The Vapory Ether of Deception

2 Corinthians 4:2-4, “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (3) And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. (4) In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

Writing the story of the incredibly difficult trial she and her husband went through in their church, Jonna Petry makes this very insightful observation that we would do well to heed:

“We were in the ether, under a kind of “delusion.” I have come to believe that when idolatry is at play, it often creates and allows for an unreality to take hold of those who participate, as if under a spell, unable to see or hear the truth because it is all filtered through a projected “reality.” But it is a false reality – a delusion. I believe this dynamic is often true in cults where there is one dominant, charismatic, controlling leader. As I look back, this “delusion” aspect makes sense to me and helps to explain why the abuse is allowed and continues, while so many people are unaware and/or unwilling to confront.”  (http://joyfulexiles.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/jonna-mhc-story-29.pdf)

We were in the “ether.”  I suspect that most of our readers know exactly what she is talking about.  The fear of man is a snare, and when a man seizes power and control because he craves to be first, be it in a local church, in a marriage, or in a government, a vaporous “unreality” does indeed take shape.  It seizes our minds and deludes us. Hitler cast his spell over millions.  Jim Jones’ saga ended in people so spellbound that they drank the infamous Kool-Aid.  Those who begin to cast off the spell and see what is really happening are quickly singled out for special “treatment.”

We know from Scripture that Satan majors in darkness.  He is the prince of darkness.  He blinds the minds of those in bondage to him.  And I think that the stories of the abuse of power and control that all of you and many others are telling is evidence that Satan can affect the Christian’s mind as well with his ethery darkness.  It is a spell cast by lies and threats.  By re-writing the facts of history.  Without the Spirit of Truth sent by the Light of the world, we would remain in that darkness.

The thing is frightening, and we should be frightened.  Scripture tells us to be on guard because Satan is on the prowl. One single charismatic, “gifted” emissary of the devil can rise up from among ourselves (Acts 20) and delude us all far more quickly than we would like to think.  And the same deceptive vapor is spread by the domestic abuser as well.  If you want to see real spiritual warfare in action, study abusers.  Learn about them.  Talk to their victims.  Talk to people who have been swept up in the abuse of power and control in a church as Jonna Petry and her husband were. Talk to survivors of sexual abuse, especially if their abuser was a professing Christian.  They will all tell you — they were in this “ether” as if they were drugged.  They look back now and wonder how they didn’t see it sooner.  And yet, in many ways, this should not surprise us.

John 8:44, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

So let’s take our Lord’s many warnings to heart.  Seriously.  Let’s immerse ourselves in His Word and pray without ceasing.  Let’s put on the Lord Jesus Christ as our armor.  Because those flaming missiles are incoming, and for the most part, they are cunning lies aimed right at our minds.

We Must Understand the Nature of Sin if we are to Properly Deal with it in the Church

For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. (2Th 3:10-15)

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1Cor 5:11-13)

One of the most prevalent errors in the church today, one which is causing much grief to the victims of the wicked and bringing shame to Christ’s name, is the persistence of local churches, church leaders and pastors to regard all members of the church as Christians, no matter what the nature of their sin.   This is not biblical thinking. It is not truth. God’s Word plainly teaches us that not all sinners are of the same type, nor are they to be dealt with in the same manner.
Let’s consider the two examples given in the Scriptures above: 1) The sluggard, and 2) The reviler (to select one from Paul’s list).

What does Paul tell us about dealing with the sluggard? He commands the sluggard directly, first of all, to get to work. He tells us not to bail the sluggard out of the consequences of his sin — if he won’t work, neither let him eat. And if the sluggard will not take these admonishments to heart and repent, the strong measure of the church having nothing to do with him is to be taken, in order to shame him into repentance.

But then, Paul says something quite curious: “Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” Here is a person, a person committing a serious sin, who is still to be considered a brother in Christ. Perhaps we should also take note of the context of the situation at Thessalonica. There seems to have been an “end-times” theological distortion going on there and perhaps this was the reason you had these people there who were not working but rather sitting around waiting for Christ to return. But Paul says to regard such a person as a Christian, at least at that point.

Now, when we come to the second category of sinner, the one identified in Paul’s list in 1 Cor 5 as a “reviler” (a person who uses his mouth to attack, to condemn, to malign, to abuse), Paul’s prescription for dealing with him is different. The remedy, you see, must fit the crime. Once more we are to put that person out of the church, but Paul uses harsher terms: “Purge the evil person from among you.” Paul does not regard the reviler (or idolater or swindler or the rest of his list) as a Christian, and neither are we to do so.

Abusers are revilers. They hurt and murder with their words. Not because they lose their temper on occasion and end up saying something they later regret. No, the abuser is calculated. He reviles in cold blood. And he habitually does it because a reviler reviles.  This kind of sinner is to be put out of the church, and regarded as an unbeliever. He is not a brother in the Lord.

In failing (refusing?) to make this distinction that is plainly set forth for us in God’s Word, local churches today are giving sanctuary to the wicked, providing them with false assurance of the state of their soul, and permitting them to continue to revile and assault the innocent. For such willful disobedience, all will one day give account to the Lord of the Church.

**An Exercise: If you look at the introductory comments (from the editor) to the Epistle of Jude in the ESV Bible you should be able to see a statement in it that is a distortion of what Jude says about the wicked ones who have crept into the church, and how we are to deal with them. Do you see the error? If you spot it, let us know in the comments here.

Cool Academia has a Place – but not always

I have been thinking a lot lately about how we are often pressured, especially in the world of theology and writing and blogging, to maintain a cool professionalism that never gets torqued.  A polite respectability if you will that leaves room for honest debate on an issue without attacking the other person personally (ad hominem as they say – “against the man”).  And certainly this is proper and right in many situations.

For example, if we are debating whether the Son has eternally been subordinate to the Father (not in being, but in role), or whether this subordination began only when the Son became incarnate, then all respect is due one party to the other.  What is the precise nature of the Lord’s Supper?  Is biblical eschatology pre-, post-, or a- millennial? Those sorts of things.

But there are other debates in which I reject the charge of being “too emotional” about. In fact, I maintain that anyone debating these kinds of issues had good and well better be emotional. Angry if you will. And even that we have the right and duty to charge the opponent with, well, sin.

Abuse is an arena that needs to be emotionally charged.  This is something that we need to be angry about.  Oh, not angry all the time and in every discussion – some people just need to hear the facts about abuse and how victims are being dealt great injustice in our churches.  But I am talking about people who actively, stubbornly, and often arrogantly push injustice and oppression onto victims through their Pharisaical and “lording it over” attitude.

Yes, I have an example.  The “permanence view” of marriage.

When I read a book or hear a church leader or someone like that teaching and writing and insisting that the Bible teaches that marriage cannot be broken for any reason, that even if a spouse leaves and marries another, the wronged party cannot remarry as long as that spouse is still alive, and that if they do file the divorce papers, for example, for ANY reason, or if they remarry while the ex-spouse is still alive (even thought that ex is the one who departed the marriage), then they are subject to church discipline – I get angry. And if I ever get into a debate with one of these types and they are hard-headed and arrogant, then I am going to right out tell them that what they are teaching is wicked and that it is oppressing the weak and they are lording it over Jesus’ people.  This is no mere cool, objective, academic debate issue.

Think about it.  Church leaders who embrace this permanence business exalt themselves above many, many other godly men and women in the history of the church and in the present church who reject that position.  Yet the permanence guys insist they are right.  In fact, they are so confident that they are right that they are willing to label any member of their church who divorces or remarries as an unrepentant sinner who must be ex-communicated from their church. If that is not lording it over the flock, then I don’t know what is.  Think it through carefully. What must go on in a church leader’s mind for him to be willing to enforce this on people? And to teach it from their pulpit as being the only true interpretation of the difficult issue of marriage, divorce, and remarriage?  I conclude that it takes tremendous arrogance mixed with at least a sprinkling of the spirit of Diotrephes (3 John).

“Oh, but that is too harsh, Jeff. You need to be more like Christ here and not be so emotional or angry. That’s not very scholarly.”  Really? I simply give this as my answer:

Matthew 23:1-7  Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, (2) “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, (3) so practice and observe whatever they tell you — but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. (4) They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. (5) They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, (6) and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues (7) and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.Matthew 23:23-24 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (24) You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

Cool? Non-emotional? Respectful of the opponent? No way. What, are we going to say? That Christ wasn’t very Christian here?

Now, you might be thinking – “boy, but are these fellows who teach the permanence view of marriage really to be labeled by us as being of the same ilk as those Pharisees Jesus blasted? Are we saying that they preach, but do not practice? That they tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people all the while refusing to carry that burden themselves? Are we claiming that they love to be….first?”

Well, just think it through again. What kind of person does it take to preach and teach that the Bible forbids divorce for ANY reason, and that re-marriage is adultery (if an ex-spouse is still living), and THEN to make those teachings binding, upon pain of ex-communication? What kind of person does it take to elevate oneself to that kind of position? Think about it long enough and you will have your answer. And you will be ticked off.