First Corinthians chapter five was one segment of the Bible that I really camped out on, when I decided to disclose to others, the ‘case of incest’ that had happened against me, within my own family. A disclosure which then led me to separate myself from my abusers; as well as those who ‘sheltered’ said abusers. At the time, I couldn’t decide what the word proud was actually getting at; in 1 Corinthians 5:2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?
I concluded that if I were to share my thoughts on this chapter of scripture, I would be sure to include the two theories I had found regarding the meaning of proud. Most commentators felt that the church at Corinth was proud in a covering sense, and thereby seeking to ‘look perfect to others’ (as we often do in our pride and arrogance). And so they were eagerly covering up the sin in their midst instead of bringing it to light, openly dealing with it, and rebuking the brother who was willfully sinning in such an egregious manner, for his sake, that he could possibly be saved eternally. Doing so would likely have meant suffering a pretty public stain on their reputation. Therefore it is presumed they ‘covered it up’ in their pride, wanting to keep it quiet so they looked better to outsiders and other churches. This makes good sense, to me, and rang quite true. At least in terms of my own family members, all of them professing Christians: I became the problem for talking about the problem. In their pride they definitely wanted to just keep this sin quiet and unknown.
However, I also came across an alternative ‘take’ which rang true as well, that proud was used in a more open sense. Some believed that the church in Corinth may have actually been openly proud about how licentious they were able to be, as if that denoted they had a greater measure of faith or love. Today we would call that kind of thing grace-based and trusting fully in Jesus work on the cross to cover us, rather than our own works to save us — to the point that they were so tolerant of sexual sins that they saw that tolerance they were displaying as a reason to be proud. This take isn’t as popular as the first one. Yet I think it also has merit, especially given what is happening today with the general acceptance of, and seeming loving Christian behaviors, in the face of so many forms of sexual sins being openly practiced and embraced.
Both of those examples fit the range of what I personally encountered, after I disclosed that I was abused as a child by a member of my family, who was also a member of the clergy. Again: my own family was proud of our good name and that we had a member of the clergy within our rank. How dare I threaten that?
Others I shared this with did not seem ready or willing to confront evil in our midst and more than eager to ‘give extra grace and love’ to the perpetrator… to be open to my story, only to then just want to cover it all up again. I’m not sure if that was pride, or simple naivety about how often the New Testament urges us to confront and separate from evil. But I do know that in time I became very careful about with whom I shared my story. As, by and large, most Christians want to believe that the church is a safe place, and that ministers, by nature of being church leaders, could almost always be trusted. Except for those few evil ones already in prison… but those were/are obvious (or something?) and not our current minister…no not ours…
It is, almost always, to such Christians, the world which is the problem. Most Christians I know simply do not speak or behave or pray; as if the church is, or even might be, the problem. Even though a quick read of 1 Corinthian 5 & 6 makes it very clear that we are not to judge the world or be surprised to see evil there; but instead to actually hone in on– with ready exhortations and a willingness to kick out or separate ourselves from– our brothers and sisters within the church–rooting out all forms of sin and evil there, so that we may be spared eternally. That is love. That is grace. That is truth. I have not heard of this happening in a helpful way. Instead, I’ve heard horror stories of abuse victims being rooted out of churches.
Others I told my story to heard me and seemed to believe me, but they also expressed little to no outrage at the evil occurring in our midst, or concern that this person might perpetrate on others; and instead were urging me to forgive it. All were welcome there. So long as those sinned against were willing to forgive anything.
I was not urged to share openly, in order that others in the church may be spared from abuse, or in order that my perpetrator might descend further into evil and therein might actually be saved himself. Nor did I sense that I would get any support from any church body at large, were I to have tried to do that in a more public way than I ended up doing. And so it was, in encountering those reactions, that I came to believe that being proud about how tolerant we Christians can be, in the midst of sexual sins committed by professing brothers, is also a very real phenomena–at least it is so today (whether or not that was also what was going on in Corinth at the time of Paul’s letters, I simply cannot say).
And so, it is with this mindset of seeing that I was more right then, than I may be now, as I go back and re-visit my early recovery: that I have been re-reading the New Testament letters. Because I am not sure I have pleased God or really displayed love, to my own abusers, in letting down some boundaries I had once kept very firm, as I first healed. As I read the New Testament, I am astounded how often evil is pointed out within the branches of the church itself, and how often we modern Christians just point blank leave those verses out in the things we repeat, pray about, encourage one another with, and put on our beloved wall plaques and t shirts and bumper stickers, too. Everyone has seen 1 Philippians 4:13 blazened across clothing and social media sites. But is anyone putting Philippians 3:2 on their wall?
Wherein Paul tells us to watch out for dogs, for evil doers within the church?
And what about 1 Corinthians 5:11? But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolateror or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
If I can truly ‘do all things’ through Christ who gives me strength, then why do I have such a hard time separating myself from willful sinners in my life, who readily call themselves Christians? Why am I not content with the incredibly small, yet salty and willing to separate from evil, fellowship that I already have… (I should note that the meaning, in context, of 1 Philippians 4:13 has more to do with finances and being content with either little OR much in terms of material possessions)
I think the culprit there is pride. Which leads to idolatry. Wherein we want to be part of God’s church just as we think it ought to be (and that kind of thing is an idol); we don’t actually want God; or the church He is actually forming on earth. I am guilty of this idolatry myself. I too want to be part of something much bigger, more impressive, more powerful– than this tiny remnant of but one or two who keep seeking other Christians for strengthening– only to be disappointed time and again with how willing so many are to collude with the kind of sins and sinners we are warned, over and over again, to come out and be separate from.
Separating from the world is easy enough, and we can find lots of support for that kind of thing within Christian circles. Separating out from the professing Christians who are idolaters? Greedy? Drunkards? Slanderers? Swindlers? Who partake of, or else openly tolerate, sexual immorality (and abuse)?
If I put 1 Corinthians 5:11 on my wall, and followed it as diligently as I follow all the other Bible verses…would I have anyone left with whom to have Christian fellowship?
Come, Lord Jesus