Wednesday, May 28, 2014
The Crime of Partiality
Psalm 82: 2-4
"How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked?
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked."
It is not good to be partial to the wicked
or to deprive the righteous of justice.
Proverbs 24: 23-26
These also are sayings of the wise.
Partiality in judging is not good.
Whoever says to the wicked, "You are in the
right," will be cursed by peoples, abhorred
by nations, but those who rebuke the wicked
will have delight, and a good blessing will come
upon them. Whoever gives a honest answer
kisses the lips.
The scales of God's justice are perfectly and righteously balanced;
he will judge rich and poor alike in matters of sin, and upheld the
rights of "the weak and needy" in matters of civil justice within
the Mosaic covenant. In this covenant "to wrong a sojourner"
or to "mistreat any widow or fatherless child" carries the danger
of God's righteous retribution as he promises to hear the cry
of the oppressed out of his compassion, and to visit "eye for an
eye" justice on the wicked. The crime of partiality is also concerned
with true and false witnesses in the civil and religious realm,
embodied in the eighth commandment which Luther further expounded
on in his small catechism:
"We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our
neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend
him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way."
Intrinsically connected to God's command to us to love our neighbour,
the matter of reputation is highlighted by Jesus in how we practice
church discipline. Only when two or more witnesses are made aware
of the unrepentant sins of a fellow Christian may the church speak privately
or publicly about their sins, and if absolutely necessary to excommunicate
them if they refuse to repent. Acting this way stops the spreading
of false reports from embittered Christians within the church, and
outwardly protects the reputation of the church in the eyes of the
outside world who see Christians acting with true justice, not becoming
a rumor mill of slander, gossip, and lies. It is important to note, however,
that this form of church discipline doesn't wink at people's sins, or choose
to remain silent about them. When a case of sexual immorality in the
Corinthian church is made common knowledge, the apostle Paul doesn't
hide it behind closed doors, but writes about it openly, and calls
attention to the public disgrace it sparks outside of the Corinthian church
in the hope of bringing the guilty parties back to godly repentance
Today, unfortunately, prominent evangelical ministries seem to
protect reputation at the expense of truth, and calling out sin
for what it is. Which brings me to the recent, ongoing actions of
The Gospel Coalition. For years this para-church ministry (with a
strict Reformed emphasis) has operated with a kind of ominous
silence towards theological errors and public scandals involving
prominent church leaders within the New Calvinist movement.
None more so than the "young, restless and Reformed" darling,
Mark Driscoll, senior pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. When
the plagiarism scandal broke this year, it was business as usual
at The Gospel Coalition with the venom reserved not for Driscoll's
sinful behaviour but for those exposing the sin and bringing light
to darkness. So while Mars Hill and Driscoll wrung their hands,
and apologized for their "mistakes" (using church monies to buy
your way onto the New York Times bestseller list isn't a sin apparently).
A member of The Gospel Coalition council, Justin Taylor, called for an open boycott of The Janet Mefferd Show who exposed the scandal, and prominent
Christian publishers rallied their forces in the manner of rushed
press releases denying any wrongdoing, flying in the face
of strong public evidence to the contrary.
Now I don't remember Jesus saying to the church when two
or three witnesses discovered unrepentant sun in their midst, "start
hushing things up and take the fifth" even when the world at large
was in the know. Likewise The Gospel Coalition's actions are inconsistent
with Jesus' repudiation of the Pharisees in the public gatherings at the
Jerusalem Temple, and the apostles' confrontations with various
false teachers, ranging from the "circumcision party" to the sorcery
of Bar-Jesus on Cyprus. Unwelcome or inconvenient truths aren't
meant to be hidden but rather brought to light, not so we can repeatedly
tear into fellow Christians. but so that true repentance and restoration
can begin, in the light of God's mercy. This should be particularly the
case when the church itself is the victim, as we see in the recent sex
abuse conviction of a former youth pastor, Nathaniel Morales, of
Sovereign Grace Ministries, which passed by without comment from
The Gospel Coalition blogosphere. Except from the Presbyterian
pastor, Tullian Tchividjian, who shortly after criticizing the culture
of silence within TGC coincidentally became embroiled in a heated
theological battle over the issue of the third use of the Law, where
the claim of antinomianism was laid firmly at this door, despite numerous
attempts to assuage that myth. Frankly all this stinks. And seems
more akin to Richard Nixon's administration and its campaign of dirty
tricks brought to public attention by the Watergate scandal. While
the matter of what CJ Mahaney knew or didn't know about the sexual
abuse is still somewhat uncertain, the fact that his brother in law
admitted to a cover up during Morales' trial should have prompted a
response, and a thorough examination and investigation of Mahaney's
pastoral actions at Covenant Life Church. Instead we got obfuscation,
misdirection and a public, online statement of "standing by our friends"
while the evangelical church lets the non-Christian world do its dirty work, of exposing sin and bringing crimes within the church to justice.
By contrast, God's Word says plainly that "whoever conceals his
transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them
will obtain mercy" (Proverbs 28:13). God will call to account those who
conceal their unrighteousness because they "feared the crowd and dreaded
the contempt of the clans" (Job 31:34). Unlike The Gospel Coalition,
God doesn't act with partiality because of the demands of the
evangelical celebrity culture, where reputation and status must
be maintained for consumerist goals. Our Father is concerned with the sins
of everyone within the body of Christ, whether rich or poor, slave
or free. God wants us to confess our sins and to receive his mercy,
so that we can be brought back to a right relationship with him, and so
that our faith isn't put at risk of being extinguished by the evil one who
accuses us day and night, and wants us to fall into unbelief. These concerns seem to have escaped the attention of The Gospel Coalition, much to the
detriment of the sheep who are either stuck in the controlling hands of
wayward pastors free to operate with impunity, or engaged in an increasingly heated and divisive environment where the reputation of the church is wide open to conspiracy theories, outright slander and lies. When a group
is repeatedly silent about sins committed by evangelical pastors within
its influence, something usually moves in to replace the gap left by
its presence, which explains the growing number of suspicions created
by The Gospel Coalition's friendship with CJ Mahaney and its handling
of the SGM sex abuse scandal. To qualm those suspicions I feel
The Gospel Coalition must do several things:
1. Speak impartially on the matter, with no protestations of
friendship to the parties involved and implicated in the victims'
2. Follow the breadcrumbs to wherever they lead, no matter
how uncomfortable the truth turns out to be.
3. Remove endorsements from the guilty or accused parties.
Do not sell their books and have them speak at your conferences.
Choose not to appear on stage with them, until such a time
when their guilt has been ascertained.
How The Gospel Coalition responds to the sex abuse scandal
in the coming months, along with a growing number of other
pastoral crimes and misdemeanors within the ranks of the young,
restless and Reformed movement, will govern its future success
and survival. The wider church is watching. More importantly,
so is God; against whom all our sin is ultimately directed, and
who on the day of judgment will burn up all the works of darkness
committed against his church like the straw and chaff they are.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.