Archive for the ‘church discipline’ Tag

Count the Costs   Leave a comment

There’s a thought that goes something like this — Salvation in Christ is easy. All that’s required is faith. Just believe, walk an aisle, claim your fire insurance and your eternity is set. Your sins are forgiven. God won’t even remember them. You can do whatever you want now.

It’s not true. For those of us who read the whole Bible, it’s clear that Christian faith is not the easy choice. For those of us who read the New Testament, Jesus’ disciples were clear that Christianity was a choice that would cost believers something. Truth be told, you can’t even base easy believism on Jesus’ teachings.

“Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your ownOr how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while there is a beam in your own? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye,and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs; otherwise they will trample them under their feet and turn around and tear you to pieces.” Matthew 7:3-6

First, recognize that Jesus is speaking to disciples here – to adult believers who made an informed choice to follow Him. These were not children or people who did not want to be closer to God. They were following Jesus and listening to His sermons.

Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14

Jesus is saying “God is an exclusive deity and He has set out a path for you to come into His presence. There are not multiple ways to get there. There is one and it’s not all that easy (later He says it is well worth the effort).

“Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves. You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruitEvery tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will recognize them by their fruit.” Matthew 15-20

Jesus warned that there would be those who would try to infiltrate Christian ranks and destroy God’s good work by changing what He was teaching. Later, Paul, Peter and John (Jesus’ best friend) warned of the same thing.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’  will enter into the kingdom of heaven– only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’ Matthew 7:21-22

In another place, Jesus said that if you try to enter His salvation by any other means than what He was teaching, you would be considered a robber and tossed out on your ear to a place where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

“When Jesus finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed by his teachingbecause he taught them like one who had authoritynot like their experts in the law.” Matthew 7:28-29

Being a believer is going to cost you. The first thing it costs you is the illusion that you’re a good person. Paul describes that in Romans. He had every reason to believe he was a fine follower of God, but he was wrong and God opened his eyes on the road to Damscus. The second thing it is going to cost you is your will. You will never be more vulnerable in adulthood than when you allow another Christian to lower you into the water and bring you back up in full immersion baptism. And that is the point. You are not in charge. God is.

Choosing to become a Christian and follow Jesus in baptism makes you responsible for your subsequent actions — for every word, thought and deed. Yes, you’re forgiven by God, but you now have a responsibility to conduct yourself as His child and representative and not resemble the father of lies, Satan.

Christians are also called to live in community as believers, which makes us responsible for each other. Yes, we should look toward our own discipline first and foremost. We cannot remove the speck from our fellow Christian’s eye when we’ve got a log in our own. On the other hand, when our friends are up to their hips in quagmire, it is our responsibility to throw them a lifeline — to become the partially sighted leading the blind out of the ditch.

Christians, give that a good long thought and then do it.

Restoration   Leave a comment

So what are we supposed to do when we know there are Christians in our congregations who have sinned and should be disciplined, but haven’t been?

If your church is not imposing discipline, then you might have to do it yourself. So I turn the blog over to Brad, my husband, because he’s passionate about the subject.  Lela

Brad

I became a Christian when I was 21, which means I lived a non-Christian life for 21 years before I came to know Jesus. My family are — well, dysfunctional is a mild term. I’ve been through five divorces and have half-siblings and step-siblings from each of my parents’ partnerings. Both my grandfathers drank themselves to death. My father tried to seduce Lela to have sex with him not long after we were married. And … I could go on, but you get the point.

Growing up amid free flowing booze and free flowing sex meant I learned some bad habits. I knew they were wrong and when I became a Christian, I set them aside. Well, I set the sex aside. Fairbanks is a small town. It would get back to Lela and she’s armed, so I control myself there.

But alcohol … nothing like it to make a cloudy day seem shiny bright. What better way to celebrate the holidays, birthdays, pay raises, job losses, Friday, Monday and any other day you might think of.

It just sort of snuck up on me, ran me over like a speeding car and left my life in a shambles. And, the church did nothing.

Oh, they supported Lela and comforted her and helped her make things work for her (we didn’t have kids yet), but pretty much they let me do what I wanted and almost nobody confronted me. One guy said something one time and I could  have taken it any way I wanted. I got into AA because I had to and it worked while I worked it and the church just sort of pretended nothing had happened.

And, then I started drinking again. This time Lela demanded sobriety. Our daughter had been born, she knew it was possible and she had had enough. And I reacted about like you’d expect a drunk to react — immaturely. And the church leadership counseled my wife to honor her vows and let me remain in the home — drunk, in hopes that I might come around.

The younger adults of our church were our social group and we spent a lot of time together. Not long into this, they made a choice that hurt me deeply. Two of them came to me and said “You need to stop drinking before you destroy your marriage and our friendship with you. One of them offered to take me to AA.” I told them it was none of their business. A week or so later, they came back with a third friend and told me that I was no longer welcome to attend functions with them — that included things like fishing, rock climbing, berry-picking, parties and hikes. Lela was more than welcome, but I was not … until I could demonstrate sobriety.

I wasn’t barred from the church (they couldn’t convince the leadership to disfellowship me), but if I tried to sit down with my friends, they would all get up and move to another table. If I tried to talk to one of them, it was like I wasn’t there. Now, of course, Lela couldn’t do this. We had a kid together and we were living together at least some of the time. We owned a house together. But drawing strength from her social group, she did leave me behind to go do things we’d done together before. She also took over paying all the household bills on her salary, which meant a lot of beans and rice since she is the primary cook in the household.

For a while, I used the isolation as a good excuse to hang out with “friends” who liked to drink and do other stuff. Then I left and went to work with my father in another state for a while. Lela will tell you she expected divorce papers eventually. But, in a motel room one night, bored and more or less sober, I pulled out my long-neglected Bible and started to write a letter to my wife saying I thought she was not following God’s will. Except every verse I ran across wasn’t about her, but about me. When I woke up the next morning to read the letter before posting it, I saw that God had written it to me. That evening I found an AA meeting. I didn’t go back to church right then, but the guy I got as a sponsor was a Baptist and when I did my Step 4, he suggested I had amends to make not only to Lela, but my church friends. So, I started calling them and apologizing. To a person, they all said they didn’t want amends. They wanted to see me repent and come back to God. And, they all said “We love you! Learn to love yourself.”

When I moved back to Fairbanks, I formally requested re-fellowship at the church that had never formally disfellowshipped me. The pastor had changed during the time and the new one understood what I wanted. He didn’t downplay my sin and pretend it hadn’t affected the church. By not denying the effects of my sin, I was able to heal from the effects of my sin. And one or two of those younger adults who made the difficult decision to limit fellowship with me are still my good friends 20 years later. And, yeah, Lela and I are still married and our son is evidence of the forgiveness we exercised.

Lela

The situation Brad described was not an easy one for me or the church to work through. When it was first proposed by a former drug addict, I didn’t think it was a good idea. It seemed a mine field where I’d end up divorced and Brad would end up spiritual roadkill. And, it could have been. Free will sucks in these situations.

Limited fellowship for the purposes of church discipline requires spiritual judgment (Galatians 6:1) so as not to intensify a bad circumstance. Our friends did it well. Brad remembers that throughout that first conversation, the offer was made to go to AA (in those days the Christian alternatives were few and far between). Brad rejected the help. In the second conversation, they were clear that they loved him and would be there whenever he asked for help, but they were shunning him until that time and that was a hard thing to do. As hard as it was for him to go through it, it was equally hard for them to do it to him.

It wasn’t easy for me. I couldn’t leave our daughter with him when I’d go on group outings, so it was often easier to not go … until a teenager in the congregation stepped forward as a free babysitter and solved my dilemma.

Brad felt rejected and angry and that made other problems in our marriage. He went deeper into drinking and other activities for a while and I was definitely scared when he left the state to go work for his dad. When he came back, he asked for readmission into the church, told me he thought we could work it out with time, … and then promptly went to Seward for vocational school. It didn’t feel like things were working out … though in retrospect he was taking time to work on himself before diving back into the family.

Would sobriety have happened without the shunning? Brad says he doesn’t think so. And certainly we both know recovering alcoholics who are divorced. My friend Rose will point out that divorce without remarriage in Christian circles looks an awful lot like marital disfellowship. The thing to remember is church discipline must operate in Christian love. Although disfellowship looks like punishment, it is is designed to save the soul of the wayward brother or sister (1 Corinthians 5:5) to protect the church by maintaining its purity. A little corrupting “leaven” will soon affect the entire loaf (5:6-7). Like the wayward Corinthian brother, Brad came back to the fellowship because, as a Christian, there was still a part of him in connection with God and God brought him to a place where he repented and started to once more value the things he had formerly trampled.

But unfortunately, this is not done very often. More often than not, people withdraw their friendship from the sinner because they don’t like what he/she is doing, but with little or no explanation and no method of potential return. The sinner feels just as rejected and judged, but they often don’t know why and when they want to return, they don’t feel like they’re welcome. Formality sets that aside.

Love doesn’t mean accepting everything someone else does without boundaries. There are times when God sets limits on our behavior, Christians, and there are times when He calls the churches to carry out effective discipline in love to bring a sinning Christian back to Him. But when we reinterpret what God’s love is and try to make it into the acceptance of sin in the church, we destroy ourselves as congregations and as individuals.

The Corinthian sinner returned to the church after it disfellowshipped him and the church apparently let him back in. It works if you work it.

Anabaptists   Leave a comment

There are reasons I’m a Baptist by membership and here is one of them.

A young man grew up in our church, the son and grandson of devout Christians. When he was 8 he walked an aisle and made a public profession of Jesus Christ as Savior and was shortly thereafter dunked in the Chena River. When he was in high school, however, he came to doubt his Christianity. He decided he liked to be in charge of himself. He held this thought through high school into college.

He didn’t exactly quit believing in God. It is hard to live in Alaska and not at least think there has to be a higher order of intelligence behind the beauty here. That’s my own take on it from having been a completely unchurched teen when Jesus reached out to me. I always believed in some sort of high power in charge of Alaska’s beauty. For want of a better term, I called it God, but I by no means believed in the God of the Bible. It was more a god of my own design.

This young man continued to believe that there was something like a god and that being a good person was a good thing, but that whole Christianity thing — well, that put someone else in charge of his life besides him and he wasn’t interested. And he carried that attitude into college.

And then a relationship he had wanted very much ended abruptly and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He realized that as much as he had thought he was in control of his life, he wasn’t really in control of his life. Through that experience, he began to question whether rejecting Jesus as Savior was really the right way to go. Last summer, through the witness of his mother, he rededicated his life to Christian living.

But it wasn’t enough, he realized. He had actively said that Jesus was not God and could not be Savior and Lord of his life. He was sure now that he is a Christian, but as he started reading the Bible, he kept running across verses that said “If you deny Me before men, I will deny you before My Father.” He he knew he had done that. He began to question if that childhood experience of walking an aisle and being “baptized” had any validity.

So today, he gave his testimony before the church and was baptized, not only to assure that he was following Jesus in the appropriate steps of salvation and obedience, but as a public testimony of the inward change he has recently gone through.

Baptists maintain that baptism (full immersion) is an outward sign of an inward change and something to be done only by believers. We don’t baptize babies or very young children because we don’t believe they can grasp the concepts needed for salvation — sin, the need for regeneration, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, repentance. Usually, the youngest candidates for baptism are six or seven and I can count on one hand the number of those very young candidates who are still in church in their 20s and 30s. I tallied up the baptisms at my current church and the majority of them  have been older than 16, which says we are either very good at reaching adults for Christ or that we encourage our children to wait until their salvation is real to them.

Baptists do not believe baptism is retroactive. If you walked an aisle when you were nine and were dunked, but didn’t accept Christ for real until you were 21, you should be baptized now as a believer. If you were sprinkled as a baby (like my husband), that was a pretty ceremony for your parents, but it didn’t mean anything to you, so if you’re 21 and you accept Christ (like my husband), you need to be baptized.

Notice that I didn’t say “re-baptized”. If the candidate that goes under the water is not a Christian, the activity was not a baptism. Only believers can be baptized. Non-believers seeking to please their parents or look good just get wet.

And that is one of the reasons I am a Baptist, because it is understood that this young man was being baptized for the first time, in accordance with New Testament teachings.

This is another one of those church discipline things that modern churches really need to look at. If we’re serious about our faith and want to reach the world for Christ, we must first make sure that we are following His example and the example of the early churches.

Limiting Fellowship   Leave a comment

I believe, because I have seen it work, that limited fellowship should be extended to brethren who have drifted into the kinds of error we’ve been discussing.

What do I mean by limited fellowship?

In some instances the local churches these people are members of should discipline them and, if necessary, even withdraw fellowship from them. This is not done very often and, sadly, the congregations themselves frequently are led into the errors of these individuals.

But what can the larger Christian community do when a church will not discipline its wayward minister? Though formal withdrawal of fellowship is principally a congregational matter, fellowship extends further than the local church, so limitation of fellowship can also go beyond the local church.

When the Southern Baptist Convention voted to disfellowship New Heart Community Church it was withdrawing its financial support and disallowing its delegates to vote in the convention. While Pastor Danny Cortez had a point about churches that allowed their pastors to officiate at remarriages after non-permitted divorces, he had the Godly instruction backwards. We are not to embrace such immorality, but discipline it when it occurs in the churches. If churches would cease to support teachers who go into error, some of the rogues might be brought to repentance. Certainly their influence could be curtailed.

My husband Brad is a recovering alcoholic who will point out that Alcoholics Anonymous is not anonymous for the drinking drunk. If you’re not involved in AA, you may not realize that. If you’re off the wagon, they do not protect your anonymity. They will tell your pastor, your wife, your boss that you need help. They will call the cops if you’re driving drunk. It is only when you are sober that they will refuse to even share that they know you.

Churches really need to remember that. AA got it from us, by the way. Bill W. talked about it in his book. Yet, these days, when Christians face unsound teaching from the pulpit or Christian pen or open immorality in a church, we all get quiet and pretend it’s not happening. A form of discipline can be exercised by making the brotherhood aware of the sinful situation.

Christians have a right to know where a teacher or preacher stands on fundamental issues before they use his services. Some brethren complain about the “gossip journals” that are devoted exclusively to digging up church dirt and sometimes that’s justified, but more often than not, there’d be no muckraking if there was no muck.

If more responsible brethren would muster the courage to kindly and forcefully chastise erring teachers, there would be no need for the world to take Christians to task for our hypocrisy.

If Christian schools, churches, and journals would cease to use men and women who are openly known to advocate radical ideas or cause division, it would send a message. A preacher with no audience, or a writer with no readers, doesn’t have nearly the power of one who is being listened to.

This is not a call for head-hunting. We should not withdraw from every Christian who may disagree with us regarding various points of Bible interpretation. That’s a fanatical approach that has fragmented churches and made Christianity a reproach before an unbelieving world. But it is equally foolish to shut one’s eyes to blatant false teaching that undermines the spiritual and moral foundations of the churches. When the Bible says stay away from certain doctrinal aberrations, we should.

Church discipline needs to be exercised in love, but love needs to be tough. Discipline doesn’t need to be abusive, but it does need to interrupt the influence of evil coming from supposedly Christian pulpits and pens in the hope that it might lead to repentance or that the false teachers will at least be identified as false and no longer considered Christians.

If the churches truly want to be relevant in a sinful world, we need to start by taking the logs out of our own eyes before we try to deal with the dirt in the eyes of non-Christians.

Got Some Compromise?   Leave a comment

So what should Christians feel or do about those who, based on anti-Biblical ideas, promote, encourage, or condone immoral acts such as sexual immorality (in its many flavors), unethical business practices, gluttony, or false teaching? A case can be made for toleration in the greater church community for a period of time, but that time needs to be limited.

In His letter to the church in Thyatira (Revelation 2:18), Christ commended the brethren there for some things, but then He took them to task:

“I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess; she teaches and seduces my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time that she should repent, yet she had no inclination to repent of her fornication. Behold, I will throw her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her — into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he who searches the mind and heart: and I will deal with each one of you according to your works.” (paraphrase)

There was, within the church of Thyatira, an influential woman who is called Jezebel. The choice of the epithet, Jezebel, suggests she was similar in character and teaching to the ancient queen who corrupted Israel (1 Kings 16:29; 2 Kings 9:30). This “prophetess” doubtless claimed to teach with divine authority and was persistently seducing and teaching Christians to commit fornication and perform pagan rituals.

Despite her wicked behavior, the Lord gave her time to repent, but she ignored His patience. Judgment was now imminent.

Of more importance to our discussion, Christ strongly rebuked the brethren in Thyatira because they continued to tolerate (apheis — present tense) her false teaching.  Shouldn’t we learn something from this inspired narrative?

What can we learn?

There were those of the ancient church who, by their misguided teaching, promoted adultery and idol worship. There are those in the modern churches who are doing the same thing. The glaring example from this series are the anti-Biblical doctrines regarding divorce and remarriage that actually encourage Christians to continue in adulterous arrangements.

How long can the church go on tolerating compromising views such as these? The debate among modern churches has been going on for decades, but many congregations show no sign of changing their corrupted views and some churches are openly moving in a direction that wholly rejects the Biblical teaching on morality.  Should other Christians ignore their corrupting influence forever?

No!

Got Some Apostasy?   Leave a comment

What is apostasy?

That’s a question that has divided many churches over the centuries. Good and respectable Christians have differed over this question with regards to various doctrines. Someone is wrong on almost every issue. But does that disagreement warrant the refusal of fellowship?

  • Will Christians be here for the Tribulation or not?
  • Which English translation of the Bible should one use?
  • Can we eat meat sacrificed to idols?
  • Can Christians drink alcohol?
  • Can Christians dance?
  • Should Christians speak in tongues
  • Is it okay to baptize babies?
  • Is it okay to rebaptize previously baptized adults?
  • Do priests control our communication with God or is it more direct?
  • Can lay people argue with priests over spiritual matters?
  • Is salvation by faith or by following orthodoxy?

All these are questions that have divided churches and created new denominations as those who felt strongly on one side or another formed new congregations in a disfellowshipping.

Yeah, we don’t often look at it that way, but that is what the various church splits and particularly the denominations are all about at heart.

Some of those issues are silly (spiritually speaking) and no reason to break up a church. Some are more serious and may warrant diversification in the denominations while maintaining friendly relations. Others are absolutely critical and warrant disfellowship and use of that dreaded c-word “cult.”

How do you know which is which?

First, you have to take a careful look at the person advocating the false doctrine. New Christians sometimes teach error out of innocent ignorance. Think Apollos, gently instructed by Priscilla and Aquila. A gracious attitude that manifests itself in a willingness to discuss the subject and learn can be treated gently while a hard heart cannot.

If the person is a teacher of considerable experience who ought to know better and he persists in his error even after considerate brethren have tried to show him the Lord’s way more accurately, then that is a different story.

Second, and much more important, are the implications of the teacher’s doctrine.

Some erroneous teachings reflect upon the nature or character of the Godhead.  For example, those who teach the “dispensation” notion that the Jewish rejection of Christ was a surprise to God are reflecting upon the foreknowledge of God. This is a woefully dangerous error that Biblical Christians should not be soft toward.

Some cult alleged that Christ was initially created by God; He, therefore, does not possess a divine nature equal to the Father’s. This is a heretical concept that undermines the Lord’s claims regarding Himself.

Others attack the credibility of the Bible as an infallible revelation from God. There are teachers who allege that the Bible contains contradictions; that there are jars and clashes between the Gospel accounts. Genesis 1 is promoted as mythological; the Bible and the theory of evolution are said to agree on almost all issues. Biblical Christians cannot support or commend doctrines that radically undermine the Bible.

The above are instances of apostasy that I believe seriously undermine salvation. Biblical Christians should find no fellowship with those who teach the above doctrines.

On the other hand, there are those who argue for miraculous gifts and continued revelation for this age, contending for a form of subjective religion that ignores the completed, authoritative New Testament. When this is accepted, virtually anything goes in religion.

Then what do you say about those who deny the Lord’s clear plan of salvation and who obliterate the concept of the distinctiveness of Christ’s church?

Similarly, some teachers have publicly advocated that Christians should extend fellowship to those “baptized” as infants, to those who have been sprinkled instead of immersed, and to those who endorse the idea of salvation by “faith alone.”

Others have announced that the “church of Jesus Christ” is but one of many sectarian groups, hence active association ought to prevail across denominational lines.

While these second set of doctrines are concerning to me and I would seek membership at another church if they were taught at the one I am currently a member of, I have some degree of fellowship with those who hold to them. Why? Because they don’t affect salvation and our interaction gives us an opportunity to learn from one another and hopefully move toward a more Biblical Christianity.

But, absolutely, the churches need to be prepared to stand for God even when other churches do not?

Weak Brothers   Leave a comment

“How dare you support shunning a weak brother/sister whose attendance is slipping or even one who has completely fallen away! That is not a sin! You can’t find that anywhere in the Bible.”

That’s what the email said.

Yeah, I thought I was being clear, but apparently I wasn’t. So let me say it again.

I don’t think any informed Bible student would advocate disfellowshipping a “weak” brother or sister whose sole problem is that his or her attendance “is slipping.”

Those who are merely weak — undisciplined, but with sincerity and a teachable demeanor — ought to be afforded patience as they are taught Christian responsibility (Heb. 10:24) and admonished to be more diligent. Church discipline does involve the severest form — withdrawal of fellowship — but one size does not fit all.

Withdrawal of fellowship would involve:

  1. Christians — church discipline is not about non-Christians
  2. Church members of relatively long-standing so they are aware of church displinary procedures
  3. Church members who have exhibited a rebellious attitude to less severe forms of church discipline.

Disfellowship ultimately is for the purposes of:

  • saving the wayward person’s soul (1 Corinthians 5:5)
  • protecting other saints from evil influences (1 Corinthians 5:6)

While a formal “putting away” (1 Corinthians 5:13) should never be taken lightly, it may be the very procedure needed to restore the neglectful person, and to safeguard the church from a bad example. Disfellowship is more than just punishment (2 Corinthians 2:6). Like the parent who forcebly removes a child from the street before they are run over, it is an act of love designed to reclaim the rebellious (Hebrew 12:6), and enhance the welfare of others.

The decision as to when, and upon whom, to proceed with radical discipline is the judgment of the local church’s elders, or, if the congregation has no elders, the men and women who serve in the leadership capacity, exercised with the greatest of affection and patience, and giving the benefit of the doubt whenever possible.

It should not be an informal procedure that just sort of happens. It should involve visitation with the lapsing member and an attempt to encourage them back into church attendance before the formal procedure is undertaken.

The suggestion was made that there must be a particular sin associated with disfellowship procedures. While some passages associate disfellowship with specific sins (1 Corinthians. 5:9), there are also more generic phrases that are used in disciplinary contexts. In Galatians 5 and 2 Thessalonians 3, there is no specific sin discussed, but a more generic disorderliness.

Then there’s just the logic of it. If the church could withdraw fellowship from the drunkard (1 Corinthians 5:11), might it not also withdraw from a drug addict? There is a necessary inference that drug addicts and alcoholics engage is similar behaviors that result in disruption of not only their own lives, but the community of the church.

Paul was specifically discussing those who were unwilling to work in 2 Thessalonians 3, but he also encompassed a broader scope of people by using the phrase “every brother who walks disorderly.” The remedy for the lazy brother was simply “neither let him eat,” i.e., do not subsidize him if he refuses to labor properly.

The term “disorderly” (2 Thessalonians is a unique usage in the New Testament) is a generic designation which points to a rebellious, insubordinate attitude that warrants a severe response from the church.

And the exercise of church discipline continues to be a tragically neglected obligation among the Lord’s people. The softer we become on sin within the congregations, the harder it is for us to stand against sin in any form.

Shunned   Leave a comment

Shunning is the English translation of the German word the Amish use for disfellowship. It sounds harsh — and the way the Amish do it can be very, very harsh — but there is a reason a church body might consider it. The New Testament teaches that certain spiritual conditions can require a limitation of fellowship as a part of church discipline. The collective teaching of the New Testament regarding church discipline clearly make the case for what I’m talking about.

First, “discipline” covers a wide range — from simple “teaching” to the ultimate “withdrawal of fellowship.” This means it may be administered by degrees, in keeping with the needs of the individual.

Examples are always nice, right?

An impenitent drunk, abusive to his family, disruptive of social fellowship, quickly sliding toward rock bottom may need to be disfellowshipped formally (1 Corinthians 5:11). I know someone this happened to and it made the bottom come a lot quicker and probably saved his life. Conversely, another person with a drinking problem who is sincerely struggling to conquer it, may not need withdrawal but may need to be restricted in class teaching or serving in a public capacity. Both are a form of disfellowship, but they vary in degrees.

It’s not, nor should it be, one size fits all. Church discipline can take various forms. Most Christians, and most churches, understand this. My objection is that we don’t do this very often anymore and we don’t do the withdrawal method at all.

The act of withdrawal is a congregational process which takes place in the public assembly of the local church (1 Corinthians 5:4). This bothers a lot of people. How dare you air someone’s “private business” in public!

I beg to differ. There is a reason baptism is done in public. Jesus said “If you are ashamed of Me before men, I will be ashamed of you in Heaven” Our Christian lives start with a public acknowledgment of our faith through the act of profession and faith. Why do we assume that our struggles are thereafter private?

Beyond that, it needs to be understood that fellowship certainly can extend beyond the borders of a local congregation. The notion that a rogue brother may not be chastised beyond the boundaries of the local church without that church’s “autonomy” being violated is foreign to Biblical truth. Paul “judged” the fornicating brother at Corinth from Ephesus, hundreds of miles away (1 Corinthians 5:3; 16:8). How did Paul know about it? Someone from Corinth communicated it to him.

Disfellowship should not be taken lightly and because we don’t like someone in the congregation. The New Testament provides guidelines for who may be restricted and why.

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul clearly stated that unrepentant immoral persons (fornicators, drunkards, and extortionists) are worthy of church discipline. Such characters are to be “delivered unto Satan” (5:5), or “put away” (5:13), for their own soul’s sake (5:5), and for the protection of the church (5:6-7). The church of today is woefully remiss in this duty.

Those who “fall away” (Luke 8:13) or who “depart from the faith” (1 Timothy 4:1) were subject to some degree of discipline in the early churches. Formal withdrawal of fellowship may not be appropriate for a  newborn Christian who almost immediately leaves the faith, because that person may not even understand the significance of the act, but for those who have matured somewhat, and then depart, discipline surely should be exercised (2 Thessalonians 3:6,14-15).

The New Testament instructs us to “turn away from” those who teach divisive doctrines contrary to apostolic truth (Romans 16:17). A heretic, after proper admonition, should be rejected (Titus 3:10).

Hymenaeus and Alexander made “shipwreck of the faith,” and Paul “delivered them unto Satan”, meaning he severed fellowship with them (1 Corinthians 5:5) that they might be taught not to blaspheme (1 Timothy 1:19-20).

But how do we, who are not Jesus and who are so far from the 1st century Christian experience, to determine which teachings are significantly erroneous to warrant disciplinary action? When brethren hold opposite viewpoints on various points of Bible interpretation, quite obviously someone is in error, but a simple question is —

Does that error pose a threat to the eternal welfare of others.

Fellowship   Leave a comment

In talking about church discipline and disfellowship, it is probably important to understand the Biblical definitions of church membership and fellowship. If you’ve spent any time studying the Bible you are aware of the emphasis on “fellowship” found within.

Upon conversion, we are called into fellowship with God, with Christ, and with the Holy Spirit (1 John 1:3; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Corinthians 13:14) and there is the blessed fellowship that Christians enjoy with one another (1 John 1:7).

When the Lord prayed that all of his disciples might be “one,” he implied the warm fellowship that should prevail among them (John 17:20-21), and we later read that the disciples “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship” (Acts 2:42), for the “multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32). There are  many positive aspects of New Testament fellowship.

Like with so many other human interactions, fellowship has some downsides and God dealt with these in His scripture.

God’s child is to have no fellowship with the works of darkness, but should reprove them (Ephesians 5:11). How can light and darkness, righteousness and iniquity share in the same fellowship (2 Corinthians 6:14)?

While it is true that we cannot leave the world in order to avoid all association with the wicked (1 Corinthians 5:10), we must recognize that intimate evil companionships  can, and frequently do, corrupt good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33).

This is why a recognition of the Biblical teaching regarding fellowship also demands an awareness of the converse postures of non-fellowship and withdrawal of fellowship.

Let’s first deal with the extremist attitudes of some. There are those who see almost no limitations to fellowship, even in the broad realm of “Christendom.” They can participate spiritually with a variety of religionists with no pangs of conscience whatever. Others appear to have fellowship with only a chosen few with whom they are in agreement in virtually every minute detail.

The truth lies somewhere between such extremes, but they highlight that the application of Biblical principles relative to fellowship is not always easy, though there are general scriptural guidelines that help us in drawing some reasonable conclusions.

The Scriptures clearly teach that we cannot fellowship, i.e., partake with, people in their sins.

Paul warned Timothy not to be a partaker (koinoneo — related to the term rendered “fellowship”) of other men’s sins (1 Timothy 5:22). It is thus always wrong to share in the wickedness of others.

We cannot avoid some association with non-Christians (1 Corinthians 5:10). That’s not even desirable, for without some mingling with our neighbors, how can the leavening influences of Christianity ever be brought to them (Matthew 13:33; 5:13-16)?

However, Christians should not join in common  religious observances with those who are not Christians. When I first met Brad, he was a Catholic. He asked me to his church. I went, but I refused to go forward for the eucharist, which required that I explain that I did not think the Roman Catholic Church (not necessarily individual Catholics) was a truly Christian sect. Scripture has circumscribed the sphere of our spiritual fellowship. John says there is no fellowship with God for those who walk in spiritual darkness (1 John 1:6); therefore, fellowship “with one another” is restricted to those who “walk in the light” (1:7).

Church at Corinth   Leave a comment

Yeah, we came back to it!

Why?

Because Corinth was a troubled church that used its God-given blessings for the wrong reasons and therefore needed discipline. Paul’s two (actually three)  letters to this church deal with many issues that exist in the churches today if we will just look beyond the 2000-year-old trappings and see that it is essentially the same.

Chapter 4 of 1 Corinthians talks about a moral cancer that was eating away at the church there. A brother in Christ was fornicating with his father’s wife and even the community around the church was shocked. The church itself was proud of being so open minded and accepting of human foibles.

Yeah — just like welcoming and affirming churches today, but I’ve already argued that many churches that are not welcoming and affirming have as deep an issue with other varieties of sexual sin and with other kinds of less scandalous sin.

I am not picking and choosing sins here. We need to get over the idea that God accepts some sins as less and others are greater. He doesn’t. We will answer for all of them.

Whatever the Corinthian Christians privately thought of their church member’s behavior, they were publicly accepting of it and proud of their affirming attitude. Paul dealt with both their attitude and the sexual sin harshly. Asserting his apostolic authority, he rendered judgment on the matter. Unless the church at Corinth wanted him to come there and discipline the church as a whole, they must discipline the individual sinner. The brother in Christ was guilty of adultery. Therefore, by the authority of Christ (Matthew 18:20) the church was to assemble and remedy the problem.

It’s important to note that the woman is never mentioned for church discipline. I think we can presume that she was not a Christian and so was not subject to church judgment or discipline. The offending brother in Christ, however, was to be “delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.”

What does that phrase mean?

  1. It is not capital punishment for church heretics, as practiced by historic Catholicism and early Protestantism. The early Christian church did not practice such. There’s no historical evidence that they did.
  2. It was not physical death, as many commentators allege. The historical evidence again says not.
  3. It was designed to “save” the spirit of the person (v. 5b), (which necessitates a living person, by the way).
  4. The procedure was the equivalent of “putting away the wicked” person, and withdrawing one’s fellowship from the individual (1 Corinthians 4:9-13; 2 Thessalonians 3:6).
  5. The ultimate goal was that the fornicator might “destroy” his ungodly “fleshly” urge, and reclaim a life of purity. See also 1 Timothy 1:20.

Paul was very insistent upon the actions of the church in this regard. The church must desist in its pride and “glorying” (v. 2) and get serious about morality before the entire congregation became infected, just as leaven permeates dough. In the Old Testament, Passover required the purging of all leaven from the entire house. Christ is our passover, Christians, and we must rid ourselves of malice and wickedness, and pursue the unleavened bread (figuratively speaking) of sincerity and truth.

Paul had written previously to the church at Corinth. Although the letter was not preserved, Paul refers to it. He had admonished the Corinthian Christians to “have no company with fornicators.” He specifically mentions he had not meant to include pagan fornicators as Christians cannot avoid all associations with the world. While we are to have no fellowship with the world’s sinful practices (Ephesians 5:11; 1 Peter 4:4), we are not to isolate ourselves as hermits or monks. Instead, our “light” and “salt” must be allowed to influence others (Matthew 5:13-16).

Paul was discussing renegade church members and here the matter was altogether different. After formal disciplinary action, the faithful Christian is “not to keep company” with:

  • fornicators (those engaged in illicit sexual intercourse),
  • the covetous (brothers obsessed with materialism, either to obtain or retain),
  • idolaters (those who place “things” or “persons” above God),
  • revilers (verbal abusers),
  • drunkards (people who become intoxicated on alcohol or, I suspect, recreational drugs), and
  • extortioners (those who take from others by force or inordinate pressure).

These are specific actions worthy of radical “surgery” (verses 9-11). While we are not licensed to discipline the world (God will handle that), Christians have the moral responsibility to check outrageous sinfulness in the church (verses 12-13a). The unrepentant sinning Christian is to be expelled from church fellowship (v. 13b). Looking at that list, it appears there may be a lot of church members who are subject to church discipline.

In his second letter to the Corinthian church (written perhaps 6 months to a year after the first letter), Paul appears to discuss the disciplinary case addressed in 1 Corinthians 5 (refer to  2 Corinthians 2:5-11). His comments reveal that the greater part of the church had yielded to his previous instruction, and the fornicating brother had been disfellowshipped. The withdrawal had been effective in that the rogue brother had abandoned his sinful activity. From Paul’s statement in verse 6 we know:

  1. The punishment of fellowship withdrawal was inflicted.
  2. While some (a minority) refused to honor it, the majority did.
  3. After a forceful and sustained isolation of the offender, sufficient to produce a convincing result, the apostle urges the Corinthian saints to “forgive” and “comfort” the penitent brother, that sorrow over his sin might not “swallow him up” in grief, and prevent his continued fidelity.

Sustained and stubborn rebellion generally cannot be cured quickly. In a disciplinary action the church must be “tough,” and let the offender feel the full measure of the consequence of his or her sin. When it becomes apparent that the offender truly has changed, in contrast to a quick, “I’m sorry” that hasn’t been evidenced by fruit (Matthew 3:7; Jonah 3:10), he or she should be warmly embraced and encouraged in faithfulness.

There are very few churches that actually do this anymore. In fact, I can only think of the Amish and the Mennonites as practicing this form of discipline in an ordered and recognized way. Yes, they have some who leave and never return, but they also have a great many who return, repentant. An older lady in our church who was raised a Mennonite tells me that the beauty of this system is that when you repent, the church never brings it up again.

And, yeah, we’re going to discuss it.

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