PART SIX: Thinking about Practicalities for Today
Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 34. Hindrances to Redemption
Jn 8:3-5 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”
Different Aspects: As we move on to considering various practical issues that might face us in the church today, we need perhaps, to start by considering some of the things that hinder the bringing about of practical redemption in people in the Church today. There are various things we can observe in this passage above and we’ll start with the problems that arise in trying to be objective here.
First this woman IS guilty; she has been caught in adultery. We have said previously that it is important to face the reality of our guilt in all such cases. Redemption starts from a place of acknowledging guilt. Second, the Law was quite specific: “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbour—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.” (Lev 20:10 Also Deut 22:22) The means of death was not proscribed so that was probably something added by the Pharisees. Nevertheless, according to the Law, she did deserve to die. Third, it is only the woman who has been brought before Jesus which suggests there is an element of entrapment about this, for somewhere there is also a guilty man. So, fourth, we should watch out when we are trying to resolve the truth about any particular situation that we do not have tunnel vision that fails to see that usually, this is one sin among many in society and is no greater or no less than any other sin. Sins are only distinguished by the seriousness of the consequences. Fifth, as this situation shows us, it is easy in these things just to appear judgmental and unloving and simply be out to blame.
Jesus’ approach: Jesus suggests to the accusers that, “any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (v.7) and, when none of them dares take up that challenge and they slink away, he turns to the woman: “neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (v.11) So we may add to the list above, two more things to be considered: Sixth, Jesus is not out to condemn but to redeem. We should remind ourselves of the threefold teaching from Ezekiel: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23 & v.32 & 33:11) supported by “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9) The Lord, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, is always looking, not to condemn but to redeem. All it needs is our repentance. Seventh, he does call for repentance and change of life. He is not being casual about her situation, he calls her to stop what she was doing and put her life right. He is giving her a second chance. The end product of redemption is to be a righteous life.
Facing the World: Very well, we’ve done the ‘Bible Study’ but why and what does it say to us? Remember, we are only starting to work through our thinking on the practicalities of this subject. Well, before we start considering life within the Church, let’s consider the state of the world. It is important to recognise the world’s approach and note how it differs from our own. The biggest problem that the world has, is not that they are people who do wrong or questionable things, but they are godless, and that is a wilful thing. The outworking of that, the various things we can see and say are wrong in society, are merely outworkings of that godlessness. The issue that God has with them is that they are godless.
God has designed all humanity to live and work in relation to Him, and therefore to live contrary to that is an act of oppositional will, an act of rebellion which carries with it a whole raft of consequences, most of which are simply the logical outworking of the sin, e.g. excess use of alcohol produces loss of self-control, violence, abuses, waste of money, causing hardship to others (the social outworkings) but this behaviour becomes addictive and alcoholism causes physical damage to the body and eventually premature death (the health consequences). Rather than simply point fingers at such behaviour in society, we would do better to speak about the consequences of all ungodly and therefore unrighteous behaviour, because the consequences are there to be seen. The call, in respect of any unbeliever, is first and foremost to stop being godless and when repentance comes, and salvation follows, the behaviour will change.
Facing Ourselves: But we, as Christians, as part of the Church must see these things in the context of the Church, and our following studies must be in the light of the Church. Anything we may say in respect of this subject and the practical outworkings of redemption, must be seen in the context of God, Jesus and the Christian faith. To take this stance, we also have to recognize that the Bible is our source and accept that it is not always as specific as we might like it to be and so we are sometimes left making assumptions, and those assumptions can be suspect because they so often depend on what we’ve heard and the prejudices we’ve accumulated, and not necessarily on the complete teaching of the Bible. The difficulty that we have, and it is a legitimate and right and proper one, is that we want to uphold what we see is the Bible’s teaching and we want to stop wrong behaviour. However your list of wrong behaviours may be different to mine and your way of dealing with them may be different to mine. There is often a lot of leeway to these things.
Challenging Examples: Let’s put up some difficult situations. Example 1: ‘A’ is a minister, a church leader. He falls into adultery and it becomes public. We all accept his behaviour is wrong, but what do we do about it? It sounds easy until you think more deeply. He should step down from his position, I hear you say. Right. For now and forever? Can he ever return to the ministry and if yes, after how long and after what conditions? These are the questions of redemption. What about the woman? Can she remain a ‘church member’? If not, why not and what do you say should happen to her? Is that going to work towards her redemption? (I’m simply asking question and not implying answers; we’ll look at these things in more detail in subsequent studies).
Example 2: ‘B’ is a female worship leader. She ‘comes out’ and publicly declares she is a Lesbian. The world says this is fine, but you are not sure what the Bible says. Can she carry on as worship leader? What are the consequences? If not, what would you want to happen to her? Has she a special need in respect of redemption or is God fine with her as she is? Example 3: ‘C’ is a Christian who married ‘D’ a non-Christian knowing their approach to life. ‘C’ has become Church Secretary of your local church and in the interim while they are waiting for a new minister, she appears in control. A woman leading? What did Paul really say? Married to an unbeliever? Problems? Difficulties? Messy.
It is Difficult: What are the answers here, what is the truth? These are the difficult (and maybe not so obvious) questions that face us when we seek to apply all we have seen in these studies so far to modern living. Should the fact that it is ‘modern’ affect the outcome? In order not to ‘cast the first stone’ maybe we need to tread more lightly than our background, church style or whatever might previously have suggested. Jesus was full of ‘grace and truth’ (Jn 1:14). Can we pray for both in our understanding of these things? How can we face the truth but do it lovingly if it looks to challenge people around us? What would we want if we were in their shoes?
A Personal Example: Many years ago when I was in leadership there arose a situation where I snapped in public, responding to an individual’s public criticism – obviously at a low grace level! – and walked out of the meeting. The object of my response, and it is better not to go into details, was in tears and others gathered round her to console her. The next day when several of us leaders gathered together, one of them simply declared with great hostility, “I can’t work with you!” and the other one sided with him and agreed. I said I would resign. Long story short, I remained but we went through a very difficult period. Now when I view that many years later, I can say unconditionally I was wrong. However as I have pondered over the situation and reflected on what happened, I realize (and it is after years of reflection) that I wish that the response to me had been something like, “My dear old friend, whatever came over you yesterday? What has caused you to react like that? How can we help you and how can we rebuild the situation?” But crass judgmentalism reigned and condemnation flowed, and my wife and I identify that year as the worst year of our lives as I sought to continue to hold that church upright following that public conflict. There were painful lessons there.
The Lessons: Without going into details, the background to that situation, the thing that caused me to break, was an unrighteous attitude that I had never dared confront. Leaders often fear that such confrontations will cause church disharmony, people leaving, and their salaries evaporating, and so we do not confront. It is wrong and perhaps we may ponder on that in some further study. But here’s the thrust of this particular study: unknowing and unthinking criticism of people, judgmentalism that refuses to step in their shoes to understand what is going on in them, can be a primary cause of hindering redemption. I have lost count of the number of times that I have heard someone say of someone they know, “Oh no, they don’t go to church anymore, the church hurt them too much.” Now there are always two sides to every story, but one side, so often, is the failure of us, the church, to love the fallen and work to graciously, sensitively, and carefully, help them back on to their feet again. With a great sense of inadequacy and reticence, I hope to try looking at some of these things in yet a few studies to come.