Tag Archives: Repentance

How Shame Drives Us From Christ

This story came up in my newsfeed today. I am taking a sick day today, but there is so much wrong here, and it is so prevalent, that I wanted to make a few comments.

For some reason, Evangelical America has decided that shame is an effective way to battle sin. My whole life, I have heard that “Israel forgot how to blush” (Jer. 6:15) which led to their destruction. Therefore (so it is taught) when we catch someone in some kind of sin, the best thing we can do for them is publicly shame them so that they won’t sin any more.

This is actually practiced in so many churches, but it seems to always be selectively applied. The only people I have ever heard of being publicly shamed like this – forced to stand before the whole church, or the whole school, and confess their sins – are teenage girls who are found to be pregnant. I find it abhorrent, and contrary to the gospel of  Christ. And yet, it still seems to be the consistent practice of Evangelical America.

The article linked above does an excellent job in its critique and how it actually encourages abortion. But there are a few theological issues as well.

First, to clarify the Jeremiah passage, the prophet was not addressing those with tender consciences who needed comfort and hope, already plagued with guilt. He was speaking to the hardened, oppressive, idolatrous leaders who were casting their children into the fire, crushing the poor and the widows, and abusing and destroying without any twinges of conscience whatsoever. Jeremiah is rebuking their hardness of heart and was not expecting any repentance from them. It was not written to teach us that shame is an appropriate corrective to sin but to warn us of those with “seared consciences”. There are those who can do the most horrific things and feel no pains of guilt whatever. To apply this passage solely to teenagers found pregnant is simply abusive.

There is no biblical warrant for public confession of private sins. And, no, sex before marriage is not a sin against the whole school – or the whole church, for that matter.

Even in the Old Covenant, before the Gospel of Jesus Christ was fully revealed, two kids who got pregnant before marriage was not considered the worst imaginable sin that must be publicly exposed and shamed. The boy was either to provide a dowry and marry the girl. Or if the father thought that marriage was a bad idea, the boy was to provide a dowry and leave town.  Neither one was stoned or publicly shamed.

That being said, it might be good for us to remember our first parents after their first sin. Shame drove them into the bushes, hiding from the face of God. It was the voice of God that lovingly drew them out of the bushes. “Adam, where are you?”

They didn’t die. God told them the truth, but he didn’t shame them. Rather, he provided for them coverings, pointing to the perfect sacrifice of His Son, to be revealed in due time. Now that the gospel has been revealed to us, we know that the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ covers our sin and our shame and brings us out of hiding. That is what being a Christian is. We live openly and honestly, not seeking to cover our shame by shaming others, but by coming again and again to the cross. Why an organization that calls itself Christian would drive sinners into the bushes is beyond my understanding.

The kind of “Christianity” practiced by so many, which publically shames young girls for sin, is not the Christianity of the Bible. Shame is intolerable to the human spirit and must be covered. We have only two options: Cover with fig leaves of our own making, or come to Christ for what he has offered us. When we come to Christ, shame is taken away so that we might stand before God and one another. When we try to cover our own shame, we increase it. We may temporarily feel better, but eventually, the shame returns.

The worst part of what happened to this young woman is that she learned about a false Christ – a Jesus who shames sinners, who turns an angry and harsh face on those who confess and repent, who demands his pound of flesh before he offers peace. She was taught that Jesus first ridicules and gleefully watches us weep before he grudgingly offers forgiveness. She was taught that even after she goes through all of that, Jesus is still ashamed to be seen in public with her. She was taught that Jesus was ashamed to be her God, ashamed of her and her baby!

No wonder the young people are leaving the church in droves! They aren’t leaving the Church of Jesus Christ, they are leaving the Church of the Blind Leaders of the Blind.

Jesus came to call us out of hiding. To offer covering for our shame by taking it upon himself. He came, not to ridicule and mock us, but to bear all of that shame and guilt and take it out of the way, nailing it to the cross.

For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, (Heb 2:11 ESV)

Jesus offers salvation, not shame, to all who come to him in faith. Shame is reserved for those who refuse to come, who refuse to repent. Shame is reserved for the Day of Judgment, but it has no place in the Gospel.

How should the church respond then when a young girl is found to be pregnant?

First, reach out with love and support. Do not pretend that sin is not sin, but respond to it honestly according to scripture. I would hope that the pastor and elders have forged an open relationship with this girl before this happened, so that she will feel safe with them, because there are some important questions. Was this assault? Who is the father? Did she feel compelled? Was there a power imbalance?

If this is simply a boyfriend/girlfriend situation that got out of hand, they will need counseling and help to deal with the shame and guilt that they already feel. Otherwise, if they get married, they will carry that shame and guilt into their marriage bed, which will be damaging to the “one-flesh” relationship. But those are topics that are far bigger than can be addressed here.

But more importantly than all of this, they need to know again the gospel of Jesus Christ. He offers his perfect righteousness without shame, without reproach, without grudging, to all who come to him. No strings, no penance, no public ridicule. This is what the free offer of the gospel IS. It’s about time we got it right.

Advertisements

17 Comments

Filed under Gospel, Sin and Grace

The Pastor’s Great Struggle

13 He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him. (Pro 18:13)

I have had fellowship with many pastors. I also am a pastor. I have had lunch with pastors, talked with pastors, and have even at times tried to reason with pastors as pastors have also tried to reason with me.

There is one particular sin that I see in myself and continually fight against. I think it is probably endemic among pastors, to our shame.

We don’t listen.

We think we do. We nod and go Mmmhmmm a lot. But if the story goes on to long, we want to finish it. If the problem is clear in the first three words, we want to give the answer and get on with things. This is also  my great shame, for which I continuously repent.

We thought we were validated by the early nouthetic counselors: The problem is sin; the solution is repentance. There. Don’t waste any more of my time. I already told you what to do.

But we never listened. It took me years of repentance to begin to understand that most people don’t actually get to the real problem the first time they meet with the pastor. They are simply testing the water to see if we listen.

We usually fail that test and the sheep scurry away. We then wonder why no one talks to us. They don’t talk because we don’t listen.

Reformed pastors, to which tribe I belong,  seem to struggle with this to a greater extent. I don’t know why, but I think I might have a few clues. We are usually well-read, full of book-knowledge, and love to see the inner workings of the great truths of scripture. We are usually well-acquainted with original languages, and have a high regard for the authority and inspiration of scripture. All of these things are great and to be greatly desired. But the devil never rests and sin turns our strengths into folly.

We already know everything, so we don’t need to listen. We already know what the problem is, so we don’t need to hear.

But the Bible doesn’t call this “an area to work on.” Nor does it call this “a weakness”.  It calls this folly and a shame to us.

Shame on us every time we fail to listen. Shame on us every time we don’t hear.

We fail to hear in so many ways: The language of a childhood victim of sexual abuse goes beyond words, but we usually don’t stick around long enough to hear.

We silence the voice of the victims of domestic abuse by repeating the mantra, “God hates divorce.”

The voice of the abuser is decidedly different, for it comes disguised as a sheep.

The voice of those who are hurting and poor and in trouble shout at us all around. We would far rather stand on the corner and shout gospel platitudes than actually listen to them.

If we would open our ears to hear, we would begin to make some sense to the cacophony around us. The voice of the proud, saying, “I am, and there is none like me.”

The voice of the hurt, building barriers around her heart to stop any more pain.

The voice of the oppressed, whispering in the corner.

We don’t hear the matter because we don’t want to. It rattles our windows and shakes our floors and makes our house unsteady. It is an unwanted visitor brought to us by sin and the power of the devil and we think that if we shut our eyes and stop our ears and ignore it perhaps it will politely go away and let us get back to our books.

But

13 Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard. (Pro 21:13)

That should stop us in our tracks. When we refuse to hear the cry of the ones without strength, God will eventually stop HIS ears when WE cry to Him!

Also implied is the great truth that we ourselves, we pastors who have “so much knowledge” (sarcasm alert), who have everything all together – are just as needy, just as poor, just as helpless as that poor and oppressed one – we ALSO will cry out, and we will be heard to the extent that we heard those who cried to us. This should strike fear into our hearts.

Fellow pastors, we don’t need to do better. We need to repent. We need to learn to hear the cry of the poor and repent of all the times we were too busy, too uncomfortable, too unsure, too occupied with “important things”, to hear.

When we have shut our mouths long enough to listen, then we must open our mouths to speak.

8 Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.
9 Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.
(Pro 31:8-9 KJV)

The phrase translated “such as are appointed to die” is literally “children of vanishing.” They are the ones who are so easily ignored, the ones who suffer quietly because they have been unheard for so long. They are the ones who don’t meet your eye, withdraw into the corner, whisper so low they are hard to hear.

They vanish and are forgotten – except that their names are written in the Lamb’s book of life and He entrusted them to your care and commanded you to hear them and then open your mouth to defend them, to plead their cause.

Yes, it will be uncomfortable. Yes, it will rattle the very foundation of the nice and neat theological house that you built. Yes, the Enemy won’t give up without a fight.

But it is God’s fight, and He commanded you to fight it. And the day will come when you will stand before God and give an account of every idle word. You will be called to account for your listening skills. You will be called to account for your willingness to open your mouth.

Don’t delay. Learn to hear. Learn to speak. Learn to listen.

2 Comments

Filed under Pastoral ministry, Repentance

Why we should have learned our catechism…

I don’t know the Duggars. Quite frankly, I’m a bit tired of hearing about them. Two weeks back, I had a vague notion about them having a bunch of kids and some kind of reality show. I wish that was still all that I knew.

But there is something quite disturbing in the air. I deal with it all the time. I have heard it repeated over and over again. It rears its ugly head every time a new scandal erupts. And it is utterly false.

It is the idea that repentance is the same thing as a carefully crafted statement accompanied by tears.

We forget that the first tears of remorse that we shed were by Cain. Esau wept tears of remorse.

In fact, Paul himself said that sorrow is NOT the same as repentance:

9 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing.
10 For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. (2Co 7:9-10 KJV)

His prayer was that the sorrow of the Corinthians would LEAD to repentance. Sorrow is something quite different than repentance.

Of course, this is no new insight. It was first published in 1583 in the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q&A 88: In how many things does true repentance consist? In two things: the dying of the old man and the quickening of the new.

Q&A 89: What is the dying of the old man? Heartfelt sorrow for sin, causing us to hate and turn from it always more and more.

Q&A 90: What is the quickening of the new man? Heartfelt joy in God through Christ, causing us to take delight in living according to the will of God in all good works.

Notice how beautifully repentance restores life! It is not the same as manipulation in order to gain an earthly goal. It is not a carefully planned statement calculated to make the consequences of your sin to go away. It is heartfelt hatred of sin because it is sin and it is always coupled with a heartfelt joy in doing all of God’s will  – everything written in the law – because that law expresses the will of God, whom we love and serve.

Though we lose every earthly delight, though we are the offscouring of the world, though we are ridiculed and reproached – or worse, ignored – we will take immense joy in knowing that our God is glorified by our quiet and peaceable lives.

I can think of no greater waste of time, at this point, in the countless comments concerning whether or not Josh Duggar has truly repented or not. I don’t care, having never met him and not being given the responsibility to shepherd him.

My biggest concern is that the false doctrine surrounding him and the Village church and every single person that falls into sin be stopped.

Quit thinking that your carefully planned, or even spontaneous, tears are the same as repentance. To repent is to turn away from sin because it is sin and turn towards the living God, because He alone is worthy of worship and honor and obedience. He alone is beautiful and worthy of our adoration and love.

Wipe away your tears; quit blathering into the camera; quit trying to convince me just how sorry you are. Everyone is sorry. Adam and Eve were sorry, and hid in the bushes trying to hide themselves from God. You don’t need to be sorry. You need to repent. You don’t need to convince me, your elders, your pastor,or the world of how sorry you are. You need to repent. Repentance may or may not include tears, but it certainly isn’t the same thing.

Repentance is never a tool to get the victims of your heinous sins to quit calling you on it.

It isn’t a tool to get out of earthly consequences.

True repentance has only one object: to see the smiling face of our heavenly Father. Turn away from the rot and filth of every idol, and seek his face for we know that he is a God who abundantly pardons.

This is also why true repentance cannot ever be the work of natural man. Even David, when he finally understood this, cried out for the Holy Spirit to purge him, make him clean, create in him a new heart. The heart that we all have is ugly and hateful, no matter how many millions say how holy and wise we are. We don’t need the acclaim of men; we don’t need to convince the world. We need a new heart, because God is not mocked. All things are open in the eyes of the One with whom we have to do.

6 Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:
7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
(Isa 55:6-7 KJV)

3 Comments

Filed under Repentance

King David and Bill Gothard

Lately there has been a lot of chatter on the blogosphere.  Through the efforts of some in the church, abusers, child molesters, predators and other wolves have finally begun to be exposed for what they are.  I thank God daily that my prayers are being answered and the wolves among us are finally being exposed for who they are.

However, there is also a dark note to all of this.  With all of the exposure, the old way of viewing things still rears its head.  I have lost track of how many times we have been chided and admonished to “remember mercy”, as if it operates differently than justice.  An abuser cries the right tears, says the right things, and blame is then placed on the victim and the church for not forgiving.  “David sinned”, is the repeating cry.

Bare sentiment gives no comfort. Lack of sentiment is even worse.  How hard must a heart be to hear the stories of victimization, terror and abuse of God’s little ones without weeping with those that weep?

But true comfort must come from the Holy Scriptures alone.  Is it true that we are to forgive everyone for every sin because God forgave David?  Is it true that David’s sin and David’s repentance are guides to follow to allow an abusive man access to our children?  Or could it be that David’s sin is still being used as an excuse for the enemies of God to blaspheme?

I would encourage everyone who is reading this to open their Bibles to 2 Samuel 11 and 12.  Please read these accounts before continuing.  I will wait…

Finished?  OK.  Notice several things.  I will in no way say or imply that David’s sin was minor.  Both the adultery and the murder of Uriah showed the ugliness and entitlement of David’s heart.  “I am king.  I deserve what I want to have.  I could just take it.  Being king is stressful.  Besides, Bathsheba shouldn’t have been bathing on the roof in the first place.  Really, it is her fault.”

It was ugly to the very core.  Premeditated adultery, planned and executed outright murder, cover-up, deceit and entitlement.  Please keep this in mind.

If your response is that since David sinned and was forgiven, then we need to go easier on adulterers. abusers, murderers and molesters, then you have missed the whole point, and do not at all understand the grace of God.

If you read Chapter 12, you will begin to understand justice and mercy meeting together without doing violence to either one.

Nathan confronted David with a parable (12:1-4).  The actions of the rich man of the parable were reprehensible.  And David sentenced the man to death and ordered restitution.  Then Nathan exposed David as the one that was under the death penalty, which he commanded by his own lips.

Then, verses 8-12, Nathan continues stripping away every excuse from David, exposing the wickedness of his heart, and pronouncing the dreadful justice of God.

He did not say, “You made some bad choices, but God still loves you”.

He did not say, “I think that God still desires to use you for His work in His kingdom”

He did not say, “You have acted in an inappropriate manner, and we are suspending you until you get therapy”.

He said, “You are the man.”  After listing all of God’s goodness to David, he said, “Why have you despised the commandment of God, to do evil in His sight?”

All of those who compare wicked church leaders to David seem to miss this point.

We have the hindsight of history.  We know that David repented and that God was merciful to him, and that he was the elect of God.  But this is important: at the point that Nathan confronted David, neither Nathan NOR David knew any such thing.  What David knew was God’s impending judgment, that he was rightly under the death penalty – both civilly and eternally.  David only knew that his own wicked heart – without excuse, without double talk, without blameshifting – put him directly under the judgment of God, and that he was hanging over the chasm of hell by his fingertips, without hope, without excuse, without appeal.  It was finished, and David was finished as king and as a man.

And then, apart from any entitlement, apart from any demands, God’s incredible grace, wonderful mercy, comes through.  “The Lord has put away your sins.  Thou shalt not die.”

Wow.  There were millions of others who committed murder and adultery and justly died.  Paul refers to them in Ephesians 5:5-6.  David knew that as well.  At the point of Nathan’s confrontation, David had NO REASON whatsoever to believe that he was even a Christian.  He was a filthy sinner, defiled and alienated from God.

This is what made the grace of God even more astounding.  David wasn’t entitled to it and he knew it.

He didn’t simply quote verses on forgiveness, nor did he cite his fathers as examples of God’s grace and demand the same as his due.

He fell before the awful judgment throne of God, recognized that he was justly a dead man.  And then he received mercy.

He also understood that his whole life from that moment on was not his, and God could do with him whatever God pleased.

So David never railed against God when God removed his kingdom.

David accepted Shimei’s cursing, as perhaps coming from God.

David understood that he was crucified with Christ, so that he might live in him.

Compare that with the current statement from the Board of Directors of the Institute of Basic Life Principles.

“Mr. Gothard has acted in an inappropriate manner.”

The board realizes the “seriousness of his lack of discretion.”

“He failed to follow Christ’s example to be blameless and above reproach.”  This one really gets me.  Look behind the fancy words.  The really problem, according to IBLP, is that people were talking and blaming Mr. Gothard.  He didn’t do anything.  but his inappropriateness caused others to talk.  Blame the victim.  If they just kept quiet, none of this would have happened.

They also badly interpreted and spun 1 Thessalonians 5:22.  They wrote, “As a Christian leader, he is to avoid the appearance of evil.”  In other words, Mr. Gothard didn’t do anything evil, but he is liable for appearing to do something evil.  This, however, is not at all the meaning of 1 Thessalonians.  (I might remind them that as church leaders, they are also responsible to rightly divide the word of God, but they haven’t done that for years).  Paul is using the analogy of a stage play.  The “appearance” that he is referring to is like the mask that evil puts on when he makes an appearance on the stage of our life.  Paul is saying, “No matter what mask evil wears, shun it completely.”

He does not at all mean that anything that anyone could possibly interpret as wrong should be avoided.  Christians are always falsely accused, and always will be.

However, to apply this correctly, we would have to say this.  Mr. Gothard has repeatedly and continuously preyed upon women and children.  He has set himself up as a leader apart from the church, with no accountability (as is evident from this horrible publicity spin from the board of directors), and has used that position to gratify his own lusts for preeminence, control and power.  These are not shortcomings, they are marks of a wolf.  There is no biblical reason whatsoever to conclude that he has repented of any of these actions – it is simply more of the same, and he still does not acknowledge that he is what God says he is.  That. as it did with David, always comes first.  There can be no offer of grace without first a stripping away of every pretense and excuse, which also is the work of God.  As long as Mr. Gothard is still spinning, he is not repentant, but what the Bible calls, “Stiff-necked and hard of heart, always resisting the Spirit.”

It is true, as I continually say, that God can call anyone to repentance and faith.  Every believer is a testimony of life from the dead.  I also am not saying these things out of hatred of Mr. Gothard. I don’t know the man, although I have first-hand experience of the damage that his false teaching has caused over the years.

I am saying this actually out of a sincere desire to see Mr. Gothard and his board truly get right with God.  There is not one instance of true faith in the bible that came without first a full understanding and horrible dread of the awful judgment of God.

Only when you realize that you are a sinner in the hands of an angry God can you truly understand the beauty and comfort of the Gospel.  But when you understand that, as David did, there is no more room left for presumption and demands.

As it has been said, “If you wish to follow David in his sins, follow him also in his repentance.”

12 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized