The Scarlet Letter in Jacksonville, Florida

This story (Woman Says Church Threatening To Make Sins Public) was posted to my Facebook and had a number of comments about it. Realize that as you read this story, you don’t have all the information. I’ve been around long enough to know that a news story, regardless of journalistic impartiality, is typically slanted. More times than not, churches are placed in a demeaning position. Obviously, it’s difficult to be completely objective when you only have one side of the story as in this case. I don’t know anything about this church or the people in question, but I think the story raises some interesting question.

How do you deal with or administer church discipline? How do you interpret Matthew 18?

15″If another believer* sins against you,* go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.16 But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses.17 If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector. Matthew 18:15-17

Is this a process for addressing personal injury? What constitutes a sin against you? Sexual sin is a sin against the body (1 Corinthians 6:18) and affects the body in a way that no other sin does. Can the body be interpreted as the church? What about passages like 1 Corinthians 5:9-13? These are all questions being raised.

9 When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin.10 But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that.11 I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer* yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people. 12 It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning.13 God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.”*

Much of this passage is in response to a situation in the church where a man had a sexual relationship with his step-mother and it wasn’t viewed as inappropriate. Sexual immorality ran rampant not only in the community, but in the church. People were impartial and ambivalent to this issue, celebrating this man’s involvement in the church. Paul’s earlier instruction in the chapter is to remove the man from the church.

I think the bottom line is we are accountable to one another in the body. That’s part of community. Living in community reflects agreed upon standards deemed appropriate for the community. For the church, our standard should be Scripture. I’m a little take back at how this private matter became so public. If you are so worried about your “sins” being told to the church, why in the world would you want it aired in the secular press? I guess the letter doesn’t need to be read now, it’s already been publically declared. So much for having someone else pin you with a scarlet letter, you’ve already pinned it on yourself.

I have a number of other thoughts on this issue, but this post would end up being way too long and would go unread. I guess this means more thoughts for another post. Feel free to post your thoughts. I think it’s a worthwhile discussion.