Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Privilege to Preach

When I was a seminary student, my favorite classes were those with J. Scott Horrell and John Hannah. Dr. Horrell taught systematic theology and became a dear friend and mentor to me. He took Karen and me on our first missions trip (to Mozambique!), hosted us in his home, hired me as his grader, and generally loved me like Jesus. Of such men, the world is in woefully short supply. Dr. Hannah taught us all about ministry under the guise of teaching Church history. He and I were not friends, though I loved to listen to him and respected him deeply (and still do). There is so much that you are shoveling into your brain in those years, that it actually takes a few afterward to sort through it all. But one of the things that stands out in my memory is Dr. Hannah's comment: "Gentlemen, remember that preaching the Gospel is not just your responsibility. It is also your privilege."

I've turned that over and over in my mind in the years since, trying always to bear in mind that what I get to do as a pastor is a rare gift to be treasured, not a job, not a burden, nor something I do for which others should feel pity. I was reminded once again of the privilege this past weekend as I shared the Gospel at a Wild Game Feast in Buckeye, Arizona and then returned on a late night flight to preach 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 at home. What right do I have to stand before God's people and have them listen to me? None. What standing do I have that they should listen? None. And yet... And yet... God has called, I have obeyed, and He has blessed me with opportunities I could not imagine.

Here therefore is my prayer: "Lord, help me to remember the privilege, even on days when I am tired or frustrated, or depressed or even just bored. Help me remember that this is something I not only have to do, but something I get to do as well. Amen."

Three Cheers for Church Discipline

Those of you reading that title must think that I have perhaps: a) taken leave of my senses; b) become a hard-line fundie, who loves whacking people publicly for their sin; or c) become hopelessly irrelevant in a modern church-going context, since the disciplined person(s) will, likely as not, simply go on down the road to the next church, probably a larger one, at which they can disappear and not bear the stigma of facing correction. Nevertheless, though option a) always remains a strong contender, I'll assure you that none of the above is the case. Moreover, I think that the restoration of discipline to the appropriate place in the life of the Church is of supreme relevance, because I believe that is the distinct lack of it which is at the root of many of the Church's problems in our day.

So without further ado, here are three reasons to celebrate appropriate, restorative, biblical discipline by the Church:
  1.  Protection. One of the things which is even now wracking Roman Catholicism is the priestly sexual abuse scandal. Men who should have been immediately defrocked and removed from office were allowed to continue, even being moved from place to place so that they could find fresh victims. I am not so naive as to think such sins are strictly a Roman Catholic phenomenon(though this particular type is admittedly less common among evangelicals). Nevetheless, appropriate discipline serves to protect the people within the church from continually being victims of sin The good of the Body demands we protect its people.
  2.  Purification. Sin is like cancer, always seeking to spread to new people. Churches which never discipline or do not seriously pursue it soon find themselves wracked by divisions and problems. Sin can even become part of the culture of a church, such that no effective ministry can be done because so much time is dealing with the results of sinful behavior. 
  3.  Witness. Nothing is more thoroughly scandalous to me than the fact that, by many measures, Christians live their lives in a way indistinguishable from unbelievers. For example, the fact that many "Christians" watch porn and have sex outside of marriage leads many to think that Christians are not against sin, they are only against those forms of it in which they themselves are not participating. Thus we come across not as those who want to rescue people from sin and its results, death and hell, so much as self-righteous hypocrites who simply don't like other people and their sins. For our Gospel to be good news, it must be accompanied by the power of a life well-lived in submission to the Jesus we claim to follow. And our failure to discipline sin means that too many people see no distinction between the Christian life and their own as an unbeliever.