The Gospel Observer
"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations...teaching them
to observe all that I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always,
even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:19,20).
November 24, 2013
1) Who is Responsible? (Edward O. Bragwell, Sr.)
2) News & Notes
Who is Responsible?
by Edward O. Bragwell, Sr.
Society is plagued by a soaring crime rate. Churches are hindered by
an ever-rising number of open and flagrant sins among the members.
Families are torn apart by ungodliness. Who is
responsible? Who can we blame for all of these problems?
This may be a bit old-fashioned, but maybe the answer is found in
the Bible: "The wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself"
(Ezek. 18:20). Is it too incredible to think that the
responsibility for crime in society lies with the criminal or, that
flagrant sin in the church ties with the sinner, or that the
responsibility for homes broken by ungodliness lies with the ungodly
person? Ezekiel deals with the matter of personal
accountability in chapter 18.
When Ezekiel prophesied, Israel was in Babylonian captivity because
of her sins. Yet, in spite of its plight, this generation of
Israelites seemed to be having trouble accepting responsibility for
its sins. They were using a proverb that shifted the
responsibility away from themselves to their fathers (vv.
1-3). Rather than accepting responsibility and repenting, they
were blaming their fathers (v. 19) and even God (vv. 25, 29).
Ezekiel tells them that each father and child would bear the
responsibility for his own sin. Each must give an account of himself
and could not shift the responsibility to the other.
Furthermore, one could not excuse himself by appealing to what had
happened in his past life -- a bad childhood or otherwise. If
a wicked man would now turn from his wickedness, his past wickedness
would not be held against him by the Lord. If a righteous man
turned from his righteousness, his past righteousness would do him
no good now (vv. 21-29). So, the solution that Ezekiel gave to
Israel was: "Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that
iniquity will not be your ruin" (vv. 31-32).
Any doctrine or philosophy that allows one to shift the
responsibility for his sins away from himself encourages two great
hindrances to genuine repentance: self-pity and
self-justification. As long as one engages in either of these
he will not fully repent of his sins. If he is allowed to
think that someone other than himself caused his sin, then he can
look with pity upon himself as a victim rather than a
transgressor. He can justify himself in his mind, because it
was not really his fault. Somebody made him do it.
For generations Calvinism has shifted attention away from personal
accountability for sin and righteousness. The Calvinistic
doctrine of imputed sin relieves the sinner from personal
responsibility for his sins. Classic Calvinism not only
teaches that one inherits his father's guilt, but also his father's
"sinful nature." He must sin. He cannot help it.
He inherited it from his parents. (There is vast difference in "all
must sin" and "all have sinned" -- one is in the Bible, the other is
not.) The Calvinistic doctrine of the imputed righteousness of
Jesus relieves the Christian from much of his personal
responsibility to struggle against sin and keep himself pure.
The idea is that the righteous life of Christ is imputed to the
sinner, so when the sinner faces the Great Judge he will not be
judged by his own life, but by the righteous life of Christ.
The Bible says each will be judged by his own works: "For we must
all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may
receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done,
whether good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10).
The modern liberal sociological philosophy of crime and antisocial
behavior in society has not only affected our criminal justice
system in society, it has affected the way brethren approach open
sin in the church. The bottom line is to take the heat off the
guilty and place it elsewhere. The result is that the crime
rate continues to worsen and discipline in many churches has become
non-existent. People are being allowed to march right on into hell,
secure in the feeling that they should not be held accountable for
their problems (sins). Let us notice four popular approaches
to crime and sin.
The Decriminalization Approach
If an evil becomes too difficult to control and the penalty too hard
to consistently administer, then decriminalize or legalize it.
If the laws against drug abuse (including alcohol), prostitution,
homosexuality, etc. are problems for society to enforce, then there
must be something wrong with the law. So, the cry goes out to
solve the problem by legalizing the sin.
If a sin becomes very prevalent among brethren and hard to weed out
by discipline, then make it acceptable or at least put it in the
"gray area." It is amazing how uncertain brethren can become
about a thing that only a few years ago would not be tolerated in
churches -- as the thing becomes commonplace among them. It is
assumed that something must be wrong with the rule by which the
thing was formerly condemned or with our methods of applying the
Scriptures -- anything but that more brethren are becoming guilty of
This approach takes the heat off the sinner and places the blame
upon the law or upon those who are faithfully trying to apply
it. It is not the sinfulness of the individual, but the
harshness of the law that must bear the responsibility. God's
law is neither sin, nor does it produce sin (Rom. 7:7-12). It
is the rebellion of the individual against that law that is the
The Distribution Approach
Another way to take the heat off the transgressor is to spread the
guilt around. This tactic assumes that one's crime or sin must
be shared by others. A crime is committed, so what is done
before the criminal can be punished? The victim, the police,
the judicial system, and society must first be put on trial.
After all, somebody must have failed or provoked this good fellow
into committing his crime.
A man takes up with his secretary. Before we criticize him we
must first investigate his wife, children, parents, or just about
anybody to see if they drove him to it. It would be absurd to
think that a fellow's own lust caused him to sin.
A youngster terrorizes his teachers and classmates. Before
discipline is administered, we must look at his teachers, peers, and
school administration. It is just impossible to think that he
could be a little brat on his own.
A Christian rebels against the Lord's way and walks disorderly.
Rather than holding him responsible for his deeds, the church, its
elders, preachers and others are often held accountable for his
It is the age old "look-what-you (they)-made-me (him) do"
approach. Adam blamed his sin on the woman God gave him.
Eve blamed her sin on the serpent (Gen. 3:12,13). Aaron blamed
his calf worship on the people (Exod. 32:22).
This approach places all imperfections and mistakes on the same
level. Any mistake the police, victim or society makes is
considered as bad as the action of the criminal, so these forfeit
their right to prosecute. Any flaw that parents might have
removes their right to firmly discipline. Any shortcomings
that brethren might have cancel their right to discipline the
It discourages all parties from accepting and facing up to their
respective responsibilities. The transgressor feels little
need to repent if others are as responsible for his actions as he
is. Those responsible for discipline in society, the home, and
the church are often convinced that they have no right to administer
correction since they themselves are imperfect. The results:
society and the church suffer from crime and sin out of control.
The Deprivation Approach
One is not depraved anymore, just deprived. If murderers,
rapists, and drunkards had not been deprived of love by someone,
parents or otherwise, surely they would not have turned to their
evil ways. If society had not deprived the thief of the
prosperity of his neighbors, then surely he would not have
stolen. If an unfaithful Christian had not been neglected and
deprived of attention by his brethren, then surely he would not have
turned to walking disorderly. So the beat goes on.
So, what is the fashionable solution? Rather than punishment
or discipline, simply shower the offender with those things that he
allegedly has been denied and everything will be fine. Try to
make him understand that his problem is not really his fault, but
the selfishness of those who deprived him. If folks will run
all over themselves to supply his every need or want, then the whole
problem will be solved.
By understanding the supposed real underlying cause of his badness
and knowing now who the real villains are -- those who deprived him
-- he can feel less ashamed, more comfortable and less need to
repent of his actions. After all, it was not really his fault.
He can take refuge in self-pity because he sees himself as more
victimized than those he has sinned against. Rather than being
brought to repentance, which involves mourning over one's guilt, he
is encouraged to down play personal accountability and shift the
blame to his parents, society, church, or anyone who may have
The Disease Approach
How long has it been since you heard of an old-fashioned
sinner? You see, there are not any really bad folks anymore --
just sick folks and people "with a problem." So, punishment and
discipline are obsolete. After all, you don't discipline a
patient -- you treat him with tender loving care. Rather than
give him to understand that he must repent and bring forth fruits
meet for repentance, you must show more understanding for his
"problem." Who can blame a sick person? He is a victim.
So, one can no more be blamed for murder than he can for malaria; no
more for licentiousness than for leprosy; no more for drunkenness
than for diphtheria; no more for homosexuality than for
hypertension; no more for fornication than for flu; no more for
adultery than for allergy. So, no longer do we need to call
for his repentance and reformation, just call for a physician and a
We are not denying that sin can become a sickness with some
people. But, it is a sickness that is self-inflicted, for
which the individual must accept personal responsibility and repent
before he can be right with God. We are also convinced that
the disease approach to sin is far over played by brethren to avoid
accepting the responsibilities to mark, rebuke sharply, warn or
withdraw from sinful brethren (Rom. 16:17; Tit. 1:13; 1 Thess. 5:14;
2 Thess. 3:6).
Sin is a disease -- a spiritual sickness. The prescription of
the "Great Physician" is calling sinners to repentance as the only
cure (Mark 2:17). Sinners do have a problem -- sin -- a problem that
can only be solved by accepting responsibility for their actions,
repenting, obeying the conditions of forgiveness and changing their
lives to reflect their repentance.
Brethren, we must face up to our responsibility to deal with
internal sin by reproving and rebuking as well as exhorting (2 Tim.
4:2) -- even stronger discipline when words fail (1 Cor. 5; 2 Thess.
3:6- 15). We will not do this until we stop thinking that we
have to be completely mistake free before we can correct those who
are openly defying God's will. We will not have effective
church discipline until we stop looking around to find another cause
of scandalous behavior other than the sinner's own sinfulness.
Nor will we get the job done until we quit allowing rebellious
brethren to send us on a "guilt trip" concerning their sins.
We need the courage of Paul who, even though conscious of his own
sins (I Tim. 1: 15), would not let those whom he was rebuking blame
him for their sins. To the Corinthians, whom he had rebuked
sharply in the first letter to them; he wrote, apparently in
response to a charge against him: "We have wronged no one, we have
corrupted no one, we have cheated no one" (2 Cor. 7:2). To the
Ephesian elders he said, "Therefore I testify to you this day that I
am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to
declare to you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:26,27). To
one Jew who rejected his correction, he said, "Your blood be upon
your own head, I am clean" (Acts 18:6).
Of course, we need to examine ourselves often to avoid sinning
against the Lord and our brethren. We must try to avoid being
stumbling blocks to others -- thus, to a measure, contributing to
their sins (Rom. 14:13). Yet, when dealing with brethren who
are subject to correction, they must be brought to understand that
they cannot blame their sins upon us or anyone else. "The soul
who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the
father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness
of the righteous shall be upon himself, and wickedness of the wicked
shall be upon himself" (Ezek. 18:20).
-- Via Guardian of Truth XXXV: 1, pp. 18-20, January 3, 1991,
News & Notes
I'd like to solicit the prayers of the saints for a very young
person -- Kaysel Hill (the granddaughter of Sandy Harris
Hill) -- who was born about 3 weeks ago with a thyroid abnormality
that will require her being on medication the rest of her life,
according to the doctor. Let us pray that all will go well for
her; and though the family is thankful for the easy solution of
medication and can deal with that, let us also pray that, if it be
God's will, Kaysel's thyroid will begin functioning as it should, so
that she will not even need the continual treatment.
I just heard from Chuck Bartlett a minute or so ago
(11/30). Though his virus had been the worse case his doctor
had ever seen in 23 years of his practice, Chuck now writes, "Been back in full swing as of last Sunday, even did
our live radio program. Back 100%." That sure is great news!
Let us also be praying for Jean Calloway, Virginia
Fontenot (who has stage 4 cancer), Shirley Young, Cheryl
Crews, and Terry and Pam MacDonald.
The Steps That Lead to Eternal Salvation
1) Hear the gospel, for that is how faith comes (Rom.
10:17; John 20:30,31).
2) Believe in the deity of Christ (John 8:24; John
3) Repent of sins (Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30).
4) Confess faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9,10; Acts
5) Be baptized in water for the remission of sins
(Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27; 1 Pet.
6) Continue in the faith; for, if not, salvation can
be lost (Heb. 10:36-39; Rev. 2:10; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).
CHURCH OF CHRIST
9923 Sunny Cline Dr., Baton Rouge, LA 70817
Sunday services: 9:00 AM (Bible class); 10 AM & 6 PM (worship)
Tuesday: 7 PM (Bible class)
evangelist/editor: Tom Edwards (225) 667-4520
(Gospel Observer website)