(Continued from June 20, 2014)
Millions of professing Christian men and women consume, and are addicted to, pornography. Many are, or have previously been, involved in sexual immorality - fornication, premarital sex and cohabitation, extramarital sex and adulteries, and various forms of sexual deviancy and lust. This is not new. In addition to the endemic sexual immorality in the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian church about those who had once been "dead in trespasses and sins," and "among whom we all once conducted ourselves in the lust of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind and were by nature children of wrath just as the others" (the sons of disobedience) (Eph. 2:1-3, emphasis added). Note that Paul includes himself in "we all" and "ourselves."
The Apostle Peter shares a similar confession when he writes, "He (one who is in Christ) no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles - when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries" (1 Pet. 4:1-3, emphasis added). Like Paul, Peter included himself in "we." Is it possible that Paul and Peter had at some point in their past lifetime been guilty of sexual sin - or even something that today might be labeled as a "sexual offense?" Whether they were or not does not matter, since "If we confess our sins, He (God) is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). By any measure and at any time, what is the greater offense - persecuting and seeking to destroy the faith, and denying knowing Christ after making rash promises, or a 20 year old fornicating with a 16 year old girlfriend, or a 40 year old lusting after a sexually explicit picture of a teenage girl?
Many in the Corinthian church once lived in fornication, adultery, homosexuality, sodomy, thievery, coveting, drunkennes, revelries, and extortion. Yet in spite of their past - or because of their past - and because of God's grace, they were saved through faith and were "washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of God" (1 Cor. 5:9-11; Eph. 2:8). All were presumably welcome in the church. Why do leaders in the American church practice and condone the exclusion of those labeled as "sex offenders" from the fellowship of the church? Is this not holding a brother in contempt and placing a stumbling block in his way (Rom. 14:10-13)?
The Bible - the sole authority for faith and practice in the local church - is not silent on how to respond to those who "are named a brother or sister" and who are continually involved in sexual sin. Moreover, since the Bible does not differentiate between a sexual sin and a sexual "offense" (such distinction is a matter of state law), the church must respond to one who is labeled by the state as a "sex offender" in a manner consistent with one who is involved in sexual sin. If a brother or sister is currently practicing sexual sin, and is unwilling to forsake such sin, on what biblical basis are they welcome in the fellowship of the church? Why does the church not exercise discipline, to "deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that (their) spirit may be saved in the day of our Lord Jesus?" (1 Cor. 5:5). However, it is equally important to add that such exclusion and discipline lasts only for a time, and then only among those who profess to believe the gospel (1 Cor. 5:9-13). When one who has been disciplined and excluded forsakes his sin, he must be forgiven and comforted by the church and reaffirmed in love. Otherwise, apart from the fellowship of the church they may be “swallowed up in sorrow and Satan may take advantage of all of us” (2 Cor. 2:7-11).
Sadly, while a few fellowships practice these things (church discipline) with those who continually live in sexual sin, most do nothing to confront such acts. Confrontation is uncomfortable, and seems unreasonable and intolerant by worldly standards; yet disciples do not live by the standards of the world, but by the standard of the Word of God. Many professing Christians within the church are involved in viewing pornography, adultery, and fornication, and church leaders remain silent.
However, when a person has been labeled by the state as a “sex offender,” few fellowships are willing to forgive and comfort, and they withhold their love as well as their mercy. Judgment and condemnation continue in the church (as well as in the world) even when the person who has committed a sexual sin (offense) has confessed and forsaken such sin, has believed the gospel, received the Holy Spirit, and has been “washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.” When a person who has been labeled as a sex offender seeks to attend or serve in an American church, many respond out of ignorance and fear rather than out of knowledge and love. Such ignorance and fear abolish reasoning, abort love, and prevent justice.
Those who are labeled as sex offenders find no comfort in the world. They are denied housing, employment, education, public assistance, normal socialization, and even a place to worship and serve. Many are forbidden to attend school functions with their children and grandchildren. They are subjected to public humiliation and shame through sex offender registries, and are often harassed, physically assaulted, and even murdered for their past sins. These restrictions and sex offender registries are criticized by human rights organizations, many in the international community, and even by law enforcement officials as being “unjust and ineffective.” Yet they are politically popular, and serve to assure the re-election of willfully ignorant legislators who ignore the evidence and support such draconian acts. When government officials enact or continue a law without reasonable support, it is corruption. When church leaders support or remain silent about such law, it is sinful. For such acquiescence denies justice, withholds mercy, and leads to arrogance and pride. Consequently, nearly a million registered sex offenders stumble in the darkness because the church refuses to be the light.
I am grateful for the church which is willing to forgive and comfort their pastor who fell into sexual sin. I commend the leaders for being an example in helping him rebuild his marriage and for offering all of the mercy and counseling services of the church to help him and his family through this time, and for offering the same mercy and grace and love to the women who were involved in this sin. This is a just and merciful biblical response. Why is the American church then unwilling to offer the same mercy, love and grace to those whose sexual sin has been labeled by the world as a sexual offense? Is this rejection not an example of the church and its leaders being conformed to the world and not to the Word? When the church conforms to the state and its standard of law, it ceases to be the body of Christ – where mercy and grace abound – and becomes a mere extension or tool of the state. Mercy ceases and grace is unknown. This ought not be! Is there any hope?
Coming Up: In Part Three, the final installment, Mr. Hardy considers the Apostle Paul and the church at Corinth as examples of the power of the gospel to redeem the worst of sinners.