A Plea for Biblical Justice Among God's People
By Dan Juster
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With regards to the American Church at the end of the twentieth century, the words of the prophet certainly hold true: "My people do not understand My ways" (Ps. 95:10; Heb. 3:10). Today, most people who claim to be followers of Jesus do not understand God's standards of righteousness and justice. It is not that we are striving toward that standard and falling short. Rather, we do not even know what our Father expects of us. Our shallow, media Christianity has taught aspects of the basic gospel, but most Christians and Messianic Jews are creatures of shallowness. They have not delved into the Scriptures to understand the ways of God. Popular conceptions of God's ways are at war with the teachings of the Bible. Although the believing community is called to be a city on a hill, a light shining in darkness and the salt of the earth, we are instead a laughingstock of fallen clergy and people full of slander, with children in rebellion. The character of the American Church is at a low ebb and it shortly will be shaken to the core, revealing the foundation of everything in it.
Who am I to make such a statement? Have I been a rabble rouser in the church? No, such is not my nature. My motive stems from a deep love for the many streams of the Body of believers. At twelve years of age I accepted Jesus as Lord and Messiah. Early years of discipleship in an evangelical Reformed Church and in fundamentalist Bible clubs introduced me to people who were sold out to the Lord. I have known many who were the salt of the earth. A godly elder in this Reformed Church was instrumental in leading me into the experience of immersion in the Holy Spirit. At the King's College in Briarcliff Manor, New York, I met godly professors for whom love for the Lord and conformity to His character were more central than academics. I continued to find these characteristics at Wheaton College and at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Some, even in these highly academic atmospheres, sought the presence of the Lord, a godly character and a walk with Him more than all other pursuits. My spiritual father at Wheaton, Chaplain Evan Welsh, was the godliest man I have ever known. In love, character and saintliness he was without peer. Our Lutheran pastor in Wheaton, Theodore Laesch, was a servant of great godliness and love. Yes, I have had disappointments in the Church, but my experiences by far have been good. It was through the influence of Chaplain Welsh that I was ordained into the Presbyterian denomination. Providentially, Dr. Welsh was the instrument of my entering into my life's work: seeking to win and nurture those of the house of Israel.
I knew, upon entering the Presbyterian pastorate, that I was entering a denomination that had drifted from its biblical roots. I hoped to be an influence in its return to these roots. Indeed, although not all the emphases in historical Presbyterianism are my "cup of tea," many wonderful and exemplary things can be said for historic Presbyterianism. My taking leadership in the growing Messianic Jewish congregational movement (from 1972 to the present) eventually made my leaving the Presbyterian denomination a practical necessity. These ties were sadly left behind. My desire to identify with the rest of the Body of the Messiah caused me to seek fellowship with groups of leaders who pastored independent charismatic churches.
As part of my responsibilities for the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, I was traveling extensively to interdenominational conferences and to churches of all stripes throughout America. It was a great shock to discover the state which many of the churches were in, both locally in my own city and around the country. It was especially so in the charismatic groups to which I most wanted to relate. A "sloppy agape" where almost Anything goes" has become pervasive in the Body of the Lord.
Without standards of righteousness, justice and due process, nothing that is lasting can be built. We will cancel out one another's efforts in competition and mistrust. It will not be long before Satan attacks and sends difficulty. Along with prayer and spiritual warfare, establishing God's standards of righteousness and justice are absolutely essential if the Kingdom of God is to prevail. However, God has promised that His Kingdom will prevail. Therefore I have to believe that His standards will be established again among His people.
My understanding of the Body of believers is a radical one. I believe that we are to be a company of committed people who were soundly converted to the lordship of Jesus. As a result, we are to be a people who have two primary goals in mind. Our first goal is to be conformed to the character and charisma (Holy Spirit life, faith and gifting) of Jesus. Secondly, we are to love the lost, that they might come into a saving relationship with Jesus. Our programs and activities must foster these goals. Out of them issue all other godly goals, including influencing society to righteous standards, reflecting the glory of God in the arts, discovering more about God's world in the sciences and any other worthy goal. However, all is to flow out from a people who consider the pursuit of the first two goals as the way in which they live, move and have their being. The character of Jesus includes the first great godly attitude: to love the Lord God with our all. It is to know Him and make Him known. Biblical liberty is never the right to do as we desire, but a change of our desires so that what we want to do is according to God's holy standard. This change is a product of His life in us. That is true freedom in a biblical sense.
We read of the Messiah that "He will bring forth justice for truth. He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands shall wait for His law" (Isa. 42:3c-4). If what these verses describe is the orientation of Jesus, must it not be ours also? If justice is to be established on the earth, should not the community of His followers be a community of love and justice?
We now turn our attention to answering this question. May the Lord use this modest book in some measure to turn His people toward the godly pursuit of justice. The motive of this endeavor must be love!
Table of Contents: Return to Top
Injusticed Among The People of God
Eleven Practical Illustrations
The American Church in 1990
Justice and the Hebrew Scriptures
The Justice of God in the New Testament
Justice and Mercy
Relating Love, Justice and Mercy
When A Leader Falls Into Gross Sin
Our Young Need Moral Examples
Hendrances to Love and Justice
The Ends Justify The Means
Lack of Due Process
Condemning or Narrow Attitudes
A Wrong Concept of Forgiveness
The Assumption of Moral Equivalency
The Wrong Definition of Taking Up an Offense
Fear of Authority and Courts of the Church
Narrowness in Moral and Doctrinal Standards
John 17:21 Wrongly Applied
Accountability and Liberty
Accountability in Inter-congregational Matters
What Is Mature Accountability?
What Are Basic, Minimal Standards?
Minimal Standards for Members
Divorce and Remarriage
The Principle of Transfer
Establishing Court of the Church
Apostolic Teams and the Authority of the Church
Practical Directions For the Church
Commitment to Leadership Standards
Commitment to Membership Standards
Commitment to Establish the Courts of the Church
Commitment to Train Elders for Their Judicial Responsibilities
Commitment to Resolve Disputes
Commitment to the Principle of Disclosure
Commitment to the Principle of Transfer
Letter of Transfer
Transfer When Not In Good Standing
Refusal of Transfer
Letter of Divorce
Gross Doctrinal Error
JUSTICE AND THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES Return to Contents
What implications do the Hebrew Scriptures have concerning the issue of justice and due process for the Body of believers today? First of all, we assume in this chapter that the basic thrust of the Hebrew Scriptures is valid for the New Covenant age.
The church today lives in an abysmal vacuum concerning the issues of ethics and justice. The New Testament assumes the teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures on these issues. It does not repeat much of its content, but makes a clear statement of its relevance (II Tim. 3:1617). That God is a God of love, mercy and justice is all of one fabric in the Hebrew Scriptures; hence the relevance of a book like Walter Kaiser's Toward an Old Testament Ethic. Kaiser did not mean to write only for understanding ethics in the Old Testament period, but also that the ethics of the Hebrew Scriptures should be applied today! Yet many do not teach the ethics of the Bible, fearing that such teaching is too restrictive for twentieth century people!
The Hebrew Scriptures present God as a God who loves justice and who expects His people to pursue it. That is our first thesis. Our second thesis is that God established Israel to reflect the superiority of life under God's rule, a life under His principles of ethics and justice. Our last thesis is that the order of life prescribed for ancient Israel in the Hebrew Scriptures was an order in which no individual, family, leader, city or clan was to be beyond accountability. This implies a means to pursue justice under human officials. Justice is not merely something God will bring, but something that human beings are commanded to pursue.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, justice and love are not opposites. It is impossible, in this perspective, to seek love without justice. To practice, permit or allow injustice is to destroy love. An unjust society is characterized by trampling upon others, the opposite of loving our neighbors as ourselves. Following the order of justice under the laws of God produces in a society the highest fulfillment and harmony between human beings. Mercy may be offered for the truly repentant, but the unrepentant are to be brought to justice! The Hebrew Scriptures constantly enjoin the rulers to give themselves to righteousness by bringing justice! The solution to the human miscarriage of justice is not to do away with the process of judgment, but to bring this process under the standard of God through godly judges!
What is justice? It is simply God's righteous order for humanity. It is life under his rule. It is not humanistic equality where differences of gifts, roles, wealth and calling are eliminated. It is equality before the courts. There are mandates for economic opportunity. Our prayer for the coming of God's kingdom is a prayer for Him to establish his loving, righteous rule in our midst.
The Torah: God's Standard for Love, Justice and Mercy
Before we continue by taking a brief look at the Torah (the writings of Moses), we cannot too strongly emphasize that the biblical concept of justice is not the same as the humanistic one. In secular humanism, justice often means equality in the sense of sameness. It is a concept that leads to socialism. Justice, for example, would mean equality of income for all people (and a huge centralized bureaucracy to enforce it). Biblical justice, on the other hand, allows for differences in calling, income, wealth and gifting. However, biblical justice establishes rules for opportunity whereby no class can perpetually control all wealth in a way that suppresses the poor. Opportunity, for example, is provided by the redistribution of land every fifty years and the canceling of debts every seven years. Also, a person's faith, diligence, generosity and creativity were allowed to flourish.
Justice in the Scriptures is inclusive of the following concepts. First is equality before the Law of God. Those who break a law or who have a case at law against another, whether they be rich or poor, are entitled to swift and fair justice before godly judges. Secondly, justice is defined by God's standards for human relations. To act justly and lovingly is not indulgence or an application of some sociological theory whereby the criminal is coddled. Rather, justice and love are deemed by acting according to the law. Love includes an attitude of compassion toward our fellow man that seeks his highest good.
The highest good and fulfillment for man is to live in loving fellowship with God and man. However, biblical love does not overlook gross sin, even if the sinner is one's own kin. Even the closest relative is to be brought to justice by his kin for the sake of love and faithfulness to God. The highest good can be fulfilled only by living in accord with the Law of God, for His Law is the pattern that enables fulfillment. Yielding to behavior contrary to God's Law destroys love and community. The broken law exacts a penalty whether by society and its judges or by God's intervention. There is also a blood sacrifice that can bring forgiveness for many offenses. All have sinned, and all must sacrifice. Gross rebellion and its manifest acts must be punished according to the penalties of the law. To not punish sin is to leave a corporate stain on the community and to bring the whole community under the judgment of God. The Bible teaches that the influence of upbringing is important. The Bible speaks in corporate terms. Yet it still requires right behavior from every individual.
For the Torah, justice is impossible for man unless all judges serve under the ultimate Lawgiver and Judge, the Creator of heaven and earth. Thus the law begins with the words, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (Ex. 20:2). Love, loyalty and gratitude toward God are the chief motives for the pursuit of justice. Fear of penalty is a secondary motive. In the Ten Commandments, we read that God is merciful and just!
...For I, the LORD your God, am
a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to
the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy
to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
Chapters 21 through 23 of Exodus provide the guidelines for the judges who are to be appointed in every town. Chapter 21 opens with the words, "Now these are the judgments which you shall set before them."
There are laws concerning servants, murder, animal control, property rights and more. There are laws for family life and marital purity. Sexual intercourse outside of marriage gave the father of the girl the right to require the couple to make the commitment of marriage. Adultery, bestiality and homosexuality were punished by death.
Justice in our speech toward one another is a crucial standard of covenant. Its violation brought severe penalties.
You shall not circulate a false report. Do not put your hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after many to pervert justice.... Keep yourself far from a false matter; do not kill the innocent and righteous.... And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the discerning and perverts the words of the righteous. Exodus 23:1-2; 7-8
A bribe with money is one type; but how much justice is foregone in the Body of believers because of stroking, offering status and other more subtle types of bribery?
It is my desire that we concentrate on the issue of gross slander and character assassination that is so prevalent in the Body today. This problem is intensified because there often is no process to handle significant accusations. The Torah enjoins that all cases must be decided on the basis of real evidence (in the mouth of two or three witnesses). We read, "You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD" (Lev. 19:16). The same Torah, however, requires us to correct and rebuke a neighbor! To not do so is to hate him (Lev. 19:17). Because Israel required judicial action where there was gross sin, anyone who falsely accused another of gross sin could be brought to court and suffer the judicial penalty of that sin.
And the judges shall make a diligent
inquiry, and in deed, if the witness is a false witness, who has testified
falsely against his brother, then you shad do to him as he thought to have
done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil person from among you.
And those who remain shall hear and fear, and hereafter they shall not
again commit such evil among you.
Gross slander is serious business in the Hebrew Scriptures. According to Proverbs 6:17, a false witness who pours out lies commits one of the seven sins most detestable to the Lord. There must be a just means of dealing with situations of gross slander and gossip which bring discord and separate brothers.
The Torah contains laws on showing kindness to the poor, on treating the stranger with kindness, on inheritance and much more. Great emphasis is put on respect for authority. This is especially so with regard to family life. A son who curses his father or mother is to be put to death, according to Scripture (Ex. 20:17; Lev. 20:9). We read also that "Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father" (Lev. 19:3a).
In no way can this small book deal with all of the laws of God in the Torah. However, the Law of God can be summarized by the principle of loving God with our all and our neighbor as ourselves. The stranger is included as one to be so loved. Therefore, the Torah enjoins equal treatment before the courts for all people; it enjoins just weights and measures in all business dealings and fair wages so that the poor are not oppressed! The workers are to share in the profits of the enterprise.
Not all of the laws of the Torah can be enforced. Some are for personal guidance. However, many of the laws of God can be enforced. How are the laws to be enforced when specific infractions can be proved by material evidence or testimony? The answer is in Israel's judicial system. Israel established a system of checks and balances among prophets, priests and civil rulers. All were accountable to God. At this point we will emphasize the judges. In Deuteronomy 16, we read:
You shall appoint judges and officers in all your gates, which the LORD your God gives you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with just judgment. You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. You shall follow what is altogether just, that you may live and inherit the land which the LORD your God is giving you.(vv. 18-20)
The Torah repeatedly emphasizes that the courts are especially to respect the legal rights of the poor, the fatherless and the widow (Deut. 10:18). It is far too easy for the powerful to exploit or oppress them and to break the laws of God. Although judges must not show partiality to the poor if they commit crimes, the judges are to especially see that might does not make right in Israel. The gates were the places of judgment in each village. A village would have a population ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand people. Every village had its judges. Most individuals were to deal with the concerns in the local village. For cases that were too difficult, there was an appeal structure.
If a matter arises which is too hard for you to judge, between degrees of bloodguiltiness, between one judgment or another, or between one punishment or another, matters of controversy within your gates, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the LORD your God chooses, and you shall come to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge there in those days, and inquire of them; they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment. You shall do according to the sentence which they pronounce upon you in that place which the LORD chooses. And you shall be careful to do according to all they order you....you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left from the sentence which they pronounce upon you.Deuteronomy 17:8-11
Those who would depart from such judgment were to be put to death!
No One Is Beyond Accountability
The structure of government in ancient Israel was a decentralized structure of judge?governors over towns and tribes. There was an appeal to the highest court in Jerusalem. In First Samuel we read of God's great concern for Israel because of her desire for a king. However, if Israel chose a king, even this king was not above the law. That is amazing in the context of the ancient Near East. In the surrounding lands the king was the law! In Israel we are told that the king was to make himself a copy of the law (Deuteronomy) and to observe all of it so that "his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment..." (Dent. 17:20). There is nothing to indicate that the removal of the king was precluded. The process for removal is not clearly stated. Perhaps the supreme court and the leading judges could bring judgment against him if he grossly violated the law. Israel often fell to such a degree that the people followed the sinful kings. God did raise up others with the authority to depose sinful kings. (Such was the case with Jehu.) The prophetic office was used to bring rebuke. Sometimes the prophetic word would lead to the king's replacement in a coup.
There was even a process to deal with a village or city in gross violation of God's Law. Could that be parallel to congregations and organizations? In Deuteronomy 13:12-18 we read that the cities of Israel were to rise up and strike a rebellious and idolatrous city. Gross sin occurred in Gibeah in Judges 19. Because the Benjamites did not stand for justice in this situation, but protected Gibeah, the whole tribe was punished by the rest of Israel. Justice clearly must be applied to corporate situations of tribes, cities and families.
Deuteronomy 17:11-12 teaches the importance of respecting the decisions of the judges. The judges act in a God-appointed capacity and represent His justice. Therefore, contempt for the judges leads to the death penalty. All individuals are to agree with the decision of the judges so that there might be an enforcing of justice.
God's intention for Israel as a just and loving society was related to the concept of witnessing and turning the nations back to God. To Israel, He says:
And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD and His statutes which I command you today for your good? Deuteronomy 10:12-13
If the Israelites walk in the ways of God, they will have long life and be protected from disease (Dent. 7:15). We read that the nations will thereby gain an understanding of God's truth.
...for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. " For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day? Deuteronomy 4:6-8
The severe violation of God's standards brought great judgment upon the nation of Israel. Israel was not, through most of her history, the model of a just and loving society. Idolatry and injustice came together in ancient Israel.
It is well to ask some important questions. Does the teaching of the Torah have relevance for the issue of justice in today's church? Is the Body of believers a just society? Are leaders and people to be accountable to judges in a fair process that considers evidence and testimony when there is gross sin or a significant dispute? Should there be a means for handling divisions between congregations and organizations of believers? And if not, why not? Are there means for handling sin, slander and other gross sins in the Body? In the charismatic world, is there justice today? Scripture says that these things were written for our example.
Justice: The Heart Cry of the Prophets
In the faith of ancient Israel, right belief, worship and behavior were inseparable. Most believers are aware that the prophets spoke with great passion when rebuking Israel for turning away from God to serve false gods. Serving the wrong gods led to additional behavior contrary to the Law of God. Conversely, breaking the Law of God made people more disposed to serve false gods. However, justice was at least an equal concern of the prophets.
In ancient Israel, might was not to make right. The worship of the one true God was to give an individual the faith and motivation to act with compassion and justice. These two concepts, compassion and justice, are not at all opposed in the prophets. It should be noted therefore that the prophets of God spoke with equal passion against the violation of the principles of justice and idolatry. This heart cry is found throughout the prophets; it ought not be missed. The judges are to be fair and objective, uninfluenced by those who bribe or manipulate politically. Micah sums up the view of the prophets in the following famous words:
He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God Micah 6:8
This verse comes in the form of a scathing indictment. Micah was giving a bad report! (Yes, brethren, when due process is denied and all attempts at due process have been made, there is a place for a prophetic bad report!) We are told that the leaders stripped the skin from their people (Mic. 3:2). Indeed, God speaks as follows:
Shall I count pure those with the wicked balances, and with the bag of deceitful weights'...her inhabitants have spoken lies....Micah 6:11, 12
In Amos we read that Israel sold the righteous for silver and the poor for a pair of sandals (2:6). However, the corruption of the court system was a key to sin's flourishing. Most congregations have no court system! What are the implications? We read the following of the court shy tem or the judges of the gates:
They hate the one who rebukes in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks uprightly. Therefore, because you tread down the poor and take gain taxes from him, though you have built houses of hewn stone, yet you shall not dwell in them....Amos 5:10-11
You afflict the just and take bribes; you divert the poor from justice at the gate. Therefore the prudent keep silent at that time, for it is an evil time.Amos 5:12-13
Hate evil, love good; establish justice in the gate. It may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. Amos 5:15
Although the people of God are laughed to scorn, God's promise was and is that His people, if they have a just and compassionate society, would see the nations take positive note and remark about the wisdom in the land. We might ask, could Israel influence the nations for good if she was not a just society? Can the Church salt the society at large if she is not a just society? However, if there is no structure of justice or no clear accountability in the Church, how can we be a just society? Satan can easily send wolves in sheep's clothing, and nothing can be done to stop him.
It was easy for the rich to exploit the poor with taxes and slave wages. It was easy to slander, and to cause the miscarriage of justice where the court structure was corrupt. Jeremiah says:
For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt, then I will cause you to dwell in this place...Jeremiah 7:5-7
Jeremiah makes it clear that being religious through Temple service would have no effect where justice was lacking! In contrast, the rule of the Messiah is one that will bring justice in the land.
...I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. Jeremiah 23:5
In the writings of the prophet Isaiah, we have the most passionate plea for God's people to be a society of justice. Isaiah constantly provides us with a contrast between Israel with her injustice, lack of standards and unholiness and the just society that the Messiah will bring. Let us remember that we are the Body of the Messiah. We are to reflect His ways and bring His will into manifestation among His people.
The Messiah is a judge; we read of His supernatural discernment.
...He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, nor decide by the hearing of His ears; but with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth....Isaiah 11:34
Believers are poorly taught; many do not realize that this passage is speaking of the Messiah as King?Judge in the sense that He renders just decisions where issues and conflicts arise among human beings. Is He only to do this directly, or also through His Body, His people?
The prophets greatly valued the judicial function. It was a central issue for them that people be trained in character and wisdom for judicial functioning. That is far from today's understanding. Although we bring the lost to Jesus, we fail to prepare a just, corporate body where these new believers can properly mature. In contrast, Isaiah writes these words of the Messiah:
A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth. He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands shall wait for His law. Isaiah 42:34
Due process and the courts of justice are meant to protect the righteous against the crimes and onslaughts of the wicked. The Law is the key to the meaning of justice. Do we not have many wolves in sheep's clothing in leadership and in the ranks of the Body of the Messiah who slander, extort, commit adultery and abuse the sheep? Yet where is there any means to deal with these people? Are we merely to pray until God zaps them? That will indeed eventually happen, but it is hardly merciful to them. A process of justice might bring them to their senses and to repentance. In the Hebrew Scriptures the meaning of rulership is connected to the dispensing of justice!
Isaiah's Great Justice Chapter
Isaiah's most passionate chapter on justice, in my view, is the magnificent fifty?ninth. The opening verses show that Israel was calling upon God for national deliverance. However, their sins had separated them from God and His deliverance. God, therefore, had hidden His face from them. What were these sins? We read:
For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue has muttered perversity. (v. 3)
Then, contrary to much Christian teaching that encourages believers to be silent and passive in the face of injustice (e.g., don't take up an offense for another; be loving to all sides in disputes; don't take sides; etc.), Isaiah says:
No one calls for justice, nor does any plead for truth. They trust in empty words and speak lies; they conceive evil and bring forth iniquity. (v 4)
In other words, God's people are to stand up against injustice! Our lack of teaching on this subject may be the reason why we seem so apathetic about the great issues in our land today. We are not to take a stand outside of biblical principles and processes. We are not to take up offenses in the sense of being bitter and vengeful for the sake of another. However, when the principles of justice are trampled, love demands that we stand for justice. That is the clear lesson from those who stood with the Jewish people in the Holocaust and from those who gave lame excuses not to do so.
Then Isaiah describes the plotting of the wicked, the deceit on their lips and their distance from justice. The lack of justice produces a terrible condition, as described in these words:
Therefore justice is far from us, nor does righteousness overtake us; we look for light, but there is darkness! For brightness, but we walk in blackness! We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes; we stumble at noonday as at twilight; we are as dead men in desolate places. We all growl like bears, and moan sadly like doves; we look for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us. For our transgressions are multiplied before You, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and as for our iniquities, we know them: in transgressing and lying against the LORD, and departing from our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood. (w. 9-13)
Then come these ringing words:
Justice Is turned back and righteousness stands afar off; for truth befallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. So truth fails, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. (w. 1-15)
These are judicial words. False testimony causes truth to fall in the street. Equity cannot enter, for equity is balanced and sound judgment is based on biblical wisdom. In a circumstance like that, the righteous are persecuted; "he who departs from evil makes himself a prey."
Again God makes it clear that He expects His people and leaders to stand for justice, to stand against gross injustice and to depart from those who practice such. Isaiah says:
... Then the LORD saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor.... (w. 15-16)
Verse 16 is usually applied to intercessory prayer: that we would pray for the spirit of revival, mercy and forgiveness for our land. That is a true, but secondary, application of the verse. If we have a heart for people, of course we want them to repent and to know God. We want to see His deliverance on this basis, not His judgment.
However, our religious tradition has blinded us to the primary meaning. God was amazed that there was no one to stand in the gap and call out for justice for those who were denied it! An intercessor is one who stands alongside the one who is denied justice and cries out for it. On this basis, those who stood with the Jewish people during the Holocaust were intercessors. Sometimes an intercessor goes to death or receives persecution when standing with the oppressed. The denial of due process and justice under the law is oppression!
Therefore, what will God do? He will bring justice in deed, but His judgment will be severe! If human instruments under God do not do justice, a more severs judgment will fall upon the land.
... Therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him; and His own righteousness, it sustained Him. For He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head; He put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak. According to their deeds, accordingly He will repay, fury to His adversaries, recompense to His enemies; the coastlands He willfully repay. (w.16-18)
It is a biblical principle: Unjust societies will eventually perish with severe judgment. What does this suggest for unjust congregations and movements that claim the Name of Jesus?
Clearly, when the means of due process and justice are denied, it is the responsibility of the believer t. separate from injustice and stand as an intercessor will those who are grossly and unjustly treated. I believe the doing so would greatly change the whole nature c today's church and would be a great beginning toward holiness. The Bible makes it clear that cases of gross sin: and error are to be brought before those who sit a judges. The understanding of this principle and its application would greatly diminish the ability of evil leader to destroy and of immoral people to find a home in the Body of the Messiah!
Justice in the Psalms
The Book of Psalms is filled with expressions that call for the establishment of justice. For some, the call for justice in these psalms is part of a sub?Christian Old Testament perspective. These psalms almost are cleansed of their import for these people, (similar to unbelieving scholars removing the miraculous in their interpretations of the Bible).
It is true that the Psalmist did not have our full perspective on spiritual warfare; he did not have the Name of Jesus and the power of the blood of the Lamb to defeat the forces of the enemy. Yet what of his heart to establish justice? Was it an accurate and trustworthy orientation? Believers have wrestled with the psalms that call for vengeance upon human enemies. So several comments are in order here.
I believe it is true that most of the calls for vengeance on enemies are to be applied to the demonic hosts that war against us. As Paul aptly taught, we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but principalities and powers in the heavenlies (II Cor. 10:4). However, is it not possible by the Spirit of God to also pronounce judgment upon man? Satan works through some kind of invitation from man. Yes, our attitude toward people in general is to be one of love and compassion, whereby we seek their redemption. However, is it not possible for a person to become so wicked that, after a certain point, a proper attitude is to pray that God's judgment may fall upon them? That certainly seems to be the case with the saints in the Book of Revelation toward the Antichrist and his leaders.
Secondly, I believe that the emphasis in the Book of Psalms on the king of Israel and the Messiah bringing justice to society has significant implications for leaders in the church now. Although this theme is pervasive in the Book of Psalms, it is truly amazing how little attention it receives. It is almost as if only those passages that are for comfort or are predictive of the Messiah's coming have any relevance!
To be in accord with God, who hates wickedness, must certainly be proper. To preach an easy forgiveness (although we all must remove personal vengeance from our hearts), where in our forgiving others there is no stand to call them to repent of gross sin, is wrong. The words of Psalm 5 are noteworthy.
For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness, nor shall evil dwell with You. The boastful shall not stand in Your sight; You hate all workers of iniquity. You shall destroy those who speak falsehood; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.... For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is destruction; their throat is an open tomb; they flatter with their tongue. Pronounce them guilty, O God! Let them fall by their own counsels; cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions, for they have rebelled against You. (w. 16; 9-10)
The pleas in Psalm 7:9?11 are powerful indeed.
Oh, let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end, but establish the just; for the righteous God tests the hearts and minds. My defense is of God, who saves the upright in heart. God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day.
The character of God and of the Messiah in administering justice is clear in Psalm 9:8.
He shall judge the world in righteousness, and He shall administer judgment for the peoples in uprightness.
Another call for justice in the face of man's treachery is powerfully brought forth in Psalm 12.
Help, LORD, for the godly man ceases! For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men. They speak idly everyone with his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak. May the LORD cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaks proud things.
This cry for vindication for the just and punishment for the wicked and the unrepentant is consistently part of the fabric of the Psalms.
Psalm 37 is one of the most magnificent psalms that deal with the theme of wickedness. The justice of God is again in view.
Depart from evil, and do good; and dwell forevermore. For the LORD loves justice, and does not forsake His saints.... The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom, and his tongue talks of justice. The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide. (w. 27-28; 30-31)
Since God is the righteous Judge, a people of godly character will seek to establish justice in the midst of the earth. Intense desire for God to judge the wicked is pervasive in Psalms 58 and 59. God assures the Psalmist that with the proper timing, He will fully bring judgment and justice (Ps. 75). His judgment will deliver the oppressed, who are under the burden of unjust authorities (Ps. 76). Psalm 82 is a stirring call for the judges or leaders in Israel to act with true justice in their courts. God is the Judge of the judges. We read:
God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods [judges]. How long will you judge unjustly, and show partiality to the wicked' Selah. Defend the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy; free them from the hand of the wicked. (vv. 14)
Psalm 84 is another stirring call for God to judge the proud and rebellious. We gain new insight into Psalm 119 if we read it as a guide not only for the individual, but also for leaders and judges among the people of God.
Psalm 141 calls upon God for safety from wicked schemes. However, it indicates that the reason schemes can be effective is that there are wicked leaders or judges. When righteous and just judges reign over the people of God, wickedness cannot be established. Thus we read, "Their judges are overthrown by the sides of the cliff" (v. 6a).
The wisdom of the Book of Proverbs give a full account of the differences between the wicked and the righteous in many areas of life. The Law of God provides the source of wisdom for rendering fair judgment.
It is amazing to see how far the
Body of the Messiah has departed from these sentiments! Have we not created
our own interpretive grid or approach to the Bible, in which this major
emphasis of the Hebrew Scriptures is hardly a part of our emphasis? Of
course, the reader will often hear that these teachings are from the Old
Testament and that the New Testament presents a different ideal. But does
it? Our next chapter shall address this question.
THE JUSTICE OF GOD IN THE NEW TESTAMENT Return to Contents
The words of the prophet Jeremiah are true for many segments of the American Church today.
Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem; see now and know; and seek in her open places if you can find a man, if there is anyone who executes judgment, who seeks the truth, and I will pardon her. Jeremiah 5:1
Many in the Body of believers do not believe that today's church is to be a just society, with the processes and structure to secure justice. Love has been viewed as the opposite of justice rather than as the motive to seek justice. Some think that justice is a proper concern of our society at large, and even that the church is to seek to influence society to justice. However, that the church itself is to be a just society is a wholly new thought for many!
The Background of New Testament Teaching
The New Testament assumes the teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures as the background for its true understanding. However, the structure for obtaining justice in New Testament days was quite different than in the days of Israel's kings. One important difference was that Israel did not have her independence, but was kept by force within the commonwealth of the Roman Empire. The ultimate jurisdiction for many justice issues was the Roman court. That especially included cases where the penalty was capital punishment. However, Jewish courts still functioned within the land of Israel. The Romans were fully willing to allow these courts to handle many types of cases. Just where the jurisdiction of the Jewish courts ended and where Roman courts were mandated is a matter of some debate. It is especially debated with regard to the stoning of Stephen, the trials of Paul and specifically in the crucifixion of Jesus.
It is plain that at the time of Jesus, the highest Jewish court of appeal was the Sanhedrin. We do not read of such a body in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the high priest had a major judicial role. The Sanhedrin was made up of leading elders from different religious parties in Judaism (Sadducees and Pharisees). The Sanhedrin, as the supreme court, could decide to hear a case or to not receive an appeal. If they decided not to hear an appeal, the decision of the lower court would hold.
What, however, were the lower courts? It would appear that, in the inter-testament period, the institution of the elders of the gate was replaced by the elders of the synagogue. Therefore, the synagogue functioned injudicial matters, especially on religious questions. More serious questions still could be heard by leading elders of a city. That the synagogue was ruled by men who were called elders clearly indicates their judicial function.
Despite all of the debate concerning which religious party Jesus was the closest to (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and Zealots), it is clear to me that Jesus was closest to the viewpoint of the Pharisees. Hence, in Matthew 23, Jesus taught that the scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. People were to follow their decisions. Jesus was not teaching that His disciples had to believe in all manner of pharisaic doctrine and religious practice. His example is clearly at variance with that idea. Rather, He recognized that their legitimate function was to serve as the judges in the courts throughout most of the land of Israel. They performed the function of judgment that was carried out by the elders of Israel whom Moses had appointed. Citizenship in Israel required following the law of the land and the decisions of the courts where such was not contrary to the revealed Word of God. I believe that by this time, the courts of Israel were mostly in the hands of the Pharisees. However, the high court was composed of mostly Sadducees, with pharisaic representatives. In ancient Israel, appeal went from judges who were not Levites, to the high court which was Levitical!
The Parallel for the New Testament Church
Jesus' instruction is similar to how we would instruct believers today to be good citizens in whatever land they reside. It includes obeying the laws of the land and the decisions of the courts where they are not contrary to Scripture. Paul enjoins the same for Christians in the Roman structure (Rom. 13). One must disobey where the law is against Scripture.
Jesus Establishes a New Society
However, from Matthew 16 it becomes clear that Yeshua is forming His own society or congregation (kahilah). Kahilah is a term that can refer to a synagogue. This congregation (which will be made up of many congregations) is to be built upon the confession of the fact that Yeshua is Messiah and Lord. This society will be a righteous remnant in the midst of Israel and eventually in all of the nations of the world.
The announcement of the Kingdom of God in Jesus' preaching prepares us for this society. The Kingdom of God theme, as expressed in the prophets, looked forward to an ideal age in which the nations will come to the knowledge of God and peace and prosperity will be fully manifested. Jesus' announcement brought a new stage of the Kingdom of God where the realities of the age to come broke into this age. The Kingdom came in Jesus, but it has not yet come in fullness. One key manifestation of the Kingdom of God will be that God's Law and justice will be established in the earth. So in this stage of partial fulfillment of the promise of the Kingdom, in this transitional age, the manifestation of justice and righteousness is to be the society that Jesus established on the basis of Peter's confession, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (see Matthew 16:16).
This gives us a key for understanding the relationship between the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. The Hebrew Scriptures present us with a limited manifestation of the Kingdom of God. In the Hebrew Scriptures the power of the Holy Spirit was not available to all. Furthermore, the hope of the prophets, that all nations would come to the knowledge of God, was rarely demonstrated. In the New Covenant, the Kingdom is extended to the nations, end dew and Gentile come under the rule of Jesus. It is a stage of Kingdom manifestation that looks forward to the coming of the Kingdom in fullness, even the Age to Come.
The Kingdom in this transitional age is seen in the life of believing families, in the lives of individuals, in all the areas of life they touch and especially in the life of the Church. The Church, or congregation of Yeshua, does not wield the sword, and her courts do not have the power of corporal punishments or imprisonments. However, the Body of believers is to be a just society that can require repentance, reconciliation, restitution and restoration, or ultimately disfellowshipping, as its means of maintaining itself as a just society.
The chapters of Matthew 16, 18 and 21 provide us with clear teaching on the nature of this new society, the way it is to be governed, the principles of due process by which justice will be established in it and the fact that the rule of the elders of this society is to take precedence over both the Sanhedrin and the elders in Israel who do not follow Yeshua the Messiah.
The Meaning of Binding and Loosing (Matt. 16, 18)
Matthew 16:16 records Peter's great confession of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. This confession is the basis, or foundation, of the congregation that Jesus will build. Jesus then goes on to say:
...I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (vv. 18-19)
Many have taken this passage as a foundation for our authority in prayer, and rightly so. However, I do not believe that that is the primary meaning of the passage. The keys of the Kingdom had a specific meaning within Judaism at the time, as reflected in the Talmud. The keys were understood to be the delegated authority for judicial decisions in Israel, the covenant nation. The members of the Sanhedrin, as the highest court in Israel, understood themselves to possess the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. The keys were understood to include the right to permit some activities and to forbid other activities. To bind is to forbid, to loose is to permit. After the fall of Jerusalem and the disbanding of the Sanhedrin, the leading rabbis understood themselves to have this authority. This situation is reflected in the Talmud as well. (The Talmud is a compendium of Jewish law, debate, story and legend. It was put into a written format from the third to the sixth centuries.)
Chapters 16, 18 and 21 of Matthew record the incidents whereby our Lord transferred spiritual authority from the Sanhedrin to the apostles. Matters governing the behavior of believers were ultimately in the hands of the apostles. Jesus did leave realms of civil authority in the hands of both the Pharisees and the Roman authorities. However, the higher authority of the apostles included the areas of correct biblical doctrine and behavior. Following the dictates of either the rabbis or the Roman authorities had to be within the boundaries of gospel standards. Hence Peter's famous response to the illegitimate exercise of authority:
"We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).
Matthew 16 establishes this new authority of the apostles through Peter as representative and head of the apostolic band. Matthew 18 provides us with another installment in the process of transferring authority. Verse 15 begins by noting the proper procedure for dealing with a brother who has sinned. The one who is sinned against is to go to that brother and seek to restore him, thus gaining him back. If the brother who sinned will not hear, the other is to bring two or three brothers to stand as witnesses to the confrontation. The passage in Matthew quotes from Deuteronomy 17:6: "By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established" (Matt. 18:16).
This quote immediately places us in a context where judges render a decision. A decision of guilt should be based on the clear and solid foundation of credible witnesses. These witnesses are to urge the brother to repent. Following such a procedure shows us that the sin is serious. If the brother repents at this stage, no judicial action is necessary. We note, however, that certain kinds of sins disqualify persons from leadership positions in the Body of the Messiah, at least for a time. In these cases, there is still a need to bring out the truth so that the brother will step down from leadership for restoration, even if sin is acknowledged and a profession of turning from it is made.
If there is no success at the second stage, the witnesses tell the congregation through the leadership. That gives the congregation an opportunity to plead with the brother or sister, that a response of repentance might come about. However, if even the congregation cannot win him or her to repentance, then we read, "Let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector" (Matt. 18:17). This pronouncement implies several thoughts. First, it would be the elders of the congregation who sit in judge meet, who would make the final pronouncement. That was the case of the elders at the gate in ancient times, the elders of the synagogue and by implication the elders of the congregation of Jesus. The twelve disciples of Jesus are viewed as having ultimate eldership over the Church. The original band of apostles is the ultimate eldership authority for all believers through the New Testament Scriptures. Paul and the other apostles later appointed other elders who would serve as authorities in various congregations throughout the world. These leaders also would be called upon to exercise an authority according to what is written here.
The penalty enjoined in Matthew is that the person under discipline be viewed as an unbeliever, a heathen and a tax collector. These are people in need of redemption! If a person cannot repent of significant sin and be reconciled to brothers and sisters, we are not to accept them as members of the congregation. Only God knows the heart, but our response should follow the evidence.
I believe that the judicial procedures of those times made it clear that the elders were to bring forth the final judgment, after all the steps have been taken, and to say, "With regard to the gospel, John Doe is now to be considered among us as an unbeliever, and one who is even especially in need of redemption."
In the epistles we are given further instruction on how to respond to such a person, that the Name of Jesus not be dishonored.
In this context Jesus again says:
Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will toe loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask it win be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them. Matthew 18:18-20
The decision of disfellowshipping enjoined in this passage is connected to the judicial function of binding and loosing. It is one type of binding and loosing. There are others. In Acts 15 the Gentiles were loosed from the requirement of being Jews. Disfellowshipping binds the individual from calling himself a believer in the midst of God's congregation. It also binds us to not have fellowship with him as if he were a brother. That is a clear implication of his being as a heathen or tax collector. This concept is also made explicit in the epistles of Paul.
Two or three judges in the Name of Jesus can make such a decision. Jesus is in the midst of such a court and backs the decisions done in His Name and will. Even so, the Talmud makes it clear that three judges form a proper judicial court (a Bet Din). This passage also contains implications for prayer in the "will of God." However, the context is in asking God to back the judicial decisions of the leadership of the congregation of Yeshua.
Kingdom Authority Has Been Transferred
The parable in Matthew 21:33-46 (which is found in the other synoptic Gospels as well) brings out the truth that the authority of the Kingdom of God on earth has been transferred to the apostles. This truth is also implied in Matthew 16 and 18. However, the authority transfer is explicit in this passage.
The parable of the landowner is one of the few allegories in the New Testament. We are presented with a landowner who put his vineyard under a group of vinedresser stewards. When the landowner sought to collect the fruit of the vineyard, the vinedresser stewards beat his servants and killed one. Other servants were sent and treated the same way. Finally the son of the landowner was sent, but they even killed the son. A question is then asked: What will the owner of the vineyard do to these unfaithful stewards when he comes? The points of reference are clear. Israel, the people of God, is the vineyard of God. The religious leaders are the stewards. They have a historic heritage of mistreating and even killing the prophets of God. Finally, they seek to destroy the Son of the Owner of the vineyard. The Son of God the Father is Jesus.
The people rightly answer the question, that the owner will destroy those wicked men and give his vineyard to other vinedressers. For our purposes, verse 43 Is Important. Jesus said:
Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.
This verse is sometimes wrongly understood to be a prophecy of the Church replacing Israel. However, the vineyard is Israel and all who are grafted into the olive tree. It is not a replacement of Israel that is in view, but a replacement of the ruling elite. The word "nation" in Greek can have broad meanings, referring to a tribe or societal group as well as to a concept related more to our modern nation?states. Obviously Jesus is speaking here of an authority transfer. We read:
Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet. (w. 4546).
This transfer of authority is from the chief priests and Pharisees to the apostles. The people did not hear Jesus teaching a replacement of Israel, but of leadership. It is more clear in the version of Luke 20, where the words are, "He will come and destroy those vinedressers and give the vineyard to others" (v. 16).
The Apostles Demonstrate Their Authority to Bind and Loose
In Acts 15 we see the effect of the transfer of authority as the apostles and elders at Jerusalem exercise the authority to bind and loose. The issue here is the prerequisites for fellowship to be placed upon Gentiles. The decision in Acts 15 does not loose Jews from Jewish calling. It does, however, loose Gentiles from the requirements of Jewish calling. They are still bound with regard to not eating blood (a standard that began with Noah, which includes not eating what is strangled), and abstaining from meat offered to idols and from immorality (which implies all of God's basic ethical standards of right and wrong). The Jerusalem council acts as the high court for all believers in this major decision.
On the other hand, we see no Roman?type hierarchy established by the apostles. Apparently they believed that able leaders could be called together again if necessary. The present divisions in the church today make doing that difficult. The result of the transfer of authority is also seen in the fact that ordinary decisions of discipline are vested in local elderships, with the input of apostolic leadership.
The Appointing of Elders
The original apostles appointed elders to carry on the functions of teaching the Word, of ordering the congregation in spreading the gospel and in maintaining discipline in the life of the congregation. The Book of Acts shows Paul leaving his congregations in the hands of a plurality of elders in city after city (Acts 14:23). They were given the authority to rule and by implication to judge and to bind and loose.
Timothy was given the authority under Paul to appoint elders. The instructions given to him are crucial in understanding the role of elders and the standards for choosing them. Titus was given similar instructions in the letter written to him (chapter 1). We shall emphasize the instructions in First Timothy 3. I believe the terms "elder" and "bishop" (overseer) describe the same function. However, this book was not written to settle the question of God's type of government structure. Most of what we say can be applied to different structures of government. (The booklet, Models of Accountability, addresses this question of government structure.)
Standards for Elders
I believe that First Timothy 3:1-13 is one of the most "rationalized away" chapters in the Bible. The standards of this chapter are not impossible to meet. Yet the extent to which these standards are not enforced in the Church today is a little short of amazing.
To desire to be an overseer is a good thing if the motive is to more fully serve the Kingdom of God. Love should be the basis of desiring to see an increase in our usefulness in the Kingdom.
An overseer must be the husband of one wife. I believe this standard probably implies that a divorce and remarriage after coming to know Jesus is not an option for one in leadership. It disqualifies one from leadership. It certainly means that anyone who has been divorced and remarried while claiming to be a believer, and who was without biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage, cannot be an overseer in the Body of believers. On this point alone we see an extraordinary departure from historic standards in the American Church today. If the personality is charismatic (which we often dub as anointed!), the backslidden leader needs only to bide his time until being accepted again as a leader by a large segment of the Body. Many will say, "Who are we to judge?" That makes a mockery of the standards apostolically enjoined.
Beyond his marriage, we read a list of other character traits required for one to be recognized as an elder:
...temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous ... not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. I Timothy 3:2-3, 6-7
The next standard is extremely important. We read:
...one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?). I Timothy 3:4-5
This verse clearly shows that successful family headship is the key prerequisite for eldership. Elder rule is given to men who have proven their ability in family life. There may be exceptions to the rule, but that is the rule! In addition, I believe that gift ministers of Ephesians 4 (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) are called to fulfill eldership, or at least deacon standards.
Family headship is the proving ground because of what must be proven. In the family, a man proves his ability to discipline, to give delegated authority to his wife and to act as judicial authority in the home. If he does these things well, he will have a well?ruled family. His judicial function will be put to the test intensely in handling disputes among his children. Children look to the parents and ultimately to the father for fair judgment in times of strife. The parents must teach the principles of love, repentance, forgiveness and restitution through family experiences. The family thus becomes a peaceable kingdom.
Successful biblical rulership in the family, with the rest of the prerequisites fulfilled, is the full and adequate preparation for recognizing eldership. If believers would demand that elders have a good marriage and a rightly ordered family life, the quality of godliness in the Body of the Messiah would improve greatly.
Eldership and Judicial Functioning
The designations of "elder" and "overseer" assume the judicial functions of the leaders of the congregations since the background of their use is the synagogue and its rulers. To the elders is given the responsibility of ensuring that discipline takes place in a context where the gospel is being spread. True conversions provide a people willing to be disciple! In this context, the elders are to enforce the basic standards of the Word for membership and the more rigorous standards for leaders.
In order to enforce these standards, the elders must be able to see that the standards of due process in Matthew 18 are followed. In addition, no leader is to ever be part of a structure of government where he is not truly accountable and thus subject to biblical discipline. What could be more apparent than the fact that when a leader sins in a way where he no longer fulfills the standards of First Timothy 3, he needs to step down or be removed? How far today's practice is from these standards! In an "anything goes" manner, many establish themselves as leaders simply by hanging up a shingle. There is no endorsement from other leaders or testimony that these people fulfill biblical standards! New Testament leaders were not self?appointed. Many today set up structures where they cannot be removed if they fall into sin!
Under a misapplication of the word "forgiveness," we allow many people to continue in leadership ministries who do not fulfill biblical standards! How can we influence society toward righteousness when such righteousness is seriously lacking in the Body of believers?
The Commandment to Establish Courts
First Corinthians 5 and 6 are very important chapters in clarifying the judicial function of elders. In these chapters we are given an example of how to apply standards of righteousness in a situation of gross sin. We also are provided with a list of capital offenses that require disfellowshipping, as well as a description of what that entails. In addition, there is an injunction to establish a court to settle disputes between believers. If there is true repentance, Second Corinthians makes it clear that the erring brother is to be fully received back.
In First Corinthians 5:1-9 we are told of a man in the fellowship who was in an incestuous relationship with his father's wife (probably a stepmother). That relationship is clearly forbidden in Leviticus 18. This issue, by the way, shows Paul's affirmation of the moral standards of the Torah for all his congregations. Paul, as an apostle, notes his judicial authority in this case in verse 3. The congregation is to gather together in the power of the Name of Jesus to officially disfellowship this person and to...
...deliver such a one to Satan
for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day
Lord Jesus. (v. 5)
Paul's instruction is in line with Matthew 18, where Jesus puts the one who sinned in the midst of his judges when the decision of disfellowshipping is made. Furthermore, the decision to disfellowship binds all congregants from fellowshipping with the person who professes to be a believer but who lives in gross sin. The purpose of this severe discipline is to shock the person into sensibility and repentance. It also protects the flock against falsely professing people, or wolves. There is protection in the covering of the Body of Believers. Satan might then seek to destroy the flesh with sickness. Yet even that could lead to repentance instead of to both spiritual and physical destruction.
If a person calls himself a believer but continues in gross sin, he undercuts the honor of the Name of Jesus. Every believer is an ambassador in His Name. The Name of God is holy; all who name His Name as believers are to reflect that holiness. If the prophet proclaimed that God's name was profaned among the Gentiles because of Israel, how much more does the rebuke apply to the Church!
The specific instructions given here by Paul lead to general instructions concerning the nature of discipline. We are told that the Body is to purge out the old leaven, a symbol of corruption and evil. The leaven of malice and wickedness must not be allowed to remain in the fellowship of the saints. Evil reports and slander destroy trust and the unity of community.
That does not mean we are not to have any contact with unbelievers. How then would the gospel be spread? The issue is the honor of the Name of Jesus and the purity of the fellowship of the saints. Discipline is enjoined in situations of gross deception, where a person claims to be a believer while living in gross sin. It is a clear principle of the gospel. It is totally unnecessary for any truly born again believer to live in gross sin. No excuse for immaturity or process of growth is allowed where gross sin is concerned. Any true conversion is an immediate turning from gross sin. Paul makes this principle explicit in the following teaching:
I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner?not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside' Do you not judge those who are inside! But those who are outside God judges. Therefore, "put away from yourselves that wicked person." I Corinthians 5:9-13
The last verse is a quote from Deuteronomy 13. God requires a basic purity to be maintained in His covenant community. Paul's teaching here is foundational. Against all of the "sloppy agape" in today's church, which says we are not to judge (a misunderstanding of the command in Matthew not to have a condemning attitude), Paul commands us to judge those inside. We can relate to all kinds of sinners in outreach. However, only those whose lives manifest basic, biblical moral standards may be accepted as members of the fellowship of the saints.
Disfellowshipping is the ultimate judicial sanction in the Body of the Messiah. The Body is not to be a civil government exacting a death penalty. However, the list of gross sins that require disfellowshipping parallel the sins in the Torah that required death or exile from Israel. That we are not to eat with such a person reflects the fact that eating together in the Jewish world has the connotation of brotherly acceptance.
We must ask several questions from this passage. First, does today's church world follow these instructions? The answer in many quarters is definitely not! Are Christians trained to maintain legitimately enjoined discipline and to avoid those who are disfellowshipped? A humanistic mercy often leads believers to reject the claims of discipline, to the great injury of not only the person under discipline, but also the Body of the Messiah. When standards of discipline are followed, the maximum potential for repentance and salvation is released. It Is a clear standard of the New Testament; that which required capital punishment in the Hebrew Scriptures requires disfellowshipping in the New Testament.
Gross doctrinal error is presented as another grounds for disfellowshipping. It is clear from Deuteronomy 13 where the people are warned against the false prophet who would call them to follow other gods. It is also plain in Galatians 1, which concerns any person who would preach another gospel. Such a person is to be placed under a curse or, by obvious implication, disfellowshipped.
Does Today's Church Follow These Instructions'
One of the strange facts of our contemporary church life is that persons in gross sin and doctrinal error are not disciplined. Leaders who become disqualified, according to standards in First Timothy 3, are not removed. Yet those who are not in gross doctrinal and moral error, according to biblical standards, are slandered and shunned for holding to differing doctrinal interpretations on nonessential matters. Many are terribly slandered and shunned without the due process of Matthew 18.
Church leaders are soft on extreme sin and error while other leaders are harsh and critical where there is no serious sin and error at all. Many times the person who is accused does not even believe the view of which he is accused. Perhaps he used a phrase or a biblical term that was associated with a false interpretation in the mind of the critic. Without any due process, the person is blasted from the housetops with slanderous accusations. It is the accuser who is in gross sin; for slander and character assassination is a sin that is to be punished by disfellowshipping! May God help us. An adulterer is received while he calls upon believers to separate from others, on the grounds that their views on the timing of the rapture and the Great Tribulation are wrong! Such a scenario is not hypothetical; it has really happened. Amazingly, many follow his call!
Another fact of contemporary church life concerns those who seek to follow these Scriptures. It is obvious that if one congregation legitimately disciplines, with due process, its decision should be upheld and followed by other congregations. However, there is competition in the land of the free. Many leaders want more bodies in their congregations, even if growth is through lateral transfer and not from evangelism. Hence the one under discipline usually can find a congregation where the leader will receive his slanders and lies against the congregation that disciplined him. Will this leader seek to talk to the leaders of the other congregations and get the facts? Perhaps he holds to a different theology of the last days. Besides, any group that disciplines must be in the Shepherding error." At least, that is the assumption of the First Church of Anarchy. And yet, the pastor of the First Church of Anarchy will be the first to blast the group that believes in discipline as holding to false doctrine. No due process is deemed necessary before such slander is spread.
If we do not seek to uphold the decisions of congregational elders as the judiciary of the courts of the Church, to uphold discipline in an intercongregational way, all of the instructions of Jesus and Paul in this area are of no effect.
It is a principle of human behavior that when we do not enforce biblical, moral standards, we fall into furthering our own legalistic standards! (The issue of inter-congregational relations with regard to upholding discipline will be dealt with in Chapter V. The reader already has some sense of my convictions from what has been said here.) The reformers stated that God's ideal was a church that would require unity in essentials, liberty in nonessentials and in all things a motive of love. We have hardly followed this wonderful biblical ideal. What I am laying out may seem new to some; however, it is the historic position of evangelical Protestantism!
Courts to Settle Disputes
In chapter 6 of First Corinthians, we see Paul amazed that believers were going before pagans in the Roman courts to settle their disputes. Yet the saints will be the judiciary in the world to come. It is time for us to prepare by picking from our midst those who are most qualified to judge and mediate disputes.
If we will judge angels, should we not even appoint those who are least esteemed among us to judge disputes, rather than to go to the courts of the world? For believers to fight in the courts of the world discredits the gospel and shows that we are not a community of redeemed and reconciled human beings. It is the opposite of Kingdom manifestation. Elders are given the function to judge cases that arise. Paul says with great irony:
...Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? I Corinthians 6:5
It is better to be defrauded than to discredit the gospel. Surely, however, if we have true biblical elders, they could sit in judgment and weigh the evidence with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. In making judgment, we are to keep in mind that...
...the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God...Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,? nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the Kingdom of God. I Corinthians 6:9?10
My primary reason for dealing with these Scriptures is to present the biblical truth that we are to establish courts in the Church to discipline gross sin and doctrinal error and to settle disputes between believers. The eldership courts also remove leaders who become disqualified and who do not voluntarily step down.
New believers are like children in spiritual maturity. Thus there will always be a need for this function, to settle disputes. The verse in First Corinthians does not indicate that a believer should not go to court against an unbeliever. He may need to do so to protect society from a criminal. But his motive should not be revenge. A disfellowshipped person could be taken to court as an unbeliever in some cases. However, our concern for furthering the Kingdom must always take precedence over any concern for personal Justice.
The first century church took these passages seriously. By the end of the century, the courts of the Church were known for their standards of fairness and justice. Voluntarily, unbelievers sought to submit their disputes to the courts of the Church rather than to the corrupt Roman courts.
The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century
If we look at the church of the nineteenth century, we see a church experiencing periodic revivals in a structure that sought to maintain basic standards with biblically derived principles of due process through a form of church courts. It was true of the Puritan movements of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It was true of Methodists, Baptists, Brethren, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Free Church denominations, Holiness denominations and the early Pentecostal denominations that arose in the twentieth century. That does not mean they were perfect in this area. There were times when they fell short. However, there was a general consensus on those issues of discipline.
What has happened? Where are the courts of the Church at the end of the twentieth century? In our apostatized denominations, the courts exist mostly on paper. Because many historic denominations gave up their doctrinal and moral standards between 1900 and 1960, few standards are left to enforce. Other denominations no longer enforce standards like they used to (there are exceptions). Many new Christian movements believe that enforcing standards compromises freedom in the Spirit. The very concept of courts of the Church would seem restrictive and deadening to the leaders of the First Charismatic Church of Anarchy. Thank God for those denominations and movements that are exceptions to this attitude.
We live in a world where anyone can appoint himself a leader. They rationalize that it is God who appoints; not man. It is true that God appoints. However, it is also important that mature leaders, who fulfill the standards of First Timothy 3, endorse the new leaders as also fulfilling such standards. It is important that every leader be truly accountable and removable by others, according to clearly publicized processes.
A planter of a new work should be officially accountable to outside elders. How else can the standards of these chapters and the call for enforcing standards take place? Yes, God Himself will judge. However, to leave judgment only to Him and to not enforce standards according to biblical injunctions is to invite a more severe judgment. That is not mercy, but deception. "Recognize those who labor among you" the Scriptures enjoin (I Thess. 5:12). We know that the apostolic leaders gave letters to accredit those who traveled in ministry. To "recognize those who labor" means that we have at least ascertained their fulfilling of biblical standards for leadership and that they are truly accountable. Such accountability clearly was present in the church at the end of the first century. Real accountability means submission to those who can remove disqualified leaders and who can discipline gross sin and error.
Who Should We Accept in Leadership?
Miracles alone do not attest to the identity of a servant of God. The faith of those who were ministered to can be the reason for the miracle. There are character standards for members and leaders! Because we do not act according to these biblical standards today, Satan has many plants in the midst of the church.
The education of believers in these
principles is a pressing necessity. This need is shown when a group disciplines
and removes a leader and fans among the Christian public and other movements
quickly endorse that fallen leader and make him part of themselves. "Tell
it not in Gath" the prophet Micah proclaims (1:10). The Name of God is
blasphemed among the nations (as was said of ancient Israel) because of
us. May God grant us repentance that we might fully seek to follow His
Relating Love, Justice and Mercy Return to Contents
Because God loves us and is still just, we have a dilemma. How can God be accounted just by His own standards, and yet forgive and bless? The answer is in the cross. The full penalty of justice was paid on the cross, and because we are in Him, we are accounted as having paid the price justice demands. To be accounted righteous, we must, by His power, repent of our sins. True repentance always includes restitution wherever it is possible. We do not deserve this grace, yet in mercy God offers it. He can offer it only because the cross satisfies His standards of justice.
The previous paragraph is a summary of the way of salvation through Jesus, as found in Romans chapters 5 and 6. A truly born again person desires to live righteously and is empowered by the Holy Spirit to turn from gross sin. After turning from such sin there is a lifetime of growth into perfection. Leaders are not perfect, but they have achieved a level of success in sanctification and fruit?bearing that causes others to look to them for discipline.
When a believer sins by lying, stealing, slandering or teaching false doctrine, that believer must repent. If repentance is true, the one who stole returns the stolen goods, plus extra compensation, according to scriptural standards. Because of the cross, and of our sincere repentance and restitution, God does not hold us eternally accountable for our violation. Our sin is under the blood. However, it is not under the blood if there is no repentance. There is no real repentance if there is no restitution. The slanderer must do all in his power to restore the reputation of the individual or of the group slandered. The one who taught false doctrine seeks to inform all who were mistaught of what was false so that any wrong influence is nullified.
This process demonstrates how mercy, love and justice come together in the plan of God. The prophets understood it. If God indulged those who "ripped off" the poor, it would not be merciful, but grossly unloving toward the victims! When Zacchaeus repented, he said, "Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor, and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore it fourfold." Jesus responded, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham." (See Luke 19:1?10.) What if Zacchaeus had said, "Look, Lord, I thank you that you are loving and forgiving and even though I have stolen and been bad, I now receive your love"? I am certain that Jesus would not have responded positively. However, in today's church world, one group could require someone to repent and make restitution while another group could respond that such requirement was harsh and judgmental, that the situation was under the blood. Only sincere repentance puts sin under the blood, and there is no sincere repentance without truly desiring to make restitution.
Yes, God longs for us to receive His mercy, but He cannot provide it in such a way as to violate His justice. He longs to apply the cleansing blood of Jesus, but He can apply it only to the truly repentant. That is the nature of God's mercy, love and justice. It is a love so deep that He sent Jesus to die for us. It is justice so true that it required the death of Jesus for our sins and our repentance to receive it. Thus God is "just and the Justifier" of those who are in Jesus
Those who understand God's mercy and love to be indulgence toward those who are in sin cause unrighteousness to prevail in the Body of the Messiah and demean the work of the cross. They have a humanistic concept of mercy, not a biblical one!
When a person truly repents and seeks to make restitution, the offended party may not only forgive so as to restore the relationship, but also forgive the debt for which restitution is to be made. That is a free gift. However, he is not free to forgive the debt for another or to release from restitution if doing so would demean the righteousness of God. At times it is more loving to require restitution, so that moral fiber might be built in the offender. With regard to monetary compensation, each circumstance should be considered. A person who habitually steals may need the discipline of restitution to grow. In cases of gross slander, the fabric of community is torn. To restore trust and love in a community, restitution is almost always necessary. So the offended party should not be required to forego restitution; such a debt cancellation is a free gift.
It is the responsibility of the elders in a local congregation, and
of leading figures beyond the local scene in inter-congregational matters,
to see that gross sin and error is dealt with and that restitution is made.
Biblical standards of due process and evidence must be followed. Due process
is interwoven into the whole context of the Scriptures and is a central
part of biblical justice.
A Wrong Concept of Forgiveness Return to Contents
A wrong understanding of forgiveness has been major cause of the destruction of justice in the Body the Messiah. Forgiveness basically means to release another from further indebtedness. When a person says, "I was wrong, will you forgive me?" the example of Jesus requires us to forgive. This forgiveness may require that restitution be made by the offending party to prove real repentance (the fruits of repentance). To say "I'm sorry" can be a cheap way for a person to continue in sin and be indulged by others. The manipulator will take full advantage of that. On the other hand, if the person is truly repentant and the issue is not one of a sin pattern, the offended party may release him from restitution. In either case, the motive of the offended party should be love.
The court of elders, however, should decide what is just and declare it. Then the offended party may make a choice. "Yes, I forgive you, but I do expect that, if you are sincere, you will replace the car you took without permission and totaled in an accident because you were drinking." Or, "Yes, I forgive you, and because I know you are sincere and this is not a pattern, I want to release you from any responsibility to make restitution." The court should advise when release from restitution is detrimental to the person who sinned and to the honor of the Name of God. Releasing a person, who unbiblically divorced and remarried, from child support is not right for either the children, the spouse or the one who divorced.
The biblical principle of forgiveness requires us to give up personal hurt and the desire for revenge. We must be free from desiring the other person to be hurt because we were hurt. The motive of personal revenge knows no limits. The offended party often is hurt beyond the normal reaction to the offense. That proves the offense tapped into the stored?up bitterness of a life of real or imagined offenses. No repentance or restitution can ever be adequate for such a one. In the Middle East, a single killing means that the offended one will take revenge and wipe out a whole clan. Hatred can be a way of life.
The principle of forgiveness requires us to seek to receive the ability that comes from God so we can fully restore our fellowship with the one who did wrong to us. Our identification with the cross is a key to receiving the power to forgive. Forgiveness does not require that we trust; trust is something to be given to the trustworthy. Trustworthiness is proven over time. Forgiveness does require that we love and fellowship again, and that we take small steps of trust to allow trust to be built.
How often must we give such forgiveness? Jesus says seventy times seven (Matt. 18:22). In other words, the truly repentant brother or sister is to be received back again and again without limit. As a counselor who has worked with severely troubled people, psychotics, schizophrenics, etc., I have seen that being received is often necessary as part of their healing. They will sin again and again until the love and grace of God finally breaks through and delivers them. All of that has to do with what I call forgiveness as a transaction.
However, what if the person does not repent and has no desire to make restitution? Must we forgive anyway and act like nothing happened? I have three answers to this question. No! No! No! If the person has sinned greatly, a loving brother must hold him accountable. To let one "off the hook" is to encourage him in further sin. We are responsible for correcting a brother or sister in sin (Gal. 6: lff) and to follow the due process of Matthew 18 if the sin is serious enough to require discipline. Truly, love does cover a multitude of sins in the ordinary course of life where we say the inappropriate thing or do something short of perfect love, etc. However, in matters of gross sin, for love's sake we must not let the brother "off the hook." The principle of forgiveness does not mean "business as usual." It may require that believers, who know of a due process decision of disfellowshipping, separate from the disciplined person. Forgiveness, as a transaction between the sinner and the one grossly sinned against, cannot take place unless there is repentance. Acting in love does not mean we are called to act friendly (in a "business as usual" way), as if there is nothing wrong.
Some will be shocked to read this. It goes against what has recently become popular Christian teaching. The old humanistic indulgence returns under the guise of "You must forgive me." Some unbelievers, like con artists, have claimed to be believers in order to literally "rip off" the saints, secure in the fact that the saints must forgive and take no action. Is that really so? The saints can disfellowship the rogue and take him to court so that society is protected.
Don't we have to forgive? I believe there is another meaning to forgiveness which is different from the transactional meaning. This forgiveness does not restore our fellowship with the sinning brother. However, it puts our hearts right.' When we say "I forgive" in this sense, we mean the following:
1. I free myself by the power of God from all bitterness, hate and vengeful motives toward the brother. I receive this ability through the meaning of the cross of Jesus.
2. I release the offender to God so that it is no longer a matter of my mental preoccupation and a hindrance to my joy in God. If the person will not be accountable to due process in the church, or due process is impossible because of the substandard situation of the church, I need not have my life ruined by another's sin.
3. I receive love and compassion for the offender. My heart and prayer for the offender is for him to be fully redeemed or restored. Therefore, in compassion, I desire that the person come to true repentance.
4. Because my heart is loving, if the person repents, I will fully receive him back in the transaction of forgiveness.
This definition is a different but related meaning of forgiveness. It is forgiveness as an attitude of love and compassion toward the offender.
However, we must not be accomplices by encouraging persons to sin. Some teach a forgiveness that would do just that and allow the one in sin to minimize the seriousness of sin. Casting out the unrepentant sinner in First Corinthians 5 had the effect of awakening him to the seriousness of his condition. It brought real repentance. Indulgence through the wrong concept of forgiveness can be a factor in the destruction of another.
Forgiveness in either sense is not easy. A wife whose husband had fallen into adultery must overcome great personal hurt to receive compassion. Even when he repents, the transaction of forgiveness is not easy. This forgiveness means that the past offense would no longer be brought up in times of conflict.
Forgiveness does not mean that we give up our quest for a justice motivated
by love and for the good of all.