Friday, November 17, 2006

Matt 24 Watch, 9: The Haggard case and the challenge of sanctification

In today's WND, Rev Jesse Lee Peterson draws out vital lessons (but also misses a key point) in addressing the Rev Ted Haggard case, aptly -- and, sadly -- illustrating some of the commonly encountered gaps in evangelical thought on sanctification. I think it is important to take this issue up here, as scandal and slander over breakdowns in purity of life are plainly now major weapons being used to promote that falling away and deception that Jesus warns us about so strongly in Matt 24. (Of course, this is one of those issues which is replete with personal challenges to take the plank out of one's eye first to see clearly to help one's brother with sawdust, so I write because of the force of the issue, not out of any self-righteous sense of moral or intellectual superiority!)

So, in that spirit of recognising and repenting of our own faults and seeking to encourage one another in the good fight, let us now cite Rev Peterson:

Ted Haggard – married with 5 children – fought for a ban on same-sex marriage this past election until he was "outed" by the prostitute . . . . Mike Jones, the homosexual prostitute who exposed Haggard, is a tool of the devil. If this person had true love for his fellow man, he would have approached Haggard and encouraged him to stop his sinful and destructive behavior.

Jesus Christ said we must be born again. When you're born of the spirit of God, you can do the things that are good and righteous and turn away from evil. In contrast, most Christians today believe that one can be "born again" and still sin. Yet when Haggard sinned, he was held to a different standard.

I'm not saying what Haggard did was right, nor am I trying to justify his actions, but I believe that allowing this man to openly discuss his struggles will benefit Christians greatly.

In reality, overcoming sin is not only possible, it is commanded:

No one who is a child of God sins because God's seed remains in him. Nor can he sin, because he is a child of God. This is what distinguishes the children of God from the children of the devil. ... (1 John[3]: 9-10)

I pray that Rev. Haggard would surrender himself totally to God and ask God to give him insight and understanding to overcome this spirit that has made a home in him, causing him to do the things he doesn't want to do.

In Ephesians (chapter 6, verse 10), Paul describes "The Spiritual War" this way:

… For it is not against human enemies that we have to struggle, but against the principalities and the ruling forces who are masters of the darkness in this world. … That is why you must take up all God's armor, or you will not be able to put up any resistance on the evil day. …

Like most Christians, Rev. Haggard did not know how to fight this spiritual battle. The demons plaguing Haggard plague us all. We all do things we'd never want exposed as Haggard's darkness has been exposed. We must recognize this, and come to "know thyself" . . .

However, we need to read the whole of 1 Jn 1:5 - 2:2, as a context for understanding 1 Jn 3:9 - 10, to see the force of what is arguably a more accurate rendering:
1JN 1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

1JN 1:8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

1JN 2:1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
I have of course highlighted that telling word, "we," which in context includes the Apostle John -- perhaps the most "saintly" Christian of all time.

For, as that apostle introduces the subject of sanctification, it is plain that he is speaking of a decisive turnabout in life from walking in darkness to walking in light, which opens the door to fellowship with God and one another, and to purification. In that context, "we" are all turning from and emerging from the habits of sin in a process of mutual support and penitent confession leading to cleansing and growth. And, as 2:1 - 2 reminds us, though it is not what we
should do, we may and do stumble into sin; but if that happens we are to reach out to our Advocate and get up, seeking his cleansing and power to continue to walk and grow in the light.

In this light of a pattern of growth in grace as we walk in the light in fellowship with one another and our Lord, and of associated incrementally successful struggle to overcome sin, we then see the force of the NIV's rendering of the main text Mr Peterson cites, 1 Jn 3:9 - 10:
9 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.
That is, this text is best understood as speaking to a progressive, successful breaking out of the habits of sin, not as a sudden perfection in righteousness. Thus in turn, we can understand the underlying pattern of failure Mr Haggard confessed to:
For extended periods of time, I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom. Then, from time to time, the dirt that I thought was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach.

Through the years I have sought assistance in a variety of ways, with none of them proving to be effective in me. …

When I stopped communicating about my problems, the darkness increased and finally dominated me. …

In short, Mr Haggard struggled with "objectively disordered passions," which would resurface from time to time with frightening force. The only truly effective remedy was ongoing humble and humbling mutual accountability and honest communication/confession, and when that stopped -- sadly but not surprisingly -- he stumbled and in this case opened the door to destructive scandal by those serving Satan's causes.

This is of course precisely the pattern in view in 1 Jn 1:5 - 10: it is as we walk in the light and in mutually accountable fellowship under our Lord that we experience growth in grace and victory over sins. But, when the loneliness of leadership intervened and communication and open fellowship waned, the darkness returned. For, none of us is strong enough to "go it alone" -- nor are we meant to.

In short, the struggle to overcome life-dominating sins [and yes, associated demons] is properly and biblically a community, fellowship-based effort of mutual support in walking in the light.

This we can see from another classic passage, in Hebrews 10:22 - 25:
10:22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
And, Titus 2:11 - 14 underscores just how central this is to the Christian life:
TIT 2:11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
Unfortunately, much of the Evangelical church has misunderstood the dynamics and/or the centrality of sanctification [not least though the opposed extremes of legalism and antinomianism], and we are suffering the consequences; especially among those if us who are in leadership positions. That is, growth in grace is in significant part a body-ministry process, not just an individual effort; though, at the same time we must each sustain his or her own personal relationship with God, starting with the discipline of daily quiet times for prayer, reflection and meditative reading of the Word of God - cf. Psalm 1 and Josh 1:1 - 9. I am also -- as one of those who exposed the ICOC's unfortunately abusive systems -- painfully aware that hierarchical accountability systems that run one-way are prone to shocking abuse. MUTUALITY of accountability is vital.

Accordingly, I believe that the cell structure is a key to renewal of the church in its mission under its mandate, not just in outreach through evangelistic encounter groups or nurture cells for the relatively new christian, but also in team-based ministry. (Indeed, let us note how important small teams were in the ministry of the church in the New Testament, not only with Jesus and the twelve, but also in local presbyteries and in missionary teams. I believe Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship has a model we should all explore.)

So, as we reflect on this sad case, let us draw out some redemptive lessons for the renewal of our lives and the church in pursuit of our mission under God in the world. And, let us not neglect to pray for those involved in this sad case, that out of this darkness, God may yet bring light. END

No comments: