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Judge Not? Don’t Throw Stones?

Thursday, January 11, 2018 11:10
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Theology and Politics from a Conservative, Biblical Perspective

Imagine a young Christian man in ministry who one day decided to commit an armed robbery of a liquor store. There was one witness, but he got away with the crime. He then spent the rest of his life building a ministry speaking out on the terrible problems of alcohol consumption and the sins of stealing. He wrote books, had a great deal of charisma, was looked up to for his seeming integrity. He was a great youth leader and he was a sought after speaker in a position of authority and leadership in his church.

Then years later, the original witness who saw him commit his armed robbery sent him an email reminding him of his crime. The man then decides to come before his congregation to confess his crime. Yes, he had robbed a liquor store and he had used a gun during the commission of that crime. But he assured the congregation that it was a one-time slip-up. He never committed another robbery and since that time, had gotten rid of all his guns. He even worked tirelessly to support politicians who wanted to make it more strict for people to obtain guns and ammo.

The congregation listened intently and when he was finished speaking, they gave him a standing ovation? Absurd, right? This is essentially what the people at Highpoint Church in TN did when Andy Savage finished his confession. He did not deny “making a mistake.” He said he had done everything he knew to accept full responsibility for his actions toward Jules Woodson.

Actually, no, had Andy Savage turned himself into the authorities at that time, he would have been arrested, tried, and likely found guilty of sexual assault. He would have gone to prison and would have needed to be registered as a sexual offender. Because of that, he would not have been able to work around young people again…ever.

As expected there are Christians who have come to the defense of Andy Savage, Teaching Pastor at Highpoint Church in Memphis, TN. This is regarding his confession before the congregation about a sexual assault, which he admitted occurred some twenty years ago against a then 17-year-old woman, Jules Woodson. Because she was underage at the time, Texas law protected her very specifically, even spelling out the terms of clergy responsibilities and the high standard held to them when dealing with young people especially.

But of course, there are Christians who quote “Judge not!” and “Who will cast the first stone?” and do so completely out of their original contexts, which changes their original meaning. Let’s take a look at these two verses in their contexts to see what God is telling us through Holy Writ.

1 Judge not, that ye be not judged. 2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. (Matthew 7:1-2 KJV)

The above verses are part of what is known as the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus offered wisdom for many different situations. At first glance, it might be assumed that He is saying that no one should judge anyone else on anything. Is that correct? No, that cannot be what Jesus is saying because if that is what Jesus is saying, then we must ignore major portions of the New Testament. In fact, if Jesus says we cannot judge anyone, then the apostle Paul was completely out of line in telling the Corinthian believers to expel the immoral man from among them for his carnality (1 Corinthians 5:13).

Paul also spends a great deal of time space helping pastors understand how to deal with people and their specific sins. He does this in numerous epistles. In 1 & 2 Timothy as well as Titus, he spends time discussing the high qualifications for anyone who wants to become an elder or “overseer.” We went over some of these in our last article.

So, if Christians are not to judge other Christians, then Paul went way overboard here. Everywhere we look in the New Testament, there are standards we are to reach for and help others to reach for as well, in the Body of Christ. Failures create consequences and often those consequences are not pretty.

Did Jesus actually mean we should never judge someone? Did He mean that we should never critique another Christian with respect to their words or actions? Not at all. This is not what Jesus meant. What I believe Jesus meant was that it is never permissible to judge another Christian’s motivations for doing or saying something. We are not allowed to do that because we are completely unable to see into another person’s heart to know the exact reason they say or do something.

However, not only is it permissible for Christians to “judge” (critique) another Christian’s words or actions, but it is imperative that we do so because it is that process where irons sharpens iron. The Bereans did exactly this in Acts 17 and Paul was fine with it. He commended them for it.

But in today’s “Christian lite” world, “love” is all that matters. Unfortunately, that love is often a gushy mix of feel-good emotions and a desire for no harm. Today’s “love” strives to create a false unity, where everyone just “gets along” and no one critiques another for his or her failures. This is not Christian love. It is the hippy love of the 60’s where it was believed that if it’s okay with a person, then it’s okay for them and no one should dare to tell them otherwise. That has absolutely nothing to do with love as defined by God. If that was love, then there would have been no need for Jesus to die a terribly brutal death so that we might receive salvation.

Some Christians have stated that Andy Savage has done great things, that he is a gifted speaker, that he is such an energetic pastor and leader that all of that should override any problems in his past. Tell that to Jules Woodson. In fact, none of that matters because of the one glaring problem in Andy Savage’s life that was never appropriately dealt with since it occurred.

Some Christians point to King David or Moses as examples of situations that happened. King David lusted after Bathsheba, slept with her in adultery, then had her husband killed. Did he get off without any problems? Only for a very short time. Then the hammer fell and God saw to that. King David’s son whom Bathsheba carried died. Ultimately, David lost his kingdom.

What about Moses who killed an Egyptian because of how the Egyptian treated some Israelites? This occurred before Moses had any type of relationship with God at all. Long before. I believe Moses was convinced that what he did at the time was just. However, the reality is that Moses had not been called by God at that point and it would be another 40 years or so before that happened.

But let’s remember when Moses did sin after he had already had a relationship with God. In Numbers 22, while he should have known better, Moses sinned by striking the rock instead of simply speaking to it. Seemed like a small enough issue, but God was firm not only about not allowing Moses to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, but Moses’ life also came abruptly to an end. There are consequences in our actions.

What about the situation where Jesus asks who will cast the first stone? In the opening verses of John 8, we read of a situation that occurred where the infamous Scribes and Pharisees were at it again, seeking to test Jesus to determine whether He would uphold God’s Law as given through the prophet Moses.

Interestingly enough, these religious leaders had somehow found a woman whom they said was actually caught in the act of adultery (John 8:4). I find that interesting because it means they either set up the situation or simply happened upon it. In either case, I have a question. Where is the man that she was having adultery with? Where did he run off to? Why did these super-sanctimonious religious leaders just bring the woman to Jesus?

Jesus knew what they were up to here. Jesus did not bother audibly responding to them at this point. He simply bent down and began scribbling in the dirt. We have absolutely no idea what He wrote though there are many suggestions. But since the Bible does not tell us, any guess is nothing more than speculation. Either He was simply ignoring them by scribbling nothing or He was writing something important of which they eventually took notice.

Finally, the religious leaders persisted, so Jesus stood up and responded to them with one simple sentence.

Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her. (John 8:7b ESV)

The text tells us Jesus then bent back down to the ground and continued writing. When He eventually looked up again, the only one standing there was the accused woman. He then said that if no one was left to condemn her, neither would He.

The Scribes and Pharisees tried to place Jesus in a very difficult position.

If Jesus advocated not executing the woman, the lawyers and Pharisees could charge Him with teaching the people to violate the Law. If He recommended executing her, He would contradict His own reputation for being gracious and forgiving (cf. Luke 5:20; 7:47; 19:10), and He would advocate action contrary to Roman law. On top of that, He would alienate Himself from the Jews. The decision to execute might have gotten Him in trouble with the Roman authorities, too (cf. 18:31). Essentially, the problem was how to reconcile justice and mercy. (Constable’s Notes on John, p. 162)

Jesus’ comment to the religious leaders about being without sin was not meant to imply that a person had to be perfect and since no one is perfect, no one can judge another. The tenor of the Mosaic Law simply meant that if there were two people (witnesses) who saw someone committed adultery, it would have to be those two witnesses who would cast the first stone, provided that they themselves had never committed adultery.

Jesus meant that they needed to be free from the sin of adultery, or at least free of complicity in prearranging this woman’s adultery. (Constable)

The reality is that the very real possibility existed that the Scribes and Pharisees had actually set the situation up in order to have a means to test Jesus. In so doing, they had become complicit in helping to cause this woman’s adultery. Again, the man she was with was also an adulterer, so the question of his whereabouts is of concern.

This situation should not be taken to mean that Christians can never judge another Christian’s actions or words. That is not the purpose of this narrative. When Christians use it to excuse the errant words or actions of another Christian (or anyone for that matter), they are completely misunderstanding the nature of the truth presented in this true story.

God expects His children to act and speak in a certain way. We are to work through the empowering of the Holy Spirit to rise to His standard. We will all fail at times, however, depending upon how great the failure, the resultant consequences will also be great. Christians must take responsibility for their actions and words. We cannot allow things to pass or expect others to give us a pass especially if we are in positions of leadership and authority over other Christians.

Since our last article, some things have changed. Larry Cotton, the original pastor who spoke with Jules Woodson 20 years ago and who failed to do what was required by reporting the offense to law enforcement has been placed on leave of absence by the church he works in now. The church has also hired an independent investigator to determine if Larry Cotton failed to obey the law at the time of the incident.

Lead pastor at Highpoint Church, Chris Conlee has been uninvited to speak at the Downline Summit because of the way he has handled the situation regarding Andy Savage. Beyond this, Bethany House has pulled from publication Savage’s book, The Ridiculously Good Marriage, from publication.

None of us should glory or revel in this situation. There is clearly a great deal of pain for the victim especially, and for Andy Savage and his family. However, it is always right to do the right thing and in this case, it would appear that the only way for Andy to do what is right is to turn himself into Texas authorities and let them decide if he should be charged in the matter.

It is terrible the way so many Christian leaders and pastors take such a protective and laissez-faire attitude toward things like this. I believe if local churches did not offer pastors the kinds of salaries that many are offered (with full packages and essentially tax-free income and allowances), there would be far less reason to be so protective.

It is time for more churches to take a New Testament approach. Pastors should have secular jobs and offer their teaching services to small, congregations. As that congregation grows, they should split off and start other small congregations. This was the model in the New Testament. Now, however, it is very common to see mega-churches with thousands of members with those churches have budgets into the millions.

Neither Jesus, Paul, or the other apostles did this, but today’s “ministry” has truly become a solid 401k profession. It is my belief that if this did not exist, the temptation to protect and keep the status quo would also not nearly be as great.

I pray for healing as do many others in this tragic situation. But I also pray for justice for the victim. Will you pray for that with me? We will keep readers posted on this developing situation.

Theology and Politics from a Conservative, Biblical Perspective



Source: https://studygrowknowblog.com/2018/01/11/judge-not-dont-throw-stones/

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