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Responding to a difficult bible challenge from a conservative physician

> If you have time to respond, I would like to pose a question to you.
> Imagine for a moment that you are a member of the church at Corinth in
> the first century. The elder of your congregation has just read a long
> letter to those assembled (the letter that we know as 1st Corinthians).
> How would you respond to Paul's letter, in particular to the 5th
> chapter?
> With best wishes in Christ and may his grace and peace be with you,

Beloved Paul,

We miss you; I do especially.  It is much easier to follow you looking you
in the eye than to be set at a distance, where I miss the nuances, or draw
the wrong inferences, in what you have to say.  I also wish that you could
be here face to face so that I could communicate adequately the affection
and respect I have for you, no less when we disagree than when we agree.

I am helped enormously by your saying that at best we see as through dirty
glass.  The Spirit convinces me that you have named the bedrock well, that
the most important things that abide through our uncertainty or lack of
clarity are faith, hope and love, and that the first two of these are no
competition for the last.  I hope that I can manifest towards others the
love that God in Christ manifests towards you and me.

It becomes difficult, doesn't it, when we move from theory to practice.
You point to the incestuous couple in our midst.  I have heard those
rumors, and I confess that I have tried to avoid prying into whether the
young man and his father's wife are really having a sexual relationship,
or just one of great care and affection.  You have heard the same rumor
that I have.  I am not sure that it is true, but assuming that it is, how
can I show Christ's love most effectively to the incestuous couple?

I do not approve of incest, nor does our congregation. Nor do the laws of
Corinth, for that matter.  I agree with you too that it more important for
us to keep our own household of faith in order than it is to try to set
right the rest of the world.  The world will know that we are Christians
by how much we love one another.

I will encourage other elders to go with me to speak candidly with the
couple.  I sincerely hope the rumors are wrong.  If they are true, I
pray that the couple will care enough about the spiritual experiences
that have already bonded us to give up incest immediately.
I value the good experiences our community has had with them. God loves
them just as much as God loves me, and expects more of them than incest.

It they are incestuous and insist on remaining so, we will not consider
them in good standing any more than we would if they were
thieves.  I will not shun them, though.  I disagree with you on that one.
Besides, learning of our strong will on this matter, they are more likely
to shun us.

I find that if I just shun someone, my shunning them does not have the
effect that shunning seems to have for you.  Maybe it worked well in your
Greek boarding school, where as a Jewish boy you were under perpetual risk
of exclusion.  For me as a Corinthian, uncircumcised Christian, shunning
would not be as effective. More importantly, as a Christian, I don't want
to be petty or vindicative.  At my best -- at our best as a community --
we are not God; we do not fully know the human heart.  Christianity will
have some horrendous periods if through the centuries ahead we promote
witch trials and public scaffolds.  Some might even miss our defining
priority, which you have already named so poignantly.

When Jesus spent time among us, he spent much of his time around those
whom we consider ungodly.  He was not threatened by them, and seemed to
enjoy their company more than that of the religious.  Clearly he didn't
insult them, because they kept inviting him back to dinner.  When he met
the Samaritan woman at the well, he expressed much less concern for her
sin (he even teased her about her husbands) than he did for her thirst.

This couple in our congregation once shared the same spiritual
thirst you and I have.  In God's time, which is not our time, God may
quench their spiritual thirst.

Meanwhile, although they may have to leave our congregation, may even have
to go to jail, I want to treat them with the love that God has for them.
So do you, I realize, for you said that real love holds them accountable.
I believe that real love shows that God is accountable, and God has
already paid in full the price of their sin, just has he has paid in full
the price of yours and mine. O that they might hear the good news in that!

As you have so often reminded us, not a thing we can do will justify us.
Nor will anything we hope this couple will do 'justify' them.  Only Christ
alone can do that.  We live by this faith.

I grieve to read of the continued persecution that you are facing.  I hope
that I will be able to travel to Smyrna when you are there next.  My
partner Joseph has made some cakes by a special process so that they will
remain preserved for months at a time, and we hope to get some to you,
either by making the journey ourselves or by the good offices of Timothy
or Barnabas should they stop over in Corinth en route to work with you.

I rejoice in your faithfulness.  Pray for me, a sinner.

Love, Louie

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