Monday, February 06, 2006

Spanking the World = Whipping the Dead

I gave a sermon yesterday on "church discipline." (I'm an interim pastor, so I can get away with it).

The term itself does not appear in scripture. I hate it. An image comes to my mind of an initiation ritual performed in school that involved spanking. Boys form two lines making a tunnel through which the victim is forced to run while the perps slap his butt as hard as they can as he passes by.

My text was Matthew 18, and I used I Corinthians 5 as the practical example of how it all works.

The whole of I Co. 5 is an unpleasant pill for evangelicals, so we don't talk about it much. Delivering each other over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh is not a topic on which I've heard Joel Osteen speak recently, although to be honest, I've never listened to him speak. It's just that we're not that into rebuke.

But the last part of Chapter 5 is one that we avoid like hard liquor:

I have written to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people- not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world...What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.
I Corinthians 5:9-10, 12-13a
The church in America loves to invert the discipline direction. Instead of focusing discipline on the church, creating a place of honesty, spiritual integrity, and grace; instead of providing a relationally healthy example for the world outside, we love to fantasize about spanking, about the pagans-out-there getting their due. We define our morality by comparison so we come off looking pretty good. We chastise the culture for not living up to our expectations of being Christ-like. It's easier that way.
We say, "Shame on you, Hollywood, for your perversity! We're going to make our own quality movies, like 'Left Behind!'"
We say, "Naughty rappers! We will create our own good music, like "Gaithers' Homecoming" and never listen to your vile African beat!"
We say, "BAD! BAD! Public school system! We will boycott your demonic influence over our children and send them to a Christian School!"
Paul said, "In that case you would have to leave this world."
Too late.
Instead of taking care of ourselves, we enjoy being the tough-loving parents of the universe. We are like the vice-principal in Junior High who makes threats on the morning welcome broadcast in Homeroom: "You better shape up, people, or you'll be in trouble!" Our self-appointed disciplinarian, a.k.a. Pat Robertson, lets the world know that God is angry with New Orleans, and Katrina is the paddle.
(Is it just me, or did anyone else have an overwhelming desire to rush down to Mardi Gras and party?)
Paul made it a point to let the Corinthians know this important truth: The people to remove from relationship in our lives are not people who are outside the church, but inside! Don't apply the principle of shunning to friends and neighbors, family and foes, greedy sexually immoral swindling idolaters though they be! If you're going to avoid someone, avoid the faith-brother or sister who is in rebellion against Jesus. They are the ones who need to experience the natural and logical consequences of their behavior.
What Paul implies is that we must be making relationships with those outside, not ending them. We should pal around with sexually immoral folk. We should seek out time with the greedy. We should surround ourselves with swindlers. We should befriend our neighborhood idolater. Slip on your cardigan and sing like Mr. Rogers: "Hey, pagan idol worshipper! Won't you be my neighbor?"
That's what Jesus did.
We are too often shocked by what comes naturally to those outside of faith. It is silly for the church to attempt to discipline the world for being sinful, which situation cannot be helped apart from Jesus. The church needs to mind her own business and discipline herself.
So form two lines, last person runs through the middle, spank hard.