop or, indeed, cannot stop, the shunning is to continue even if it kills the sinner." That may be one point of view, but it is most definitely not my point of view (although that is what your framing of this issue suggests). For one thing, I am not talking about "shunning" in this quotation. Rather, I am talking about the process or spiritual degeneration and apostasy. In such cases these effects (one of which is death) occur entirely apart from any connection with any local church – God is the One who does the killing in such extreme situations. My first quotation applies to Christians in local churches or out, and whether or not anyone else is even aware of their apostate behavior. For another, I am not suggesting that shunning be used to "kill" someone (or even taking a position on whether or not it can); the "sin unto death" is something that God levels on the spiritually degenerate past a certain point of sinful rebelliousness, irrespective of whether or not that behavior is even known to anyone else.

I have not doubt that traditional shunning is a terrible thing and does all sorts of psychological damage. I also have not doubt that it is highly legalistic. Perhaps that has something to do with why I have never recommended it, never sanctioned it, and have never done it. Moreover, I do not find it biblical (the 1Cor.5 passage is expulsion from fellowship, not shunning per se, and I for one would draw a very sharp distinction between the two). Even in cases of necessary expulsion, as I say, this is to be done not to harm the person expelled but to protect the group against someone who is publicly and arrogantly rebelling against God's truth in some egregious way (where tolerating their abuse of grace in the fellowship would send a strong message that such behavior has no consequences). Absent that sort of highly unusual situation, we should all otherwise be left with our privacy before God to grow in Jesus (a process which for us all will involve the working out of many "kinks" to which sins of one stripe or another are always attached). If all sinners were to be shunned and/or expelled, there would be no one left in the church, including the pastor. Only the most brazen and contemptuous behavior announced with temerity is to be handled by pastoral intervention, and when it is, the pastor of course has no such power of "handing a person over to Satan". If the sinner does die, it will be because his/her own behavior has passed beyond what God will tolerate – and that can happen to any of us, whether or not we choose to make an issue of our rebelliousness to members of some local congregation. So while I am equally appalled by the notion of any significant or non-biblical use of psychological pressure on otherwise responsive members of a local congregation (that is the sort of thing that cults do, after all), I seem to be portrayed here as a leading proponent of that very thing. I feel that unfairly characterized my position.

As I say, thanks much for communicating this to me before going into print.

In Jesus who died for all of our sins,

Bob L.

Question #6:  

Greetings Bob,

I appreciate your comments about the dualistic physicalism in modern neurology/psychology. In that regard here are two quotes: one from my book, such as it is, and the other from a lecture by Jeanette Norden, a neuro-psychologist. 

The blessings and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

"The dichotomy of rational thinking and emotional behavior is part of Western intellectual history. Modern neuroscience, and particularly data collected on patients with specific types of brain damage, however, suggest that truly rational behavior is not possible without emotion. The importance of emotion in cognition and behavior is reflected in the tremendous elaboration in humans of the structures that comprise the emotional brain, as well as other areas of the limbic system which are considered 'executive' in function. The numerous interconnections between these and other structures suggest that emotion, memory, and cognition all participate to increase adaptive behavior, in part, by allowing meaning to be given to our experience which can then be used to influence and guide future behavior." (Dr. J. Norden, Understanding the Brain, 2007)

Response #6:  

Thank you for the quotes. I'll indulge in a small comment on each. First, I am not sure I share your faith in science ultimately getting anything like "the correct answer". The western scientific tradition has gone through many stages since the pre-Socratic philosophers first proclaimed that we should sozein ta phaemonena ("preserve [and pay attention to all] the data"). Still, it has never managed to divorce itself entirely from subjectivity and politics, and to the extent that it seems increasingly unwilling to recognize this fact even as it slips back deeper into such patterns only worsens its chances for arriving at "the truth". Global warming is a perfect example: irrespective of the "truth", the facts are clearly hostage the political agendas pro and con. There are plenty of such examples – or maybe I should say that it takes a pretty boring area of scientific inquiry where this is not the case to some degree or another (the funding process alone invites hyperbole, overstatement, and political correctness). The other problem is of course the spiritual dimension. Since science ipso facto excludes its existence as a possibility (and to such a degree that Christians who are scientists have to cordon off from their work entirely faith in spite of the criticality this dimension in truth), the view it provides will always be seriously warped. I have no fear whatsoever of "scientific discovery"; I am wise enough to understand that in a best case scenario a "discovery" has moved a bit closer to a partial understanding of some physical truth and in that regard is somewhat "less untrue" than previous suppositions (and will in time be "refined" or replaced by new ones). One would rather not ponder worst case scenarios. I think the important thing for Christians to remember is that because the present material world is only so much dust in the long run, theories about its origin, composition, and behavior which exclude God from the mix are really only academically interesting, and in the very short term at that: our Lord will be returning soon enough. I get much more excited thinking (and writing) about His return and our eternal rewards, for example.

The quote from Norden I think does capture secular western intellectual thought since the Enlightenment (and possibly long before, depending on your point of view), but then that has little to do with Christianity or the truth. My point on this subject was that the true opposition or critical relationship is not between a physical-rational part and a physical-emotional part, but instead between the spiritual and the physical (in toto). Of course since the only way to know about the former is in a completely non-physical way (i.e., the spiritual epistemology whereby the Spirit communicates truth to our spirit by means of faith), there is little hope of dialogue with those who eschew its existence altogether.

Best wishes with you work!

In the One who is the truth, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #7: 

I am interested in finding out what I should look for when choosing a spiritual counselor. There are any number of different things that different people choose, so I'm interested what to look for. I myself have found that God directs me to certain people for different things.

Response #7:   

What exactly is a "spiritual counselor"? I've never heard of this precise term before – unless you're talking about a Christian therapist. If you're talking about someone to run all of your decision making by, someone to "disciple" you, or whatever your group calls it, well, I'm not a fan of that at all.

Generally speaking, the best advice comes from 1) the Bible, 2) your pastor/teacher (given not to you personally and individually, but objectively in substantive Bible teaching), 3) tested friends and acquaintances (especially those who may be gifted by the Spirit in this respect) and who are not acting in any "official capacity" – especially if they are "straight shooters" who tell you what they really think and not what they think you want to hear (cf. Prov.24:26: "An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips." NIV). However, when it gets right down to it, even regarding good advice, we all have to make our own decisions, and we can't pass off the responsibility (or the blame) to anybody else. The more we grow spiritually, the more we gain a certainty about putting our feet down on the spiritual walk with Jesus, the same sort of thing you mention here when you say that you sense God's direction. My general advice is to pursue spiritual growth. The more you learn, the more you grow, the more tests you pass, the closer you get to Jesus Christ, the more sure you will be about everything He wants you to do or not do, in increasingly great detail, with the result that you will be able to give good advice (sparingly), and only need it occasionally.

This is one of the areas where I also always advise caution. Legalistic groups and cult groups are very big on having people seek and respond to the advice of others, and be "accountable" to others (some "spiritual superior"). This is very problematic, because the end result of such processes is very often a lack of growth or even spiritual decay and decline (because instead of learning how to walk on their own spiritual feet, people use this other person[s] as a crutch, both for decision making and for shifting off of responsibility, whereas in fact we are accountable to the Lord Jesus Christ). In the worst case scenario, cult and cult like groups, the spiritual superior in such a system ends up making all the important (and even sometimes many of the trivial) decisions for the other person. The result is a loss of choice and free will – the very thing we are here to exercise for the glory of God. And the only way to get out of a trap like that is to make a big decision to separate entirely, something that becomes increasingly difficult the deeper one is caught in the web. So while it is true that making one's own decisions and relying on one's own consultation with the Spirit and the scripture (and objective Bible teaching which is not aimed at you personally and individually but at the congregation and the church generally) may end up in you making a few mistakes along the way, it is also true that the only way to grow up is to do your own spiritual walking. Any other course of action only leads to spiritual atrophy and occasionally (depending upon the motives and character of the person or group to whom you entrust your free will), spiritual disaster.

In Jesus and for His glory,

Bob

Question #8:

I was in downtown today where I was confronted by a street preacher among a group of other street preachers holding signs that say "repent, Jesus is coming soon" and shows the fiery symbol beneath it. Well, I was walking past him and he handed out a tract to me which I was glad to receive (I love reading tracts and sharing them with others). I then saw him later on after I had dinner with a friend of mine. He asked me was I born again or if I'm sinless. I asked him "are you sinless?" and he said and emphatic "YES." I told him that if you sin, then does that make you sinless? He then quoted 1 John 1:9 and said that if he's cleansed of all sin, then he's sinless at that moment, but previously washed by the blood of Jesus. I told him that nobody is sinless (I meant sinless by nature) which he probably got confused. His attitude was like he was sinless by nature...he asked me "do you have any sins that need repenting of?" I said, "I am tempted at times but am "TRYING" to stop." He then said, "why TRY? do it" I told him that whether you just do it... you have to make an effort and not just be lazy and expect to be conformed to the image of Christ without doing anything (Jesus told us to "strive" to enter into the straight gate", and that's trying. He was holding on to my hand as if he thought that I was some demon possessed person and was trying to scare some evil spirit out of me as he looked directly into my eyes. I stared him straight in his face knowing that I am a child of God in spite of my falling short at times. Well, another street preacher (his friend holding the repent sign with the fire on it) told me that he smells the stench of sin when I was trying to prove this other preacher wrong. I had the feeling that the other preacher was accusing me of the stench of sin. I told him, "are you referring to me?" He said, "no, the other people". I thought that seemed dishonest because he was looking at me and said that immediately after I finished conversing with the first preacher. Then a few minutes later, another preacher on a soapbox got the nerve to point at random people and tell them that they need to be born again. As I walked past him, he pointed at be and told me that I need to be born again. I said, "how do you know that I am not born again? are you God and can you know the hearts of people whom you've never met?" He then moved his arm towards someone else and pretended that he wasn't talking to me. I sensed a lot of dishonesty from them. I know that I'm not perfect and I might have taken the wrong approach, but I also believe that these people took the wrong approach too. I told him to speak the truth in love because all of the people he was yelling at telling them to repent of their filthy garbage not knowing them made the effort not to listen to him. I believe that was the wrong approach. I asked if I could pray for this preacher, and he said, "No, I don't need you to pray for me, there are lots of evil spirit controlled people praying for me and bad things have happened" I said, "why would God answer wicked people's prayers? and why would God (the Father of lights) who gives perfect gifts from above to his children answer a request from an unbeliever? Is it just me? or is that a little arrogant? I'm sorry for the rant, but this has troubled me the whole day. I would love to get some feedback from you. Thank you so much in advance!

Response #8: 

I completely agree with everything you have said here. One of the "problems" with growing closer to the Lord through paying close attention to what He has to say in the scriptures is that a person inevitably starts to run afoul to some degree at least of all our dear brothers and sisters out there who are not putting the Bible in first place as their source of the truth. Instead, it has become more the norm than the exception for contemporary Christians to gravitate from one fad to another, whether it be in churches, other so-called Christian institutions, or merely in weird ways of expressing legitimate Christian concerns or carrying out otherwise legitimate Christian ministries. For example, were I to feel called to evangelize the lost, I would I am sure go to the scriptures for my model on how to go about this; I would not I am sure go apprentice to some street preacher who may be more interested in himself and his presentation that in what God would have him do. It is no small thing to take the Word of God upon one's tongue, whether you are an evangelist or a preacher or merely speaking to someone about God. For whenever we do this, we are saying, in effect, "to the best of my knowledge and in good conscience, here is what I understand the Lord to be saying from His Word; here is the truth, and I have taken pains to make sure to the best of my ability that it is indeed His truth and not my truth".

As I say, I fully agree with your assessment of all these false statements and false approaches you have reported here. Obviously, unless a person has a special gift from the Lord, a voice or something that tells him/her what someone else's spiritual status is, then telling someone they need to be saved when they might already be is a travesty (and in my reading of scripture and observation of the times, these gifts are not being given). Obviously, God is not going to hold the fact of an unbeliever praying for a believer against them in any way. Obviously, the whole point of the Christian life is "trying"; it is a fight from start to finish. And, just as obviously, if someone goes about proclaiming they are "sinless" on the basis of some cute, faddish approach which has little or nothing to do with the Bible (e.g., WWJD), then they are only kidding themselves.

I am like you in this respect. I have never easily suffered watching or hearing others, whether immature believers or pseudo-Christians, misuse, mis-quote, mis-apply, or mis-interpret scripture, especially when they do so confidently, arrogantly, abusively, and publicly. For those who love the Lord, I'm afraid that bumping into this more and more ubiquitous phenomenon is always going to be disturbing. Going on my own experience again, if I point out the error of their ways, I always feel after the fact that I should have been more mature and just laughed it off and gone about my business. But when I do that, I always feel that I should have said something rather than let such nonsense stand unopposed. Wherever the truth lies on this (and such things are individual and case-specific judgment calls), the real point is that we can and should rejoice that we understand God's grace, are growing in His Word and truth to the point of being able to identify and reject anything with slightest sniff of baloney, and have blessedly passed the point of being " swept off-course and carried headlong by every breeze of so-called teaching that emanates from the trickery of men in their readiness to do anything to cunningly work their deceit" (Eph.4:14).

In other words, the fact that you are bothered by such nonsense is in a very important sense a good thing: it means you are growing in the Lord and taking your stand on the truth objectively derived from scripture instead of emotionally filtered through what every un-informed and immature fellow Christian might think or say on a given afternoon.

So I commend you for your progress. Keep fighting the good fight of faith. I am continuing to keep you in my prayers for victory in this latest fight.

In the One who died for all our sins that we might gain the victory over sin in Him, our dear Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #9:  

 Dear Bob,

From the word of God it is evident that the Lord has called all true Christians to be workers in his vineyard and to be fruitful in serving God. My question is how do we know what the Lord wants us to do? if he has called us to do some particular ministry or serve him in some way do we go looking for it or will a door just open. I am desperate to serve and I get more and more frustrated every day because what I believe the Lord has called me to does not seem to be happening I have prayed and prayed about it but never get the opportunities I am even wondering if I am in the church that I am supposed to be in, any advice is always very welcome, keep up the good work, brother. Best wishes,

Response #9:    

This is often a question that produces much soul-searching. It certainly did for me. In my own case, there was never any doubt about what I wanted to do / felt I was being called to do, but there certainly was an issue as to exactly how to go about it. I had actually gone a fair piece down the road to becoming ordained in the Presbyterian church, the denomination I grew up with. But after a year of seminary (an independent one), I realized that even though going the traditional denominational route had its advantages (i.e., a discernible "track" of how to become a pastor), and even though the non-traditional route had its definite disadvantages (i.e., how in the world would I ever get to the point of teaching the Word with no "group" setting things up for me?), that this was just not for me at all. For some people, I suppose, this would have been less of an issue since there are definitely some people who are very good at subordinating their own views to a larger group on the one hand, or at generating a following and forming their own "group" on the other. Not being particularly gifted in either respect, and having my reservations about most of the techniques used today in this country to plant churches out of nowhere, I really had to step out in faith to go the route I went, and it was not immediately that the Lord led me to this particular ministry; it was only after completing the M.A. at seminary, and a further M.A. and Ph.D. at U.C. Irvine that I "fell into" a Bible study that led in a very circuitous way to the internet ministry that is Ichthys today.

All of us have different gifts, are called to different ministries, and will have different effects according to the plan of God and subject to our own willingness and effort as well (1Cor.12:4-6). If my own experience is any guide, there are a couple of things I can tell you by way of general observation (but keep in mind that the Lord works with us all in a variety of different ways for a variety of different reasons). First, if we sit on our behinds and never do anything, nothing is likely to happen. So there is a happy medium to be struck between on the one hand leaning too much in the direction of waiting for God's opportunity and God's timing (something which of course we should do) to point where we are never going to do anything, and going off in a mad rush of energy completely apart from any realistic considerations including the will of God on the other (something which of course we should not do). We do indeed want to act in the correct and biblical way, and in a time, place, and manner which pleases the Lord, but we have to make a point of acting at some point.

Secondly, God uses prepared people. If I had been so het up to teach the Bible that I had neglected seminary and/or neglected the further education I got thereafter, this ministry would not be what it is. There might be an "Ichthys", or perhaps I would be ministering in a more traditional way in a local church somewhere, but I can say for certain that I would not have been in a position to exploit God's grace in leading me to many of the wonderful things He has shown me in His Word and that I have subsequently been able to share through this internet ministry.

Thirdly, I spent quite a long time in similar soul-searching of my own in a very similar way. I spent a good deal of that summer between my two years at seminary taking long walks and praying for guidance. Generally speaking, God has shown us the truth or at least all the information we need to see what the truth is; but we sometimes have to have some time to make our peace with it, draw the proper conclusions from it, settle on the need for whatever change we must make, and brace ourselves for courses of action that are "risky" from the world's point of view but blessedly profitable from the spiritual, divine point of view.

It is certainly true that being in the wrong place can hinder a person's perspective and application. Had I stayed with the Presbyterians, I am certain that either I would have had to "bail out" and start over after some wasted years, or would have had to reconcile myself to a much lower level of ministry in terms of teaching the truth than I know I was called to do. I don't even know what your church is, let alone what they teach/believe. But it is always important to remember that we are here to serve Jesus Christ, not the impression or opinion of some other person or group of persons as to what our own proper service might entail. If we but examine our lives and our talents, our abilities and our potential, we are likely to see what we are best suited to do in the Church of Jesus Christ. But before we go anywhere or do anything or make any big, life-changing decisions, spiritual growth ought to come first. We need to be very deeply grounded in the principles, doctrines and truths of the Word of God, and have had them refined in the fire of tests properly passed, before we set out upon our life's work of ministry. For not only are we liable to make big mistakes on this score if we are still in need of the milk that causes us to grow up to the point of spiritual maturity, but it is also true that until we do achieve some minimal level of spiritual growth what we are able to accomplish for our brothers and sisters in Jesus is necessarily limited. So my first bit of advice is what I would advise any believer at any time: seek first the kingdom, then everything else will be added thereunto. Grow up in the Word and keep growing in it (there is no limit to the process, after all). Prepare in whatever other way will be helpful for the type of ministry for which you feel you have been gifted. Pray for help and guidance at all times. And do not be reluctant to step out of the boat once you are ready to join Jesus walking on the water by faith. If you trust Him, you won't sink. He will take you by the hand, leading you to and leading you in the service you so legitimately desire.

In the One who sacrificed everything for us, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #10:  

We've discussed something similar to this before, but I have a few questions that come to mind. A brother in Christ believes that we shouldn't separate over false doctrine, unless it depends on the doctrine.

2 Thessalonians 3:6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.

2 Thessalonians 3:14 And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.

Isn't false doctrine also sin just as those who are walking disorderly sinning? He wrote:

"First, it depends on the doctrine. Certain things are simply vain traditions of men and, therefore, meaningless. In order to be a sin, something must violate a Scriptural command. For example, what command does sprinkling baptism violate? None, it's just a vain tradition. So, false doctrine is not always sin. Here are a few passages that show that the church had false doctrine or was in error and yet Paul still associated with them as members of the Body:

1 Corinthians 3:3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

And here Paul discourages labels(denominations, in a sense):

4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? 5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ° ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? 6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. 7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. 8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. 9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building.

Despite the carnality and incorrect doctrine in the church at Corinth, Paul still goes on to say that we are laborers together with God.

More errors:

1 Corinthians 5:1 It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife.

1 Corinthians 6:5-8 I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? 6 But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. 7 Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? 8 Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.

Galatians 2:12 For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. 13 And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.

In conclusion:

1 Corinthians 12:12-14

For as the body is one, and hat many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by on Spirit are we all baptized into ONE body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into ONE Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many."

I somewhat agree with him that nobody has all the answers to the bible and it depends on the type of doctrine we should separate over. What do you believe?

Response #10:     

I believe that a Christian should get all the good doctrine he/she can, and should avoid as far as possible everything false. What do we mean by "separation"? I believe we should be loving and patient with all of our fellow believers, that we should attempt to lead them to the truth and resist anything that is not true, but that we should as far as possible and as long as possible continue to accept them into the embrace of Christian love until such point that they either pass beyond the point of acceptable behavior (as false doctrines always inevitably affect behavior) or our own faith and practice begin to be compromised by further association. This will be a judgment call each of us has to make with the benefit of prayer and the help of the Spirit. But in this I am talking about how we deal with Christians we know. The big issue really is where we are going to receive our Christian edification through Bible teaching. If truth is pouring forth from the pulpit, those who are not willing to accept the truth will in most cases eventually leave the fellowship of their own accord and we will not even have to come to this decision on our own most of the time as concerning other members of our local group. However, if truth is not forthcoming in any quantity (because of some little preaching in place of what should be much teaching – the situation that obtains in most churches), or, worse, if false teaching is a large component of what comes from the pulpit (an ever growing problem in the church visible in this country today), then we will be swimming up stream in our spiritual lives, and will not have the help of the shepherd of the local flock in separating out those who are truly wolves in sheep's clothing. So the first issue here is for every Christian to find a good place (where the truth is substantively taught) which is also a safe place (where false doctrine is not tolerated). If a person does this, the question of "when to separate" will almost never come up, and when and if it does that person will have a very stable base from which to make a good decision.

In Him who is the Good Shepherd of the Sheep, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #11:  

Dear Bob,

I hope this e-mail finds you well, and well into the spirit of the season. I love Christmas, and am listening to some of the most beautiful carols by a singer named Josh Grobin as I type. It reminds me of what an awesome night it must have been in Heaven as everyone watched the savior being born as a human baby! Can you imagine what the angels must have thought? My questions for you today is regarding work. I know we are to work as if we are working unto the Lord. I try to bring the light into the darkness, so to speak. I seem to fail as often as I succeed, because I ruin my witness by becoming frustrated or in some other way that reflects poorly on me and therefore Christianity. I know I need God's grace and forgiveness just to get through everyday. But my question is really around time, energy and efficacy. I know that you are employed as a professor, and you manage your ministry around those duties. Do you feel overwhelmed doing both? Are you still able to be loving and compassionate with your time to those in your life? I have many friends who say they "hate" their jobs and want to serve God full time. I don't really know what to tell them, because I really am a strong believer in grow where you are planted and continually seek God's will for your life. In my own job I get to help people get from where they are to where they'd like to be. What better feeling is there than being a conduit of another's growth? I haven't found anything on earth that compares. Lately, I've begun writing books with the hope of helping others through some of the things I've had to triumph over. My hope is that I can spare them some of the time in the wilderness so that they can be productive as early as possible in this earthly life. I myself wasted so many years not even knowing the Lord. Sorry for the rambling. I will try to phrase my questions:

1. What is your feeling about working vs. ministry?

2. Can people really be employed in a place that is so bad that it would be God's will for them to quit without a means of support?

3. How can we balance our need to fulfill the unique purpose that God created for us, with the need to work to have the means necessary to support ourselves and be able to give to others as the Lord prompts?

I must admit, I feel overwhelmed sometimes at how chaotic my schedule is. It seems from scripture that Jesus never hurried anywhere, so I know I must be doing something in a less-than-best way. I don't want to give up on anything I do though! I spend an hour a day exercising….good for my mind and my body. I spend another hour or so managing health concerns. I try to sleep 8 hours. I work 8-12 hours a day, depending on the need. I spend an hour or so in the word. I lead a bible study and am now hosting a group that is for believers who are serious about the dreams God has placed in their hearts, and we are meeting to put those dreams into goal format with dates, measurements etc. I write as much as I can every night, and try to be available to those who need a friend. I am always prioritizing and re-prioritizing and wonder if you have found anything specific that helps you to manage all the things that you do (and do so well). Again, I want to thank you so much for your ministry. I have shared your studies with a number of people. Those who were willing to invest the time to really study are noticeably changed. Your work is so easy to understand! Thanks you again and Merry Christmas!

Response #11:   

Always good to hear from you. I have to say that reading your e-mail is pretty humbling, because I certainly don't deserve to be put on this kind of a pedestal, especially by someone like yourself who is clearly doing more with a lot less time. One of the reasons why I went the "professor" route was precisely the calculation that it would give me more time than the average job, or at least a lot more flexibility in the deployment of it, even if the monetary rewards were less. It turns out I was right (very unusual for someone whose grade school yearbook tagged with the characterizing phrase "It didn't turn out the way I expected!", a phrase that has continued to be very reflective throughout my life otherwise). It is true that "professor-ing" is more time (and considerably more energy) intensive than I anticipated, but for the purposes of this ministry it has been, literally, a godsend. When I was on active duty in the Marines and attempting to get some critical things done in preparation for what came next, my life more resembled what you report – without at the same time being as productive as you certainly are! So let me say right from the start that from where I sit you appear to me to be doing just exactly what you should be doing: serving the Lord in the way you have been called to do, on the job and off, and doing so in a very effective and efficient manner. I think it is a mark of doing well in this respect when a person finds him/herself giving 5-10 minute slices of the day exceptional scrutiny to see if anything else may be squeezed out (sadly, I am not there).

So to answer your questions – to the extent that you did not answer them yourself (and so possibly only to give confirmation here that you are correct in your application as far as I am able to judge from scripture and your report), and to the extent that I have not already done so above – my general answer would be that work is necessarily a part of life.

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "Anyone who is unwilling to work shall not eat." We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. Take special note of those who do not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as fellow believers.
2nd Thessalonians 3:6-15 TNIV

This principle has been in effect since Adam ate the fruit from Eve's hand and the Lord cursed the ground. Until the curse is ameliorated in the Millennium and abrogated in the eternal state, work will ever be a part of our lives and the human condition. That is true not just from the standpoint of necessary provision but also from the standpoint of our current internal make-up. There is something about this present body and the tension between its inherent sin nature and our human spirit that demands work in order maintain equilibrium. And not only work, but really "necessary work". The number of people in the history of the human race who have been able to develop a very disciplined approach to life and to work in the absence of the necessity for the same is small in my observation.

The laborer's appetite works for him; his hunger drives him on.
Proverbs 16:26 NIV

Most people who find themselves suddenly freed from the necessity of showing up somewhere nine to five (or whatever – even professors have some specific time obligations) generally experience different sorts of degeneration, be they physical, mental, psychological, or behavioral – or all of the above. David fell into his worst and most disastrous sin at the time of his greatest success when he no longer felt the need to campaign with the army but stayed behind in Jerusalem instead (and ended up dallying with Bathsheba) – note that in future years he did go out with the army until no longer physically able to do so. In short, work is not only necessary and good; it is good for us in more ways than we can imagine. We need "load" for our physical and mental health, and the best "load" is one we don't have think about in terms of "is this really necessary?", because it absolutely is. Up to a point as well, as your experience certainly demonstrates, the more we have to do, the more we get done. I am very grateful that I have some slack built into my own schedule since I find that giving these studies et al. proper consideration takes more than time, it takes "quality time", but I know from past experience that when I have been under additional time pressures somehow or another things did get done in spite of it all. On the other hand, I can look to a few periods of my early life where I had an exceptional amount of leisure and can see that I didn't necessarily handle it as well as I should have. And there is an additional important dimension here. Without the pressures of time, work, physical and mental load, et al., there would be a real limit to the sort of testing we might face as believers. And testing is an indispensable part of spiritual growth. As you correctly discern, how we act and react when we feel "under the gun" is part of the testing process, but if one is down to merely doing some "fine tuning" in this regard, it is generally a sign that spiritual growth has gone pretty far. Even Moses and Elijah had difficulties in this respect, after all.

Ministry is thus something that in the vast majority of cases is to be "added on" to whatever else the Lord has given us to deal with. Before the modern era, for example, almost all women who were Christians would have had quite a "load" at home in addition to whatever other ministry their gifts might lead them to undertake. And even when we look at the apostles and other believers in the book of Acts, we don't really see anything like a "professional ministry". Peter continued to fish at least on certain occasions. Paul made tents a good deal of the time. Our Lord whose ministry was the most important of all in history only engaged in it for three years, working for thirty years prior to it and, I would argue from the context of the appropriate passages, undoubtedly saving up for the support of His mother and siblings and the conduct of the three year ministry thereafter during those three decades (and there was of course still a need for some external support). So we don't find in the Bible a sense of entitlement among those who conducted the greatest ministries in the history of the Church, even if at times they did receive a modicum of external support. And we certainly don't find these individuals living lives of plenty. And we certainly do find these exceptional individuals making embarrassingly effective use of the support they do receive. Rather than to feel entitled to support for full time ministry, therefore, or to seek it eagerly, the scriptural role-models and the pitfalls of the sin nature ought, it seems to me, give any sane, humble person pause before putting themselves into a situation where such support is available. For to whom much is given, much is expected.

The reality is that most of us if completely freed from the necessity of doing anything but ministry we ourselves define while being generously supported by others would be likely to fail completely, or at least to fail to live up to the support received in anything like an adequate way. Defined, professional/denominational ministries are a different sort of thing; in such instances, these ministries (like a missionary in a denomination, or a youth pastor of a church with specific expectations) have their own sorts of "enforced humility" mechanisms (to quote my old pastor's phrase for this) and their own sorts of disadvantages to deal with as a result. A pastor in a Methodist church may get a house and a paycheck, but he is also expected to do many things for it (including a lot of things that I personally would blanch at doing because I don't see them as biblical). And as we look back through the centuries at the history of the church visible, it is fair to say that while at times it may have seemed necessary, the "professional ministry" (where professional is defined as entirely supported for full time service) has been at least as harmful as it has been helpful. This is not to say that the ideal situation in the Body of Christ is not to have full-time ministers of various sorts supported by the largess of the rest of the Body – indeed it is (especially in the case of those who labor in the Word of God), but it is to recognize that, sinful creatures that we are, spare time, spare energy, and spare capacity are more likely to end up being deployed to bad instead of to good ends. Bottom line: we should as you suggest be content where we are and content with the ministries and opportunities we have been given. That does not mean we should not develop our gifts and our ministries as best we can to include making the most of legitimate opportunities that come our way – of course we should. But it does mean that following a "traditional route" is not necessarily the best thing to do for a variety of reasons.

As to your second question, this sounds to me very questionable. Everyone has to make their own decisions based upon response to the Word and the leading of the Spirit. But just because a situation is uncomfortable does not necessarily equate to God telling the person to "get out" – in fact in my observation, experience, and analysis of scripture it is much more likely to be just the opposite: as long as no personal sins or failures are involved, opposition and trouble are generally signs of spiritual progress and are necessary concomitants of testing; on the other hand, it is often when things are "really comfortable" that we ought to make sure we are in the right place doing the right thing (lack of all opposition may indicate that the devil doesn't care since the person has become completely ineffective for the Lord). In general terms and without specific guidance from the Lord to the contrary, giving up an honorable livelihood without the prospects of another is a very bad idea (2Thes.3:10). As long as the job doesn't entail doing anything unquestionably illegal or outlandishly immoral, get the new job before quitting the old one would be my advice.

As far as question three is concerned, "balancing" is really what it is all about. If things were easy, there would be no testing. If there were no testing, there would be no opportunity to show to the world of men and angels both that we love our Lord Jesus, and that we believe Him and value Him and our brothers and sisters more than anything else in this life. It is a big mistake to think of these things in terms of zero-sum resources: i.e., "Doesn't God understand? If only I had $$$, I could do XXX for Jesus." God controls the universe, and could make every single Christian a "trillionaire" with the snap of His fingers. He does love us and does want the best for us, so it begs the question of why He doesn't do so? The answer of course is that this is not a game of limited zero-sum resources; rather this is a testing process wherein what we do, think, and say are always of critical importance, not just for the here and now but for all time, for all eternity. How we fight the fight of faith is what is at issue, not what we have to fight it with. We are here to fight this fight in the particular way that the Lord has outlined for us to do, and it is really not all that difficult to figure out what He wants us to do individually and how He wants us to do it.

There will always be some questions, but in my experience and observation the Lord makes the general path ahead very clear. We are not here to reorganize the church visible or to figure out the ideal approach of specific application for every other Christian. Rather we are here to fight the best fight we can fight within the parameters that the Lord has laid down for us as individuals. We have not been perfect in the past, are not perfect now, and, despite our best efforts and anticipated improvements, will not be perfect in the future, nor will our circumstances ever be perfect (as we may define that word). But we can certainly make a difference for our Lord in the actual lives we are actually now living, day by day one day at a time. If there is one principle of practical application I have learned and re-learned over the years it is indeed this one: discipline, consistency, dedicated spiritual growth and effective ministry have to be daily priorities. It is better to do the little you can do today than to plan and anticipate the greatest things for tomorrow – because things don't always turn out the way you expect. But in Jesus Christ, when we submit to His authority totally and humble ourselves under the mighty Hand of God, things do always turn out.

Thank you so much for your encouraging words. I shall strive to be worthy of them.

Have a happy Christmas in Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #12:  

Bob,

You know, I never thought about work the way you mentioned, but the best times in my life, both productivity wise and emotionally, were when I felt I had a strong purpose. I know that the word says without a vision, the people perish. I believe that is what is behind the great apathy and ennui in our culture today. No one has anything to live for, or give their life for. When I can't keep a vision or purpose in mind, I tend to get depressed, start thinking too much about non-productive things…and I can easily slip out of the habits of worship, prayer and study because I feel so badly. It is so much easier to die for Christ than to live for him, isn't it? It isn't the great big challenges that seem to trip people. It is the day in, day out faithfulness that can become mundane or bothersome. About David, kings were supposed to be on the battlefield, but he chose not to go, correct? That's when the trouble started. If he had been at work on the battlefield as kings were supposed to have been, then he never would have seen Bathsheba.

I have a continual sense of "Hurry. People are dying and going to Hell". I want so much to impart that sense of urgency to others. I can't reach everyone. God has gifted me with encouragement, exhortation, and the ability to quickly and easily develop rapport with others from any walk of life. But I don't have great leadership skills, and can't seem to inspire others to run the race just a little bit faster. It seems when I try to do so the response often just isn't there. I don't know how to transfer the idea that this life is temporal, it doesn't matter except in the way it is used to build for eternity.

Your earlier words encourage me: it is how we fight the fight of faith, not what we fight it with that is important. I trust that God knows me well enough to give me exactly what I need to do exactly what He desires at the exact right time. Sometimes I just forget that for a moment. I feel like I am letting Him down by not being as productive as I know I could be if X was different. He knows where I am in life and what I have available to give and certainly does not judge me for things that are outside my scope of potential.

You always encourage me Bob. Thanks so much. I have a renewed vigor right now to keep pressing on with everything within me to do what I've been called to do. You have such a unique way of getting to the heart of the matter. Please keep up the great work. I do encourage you to let the spirit continue to produce much fruit in you. You are feeding many.

Merry Christmas again!

Response #12:    

Thanks again for all your encouraging words. But don't beat yourself up about people not responding the way you would like. This life is all about free will, and it is always very rare when people respond in a 100% positive and appropriate way. I've learned to be pleased when they respond at all! We have to remember that Jesus died for the sins of every human being who ever lived, offering us all eternal life by simply putting our faith in Him in a completely non-meritorious response. And yet, the vast majority of the human race is not interested in responding to the greatest gift ever given, one that means life for them instead of death!

And the Lord told him: "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.
1st Samuel 8:7 TNIV

Christians too fall very short of appreciating and exploiting the wonderful grace we have been given – even those of us who have learned enough about what He did for us to be able to appreciate Him fully often do not respond any where near as consistently or enthusiastically or gratefully as we should (myself included, needless to say). So it should come as absolutely no surprise when people don't respond to us since they usually fail to respond to the Gift Himself.

Here's wishing you a wonderful Christmas of deep appreciation of all the Jesus has done for us.

In Him,

Bob L.
 

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