Rob Bell moved from well-known to notorious with the publication of his book ‘Love wins’. Ironically, it generated more lambaste than love. The thing that got under the skin of the Evangelical church in general was the apparent denial of the reality of an eternal Hell for those who do not know Jesus as saviour.
I used to have a steel putter in a convenient place near my bed as some form of protection in the event of a break in. But then I sold my golf clubs and so was without a suitable means of protection. Was I wrong to want to be able to protect myself and family? Should I rather have relied entirely on God to protect me? Is self-defence an element of good stewardship or an obvious lack of faith?
When one asks this question, the answer one is often given is that Jesus commanded us to turn the other cheek and so it is clear that we should not seek to protect ourselves in any way. The problem is that this response entirely misses the point that Jesus was making. The Good News Bible translates the text in question as, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But now I tell you: do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too.” (Matthew 5:38-40).
I have read several strained interpretations of this passage, but only the obvious sense makes any real sense. Jesus plainly instructs them to buy swords if they don’t already own one. The context doesn’t allow for metaphoric language and it is just silly to claim that Jesus’ “that is enough” is to tell His disciples to stop talking nonsense. Jesus refers to swords in other contexts where it is clear that He is opposed to aggression and retaliation (Matthew 26:51-52 for instance). However, in the matter of reasonable self-defence I believe that we have our answer by applying the Christocentric Principle.
Over the last several years we have had quite a few dramatic examples of church leadership failure. Because of their public profiles most of us were aware of what happened to the Todd Bentleys of the Christian world. We also know a bit about what happened to them after their fall from grace.
A few years ago a fairly well known pastor in my area was found guilty of marital infidelity, for the second time. He was immediately fired as Pastor and asked to leave the congregation. I heard about what had happened but I had no contact with him until a couple of years later when he phoned me. “May I and my family come and worship at your church on Sunday?” he asked. “Of course”, I responded, “Why ever not. I would love to see you.” The line went silent for a long moment and when he spoke again there was a distinct choke in his voice. “Well last week I tried to attend a service at another church in the area. The pastor met me at the door and asked me to leave.”
This dear man and his family started attending our local church regularly and it wasn’t long before I received a delegation of several ministers in the area who wanted me to jointly sign a letter with them addressed to the ‘sinner’. The aim of the letter was to inform him that he was not welcome in the area and would not, under any circumstances, be allowed to assume any leadership position in any church at any time in the future. What would Jesus have said to these self-righteous men I wonder?
We know how Peter’s story ends. Jesus did not consign him to ignominy and permanent redundancy. Instead He ensured that Peter was repentant and had truly learned his lesson, and then Jesus reinstated him as the leader of the church. Application of the Christocentric Principle must therefore lead us to the conclusion that erring yet repentant church leaders should be confronted, corrected, rehabilitated and then… reinstated. But what does the church usually do to its wounded leaders? … it usually shoots them – metaphorically of course and with ‘I say this in love’ bullets.
|Sometimes the only way to really understand scripture is to encounter Jesus as you read it|