Flashback Friday: Twisting Matthew 18:15 To Make Sin Acceptable

Originally published April 26, 2016.

Twisting ScriptureSeveral years ago, a personal friend of mine began a very public journey away from biblical Christianity. Claiming to still be a Christian, he adopted a lifestyle that directly contradicted Scriptural principles and he encouraged others to follow his example. When I wrote a comment on his blog challenging his new theological positions, he chastized me for not approaching him privately first, in accordance with Matthew 18:15. Regrettably, I acquiesced to his demand that I confront him privately, because he twisted that very Scripture in an effort to avoid responsibility for his sinful choices.

Matthew 18:15-20 deals with restoring a transgressing brother or sister to fellowship within a local congregation.

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (ESV)

As Josh Buice recently wrote in his article, Matthew 18 and the Universal Church, there’s a difference between someone in one’s local church who sins privately and a person like my friend (who lives in another state) whose sin appears, not only in his blog, but also on television interviews and on other websites. The public display of his rebellion eliminates the need for private confrontation because his reputation doesn’t require protection.

I would add that my friend had already committed to his choices. Since Matthew 18:15-20 carries the goal of restoring a person to right relationship with God, it doesn’t really apply to someone who no longer accepts Biblical standards–especially when he or she publicly works to influence others to misinterpret Scripture in respect to that sin. When someone believes and teaches that their behavior meets with God’s approval, twisting the Word of God in order to justly their course of action, we can safely assume that they don’t honestly care about obedience to His Word.

Obviously commenting on my friend’s blog wasn’t going to bring him to repentance, but it could have made his readers think about the matter. Or I could have (and eventually did) written about him in my own blog, warning people against his error. Because he is somewhat of a public figure who writes openly about his lifestyle and beliefs, and because it’s highly unlikely that anyone will dissuade him from his sin unless the Lord miraculously intervenes, I need not talk to him privately before warning others about his false teaching.

I use my experience with him today as an example of how people use Matthew 18:15 out of context in order to silence those who expose their false teaching. Like my friend, they don’t really care about being corrected in a Biblical manner. They want to shame Bible-believing Christians into leaving them unchallenged.

Please be aware that someone who publicly disseminates false doctrine, particularly with the purpose of excusing sin and influencing people to embrace that sin must not be permitted to hide behind Matthew 18:15. Their public espousal of false teaching already demonstrates an unwillingness to repent. Just as they distort other Scriptures to their advantage, so they twist this verse. We need not play their game.

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Saturday Sampler: August 26 — September 1

Vintage Tulip

I love Elizabeth Prata for many reasons. In particular, I love her boldness to speak unpopular truths in her blog, The End Time. Her essay, Shout Your Abortion, and John Owen on infanticide, offers no apology for unmasking the basic brutality behind the willful termination of a pregnancy.

Equally outspoken, Leslie A of Growing 4 Life answers the question, What Does the Bible Say About…(Being Relevant)? We should carefully consider the Scriptural arguments she makes.

Ancient Church 01Clint Archer, writing for The Cripplegate, examines Charismatic and mystical experiences in his pithy piece, Are claims of supernatural experience really that harmful (in 500 words)? You need to read this one!

Plucking Forbidden Fruit by  SharaC appears in Into the Foolishness of God with an interesting observation for control freaks.

The Christian Counseling & Educational Foundations blog includes Is Reading the Bible a Chore or a Delight? by Steve Midgley. You’ll appreciate his practical solution for making your time in God’s Word more enjoyable and fruitful, I think.

If you’d like to see an interesting perspective on developing ethnic diversity in local Little Girl Welcoming Advanced Maskchurches, look no further than The Domain for Truth, where SlimJim writes Ethnic Churches: A More Better Way than Bashing Them. I can’t remember when I’ve read an article this fascinating and thought-provoking! Even better, SlimJim writes as a pastor of an ethnic church.

Reading Michelle Lesley isn’t always safe. The Holy Spirit often uses her writing to convict me. See if her post, Wise to the Ways of the Worldly: 4 Ways Worldliness Sneaks In, and the Scriptures to Slay It doesn’t expose something in you. Dolly's portraitThat’s okay — conviction is a good thing!

In his article for Pyromaniacs, Colin L. Eakin underscores the importance of discernment. Sheep, or Wolf? A Call to Discern explores reasons that evangelicals fail to exercise discernment and suggests ways that we can cultivate this necessary skill.

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Now I Understand Why Reading Sojourner’s Magazine Made Me Feel Slimy

Snail

Not long after I graduated from  college in 1977, one of my pastors started teaching Adult Sunday School classes on world hunger and social justice. Several of us fell under his influence, equating socialist politics with Christianity. We justified this equation by pointing to Acts 2:44-45  as a proof-text  supporting our “radical discipleship.”

Like all good radicals, we protested nuclear power plants, boycotted subsidiaries of corporate conglomerates and mourned profusely when Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter. We firmly believed our liberal politics reflected Biblical values.

And we faithfully read Sojourner’s Magazine. I grabbed each issue the moment it hit my mailbox, eagerly flipping to the editorials by Jim Wallis. His writing always assured me that Jesus championed the poor and disenfranchised.

And yet, I always felt a certain discomfort with my so-called Christian socialism. Continue reading

One Important Reason I Probably Won’t Blog About Butterflies On Subway Cars

Subway Butterfly

Because John and I met online,  we hold a special fondness for the movie, You’ve Got Mail. Meg Ryan plays a woman who carries on an email correspondence with Tom Hanks, not knowing that he’s the same man who put the children’s bookshop she owned out of business.

Throughout the movie, Ryan and Hanks do voice-overs of the emails they write to one another. Ryan’s early emails particularly interest me, as she reflects on an inconsequential thing (like a butterfly fluttering on and then off of a subway car) in a way that reveals so much of who she is. Her lines make me wish I could write as lyrically.

In another email, she comments on the strangeness of typing words into a computer, not knowing where they’ll go our who will read them. Since that movie was written long before blogs, Facebook and Twitter, I can’t help wondering if online communication has become even stranger now.

As a blogger, I sometimes wonder how my tenuous words have amassed the modest but growing following that The Outspoken TULIP  has developed in slightly less than three years. And would I have a larger or smaller following if I wrote about butterflies on subway cars and such?

Not that I can imagine anything as poetic as a butterfly fluttering on a Boston subway car. A dirty pigeon, perhaps. Though a pigeon would flap violently rather than delicately fluttering. Not the same.

Anyway, I once did operate a blog in which I wrote simply for the sake of writing. Yes, I enjoyed that freedom.  At times I regret giving it up in favor of this more focused blog. What harm could there be, I ask myself, if I occasionally departed from the main themes of this blog to have a little fun with writing? Although I seriously doubt I’d ever see a butterfly on a Boston subway car, I could easily find other interesting moments to develop into essays of little consequence.

A couple of verses I read in Ephesians yesterday stops me from allowing myself such liberties.

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. ~~Ephesians 5:15-16 (ESV)

Indeed, the days are evil. Outside the church, abortion and homosexuality are celebrated as human rights, not decried as murder and perversion. Truck commercials on TV assume that dating couples will move in together before (or without) getting married. Christian bakers and florists lose their businesses for declining to cater gay weddings. Public schools offer yoga classes, denying yoga’s connection to Hinduism. Christians receive warnings not to pray in public, and sometimes get banned from social media for proclaiming the Gospel.

Many of us anticipate much more severe persecution in the near future.

Inside the visible church, professing Christians compromise in numerous respects, from so-called “Holy Yoga” to advocating for women pastors. For all our talk about believing God’s Word, our fondness for mysticism and psychology betray our confidence in human philosophies. False teachers infiltrate evangelical circles in droves.

The Outspoken TULIP exists precisely because the Church faces so many external and internal threats. Christian women need encouragement to study Scripture so we can withstand the overwhelming pressure to compromise with the world. While writing about butterflies on subway cars and such would certainly be a lot more fun, I don’t have time for that. Rather, it wouldn’t be the best use of my time.

Do I have a big enough following to make a significant difference?  Of course not. But the scope of my blog doesn’t matter. My faithfulness does. And faithfulness demands using my time for His glory, not for floating inconsequential musings across the Internet.

My blog may not be widely read, but I still have a responsibility to use my writing for the Lord. Although writing fun pieces every so often wouldn’t necessarily be bad, I have to ask myself if it would be the best use of my blogging time. When I consider how rapidly Western society is hurling itself into rebellion against God, and how greater numbers of professing Christians compromise with worldly values, I can’t help concluding that writing about the Lord and encouraging women in their walks with Him is the best use of my blogging time.

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Alfie Evans And The Arrogance Of Doctors

This weekend, a Twitter friend encouraged me to blog about Alfie Evans, the disabled toddler who died because the British courts refused to allow his parents to seek treatment in Rome (at Pope Francis’ expense). The Twitter friend based her request on a Tweet I had sent:

Could Have Beeen Me

When I was born, the doctors told my mother that I’d never be anything more than a vegetable. They advised her to put me in an institution and forget she ever had me. By God’s grace, my mom was a stubborn Irish woman who didn’t often think doctors knew what they were talking about, so she took me home. As time progressed, her decision vindicated her; here I am blogging, after all! Not the most vegetative activity, to be sure!

But over the days since I sent that Tweet, I’ve struggled with whether or not my situation really compares to that of Alfie Evans.

On the one hand, I believe the courts definitely should have permitted his parents to take him to Rome. First of all, as parents, they should have had the final say, just as my mother had when the doctors determined that I’d live in a persistent vegetative state. I proved the doctors wrong. Alfie may well have proven his doctors wrong as well.

On the other hand, I regret having implied that Alfie’s situation would have turned out as favorably as mine did. It very well could have, I suppose. Obviously, the doctors made enormous miscalculations about my future. But little Alfie may not have grown up to attend college, get married and find useful ways to occupy his time. By using myself as a measuring rod, I subtly suggested that Alfie should live because he might surprise the world in the same way I did.

Alfie Evans should have been given the chance to exhaust every possible treatment. But not because he might gain all the abilities that I have. Rather, his life had value simply because he was created in the image of God. If treatment in Rome could have enabled him to live at any level, he should have been allowed that opportunity. Maybe he really would have surprised the world.  It breaks my heart that we’ll never know.

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Saturday Sampler: April 8 — April 14

rose-sampler-silkUsing 1 Corinthians 12, Kristen Wetherell of Unlocking the Bible demonstrates our responsibility to Trust God With the Spiritual Gifts He Gives. She brings us back to the reason He gives those gifts in the first place.

Evangelism intimidates most Christians. Because of this fact, Becoming More Faithful in Evangelism by Zach Putthoff in Parking Space 23 will encourage you through its practical counsel.

In Throwback Thursday ~ Don’t Get Your Theology from the Movies, Michelle Lesley of Discipleship for Christian Women cautions us that a Movie Subscription Service doesn’t necessarily promote sound doctrine. We can’t hear this message enough!

Katie McCoy lists 5 Things A Woman Considering An Abortion Needs To Hear in a post for Biblical Woman. She raises a couple points that I never would have come up with.

The term “evangelical” has a complicated history, as Jesse Johnson of The Cripplegate shows us in I’m old enough to remember when “evangelical” was a bad word. He provides interesting insight into the theological mess in Christian America today.

Few people understand how to pray Biblically. On her blog, Growing 4 Life, Leslie A asks Are You Treating God Like Your Personal Genie? She uses the Lord’s Prayer as a template for true prayer. Interestingly, my pastor is preaching through Luke’s treatment of that same topic.

Let me squeeze in a second post from Michelle Lesley. Safe Spaces and Wearing Our Hearts on Our Sleeves: 6 Ways to Follow Jesus’ Example of Handling Hurt addresses self-centered attitudes that far too many Christians (including myself, I admit with shame) nurture.

Michael Coughlan, in a contribution to Things Above Us, offers some Recent Racist Rhetoric Reflections that balance the discussion. I really like his delineation between the Gospel and its efforts.

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Saturday Sampler: February 11 — February 17

Umbrella Sampler

Psychology has no place in the church, as Leslie A of Growing 4 Life shows us in What Should I Look for in a Biblical Counselor? It encourages me to see more Christians speaking up about the dangers of “Christian” psychology.

In addition to my own trials lately, I’ve watched a friend suffer through her husband’s terminal cancer. So Sarah Walton’s article, Why the Church Needs Suffering in Unlocking the Bible, refreshes my perspective by bringing me back to Scriptures and principles that I’d all but forgotten. See whether or not her words benefit you.

Reprising her March 3, 2017 blog post, Michelle Lesley of Discipleship for Christian Women lists 40 Things to Give Up for Lent. Number 1 is my personal favorite. What’s yours? Use my Comments Section to tell me.

I’m not the only blogger to reprise her article about the Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy.  Erin Benziger of Do Not Be Surprised also resurrects  the article she wrote three years ago. Erasing the Grey definitely deserves your attention!

Those of you who are moms will appreciate Scott Slayton’s When You Lose Your Temper With Your Children on One Degree to Another. Even aunts and people in ministries to children can benefit from Slayton’s godly counsel. As a matter of fact, anyone with anger issues should apply the principles to all their interactions with children and adults.

In a second post written for Unlocking the Bible, Judy Allen suggests Five Questions to Ask About Entertainment. Each question has a corresponding Scripture to help us evaluate the media we consume in ways that honor the Lord.  I love the way she challenges us to think of what we read, watch and do in terms of spiritual merit.

Assisted suicide is not a pretty topic, but it’s something Christians will need to address. Jen Oshman discusses Five Reasons for Assisted Suicide (And Crucial Responses to Each One) to help us navigate conversations with those who honestly think this practice is a humane way to deal with human suffering.

The aggressive movement of the LBGTQ community has serious ramifications for Christians, as Is it okay for the state to take your child away because you won’t affirm his transgender feelings? by Denny Burk demonstrates.  I struggled over whether or not to include such a dark article in Saturday Sampler, but decided that I created The Outspoken TULIP to prepare women for the persecution that knocks at the door of the Western church. Therefore I believe it necessary to draw your attention to this matter. Scenarios like the one Burk narrates will only increase. We must prepare for them.

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