Thursday, September 18, 2014

Church Discipline and Knuckleheaded Christians

Some comments on some statements in Tom Schreiner’s chapter, “The Biblical Basis for Church Discipline,” in Those Who Must Give Account: A Study of Church Membership and Church Discipline (Nashville: B&H, 2012).
“Treating the person disciplined as a Gentile or tax collector means that he is no longer considered to be a member of the church of Jesus Christ. He is no longer a part of the fellowship of believers. He is not considered to be a brother.”
1. I agree with this. But at the same time, it betrays the incoherence of something else that Baptists like to say on a separate occasion. I’m thinking of those Baptists who argue that people who have been baptized only in infancy should not be admitted as church members unless they first get baptized the right way, whose reasoning for this strict stance is that a paedobaptist’s admission into membership would have to be immediately followed by church discipline, since the paedobaptist is living in disobedience to Christ’s command to be baptized. They bar such people from membership and view it as a sort of preemptive church discipline. Excommunication applied in advance.

But in Scripture, church discipline is carried out only when the offense is of such a nature that sustained impenitence inevitably leads to the conclusion that the offender is actually not a true believer. “Let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:15-17). And yet this is not the way that Baptists typically view paedobaptists. John Piper and Mark Dever, for example, have great respect for Ligon Duncan and Kevin DeYoung. They’re all brothers in Christ. They speak at conferences together. They recommend each other’s ministries.

So how does a Baptist withhold membership from paedobaptists in the name of preemptive church discipline, when Baptists by and large believe that paedobaptist convictions do not preclude someone from being a genuine and godly believer? Exercising church discipline on someone whose profession of faith you have no reason to doubt is incoherent.

2. Schreiner shoots himself in the foot later in the chapter by reading 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 as an instance of church discipline, even though in that passage Paul speaks of the troublemaker as a brother: “Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (3:15). My own view is that this passage is not an instance of church discipline or excommunication, but simply Paul’s instructions for how to deal with knuckleheaded Christians in the church. Sometimes even fellow believers can behave in ways that make their fellowship unprofitable. “Take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed” (3:14).

Monday, September 15, 2014

Gender-Based Insults

Virtually every woman would be highly offended if she were told that she looks like a man. Similarly, when a man is told that he plays ball like a girl, he understands that it is not a compliment. But what makes these insults so insulting? Is there something wrong with looking like a man? Is there something wrong with playing ball like a girl? Well, that depends on whether you’re a man or a woman.

Women are naturally expected to be prettier than men, and they generally are. The average female is better looking than the average male. So when a woman is told that she looks like a man, she’s being told that her physical appearance is woefully below average for a woman.

On the other hand, men are naturally expected to exhibit greater physical strength and ability in things like sports, and they generally do. The average male is stronger than the average female. There aren’t any women in the NFL – not padded up and on the field anyway. So when a man is told that he plays ball like a girl, he’s being told that his athletic skills are woefully below average for a man.

Now just because women are typically better looking than men doesn’t mean that a man should be flattered if he’s told that he looks like a woman. Because that’s also unnatural. I was mistaken for a girl once, back when I had long hair and wore girl pants; and while I’m not sure I had any right to be surprised, I know that I didn’t take it as a compliment. I didn’t take it as an admission that my looks were exceedingly above average. Because a man should look like a man, and this is not a bad thing at all for a man. It’s a good thing.

And I imagine the same would apply in the case of a female athlete being told that she plays ball like a man. I doubt she would find this flattering, even if the intention were to compliment her athletic skills as exceedingly above average. Because a girl should play ball like a girl, and this is not a bad thing at all for a girl. It’s a good thing.

All of this to say, men and women are different. Which is why some insults are effective against males that are not effective against females, and vice versa. It isn’t natural or good for a woman to be manly or for a man to be womanly. And if we didn’t know this, then we wouldn’t find these gender-based insults so insulting.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Selectively Egalitarian

I know a woman who once punched her husband, nearly knocking him unconscious, during an argument over Christmas tree decorations early in their marriage. While I’m sure this woman isn’t proud of what she did, she and her husband nevertheless look back on the whole thing and laugh. And I doubt any serious person would contend that the woman should be locked up for such a thing.

Compare this with the public reaction to the Ray Rice debacle. Our culture’s outrage over Rice’s actions shows that deep down we all know egalitarianism isn’t really true. Men and women are different in ways far more significant than plumbing, and men have a God-given responsibility to sacrificially protect women as weaker vessels. Which is what makes Rice’s actions particularly reprehensible.

Consider some alternative scenarios. If it were a man knocking out another man, the story wouldn’t be getting all this air time. If it were a woman knocking out a man, the video might still go viral, but only because people are laughing at the poor guy. But when a man knocks out a woman, that crosses a uniquely significant moral line — one that even a godless society still recognizes. We’re only selectively egalitarian.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Not a Numbers Game

John Hammett, in Those Who Must Give an Account: A Study of Church Membership and Church Discipline, writes:
“At least 13 [usages of ekklesia] seem to refer clearly to the church in a universal sense, as encompassing all the redeemed of all the ages. . . . But the New Testament pattern of usage indicates that we should think of the church primarily in terms of a local, visible assembly, for that is how the word is overwhelmingly used.”
It seems like I hear this kind of argument a lot, but I’m not sure it really shakes out. This isn’t a numbers game. Just because ekklesia is most often used in Scripture to denote a local assembly, doesn’t necessarily mean we should think of the church primarily in local terms. I can understand why that might seem reasonable at first blush, and there may be an element of truth in there somewhere, but I think the argument misses something important.

Local churches are visible expressions of the universal church, which means that the universal nature of the church is logically prior to its local nature. In other words, the church is universal before it is local. Furthermore, the local church will eventually become obsolete and pass away, while the universal church remains for all time. Thus, the church should be understood primarily (i.e. in its most prime sense) as universal, rather than local.

Loose Quotation

“Once when the king of Syria was warring against Israel, he took counsel with his servants, saying, ‘At such and such a place shall be my camp’” (2 Kings 6:8).
This way of speaking shows that quotations were not always direct. The king of Syria wouldn’t have actually verbalized the words “such and such a place” as he was detailing his plans. This is simply the writer’s way (informal by modern standards) of recording the basic gist of the king’s proposal. The exact place the king wanted to go is not relevant to the writer’s purpose.

Consider a similar example:
“Then Hushai said to Zadok and Abiathar the priests, ‘Thus and so did Ahithophel counsel Absalom and the elders of Israel, and thus and so have I counseled’” (2 Sam. 17:15).
Hushai obviously would have said a lot more to the priests about the counsel that he and Ahithophel had given Absalom, but those details have already been recorded earlier in the chapter. So the words “thus and so” are sufficient to communicate what Hushai is reporting, even if he likely wouldn’t have said exactly those words.

Of course, neither of these examples should be considered as errors in the text. It’s simply a looser style of quotation that’s more concerned with summarizing what was said than with recording speech verbatim. We do this sort of thing all the time in colloquial English. Biblical authors did it in their writings. Which is one reason why the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy rightly denies that inerrancy is negated by “a lack of modern technical precision.”
“We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.”

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hyperbole or Allegory

In the HCSB Study Bible’s notes on Matthew 5:29-30, Chuck Quarles writes the following:
“Jesus here uses hyperbole (intentional exaggeration for the sake of making a point) and allegory (in which the eye represents a lustful perspective and the hand represents an immoral deed) in order to convey a vital requirement of discipleship.”
I think it’s better to say that Jesus is using either hyperbole or allegory.

1. Quarles obviously wants to guard against the error of interpreting this passage in terms of literal self-mutilation, which is certainly a good thing to guard against. But an appeal to either hyperbole or allegory will do that job just fine. You don’t need both.

2. Furthermore, if Jesus is actually using both hyperbole and allegory, it would effectively and significantly undermine the point that he’s making. If we assume Jesus is speaking allegorically, then, as Quarles recognizes, the eye represents “a lustful perspective” and the hand “an immoral deed,” both of which should be cut out of the Christian’s life. But if Jesus is also speaking hyperbolically, then it means that he is rhetorically exaggerating when he makes this point – in which case, the Christian need not actually cut lust and immoral deeds out of his life.

So it’s one or the other, but not both.