Rebuilding the City- Desiring Accountability

September 13, 2008

I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, ‘You are exacting interest, each from his brother.’ And I held a great assembly against them and said to them, ‘We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!’ They were silent and could not find a word to say. So I said, ‘The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.’” -Nehemiah 5.6-11

The next step which I think must be taken in rebuilding the distinctive city of God in the church is that the leadership, and more generally the whole of the congregation, must move into a state of accountability to one another. We must be developing a culture in which believers can come together and speak strong words about the sin that they see creeping around in each others lives. Their needs to be a mindset in which we can count on our brothers and sisters in Christ to call us out when we are stepping into iniquity and to trust them enough to guide us out of spiritual darkness that we may not otherwise be able to see. This is the accountability that I’m speaking of and is the type of accountability that I think we see demonstrated in the above passage from Nehemiah.

Speak to most any person outside of the church today and one of the main charges they will bring against Christianity is that it is hypocritical and the believers are strikingly similar to the world around them. These people know we are called to be different. How and for what purpose may elude them, but they all seem to have gotten the memo that that’s the big picture. Thus, to see otherwise is a sign to them of a lack of sincerity or authenticity in belief and is a major turnoff to Christianity (Not that a lack of hypocrisy will win people over, but there is no point in doing more to discourage them). However, living lives which are accountable to the rest of the people in our church can make strides towards rectifying this situation. If there is a core of people inside the church who are holding each other accountable to living like the Bible and not the like the world then the criticisms of hypocrisy will start to ring hollow and the people making them will lose that as an argument for why they don’t need Christ and the church in their life, leading to conviction and hopefully more people won into the kingdom of God.

Of course, hypocrisy and evangelism shouldn’t be our only motivation for accountability. We should also be moved towards accountability because it is the clear calling of Scripture to us. In 1 Corinthians 5 we hear from Paul that the congregation is “not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler” (v.11) and to “[p]urge the evil person from among [them]” (v.13). Also, in Galatians he instructs that “if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (6.1). Accountability is the charge of the whole church, and the leadership particularly. If there is to be order among the body of Christ and if God’s people are to be growing in righteousness and maturity, then those who are in places of authority and prominence must be keeping account of one another so as to correct and avoid falling into asundry sorts of sins.

Sadly, instead of doing this what we find in most congregations is that those in leadership are only concerned with staying in leadership and so are not willing to opening up about their own sins or to step on toes by pointing out the sins of another. There develops a “go-with-the-flow” mentality in which everything is okay as long as nobody knows. Yet, once people do know, the affects of the lost trust and disappointment can tear whole congregations in two and deeply scar a relationship between the church and the community which it is trying to minister to. The absence of accountability is a deadly problem in many corners of Christianity in America.

So please, if you are seriously interested in seeing the church revitalized in our country, if you are interested in seeing the city of God being rebuilt among his people, pray for, move towards, and live out accountability among each other. We will not have a foot to stand on in changing the world with the message of the Gospel if the message of the Gospel hasn’t first clearly changed us.