By What Authority
I am thankful that you are here today. I am glad you decided that you would make the effort to come to this church and join us in worship. I understand you did not have to make this choice. I understand that you could have chosen to go to another church or decided to not attend church at all. I know that there are churches which are larger and could offer you more religious options than this church could offer. There are churches with more elaborate and professional music and special effects. There are churches that have in house coffee shops, bookstores, indoor playgrounds for children, free wireless and all kinds of other modern conveniences to offer you. There are churches that are very good at marketing and customer service. This is the world in which we live. We live in a culture in which churches have been thrown into the demands and expectations of a consumer driven culture. I know this is true.
Now what does this have to do with the passage I just read? Well, the passage is one in which Jesus is teaching about dealing with interpersonal conflict in the church. Jesus gives us a pattern that should be followed when one member of the covenant community, when one member of the church, does something that is wrong to another member of the church. Jesus says that we should first go privately to the one who has offended us. If that does not work then take a witness of two to try and get things right. If that doesn’t work, then bring it to the church. If they will not listen to the church then we are told they should be treated as someone who is not part of the community and who has betrayed the community. And what is the purpose for this? Hopefully to get them to change. But here is the thing. If we follow this pattern, what do you think will happen? Do you think the people will change if they are treated like gentiles and tax collectors? No, more than likely they will just go find another church that will be more than willing to take them in and agree with them that they have been mistreated and wronged by us or just not go to church at all.
In the past, church denominations developed out of a drive to live the Christian faith according to our conscience. If a person joined a particular denomination they did so because of a felt commitment to the truth. That commitment was a commitment to the church. What the church believed and did mattered. A person’s membership to the church was important because they believed it was through the church that they served God and were joined to a family of faith. In this setting the church could exercise authority in relationships and that authority mattered. Those day are past. Denominations are now viewed as brand names. What is important to most people in our culture today is not the brand name stands for or once stood for, the issue today is does this particular brand make me happy, for this is what a consumer culture (and we know live in a consumer culture) is all about. Let me quote this definition: A “consumer culture” is one whose economy is defined by the buying and spending of consumers. Consumer culture is closely to tied capitalism, because it is driven by money. What distinguishes it, though, is that it is not focused so much on the power of money as it is on the happiness that can be attained through buying and owning personal property.[i] Many, many people today make their decisions about church based not on a commitment to the family of faith but on the premise that we are supposed to make them happy. Our culture in in trouble. Perhaps the church is in trouble. Why, because our purpose is not to make people happy. Our purpose is to make disciples and sometimes helping people to become disciples means telling them things they do not what to hear. Sometimes in leading people to be disciples people are confronted with things that do not make them happy.
But what will happen to the church. If we don’t make people happy they will find another church. If we don’t meet their perceived needs they will go shopping for one that will. If they leave we will lose the numbers. We will lose the money that they give. We will not be successful!
This is where it gets tough. What is more important, that we are successful or that we are faithful? Look at verse 20. What is important is to understand that Jesus is here with us.
There is a reason that Jesus says what he says in this passage. First, Jesus wants to make it clear that we are supposed to seek reconciliation in our relationships with one another. Secondly, we are to be willing to help one another to seek relational harmony. Thirdly, Jesus makes it clear that the church has the authority and responsibility to strive to maintain mutual accountability. We are to follow the words of Jesus even if they go against the culture that we live in. Cultures change. Cultures collapse. One who understands the importance of following Jesus should also understand that we are not to compromise with the culture but are to seek to be a light that shows the better way.
Our culture today tells us we should seek what we want. It tells us we are our own authority. We are entitled. We are told what used to be bad is good and what used to be good is bad. This has happened before to God’s people. In Isaiah 5:20-21 scripture states: Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight. And the results: Isaiah 5:25 (NIV) Therefore the LORD’s anger burns against his people; his hand is raised and he strikes them down. The mountains shake, and the dead bodies are like refuse in the streets. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.
That does not sound like grace. That sounds like judgment. You are right it does, but the purpose behind it is grace. It is a warning intended to get people’s attention. This is one of the challenges we as God’s people face. There are consequences to human behavior. God offers grace. Our Lord’s words are filled with grace. They are words and teachings that are intended to guide us to what is best. We need one another to grow spiritually. Each of us has spiritual gifts to build up others. We are called to mutual submission to help one another avoid temptation. It is the community of faith, the church, the ekklaysia that the gates of hell cannot stand against.
True happiness comes with harmony. Harmony with God and with each other. That is why Jesus says we need to make the consequences so severe. Yes, this stance may be culturally costly, but it is also courageously Christ-like. It is not being unloving, for we do far greater harm to allow corrosive conflict to go unchallenged. Jesus makes it clear, He will be with us as we face such serious situations. In these days we need a strong church, an obedient church, a committed church, a church that values holiness as the way to happiness. Let us seek to be faithful and true during these days of compromise and capitulation. God will bless.