The Third Category

One of the first things that I have to make a decision on when I meet a person is in which one of three spiritual “categories” he/she falls. This decision will have a profound influence on my dealings with the person. The categories are simple: True Believer, Nominal Christian and Non-Believer.

Dealing with True Believers and with Non-Believers is quite straightforward. The new testament is full of instructions and examples on how to do this:

In his sermon on the mount Jesus gave many practical guidelines on dealing with Non-Believers, and when praying with his disciples shortly before the crucifixion (in the gospel of John), Jesus spoke about how believers must love each other. There are also plenty of guidelines in the epistles about how we are to live with other True Believers.

But dealing with Nominal Christians can become complicated very quickly. Especially if they are overtly living in sin. Jesus said “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” For me the acid test to determine whether or not someone is a true believer is to simply ask whether their day-to-day lives are in accordance with Jesus’ commands.

I find it very disturbing when a person overtly lives in sin, such as sexual immorality, drunkenness or homosexuality, yet claims to be a Christian. I need no incentive to not be friends with such a person – I don’t want to.

But sometimes “evading” such people are sadly not an option. Examples: my one friend is in a cell group with a guy who is living with his girlfriend. I have recently started dating a girl who’s sister is doing the same thing (while claiming that they are both Christians, and that they pray together and so and so.)

I find it tricky to deal with this situation, and I would like your guys’ input on how you understand scripture concerning this.

Here’s a bit more context:

I have been a family friend of the Smith’s for awhile now. For many years in fact. I am very fond of the 6 children in the house and of the mother. They have all always been Christian.

Over the last two years, my friendship with one of the daughters in the family, Sally, steadily became closer and closer. Almost a month ago I asked her out.

However, there are very questionable things afoot in the Smith family. Both the mother, Jane, and the one daughter, Judy, are living with their lovers, outside of wedlock at the moment. Yet they claim to be Christian and often speak to me about spiritual things.

Up until recently, they have been living very far away and the situations with their lovers had come to be without me really ‘knowing’ about it (one day I heard that they had been living together for some time now).

But now two things have forced me to face up to the situation: (a) I have moved to Gauteng, where the mother and Judy stay. (b) I have started going out with their daughter, Sally.

I am trying to understand from scripture how I am to ‘deal’ with these people now. The obvious part to me is that I should speak to them, in love, telling them that what they are doing is wrong before the Lord and that they should repent. But where it gets tricky is: what if they don’t listen?

Am I to cut ties with them? And what if they do get married? Should I then re-establish ties with them?

There are many things to consider here:

  • I don’t want to cause a divide in the family of my girlfriend. Not “accepting” these people the way that they are may very well led to such a divide. But if doing the Lord’s will means causing a divide, I’ll do it.
  • These people know that what they are doing is wrong before the Lord, yet they persevere in their sin.
  • I want to protect my relationship from the influence of the sin that these people are living in, and also from the judgement that will befall them.
  • In scripture, I can not find a single example where people were knowingly living in sin, and was met with love and acceptance from believers, and that this led to them repenting. However, I can find plenty examples where harsh judgement befalls people who knowingly sins before the Lord.
  • Jesus ate with sinners and tax-collectors, but he implored them to stop sinning. What would he do if they said “Thanks Jesus, but we’re just going to keep on living the way that we do, and we expect you to accept us the way that we are.” ?

When I look at scripture, I interpret that I ought to act as follows:

Confront these people in love about the way that they are living. If they listen and repent, I should support them in it. If not, I should severe my ties to them. What do you guys say? What should a Christian do?

I am eagerly waiting to get your input.


19 thoughts on “The Third Category

  1. Yo Levrai, great to read your post! I’ve thought a bit about your scenario, and this is how I see it:

    I don’t believe in a third category – someone is either in Jesus or not (Jesus will make sure of this ;p … ). I do believe it’s quite easy to switch between categories though; so the blind can see and yet become blind again, repent and see, ad nauseum. (I know many may not agree – obviously this is not a “Calvinist” view of salvation – although Calvin might disagree).

    So I tend to treat and think of people in the “third category” as those in the “last” – at least from God’s perspective.

    I know this is a very general statement, and I also know that there’s a lot of “ifs” and “buts” to be added, but fortunately we have the option of having uncommon common holy spirit sense. 😉

    I am quite interested to hear the inevitable objections to this view. 🙂

    Until soon (I hope)!

    • Hi Franz

      Professing Christians who live non-Christian lives are actually distinguished in several places in the New Testament. To name a few:

      Matt 7:21-23 (not all who say to me Lord will enter)
      I Cor 5:9-11 (do not associate with professing Christians who are sexually immoral etc)
      and perhaps Rev 3:16 (because you are lukewarm I will spit you out of my mouth)

      I fully agree with what you say in that someone is either in Christ or not (I myself have oscillated between the two over the last decade). Therefore, in the sense of your salvation, there is only 2 categories.

      However, what if you meet a person who claims to be a Christian and speaks to you as if he a brother in Christ, while he is living dishonestly, or in sexual immorality? Do you treat such a person different than you would a person who does not claim to be a Christian at all?

      I believe the answer is obviously “yes”. The logical following question is “in what way do we treat them differently?”

      Now I know that especially Franz is not a recipe / 2-dimensional kind of Christian and that is specifically why I took the time to paint the picture of the context of the situation in which I find myself. I am blatantly asking for advice from you guys. Please give me something I can work with 🙂

      Most of my take on this whole thing is built upon I Cor 5:9-11. I would appreciate if you guys could mention other scriptures that touch on the matter.

      I recently also reflected upon the Kings of Israel/Juda and how God did not only want them to worship only him, he also wanted them to actually break down the altars of the idols. God did not only want the Kings to act “right” in their individual capacity, he also wanted them to prevent others from sinning. However, I am sure that the kings lost a lot of popularity in destroying the altars – can you imagine how offended the worshippers of those idols would have been and how the king would have been called “narrow-minded”, “fascist” or “intolerant”.

      Kenny, I await your answer with eager anticipation.

      • The letter of 1st John offers some balanced counsel on what you call the ‘third category’, might be good to check that out even though the context is slightly different.

  2. I have been thinking about this the last few days, but my thoughts haven’t really – shall we say to mr ‘injaneer’ – “converged”… in the meantime – please can you fill in the following blanks for me/us:

    How does the sister you are dating feel about this?
    If she agrees with you, has she ever tried to talk to them about it herself?

    Also, I would like to know what you mean by “These people know that what they are doing is wrong before the Lord, yet they persevere in their sin”? What I mean is, have they actually defended their actions e.g. by saying “we’re married in our hearts” or “there are no biblical requirements for a marriage ceremony etc.”, or have they rather tried to excuse them e.g. by saying that “no one is perfect” etc.

    Lastly, are they attending a church at the moment? And, are their ‘lovers’ as you call them also professing Christians and if so do they also attend church?

    I have many thoughts for you on this, I promise to write them down soon once I have more information. What is the timeline on this – do you have to see them soon again?

    • Hello John

      Ah, you are asking good questions! Let me answer them systematically:

      The sister I am dating also disapproves of what they are doing. She agrees with me that the matter should be raised. I am not sure of whether she has confronted them about it yet – if she did it was in a way that was not very strong – they still have a very friendly relationship, though: as far as I can tell, it is not a very profound relationship. My girlfriend, Sally, also has a friendly relationship with the boyfriend Jack.

      I should also note that Sally has always considered her sister’s choice to date and move in with this guy as a wrong choice and a compromise.

      I think Sally has never confronted her sister about it because she was afraid to do so – remember, she is also two years younger than her sister. I just asked her about it and she said she was avoiding the confrontation…

      Sally agrees with me in that we should definitely not relate to these two as fellow believers. However, how we are to relate to them, we are still discussing. Neither of us is 100% sure how God wants us to handle this. She is leaning more towards “Tell them we do not approve, encourage them to repent, and make it clear to them that we do not consider them brother and sister in Christ, yet, if they are OK with that, we can still accept them the same way we would non-Christian (e.g. Muslim) friends or family.”

      I am thinking, based on I Cor 5:9-11, that it should perhaps be:
      “Tell them we do not approve, encourage them to repent, and make it clear to them that we do not consider them brother and sister in Christ, quietly withdraw from relationship in any way with them, i.e. disassociate.”

      As for defending their actions: yes, they have made self-justifying statements, almost exactly like the ones you mention, but they have also admitted to knowing that what they are doing is wrong, once again using the exact words that you use: “we are not perfect”.

      My personal opinion is that they started sleeping together, then moved in together, in both cases knowing full well that is was not what God wanted. Then they dealt with their feeling of guilt by making promises of faithfulness to each other “before God”.Therefore they are taking action to justify their sin, rather than repenting from it. Though, I realise this is my opinion.

      While there’s some truth to the fact that there is little biblical instruction on the form marriage should take, I say that, if you ask anybody, except these two themselves, whether they are married, the answer would be “no, they are not”. They are also still intending to have an actual wedding, which further shows that they do not consider themselves fully wed quite yet. (Sorry – I know you did not ask for the opinion that gave in the two last paragraphs, but there it is)

      They sporadically attend church. She said something like “although we do not find the time to really attend church, we do pray together”.

      Which also answers your after-last question: yes, the “lovers” are professing Christians.

      To answer you after-after last question:
      The timeline is not urgent. I think I’ll see them in about a week to a week and a half from now, I will be having a conversation about the whole situation with my girlfriend and her older (solid Christian) brother this Sunday. Some of your thoughts on being a Christian would be much appreciated before that, if it’s not too inconvenient 😉

  3. Dear Levraininjaneer

    It has been a pleasure reading about a topic where “some thoughts on being Christian” have to suddenly function in the real world – thanks for sharing this situation with us!

    I have recently acquired a new appreciation for face-to-face conversation. Conversations that are honest, frank and that are emotionally safe enough to tolerate real motives. Conversations which find Sunday school answers and mere nodding insufferable. Having recently had the pleasure of being engaged in such a conversation, I have found such conversations to be most enlightening and productive – this will be angle from which the rest of my response comes.

    I don’t have any advice for you but I would love to sit down with these people and ask them some questions:
    I would like to know why they call themselves Christians or why they want to be known as Christians? Is being known as a Christian a big deal to them and if so, why? Are they confusing Christianity with spirituality i.e. are they trying to convey that they are ‘spiritual’ but don’t have a “better” term to describe themselves? Answering these questions will require complete honesty about motives, attitudes etc. and I know that it’s quite possible that it won’t happen.

    If they say that they are Christians and want to be known as such, then I would love to hear about what they believe about God, Jesus and the Spirit; about the lordship of Christ, holiness and church life etc. This could be an excellent opportunity to share the real Gospel! If these people identify themselves as Christians, they should realise that they are identifying themselves with you and countless others. You and I are part of a family where we submit to a Father. And in that case, in the Christian family they cannot then make rules up for themselves. They should acknowledge that if they profess, they are inherently saying that they will abide by the Father’s family rules.

    If they say that being known as a Christian is not that important to them, their behaviour would cease to be a problem for me. However, I would first ask them to refrain from calling themselves Christians in the future should they continue with their chosen lifestyle. I know that you will ask but what about warning them ahead of Judgment etc. but I don’t feel equipped to tackle that aspect now.

    A face-to-face conversation that seeks first to understand is what I would do! 🙂

    • Ah Rose, thank you so much for the response – you have said some things that are very valuable and useful to me in this situation.

      You place a lot of emphasis on understanding them. Understanding why they call themselves Christians, or why they want to. In my situation a conversation of the quality and maturity that you describe seems a bit unlikely – these two have become prideful in their sin.

      I wrote them a very gentle letter a week before posting this (original), and received a very vengeful, defensive answer. Later she said sorry if she had been a bit ‘lelik’ (mean), but that she does mean what is said in the letter.

      But – I am entirely with you on this: that a personal conversation is a must. I am just not very optimistic about the outcome because I’ve already seen what their state of mind is. It is also very awkward because the girl (who I’ve come a long way with) insists that I speak to her and her lover (who I’ve never met) together. It’s a situation that’s perfectly set up for an explosion.

      I think we are all clear that as a Christian I should speak to them in love and encourage them to repent. However, the question that is eating at me is: what if they shun my appeal and continue to live in sin while continuing to claim fellowship with Christ?

      What should I do then? What does scripture say?

  4. Some quick thoughts for now: more later. Long days taking their toll on eyes and brain.

    You need to spend a lot of time in private prayer asking for guidance. This is where our thinking and Bible searching should always start, and finish.

    As you mentioned above, living in unrepentant sin does raise very serious question marks – eg “By their fruits ye shall know them”, Matt 7:20. Lack of Godly fruit, by implication, suggests a lack of true Christianity.
    We should always be careful to examine ourselves by God’s law – Matt 7:1-5… we must make sure that we do not become proud and arrogant.

    The Gospel is divisive in one sense – there will be division between those who serve God and those who rebel against God (eg Matt 10:21-24; 34-39). We must make sure, though, that any division (‘offence’) we cause is caused by the correct reason (the Gospel) and not because of our personal preferences etc.
    We are called to warn and challenge those who profess to be Christian but disobey God’s law. See Jude 19-23 – “… and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire…,” or James 5:19,20: “If any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him… ” (KJV).

    However, as you noted, we are called to do this in a spirit of humility, truth and love.

    Important to note that true Christian Love can be as simple as telling someone what God requires – eg the Lord Jesus and the Rich Ruler – Mark 10:21: Jesus “loved” the rich young ruler. He loved him *by telling him how he was disobeying God’s law.*
    Likwise the adulteress at the well in John (3? 4?) – he reminded her of her sinfulness (subtly), by questioning her about all her husbands/partners, which she would have known was sinful, since the Samaritans knew Genesis – Deuteronomy, which contained the law.

    Unfortunately, the above is the more straightforward part of the answer to your question. I’ll think longer and then give some comment on application/approach. It’s not simple to answer the ‘how’ question!
    For now, 1) the sister should have a real desire to warn them, in a loving way, so that they can repent and turn back to serving God, and honour Him.
    2) How well do you know them – sufficiently well to have a discussion on this topic with them yourself?
    3) You can broach the topic directly or indirectly. eg you might find a way of bringing up the topic in a way which warns them that it is contrary to the Bible, and which will challenge them and prick their consciences, but without necessarily specifically singling them out.
    I’m not saying you should do it this way, merely suggesting a possibility to think and pray about.
    4) Pray for them and pray for guidance for you, and discernment and wisdom to know when/if to speak/act and what to do/say.

    • Hi Kenny!

      Thanks for the time and thought you gave to this – I really appreciate it!

      Some thoughts on your thoughts:

      Thanks for reminding me about the importance of prayer. That is almost enough said 🙂

      You also make a great point in the gospel is divisive. In fact, I love your choice of the word divisive. That scripture where Jesus says that he did not come to bring peace, but the sword, is way under-quoted in my opinion. It is in start contrast with the popular figures of the day, such as Bishop Tutu that wants to unite all religion and make peace on every front. While that is a beautiful and flowery thought, it is definitely not based on the gospel. Once day Tutu will be held accountable for the teachings he gave in the name of Christ. But that is another matter altogether.

      And once again your reminder to not be deluded and reject something on Christian grounds when it is actually just your own opinion, rather than the gospel that is being challenged.

      True word too about how real love has the courage to correct. And a mature relationship thrives when correction is done. My favorite friends are the ones who have the back bone to tell me when I’m out of line.

      I’ve had similar experiences where I did no more than not “not notice” someone’s sin, and this led to the person confronting and repenting from that sin.

      on your final points:
      (1) The sister has the will.
      (2) I’ve known them the girl for a long time, though never very intimately and for 4 years now, I’ve had little to know contact with her.
      (3) The essential reason why I’m broaching the topic at all is because they want to hang out with me. The issue has already been raised.
      (4) Yes sir!

      Please read the comment I made to Rose.

      I appreciate your thoughts so far, but help me with the question:
      What do I do if I talk to them in love, they react badly, they do not repent and they continue to consider themselves Christians?

      Thanks again, bro!

  5. Hi Pieke

    I just want to say that I am so glad we can have a discussion like this on the blog. It has been a thought-provoking topic for me. Thanks for posting. I admire your desire to seek counsel and your determination to do the right thing. I hope you will find it true that there is wisdom among many.

    I think I would like to suggest a loose framework for thinking about this, from which you might derive what you want to do practically for yourself, rather than me trying to give specifics which wouldn’t be worth much. That’s if you find my comment of any value 😉 I have two comments about this situation: one is about the progressive nature of church discipline, and the other is about the corporate nature of church discipline.

    Firstly, ostracizing a professing Christian who is living in blatant rebellion to God is a progressive process, not a single event. That’s what I think Matthew 18:15-20 is saying. Matthew compiled his gospel decades after Jesus lived and died: in other words this passage was written down by Christians already in a church setting that needed guidance on how to deal with sin in their congregations. Jesus had obviously taught them, not a harsh and sudden cutting of ties, but a process of repeated efforts to engage and reason a disciple towards repentance. Only as a last resort, after much pleading and warning and threatening, was the person to be ostracized. I don’t know your situation, but it doesn’t seem to me you are at the last throw of the dice. Perhaps the ‘cutting of ties’ that you are considering should be shelved until you have found no other way to persuade them. Isn’t this how God dealt with Israel? At many times and in many ways He spoke to Israel, with more and more force He disciplined them, and only after repeated rebellion did God kick them out of the Promised Land. Marriage problems are surely to be dealt with on the same principle of increasing action: in most cases I feel physical separation between husband and wife should only happen once all other avenues for reconciliation have been depleted. Or how about parenting – surely the child is initially dealt with patiently, and later punished with increasingly strong measures for stubborn disobedience – so church discipline is a process. Clearly, these examples are not totally relevant because God is God and spouses and parents have a level of authority over the actions of the other. But I agree with you that we are not called to be tolerant or dismissive of people in our lives who are hypocrites. I do believe that would be unloving and in some cases cowardly. I just think that you need to see this as more of a gradual process where you don’t back down on the Truth, but where you start small and end big if necessary. Maybe that’s where Rose’s and Kenny’s comments fit in. Rose is saying (I think), start small with questions and seek more understanding of them first. Kenny is saying (I think) start small and with prayer seek more understanding of God and His perspective first. Life is often messy and unclear (people are even worse!), so a clear cut answer in the Bible is hardly ever there (that is a whole blog post on its own!) – perhaps that what Franz means by Holy Spirit common sense?  In all of this, caution and patience seem to be prominent, gradually leading to firm and decisive action.

    But my second point is my main one. Consider your verse: 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 which at first SEEMS to say that we should totally cut off rebellious ‘third category’ believers. Please allow me a little exegesis here to build my point. Paul is writing to a church, not an individual, and giving commands to the church which will probably be read out publically and implemented by elders. The way I understand the context is that Paul has been rebuking the Corinthian congregation as a whole for their spiritual pride (most of chapter 1-4). Then, from the beginning of chapter five (in order to humble them) he zones in on one of the issues in their congregation that is shameful (verse 1). (Listen, I don’t know if its a valid point, but this passage is about a guy who did something non-believers would find disgusting. Perhaps the extremity of Paul’s reaction is in proportion to the perversion of the sin? Most would probably say no, but I am sure excommunication would come more swiftly to a paedophile or bestialist than someone who confessed to masturbation). Anyway, I think verse 2 is a sort of a context summary for the whole passage you mentioned i.e. Paul is writing to the local congregation in town, and to me it seems that the issue is primarily that of corporate fellowship and discipline, not individual relationships. Besides the obvious context, I take this because the word ‘you’ is plural everywhere here, and to mean ‘you’ as a church. The ‘remove him’ in verse 2 seems to be the direct application of verse 11 (hope that makes sense).That means, to me this is a verse which should be implemented first by the offender’s church, and in a secondary way by individuals (as in your situation). In other words, we are talking about public excommunication from church events here (verse 4-5). The church is under threat of being harmed by the influence of the sinful person (verse 6). From what I understand, commands like ‘remove him’, ‘do not associate with him’, ‘do not eat with him’ and ‘judge him’ are given by an apostle to a community that is opening their homes to each other, worshipping together, sharing love feasts together and partaking of the Lord’s supper together (which you aren’t – at least to the same extent). Another significant thing for me; the excommunication is an official event, sanctioned by a high authority in the church (Paul) and most probably initiated by the church leadership (verse 4-5). And the goal of the whole thing is that the fellowship remains pure, the gospel remains dignified and offender will be ashamed and repent. Just like the passage in Matthew says: these issues may begin with an individual confrontation but they must always end with a corporate confrontation before excommunication happens. So maybe, as I said earlier, you are looking at preliminary action here and not an ultimatum? That’s why I asked whether they were at church or not. I mean, the other passage which touches this is in 2 Thessalonians 3:14, where Paul says if a brother or sister does not submit to apostolic doctrine they should be ostracized. Interestingly, they are not excommunicated here because they are rebuked as a brother and not an outsider. Referring to your phrase ‘overt sin’, sometimes even those that persist in sin should be rebuked before being cut off. Check out 1 Timothy 5:20 (note the corporate setting, and that Timothy would have been in authority and not just an individual or even a member). The 1 Corinthians 5 passage is much more about whether you would attend a home-fellowship group at their house or with them than about normal family ties. And if they were in your immediate church, you probably would be more responsible for reporting them to the leadership. Interpreting and applying the spirit of this text is difficult for individuals in our day though; there is no longer one body of believers in a town and membership is not as exclusive of unbelievers as in those days. You could perhaps avoid Christian fellowship with them by not going to their church etc. but you since they are not in church you don’t have that option. It is a real question for me if you can even apply this passage to their situation, since they are not really part of a church fellowship that can exclude them or under leadership that can rebuke them. What do you think?

    These are just some of the thoughts that I have found illuminating on this passage. So along with thinking of this as something dealt with more corporately than individually, and also within the context of Christian fellowship and not necessarily all ordinary interaction, there is also the issue of it being a process of trying everything to win them and not a single ‘approach’. Again, don’t get me wrong, there is a hard edge to this that we have to embrace for sure. Clearly you cannot and must not treat them as if what they are doing is acceptable when bearing the name Christian. And maybe you need to protect yourself and others from corruption. But the question, as you keep saying, is how. Clearly, it needs to be primarily an action of the Christian community at large if possible. But you will now need all the questions and prayers and Holy Spirit common sense to figure out how your situation fits into that. I am not sure, but I am keen to hear your thoughts and plans so that we can be a sounding board.

    I have just read the other comments and it seems I have not answered your one about if they react badly. But I hope this adds to your thinking. I would appreciate it if you also help me with anything I might be thinking wrongly – this is new ground for me too. You are in a tough situations. Keep strong!

    • Hi John.

      Wow, thank you so much for all that you put into that answer. I really do sometimes feel like I miss out on learning so much from you because we do not often get the chance to hang.

      I don’t have time for a complete response now, but I plan to make a complete one later, also after I’ve read your note again and reflected upon it some more.

      There is a single thing I’d like to touch on for now, though:

      You also mentioned it toward the end of your note: the context of the church in our society today. I’ve listened to some of David Pawson’s sermons on being part of the church and he drew attention the effect that the automobile had on the church: it made it possible for us to choose from about 5 times more churches that we wanted to attend. If I were in Corinth, back in the day, there would be no choice as to what church I would attend – I would attend the church of Corinth, and that was it.

      And so for many years, probably up until the early 1900’s, the church congregations were area bound.

      These days it is different: how many people in your church do you *ever* see at non-church occasions? Modern-day churches are (sadly) hardly a community of believers. Most of us see people from our church only on Sundays or in cell. Perhaps also at a social occasion now and again, or maybe at work (in the rare cases where they work in the same place as you). How often have you invited someone from church for a meal at your house.

      Admittedly, some Christians take ownership of pro-actively seeking the fellowship of other Christians by inviting them to meals or to social events (I think Franz and his wife make for a good example), but such Christians are (sadly) the exception rather than the rule these days.

      So, like you say – it becomes un-obvious how to apply letters that were written to a very community-based church back then, to the modern day church.

      In my “loose mind” on this, I do not believe the church has ceased to be or has even lost its potency. In my mind, I consider the modern day church a network of True Believers, rather than a denomination, a building, or even a congregation.

      Therefore, I would say that, while the biblical church was community-based, the modern-day church is relationship based. Or: while the biblical church was bound by geographical areas, the modern day church is bound by networks of relationships (based on fellowship).

      The people that I share Christian fellowship with are people like Franz, Stiaan, Wim, Julindi even you – and almost none of these are in my congregation, yet I consider them part of “my church”.

      This view-point of mine is, I think, not a very main-stream one, and could perhaps make for an interesting separate discussion on Some Thoughts. But I think that it’s clear that when you look at applying church discipline, or when considering ostracizing people from the church, we must first understand what we mean when we say “the church”.

      There is also a complex that Christians always have, in my opinion. I think we can call it the “should-complex”. It is the case where we know how to apply Christian doctrine, but only within a idealistic, non-existent (or: no longer existent) context.

      In this case, the “standard”, Sunday-school approach would be to first go to these people alone, then with another believer, then with the elders and to then ostracize them if they still won’t repent.

      But this approach can’t really be taken, since these people are not actually going to church, or if they are, the church has failed to rebuke them or to have an interest in rebuking them. So in the end the “should-complex” people get stuck on “well, their church should take action”, or “well, if you were in their church you should do this”.

      A perfect example of the “should-complex” is perhaps that when people become Christian, but still have all kinds of problems and difficulties, the “should-complexers” would say, “well, if you have Jesus in your heart, it should make you free of these things.”

      The point I am trying to make is that we rarely, if ever, find ourselves in a situation where our context exactly matched that in which scripture was written. I think that this was even true for the people in Jesus time relative to the old testament. In such cases we need to discern the “spirit of the law”, or the principle that informs the scripture that we read, and let our actions, in our context be guided by that principle.

      Of course, it is very easy to get that wrong – and this was something the pharisees did often. That scripture about giving the money that they were giving to take care of their parents to the temple instead comes to mind.

      Therefore we must seek out, with great fear and trembling, the spirit of the scriptures, and how it applies to life in our society, which is so very different from life in any of the centuries that preceded it.

      Anyway, jô – I went on a long time about that.

      John, I’d appreciate it a lot of you can talk a bit more about the context of the church today and your take on it. Specifically the community aspect. Franz, if you are still following this (which, with a smile, I doubt), please speak too – because I know that you are great at zooming out and percieving the bigger picture.

      Rose and Kenny, I’m also keen to hear your responses to my responses.

      I’ve also called in even another re-enforcement. Am awesome young man of Christ which you guys have not really met yet – I am waiting in anticipation to see what he has to add to the discussion.

  6. I’ve read through John’s comment, and am inclined to agree that a lot of the comments re discipline of unrepentant congregation members are probably closely linked with church discipline rather than with the relationships between individuals.
    I think progressively more serious stages of admonishing people is also correct, as he points out.

    One passage I have found which I think might be of interest – not yet mentioned, I don’t think? – is in 2 John – (NKJV):
    “9 Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.
    10 ¶ If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him;
    11 for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.”
    Note that this seems to be particularly directed at false teachers, so it is not necessarily the same as your example. (Though note that the way we live is effectively practical teaching) It can possibly give some principles to work on:
    You need to be careful of the example you set to those Christians around you who know the type of lifestyle that is lived by the people in question. You need to be quite sure that others are not mislead into thinking that it is any way acceptable or biblical.

    In terms of church and community, if I understand correctly, you do not attend the same church community. I think that this is an important factor – if you did, you would be in a position where you would be responsible to see that the church acts in order to teach, correct and discipline as (if) necessary to prevent others going astray as well as to correct those who are straying (see the rest of 2 John).

    You are in a position where you are seeking as an individual to teach and prick their consciences, without the support of a church community to challenge them and support you.

    Depending on their response to you, you are wondering how to act in future, if they do not repent. I can’t really give you an answer to this, right now. I simply don’t know, I’m afraid. And I think that there might not be a ‘one size fits all’ answer. It depends on their reaction, to a great extent.
    The most I can do is suggest some lines of thinking for you to peruse:

    1) The way in which you respond must not mislead any of our Brothers and Sisters in Christ (or unbelievers, for that matter!) into thinking that this type of behaviour is acceptable for someone who professes to be a Christian. Remember the Lord Jesus Christ’s comment with reference to His Children – (Matt 18:3-6, KJV) “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

    2) You must not mislead the the family into thinking that what they are doing is acceptable after all, and that you made a mistake in challenging them.

    3) If they take particular offence when you challenge them directly, and do not repent, I imagine that they will try to avoid you in future, to avoid having their consciences troubled again. This raises the question of whether you attempt to stay in touch with them, or not.

    4) What example is set to those around us by the friends we have (particularly the closer friends), and the way in which they behave? What influence do they have on us?
    Is it assumed that we approve of their actions because we are friends and spend time with them?
    What implications does this have for us as we seek to honour God in all things – even what we eat and drink? (1 Cor)
    These are challenging thoughts.

  7. Pingback: A starting thought on church | Some Thoughts On Being Christian

  8. Hi Levrai Ninjaneer

    Before I give my thoughts on the matter I must admit that I did not read all the comments. I hope I am not mentioning too many things previously discussed.

    First off all, I think it is important to establish the boundary between judging a person and judging a person’s deeds. To say that X Y and Z is not saved at the moment is quite a profound thing to say considering the fact that we don’t know whether or not they are. Yes, the bible might say that they are quite possibly not, but it is still for God to decide. Too judge a deed is slightly different. I have no problem with saying that this deed or that deed is sin and that God hates it (and to speak up about it), but salvation is something for God alone to decide.

    I can to some degree relate to what you have said, since my wife has family who live similar lifestyles, yet some of them profess faith in Christ. From experience, it can damage your relationship with your girlfriend a lot. I have been in the position where my wife did not want to tell me things about her family because she is afraid of the way I am going to react. So firstly, above all, protect your girlfriend.

    I am not sure whether it is possible for you in this case to ever cut your ties with your girlfriends family, or rather, whether she can ever cut her ties with her family. And since you don’t know how your relationship is going evolve, it is difficult to give concrete advice. Let me explain, if you break ties with her family and she doesn’t (which will bring problems of its own) there will be a part of her life that she can not share with you. This hinders complete transparency, which is important in a relationship. If you both break ties with her family, great, but what if you relationship with her does not evolve into marriage. Then she is left with a great divide in her family and you, the catalyst to the divide, is not present anymore either.

    We must remember, this is her mother. Can we separate family from friends and acquaintances. What does the bible say about this?

    Over the years, I have been able to re-establish my wife’s trust in that I wont go off on some frenzy about what the latest news on her family.

    Thus, I would suggest the following. Invest spiritually in your girlfriend. When she is at the right place with God, she will have the confidence to speak up firmly about their deeds that do not reflect what loving Christ entails. Do not expect her to break ties with her family. By you breaking ties with them, you are placing tremendous strain on her to either do the same. Don’t misinterpret my advice, don’t hesitate to tell them that what they are doing is wrong, but bear in mind this is you girlfriends family.

    A woman needs the leadership of a man. You are leading her now, but will you be there forever to support what you have led her in? Also, let she do the talking, this is her family, you do the supporting.

    • Hi BB! Welcome to the blog and thank you for the comment. If you have the time and the desire, I would love to hear your thoughts on some of the other comments on this thread. We are also looking forward to hearing the outcome of this tricky situation from Levrai.

  9. Hi guys

    OK, so the much awaited conversation took place about two weeks ago, and I’d like to give you guys some feedback.

    First off I want to say that I believe that God was very very gracious with me and my girlfriend (let’s still call her Sally) on this one, because at the appointed time, neither of us were really as close to God as we should have been – especially considering the occasion.

    Even so, we did treat the situation as one with great spiritual (and social) gravity and we really prayed seriously about it before meeting the sister and her lover.

    In the first 20 minutes, that was spent casually talking, it became cleat to me that the guy (let’s call him Bob), was a genuinely nice and pleasant guy. Also a guy who doesn’t really have pretences, which is a characteristic I love in people.

    However, something that I believe the Holy Spirit revealed to me very quickly after meeting the guy was that he had no real desire to do Jesus’ will. Christianity does not mean a lot to him, although he claims to be a Christian.

    This, of course, turned my head to my lady friend (let’s call her Joanne), and the obvious question was: why then, is she with this man? Whatever the answer may be, one thing is obvious: she did not choose him based on Christ’s will at all.

    The next thing that became clear to me was that these two were truly only interested in relating to us as family, and not as Christians. And, based on the input from almost all of you, as well as other people that I spoke to, I decided we should not reject this offer of “family-hood”.

    So basically, in the first 10 minutes of the appointment, I was at peace about the matter. I almost felt like we did not need to discuss it. However, my girlfriend Sally decided to breach the topic nonetheless.

    What followed, was that I would ask a two-liner question, and then listen to Bob talk for five to ten minutes. This procedure repeated about 5 times. (This was quite ironic, since they were the ones who kept mentioning that they’re not interested in having us lecture to them.)

    Most of what the guy said was, in my opinion, at best folly, but mostly b*llsh*t. It took just about all the patience and restraint that I had to keep a straight, calm face as he would, with great pride, lay out why his ‘having the intention of marrying Joanne, made it right for them to sleep together as Christians before marriage’. They also claim to be already married in all senses except the administrative sense.

    But in the end, I managed to keep my cool and I did not say anything too threatening. But I did say a couple of things, and I did ask a couple of questions that I think the Joanne might wonder about when she’s alone. In my heart of hearts I really hope that these questions will be seeds planted in her soul and that she would come to realise that this guy will take her very far from Christ.

    After hearing them out for about 40 minutes, I asked them to excuse me while I went to consider all that was said. I also sought the council of the Holy Spirit about the matter while I was strolling around the parking lot in the street light.

    Upon my return, I made it clear that Sally and I find this whole thing that they’ve got going very sketchy and that we are not comfortable with it at all. I also said that, if they consider themselves married, that’s a bit of a shocker and that I wish I had the opportunity to ask her “is this really the guy that Jesus wants you to marry” before she got married. But all that being said, we’ll leave the matter be and treat them like family.

    The relationship is preserved.

    They know what we think and feel, and we know what they think and feel.

    There is no pretence that we are relating to them as fellow Christians – it’s clear that it’s a family thing.

    We did raise a flag to object, and to, in-between-the-lines, warn.

    And that’s all that we could do – it’s up to God from here on.

    Guys, thanks so much for all your input. The stuff you guys said really helped me to get my head around this and it was also good just to have fellows to share this burden with. I’m happy to say that, in the end, I let the Spirit lead me in this, and I feel really good about not leaning on my own understanding.

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