A young man, whom I do not know, wrote on Wade's blog yesterday about how he had been swindled out of the wedding money he had saved over a long period of time___probably several thousands of dollars if I have any memory of wedding cost at all though the amount was not stated___ and had friends who lost their life savings to a "Christian Church Starting Group" during it's financial rape of many Arizona Southern Baptists in the 1990s. Those Southern Baptist leaders, there were several people involved, were recently sentenced to prison for their criminal activity.
[ you can read here...http://kerussocharis.blogspot.com/ Scroll down to the Oct. 13 post.]
Wade was reporting the incident and talking about several other such shenanigans in Southern Baptist life some of which have yet to be made known to the general public. [They will be known eventually you can rest assured.] I, for one, was grateful for that young man's comment because it put a "real people" touch to the discussion of criminal behavior that had been perpetrated by "Christians"
There was a spirited debate that then ensued in the comment section as to the right or wrong of reporting such activities to the general public by other Christians on their blogs and whether we had any right to do anything but forgive and minister to the perpetrators of that crime.
Others sought to defend the whistle blowers and to call for more transparancy of anything done whether immoral or illegal by SBC leadership/pastors/missionaries and christians in general. They contended that Christians are not exempt from facing punishment for crimes they might commit. It is that duel desire of showing grace but wanting punishment that you will find even the young man confessed to having that I want to address in this post. Do Christians, crime and courts go together?
Does, in fact, true grace remove a desire on my part to see the penalty and punishment of the actions of a criminal come to pass if I am truly forgiving and truly loving that person? Or to ask it another way am I truly forgiving and loving a person if I have at the same time a desire to see them charged with, tried for and, in fact, suffer the consequences of their actions legally? How does all this fit in a committed Christian's life who wants to obey scripture and be a good citizen too? In other words, which group in that comment section mentioned in the second paragraph has the correct biblical argument?
In light of the seemingly many Christians and even many in the ministry who are being charged with rape, incest, theft, lying under oath, spousal and child abuse, and a host of other criminal behaviors in our day, it might be very important that we have this conversation at the present time in the life of the Church. Thus my part of the conversation via my blog.
[ you do understand I believe ALL Christians are ministers and I'm simply using this phrase as most of our modern day Christians use it to make a point]
I have two ideas personally that I have had to reconcile.
One is that I believe our posture as Christians should always be one of love and forgiveness to a brother or sister with whom we have a personal relationship who might become involved in criminal activity even if we are the victim. This since Grace is never to be suspended in our relationships with fallen humanity and we are never released from our responsibility to show the love and forgiveness to others that we have graciously received from the Father in Heaven. ["Love one another as I have loved you."]
The second idea to which I hold is that criminal matters are the perogative of the secular courts and the Church has no say in criminal matters unless the law violated was to be in specific contradistinction to the scriptures themselves. This would be illustrated by Peter and John when they were told to "no more speak of the name of Jesus as Lord" under the threat of severe consequences. [Remember it was illegal to call someone Lord other than Caesar under Roman law.]
When I say the Church has no say in criminal matters it is because of what I see in 1 Peter 2:12-16. Read it at your leisure. My understanding is this passage is to be played out even for [no not 'even' let's say 'especially'] Christians when criminal behavior is found to be present in a person. The only exception being that which I mentioned in the preceeding paragraph.
I would even go so far as to say that I believe it to be on the SIDE of Grace and scripture to allow 1 Peter 2:12-16 to take it's course with a professing Christian's criminal behavior and that this is why an abused spouse or one who is aware of child abuse by their spouse is never more submissive and biblical than when that spouse turns the offender in for prosecution. To SAY NOTHING would be criminal not to mention unbiblical.
The evidence for me that Grace DOESN'T suspend the consequences of the illegal activities of people__even professing Christian__is proven in what Jesus experienced on our behalf on the Cross. The whole of God's grace did not keep the weight of the guilt and punishment of our sin from being experienced. In fact, I believe it is the greatest expression OF His Amazing Grace that both [Grace and Consequences] exist and are experienced. So our grace being extended to a guilty person would have nothing to do with a criminal not having to pay legally for illegal activities if I understand this passage and the work of the Cross correctly.
Much abuse, rape, incest, theft, and other crimes can be allowed to go unpunished by secular courts if Christians fail to obey scripture and do not allow those courts to settle criminal issues among believers. Add to that the fact that the crimes yet future those guilty parties WILL commit will rest in shared blame and responsibility on the shoulders of those Christians who chose to remain in an unholy silence and unbiblical submission to the perpetrators.
Christians, crime and courts do go together at times regardless of how distasteful it is for us to admit it. The validity of the Christian profession of one who commits such a crime I'll have to leave with the Lord of the heart. But the validity of the courts right to enact punishment I have no doubt.
Likewise I have no doubt that our great responsibility, yea opportunity, is to visit in prison, minister to families, and even enter into sheperding and helping those who have paid their dues to society with wisdom, grace, common sense, and love once they are on the road of recovery. We are, after all, in all our local fellowships a bit of a hospital for sinners, a school for the ignorant, and and a hot house for tender broken plants in God's garden. All by the Grace of our God.