VICTIMS OF OUR TIMES?
…OR STALWART IN THE WORD?
All around we can see fine church buildings. Within those walls, though, the Word of God has suffered. It is not the firm, sure and only basis for teaching and practice among many who may have fine buildings. With the passing of time the devil has inveigled more and more denominations to abandon the Word piece by piece and to accept instead the notions of men.
Discipline has been abandoned as not conducive to what these churches want. True discipline in the broad sense is teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness. In the narrow sense it is the correcting. This narrow sense has been abandoned. One of the component churches in the USA in the large Lutheran merger had a teaching labeled ‘sinning in grace’ by which an individual living in open sin could take communion. True concern for such individuals would keep them from communion lest they bring a judgment on themselves. I Cor. 11:27-30. Inevitably when one disregards the Word in dealing with people it is loveless and not loving.
We have a fine Christian practice which has fallen into disuse in many churches, and the disuse is loveless. It is a ‘public apology,’ which means a public (more or less depending on the circumstances) acknowledgement of open sin and true repentance accompanied by absolution announced as from God and forgiveness from the brethren.
Pride is bitterly opposed to this practice. The prevalent attitudes of ‘doing your own thing’, ‘minding your own business’ and ‘not sticking your nose in someone else’s affairs’, these all line up to ridicule public apology. Yet it is pride that goes before a fall and a haughty spirit before destruction. A humble and contrite sinner will bow to Scripture’s direction in public apology. “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time He may exalt you.” I Pet. 5:6 “Toward the scorners He is scornful, but to the humble He shows favor.” Prov. 3:34
It is well established in Christendom that we should confess our sins to God. Also, we should confess our sins to one another. “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” James 5:16. Truly, confession is good for the soul, for your spiritual health. We should make a clean breast of it to God above all. If we have sinned against a brother in the faith, we should confess to such and seek his forgiveness. The offending party should not hold to the foolishness of ‘love is never having to say you are sorry.’ Far from it, love itself requires an attitude from the heart expressed in words of sorrow over sin. The offended party in turn should let the repentant sinner know that he is forgiven by God and the brother. We forgive as we have so abundantly been forgiven.
Our love for a brother who sins against us must move us to “go and tell him his fault” first individually and the follow the procedure our Lord lays out for us, depending on the sinner’s response, in Matthew chapter 18 verses 15-20. Notice that it becomes more public as the procedure is carried out. Incidentally, Matthew 18 is very clearly becoming a less and less used portion of Scripture for after all the worldlings say, ‘you don’t want to be judgmental.’
Probably the most public confession recorded in the New Testament took place at Ephesus. “Many also of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all; and they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord grew and prevailed mightily.” Acts 19:18-20
Take note how truly ‘public’ this was. How healthy for the individuals and for the church! How costly to the pocketbook and to dear old pride! It was done “in the sight of all,’ the flaming destruction of the hideous books. This was proper because it was certainly well known among the people just who practiced black magic. This showed there was a clean break with the old evil ways. These were Christians who came to realize that black magic was incompatible with Christ. An open confession followed this realization.
We should be eager to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all…” Eph. 4:3-6. Interestingly, this was written to the Ephesians where there was that dramatic public confession in the magic books’ case. We each are not islands unto ourselves. We are part of the body of Christ, His church. As such we affect each other. Our unity is not a written on paper thing, but a heart and mind and word thing. If one brother sins and falls into the snare of Satan of an open sin, that is doing it incessantly, in this above all we must rebuke him.
If he does not repent, we publicly in the congregation acknowledge him to be out of fellowship, “as a Gentile and tax collector,” that is an unrepentant sinner facing hell. If he does repent, likewise we acknowledge his repentance before the congregation and praise our God. We assure him that he has the Lord’s forgiveness and ours. A public apology is simply the sinner rejecting that open sin, saying he is sorry before God and the brethren and being assured of forgiveness. “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” I Tim. 5:20 It is just as important to acknowledge publicly when one has repented. And what a tearfully joyful announcement that is!
Forgiveness is the first and foremost purpose of a public confession or apology. A rule of thumb has been that as public as the sin is so should be the forgiveness. Of course the penitent is assured privately that the Lord forgives. We are members one of another and thus it should be public also among the brethren. He should be forgiven by the congregation because he has sinned against it too by going to contrary to God’s Word.
Secondly, it clears the air so that gossip may be stifled. We would not want to hide a joyful thing as repentance and cause some to talk about what they think is the case. We all know how we are, so willing to speak evil of one another. A public apology pulls the rug out from underneath that devilment.
Thirdly, a public apology upholds to any and all who would hear the integrity of the Word and the witness of the congregation. There is a lot of hypocrisy around. People can say of us Christians, ‘sure, sure they say not to do wrong, but when they do it they cover it up.’ A public apology does not cover anything up. We don’t want the Word and the Lord mocked.
As open as the sin is, so should be the confession and absolution. Obviously, if only the pastor and one member know of it, we don’t go public with an apology. Human judgment is called for and it may make mistakes. If a man has been openly drunk and arrested, that is public and should be followed with public apology. If a woman is pregnant out of wedlock, that is seen by many and is pretty public and so accordingly a public apology is called for.
As to the public manner, it could take the approach of the Ephesians appearing in public and showing personally their repentance. A pastor might speak for a person. A statement might be read publicly. One could appear just before the men of the congregation. In this we have freedom.
From the Word we have seen the importance of public confession and absolution, that is a public apology. We will be called various names by the worldlings for practicing this. But that does not bother us. They said our Lord worked by Beelzebub, the prince of demons. What concerns us is that we are true to our God and His Word. As we seek to do what is pleasing to God, it may not be pleasing to men. But we operate with the Gospel of Christ’s love. “For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards,…He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom…” I Cor. 1:26-31