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Paralyzed Churches and the Nuclear Option
Andy Bustanoby
(C) December 3, 2005

   Governments--federal, state and church--are often paralyzed by
   obstructionist members.  Last May, after tiring of the threat of
   filibuster by Democrats to delay votes on judicial nominees, Senate
   Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) announced that, if necessary, he
   will stop the paralysis with a "nuclear option."

   Right now, the Democrat minority can block an up or down vote with
   filibuster permitted by senate rules.  To change the rule requires
   sixty votes, and the Republican majority has only fifty-five members.

   The "nuclear option" would work this way.  The Republicans would not
   try to change the senate rule.  When the filibuster starts, the
   majority leader, Frist, would rise and call for the presiding officer
   to end the delaying tactics.  The presiding officer (a Republican)
   would rule in favor of the call to stop the filibuster.  That requires
   only fifty-one votes, a simple majority, to pass.  The vote would not
   be to change the rules but to get the Senate moving again.

   Many churches with less than one-hundred in attendance find themselves
   in a similar situation.  Factionalism can paralyze it from dealing with
   the problem, leaving the faction to continue to rule by intimidation.
   But this paralysis can be stopped with a biblical nuclear option.  Let
   me explain.

   The option is found in Matthew 18:15-35 where Jesus speaks of church
   discipline and what to do about an unforgiving brother in the church.
   The initial steps in verses 15-17 are familiar.

   If your brother sins against you, you go to him privately.  If he does
   not hear you, take one or two people with you to speak to him.  If he
   does not hear those who come, the matter is to be put before the
   church.  Here is where the paralysis comes.

   If the church has a history of factionalism, it also suffers from
   tension because no one knows when a dispute may break out.  The
   unspoken rule in such a church is to pretend that "an elephant is not
   in the room"--the faction.  Keep peace at any cost.  Often, the feeling
   is that the Christian thing to do is to say nothing and let it go.
   Isn't this what forgiveness is about?

   No!  Forgiveness is based on the repentance of the sinner.  This is why
   the issue is not glossed over and why we are told by Jesus to go
   through this process.

   Let me give you an example.  Suppose that something happens in a church
   where one brother is angry with another.  That anger is challenged as
   being evidence of a lack of love.  The angry brother, convicted of 1
   Corinthians 13:5, "[love] is not easily angered," asks his brother for
   forgiveness.  But that brother, the object of anger, refuses to
   forgive.  Now, the shoe is on the other foot.

   The brother asking forgiveness, now charges the other brother with lack
   of forgiveness.  This is the first step of Matthew 18.  What does he do
   next?  He takes one or two others to speak to the unforgiving brother.
   But the unforgiving brother will not hear them.

   Now what?  It should go to the church.  But often, churches paralyzed
   with a history of factionalism, cannot or will not act.  They fear
   something worse than factionalism--the ugly elephant in the room.  They
   fear open warfare!

   The next step is what Jesus says in verses 19-20. "Again, I tell you
   that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will
   be done for you by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three come
   together in my name, there am I with them" (Mt. 18:19-20 NIV).

   Harry Ironside, that great expositor of yesteryear, explains the verse
   this way.  "Verse 19 suggests something even higher than this [emphasis
   mine].  Suppose a case where human judgment is at fault, and the saints
   are in utter perplexity.  They may appeal to the Lord Himself for light
   and help.  Wherever two agree, or symphonize, as the word really
   is--that is, where even two come to God in prayer in harmony with His
   Spirit and with one another, He will act for them [emphasis mine],
   doing according to His will in the Church on earth as that will is done
   in heaven (Harry Ironside, Matthew, p. 228).

   In short, the only other option the unforgiven brother has is the
   "higher option"--to take the matter to the Lord with one or two other
   believers who are in agreement.  The penitent brother has asked for
   forgiveness.  But it has been denied.

   Peter asks Jesus how many times we should forgive (Mt. 18:21-22).
   Peter thought he was being magnanimous in saying seven times.  The
   Pharisees said it was required only three times.  Jesus, using the two
   numbers that symbolize fulfillment said, "Seventy times seven."

   Jesus then utters The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Mt.
   18:21-35).  The king forgave his servant ten thousand talents.  In
   today's American dollar that would be well over 1.25 million dollars.
   But then, the forgiven servant would not forgive his servant of a
   hundred denarii.  That would be about twenty-five dollars.

   The point is obvious.  The King has forgiven us much.  Can we not
   forgive those who, in repentance, ask us to forgive?  The end of the
   parable is tragic.  "Then the master called the servant in. `You wicked
   servant,' he said.  `I canceled all that debt of yours because you
   begged me to.  Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just
   as I had on you?'  In anger his master turned him over to the jailers
   until he should pay back all he owed.  This is how the heavenly Father
   will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart
   (Mt. 18:32-35 NIV).

   This is The Nuclear Option!

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