Thursday, April 04, 2013

On Judging

"Judge not, that you be not judged." (Matthew 7:1 -- NKJV)

"Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the Law and judges the Law. But if you judge the Law, you are not a doer of the Law, but a judge. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, He who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?" (James 4:11-12 -- ESV, slightly modified)

"I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people -- not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 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." (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

"Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!" (1 Corinthians 6:2-3)

"Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand." (Romans 14:4)

"Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment" (John 7:24)

It should be clear, I hope, that the question of whether or not Christians are to be judges of the character, actions, or eternal destiny of others -- whether inside or outside the Church -- is filled with tension.

The reason I list these passages (and there are, of course, more) is due to the recent spat on various social media platforms about the Supreme Court, DOMA, and the possibility of legalizing homosexual marriage. I've seen accusations, counter-accusations, counter-counter-accusations, and so on. "You're being judgmental!" And, as seems to be true in the Christian world online these days, there is the inevitable descent to name-calling, ad hominems, red herrings, and general snarky "well-I'm-right-and-if-you-don't-agree-with-me..." on either side of the issue. Not only is there no agreement on the issue, or on the validity of judgment over the issue, there is not an ounce of civility to be had. Part of this, I think, is that civil dialogue has been replaced, culturally, by a sort of weak-spined relativistic pluralism, especially evident amongst evangelicals of a younger sort.

What I'm encouraging, and hope to find time to write on in the near future, is a return ad fontes, to the source, to the Scriptures and the historical witness of the Church, as the starting-point for understanding what is going on and how we, the Church, might address it properly. The texts above stand as a initial salvo. Exegetical work needs to be done.

A few notes, though, from my own point of view, that might be important in setting out terms for debate. (Note, please, that I'm treating this in my normal fashion as an intra-Church debate. Theoretically, we share the same presuppositions, but don't necessarily do so with those "outside". I'm not interested, at this point, of debating with those outside of the Church community. Not that such debate isn't important or necessary, but I don't think the Church is quite ready for that...yet).

1) Christendom is over. We don't have the political clout of yesteryear. No emperors (or presidents or supreme courts) are out to protect our interests.

2) The "Religious Right" and "Moral Majority" are over. See #1. The moral bankruptcy of both major political parties in the USA is well known. We religious folk have been played as suckers by those in power. And we will continue to be suckers as long as we suck at the teet of those in power. If you want to fight homosexuality as a political issue, that is fine, but don't pretend that Republicanism or conservativism are just the political expression of Christianity. They aren't and they never were. Neither, though, is Democratism or liberalism. All of them are indebted to an Enlightenment rejection of the authority of the Church over any but the most private matters (if you don't believe me, read Locke's "Letter[s] Concerning Toleration" -- thanks to Caleb for the correction). Politically, the name of the game is the fact-value division: any attempt to overcome it is, frankly, treasonous. And it is treated as such by both parties.

3) Don't assume people "outside" care about your opinion, no matter how Biblically based it is. We've lost our moral voice (the Catholic sex-scandal, Ted Haggard, etc.), which will take generations of hard, humble work to reestablish. When we say something is Biblical, people automatically see hypocrisy. We cannot blame that on them, either. Judgment starts in the House of God, I've read somewhere.

4) Don't assume people "inside" care about your opinion, no matter how Biblically based it is. See #3. Same reasons apply.

5) Civility is important. Learn it. Being arrogant, brusque, or hasty does not equal a good argument.

6) Proper authority is important. Here is one I think we especially need to attend to. What constitutes "proper" authority in God's Church? Just because you are a college professor of Bible does not make you an authority. Authority is derived from the holy Spirit through a life of holiness, compassion, mercy, justice, compassion, long-suffering, humility, holiness, and compassion.

That should get us started.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Emasculated Evangelism

Tonight, while going through the argument of St. Paul to the Romans, my students and I stumbled across something that I don't think I've ever fully grasped before.

We started off by talking about how the oikonomia, or pattern, of salvation in Paul's writings doesn't end with either justification or the saying of a Sinner's Prayer. Rather, it starts with God's calling, proceeds to the justification/vindication of the Cross (I am passionately against those who argue that justification happens at the moment of individual belief: it happened at the Cross and in the Resurrection -- Jesus' vindication/justification, of which we take part in through faith and baptism), leads to sanctification (being made into Temples of the holy Spirit), and, finally, glorification -- that is, sharing in God's glory, which was always His intent. Man originally (and Paul seems to mean Adam as a sort of Everyman) "exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things" (1:23)which has caused all to "fall short of the glory of God" (3:23). However, since we have died to Death in Christ's death (appropriated through baptism), we are raised in newness of life to "seek for glory and honor and immortality" through "patience in well-doing" (2:7). This means that any sufferings, whether they are persecutions or the last grasps of Death at dominion over us through sin, are "not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us" (8:18 -- the ESV has "to us" at the end of this verse, which seems to me to miss the point: St. Paul seems to have Mt. Tabor in mind here). This "glory" is none other than the glory we originally spurned and fell short of: the glory of God. That is, man's chief end is to participate in God's glory, which Jesus Himself prayed for in the Gospel of John: "The glory that You have given Me I have given them" (17:22), which was "the glory that I had with You before the world existed" (17:5). Theosis, in other words, is man's telos or goal.

Here's where it gets interesting (as if it wasn't already interesting enough):

St. Paul concludes this section, after talking about how the whole of Creation is waiting to be released into the hands of the glorified "sons" [that is, inheritors, both male and female] of God, by saying that this will be accomplished when we have "the redemption of our bodies" (Rom. 8:23). The resurrection, our ultimate vindication/justification as "sons of God", just as it was Jesus' ultimate vindication ("with power") as Son of God (1:4), is the moment of glorification. "For in this hope we were saved..." Wait, what? What hope? The hope of glorification through resurrection. The hope of the liberation of all Creation through that resurrection, when God will be "all in all" (1 Cor. 15: 28).

How many evangelistic moments include this? I asked my students for a show of hands. None were raised. Mine certainly was not. I was "saved" because I wanted to go to Heaven when I died. I believed Jesus could accomplish that for me (or rather, that He already had). While this is true, in its own way, it isn't the hope that St. Paul is talking about here in Romans 8. Rather, he is talking about something much greater: the death of Death. He is talking about the original purpose of God, not to be clothed in animal skins (Gen. 3:21), but to be clothed in Christ ("put on" Col. 3 and elsewhere), in the "house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (2 Cor. 5:1 -- possibly Paul's only reference to the virginal conception of Christ). The hope of the Gospel is, in Paul's trenchant phrase, "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27).

We need to change our evangelism. This is the hope in which we are saved: that God will gather all things in heaven and on earth under one Head, even Christ, and fill them with His glory. Hallelujah!