Yesterday (see here for the day before yesterday), I argued that the Church is to progress in holiness, and that often times when we say we are “putting the best construction on things” we use this as a cover for not confronting people when we should.
I note that in Hosea, we see that what sets God apart – what makes Him Holy – is that He is filled with compassion for His people (and enemies). And, truly, love is patient. Yes, perhaps – just perhaps – in some circumstances pastors may deal with, it is conceivable that one could argue they are showing love when they refuse to say, “So and so, I am concerned about….”, or something even stronger. But again – let’s be honest – in many cases, there is no way that this helps the neighbor. Sin comes naturally for all of us, and so when the neighbor, in the Church but perhaps out of it as well, sees these things (like persons living together without marriage) happen around him, he will – unless he has someone around him who is able to help he see and realize otherwise – assume that what he sees is simply normal, and that there is nothing wrong with these things at all. And then we are surprised when we get this! (or are we – and if we are not surprised, should we not be at least gravely troubled by this?) And this is why we must be patient in a different way – that is, be patient for people to come to repentance after we confront them – continuously and eagerly seeking them out, like the father in Luke 15. Anything less is, quite frankly, cowardice. It’s not always about “me” or “us” – there is always a wider context. We aren’t free to destroy our brothers.
Another objection: “But I don’t want to single out sins!”
First of all, by the power of God’s grace, show people that you are eager to have your own sins confronted – even if they do so not for your good, but in anger or retaliation. Be earnest in the Word and prayer as you prepare for your bones to be broken that they might be mended. Regarding sins of omission that may be brought up, remember that sometimes not loving in a certain way is indeed a sin (think of the Good Samaritan here) while other times God gives us a variety of ways that we may show love. But if you have any doubts at all whether you have wronged someone, remember Walther wisely said, “small sins become big sins when regarded as small” – so error on the side of confessing sins. Also remember that though gross public sins need to be confronted publicly, minor “public sins” or even “private sins” are no less serious before God. When we are confronted about these, there is no plan B – repentance is it. Christians know no other way.
Second, speak from the pulpit about being “set apart” and what this means (see above).
Third, make a valuable distinction. While sins such as immodesty, cursing, greed, and drunkenness are not disputable or indifferent matters, it is at least conceivable that in some circumstances (not all) what really constitutes these things is. In other words, these things may be like Romans 14:3 issues. Although we all long for consistent principles and standards, fallen human beings cannot always determine with precision what constitutes, for instance, a good and salutary imbibing of alcohol, partaken of in Gospel freedom to the genuine harm of no one, as opposed to sinful drunkenness. So find creative ways (perhaps through older women in the congregation you and others love and trust) to confront the parents of daughters who wear inappropriate clothing – lovingly. Confront the baby-boomer parents who do the same – thoughtfully. Confront persons about their slothfulness, their screen-time, their lack of family dinner-time – sensitively. At the same time, sometimes things seem pretty clear to most everyone: for example, while speaking often about greed in general terms, confront situations where many believe that greed has been manifested, such as the case where one has overcharged or robbed one’s employees (being hesitant to confront all greed you or others perceive, since there is no model in the New Testament for such confrontation, and one may be rich without necessarily being greedy).
Fourth, regarding the confrontation of public sin, write a pamphlet (and mention it often it at appropriate times) that talks about common public sins and assures your congregation that although these may not be dealt with publicly (i.e. public shame), they are dealt with privately, and pastoral discipline does occur in the church.
Fifth, confront gross public sins personally: Confront the person who justifies leaving their non-adulterous spouse because the “relationship has already died”. Confront those who regularly miss church. Confront the alcoholic who justifies himself. Confront the spouse or father who is violent. Confront the couple who is living together. Do not tolerate unrepentant swindling, slandering, and homosexual activity – for your people were once swindlers, slanders and homosexuals – but no more. In all of this, don’t forget to offer your prayers and help – or to find others who can help, for the pastor can’t do it all (as we bear each others burdens). You don’t need to assume that just because they respond unfavorably right away that they are not Christians. Remember those crazy Corinthians. Even when Paul hands a man “over to Satan” he does not insist that the man is not a Christian – he speaks of specific persons “falling away” only when he mentions certain colleagues who’ve abandoned him. Give them time – and when they repent, always be eager to forgive (and let them commune again).
“Or maybe…”, someone says, “you will no longer have a Church”. Possibly. But what kind of a Church is it that has no zeal for God’s Law – to know it and to uphold it? Has not such a Church ceased to know the Gospel as well? From what, ultimately, have we been saved? Sin, or the Law of God? We have been freed from the Law, and are no longer under the Law. But we have not been saved from the Law, for this we uphold and fulfill in Christ (Romans 8:4).
There must not be a hint of immorality, impurity, or greed among you, Paul says (Eph. 5:3). Yes, he really said that and meant just that – Paul’s intention is not only to reveal our sin here (as in Romans 1-3), but to call us to shine, so that it is only the cross of Christ which is the stumbling block. And we wonder why the Church seems so ineffective… (see here for some thought-provoking stuff to)