Friday, November 13, 2009

Forsaking the kaafirs and not being unequally yoked

The message of segregation that goes on in both the mosque and the church

Earlier this week, Tarek Fatah in his commentary on November 9 in the National Post “Spreading intolerance, one fatwah at a time” noted the teaching of influential Islamist clerics that the Koran forbade Muslims from making friends with non-Muslims (kaafirs) or even living among them unless the objective was to convert the non-Muslim to Islam. The purpose of such teaching, Fatah suggested, is to convince young Muslims to view their non-Muslim fellow citizens with suspicion and derision. No countervailing effort is being made, he said, at any level in the West to counter the Islamists’ hateful message of isolation, segregation and hostility.

As I read this article, the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:14 came to mind:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?

I recalled how, in my youth, I was taught that this verse meant that I, as a Christian, should not have close friends who were non-Christians. I especially should not date a non-Christian girl! Such a relationship was doomed to drag me down spiritually, it was said. And for the years, that is how I have tended to view this verse, as I suspect many have. A letter to the editor on Thursday in response to Fatah’s article referred to this same passage, in fact, the author proposing that the Bible actually teaches the same type of isolation and segregation as the Koran did. The only difference, he said, is that Christian churches have learned to ignore such exhortations!

I’m not so sure that this writer is correct, but I do think that Christians have been torn as to how to practice these verses if they are understood to be teaching a strict separation between Christians and non-Christians. I wonder if perhaps we have misunderstood Paul’s words, especially in light of the persecution that Jesus experienced for hanging around with sinners. And so I dug into 2 Corinthians 6 this week and was surprised to see how this verse, when taken out of context and viewed separately from the rest of the book, could be used to instill fear, suspicion and isolation in Christian youth in a similar way to how Koranic verses are being used to create Islamists.

It is vital that we see Paul’s words in the context of the book itself. In chapter 5:11-6:13, Paul is speaking of his being entrusted with God’s message of reconciliation, the Gospel, and urges the Corinthians not to receive this message in vain. The Corinthians risk doing this due to their propensity to embrace teachers whose message and methods run counter to Paul’s. Their gospel is not the gospel of Christ suffering on the cross to bring reconciliation with God and their ministry methods are not those of sacrificial service and a readiness to suffer (and even die) in order to bring this message to others.

It is in this context that 2 Corinthian 6:14-7:1 appears and should be interpreted. What Paul is calling for is for the Corinthians to recognize that they cannot follow Paul’s message brought to them sacrificially and in much suffering and follow these other false teachers whose message and methods are so diametrically different. The Corinthians are trying to yoke together two incompatible animals to the same plow. “Stop trying!” Paul says. The call here is to disassociate themselves from complicity with those who would attempt to propagate a false gospel within the church.[i]

Hence, the call here is not to pull away from the world or unbelievers in general, but from those who would seek to contaminate the church with false teachings. Indeed, only a church committed to such segregation can hold forth the true message of reconciliation to a needy world and be willing to sacrifice themselves in order to bring such a gospel to those who need it. Find me a church that is unwilling to sacrifice and suffer and you will likely have found one that is yoking together the gospel of Christ and false teaching similar to that which Paul’s opponents were teaching in Corinth.

[i] c.f. R. Kent Hughes, 2 Corinthians: Power in Weakness. Crossway Books, 2006: 141; C.K. Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Harper’s New Testament Commentaries. Hendrickson Publishers, 1973: 194-196


Arla M. said...

I say too, how are we supposed to be salt and light to a world, when we only want to be yoked with a fellow believer. Are people on the outside of the faith supposed to see what close friendships we have with one another as Christians and want in? I also think this verse is wrongly interpreted as I had a relationship with an unbeliever, and most Christians and non-Christians wave their hands at me and say God told you so, why did you go there? I prayed before the relationship, and I'm still not convinced that God's plan was not to let me suffer for this man's lack of faith, and learn about the love it takes to truly endeavor to win someone for Christ. Step into a spiritual battle, get hurt, and people start calling you foolish instead of praying and helping and supporting you to do what is necessary to help win someone you love for Christ. I thank God that it is not humans who have the ability to convert anyone, but the Holy Spirit, however we are the body of Christ, doing what the Head is compelling us to do to reconcile the world unto Himself.

Anonymous said...

The last five years or so I have been unable (and partly unwilling) to attend any local church. Because of fear of "falling away" I buried myself in the Scriptures reading, studying, even learning Greek (ok, trying! :D). One of the most important lessons I have learned is how many of my "church" lessons were not based on Scripture, but on "tradition", handed down from one teacher to another over the years until we no longer question what we are taught. I hope and pray I have become as those from Berea, searching the Scriptures daily to confirm the truth of those things I have been taught. My only regret is I was unwilling to do such deep searching while part of a local Christian community. Now I hunger for the fellowship, and trust Jesus He will place me where He wants me in His timing. In the meantime, I thank God He has given me such great teachers through ministries I have found I can trust, such as Voice of the Martyrs. There is no doubt we have missed the mark greatly, and one of my greatest prayers is I would become part of the solution by being in the world though not of it. (hmm, there's a perfect example. I tried to find that reference, but to no avail. Is it not really in Scripture? or do I just have the wording so wrong that my search engine isn't finding it.... more learning ahead!!! :D)

Amaris in Wonderland said...

Thank you for explaining this!

So many people have such a warped idea of Christianity. How many times have we heard that we are to "touch no unclean thing, and come out from them and be separate" (2 Corinthians 6:16-18) as an [out of context] excuse to shut out the world and live in complete isolation; therefore having no influence or viable way to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you"? (Matthew 28:19-20)

We have been called to love people to Christ [exactly! look at His example] and not ignore, ostracize or otherwise be bigoted towards others who are not Christians. What are the two greatest laws, according to Jesus?

Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' " (Matthew 22:36-40)

How can we do that, if we shut ourselves off from our neighbors?

I hope for the day that we, as Christ's body, "reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ." (Ephesians 4:11-15)

Arla M. said...

I came across Galations 5:1 today - "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." I think that the idea of not yoking oneself with an unbeliever is correct in the term of "yoke". Jesus tells us to take His yoke, and learn from Him in Matthew 11:28-30. We need also to get the plank out of our eye, if we hope to remove the speck from someone else's eye. We pray to have clean hearts created in us by God - in Psalm 51 - but look what it says in vs 13: "Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will come back to You." To come back to the yoking thing, I think this verse has to say that yoked with Christ, you cannot have the world's ways, and Christ's ways at the same time. One will win out over the other. Yoked with Christ, you are no longer a slave to sin, and can help one's brother and an unbeliever, with Christ, the sinnless one, moving with you and in you. Don't fall out of your yoke with Christ, but endeavor to draw very near to Him as to become one with Him. Then we can help free others, so that together all can enjoy the light yoke of Christ, and the peace, reconciliation, and freedom that comes with His finished work of redemption. Peace will come, when the conscience is at rest because it is obedient to Christ. Psalm 119:165 - "Great peace have they who love Your law, and nothing can make them stumble". Praise be to God!
I am reading the book "The Faith" by Charles Colson and Harold Fickett. On pg 65, when referring to a woman who said the central message of our mission is to love each other, and not to bicker about fine points of doctrine, the author asserted, "And without first loving God, the first commandment she ignored, we can't love our neighbor with the consistency and stamina this world demands. The mission of the Church is perverted as well. When truth is abandoned, therapy takes its place. We learn to cope with our problems instead of curing them." When Christ is sharing our yoke, we have the power of God's right hand with us. We are not afraid, and realize the great love of God for us in Christ, who has set us free from the slavery of sin, death, and the power of the devil. To God be the Glory!

Glenn Penner said...

The question though is, is this what Paul meant in 2 Corinthians 6:14? The context would suggest that he had a specific kind of yoking in mind (as I refer to in my study). Being yoked to the world and its ways does not seem to be Paul's concern in this particular verse. It is dealt with elsewhere (as you refer to it) but I don't think that is his focus in this passage.

We have to remember that in studying the Bible that the context of a verse is the most important key to understanding what it means