Thursday, May 19, 2005

Sin is sin is sin is ...

Brian Turner, from Dothan, Alabama has an interesting OOZE piece on what happens when ‘being real’ in our identification with culture is actually an excuse for indulging in, well let’s face it, SIN. His basic point is simple – however important it is for Christians to engage more fully with the (postmodern) culture of which they are part, that does not mean that issues of sin, right and wrong behaviour are not important.

OK – I’m against sin too, so Amen to that. But does this discussion need to go a bit further perhaps? To step outside existing well-established social patterns of being Church and move into new ways of being a missional community inevitably brings with it a challenge to the moral, ethical narrative inherited (or not) from older established church forms.

To take an obvious example (because it’s about sex!): in a society which has largely forgotten the biblical reason for marrying and has adopted, instead, a consumerist model, what do we say to people who have been living a faithful, sexual shared life without taking on the razzmatazz and cost of a wedding? And at what point in their missional/formative journey would the question be raised? And who by? The Pastor? The community ethical council? A reformed perspective would be looking for a discipline structure within emerging churches as a keynote of their authenticity. But how many groups have developed ethical structures in a contextualised way, rather than falling back on existing models from the previous culture?

Once Church life moves outside the social boxes of existing forms, these ethical questions are neither posed nor answered in exactly the way that they were in the previous context. One would hope that an emerging community would go back to the Bible and work out what its values of faithfulness, love and total union mean in practical terms for contemporary sexual lifestyles. Somewhere in the background to their search would be the existing example of more usual forms of Church, but should we assume that these would be modelled identically by the new community?

Another question arising from Brian Turner’s article is the way we engage with sin once we’ve named it as such. Like many churches, his article seems to be concerned with there ‘not being sin’ around in the community. But in fact, the presence of sin in all Christians is a given. Sometimes, it’s not merely a case of saying sorry to God and trying not to make the same mistake again. Often, repentance involves learning to love our sinful self as much as God does. (ie. a reflexive form of ‘loving the sinner and hating the sin’). Instead of running from our sins, they can often teach us things about our inner selves and our relationship with God that too-hasty a turning away and moving on would obscure. That’s not to say we should indulge in sin, but we can love ourselves as sinners and through our sin learn more about ourselves in the light of God’s love. I would hope that emerging communities are providing more scope for this kind of growth than the all-too-superficial engagement with sin provided by many models available in the mainstream.


At 5/19/2005 12:58 PM, Blogger maggi said...

I agree Paul - esp. with the reflexive form of loving yourself and hating your sin. If you don't love yourself AS A SINNER you don't stand a chance of loving other people. "Love the sinner, hate the sin" is a judgemental nightmare if it is predicated upon the idea that I myself ought to be sinless, or as good as. True love is only possible with a thorough understanding of self-acceptance within the boundaries of being a sinner.

At 5/19/2005 1:24 PM, Blogger Peter Foxwell said...

I wonder whether emerging communities will find their own contextualized ways to deal with sin. What I mean is that some sins will rise to the level of an instinctive collective decision to deal with them; other sins will not. In this light, the Biblical ideas about discipline may be more about restraining the drive to be mean and nasty to those who sin, and less about the need to enforce discipline.

At 5/20/2005 7:17 AM, Blogger Mark said...

Having read this post, in another context I came across these words by the great Gerard Manley Hopkins:
"My own heart let me more have pity on; let
Me live to my sad self hereafter kind."
(Although whether Hopkins managed to live this out is another question.)

At 5/25/2005 7:40 AM, Blogger Brian Turner said...

Hi Paul, this is Brian Turner. My article is not saying that sin will not exist in our communities. Something that you can find I say in my other Ooze article "Running From Culture." What I am concerned with is that many people use authenticity or being real as an excuse not to deal with sin. Sin will always be present within our communities. However, we should deal with those issues in a loving way. I am not advocating being judmental or self righteous toward anyone. We should accept ourselves and others as-is but at the sametime we should "encouage" ourselves and others to mature and progress in our walk with Christ. Anyway, your observation is good and I agree with you. For a broader understanding of my perspective in engaging culture read my articl "Running From Culture" on The Ooze or visit my website at

At 5/25/2005 9:28 AM, Blogger Paul Roberts said...

Thanks for joining in Brian! I think 'my post on your post' is just trying to push the boat out a bit further. I guess word limits mean that none of us can cover all fronts simultaneously. I'm completely with you in the need to keep pushing the issue of right behaviour which is in accordance with the call of Jesus and (often) in contrast to the values endemic in the the culture which we are trying to reflect-but-not-reflect. Exciting, isn't it? (And confusing, infuriating, terrifying, invigorating, chastening, liberating, ...)

At 5/25/2005 1:18 PM, Blogger Brian Turner said...

Amen, amen, amen, amen. You are totally correct. Actually, I am glad we can have this conversation. Your points are valid and taken well. I am in total agreement.


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