Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Your Own. Personal. Satan.

(You know, I could deal with the fact that a quarter of a million people in the Seattle area are still without power with a lot more patience if one of them weren't me. Still, I am happy to report that my in-laws, with whom I am staying, had their power restored this afternoon, so you can all stop whining about being bored with the same old thread [don't you people have jobs?]....)

As I read though the comments on the last post, I was struck by an interesting exchange between a couple readers that I'd like to highlight. It went something like this:

Reader #1: "Church membership and participation in worship provide the saint with assurance of her right standing with God."
Reader #2: "Is that true? Is there no assurance beyond that?"
Reader #1: "Not really; if the church does not provide assurance, then what's the point of church discipline and excommunication?"
In his Corinthian correspondence Paul describes the barring of a sinning brother from fellowship in the church as "handing him over to Satan." Apparently for the apostle, the church and its ordained ministry of Word and sacrament are more important—and their absence more tragic—than is usually admitted in contemporary evangeliberal pietism.

And if you think about it, the insistence that God's "speech" through his ordained servant in corporate worship (particularly the gracious summons into his presence, assurance of forgiveness, and benediction) can somehow be replaced by one's personal relationship with Jesus is quite presumptuous, and even dangerous. If the churches Paul labored to plant and the "gift" of ordained ministers that Jesus rose from the dead to provide for them can be so easily circumvented, then creaturely wisdom is not only being exalted above divine foolishness, but "deliverance over to Satan" is made to look like a pretty attractive alternative to waking up early every Sunday.

In fact, when a professing Christian opts for the clutches of the devil over the communion of saints, one may sincerely wonder with whom, exactly, this "personal relationship" is being cultivated....