“Christians, from mistaken zeal, under the plea of faithfulness, might readily step out of their own calling and make themselves judges of the acts of unbelievers. Literally, ‘a bishop in what is (not his own, but) another’s’ province; an allusion to the existing bishops or overseers of the Church; a self-constituted bishop in others’ concerns”. (See Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary)
In the wake of the recent Section 53 ruling, many Belizeans who are either devout members of a particular christian denomination or simply disgusted by the homosexual lifestyle have come out swinging at the Chief Justice and the members of the gay community. Fundamentally, I understand what has some members of the church community so up in arms. They’ve been consistently fed a doctrine that one of their principle missions in life is to speak out against sin, and there’s been some who have been fed from a school of thought that suggests that God is prone to send calamity upon a nation where such sin exists. The latter, of course, stems from Old Testament teachings, with examples such as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah reigning as one of the most prominent cases.
I know what these members of the church feel, because for four years of the sixteen years I’ve been a Follower of The Way (more commonly known as a “Christianity”) I was one of these people. I rebuked; I demanded that people abstain from “every appearance of evil”, even if the receiver of said message was NOT a christian; I instructed people NOT to listen to ANY type of music IF it wasn’t clearly labelled GOSPEL music; in my super-spiritual epoch I refused to even hold women’s hands, regardless IF we were in a prayer circle because I must remain PURE.
By age 16 I had already read the entire Bible (save a few chapters in Psalms). I remember my pious self spending one summer vacation (probably at age 16/17) fervently conducting a research to prove that the consumption of any form of alcohol (any fermented wine, beer,etc) was a sin! I ventured into both Classical Hebrew and Greek languages, the original languages of the Old and News Testament, respectively, to try and PROVE this beyond a shadow of doubt.
Of course, those few Catholics drinking fermented wine in their Eucharist were also in my sights. Why not? After all, many of us evangelicals believed and had come to think that Catholics and other “big-church people” may not even really be “saved”, especially since their stance against sin is not always as ardent as ours. I held these positions for years, and actively tried to CONVERT Methodist, Anglicans, Adventist, etcetera from their folly. So, you could imagine what I had to say to a homosexual in my earlier years.
I remember coming up to my pastor, the late Ensford Maskall, for support on this. Surely he will agree with me! I could remember it like it was yesterday: This young zealot expected his pastor to declare tattooing a grave sin, after all Leviticus 19:28 speaks to this. Instead, he looked at me and said: “Well, I’d only really want to know what is their intention or motive for getting it”.
What are the persons’ “intentions” for getting it? Why was this all he had to say? With the help of my study Bible and its footnotes and commentaries, I then began to understand that one cannot read the Bible just at the face value: there is a historical and linguistic context that carries significant value. When one studies the Bible with scholarly commentaries such as that from Clarke’s Bible Commentary, you benefit from insights that would otherwise be lost to us who live outside that time in history and the relevant culture(s).
This, like the jewellery prohibition to the Jews, was closely related to a warning against any behaviours linked to idolatry,especially given the customs of prevalent in those days. It, therefore, cleared up for me why the last four words of Leviticus 19:28 came where they did: “I am the LORD”. God was warning His people against idolatry.
However, thousands of years later this young zealot would have interpreted His word to mean that I should condemn and JUDGE anyone who gets a tattoo, especially if that person was a Christian. I was then able to understand my pastor’s relaxed position on this issue. He knew better. Now, don’t get me wrong. I still don’t encourage tattoos, but that’s more health-based admonitions as opposed to any spiritual reasoning. And, like Pastor Maskall, I would question the motive; that is, if I’m invited to opine on the matter by whomever wishes to get one.
Of course, this understanding was not the complete cure for my over zealousness for dictating to people in and outside the church as to how they should live. No, I would have many more such missteps playing Judge and Jury.
One, however, that stands out palpably occurred when I was a student (possibly 17 or 18) at St. John’s College Junior College (SJC-JC). In my first year I would join and become the vice-president of the Inter-varsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), and, in my second year, its president.
Of course, I knew that was the Spirit of God reminding me of the Great Commission, every Christian’s true calling. But I’ve seen this young man around the campus before; he seemed “strange”. Honestly, I had what I believed to be sufficient evidence to lead me to conclude that he was a homosexual. He even got the lofty disapproving head shake a couple times.
That question haunts, but what hurts is the answer to why I never heeded that Voice: I was in too much of a hurry to get to an all-christian group meeting to share and discuss the Word of God with people who already knew Jesus Christ, and were of like mind. They were safe! Most of these people were already attending a Bible-believing church and were well secured in their beliefs, and while I enjoyed their company, I overlooked someone whom God was also concerned about. But, he seemed weird. It was enough for me to simply judge his ostensibly effeminate tendencies from afar. Talk about failing to truly emulate Christ, Who made it a point to interact with those who needed His Gospel the most.
There were many such experiences, but I think you get the idea. I shared the above to simply paint a picture of why my approach to spreading God’s Gospel has changed so drastically over the last eleven to twelve years. If my job as a Follower of THE WAY is to invite people to join the path to the Kingdom of Heaven, it appears that my earlier approach was doing just the opposite.
Peter, so bothered about this, went as far to coin an original word, allotriepiskopos (click to see Strong’s Definition) which Strong’s Concordance defines as “one who meddles in things alien to his calling”. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon goes on to write:
Peter made it clear that that’s not our duty to try and force unbelievers or those outside The Way to comply with our beliefs. As some Christian scholars expertly point out, he literally lumped this action with the three preceding crimes.
To this end, I encourage that one reviews Peter’s positions and the context in which he spoke. The opening quote to this article makes reference to this line of thought:
“Christians, from mistaken zeal, under the plea of faithfulness, might readily step out of their own calling and make themselves judges of the acts of unbelievers.”
Is this not what this entire Section 53 issue comes down to: Christians making themselves literal judges of the acts of those who do not believe as we do?
It is my firm belief that every Bible-believing Christian believes that homosexuality is a sin. Nobody is debating the Christians’ view on this. The lingering question is how do we say this: ‘because it is a sin, it also stay on the books as a crime, even if it’s between consenting adults’ What do you thing Apostle Peter, Paul and Christ–especially looking at His example in the time He walked among us–would say?
In the end, The Followers of The Way are called to reach out and invite all men to become disciples of Christ and His teachings. If that is so, I believe our actions should be those that increase the opportunity for those outside The Way to wish to hear our message, just as Christ was able to dine with those the Pharisees and Sadducee felt were not worthy of “righteous” company.
They knew my my stance on the Word of God, yet they would invite me to socialise with them. They always respected my personal convictions, while they openly expressed their disdain for what they called “Church People”.
So, yes, I find resonance with what Apostle Peter meant by his instruction for us to not suffer as an “allotriepiskopos” and the reasoning behind his words as explained in not only Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers , but also by other biblical scholars cited in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, The Cambridge Bible Commentary, and more.