Woe to Those Who Cause Presbyterians to Stumble

August 8, 2012

In Matthew 18:1f, Jesus is clarifying for the disciples “who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus’ teaching so far in Matthew has painted the picture of an upside-down kingdom, where the poor are rich, the lowly are great, and the meek will inherit the earth. This theme continues here, as Jesus draws a child close to him as a sermon illustration, and says:

3“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

The first point, explored in earlier posts: children in their smallness and lowliness are the ones for whom the kingdom of heaven is home. We would all do well to become like them, recognize our smallness and lowliness, humble ourselves before God, and listen and learn from God who is sovereign.

And then Jesus goes on:

5 “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.”

Jesus considers himself lowly, too; certainly not the grandiose political type. People will have to “stoop” to honor him, in the context of early first century Roman empire. He so identified with the meek and lowly that he told his disciples, If you want to find me, welcome those in your midst who are small and insignificant, and there I’ll be. He reiterates this theme in Matt 25:34-40, the judgment scene about caring for “the least of these.”

And then Jesus becomes a protective advocate of the small and lowly, and places upon the disciples a mantle of responsibility for their spiritual safety:

6 “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!” [NIV]

Here we arrive at the punch line of Jesus’ view of the ministry of teaching. He is urging his followers to avoid misleading the lowly, the uneducated, the naïve, the ill-informed. One would cause a little one to sin by the content of one’s teaching. Presbyterians understand that we study and learn in order to behave rightly. If the content of our teaching is corrupt, the outcome in the lives of our students will be sin or at least the permission to sin. The Apostle Paul warns the Romans in a later context of this great evil. [The “they” in this passage refers to those who had darkened minds and foolish hearts to sin in all manner of ways listed in Rom 1:29-31.]

32 “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”

For those of us preparing to teach a curriculum on marriage, the mantle of responsibility requires us to teach what God has revealed on the subject of sexuality, not some twenty-first century rendition of an enlightened new-normal that includes homosexual practice, polygamy, or polyamory, to mention only a few of the variations promoted in newsmagazines and on prime-TV this season. Lifting these arrangements up as possible, legitimate life choices for Christians would qualify us for the millstone.

And our concern here is not just for children, but for all the potential students we hope to reach with a marriage curriculum: young adults, elderly singles, married couples experiencing the seven-year itch, those cohabitating outside of marriage, Olympic swimmer Steve Lochte and other one-night-standers, and anyone who is confused or uninformed about the Bible’s foundational understanding of the proper place for sexual intimacy.

This is why the marriage curriculum I devise will not include anything that can be construed as a recommendation for sexual practice outside of marriage between a man and a woman. To do so would be to violate the charge Jesus gave us (“teaching them everything I have commanded you” Matt 28:20), endanger our students with false information, and subject ourselves to the millstone. Rather, by remaining faithful to what the Scriptures teach (within the parameters of Reformed faith and practice put forth in the Confessions, since this is a Presbyterian/Reformed curriculum), we retain the moral authority given to us by Christ and affirmed in our historic principles of church order:

“That all Church power . . . is only ministerial and declarative; that is to say, that the Holy Scriptures are the only rule of faith and manners; that no Church governing body ought to pretend to make laws to bind the conscience in virtue of their own authority; and that all their decisions should be founded upon the revealed will of God.”

Since God has made his will known regarding sexual practice and marriage, we teach from the Scriptures and trust that our faithfulness and obedience in this matter will lead to healing and restoration in  relationships and blessing in the church.

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6 Responses to “Woe to Those Who Cause Presbyterians to Stumble”

  1. John E Says:

    Mary,

    Sign me up for your curriculum when it’s completed! I think it will be a great aid in premarital counseling!

    Bless you,

    John E

  2. Ron Says:

    3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. AKJV

    Seems Jesus was saying that unless you actual are “converted”, or as John quotes Jesus…

    John 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. AKJV

    You not only will not be the greatest in the kingdom you will not even be there.

    Mary your point about becoming like a child starts here, and once reborn not “changed” by the power of the gospel one wil begin to grow as a child just as you have said.

    Let’s not neglect this starting point. Pray for real teachers of the gospel, who lead God’s sheep in a path of true conversion to faith not just profession.

    Pray for more strength for the teachers of the whole word of God, the Bible.

    All of 2 Tim in the KJV is a good read, and it ends in an example for us….

    15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. AKJV

    • revmary Says:

      Whereas I completely agree with you, Ron, on the necessity of spiritual conversion for salvation, for the purposes of this series I am actually going after another point about a child-like approach to learning. It was the subject of my dissertation that one may learn about God and God’s will even before conversion, and in any case teachers should not make conversion a condition of class participation if they want to establish and influence the knowledge base upon which a person makes a profession of faith.

  3. Gene Says:

    Rev. Naegeli, I am curious. When someone asks you to explain how you have set up the teaching course on marriage and claim that Gods word prohibits any relationship outside of your definition of it, how will you explain that your own Church allows blessing ceremonies for same gender couples in our churches, and has done so for over a decade?

    Also, you state that (in your opinion) God has made his will known regarding sexual practice and marriage, yet your own Church ordains ministers and elders (teaching and ruling elders) who are in same gender long term relationships, and in a few instances in states where marriage equality is already legal, who are in same gender marriages. How will you explain the inconsistancy, and why, if one had decided to be a literalist in reading scripture on this topic, you have elected NOT to be a literalist on the topic of leaving a Church that, if what you describe is true, would be by your standards, heretical; Come out from them and be separate 2 Cor 6:17 ?

    for that matter…as a PCA associate of mine has often asked when inquiring if I have been following the leadership of the so called renewal movement in the PCUSA, what about “Let the women keep silent in church”? 1 Cor 14:34. The vast, vast majority of the church in the world seems to think you take a modernest, liberal and liberationist approach to interpreting that verse. If so, and most of the Church (big C) would state plainly you are (they would not be wrong), why so liberal and full of graciusness on that topic, but, not this one?

    I am sure some arguement can be made about being a witness to the opposing side of the arguement, but, lets face facts concerning 1 Cor 14:34. We heard you. Over and over, and voted the other way. Back in 2001, and two years ago. At the last GA, a sensible vote was made not to rock the boat, but, we all know where that vote will go in the next couple of GA’s, as people have had more time to adjust to the idea.

    So, if a literalist approach to understanding must be applied to GLBT issues, why not to women in ministry and leadership? Or for separting from those who just will not be following your conservative understanding of the Scripture? If the PCUSA is, by conservative standards, and over and over made it plain it has no interest in moving back to conservative views, is heretical, which as a denomination that ordains GLBT people and blesses same gender couples in its churches, by conservative standards it would be, why does 1 Cor 14:34 not apply, but a conservative interpretation of marriage standards does?

    • revmary Says:

      Hello Gene, I am having a hard time interpreting your comments with your use of pronouns. Are you a PCUSA member? PCA? ordained officer? Do you, by the way, have your own blog? You certainly have enough time and thoughts to share them in your own space . . . Just curious. —Mary Naegeli

  4. Chas Jay Says:

    Mary,
    I so enjoy reading your blog and the teaching you are able to do through this site. I am like Gene in that I have struggled with sexual issues but unlike Gene, I call for the church to stand firm in the Truth of the Scripture.
    I Corinthians 5 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister[c] but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
    12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”[d]

    It keeps ringing in my heart that the orthodox are causing the children to stumble by remaining in fellowship with those that claim to be brothers and sisters but celebrate sin and define themselves by their sin. They weren’t removed thirty years ago and because of the disobedience of not removing them, the denomination has become what it is today.

    Gene and his friends have heard the word and have made their choice. There’s a world of lost sinners that haven’t and by remaining in fellowship with those that should have been removed, we waste time quarreling with wolves that call themselves sheep. It ruins us as well and in staying with them, our children stumble because they don’t see clarity or obedience either. Plus, why argue with them when there are the very lost outside that are craving to hear His Truth and haven’t?

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