It was in the context of this type of culture that the New Testament documents came into being. In the group culture of Mediterranean peoples, the honor-shame system was quite powerful and the language of this culture dominates much of the NT writings. An understanding of such social practices contributes a great deal to biblical studies. It was important to be an honorable person and to be viewed by society at large as honorable. Society had values by which one would maintain and even increase in honor. Of course, the opposite of this is true as well. If one did not live up to those values, they would be shamed. Hardly anything is worse in that culture than being shamed. It drove Judas to suicide. Enter the Christian group. The Christian group was very small and very distinct. Repeatedly, the NT writers fill their time writing and preaching about the divine values brought to them by the revelation of God in Christ. These values serve to identify who you are as a person. A person could not pass themselves off as Christian unless he or she lived by these values. And on those occasions where the effort was made to do so, the consequences were clear and could prove severe. This is what Paul had in mind as he penned this sentence to the Church at Thessalonica.
Sunday, July 29, 2012
Shunning and the Christian Group
Εἰ δέ τις οὐχ ὑπακούει τῷ λόγῳ ἡμῶν διὰ τῆς ἐπιστολῆς, τοῦτον σημειοῦσθε μὴ συναναμίγνυσθαι αὐτῷ, ἵνα ἐντραπῇ (2 Thess. 3:14)
But if anyone does not obey our word by this letter, mark this person and do not associate with him in order that he might be shamed. NAS
In a pluralistic culture like ours, the standard for what is right is a variable as the daily returns on the stock market. The sense of entitlement fits nicely within a pluralistic framework. After all, not only will I determine what is honorable and noble and right myself, I am without a doubt entitled to make such determinations. The level of ignorance and outright stupidity that has taken over debate in this country, at least at the common level, the practical level, has to be at an all-time high. In fact, it is so high that I wonder how it could possibly get any worse. I would be remiss if I didn’t provide some examples of what I am talking about.
Take the abortion debate as one example. Abortion isn’t argued along the lines of life, as it should be. The abortion proponent argues along the lines of reproductive rights. For the life of me, I cannot even begin to understand how killing an unborn baby can possibly be viewed as a woman’s right not to reproduce. Do women have a right not to reproduce? Well, in a free country such as ours, I suppose from that standpoint one could answer in the affirmative. However, within the Christian community that answer is a little more complex than this blog is intended to address.
Another example is the homosexual argument that anyone who supports the biblical view of marriage is a hater and a bigot. This argument is one of the dumbest arguments I have ever heard. Still, reasonably intelligent people fail to see just exactly how stupid it is. They attempt to make this argument in defense of the gay lifestyle. They insist that in order for you to be loving you must support and approve of homosexual behavior while at the same time criticizing others for saying that in order to be Christian you must denounce homosexual behavior. It just doesn’t make any sense. Why is it that we can disagree over politics and not be accused of being a bigot and a hater? We can disagree over religion and not be accused of being a hater. Christians believe that Muslims are lost, following a false religion and worshipping a false god. Yet, they are not accused of hating all Muslims because they believe that Muslims should repent and place faith in Jesus Christ. Christians do not approve of adultery, lying, or living together outside of marriage either. Yet no one accuses them of hating these people. The gay argument just doesn’t make sense.
What makes even less sense is how the Christian group has come to treat people who take up sides of an issue in direct opposition to the teachings of Scripture. Of the Greco-Roman culture and its influence on honor-shame, David deSilva wrote,
Those who violated those values, whether through adultery (attacking the stability of the family), through cowardice (undermining the security and the honor of the group), through failing to honor the gods or the rulers (risking the loss of their favors), through ingratitude (being unjust toward the generous and threatening to diminish their willingness to be generous) were held up to contempt.
Repeatedly in the New Testament, the writers are concerned with the Christian group’s new source of honor: the values of Christ. Jesus taught these values to His apostles who later taught them to the rest of the Church. Essentially, these values demonstrate who the true follower of Christ is from the heart and who is an imposter, following Christ with their lips only. It was these new values that the Church, the Christian group must hold in high esteem for the values of the culture were now to be abandoned because they would be shame upon the believer. David deSilva comments, “Those who do not have faith do not have all the facts necessary to make an informed evaluation concerning what is honorable and what is censurable.” This raises the question why so many so-called Christians are so quick not only to give the unbeliever a place at the table to discuss values, but even treat them as a source of authority on certain issues. In the NT Church, those who rejected the values laid down in the authoritative teachings of the apostles were recognized as being in serious need of correction and rebuke or perhaps excommunication. They were not issued the right hand of fellowship in the name of peace and love and unity. NT unity was a unity of truth as expressed in the NT documents. It was a unity of values as expressed in the values taught by Christ and His apostles. Rejection of this truth and these values came with severe consequences
Paul instructs the Christian group at Thessalonica not to associate with anyone who does not obey the instructions laid out in his letter. A person who claims to be a Christian but who rejects apostolic teaching is to be marked by the Christian community, noted as a rebel, set aside especially as one who disturbs and upsets the community by their conduct. Paul goes further than this saying that the Christian can keep no company with such a person at all. The idea is that the only company one can keep with this person is to evangelize them and encourage them to turn from their sin.
In I Cor. 5:11, Paul instructs the Corinthian Church to do the very same thing. Anyone who makes a claim to be among the Christian group as a follower of Christ and they are at the same time displaying disdain and a mockery of the values of that community: the community cannot have reciprocity with them as believers. The relationship has to be one of serious correction rebuke, or evangelistic. As for judging, Paul says we are to judge those who are in church. God judges those in the world. Abandoning the values of the Christian group as laid down by Christ and his apostles is abandoning Christ. It is marking yourself off from the group and demonstrating that you really are not part of the group. Individuals have no authority to change the values of the Christian group. Any attempt to do so must result in serious correction or even excommunication from the group.
Jesus gave the Christian group instructions on what to do when any member in the group failed to adhere to its values in Matt. 18:15-18. A witness to this failure as a moral obligation as part of the Christian group to go to this person and help them see their failure. Gal. 6:1 tells them to go with all humility and gentleness. If the person hears and repents from the failure, they have been recovered by the group. If not, the witness is to take a second person with them. If the individual refuses to listen, they are to tell it to the entire church. The church, having heard of the refusal to repent has a moral obligation to confront the erring member. If the member refuses even to hear the church, the individual is to be excommunicated and treated as a target for evangelism. They are not to be treated as someone with whom you respectfully disagree. The soul of this individual is at stake. The process of confrontation and rebuke and the threat of excommunication was how the Christian group produced shame upon the individual. This shame was intended to generate true repentance. II Cor. 7:10 tells us that sorrow that is according to God produces repentance. This sorrow is brought about by godly shaming, shunning, and loving confrontation.
Jesus Christ Himself considered the “one anothers,” “the Church,” “the Christian group” more important than any one individual. The truth and the values that make the Christian group what it is must be protected from error and values that serve to contaminate it. This is why Paul wrote that it only takes a little tolerance for leaven to contaminate and infect the values of the entire group. Error and ungodly values represent a threat to the very existence of the group. Since God’s values are fixed, changing the values of the Christian group essentially is impossible. The result of attempts to change such values is that the group ceases to exist. If no one held to the values of Christianity as laid out in the first century, there would be no Christianity, no true Church, no Christians. The truth and values of the Christian group are inseparable from the group. They are the group. Abandon the values and truth claims of the group and you abandon the group. To be a Christian is to adhere to the group's values and truth.
 Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Matthew Black et al., The Greek New Testament, 4th ed. (Federal Republic of Germany: United Bible Societies, 1993), 541-42.
 David Arthur deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 36.
 David Arthur deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 62.
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