Monthly Archives: June 2012
“Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?” (James 2:6-7 NIV).
Most rich people blaspheme against God. Some of them do it directly and publicly. Others do it more subtly, by taking the credit for their own success. All human beings, regardless of their station, must give credit to God for every good thing they have accomplished.
“Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?” (James 2:5-7)
Do not “suck up” to the rich people in your church, or let them get away with things that others would not get away with. Hold them accountable when they say things in public that dishonor God. After all, they are your equals in Christ.
You need to love them, yes, but if you truly love them you will not treat them as superior to anyone else. It’s not good for you and it’s not good for them.
I think Christian churches in America are pretty good about behaving politely to anyone who walks through their doors, regardless of their race or economic situation. However, I am worried about a more subtle discrimination against the poor: discrimination in where and how we build new buildings. New churches tend to be built on nice, expensive lots out in the suburbs, rather than in existing buildings closer to denser population centers. I think this is done because pastors prefer to target middle class/ lower upper class populations instead of the lower class. Many American churches dream about filling their coffers and about becoming respectable in the eyes of the local society. But the plight of the poor is more important than respectability or money. It is my personal opinion that the poor should be our first target for evangelism, then the middle class, and finally the rich.
That said, the purpose of this post is not to discredit each and every church that is in a rich neighborhood. Everyone needs to be reached with the gospel. I am just saying that there seems to be a general trend in modern church building that leaves out the poor.
Many Christians nowadays want to get rich. Many of us are envious of rich Christians and want to be just like them. But actually, the Bible never teaches us that the ideal Christian is rich in worldly wealth. Rather, the New Testament teaches us that more often than not it is the poor who are closer to God. The fact that someone is rich is not a sign of their spirituality. If you have prayed to God for riches I have one piece of advice for you: stop it! If He gives you riches, so be it, but do not ask for them. Most people are better servants for God when they are poor.
“Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5 NIV)
”It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:24 NIV)
“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not —to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.” (I Corinthians 1:26-29)
Churches should never act like political organizations trying to attract rich “donors.” Churches are explicitly commanded not to give any extra attention to someone because of their riches.
“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4)
In some of my other editorials I have alluded to an important job function of church leadership teams that is much too often neglected in many American churches today. This is the duty of discipline. Many church leaders are either unwilling or unable to follow the commandments of the Bible in regards to expelling or otherwise disciplining church members who are openly committing egregious, flagrant sins. This problem has become an epidemic. Many men and women in the church today are regularly participating in adultery, abuse, and alcoholism, while the leaders of the churches they attend ignore what is happening. Often the church leaders pretend that they do not know what is going on, or if it is called to their attention, they refuse to enact a Biblical response. They often prefer, instead, to give the offender second, third, and fourth chances, continuing to “work with” the offender by holding frequent meetings with him even after it has become apparent that he is not willing to repent. This allows them to give the appearance of making progress, even when there is no change in the heart of the sinner. Such an approach is wrong, and it is destroying families and churches everywhere.
But we cannot put all the blame for this problem on our leaders. If we are honest with ourselves we will admit that much of the fault for this soft-handed approach rests firmly on the shoulders of rank and file church goers, like many who are reading this blog right now. Simply put, we are the ones who are often responsible for hamstringing our deacons, elders, and pastors. We do not treat them with enough respect, and we show little regard for their decisions. We are willing to accept them as friends, but we are not willing to recognize their authority to confront us over issues of personal morality. We do not submit to their wise leadership the way the Bible demands. Instead, we talk about them behind their backs, voicing our complaints to the wrong people, damaging the reputation of our leaders. The Bible gives the following warning to disrespectful churchmembers everyhwhere:
“Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give an account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you (Hebrews 13:17).”
One of the reasons why church discipline is such a big problem today is that many of us do not see our pastors and elders as “ruling over” us. We sometimes challenge their right to know what is going on in our personal lives. In fact, many of us have come to view our pastors as reporting to us! After all, we’re the ones who are paying their salaries. We think that this gives us the right to act like we own them. But our pastors are not our employees. They, like us, are in the service of the Lord. It is true that they also serve us as well, but this kind of service requires them to have authority over us. The best way that they can serve us is to discipline us according to New Testament guidelines with firmness and love. This will sometimes be painful for us. Nevertheless, we need to submit to such discipline without grumbling and rebelling, remembering that they are looking out for our very souls.
Unfortunately, Americans have trouble submitting. This is undoubtedly the result of growing up in a culture where the people elect the president, the customer is always right, and even convicted felons have access to a lawyer. We are trained from childhood to believe that we are free individuals, and that no one can own us. This may be alright in relation to politics, but this attitude is damaging to a church. There are times when our fierce American independence needs to be reigned in. Christians need to remember that spiritually speaking, we do not own ourselves. After all, we were “bought at a price” and our spirits and bodies are God’s (I Corinthians 6:20). If we have really entered into a covenant with God, then we have to surrender to His leadership and to the leadership of the ones whom he has appointed to faithfully shepherd the flock. Our submission to our pastors and elders should not be mindless or unlimited, but we should never resist them lightly. I dare say that it is far easier and more common to resist church authority for the wrong reasons than for the right ones. This displeases God and damages the church.
So let’s keep these things in mind the next time we get angry at a church leader. We need to remember that their job is not an easy one, and in some cases, not one that they asked for either. They have a lot of responsibility resting on their shoulders. They will someday have to give an account to God for everyone who is under their leadership. Let them do this with joy, as the Bible says. Let us be understanding when they rebuke us and tell us where we need to change. After all, they are trying to do us a favor.
Acts 13:7 “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.”
If you are trying to understand Christianity it is helpful to understand the difference between discipline and punishment in the Bible.
Punishment, is when someone receives the penalty incurred by their sins. The Bible teaches that the appropriate punishment for each and every sin is eternal death and torment in the lake of fire (Matthew 25:46, Revelation 21:8). Worse sins result in a greater level of torment (Matthew 11:22).
Discipline, on the other hand, is when someone recieves a consequence for their sins that is less than the full punishment that their sins deserve. The point of discipline is not to exact justice, but to persuade a person to repent and change their ways. If a person repents and believes in the Son of God they can be forgiven of their sins, so that their punishment is paid for by Jesus, and they do not have to suffer eternal death in hell.
The verse below explains the idea behind discipline:
My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
and do not resent his rebuke,
12 because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in. (Proverbs 3:11-12 NIV)
And this one talks about punishment:
“God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (II Thessalonians 1:6-9 NIV)
“Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”
33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.
34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)
Mary and her other children do not belong to a higher class of Christians as a result of being physically related to Jesus in the flesh. They are our dear brothers and sisters* in Christ who are blessed because they did the will of God, not because Jesus was their brother and son in the flesh.
*See the words of Jesus’ brother James in James 2:1.
What do you think of when you think of Wisconsin? To many people the mere mention of our great state summons images of blizzards, blocks of cheese, or football players. We’re famous around the country for our weather, the dairy industry, and the Green Bay Packers. But in addition to this we are also famous for our beer: both for brewing it and for drinking it. Lots of Americans drink beer, but the people of our state, accurately or not, have a reputation for consuming greater quantities of it than normal. We are also a state with a lot of churches. Many Wisconsinites drink heavily on Saturday night and go to church the next morning, sometimes hung over. Should Christians be getting drunk? Is it wrong for them to do this, or is it cute? How should we treat Christians who like to drink a lot?
Let me begin addressing these questions by making a bold, but undeniable statement: drunkenness is sin. The Bible is extremely clear about this. It does not matter what denomination or ethnic group you come from, or how “acceptable” drunkenness is in your culture. Every time you drink so much that you lose self-control you are engaging in an open act of rebellion against God. The Bible describes drunkenness as a “fruit of the flesh,” (Galatians 5:21). It is listed alongside other notable sins such as “murders,” “hatred,” and “outbursts of wrath,” all things that can easily result from drinking too much. Getting drunk, like any sin, is so repugnant to God, that it by itself is enough to land you directly in hell for eternity. The Bible says that “those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of heaven.”
Of course, that is not to say that everyone who gets drunk will necessarily go to hell. God will forgive you of your sins if you repent, and no true Christian is immune from sinning even after he is saved. However, you should rarely assume that a person who is regularly drunk is saved. In fact, it is often likely that such a person is going to hell. The Bible says that “those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). That means that true Christians have self-control. They display the “fruit of the Spirit,” which is “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness” (Galatians 5:22). These are not traits that are often used to describe someone under the influence of alcohol. That is why the Bible says that all Christians, young and old, male and female, need to remain sober (Titus 2:2, 3, 6).
In light of this fact, Bible-believing churches all around our state need to take a stronger stance against drunkenness. For starters, habitual drunkards need to be removed from all leadership positions in the church. Once again, this is something that the Bible is very clear about. The Scriptures state quite openly several times that elders and deacons should not be “given to wine.” (Titus 1:7, I Timothy 3:3, I Timothy 3:8). If they get drunk regularly, they should never have been appointed to their positions in the first place. Once the church leadership has been purged, it is time to focus on the rest of the members. People who call themselves Christians should be expected to live as such. Therefore habitual drunkenness by any Christian should not be considered acceptable. Members of a church who regularly get themselves drunk in public to the point where they dishonor themselves and their families by the things they say and do, need to repent of their sin so that they can serve God in holiness the way God intended. Those who are genuinely trying to change should be helped to overcome their addiction. Those who are in denial of the fact that they are sinning need to be subjected to whatever level of discipline may be appropriate for their individual case. Different situations call for different responses. But one thing is clear: this problem should never be ignored. Alcoholism destroys families; drunkenness destroys holiness. Both problems need to be addressed in the church wherever they exist.