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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Reaping Tares

Christians -- you know, those who try to follow the Bible, imitate Christ, submit to God's instructions, that sort of thing -- are often accused of being "judgmental". We are told that we are to "judge not" because everyone knows (except Christians, apparently) that this is Jesus's final word on the subject. (I mean, whatever you do, do not keep reading Matthew 7 after verse 1 because Jesus goes on to explain how to judge rightly, which kind of throws a wrench in the whole "judge not" theme.) So we are told that "only God can judge" and we are to leave ourselves out of it.

There is, of course, the problem that any lover of Scripture will encounter with this approach. It violates so many other Scriptures. I mean, we have the whole "judge not" thing, but Jesus goes on to say "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits" (Matt 7:15-16). It's very hard to hang onto a "judge not" theme and read Matthew 23 where Jesus gives the Pharisees a horrendous series of "woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites" statements which doesn't exactly fall in the "judge not" feel of things. And then there's the whole "moneychangers in the temple" episode which really is hard to slide into that "judge not" mantra. And those are just a few examples.

In Matthew 13, Jesus gives the parable of the kingdom of heaven being like a man whose field is seeded with tares by his enemy (Matt 13:24-30). We get the idea. Wheat and weeds look a lot alike. However, weeds kill wheat or, at best, damage it, so what's a body to do? (Get it? "Body", as in "the Body of Christ". Oh, never mind. If I have to explain it ...) In the parable, the servants ask the master, "Do you want us to go and gather them?" (Matt 13:28). The master tells them that doing so could damage the wheat, so leave that to the harvesters at the end. When Jesus explains this parable to His disciples (Matt 13:37-43), He explains that the enemy is the devil and the harvesters are angels and when they come they weed out the weeds "and throw them into the fiery furnace" (Matt 13:42). So in this parable, the servants (us) of the Master (Jesus) are not supposed to pull the weeds (false believers) from the field (the Church). Well, there you go! "Judge not", right?

But lay that up against Jesus's own words just a few chapters later. There He speaks of the "sinning brother" (Matt 18:15-17). This guy sins and you confront him. He doesn't repent so you take witnesses and confront him. He doesn't repent so you take it to the church and confront him. If he doesn't repent, Jesus says, "Let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector" (Matt 18:17). Unclear on that? Well, Paul says, "I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler -- not even to eat with such a one" (1 Cor 5:11). He ends with "Purge the evil person from among you" (1 Cor 5:13). Now, wait! Didn't Jesus say not to "pull the weeds"? Didn't He say to leave that to the angels on Judgment Day? So what's with this "Purge the evil" thing? That is, Jesus said "Judge not" and then told how to judge rightly. He said "Leave the weeds for the angels" and then instructed us to get rid of them. How does this work?

There are two basic approaches here you could take. One is the currently popular view. "The Bible is a good book, but, let's face it, it's flawed. Thanks for pointing out another one." Okay, good. Now we don't have to work at understanding Christ (the author of Christianity). Pick whichever you prefer -- "Judge not" or "purge the evil" ... or neither -- and move along. Or you could assume that we have a reliable God who could oversee a reliable Scripture and maintain the integrity of that Scripture through time ... and then have to figure out how to correlate these two (rather than ignore one or the other).

Assuming the Bible is actually God's Word, how would we correlate these two ideas? Well, it would be necessary to keep the ideas straight. The parable of the tares includes angels at the "close of the age" (Matt 13:39). This is the Final Judgment. The result to these tares is not simply being removed from the "field", but to, in biblical terms, "perish". It is Judgment in the final and complete way. End of story. No other chances. Sorry. You chose, you bear your own choice. The other concept, however, is different. That one is aimed at making people uncomfortable enough to repent. In the 1 Corinthians 5 event, for instance, Paul delivered the man to Satan "for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord" (1 Cor 5:5). That is not eternal damnation. It is quite the opposite. Thus, the object of the reaping of the tares is final punishment and the object of purging the evil is to urge repentance to avoid final punishment. Two different concepts.

I don't have a problem with this correlation. Makes sense to me. It would suggest that the earlier Christians who burned heretics and the like were actually violating Jesus's "tares mandate". But, since I don't have a problem thinking that genuine Christians before me (around me, since me, including me) could make mistakes, that's not a big problem. If someone was suggesting to me that we should burn heretics again, I'd likely point directly to the "tares mandate" as a good reason not to. On the other hand, the current preference for leaving sinners alone is an equal violation of the "purge the evil mandate". I'd vote against leaving them alone, as well. Thus, there is a sense of "Judge not" when it comes to ultimate judgment and a sense of "Judge not" when it comes to judging others without judging myself (Matt 7:2-5). and terminating the lives of heretics would be a bad option. On the other hand it is necessary, biblical, and Christian to purge the evil from among us. We just do that without killing anyone for the purpose of urging repentance. A different animal altogether.


David said...

I would think the other difference is that the tares would be almost indistinguishable from the wheat and wouldn't show their true colors until the end, while the purge evil part is those who aren't even tares, their dandelions. They're pretty obvious to not be wheat. Or they are broken wheat that needs to be straightened.

I agree though, that neither concept calls for the execution of non-believers, since that is left up to the angels. Our only directive on the topic is to shun the false believer and sinning believer so that they either repent and return to sanctification, or repent and stop being leaven.

Stan said...

" Our only directive on the topic is to shun the false believer and sinning believer so that they either repent and return to sanctification, or repent and stop being leaven."

Ding, ding, ding, ding! Exactly the point! Full marks!