Big Leopards Kill

I used to have Dr Paul White’s ‘Jungle Book’ series as a kid. I used to enjoy reading the stories – fictional and non- fictional, and I find myself remembering some of those stories as an adult today.

One saying that stuck with me over the years went something like this:

“Little Leopards grow into big leopards, and big leopards kill”

The original story told of an African man who took a leopard cub into his home, and despite the warnings of the village chief, raised it, and fed it, only to have end up with a full grown leopard that, true to its wild nature, turned on its master. The story was fictional and meant to demonstrate how sin, when left unchecked, grows into a much larger problem.

Recently I’ve been reading through 1 Corinthians as part of my personal devotions. It sorta starts out as your typical letter from the Apostle Paul. But it isn’t long before you realize that the church has some pretty massive issues that Paul has to untangle. Some of which would fit quite comfortably on the front cover of New Idea or Woman’s Weekly, the content gets pretty racy.

Chapter 5 of the letter is one of the shorter chapters in the book, and its also one of the harshest takedowns that you will read. Paul doesn’t mince his words. I read and reread it this week, and each time it took my breath away. Sexual immorality allowed to flourish and be celebrated within the church. The kind of behaviour that was largely frowned upon, even by secular Corinthian standards (and that is saying something in 1st century Corinth).

Chapter 6 continues the sorry list of bad behaviour. The Christians at Corinth are so fed up with each other, they are suing their fellow Christians. They can’t seem to resolve their differences within the church, so they are going to secular judges to air their dirty laundry and have their grievances sorted out.

There’s apparently no discipline, no order within the church, so the Corinthian believers have to take their problems outside the church to get any kind of justice. Paul’s response is pretty scathing on that count as well:

“I am saying this to shame you. Isn’t there anyone in all the church who is wise enough to decide these issues?”

I was reflecting on those 2 chapters this morning when a thought suddenly occurred to me: I wonder whether chapter 7 happened because chapter 6 had been allowed to happen?

The Corinthian church had been taking liberties, with themselves, with each other, without any correction, discipline or leadership by those wiser heads who were presumably in charge (I’m assuming they had some sort of leadership there). And because there was no correction, people were getting frustrated and taking their grievances elsewhere. Its what happens when shepherds don’t use their shepherds crooks to reign in the errant sheep. They go off the reservation.

I wonder whether there would have been a need for Paul to write chapter 7, if the leaders had exercised some backbone in chapter 6 and dealt with the offending party.

This week we’ve seen yet another high profile church leader fall. Steve Timmis, it seems, was allowed to run unchecked, without being called to account for his behaviour. He rose to the top and fell twice as far. The warning signs were there. People knew about them. But in classic chapter 6 style, decided to do nothing, until finally, fellow believers went public with their grievances, and the evidence was too damning to ignore.

Its what happens, I think, when churches and Christian leaders ignore the need, both to be accountable, and to call others to account. And given the number of high profile falls in Christian circles over the last 2 or 3 years, it looks like we haven’t learned much.

And we’ve been told. 1 Corinthians should be a cautionary tale about what happens when Christian brothers and sisters are let off the chain and allowed to run unchecked. I think chapter 7 happens because chapter 6 has been allowed to happen. Little leopards have now grown into big leopards. Preying on the innocent, and harder to kill.

Only this morning I read of Acts 29 apparently defending its former boss, when it knew full well that he was responsible for bullying and abusive behaviour. There has, to my knowledge, been little in the way of repentance and genuine remorse from them. They seem to have followed the same pattern of minimisation, spin, and deflection that has been all too often practiced by other Christian organisations who have been caught in similar situations. It sounds more like arrogance than humility. It feels like they have been dragged kicking and screaming to the altar of repentance. And they haven’t been the only ones. How well is that working? I think it would have been far better if they had gone in the opposite direction, put up their hand and said something like: ‘Yep, we blew it, we are sorry, we should have dealt with this much sooner than we did’.

My question is: When will we learn? When will we learn as churches that discipline is a vital component of Pastoral care? This seems to be a pattern that happens too often, and too often, it is ignored, swept aside, or dismissed, usually with some sort of excuse about ‘showing grace’, and ‘loving the sinner’. I know this, I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it, been a victim of it, and, much to my own shame, I’ve used those excuses too. Sure, there’s a need for context, finesse and nuance in our dealings with people, there always is. But none of that excuses our responsibility to call out bad behaviour within the flock. We’re shepherds who will answer to the Great Shepherd of the sheep. We have been entrusted with that responsibility. And when we fail to exercise it properly, we end up with wounded and scattered sheep.

I really hope I don’t hear of any more stories like this, there have been too many already. But I fear that we haven’t reached the end yet. Stuff like this should function as a cautionary tale for all of us. I just hope the Church takes notice. I think it places a choice before the Church. We can call out and deal with this behaviour ourselves, or it can come out anyway, eventually, and the Church will have to deal with it, anyway, eventually!

About andy63

Auditorium/Facilities Manager at Kennedy Baptist College. Family man, Dockers Supporter, NFL and NBA tragic who loves the Red Bull Air Race and a good meal. A Christian who is grateful for grace and forgiveness and the fact that Jesus is alive.

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