Saturday, January 24, 2009


Continuing my discussion with rotsaP loeJ...

I honestly didn't think that the biblical teaching on different levels of, well, badness of sin would be in question.
Jesus Himself made those kinds of comments many times.
21"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. "Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. - Matt 11:21
Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. - Matt 12:31
" Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation - Matt 23:14
"The second is this, ' YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' There is no other commandment greater than these." - Mark 12:31
who devour widows' houses, and for appearance's sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation." - Mk 12:40
"For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little." - Lk 7:47
Jesus answered, " You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin." - Jn 19:11

There are other NT examples, but hopefully that clarifies what I mean.
And yes, of course, any one sin, even a "small" one, is enough to condemn me to Hell forever. But OTOH, some sin leads to greater condemnation in Hell than others. An unrepentant dead Hitler is in a lower, hotter level of Hell than my grandma will be if she doesn't repent before she dies.

is it that Pilate's authority makes him less culpable for the crucifixion, or that Judas' lack of official status as a minister of secular justice increases his?

That's a good question.
On one side, I think it's irrelevant to our discussion, since obviously the fact that there is a greater sin remains.
My first guess would be that Judas spent no less than 3 years with God Himself incarnate, and yet he still thinks it's worth a mere 30 silver pieces to betray Him. Pilate had just met Jesus and knew little about Him.

But "weightier portions of the law" is a question of letter vs. spirit (the pharisees were using technicalities in order to justify being jerks)

Matt 23: 23"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.

24"You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!"

I don't know if I agree with you on this one. Why did God spend so much breath and emphasis all thru the OT and reiterate it several times in the Gospels that "I desire obedience and not sacrifice"? Is it really a wash whether one tithes all his dill but shows no mercy or justice or whether one is very just and merciful and gives only 9% of his dill?

his great point is that 'unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and pharisees you are not fit to inherit the kingdom of heaven.'

True, and that's b/c His emphasis was there. It's far more important to preach the Gospel that'll get people saved from their sins, after all, than it is to discuss a finer point of theology.

my view is that the "something" may be anything at all, so long as it creates relational tension.

And I think there is the key! Buried within the first post, I said that, and I think it's key. Maybe I didn't say it or entitle it right, that may be. But just as constantly confronting my brethren for any little offense would rip apart our relations, so would my constant begging for forgiveness do the same. Don't you think?

Repentance is a necessarily selfless and virtuous action.

Which unblvrs CAN perform. Those acts are not meritorious before God, but they are virtuous and selfless.

I must acknowledge the objective basis of my sin

Yes, but people neglect to take things to their logical conclusions all the time. Atheist commenters on this blog are a perfect example.

the status of a sinner is such that he suppresses this knowledge with all his power, for otherwise how could he live with himself?

He can protect himself thru inconsistent thinking.

When he ceases to suppress it he becomes a Christian


you may disagree with my definition of repentance

I guess that is mostly what it comes down to.

On a related point, an excommunicated person must be a Christian. I don't agree that the excommunicant can have been faking.

What of 1 John 2, then?
18Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that (AW)antichrist is coming, (AX)even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.

19(AY)They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, (AZ)so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.

And 2 Tim 2 and 1 Tim 1:

1 Tim 1:19keeping (BJ)faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to (BK)their faith.

20Among these are (BL)Hymenaeus and (BM)Alexander, whom I have (BN)handed over to Satan, so that they will be (BO)taught not to blaspheme.

2 Tim 2:16But (AM)avoid (AN)worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness,

17and their talk will spread like [a]gangrene. Among them are (AO)Hymenaeus and Philetus,

18men who have gone astray from the truth saying that (AP)the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset (AQ)the faith of some.

Or Galatians 2:4But it was because of the (C)false brethren secretly brought in, who (D)had sneaked in to spy out our (E)liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to (F)bring us into bondage.

5But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that (G)the truth of the gospel would remain with you.

Satan wants to destroy the church, no? And so one of the best ways to do that is to rip it apart from within, and to introduce false teachers and false brethren. Ch discipline is for kicking them out once they're revealed, don't you think?

The whole point is that the disciplined person is a brother who will be now treated like a stranger.

Well, he's assumed to be a brother up until the time of excomm. Now we're not so sure, but the way is open for him to come back, if he specifically repents. Much like an unblvr has to repent to join the church.

because non-Christians are not capable of real repentance outside of God's transformative work,

I don't know if I'd agree with that. Definitely I agree that he can't repent BEFORE GOD outside of the Holy Spirit working in him, but truly repenting of having committed evil against another in a totally non-Christian context? I don't know if there's any biblical revelation either way, is there? You think that most of the societies in the world in history have been founded and gone their way w/o ever having experienced true repentance over wrongs? Not that they'd consider those wrongs in any consistent worldview, but people are capable of gross, grand, monumental inconsistency!

so threatening them with excommunication ...makes as much sense as threatening them with violence.

Well, obviously they have some reason for coming to church; otherwise they wouldn't come. Now they've lost access to whatever value they placed on churchgoing. That might be big or small, but that's all one can do. And it's another chance to share the Gospel and also to sanctify the congregation thru the removal of bad leaven and thru teaching the Scr's teaching on ch disc and holiness.

(your idea about withholding forgiveness seems indistinguishable from this to me. Is there a distinction you're making, or would you simply say the one is a more formal version of the other?)

Hmm, yeah, I'd probably call it a more formal version.


1) Fair enough - Simon hadn't specifically wronged Peter.
2) I asked: Shall we be more forgiving than God? So, maybe you could help make progress towards that - are we indeed to be more forgiving than God?
You answer:
I would say yes, certainly, and of course.

Hmmm, I don't know if I can buy that, you know? God is THE exemplar for our actions and thoughts. Forgiveness is objectively a good action. And yet I can exceed God in a good action? Me?

3) I think it's better to say that my judgment might be shaky as far as extrapolating from withholding forgiveness in the context of ch disc to withholding it for unblvrs in certain circumstances, since I dealt with the part about excommunicating (secret) unblvrs above.

One thing I haven't seen you take into account, and correct me if I'm wrong, is the concept that we withhold forgiveness certain times for the good of the person, for love of them. Since this action would be motivated by pure love of the offender, does that have anythg at all to do with it?


Paul C said...

I honestly didn't think that the biblical teaching on different levels of, well, badness of sin would be in question.

What, you mean in exactly the same way as nearly every other theological issue in the history of Christianity has been in question?


rotsaP loeJ said...

In the history of the church, the core theological issues were generally only disputed by fanatics; so I should hope the present discourse, astonishing or not, is not entirely similar.

1. Badness of sin - as I said, I wasn't trying to make a positive statement, so I'll concede your point. On the tithing question, I would say that sacrifice without obedience is not sacrifice, strictly speaking, so the issue is not really one of weighing portions of the law against itself. I don't think the Bible is trying to parse things that finely - 'Well, if your sacrificial sheep is blemished, that's not quite as bad as coveting your neighbour's bicycle, assuming he has more than two of them...' Rather, as James said, 'whoever shall stumble in one point is guilty of all.' Jesus and prophets rail against a legalistic 'keeping of the law' which is actually a concealed form of law-breaking. It's not keeping the wrong laws that was the proplem, as if the Pharisees were righteous sometimes, but rebelliously breaking them all.

2. "The Key"... I'm not sure what you mean by this paragraph. You seem to be saying that a sinner who constantly returns to the offended party to ask forgiveness has the same destructive impact on the church that the offended party would have by never letting anything slide. Is that what you mean?

3. So on repentance, we seem to be at something of an impasse. I say sinners cannot repent, you say they can. You agree with me that they cannot repent in an ultimate sense, but seem to be advocating an intermediate category of non-salvific remorse that is nevertheless virtuous. I wonder how you would defend your view? To me it seems a little silly to talk as if non-Christians could really do virtuous-seeming things that really are virtuous. The mind set on the flesh does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so. That those in sin can do nothing that is not sin seems to me like a pretty fundamental point. Rather, their righteousnesses (which in the Hebrew context meant the precise observance of various 'good' actions from the Mosaic law) are as filthy rags. So I'd like to hear more from you on this point.

I fully agree that most people are inconsistent and muddled in their thinking. But I am trying to argue that repentance as such entails a degree of clearheadedness about sin to which unbelievers have no access. What leads you to "split the difference", as it were, between the dark stoniness of an unbelieving heart and the lucidity of a Christian's conscience?

4. Your reticence to out-do God in any virtue is understandable and does you credit. But I think the present case, rightly considered, need not present us with such lunacy.

Your standard appears to be that we should forgive only those things God forgives, which is intuitive, but I think it gets you into some difficulty. You know perfectly well that God never forgives non-Christians for anything - that is why they go to hell. Divine justice requires that all sins be atoned for, either by proxy in the boundless suffering of Christ, or directly by the eternal suffering of the sinner. I ask you, then, how I can forgive a non-Christian? Suppose he (to use my favourite example) cuts me off on the interstate. I may or may not forgive him; we seem to have agreed that I should, especially if he asks for it. But regardless of what the man says to me, God most certainly will not forgive him, unless and until he seeks refuge in Christ's blood. It would seem we must decided between unappealing alternatives: either to forgive Christians exclusively, or else to be more virtuous than God himself.

I am suggesting a model of forgiveness that circumvents this. Rather than bearing the heavy and complicated burden of determining whether someone was sincere - my idea is that in forgiving we merely release whoever it is from their debt to us. We are in a different position from God's, as I'm sure you will agree; whereas he is responsible for the justice of the universe, we are only responsible for emulating Christ who "when reviled did not revile in return, when suffering uttered no threats, but kept entrusting himself to the one who judges righteously." (I do not, by the way, agree that God is the exemplar of our actions - at least not completely. There are zillions of divine attributes to which we dare not aspire, except in very limited and derivative fashion. Like condemming the guilty to hell, or rebuking the devil, or non-contingency of essence, or creating worlds... rather, I think Christ on earth is far nearer the mark.) The offense, considered in itself, God will require of them - whether they pay for it themselves or plead his grace, the point is that we, individual Christians, are not responsible for settling things.

I think this is the meaning of the imprecatory Psalms. The Psalmist is not embittered at his enemies, he is not in sin at the moment of his inspired composition; yet nonetheless he prays with some heat that God would blot them out for his name's sake. It occurs to me that perhaps this is the model for our forgiveness - forgiving those who trespass against us, yet praying for justice in the world (ideally carried out on Christ, but not necessarily).

5. Excommunication I'm going to leave for the moment. I hear what you're saying, but want to keep this to a manageable length.

6. I haven't yet touched on withholding forgiveness for the offender's good, because as a motive it seemed secondary to the discussion of whether the practice itself was biblical or not. (As an additional note, I intend 'unbiblical' in the strictly descriptive sense of 'not entirely in line with what I understand the bible to teach' - I certainly understand that this is a complex issue, and wouldn't dream of calling you a heretic.) But anyway, that's why I haven't dealt with it yet. It seems to me that I could come up with any number of ways, motivated by pure love, to encourage people to righteousness. A very biblical example of this would be parents spanking their children. An unbiblical example might be parents spanking their children's teachers. In either case one might argue that it springs from a genuine love and desire to see whoever it is become more virtuous and ultimately come to know Christ - and for all I know, maybe it's an effective technique. That one is biblical and the other rather less so seems to me to have logical priority. Do you see what I mean?

Paul C said...

In the history of the church, the core theological issues were generally only disputed by fanatics

You would say that, of course, since a) you have the benefit of hindsight, and b) your side "won".

Rhology said...

Paul C, we believe in a God who guides His people, and who has spoken in the Bible. Many issues are resolved by reading it. And yes, God many times has used that Bible to cause the right side to "win".

And of course, dispute just means that people care about it and think it's important. I don't know why anyone would think that's a bad thing. You may not be used to that since your side is so trigger-happy silencing dissent, but maybe you can learn.

rotsaP loeJ said...

You can call the Cathars whatever you like, but... they really were pretty whacked out. And don't even get me started on the Fraticelli or the Muslims.