Public Square and Family Circle

circlesquare

In our post-Christian society, I suspect that the more we proclaim our Christian ethics the more it will simply offend an unregenerate mind and add to their darkness; hence the frequently used tags of hypocritical, judgemental and homophobic. We need to learn what it means to live in post-Christendom.  And a good place to begin is with others living in as a Christian minority in a hostile word, the early church. The early church understood the difference between the public square and the church circle.

Posting one’s “position” (any position) as Christians to outsiders in the public square (the place you work for example) in culture which does not understand who we are or why we do what we do is ‘communication-suicide.’ It can only be misunderstood as judgment and hate.

In 1 Corinthians 5, the apostle Paul takes this position about not judging outsiders. He makes the distinction between judging those within the community and those outside it. He asks,

12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you. 

We should not judge those we do not know and are not in relationship with in Christ. Yet for Paul, we do judge those inside (“the brother”) the community (1 Cor 5:11). We are to mutually discern the character of our lives together under Christ.

At the same time, James warns against speaking evil of or judging a brother or sister inside the community (James 4:11)! Here we are told not to take the law under our own control and judge our brother, for “there is only one Lawgiver and Judge,” who is God (v12).

The apparent contradiction between Paul and James can be solved when we realise that James is encouraging the posture of submission and humility in discernment before God. James is speaking about the process of coming alongside one another in order to discern moral issues together. And so he encourages coming together to seek agreement in submission to God and humility with each other (7–10), resisting the pride and boasting that lead to slander and division.

There is a difference between judgment, whose goal is to condemn, and discernment in mutual submission to Christ, whose goal is the redemption of one another in love and humility

4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 5:4-5).

This coming alongside, being “with”, is a practice of God’s in-breaking kingdom. This way of humility and vulnerability is an extension of the incarnation. It makes possible the crossing of boundaries to enter into the far country. This way defines the welcoming and mutually transforming community.

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