“For I am the LORD
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God.
You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
In recent years the list of church leaders and high government officials who careers have tanked due to moral failure seems endless. Factors contributing to these moral failures include changing mores, increasing social conflict, and the ability of social media to document our private lives from birth to death. Nothing today is off the record.
The Role of the Church
The church bears responsibility for the moral failures of its leaders. Contributing factors include:
1. The focus on the individual has relegated responsibility to families and individuals to teach and practices holiness that is the proper role of the church.
2. In some denominations, theology has divided law from Gospel suggesting that the holiness code in the Leviticus no longer applies to the Christian.
3. In some churches, the emphasis on love is so pervasive that other parts of the Bible are simply neglected.
4. Preaching in many churches offers nice to know guidance and simple eschews hard teaching on morality especially because of permissive attitudes on issues related to marriage and sexuality in society more generally.
While the traditional teaching of the church is clear on the question of holiness, many churches no longer accept this teaching. The watchword for this new teaching comes directly from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matt 7:15-16) False prophets need not be ravenous wolves, but weak teaching can lead to bad fruit resulting in unnecessary brokenness and departures from faith. Clearly, God can use broken pastors and broken churches to advance his kingdom, but we should cling to Christ’s mantel as closely as we can and avoid grieving the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30).
During an evangelistic campaign in Modesto, California in 1948 Billy Graham asked his team to list the reasons that evangelists had failed in previous campaigns. Four items topped everyone’s list:
1. Excessive interest in money and weak accounting of it.
2. Sexual immorality, especially while on the road.
3. Failing to work closely with and respect local churches.
4. Exaggerating ministry successes (Graham 1997, 127-129).
Among these temptations, sexual immorality stood out as a threat and Graham committed himself to never being alone with any woman other than his wife, Ruth. These rules, together known as the Modesto Manifesto, have been picked up by other Christian leaders, including most recently Vice President Mike Pence.1 While not all temptations can be cited as holiness concerns, moral failures figure prominently.
The Role of Christian Leaders
The Beatitudes have a general audience, but they also appear as a kind of commissioning service for disciples, which today would be of special interest to Christian leaders. The Sixth Beatitude focuses on a clean heart—“Honored are the pure in heart”—but, how can I remove the impurities? This is a call for holiness. Jesus provides two methods that stand out: pruning and intensifying.
Jesus gives us two metaphors of pruning—cutting away unnecessary or unwanted growth to make a plant stronger and more fruitful (John 15:2). The first metaphor involves eyes: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” (Matt 5:29) The second metaphor involves hands: “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (Matt 5:30) In both metaphors, we remove sin from our lives by pruning.2 Jesus’ pruning metaphors imply that sanctification—casting off sin and taking on godliness—is serious business: eyes and hands are parts of the body—parts of us—that are not easily discarded. If the threat of sin were trivial, then a better analogy might have been to trim your nails or cut your hair. But if sin threatens both our physical and spiritual lives, then amputation is an acceptable option and the analogy is not hyperbolic.
Jesus widens the scope of commandments under the law by drilling into the motivation for breaking them, intensifying the scrutiny given to sin. For example, when Jesus talks about adultery, he focuses on the lustful look that corrupts the heart, not the sinful act that follows. If sin begins in the heart, then sanctification must strive for purity of heart, and not only avoiding sin, but pursuing godliness, as the Apostle Paul writes:
“But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:20-24)
The likeness of God, of course, refers to the divine image in creation, as implied in the word, godliness, used by Paul in admonishing Timothy: “train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim 4:7). Taking Jesus Christ as our example, we should strive to be a good example to others.
Graham, Billy. 1997. Just As I Am: An Autobiography of Billy Graham. New York: Zondervan.
1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Graham_rule#%22Mike_Pence_rule%22. 2 The eye gouging and hand chopping metaphors could also have been heard by Jesus’ audience as a messianic call to arms. When the Prophet Samuel anointed Saul messianic king of Israel, he said to him: “And you shall reign over the people of the LORD and you will save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies.” (1 Sam 10:1) Notice the hand metaphor in this charge. Saul’s first act as king was to save the besieged city of Jabesh-gilead from an Amorite king whose condition for surrender was: “On this condition I will make a treaty with you, that I gouge out all your right eyes, and thus bring disgrace on all Israel.” (1 Sam 11:2) Understanding the story of Saul, Jesus’ metaphors might be interpreted as saying: stand on your own two feet.
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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.