There is nothing more grand than Jesus bringing peace between us and God. A close second, perhaps, is that Jesus also brings peace between us, his people, who come from all sorts of backgrounds, social statuses and ethnicities. In many wonderful ways, this peace signifies how Jesus grants us the grace to obey the greatest commandment—to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength—and the follow-up command to love our neighbour as ourselves.
But is peace just something we know on paper? What about the real experience of life together? Unity is good when it’s good, but we all know that churches are not immune to divisions. In fact, often churches are the places where fracturing is felt most acutely. So how should we think about unity within our churches?
On today’s episode, Chase follows up with Dr Peter Jensen, building on their last conversation on the unity of the church and moving from the universal to the local. They discuss how each local church relates to denominations, why relationships in church can be so tough, and how we are meant to get on together in gospel faith.
Links referred to:
- Part 1 of our conversation with Peter
- Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON)
- Our 2021 event program—including information about our March event, “Can Christianity community be good for you, me and everyone else?”
Runtime: 33:05 min.
Chase Kuhn: Many of us know the experience of how terrible sin can be to the fellowship of a local church. People take sides. Those sides turn against each other, and then division is all too apparent. Or perhaps sometimes it’s a little bit more subtle and these factions grow quietly in the church. Perhaps they even congregate at different times of day, creating different church services to accommodate the division.
How important is unity to the local church? What threatens this unity? And is this something we should worry about in our churches? Today on the podcast, I’m joined by Dr Peter Jensen for a second part to our discussion on unity and the church. Today, we’ll consider where unity in the church is found, how we can protect it and why it’s important.
CK: Hello and welcome to the Centre for Christian Living podcast. My name is Chase Kuhn and I’m coming to you from Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia. Today, my guest on the podcast is Dr Peter Jensen. He’s back for part 2 of our discussion on unity in the church. Peter previously served as the principal of Moore College, as well as the Archbishop of Sydney, and he has helped to found the Global Anglican Future Conference. Peter, it’s great to have you back again.
PFJ: Thank you very much, Chase!
CK: Glad to be talking with you again on unity. Last time we talked about unity and denominations, and this time, I want to shift to talking about unity and the local church. In fact, I was intrigued by something you said last time: you said, “Denominations are, not strictly speaking, churches”. What did you mean by that, and how would you then define what a church is?
PFJ: Yes, again, thanks, Chase. Let me get this clear in my mind. Yes: what I want to say is this—that looking at the New Testament, there’s a dual focus. There’s a focus, first of all, on the church—the one and only true church, to which we must all belong. The church—Ephesians 5—for which Christ gave his life—his beloved bride, his body. There is only one church, thank God! And if you’re a genuine Christian, you belong to that church.
Now, we come to an important distinction, I think, in the way people think about church, and the way I have of putting it, which may not be very satisfactory, is to say that there’s a view of church which is, in a sense, historical, and a view that is eschatological. In the historical view, a great deal of interest is paid on the development of the churches, and hence the denominations and so forth, and the “worldwide” church. If you start with an eschatological view, you, first of all, think of the one true church of Jesus Christ, which exists now—it has always existed—around him—gathered around him—in the heavenly places: the church’s described, for example in Hebrews 12 and in the epistle to the Ephesians and other places—the one true church of Jesus Christ. And we who belong to Jesus are in that church: we have been raised with Christ. We are seated with him in the heavenly places—Colossians 3, the beginning.
So it’s an eschatological vision of church. And then, that one true church of Jesus Christ can be found when the disciples gather together. But when people come together in order to meet the Lord Jesus Christ, in his word and by the power of his Spirit, and are drawn together, that is the body of Christ. That is the body of Christ. It is not part of the body of Christ; it is the body of Christ.
And so, the eschatological view of church is that there is one true church, but that there are many, many, many, of course, local churches belonging to hundreds—thousands—of denominations, but there are many local churches, and some belong to no denomination at all! But the key is, to use the Reformation language, the preaching of the word of God and the administration of the sacraments, there are the marks of the church. In other words, these are the places where people gather to meet the Lord Jesus Christ in his word and by the power of his Spirit, and thence to become and to be the body of Christ.
Now, that, I think, is the essence of church. And if we understand that, then we can also begin to think of the church worldwide. But I’ll pause there, Chase, in case that has created an absolute brainstorm in your mind and you wish to—
CK: I’ve got plenty things I want to engage here, Peter.
PFJ: —you wish to correct me.
CK: No, no—
CK: —no corrections. The one thing I want to draw out that you said there about the two marks of the church, I mean, very common at the Reformation: the preaching of the Word, the faithful proclamation of the Word—and the sacraments “duly administered” (Thirty-Nine Articles XIX). Proclamation of the Word and the sacraments are both gospel things.
CK: So we get the Word, and we hear the Word, we hear the gospel.
CK: And when we take the sacraments—and partake of them—
CK: —whether it be the Lord’s Supper or baptism, we’re seeing the gospel in enacted, in one sense, and receiving grace—the grace of the gospel, in that sense, and—
PFJ: Yes, and—
CK: —and that—in those actions. So—
PFJ: I agree.
CK: Very lovely to think about how the gospel frames up the church there. Just in case somebody’s confused about what “eschatological” means, how would you tell them?
CK: What would you tell them?
PFJ: Well, I think I’d start with Jesus—his proclamation, when he came preaching, you remember? He preached the kingdom of God: “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The kingdom of God stood for, if you like, the end of the world—the coming of the judgement and the introduction of the new age, which lies before us or is sometimes called “eternal life”. And so, the old—the present evil age—will pass away; God will take up, if you like, the kingdom of God amongst us, evil will be dealt with, and the new age of God’s kingdom will emerge. That’s the picture: when Jesus preached that, that’s what he was saying, and he was saying, “Repent and get ready for it”.
When the Pharisees said to him, as recorded in Luke 17:20-21, they say to him, “Well, where is the kingdom?” And he says, “In the midst of you”. Very interesting! They went away, no doubt. “What did he mean?” And Jesus preaches the kingdom of God—that this great eternal life would begin, the age to come. Then, naturally, the Pharisees ask him, as in Luke 17:20-21, “Okay, Jesus, where’s the kingdom? You’ve been talking about it. Where is it?” And Jesus said to them, not, “It’s just about to come!”, but “It’s in the midst of you”—meaning, of course, that he, the King, had landed—that, in a sense, the end had already begun. The last time, this had begun with the coming of Jesus. And so, what it means as the New Testament unfolds is that “in the old days, God spoke to us by the prophets”—I’m now quoting Hebrews—the beginning of Hebrews—“but in these last days, God has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:1-2). In other words, we are living and have been ever since Jesus came in the last days, the days just before the coming of the King—gone 2,000 years, but it’s still the last days. And so, the next great event will be the coming of the King in all his splendour: he has come; now he will come again in all his splendour.
Eschatology is the teaching about the last things. But when we teach about the last things, we’re not just teaching about the future, as in judgement, heaven, hell, and so forth, we’re teaching about the present, because the extraordinary thing about the New Testament is that the future has invaded the present.
You see, here’s another example: people believe that the resurrection—the resurrection of the dead—would be something in the future. What do you know about the resurrection of the dead? We’ve had a big one already! [Laughter] In other words, we’ve already had the first resurrection; it’s behind us. The end has begun, and we are living in the last days. That’s what I’m trying to get at when saying that the church is eschatological: it is a foretaste of the wonders of the end.
CK: That’s great. So every time we meet together, then, even though we’re in the midst of this historical development, we’re actually participating in something much fuller—much richer—much more final, in one sense, than what meets the eye.
PFJ: Absolutely! And what we sometimes think, because the songs are boring or lightweight, and the preaching is ordinary, and so forth, and so on. No, no, no, no.
PFJ: You are meeting with the body of Christ. The Spirit of God is with you. Jesus promises to be with his disciples. That funny old suburban church which you attend Sunday by Sunday is one of the most remarkable gifts that this world has ever known.
CK: Oh, one of the most grand displays of what God is doing in history!
CK: So I love Ephesians 3, where Paul is talking about his ministry, and just before the end of chapter 3, where he offers that prayer, I think it’s verse 13, he says, “So don’t be discouraged, then”. You’re thinking, “Wait, why are they discouraged?” Well, he’s in jail, and he’s trying to tell them, “My entire ministry feels very weak right now. I’m in prison. You’re meeting, you’re probably being close to run out of town. You’re watching people run others out of town. It feels very small. It might feel boring. Not a lot of magic happening, but actually, there’s a lot more than meets the eye. This is God’s planned purpose for displaying his glory to the heavenly places,” he says in Ephesians 3:9-10. He said, “Wait, that’s what’s happening when I meet with other believers on Sunday” and Paul’s saying, “Yet actually, even in our congregations, when they’re sleepy or whatever else, God brings us together in Christ, which is a miracle in itself!”
PFJ: You’re getting overexcited, Chase!
CK: I’m very excited, Peter!
PFJ: Yep. Because it’s true.
CK: It’s true!
PFJ: Now how does—the next thing is, well then, why bother with denominations at all? Why bother with the worldwide church, if the eschatological church is the thing? Oh, no, no, no: the New Testament itself tells us that. There’s a wonderful phrase in 1 Peter 5, isn’t it, where he talks about persecution, and he says, “Your”—and he refers to “Your brethren throughout the world” (1 Pet 5:9). Your fellow believers throughout the world are suffering. In other words, it is true to say that we are all—even in this world, in this life, we are bound together. Yes, it’s all eschatology and the future. But the reality is that I am bound to Christians right ’round the world. And when they suffer—as our fellow Christians suffer in various places—persecution and so forth—I don’t sit here with folded arms and say, “Oh, they don’t belong to my church” or “I don’t care”. No! They are suffering and I suffer with them.
What happens in the New Testament, furthermore, is that the Apostle Paul, again and again, refers to the way in which other churches—other manifestations of the body of Christ—are doing certain things, and we should take note of that and do the same. Or they are looking at us and praising and thanking God for us. So there is a connectedness between the different manifestations of the one true church. We’re certainly connected, and that has to be respected. So it’s quite right for us to network with other—to create denominations—it’s quite right. And it’s very helpful thing to do—as long as we don’t promote the denomination to take the place of the one true church.
CK: Well, if the local church, then, is where we really see the church manifested on earth in the clearest sense, what does unity look like in that context?
CK: Is it something that is presupposed—it’s already there—we’re already united?
CK: Is it something that’s quite volatile? Is it something to be pursued?
CK: How are we to think about it?
PFJ: Well, you quoted Ephesians. I always think Ephesians is—there are various books in the New Testament which concentrate on some doctrine or other—2 Peter is really, I think, about Scripture. And Ephesians, I think, is not only about the church, but it is—if you’re doing an understanding of the church, Ephesians is pretty important.
PFJ: Now, in Ephesians 4, it begins, doesn’t it. It begins with the assumption that there is one church—that that one church is manifested in the Ephesian church—that that one church is united, but that in terms of our local church, we need to work on unity. And, yes, there is one Father, one Lord, one Spirit, and so forth, and so on. But love one another and work on unity.
One of the things I love about the New Testament, of which one loves many things, but one of the things I love about the New Testament is [it] doesn’t have a rosy picture of the church. Yes, it might be an eschatological church, but boy, it’s earthly! So that in the Acts of the Apostles, you know, you have a picture in chapter 4, for example, of the church—everyone’s selling all they have and giving to the poor and taking care of each other, and you say, “My, what a church!” And then in chapter 5, you have Ananias and Sapphira lying to the Holy Spirit and having to be punished. And so it is right through the Acts of the Apostles and the New Testament. Think of the churches and the description of the churches in the Revelation. There never has been a perfect church. The gatherings of God’s people have always been riven with dissent—always been riven with sin—always been riven by evil teaching and those who lead them astray. That’s the world we live in.
And so, Paul—look, I refer now back to Ephesians 4—calls upon us all—each one of us. He doesn’t say, “By the way, ministers, make sure this happens”. The New Testament usually doesn’t call upon the ministers. It calls upon every member to take responsibility for the unity of the church. Which reflects the unity of the true church and is to the glory of God.
CK: That’s very helpful. So as we’re thinking about, then, participation in unity in the local church, what are the kinds of imminent threats to that unity? In other words, if we’re working towards preserving something that is, I think that’s the language, right, of Ephesians 4—maintain the unity in the bond of the Spirit (Eph 4:3)—what kinds of threats do you think bubble up most commonly?
PFJ: Well, Ephesians 4 and 5. Do you remember what’s in Ephesians 4 and 5, Chase?
CK: There is a long list of sin, I know that!
PFJ: What sort of sins do you think are mentioned there?
CK: Oh, I think there’s probably—
PFJ: You notice I’m testing Chase at this point [Laughter]—just wanting to see that he’s still with us.
CK: I’ve done a lot of work on Ephesians 1-6—4:1-16! I know that at verse 17, it picks up on a long list of sins. Which talks about “walking in a manner worthy of the calling”, picking up from verse 1 of chapter 4, I think. So—
PFJ: Yeah, yeah.
CK: —as you get into that, I know this is one of those instances where Paul is contrasting the old way of life with the new way of life, and the old way of life involves a lot of friction between other people.
PFJ: It does.
CK: And I think it comes through heinous sins, like sexual immorality, but it also—
CK: —comes through slander.
CK: And covetousness—
CK: —and gossip and other problems.
PFJ: The sins of the tongue.
PFJ: Very important.
CK: Very important.
PFJ: Very very, you know, wicked and corrupting. Greed.
CK: Malice, envy, those kinds of things.
PFJ: And the interesting thing on Ephesians 4:5 and also in Colossians, is that the lists of dos and don’ts there, as you may call them, yes, they are true: they are virtues, they are standards. But they’re particularly set in the setting of the church. It is how we treat each other. Don’t lie to each other. Don’t steal from each other. Rather, give to each other. And what we see—particularly in Colossians 3, but I believe it’s there in Ephesians as well, is that the purpose of God for us is that we may grow into his image. We were created in his image. We were redeemed by his image—namely, Jesus. We are now to grow into his image. But one of the interesting things in those passages is that it’s corporate—that it is together—that it is the church, which grows into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ by our putting off the old, putting on the new, by the way in which we treat each other—pre-eminently, of course, by the way in which we love each other.
CK: As we take a break from our program, I’d like to encourage you to plan to be part of our live events program for 2021. Next year, the major theme for all of our events will be community. Under this umbrella, we’ll think about how community can be good for so many different people, how we can deal with sin together, what it means to forgive, and how we can raise the next generation.
These events are designed to be engaged in community. Our hope is that you will be part of the conversation we’re facilitating, that you’ll consider these events with others from your church, and that the topics will benefit the communities that you are a part of.
Our first event, “Can Christian community be good for you, me and everyone else?” will be held on March 3rd in 2021. I hope that you’ll go online and register for these events, or better yet, that you’ll encourage your church to participate in these events together. All the information that you need can be found at ccl.moore.edu.au/events/.
Now let’s get back to our program.
PFJ: One of the interesting things happened in our experience here in Sydney, and perhaps elsewhere, is that in the 1950s, churchgoing was very popular. We had a Sunday School nearby here with a thousand members, for example.
PFJ: It was just the thing to do. In the 1960s, the bottom fell out of the religious market and people stopped going to church in droves. But we didn’t despair at that point, because in a sense, the nominal Christians dropped off. But those who genuinely believed in the Lord Jesus who were converted, they stayed, and the churches, in a sense, were strengthened by what happened.
In the 1990s, I remember a minister saying to me, “Peter, funny things are happening”. He said, “Converted people are not turning up to church every Sunday. They’re in the pews once every two weeks”. He said, “How can it be that people who truly belong to the Lord are not making their church a priority?” And I think as time has gone on since the 1990s, this has been more and more indicated.
Now, this is a very, very serious problem, because how can we love each other—you speak about the unity of the church; yes I can see some things that are going to destroy the unity of the church—
PFJ: —but one of the things that’s going to destroy the unity of the church is that when church people don’t know each other, ’cause they don’t attend often enough.
CK: Yeah. I wonder if there’s a trend. I mean, I see things about the message of churches—not necessarily—I can’t think of a church that’s doing this per se, but there’s so much now about self-realisation.
CK: So you come to church because it makes me something better or it value adds to my life—
CK: —which keeps the focus on me, me, me, me, me.
CK: So when I think church isn’t going to do it for me, or I’ve got something else that’s going to, you know, take precedent—
CK: —or have higher priority, I’m going to go to that instead.
CK: Likewise, it’s about what I can get out of church, rather than what I can contribute.
CK: I wonder if this is a trend. And I’ll tell you one of the ways that I think it creeps in. So going back to Ephesians 4 and 5, I mean, you talked about us growing up together: we need one another to grow together. In fact, Paul says that we each have to take our own place in the body.
CK: And we have to speak the truth in love.
CK: But—but the kind of sins that combat that—that really put that in jeopardy—are envy and rivalry and malice. And so, actually, if I see you taking a place in the body that I wish I had—
CK: —well, suddenly, I feel threatened and therefore my worth feels less than or something. So I’m not actually understanding myself in this bigger picture of what we’re doing together under Christ. It’s more about you versus me. Which is not a gospel foundation. It’s actually quite worldly.
Likewise, if you’re not doing enough for me in the church, well then, why do I bother with you? And so again, the focus can so subtly become about us, and I wonder if at times that we actually play into the culture’s hand of trying to make church more and more satisfying to our members, rather than actually saying, “No, we together are actually growing up into Jesus”, which is our whole goal—is to grow up to be like our saviour. What do you think about that, Peter?
PFJ: Can I disagree with you?
CK: Oh, absolutely!
PFJ: This is your podcast!
CK: I—you can definitely disagree with me.
PFJ: Okay, well let me comment.
CK: Or you could just be honest about the disagreement you already have!
PFJ: Okay, okay. [Laughter] Well, let me comment! I agree with you entirely.
PFJ: In the 1960s, in our part of the world, I believe we, in a sense, didn’t do a bad job. I don’t want to pat us on the back, but what happened was that we put a lot of emphasis on the church as a gathering and as a community, which was very helpful back then. Secondly—and continues to be—secondly, we brought in a higher level of education in churches through small groups meeting. Thirdly, expository preaching became the fashion. So teaching. Fourthly, we introduced things like coffee. I mean, [Laughter] it was a revolutionary thing!
CK: I’m glad for that!
PFJ: But people—yeah.
CK: Not biblical, but wonderful. [Laughter]
PFJ: Ah, well, [Laughter] Well, tea as well. But people got to know each other in a way which wasn’t true before. And these things are absolutely essentially, because suburbs in which you had horses and carts were turning into metropolises with cars and TV, and it was just a different world. And we needed to do that, if were to maintain the community and the fellowship of God’s people.
However, if we simply do that, we’ll lapse, because the world which you are describing is, again, a different world. And there’s a description that we used to use that people—Christians were—well, various people were “worldly”, and that generally meant they went to dances and played cards and things like that—or went to the movies. They were “worldly” people. But the world in us, which is a category, is far more subtle than that. And our danger today is that we have become very worldly. I don’t mean greedy and affluent, although that’s always a danger, but rather, taking in the way of thinking of the world about things like truth and the importance of the individual, and then the importance of the community, and so forth. We have become quite worldly—in the way that you described. And that worldliness will kill the churches just as effectively as false teaching, because it is false teaching.
CK: Yeah. When we say “speaking the truth in love”, that’s not easy to do—
CK: —in one sense, because so much of the culture around us doesn’t want to be honest about the way things are. So how can we do that, and again, I’m coming back to the gospel as a foundation here: it seems to me that the gospel frees us to speak truly, if we really grab the gospel. In other words, there’s security in the gospel—that when I heard the truth, then I’m not threatened in a way that I would otherwise be. Does that make any sense to you?
PFJ: Of course!
CK: What would you say about that, then?
PFJ: You see, I think this is a discussion that we need to have in all the churches. Paul goes on to talk about forgiveness there too. To how to speak the truth in love—in other words, to speak the truth, I take it, in a way which respects relationship and a way which is humble and not arrogant—this must be one of the most difficult callings that the Christian has. And yet, so significant, if we are to build each other up. The aim is always love for the other person.
Now, many of us are just in Sunday School when it comes to this. Many of us are grown-ups in our bodies, but we’re in Sunday School spiritually. And we’re simply not able to do this in a way which either doesn’t cause deep and unwarranted offence, or in way which flatters other people, but doesn’t actually address their needs. So I like the way you’ve isolated that particular phrase.
PFJ: And there’s so much else as well, but—
PFJ: —but it’s a really important one.
PFJ: And again I say, it’s not addressed to ministers.
CK: It’s to all of us, that’s right.
PFJ: It’s—the New Testament puts an immense obligation on every church member.
PFJ: Now, there’s another thing too that I think we need to mention, Chase, if you don’t mind.
PFJ: And I think we quoted The Thirty-Nine Articles as talking about the churches—“the word of God preached and the sacraments duly administered” (XIX). Some people add “disciplined” to that as well, and that’s another story. But I do think, again, if I may say so, that in our part of the world here, we have undervalued the sacraments. And we will pay a penalty for that.
In particular, I think we’ve undervalued the Lord’s Supper and strangely, we’ve undervalued the—what you may call the horizontal element of the Lord’s Supper, which is captured so magnificently in The Book of Common Prayer—Cranmer’s great liturgy, in which
You that do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins to almighty God, and be in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith, and take this holy sacrament to your comfort—
I value the Lord’s Supper, I have to say, immensely. Cranmer lays it down that you’re not to have the Lord’s Supper unless there’s two or three of you present. It’s not an individual thing; it’s always a fellowship thing. And we are to be challenged—we are to have the Supper regularly, I think. I don’t say every Sunday, but I think we ought to have the Supper regularly. We ought to understand that it’s a preaching of the gospel. We ought to understand, however, that it’s a preaching of the gospel, which enables us to make concrete the gospel, and forces us to consider our relationship with the other people in the room. I don’t think we do that. I don’t think we do it enough.
CK: I agree with you. I mean—
PFJ: I—I’d like to challenge people.
CK: I really appreciate that. I grew up in America, and there were churches that I visited where there were communion stations set up around the room and during sort of an open music time, you could go to one of those stations by yourself—
PFJ: I beg your pardon?
CK: —at your own time and partake in your own quiet corner.
PFJ: Goodness me!
CK: It was strange.
CK: I totally take your point—that actually, we are doing something together. And coming back to what we said—perhaps it was in our last conversation about John 17—if we really believe that we have a union with God, because his Spirit dwells in us, that’s, then, uniting us to one another in a very special way, and the very same grace that we’ve received to enable that union is the kind of grace that is allowing that relationship to go forward.
CK: And Jesus makes a lot about the forgiveness we’ve received and the forgiveness that we extend. And I think you’re right: we’ve got to recapture the horizontal element of that and say, “Every time we come together at the table, we’re giving an expression of great participation we have in Jesus together”.
CK: We together belong as a body.
PFJ: Yes, yes. It’s an outward display of what the Lord says: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (Luke 11:4).
PFJ: In a sense, that’s the Lord’s Supper. In a sense!
PFJ: There we are. And it would be immensely church-building, I think, if we took the Supper more seriously than we have learned to do so over the years. And I understand why we have taken the line we have in our part of the world—because of a horror at the possibilities of a outward display and of a reliance upon the sacraments as a way of salvation—“If you just have the sacrament, you’ll be saved”—that sort of thinking, which I doubt whether anyone truly believes. But nonetheless, there is a reaction against that. But when you take a reaction to something, it doesn’t mean that you react into nothingness: you must react into the truth. And that’s what I think.
CK: That’s very helpful. Just maybe as we conclude our conversation, Peter, thinking about the place of sin in the congregation. It seems to me that the Bible’s filled with warnings about sin and division.
CK: I’m thinking especially about “a little leaven in the dough” (1 Cor 5:6) and the way that it works itself through. We’ve talked around sin, but how do we address sin more specifically in churches—that we can actually then preserve a unity?
PFJ: Well, first of all, we have to recognise that we’re all sinners and that we sin constantly, of course, in word, deed and thought. Secondly, I think it’s immensely important as we gather, and again, I fear that this has been lost in some quarters: it’s immensely important that we do—we follow what The Book of Common Prayer lays down and we begin as sinners, recognising, once again, that we’ve all sinned, and we confess our sins together, and receive the absolution of sins from those who preach the word of God and have that office of preaching the word of God. I don’t know why we don’t do this, because it’s the gospel!
So first of all, sin in the congregation needs to be dealt with by a general confession, and the receiving an absolution of sins with the word of God ministering to our hearts and souls. And then, of course, in every congregation, from time to time, there arises what I may call “capital sins”. “Capital” may not be the right word, but there are gross sins, which occur from time to time in any congregation. They may be sins of speech. They may be sins of act. They may be an adultery which has occurred, for example, or something like that, which is an offence against the gospel, and if the person just continues to be present or the persons continues to be present, without any rebuke or calls to repentance, then this “leavens the whole lump”.
And I don’t know that we are very good at dealing with this as we should. We need, of course, to be immensely careful about gossip and always remember that there’s the law of defamation, and we must be very careful indeed not to defame people—not just because it’s the law, but because it’s wrong to do so. But there does come moments when the sin in the congregation cannot be hidden, but must be dealt with.
And I think what the Lord told us is true: it’s, first of all, personal—a private rebuke is entered into, and then perhaps with two or three, and then perhaps, in a way that’s appropriate to our times, a way in which the congregation itself is distanced from the sinner with the hope of repentance.
PFJ: But we need to be very careful not to be victims here of gossip.
CK: Well, thank you for that wise input. And again, the foundation of that all is the gospel—that we can confess because of the forgiveness we have in Christ.
PFJ: Yes indeed.
CK: In fact, we can hold each other to account, because of that forgiveness that we’ve known—
CK: —and want to keep extending to one another—
CK: —as well. So.
PFJ: Yes, I think so.
CK: Peter, I’m so grateful for the time that you’ve given to us. And we pray the Lord will continue to bless your ministry.
PFJ: Thank you! Thank you very much. And I give my greetings to all who’ll be listening to this.
CK: Thank you.
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As always, I’d like to thank Moore College for making the ministry of the Centre for Christian Living possible, and to extend thanks to my assistant, Karen Beilharz, for audio editing and transcribing. Music provided by James West.