Lev 16-18; 1 Cor 4-5; Psalm 86
Our texts from the Old and New Testament coincide to some degree today – certainly with regard to what for some is a ‘red line issue’ – that of sexual immorality within the church.
Firstly however we note that our first chapter from Leviticus speaks of the significant sacrifice of the atonement – ‘a shadow of the things that are to come’, in the one who offers himself as the atoning sacrifice for sin. This must always contextualise any conversation which begins to dare to call itself Christian – and what it means to be Christian is at stake here in more ways than one.
For many in the church, one’s proclamations about sexual relations (or to be more precise Some sexual relations) have become a Shibboleth – a signifier of The True Church. Where do you stand? Are you ‘one of us’? It is interesting for a moment to consider the story of the Shibboleth, that if it was mis-pronounced, one killed the person as being ‘an outsider’ – except the ‘outsider’ was in reality another member of the household of God. This ‘judgement’ was actually an outward revelation of the depth of the divisions amongst the tribes of Israel. That they would kill one another over this, revealed that they had lost sense of who they were as brothers and sisters.
Without doubt, the issue of sexual ethics has become such an issue – one over which the schismatising tendency of Protestants who have little or no what the holiness of the church means, comes to the fore.
Now at this point it may well be argued that Paul himself is arguing for something along these lines in 1 Corinthians 5 – the thorny issue of church discipline – but herein lies the most profound reason why we should step back from judgement – in that church discipline is all but absent from our churches – indeed as we do not primarily base our life on the knowledge of Christ and him crucified, we are hardly in the position to even call ourselves the church, and thus be communities of discipline.
In particular we should note that we are not communities of mutual accountability for our lives – that, in the protestant churches in particular, we have made a comfortable arrangement where we would never expect for a moment to confess our sins one to another. Thus in the profoundest sense we are not communities of grace. For those that sin necessarily do so privately – there shame is hidden – for we do not expect that as Christians we might confess and find forgiveness within the church.
The absence of discipline is not a lack in the church, it is a key sign that we are not church. We must first re-learn what it means to be a community based on the knowledge of Christ crucified, an apprehension of what it is to bear one another’s burdens – then and only then might we begin to be able to consider what it might be to consider such issues, without killing one another or taking the easy and sinful path of schism.