The story is told of a young sentry in Alexander the Great's army who fell asleep at his post. When he was brought before Alexander to account for the lapse, Alexander asked him his name. The young man muffled his answer so that Alexander could not hear him clearly. Alexander pressed him to speak up and be clear. Finally, the young soldier sheepishly admitted that his own name was also Alexander. Upon hearing this, Alexander the Great seized him by the shoulders, shook him violently and shouted, "Young man, change your name, or change your behavior."
What's in a name, anyway? Today, names are largely chosen to have a pleasing sound to the parents. Occasionally a baby may be named after someone - parent, family member, famous personage, etc. But rarely is a name today intended to express character, as it once did.
The dictionary tells us that Peter means rock. Other names have meaning, too. And at one time it was common to call people by some dominant characteristic. In this case, knowing a person's name was a clue to their character.
Maybe that's why, when God introduced himself to Moses, Moses wanted to know his name. (Exodus 3:13,14) The name God told to Moses was, "I am" - the self existent one.
This name was considered to be so holy by Moses' people that they would not say it aloud. Is it any wonder that when Jesus claimed this name for himself thousands of years later, that people wanted to kill him? (John 8:58)
The third commandment says, "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name." (Exodus 20:7)
Many have thought of this proscription as referring to vile cursing or swearing that names a name of God. But affronts by profane or careless sinners hardly merit an entire commandment.
A better understanding of the commandment can be gotten from Daniel's prayer. (Daniel 9) Daniel is interceding with God on behalf of his people who have been held captive in a foreign land for a very long time. He makes no effort to hide their wickedness or attenuate it by calling it "mistakes". There is nothing in the character of the people to recommend them to God. But, (praise God) there is something in the character of God that gives them hope. Listen to the conclusion of Daniel's plea:
"We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name." (Daniel 9:18,19)
It is unthinkable that those called by God's name should be left to their just desserts, despite their apostasy and wickedness. What dishonor they have brought to the Name of the Lord. For it is by his name they are called.
Because they are called by the name of the Lord, he will punish them for defiling themselves; and thereby his name. But his punishment is to reform them, not destroy them. Because it is his name.
This is an important principle for Christians, also. After all, have we not taken the name of the Lord (Christ). In this taking is our hope. For it shows that we are indeed a part of God's family, the saved community. We are Christians.
Because we are Christians, God deals with us severely. "The Lord disciplines those he loves and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." (Hebrews 12:6) But being his children and having his name assures us of his love and salvation.
Having that name, we ought not to misuse it by bad behavior. This is the meaning of the third commandment. Just as Alexander expected exemplary performance from a sentry with his name, so God expects from us.
We Christians can be proud to be called by the same name as God (Christian). But we aspire to the character as well as the name of God. For we know that absolute, perfect happiness comes from absolute, perfect conformity to his will.
CULTS - ACCOUNTABILITY - CHURCH
The recent debacle of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas has focused attention anew on cultism in the American religious community. A few thoughts on the subject seem to be in order.
First, my earliest recollections of this group go back more than 40 years to when I was a young boy attending the Kansas City Central Church with my family. At that time, there was a couple in attendance in our church who were members of the predecessor group of the Branch Davidians. My family sat in the upper left balcony and these folks sat near the front of the sanctuary on the right on the main floor. From our vantage point, I regularly observed these apparently decent folk. However, I was taught to hate these people. I don't recall any specific instruction on this matter (I was very young). But as the song in "South Pacific" says,
"You've got to be taught,
before you are six, or seven, or eight,
to hate all the people your relatives hate."
There is no question in my mind that these people were general objects of scorn and derision.
From my own perspective, those children who recently died in the flames of Waco were as surely murdered by our hatred of the 1950's as by any contemporary actions of the cult leadership, or of the state.
Secondly, we ought properly to consider the general lack of accountability in the cults. Hoekema and others who have made careful study of cults cite several characteristics. Based on their analysis and my own observations, lack of accountability is a prominent feature. There is a self-centered attitude in cults that denies the history of the broad Christian movement. They refuse to accept the authority of the wider community and treat everything as a "matter of opinion"; except the declamations of their own cult leader(s).
David Koresh was no more accountable to his followers than was Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, or a whole host of other cult leaders. People ask, how could the members of the cult submit to their personal degradation and corruption in such, apparently, unquestioning fashion?
Anyone who asks this question has never seriously questioned their own religious community. In his book, Integrity: How I Lost It and My Journey Back, Richard Dortsch, former president of PTL and close associate of Jim Bakker, lays his finger on a crucial point. "Perhaps my grossest sin at PTL was consenting to some of the things that happened. It wasn't a deliberate decision. I just did nothing. . . In our desire to be in harmony we lose sight of what's really taking place." (Integrity, p.332,333) It is not just the desire for harmony but a fear of cruel punishment by the cult leader(s).
The third point we should consider is the lack of accountability in our own local church communities. My observation is that the matter is much like the relation between businessmen and competition. Someone once said that every businessman loves free enterprise, but hates competition. In the same way, churches all laud and praise the principle of accountability, but refuse to practice it.
For example, both Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 6 clearly lay out procedures for dealing with conflict in the Christian community. In the early days when I was head Elder of a local church I was involved in disciplinary procedures against several members. I also observed others being disciplined where I had no involvement. And, later, I became a common object of discipline myself.
As God is my witness I can swear to you that I have never observed scriptural procedures followed (not even close). Because of my own failures in this area, when I call attention to the lapses of others it is certainly not from any position of moral superiority.
The procedures described in Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 6 are essentially procedures of accountability, reconciliation and restoration.
But, like good businessmen, some church leaders hate accountability so much that when their own dishonesty is exposed, their response is an appeal to authority; and the need for a good image in the community as adequate reason to whitewash their behavior. A campaign of hatred and innuendo towards those calling for accountability is launched.
How could David Koresh get away with what he was doing? How was Jim Bakker able to persist so long with criminal and moral trespasses? How could Jimmy Swaggart continue a spiritual ministry in the face of outrageous moral conduct? How could a local eldership harbor dishonesty that included, among other things, multiple cases of sexual immorality? The answer in each case is lip service to accountability while ferociously avoiding it.
In each of these cases the leaders expected lifetime tenure with only themselves to answer to. One church constitution we have seen disenfranchises the members with these statements: "A vote may be taken . . . All such votes, are subject to the approval of the Eldership. Immediately following the church business meeting the Elders will meet and either approve the actions voted on, or disapprove them as they see fit."
This cultic approach denies accountability and violates the basic principle as stated by Jesus, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that." (Luke 22:25)
This same appeal to authority and claims of only self-accountability have made it possible for the Roman Catholic Church to cover up persistent pedophilia within the priestly ranks. This is a cultic approach that is common also in the Protestant community. Significantly, accountability in these cases usually occurs, if at all, at the hand of the "heathen" press and secular courts.
In forty years of observing and participating in the Christian community I have never once heard of a Christian tribunal as described in 1 Corinthians 6. This is through no lack of need for such a tribunal but because of the steadfast refusal of Christian leadership (with lay acquiescence) to provide practical means of accountability.
And so the body of Christ is torn by cultic foolishness. And secular authority is left to cleanse, correct and guide. What ought to be done by Christian leadership.
The East County
C H R I S T I A N
P.O. Box 85, Corbett, Oregon 97019
Volume 6 Number 5
Permit No. 18
Corbett, OR 97019
POSTMASTER: Address Correction Requested