Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Morning Prayer: the Bible's teaching about church lawsuits 'n' stuff

Today's assigned reading is from Paul's First Letter to the Church in Corinth (5:9 - 6:8). I will try to approach this soberly - I am praying and counting to ten and all that to avoid a rant.

One bit of good news right off the top: the Church in Corinth was a constant mess. The fact that God gives us Holy Scripture through the travails of a dysfunctional congregation tells us something of the great, patient and real love of God for folks like ourselves. That's something to which we should cling.

We should also note that our brother Paul, who some try to set in opposition to Jesus, here carries through Christ's teaching and example on substantial matters of church life:

I. "I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons— not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world."

Got that, polarized America? Paul is saying, "Be like Jesus. Hang out with all kinds of people - don't hide in little cliques. But those of you who really want to follow him must maintain God's teachings, even as you move among those who don't." The church does not need to run the culture on the one hand or cave in to it on the other. The "religious right" and "religious left" have ignored this. The result is churches too wrapped up in earthly "wins and losses" instead of Jesus Christ.

II. "But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? God will judge those outside. ‘Drive out the wicked person from among you.'"

Jesus was gentle and patient with the "sinners" he met, but demanding of his committed followers. Paul applies this same practice, expecting the church to live by the values of God's kingdom, no matter what the neighbors, culture or nation might be about.

III. "When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before the saints? 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—to say nothing of ordinary matters? If you have ordinary cases, then, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another, but a believer goes to court against a believer—and before unbelievers at that?"

Paul is simply following Jesus, who taught church members to forgive one another and seek reconciliation. My dear brothers and sisters in The Episcopal Church, how do you ignore this? How do you allow millions of donated dollars to be redirected, without accountability, to something that is "shameful" in God's eyes?

IV. "In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—and believers at that."

Jesus preached incredible patience and forbearance. I have to ask how those of you who insist, "We have to support Bishop Katharine!" are really helping her. How are you doing her any good when you defend a policy that, by God's Word written, is already "a defeat"?

How can a church - and here I'm not limiting the question to Episcopalians - expect blessing when it ignores Jesus' clear teaching in word and example?


Scott said...

Thank you for this succinct message drawn from a part of the Word that I have read over and over in the past 5 years, trying to understand how we could come to a place like this.

I ask your prayers for my brother Luther (named after Martin), who is facing eviction from his home this week. There is a very large silver lining here, in that he has found sobriety through all of this mess. It was his alcohol addiction that created the situation he is now in.

Pray that his siblings can come together to find the right plan to help him; that they can find it in themselves to forgive him for the bridges he has burned; and pray that this crisis leads to permanent sobriety for one of the most gifted human beings I have ever known.

Thank you.

TLF+ said...

Bless you, Scott. Will be praying for Luther. I use three days of the week for substantial intercessory prayer time, and Thursday is one so he will be a focus. May God deliver him and set him free to use his gifts gloriously - and may God bless the whole family with mercy and joy in their "brother who was lost, but now is found."

The Underground Pewster said...

Prayers for Luther and for those living with addiction and those with emotional problems.

Prayers for the Church that we might listen to the Word and end our lawsuits.