The other day in the upper-right corner of my Facebook feed I noticed a brief activity notification by a friend whom I’ve known to be a solid believer in Jesus, a faithful husband and father, an abolitionist, and a street evangelist. Commenting on a page about one of his hobbies (say, mountain biking), he used some language that was borderline coarse in that group of people who are no doubt mostly unbelievers (since at least ~90% of this country’s population is unregenerate) (if you don’t believe me, ask yourself why there are never any traffic jams on Sunday mornings at 10 even in cities in the buckle of the Bible Belt). With concern in my heart for his well-being and witness, I decided to approach him about it, and so I did so with as much grace as I could muster simultaneous to what I prayed was appropriate firmness.
American church culture in large part militates against believers taking the initiative to approach each other about sins they perceive when those sins are small, even respectable. Such a pattern sets a dangerous precedent, some say. It breeds arrogance and a superiority complex. It sets the approacher over the approachee. It causes divisions and bitterness within the church body, they say.
I left a medium-sized SBC church not long ago. The pastor, a frequent visiting contributor to blogs with “SBC” in their name, a published author, and a protegé of a well-known senior member of the SBC’s Good Ol’ Boy network, likes to say that the church doesn’t need “Sin Detectors”. He and the other elders cultivated the attitude mentioned above. It may be coincidence that numerous men in the congregation, including one who had been a discipleship group leader and was married and another who was a published Christian author and who still as recently as a year ago was publishing articles at Dave Miller’s blog, ran headlong into gross homosexual sin. It may be coincidence that a married deacon, father of three, molested numerous children on the church campus over the course of several years. It may be that nobody noticed anything out of the ordinary in any of these men’s lives before the sheer ick factor of their sin became too big to hide. But maybe there is another explanation.
It is very difficult to consider the case of Louisiana College and Joe Aguillard, or for that matter of Ergun Caner, without reflecting on the lost opportunities of so many around them. It takes time to construct the Mountain of Lies that Caner has erected. A devoted, consistent follower of Jesus does not simply wake up one morning and desperately accede to blackmail demands to cover up what he has done. What would a faithful Christian have worth covering up?
Imagine if, the very first time Ergun got up on stage and started “speaking” Arabic, he had gotten seven phone calls and three personal visits from friends, godly men who knew him, with grave concerns about the lie he told while engaging in a fearful responsibility – public speaking about the work of God in the life of a sinner. Would his conscience be as seared as it is now? Might he have repented at that time? God only knows.
Imagine if, the very first time Joe Aguillard said something that hinted at being magnanimously grandiose about himself and how important loyalty to Joe is, he had been taken aside by several who fear nothing but God and sin and tremble at the Word of God, and lovingly reproved for the sake of his soul, that he might not fall into the trap of pride and self-aggrandizement. Would the investment in his edifice of evil be as rich as it is now? Would he have felt nearly as great an urge to protect his fake empire as he clearly does now?
Maybe these descents into darkness could have been cut off before they ever began, were the brethren surrounding these men willing to come forward earlier.
Those who keep silent, who don’t want to be called “Sin Detectors” by those who are only willing to detect the sin of being a Sin Detector until their hand is forced, do no favors to those to whose sin they turn a blind eye. When a wound would prove true friendship, they instead contribute the kisses of an enemy (Proverbs 27:6). When they could save a soul from death, they choose to leave the sinner in the error of his way (James 5:19-20). When someone is committing adultery against our great Redeemer and Husband, causing rupture and disease, they do not call for repentance but instead refuse to even attempt to restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Thus they rob all concerned of the opportunity to look to themselves, lest they too be tempted, and to fulfill the law of Christ by bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:1-2).
There is a reason why we are many times commanded to examine ourselves in the Scripture, to distrust our hearts, to watch diligently against temptation, to struggle against the fleshly desires that wage war against our souls. It is because of what Jesus said in Mark 7:21-23 – “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” Further, to fulfill the many “one another” commands in the New Testament is to, among many, many other things, detect sin. How else can we forgive each other (Col 3:13, Eph 4:32)? How else to be devoted to one another in love and honor one another above ourselves (Rom 12:10), and indeed if we are not seeing even “warts” and blemishes on one another at times, can it be said that we are really devoted to one another? How can we fulfill the debt to love one another (Rom 13:8) if we substitute a necessary “wound” for the kisses an enemy would give? How can we build each other up (1 Thess 5:11) in reality, provoking one another toward love and good deeds (Heb 10:24) unless we point out that which is lacking? And how is it even worth saying that we ought to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph 5:21) if all we ever say to each other are syrupy-sweet nothings that we want to hear, that indeed tickle our itching ears?
To be continued…