Well that was fast. Shortly after the news of World Vision’s decision to redefine marriage and hire same-sex couples, they now have reversed that decision. On one level that is fine and good. I am glad they did it but I am not impressed by it. Consider how it is framed:
- “they made a mistake. . . .”
- we were merely trying to serve the poor but in the process “we failed to be consistent with World Vision U.S.’s commitment to the traditional understanding of Biblical marriage and our own Statement of Faith”
- “We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority. We ask that you understand that this was never the board’s intent.”
- “While World Vision U.S. stands firmly on the biblical view of marriage, we strongly affirm that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are created by God and are to be loved and treated with dignity and respect.”
I spend a lot of time helping Christians who sin and need to properly repent think through the process. I would never counsel anyone who has sinned to use this type of terminology.
Note first how it is framed in “oops” terminology. We made a mistake. You know, like turning left instead of right at the intersection. Or maybe it is like taking down measurements of a room and writing down 12 1/2 feet instead of 12 feet. We all know there was no mistake. No one in that room who crafted and approved the change of policy that created this whole mess looked at it later on and said, “Dude! Where did those words about homosexual Christians and marriage come from?” An organization that size doesn’t write formal policy changes on a whim, it flows from many strategy meetings and discussions at the highest levels.
Second, note how it keeps this whole discussion on a interpersonal level. There is no sense in any way that there was sin even though the board was approached in a Matthew 18 sort of way. Where is the sense of dismay because they sinned against God? Read it in its entirety and you will find nothing there. This is the most egregious aspect of the whole thing. A couple of days ago they decide that marriage is something that man defines and they don’t want to tear apart churches on such a divisive thing such as same-sex marriage. You see, it is all about Christian love and unity. They decide that you can be gay and Christian. But then, when all hell breaks loose they decide it was an oopsy and they are sad that people are sad and hurt.
When you find yourself on the wrong side of what the bible says you are not resisting man, culture, or belief systems. You are resisting God. You sin against Him and you are accountable to Him to repent and actively turn from that sin. You are to embrace what He calls true and you are to hate evil. I am glad they reversed their decision. But I am not impressed. Nothing at all has really changed if we are judge this through the lens of their apology. The same convictions that ultimately led to their first policy change are still there, they just pulled back on policy so that they could not be smacked about anymore.
For those who are around my age, or who have parents who force them to endure classic rock radio stations while on family road trips, the title is easily recognized—Three Dog Night and their single, One. Being alone is hard. Even for the hardcore introvert loneliness eventually weighs them down. In the days of Israel belonging to your family, tribe and nation was everything. God worked among His people as a corporate people rather than just through private, individual relationships. He does the same in the Church. Almost every verse I hear people claim people as “their” verse has a corporate perspective rather than a personal one. The images of a flock, a building, a temple and a body all remind us that we do not exist alone.
For the Israelite, aside from being executed for a high crime, the worse thing to happen was to be cut off from the people. No relationships and no access to God through the Temple and festivals and such. In the Church again we have similar realities. The bible speaks of the unrepentant sinner as being viewed as a tax-gatherer and Gentile (terms that speak of avoidance and even disdain). We are commanded to avoid, reject, do not associate with nor even eat with those who don’t repent of sin while professing Jesus as their Lord. And the purpose is not one of self-righteous judgment, looking down our collective noses at the person; rather, it is to bring purity and seriousness into the Body of Jesus Christ while conveying to the person that fellowship has been lost and that they must repent and return.
Gossip, slander and tale-bearing are sins that are popular in the church today. They are not “bad” ones in the eyes of many and are seen as relatively innocent issues. But when you begin to consider the Word of God a very different picture emerges. The gossip and slanderer are people who create divisions and factions in the church. Galatians 5 clearly says that those who do such things are operating under the power of sin rather than the Holy Spirit.
Friendships and relationships are devastated by people of this ilk. Proverbs 16:28 tells us that they are twisted and perverse as they separate intimate friends with their tongue. A mark of a true friend is that they cover a transgression rather than reveal it because of love, but the one who repeats a matter creates a division among friends (Provers 17:9). (Note: this covering is not pretending it didn’t happen but not repeating it to others for the purpose of gossip.) This is why Solomon tells us that they are untrustworthy for they love to reveal secrets (11:3).
All of this brings us back to loneliness. The bible makes it clear that avoidance and rejection is the only appropriate response when you realize that a person is a gossip or slanderer. In Proverbs 20:19 the slanderer is the one revealing secrets that are not his to tell. The answer is to not associate with him. Titus 3:10 commands us to reject the one who brings divisions into the church. There is no room here for equivocation, if this is a person who is known to be gripped by gossip and slander then if they do not listen to your caution and reproof you are to avoid them.
Why? Let me give a short list of reasons:
- It preserves your heart from bitterness both in being betrayed by them and by being pulled into the sin as well.
- It preserves the church from unnecessary strife and stress, helping build unity and care for all who come.
- It gives the gossip no place to find a willing ear.
- It may cause the gossip to stop and consider how they have fallen. To look around and see that they are truly alone and seek to repent and come back into the fellowship of the Spirit.
Tomorrow I will give some biblical advice on putting this sin to death in your own life.
For over 16 years I have pastored and only in one church. Before that I was a chaplain for the L. A. County jail system and in charge of “SuperMax” where the bad guys are locked up. I have seen and heard every possible thing one can see or hear. Toss in that I was also a police officer and you get the picture. I am saddened by sin but I am seldom shocked or surprised. I have met with murderers, rapists, molesters and thieves. I have counseled people through all of the sins listed in Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6 and Galatians 5. But there is one sin that I find so pernicious and so exhausting that I have little tolerance when it rears its face. It is the vile sin of gossip and its twin sister slander.
In Judges 15 Samson ties a torch between the tails of two foxes, three hundred in total, and lets them loose to wreak havoc on fields of the Philistines. That is what happens when gossip is entertained and left unchallenged, that tongue that James says is full of restless evil (3:8) creates a firestorm in the Body of Christ and all that remains afterward is scorched lives of the Lord’s redeemed. It is evil and it is to have no tolerance in the Church.
Revelation 12:10 speaks of Satan as the accuser and that is what slander and gossip do, they accuse a person of something without them being there to defend their character. The gossip partakes in a work that does not befit their calling as a child of God. That alone should be enough to make many clap their hands over their lips and run to the cross of Christ. This is why Paul commands us to lay aside slander from our lips. It grieves the Spirit and it is in keeping with the expectation to walk in a manner worthy of our calling (cf Ephesians 4:17, 31). The answer that he gives to stop it? “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).
Proverbs tells us that like a fire without wood, so strife without the “whisperer” goes away (26:20). And I can say from many examples of confronting and disciplining gossips this is true every time. Titus 3:10-11 is utterly, ruthlessly blunt. “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.” If I was the one who said these words I am certain many would caution me of being harsh in my spirit, fortunately I can point to our ever gracious Holy Spirit and tell them to deal with Him. The gossips, slanderers, tale-bearers, accusers and whisperers are all from the same factious, divisive cloth. There is no place for them to find rest and peace in the Body of Jesus Christ unless they repent. Until then we need to learn to use God’s words regarding them, “perverted” and “self-condemned.”
And our response to those who tenaciously hold on to their vile words? Rejection. Not “prayer partners.” Not Facebook friends. Not, I-am-going-to-keep-on-with-my-relationship-because-I-want-to-show-the-love-of-God-to-them type of relationship. You reject them.
One postscript to this little post. Much like Paul says to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 5 about not associating with the immoral person; I do not mean the world, but those who claim Christ. The world is filled with gossips and we work among them but we must never partake with them of that sin. But for those who profess to be disciples of Jesus? You reject them.
As an old friend used to say, “easy peezy.”
This will be my final installment on a short series on church discipline.This is a task that is never enjoyable but nonetheless is good and right to do in the sight of God. We have seen already that it is not optional; rather it is necessary because Jesus commands it. To refuse to do it is simply sin. But it is also says that you do not care for the soul of he who sins nor the purity of the church. Both are serious issues that demand careful rethinking by those who reject discipline within the church.
Today I will give two final points regarding why we should practice church discipline: The first is that it protects doctrinal purity and the second is that it protects the office of elder.
Two passages come to mind regarding doctrinal purity:
This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:18-20)
If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness,he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions,and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. (1 Timothy 6:3-5)
In the first passage Paul speaks of these two men whom he delivered over to Satan so that they learn not to blaspheme. What exactly is involved in this is not stated, but it is clear that it was not fun, safe, or minor. Speaking false things within the church is devastating. Young believers are easily led astray and non-Christians can be quickly confused. The church is to be a place where truth is expounded and loved. It is not to be a place where confusion and lies twist the hearts of those for whom Christ died. As the second passage makes clear, Paul has no time for a person advocating new doctrines that go counter to the Apostolic teaching. If he doesn’t nor should we.
The final reason for proper, biblical discipline is that it protects the office of elder. This protection works in two separate ways, both is keeping the office itself pure and in removing an elder who is holding on to sin and thus harming the church.
Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning. (1 Timothy 5:19-20)
Elders are almost always on the front lines when problems arise. They are the shepherds of God’s flock. They are the ones who stick their neck on the line whenever a trouble-maker makes trouble. And this makes them very vulnerable to unfounded attacks. It is a grievous thing to readily accept accusations when there are no witnesses. This is why a church is to take great precautions to protect their elders. There must be witnesses and if there are not then the accusation is to be discarded.
However, when an elder is found to be in sin, if they do not repent then they are to be rebuked in the presence of the church. That is a painful reality that is seldom practiced. Too often they are quietly removed and no one ever really understands what happened. This leaves open the opportunity for gossip and slander. It is not an act of grace to be vague about an elder’s on-going sin. Notice that the purpose for rebuking him publicly is to have the rest of the church fearful of sinning as well.
If churches will take these words to heart they will find perhaps a smaller church, but one that is more serious about pursuing Christ in holiness and a place where purity is valued and one’s spiritual well-being is desirable.
This will be my fourth installment on a short series on church discipline. A key mark of a faithful church is the proper, biblical practice of discipline of those who identify with that church. Too often this is an ignored practice in the church except for the most egregious acts. For others, the process of discipline is not for purity in the church, but a means to manipulate the people into an unbiblical submission. Either way, it harms the church for whom Christ died. However, proper discipline honors Jesus and purifies the local Body.
A fourth reason for the practice of discipline is that it protects unity, rather than destroys it. It is interesting that often the reason given to not discipline is that they want to ‘love’ that person or they desire to not create problems where people will struggle with the decision and act and dissension might then occur.
Notice Titus 3:10, “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning.” For the one who stirs up strife and dissension in the church there is to be little tolerance. You don’t just move the guy to a different ministry or have him sit in a different section. Instead you give him two warnings and then he is sent out of the church. You reject him as a fellow believer, or as Paul says in the very next verse, “knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.”
Paul gives a different instruction to the one who is simply disobedient to the Word in 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15, “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” Note command—do not associate with him, meaning to mingle, mix or hang out.
This helps us see the idea of the fourth stage of discipline in Matthew 18. There is a genuine break in relationship and loss of fellowship. The purity of the Church is more important than a relationship that existed between the one who is unrepentant and the rest of the Church. It does not allow for a hateful attitude from the Church, we are to speak to him like a brother, but not in some casual, flippant manner, but one that involves warning. In our society today the goal Paul gives is somewhat shocking—to bring shame.
We don’t like shame today and see it as something that ought never to be done. And it is wrong when done for the wrong motives, to simply humiliate and dishonor a person. But it is proper for the church to expect obedience from its members. It is proper for us to hold one another accountable for the things taught. We cannot simply ignore and turn our backs upon those in sin—for then we are guilty of not loving them as a brother or sister. When you see an enemy moving toward something that is bad you simply shrug your shoulders, but not so with your brother.
And what Paul was envisioning here was that these undisciplined people would come over for a meal, expecting to get a meal and be refused. He would try to get in on the conversation, and they would ignore him or tell him to be quiet. They would not accept his advice (being a busybody). They would not bring him into a close fellowship and allow him to simply sit there and look foolish. There is an assumed goal, that when this occurred that the person would repent, come back into obedience and be restored.
This is my third installment of a biblical examination of church discipline. A practice that is rapidly not a visible part of the Church today. I have pastored now for fifteen years and every time our church brings a person to 3rd or 4th stage people comment on how they have never seen it done before. Sad but not surprising.
I am giving reasons for church discipline and so far we have two. The first is simply because Jesus commands it. Don’t let your eyes pass over that sentence too fast. It is a command and it is not negotiable. That alone is enough for many churches to stop and give thought to why they can have 75-1000 people in attendance and yet somehow no one is ever brought forward for discipline. The second reason is that it teaches the people to fear sin and hate it. That is rather self-explanatory so on to the third reason.
Third, it promotes the health and holiness of the local church body. Yep, discipline makes the church healthy. It should not be shocking to any who read this blog to realize that if you are playing loose with a holy walk and then a fellow believer is named in front of the church in third stage discipline for doing the very same things that you will see the wisdom of rejecting that sin in your life and fight it as only a gospel-believing person can fight sin.
The key passage for this point is 1 Corinthians 5. I won’t post the chapter here due to space so open your bible and read through it right now. [insert Jeopardy music here while I wait] Notice how vss 1-2 describe the situation. They were openly tolerating sexual sin that even the unbeliever would be shocked over and were proud rather than ashamed. A Church should be mourning when sin is winked at or approved of rather than confronted. They were proud that they were “open-minded” but Paul was sickened.
I point you to verse 3 if you are one to say that we aren’t allowed to judge another person. He will then task the whole church with judging each other in verse 12. The last thing a church member does is ‘mind his own business’ but this is often the very idea that is pushed in many churches.
Notice also the means by which it is accomplished in verses 3 and following: The whole church involved in the name of Jesus Christ. It is a total Body experience and it is not hidden from sight. I make this point simply because it is common for churches to quietly make bad situations go away. Things like pedophilia and adultery. Here is a sad example: A church I candidated at to be pastor had hired one man three years earlier to be their pastor. A former Bible college president and a pastor for over twenty-five years. Shortly after he took the positions charges were made that he had sexually touched a young child. In the course of the investigation it was discovered that he has been dismissed from the Bible college and each of his former churches for this very thing. None of the groups did anything else and they kept it quiet. Paul would have choices words for each of them.
Finally, note the goals–it is save his soul (vs. 5) and the church is purified (6-8). This teaches that your sin is not private, it becomes a cancer to the body of Christ. This sin is not your run of the mill sins. It is scandalous in nature and Paul is quick to act.
There is no indication here that they needed to take a lengthy process of examination and witnesses. The sin was known therefore judgment is simple and fast. An example would be a man in a homosexual relationship, or adultery, or abandonment. When they are gross and obvious they require no head scratching, and wondering if all the facts are in. Rather a fast and certain judgment is proper and expected.
One side note, when we read about the man’s soul being saved in verse 5 there are two ways you can take that. The first is that the man was never actually in Christ. The second option would see this in the sense of the doctrine of perseverance, where only those who persevere show themselves to have truly believed. I choose the second.
This is the next installment on the issue of church discipline. I am seeking to give reasons why the Church is expected to actually carry this out. The primary passage is Matthew 18:15-17 which establishes the basic process on discipline. But it was also my first reason for the practice of discipline–our Lord commands it.
The second reason is simple but important seeing it practiced is a lesson to all others in the church. Sin is serious and how one is handling who is practicing sin is serious as well. It helps force people who might be flirting with sin to become serious and sober-minded again. It reminds them that they belong to a community of believers and they are not mere individuals with no accountability.
There are two examples I can point to in Scripture that help make this point. The first is in Acts 5 with Ananias and Sapphira. Here is the brand new church, just starting out. The practice at that point was to bring your offerings and lay them at the feet of the Apostles who would then oversee the dispersing of the funds as needed. Ananias had committed to give all the money from the sale of some land, but he decided, with his wife’s full knowledge, to keep some back. Apparently when he brought the money it was with the idea that he was giving all of it to the Lord. End result for both him and his wife was that they were struck dead by the Lord. Now that is discipline!
If this situation followed the advice that I have been often given by some over the years, it would have been, “don’t rock the boat.” You can hear it now, “it was just a small lie, who hasn’t done that. God is the God of love and forgiveness and we need to overlook these things.”
But the very opposite was the action of the Spirit. This is key to note because it was not the work of man to kill them. This is not some mad fundamentalist who got out of control. It was the Holy Spirit who did this. Discipline was swift and fierce, and the result in found in verse 11, “and great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.” That is one of those understatements that pop up all over the bible.
The second passage is in relation to elders. In 1 Timothy 5:20 an elder who continues to sin is to be publicly rebuked so that the rest of the congregation may be fearful of sinning. We actually have done this in our church and that was exactly the result we saw. Several men realized that they were taking their following of Jesus way to casually and it caused a bit of a season of repentance within the Body. It was not fun, but it was a good and necessary event commanded by our Lord.
I want to try to lay out a solid understanding of why a church must practice church discipline. In fact, I would argue that if a church does not practice this it is in sin and is not a church that is concerned with true purity nor a love for the people. I know that is rather strong but I believe it is completely defensible. Yesterday I wrote that I would give six reason for church discipline. Today I will give the first and foremost reason: it was the first thing our Lord commanded to be done when He first mentioned the Church. Yep, first thing out of His mouth when He references the Church and it is not a culturally relevant dress code, a cool band, or those neat microphones that hook on your ear. First thing He out of His mouth is what the Church is to do with those who hold onto their sin.
The key passage is Matthew 18:15-17, “And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer.”
First let me give a very broad introduction to this text by fitting it into its greater context. In vss 12-14 He speaks of how the Father’s desire is to bring any of His sheep who are astray back into the fold. That is His will, His desire; but the question is, how does He do this? Jesus then answers that unspoken question in vss 18-20–He uses other believers. Verses 18-20 are not a separate section related to separate issues, but it is vitally connected to the power Jesus vests upon His church to remain pure.
I will ask five questions related to this passage and then answer them.
Who Receives It (15a)? The answer is clear it is a professing Christian (Brother) who has sinned. Both elements must be present for anyone to initiate church discipline. This means that we are not out looking for those who are unsaved to be like those saved. Now there are some who would say that you only deal with those who are habitually sinning, but that is not found in this text. The term, “sins” simply is a statement. It does not indicate a habit of sinning in and of itself. In fact, it is better to be stopped early on in a sin, then to allow it to take root.
This means also that we are to confront on actual sin. Now, the one confronting might be wrong on their perception of what the sin was (that is why there is the second stage) but at this point they believe their brother/sister has sinned. They cannot confront on personal points of disapproval nor on issues of liberty; rather only on those things that are clearly sinful.
Who Initiates It (15b)? It is “your” brother who has sinned, therefore, it is your responsibility to go to him. Any believer who becomes aware of another brother’s sin is now commanded to go to him and confront him. It is not your job to go tell someone else and hope they go. And this is where church discipline too often breaks down, you see the sin, you are afraid of confrontation (I mean, everybody sins, right?), you look the other way until this brother is caught up in a habitual sin that traps him. Let me explain a bit more. This ought to be done as soon as possible for two reasons: First, it turns the brother from his sin quickly, not letting it take root. Second, it does not let the sin begin to “leaven” the Body. Let sin go unaddressed and soon it is throughout the church and you are wondering what happened.
What is it that you are doing when you go to that brother? You are to literally “show him the sin for what it is.” This involves gentle, but clear rebuke, calling him to forsake the sin. It also involves trying to convince him if he does not see what is wrong with the action. This is why you need to only deal with real sin in these situations and you need to know about what you are talking. This is important for it is too easy to begin to rationalize our sin away.
What Is The Goal Of It (15)? “If he listens to you, you have won your brother.” This is the goal. Always, every time. The winning of your brother. It is not to get your pound of flesh. It is not to shame him. It is not to show your spiritual maturity. It is a sincere love of your brother and a desire to see him walk in a manner worthy of his calling. There is nothing better than to be used by God to turn another Christian away from sin and into a proper, healthy walk with God, as Proverbs 11:30 says, “he who wins souls is wise.”
What Is The Process? We have seen the first step, one on one confrontation. The second step is in verse 16–You take witnesses. The purpose of this is so that the witnesses can determine the factual nature of the claims. Is he really guilty? Are your facts valid? If he is guilty, then they are able to note if he properly repents. This again is not a time to pile on the poor guy, but it is also not a time to be vague. Clear, penetrating questions need to be asked. The pathway of repentance needs to be described. And all of this settled on the gospel.
The third and fourth steps are then given in verse 17. Notice the progression, the first time is private, the second is semi-private, but now the sin is entrenched and the confrontation becomes public. The sinning brother’s situation is brought up before the entire church to be rebuked and encouraged to repent. The congregation is not to be determining that validity of the charges, that has already been done. Note, however, that the entire congregation is responsible for this. That means you must let them know the people involved, the sin that is taking place. Let me make a point here. When you describe the sin(s) you need to use biblical words, “unfaithfulness,” “lying,” or “immorality.” You don’t need to describe details, there is no value in that and again, the motive is always to win your brother to repentance. However, if the person still holds to his sin, then he is sent out of the body of believers.
Who Authorizes It (18-20)? This passage has been often misunderstood and mistreated through the centuries. The Roman Catholic church uses it to teach that the church has the power to forgive sin. Many within charismatic churches and also what is called the “word of faith” churches use it to teach that we possess some divine ability to demand and prevent certain things from happening.
To understand this is simple, it merely requires an understanding of Jewish history. It simply means that when the church acts to send out a person who is in sin, that person is not just “bound” on earth, but in heaven. In other words, God is active in the sending out. All the church is doing is sending out a person who has already been sent out of the church by God. In the same way, when two or three agree, Christ is in their midst. Not speaking of the bare minimum for the presence of Christ to exist, or the definition of a church. Remember when we have two or three witnesses? It was in verse 16, verses 19-20 connects with verse 16 by saying that when I go to a sinning brother for the second time, along with witnesses, we are not going alone, Christ is with us.
To do or say something in the name of Christ simply means that they are doing or saying something that is in accordance to the known will of the Lord. This is very important to remember, when the church has faithfully administered church discipline it does so with the full assurance that the Lord has given it His energy, authority, and approval.
This process is NOT the only process described in the bible. I would say that it is the normative passage, but not the ONLY passage on discipline. I agree with Mark Dever who sees that this is the passage and process that is used with private sins and those committed against individuals. There are other passages that speak to unique sins.
When there is discipline taking place there is no need to for speed most of the time. If you have not let the brother continue in their sin until a crisis is upon him then there is the ability to move slowly and with care. Understand that it can be a quite lengthy process. In my church most every time has taken months as we seek to give ample room for repentance.
One of the marks of a true church is that of church discipline, and much misunderstood practice in today’s Evangelical church. In 1561 there was a document created, the Belgic Confession which pointed out that church discipline was one of three marks of the true church, the other two being the Word of God truly being preached and the sacraments truly being presented. Today however it is not uncommon to attend a church for years and never see anyone ever face public church discipline. One would think that in today’s society somehow sin no longer works within the heart of every man woman and child within any church. Of course it is hard to be seeker sensitive and relevant to the culture of today and yet also call people who claim to follow Jesus to truly follow Him. However in Matthew 28 part of the great commission was to teach those who were His disciples to obey everything that he commanded us. And one of those commands is to practice church discipline (cf. Matthew 18:15ff).
How does church discipline operate? When is it right to practice church discipline? Why should we practice church discipline? These are the types of questions I want to try to answer in this short series I am starting today.
By way of introduction my mind goes to a certain passage out of Hebrews which speaks about the hand of discipline from our Father in heaven. “For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.” (Hebrews 12:10) It is easy for us to think about God disciplining us but never asking how He does it. It is not uncommon for Him to use others as His tool or instrument of discipline. And one of those instruments is His church. Being a child of God means that not one person in the church is exempt from the discipline of the Lord. It may be painful at times but it is good and necessary for our spiritual growth as well as purity within the church.
The purpose behind church discipline is not to denounce someone, shame someone, or even manipulate them; rather, it is to exhort them to repentance and restoration to both God and man. The purpose is to restore a person back to their original walk in Christ–to take a believer and get them to turn from their sin and back to a faithful, obedient walk with Christ in the church. Therefore, this discipline is corrective in nature. It is like taking a broken bone and setting it back in its right place. Therefore we can call this “corrective” or “restorative” discipline.
Over the next several days I want to give six reasons why the church must practice church discipline and try to give practical advice on how it is done. The Bible is not silent on the subject and in fact there are far more passages that discuss it then many people are aware.
After a few weeks in the hospital and then recovery I am blessed to be back in in the pulpit again. My text is from Romans 16:17-19 and it is powerful in it forthrightness and its consequences.
Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.
Here is a church that is powerful in its witness before an unsaved world and before other churches throughout the world. What a commendation! And what a goal and desire for any church. But it comes with a warning for Satan hates those who obey the gospel, for they have a nasty habit of being powerfully used by God to destroy the works of Satan through the gospel. So Paul knows that there shall arise within this church both the one who shall create infighting and disunity and those who shall teach falsely so as to draw the saints away from the sound doctrine that they know.
Why? For these people are not about the work of the Lord’s kingdom. Though they have much to say and they claim many good things, the propulsion of the gospel forward into a dark world is not their delight. They are servants of their own desire and not servants of the Most High.
So what to do? Simple, keep a close eye on them. Never let them out of your sight. And AVOID them. Not befriend them, not debate them, not engage them. But avoid them.
What stood out for me in all of this is that the church often has it all backward. We avoid those outside the church and we tolerate all sorts of evil within the church out of a twisted sense of love. But here, when these false Christians come into the church we don’t tolerate them at all, we find them and then we avoid them.
My prayer is that this will be abundantly and humbly made to my congregation today.