Friday, 11 April 2008

Accountability

Where does the Bible teach our accountability to each other?

Nowhere, I think.

We will certainly be accountable to God on the final day of judgement, the Bible is very clear on this.

But I can't think of a single verse which teaches that Christians are accountable to each other.

Verses which teach that we should encourage each other, confess our sins to each other (and so on) come close, but they are not the same.

The demanding of accountability to a human judge is more a feature of state rule (in which case it is legitimate) or Roman Catholicism (in which case it is not).

18 comments:

SamR said...

I'm not convinced accountability is commanded either, and sometimes I wonder if it replaces whatever sin we're being accountable on with pride. ie "I won't sin now because I'll have to tell someone, and I don't want to look vulnerable."

That being said, just because I can't find a verse reference doesn't mean an idea isn't there.

Also, (like you said) we are to confess our sins to each other, and if accountability type relationships help that to happen, I don't want to poo-poo them outright.

Grosey's Messages said...

Gal 6:1Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.
2 Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
3 For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.
4 But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.
5 For every man shall bear his own burden.
6 Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.


Romans 15:14 And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.


In order to do that there is a sense of accountability to one another for one another.

I guess its summed up in john 13:34A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Steve

Jeff A said...

Perhaps it is a sense of being "responsible" to one another rather than accountable?

Gordon Cheng said...

thanks samr, Steve and jeff a.

I would prefer to use the language of responsibility, Steve, as Jeff A has done, or to speak of loving one another, as John 13:34-35 does, or even of admonishing each other as Rom 15:14 does (all of which you have referred to).

Accountability, as it is generally used
(I mean in secular society as well, where the idea is prominent whenever government is discussed), generally implies some form of punitive judgement, if the person being held accountable doesn't fall into line with whoever they are being held accountable to. I do find that there is such an accountability in the Bible, so Rom 13:1-5 and 1 Peter 2:13-17 are pretty important here.

However in the local church, the closest we seem to come is 1 Cor 5, where the sin of the immoral brother is not to be tolerated. Here, however, it is quite clear that the one who is really holding the person to account is God, especially noting v 5

you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

I suppose there may be an element of state enforcement of excommunication, in which case there is a human accountability (In Scotland, for example, you can call on the police to enforce a ban), but I don't really think this is accountability as
Christians commonly speak of it.

And state accountability is itself provisional, and limited in nature.

Michael K said...

Gordo - what do you mean by accountability?
I think (or perhaps 'we think') you're too individualistic. No Christian is an island. Given our unity in Christ, given the church, how can there not be accountability one to the other?

Some versees that quickly come to mind:

Heb 13.17 leaders have a last day accountability for the church so the church should obey them now
1 Cor 5.2 the Corinthian church is condemned for its failure to put the immoral brother out of fellowship - they should judge those inside the church
Acts 15 The Jerusalem Council setting out the requirements for Gentile Christians
Eph 5,32 forgivneness etc etc

John Smuts said...

As you say Gordon the 'rags of popery' are everywhere...

... why, I was just reading the letters in the SMH and noticed all these people who insist on using their full titles - should we be accountable to them?

Gordon Cheng said...

Michael K, accountability is about giving account, and for it to be meaningful rather than token, there must be consequences if we fall short.

That is, the question of accountability is really one about who we allow to pass judgement on us, and who we ourselves feel that we have a right to pass judgement on—and I mean the judgement of condemnation rather than the judgement of discernment (which all Christians are called on to exercise, to a smaller or greater extent).

I don't think I really need to defend the idea that God alone is our judge in the first sense, and that Christians should beware of trespassing on that prerogative without scriptural warrant (hence the exception for the state due to 1 Pet 2 and Rom 13).

In fact, it is fascinating that even Jesus refuses the role of judge when the time is not right (Luke 12:14, even though all authority in heaven and on earth are his, post-resurrection.

However any critique of individualism in churches is surely right. So why not replace the 'accountability' language Christians are so fond of using with language like 'love', 'responsibility', or words drawn from any of the 30 something one another exhortations Paul makes in his letters, or the nearly 20 similar exhortations used by the other NT epistolaters (now there's a word I don't often use. Epistolate. Epistolate. Epistolate.)

Gordon Cheng said...

John, I only use 'The Rev.' when I'm in a bad mood ;-)

Ian said...

At least you use "the Reverend" and not "Reverend" Mr Cheng.

[end grammar-pedant mode :)]


May I ask why you think Roman Catholicism "accountability" [I assume you mean the sacrament of Confession/Penance] -- and therefore Orthodoxy as well I presume -- is not "legitimate".

I would also say 'accountability' can have a broader meaning; I am accountable to my 'spiritual father' in terms of my actions: this does not mean he can condemn me, nor can he forgive me my sins [for that is the perogative of God alone], but I do owe some responsibility to him as an elder in Christ. I do understand you may have some disagreement with this though. :)

Gordon Cheng said...

Hi Ian,

It seems to me that any Christian needs to beware usurping the authority of the Heavenly Father

(hence the exhortation of Matt. 23:9 "And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven" although I'm aware that verses like 1 Cor 4:15 mean we need to watch out for over-literalism)

and to remember that it is above all the role of the heavenly Father and Judge to impose the conditions whereby we may find forgiveness.

My own view is that the Roman Catholic church (and yes, by extension the orthodox) imposes conditions upon forgiveness that usurp the role of the Heavenly Father, who requires only faith in his son.

Grosey's Messages said...

I see.. the definition of accountability that you choose to use is the one that fits to which cultural context?

I think if we take the term as describing the biblical material, and drawing our context from this, we would have no problem with the term "accountability". However, if you keep swapping contexts,ie, RC, Asian familial, secular management) then it would all be a hopeless muddle. If we wanted to make a muddle of it, we could always go and talk about what we mean about the Presence of Christ in the communion.

Have we descended here to 1 Tim 6:4 "but doting about questions and strifes of words,"?
Steve

Gordon Cheng said...

Hi Steve,

I don't really think I'm swapping contexts. But if you could show me where the word 'accountability' occurs in the Bible (the original Greek, or the English, either will do), then the objection you raise might make more sense. As it is, I'm reduced to using the word in the way most Australians do, most of the time.

The discussion is non-trivial, nonetheless, because beneath it lies the way we think about God and the nature of his judgement and his authority, which as sinful human beings, we are only too quick to usurp.

Ian said...

My own view is that the Roman Catholic church (and yes, by extension the orthodox) imposes conditions upon forgiveness that usurp the role of the Heavenly Father, who requires only faith in his son.

The discussion is non-trivial, nonetheless, because beneath it lies the way we think about God and the nature of his judgement and his authority, which as sinful human beings, we are only too quick to usurp.

Not surprising, I do not see this. Why do you believe, taking the Catholic/Orthodox position, that Confession [for instance] "usurps" the judgement and authority of God? God is the only Judge; He alone has the Ultimate Authority. But He has given power to his priests to "bind and loose", "to forgive sins" even [in His name -- for only God has the power to do this]. Or would you see this as something restricted to his immediate apostles, and not transferred to the church?

Also, I find this view at odds with your comments on Richard Lane and Justice Kirby: what right then did Richard Lane have to write what he wrote. Was he not usurping the Judgement of God? If God only requires "faith in His Son" as you wrote above, and Justice Kirby has this faith -- well, from what you said above I see some issue in the condemnatin of him. We must have faith in God and in His Son as God, but there is also more [for me] -- repentance; a desire to turn from sin. "Faith without works is dead".

Richard Lane's pointing out where he Justice Kirby has gone astray is exactly what my spiritual father does -- he reminds me where I have fallen and wandered, and encourages me to seek forgiveness and be reconciled with God.

But I may have mis-read you. And I'm not sure if what I have written makes any sense. :help:

Gordon Cheng said...

Ian, the power to 'bind and loose' is precisely and only the power to proclaim the gospel of free forgiveness in the face of judgement, as all we lovers of Luther would be quick to point out! ;-)

Once it goes beyond this, for example in imposing various penances for the remission of the temporal penalty due to sin... well, like the guy in The Castle, "Tell 'im he's dreamin'!"

Grosey's Messages said...

OK G,
here is a text:
1Co 14:24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all,

ἀνακρίνεται

:)

Now.. I understand that it is talking salvifically.

Vincents: Examined and judged. The word implies inquiry rather than sentence. Each inspired speaker, in his heart-searching utterances, shall start questions which shall reveal the hearer to himself. See on discerned, 1Co_2:14. On the compounds of κρίνω, see on 1Co_11:29, 1Co_11:31, 1Co_11:32.

But,as Michael K noted, perhaps we are thinking individualistically and not considering the body life nature of the church which helps a person to be held to account with the Lord rather than with the church primarily.

But finally, if you would prefer "responsibility" to "accountability" I see no problem.. words mean what they mean to you and the agreed upon meaning of the community in which you find yourself. You just need to determine which one it is. :)For me, there is little difference between the two words.
Every Blessing
Steve

John Smuts said...

I only use 'The Rev.' when I'm in a bad mood

Phew, that's a relief. I thought you were crossing the Tiber.

Gordon Cheng said...

No, no. Today, I'm in a good mood. So I wrote them a 'Rev-free' letter. They likely won't publish it, but.

Jean said...

Reverend Mister Cheng, you really need to do some defining of your terms here - esp. "accountability". Which you do, around post 4!!

But it would be unhelpful if people heard you condemning what "samr" says - "'I'm not convinced accountability is commanded either, and sometimes I wonder if it replaces whatever sin we're being accountable on with pride. ie "I won't sin now because I'll have to tell someone, and I don't want to look vulnerable.""

I think this kind of "accountability", sorry, "responsibility" or "insert other word here", is really important in terms of learning to live holy lives! - e.g. lots of guys trying to control an addiction to pornography send their internet site list to another guy to help them be accountable. I think this can be wisdom, not pride (although we will always have mixed motives).

Are you planning to deal with these pastoral issues in forthcoming articles? Or only with the theological issues about enforcement / authority? Because I think these are two quite separate issues, and they're a bit confused by the language of "accountability," especially since I think most evangelicals would use the word in the pastoral, not the "authority", sense.