Archive for the ‘church discipline’ Tag

Evidence for Church Discipline   Leave a comment

I’m a semi-anarchist who really does not think the world is a better place when the government imposes discipline upon the individual. That is tyranny and I’m okay with a little uncertainty in my social and business interactions in order to keep government tyranny at bay. I am also a born-again Christian who tries to submit to God’s discipline in my life. That is self-discipline. Still, I would not want to live in a world where citizens could flaunt the basic rules that human civilization operates on (ownership of self and respect for the self-ownership of others, property ownership) and absolutely no consequences would follow. It would be total chaos. Imagine a home where the children were allowed to do whatever they pleased with no parental discipline imposed? Actually, you don’t need to imagine that one. There’s probably at lease one family on your block who generally subscribes to familial anarchy with the well-known and awful results.

We generally accept that people need discipline in home and society for the good of themselves and society. Yet, there are countless congregations belonging to Jesus Christ across our land where little or discipline of the wayward is ever enacted. Is it any wonder that the churches are weaker today than they have been in decades?

So what exactly is church discipline? Broadly, it involves everything from the most basic instruction that the new-born child of God receives at salvation all the way to the “radical” act of the withholding of fellowship from impenitent apostates. For the purpose of this post, we’re going to talk solely of that terminal act—the church’s obligation to withdraw its fellowship from those who cannot be reached with more moderate approaches. I hope to suggest some more moderate approaches later.

Why go to the worst case scenario first? Because Paul, Jesus and Peter did.

Every serious Bible student knows that there is ample authority for the practice of church discipline. Just look at the Scriptural evidence from the New Testament (YES, the New Testament).

Jesus taught that one who had wronged his brother, and who could not be persuaded to repent—either by the offended party, other independent witnesses, or the church in general—should be treated as “the Gentile and the publican” (Matthew 18:17). In the context of a first-century setting, this means that the church was to have no social contact with hardened offenders. That’s Jesus saying that.

Paul instructed the saints in Rome to be on the lookout for those “who are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling contrary to the doctrine.” He declared that the faithful should “turn away from” these self-serving egotists who were deceiving the innocent (Romans 16:17).

The entire fifth chapter of 1 Corinthians deals with the matter of discipline. A fornicating church member had pursued his immoral lifestyle relentlessly, and the apostle rebuked the Corinthian congregation for not having disfellowshipped the man. This instruction is quite explicit.

The inspired Paul commanded the church in Thessalonica to “withdraw” from every brother who persisted in walking contrary to divinely received traditions (2 Thessalonians 3:6). Such persons were to be identified and social company with them severed. Excommunicated brethren, of course, are not to be treated harshly; rather, they are to be admonished in a brotherly fashion (vv. 14, 15; cf. Galatians 6:1).

In Titus 3:10, inspiration affirms that a factious person, after appropriate admonition, is to be “refused” further association.

These passages do not exhaust the New Testament information on the subject of church discipline. They are sufficient, however, to provide ample instruction of the churches’ responsibility to discipline their members.

Objections to Church Discipline Part 2   Leave a comment

I received some feedback from someone on my Google account, basically saying that church discipline involves gossips talking about other people’s business. I’d not added that to my list of objections to church discipline, so I thought I would address it.

Gossip is definitely on the list of sins the church should avoid stringently. But there is a difference between gossip — idle chatter of unconfirmed rumors — and talking about the known (or strongly suspected) sins of our fellow Christians with the goal of bringing them to repentance. But we are so afraid of doing the first, we refuse to do the second. Paul would say it is not to our credit.

There’s a line in Proverbs that says some men’s sins run ahead of them to the city gate. Church discipline is about Christians policing their own community for the good of the individual, the community and the cause of Christ. What Christians do in their public lives (and in their private lives when it becomes public) reflects on themselves, of course, but it is also used as an excuse by the world to judge churches and Christianity in general.

Now there are times when the world judges us by its standards and gets it wrong. No argument there. And, one area where it gets us wrong is in this area of church discipline. Mean, backbiting, gossiping … these are the claims of the world upon the church when the congregations exercise their authority within the churches. But unrepentant Christian sinners also claim this when confronted. Brad’s working on a post about accountability, so I’m not going to go there today, except to say that if the individual does not discipline himself, the church is required by God to do so, and if it does not, the world has a point about us being hypocrites. And since so few churches today exercise church discipline, it may require that Christians will have to call other congregations to accountability.

We do not do well when we allow sinners to live openly in our congregations without the congregation dealing with their sin. Brad will deal with this more, I think, but his biggest complaint about churches is that we are so determined not to gossip that when we know (WHEN WE KNOW) sin is occurring in the congregation, we don’t talk about it. We don’t do well when we do that, folks! Holding one another accountable for righteous behavior is not gossip. It’s God’s requirement on the church.

Why Church Discipline?   Leave a comment

What is the purpose of Christians in a church body withdrawing fellowship from the sinning church member?

Are we just judgemental and mean? Do we think we are better than them? Is it an act of revenge toward those who have fallen from the faith? Doesn’t it show a haughty or malevolent attitude?

No!

Well, if done right, no! NO! NO!

The Scriptures suggest that church discipline serves both a corrective and a protective function.

First, discipline is designed to save the erring child of God. If I seem to return to the church in Corinth a lot it is because we have one of the best examples of church discipline there. Paul demanded that the Corinthian fornicator be disfellowshipped so that he might be motivated to destroy “the flesh.”

What does that mean? Well, it’s pretty clear that Paul didn’t advocate suicide or stoning, because we know from 2 Corinthians that the sinner repented and Paul said to refellowship him. “Destroying the flesh” didn’t involve death, so it’s can reasonably be assumed it mean setting aside (turning from) his ungodly fleshly passion so that “his spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:5). Discipline is designed to “gain” the wayward (Matthew 18:15), to make him “ashamed” (2 Thessalonians 3:14), so that he would seek be restored (Galatians 6:1).

The church at Corinth was reluctant to do this. They apparently were proud of their forgiving attitude and Paul had to be rather harsh with them before they finally did withdraw from the sensuous offender. Their action brought him to repentance, Paul said in 2 Corinthians 2:6.

Discipline is not merely for the welfare of the rebel. It is also for the protection of the church. When Paul admonished the congregation at Corinth to take care of the problem of the immoral brother, he warned: “Don’t you know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (1 Corinthians 5:6). If you’ve ever baked bread, you’re familiar with the concept, but in our modern age, so few people bake bread that I find this medical example easier for them to grasp. the church as a whole is affected by the sin of the individual because the church is like an organic body that can be affected by disease in a single cell.

Sin in the church is as cancer in the body.

Paul dealt with it in other churches as well. In Romans 16:17, he declared that those who cause divisions and occasions of stumbling “by their smooth and fair speech beguile the hearts of the innocent”. Two false teachers in the early church, Hymenaeus and Alexander, had made reflected badly on the faith, so Paul “delivered [them] unto Satan. ” He disfellowshipped them (1 Timothy 1:19-20; 1 Corinthians 5:5) for the welfare of the brethren. False teaching, if allowed to go unchecked within the body of Christ, can eat like a cancer and cause the faith of some to be overthrown (2 Timothy 2:16-18).

Discipline is also important in preserving the integrity of the church before the eyes of the world. Society has enough bias against us without having the legitimate complaint that we harbor evil within our fellowship. We should never give occasion to the adversary for reviling (1 Timothy 5:14). Had the Catholic church disfellowshipped some priests who were sinning, the churches under that denomination might not have been the center of a firestorm. It is imperative that the conduct of the church be such that “the name of God and the doctrine be not blasphemed” (1 Timothy 6:1), and that the way of truth not be called “evil” (2 Peter 2:2). Note that it wasn’t just Paul who urged church discipline. Peter did as well.

What attitudes or conduct warrants the extreme measure of withdrawing fellowship? The Bible addresses this matter in several ways.

  • A brother who has sinned against another, but who refuses to repent of his transgression, could ultimately be disfellowshipped (Matthew 18:15-17).
  • Those who cause occasions of stumbling and who initiate division are proper subjects for church discipline (Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10).
  • Those who are practitioners of such sins as fornication, covetousness, extortion, idolatry, drunkenness, reviling, etc., could certainly be candidates (1 Corinthians 5:9ff).
  • Advocates of soul-threatening doctrines must not be allowed to continue in open fellowship with the church (1 Timothy 1:19-20; 2 Timothy 2:16-18).
  • Those who walk “disorderly” are to be refused association by the faithful (2 Thessalonians 3:6).

Wait!

What is disorderly conduct?

There’s historical evidence to suggest that this may be talking about those who simply grow weary of the Christian life and decide to “resign” from the church. When approached about their neglect, and warned of possible discipline, they raise a voice of protest, claiming: “What am I doing that is wrong? I am not committing adultery; I am not a drunkard. The church cannot withdraw from me.” An appropriate response would be: “Are you faithfully serving God? Do you meet with your brethren to sing, pray, observe the Lord’s supper, etc.? What would be the fate of the family of God if every member were at liberty to do as you have done?” Spiritual neglect is disorderly conduct which may require a response of discipline. Whether that would be a thorough going disfellowshipping may be up for debate, but discipline itself should not be.

A person’s disposition is frequently the determining factor for when, or whether, withdrawal of fellowship is appropriate. Wise church leadership would not hastily disfellowship a sincere Christian who, through weakness, had fallen into a sinful situation. If the offender demonstrates humility and a genuine effort to overcome the problem, patience and forebearance would be indicated. On the other hand, a surly, rebellious attitude would require a swifter and more drastic response.

This is where faithful elders come in. I’m not just talking about pastors, but actual elders in the church who have been involved a long time and exercise some form of social supervision. Every church ought to have a body of wisdom such as this. These elders would need to make it known that if a person wants to identify with the congregation over which they exercise supervision, these Christians will be expected to live rightly, assuming a healthy responsibility in the areas of Christian growth and service. Lack of responsibility for one’s own discipline would require some form of church discipline.

This isn’t done very much any more, which is why we Christians need to discuss it and start structuring our churches to move in this direction. First, congregations would need to develop eldership — which does exist in many churches. In every congregation where qualified elders serve, these men and women (yes, I believe women can be elders and mentors within the congregation) would lead the church in the withdrawal of fellowship from the unfaithful. This shouldn’t be done behind closed doors by some privy council, but as an activity of the entire church. I’ve only seen it done once where a formalized procedure was enacted in the public assembly … and, yes, the sinning Christian repented … eventually.

Objections to Church Discipline   6 comments

The Bible is quite clear on the obligation of Christ’s churches to practice discipline upon unrepentant members. Still there are those who will argue against the responsibility, who will even assert that withdrawal of fellowship is a violation of New Testament principles.  Some common arguments offered are:

“No one is worthy to disfellowship another.”

No one is perfect, so no one really has the right to initiate discipline against another is how this argument goes. John 8:7 will commonly be cited as a proof-text for this idea: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” That’s a woeful misuse of this passage.

First, the Jews had brought a woman to Christ whom they claimed to have taken in the very act of adultery. They wanted the Lord to sanction her death. It was a trick to get Him in difficulty with the Roman authorities, but it also violated the Old Testament, which clearly required that both parties in an adulterous union be executed. By bringing only the woman, the Jews ignored the very law they pretended to honor.

Jesus knew that, by the way!

Christ’s statement designed to highlight this inconsistency. To employ it as an out-of-context proof-text goes against many plain commands obligating the church to discipline the wayward members.

Secondly, Paul was not “without sin,” and yet withdrew himself from evil brethren (1 Timothy 1:19, 20) and from Peter when he sinned in Antioch. One does not have to be sinless in order to honor the Bible teaching on this vital theme.

“Leave the tares for God.”

I posted recently about the weeds in the wheat in the kingdom of God. Called “tares” in the King James, we are instructed to leave these weeds alone as God will exercise his own discipline (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) at the judgment.

Again, that argues agains the clear Bible instruction given elsewhere. The parable of the tares is simply designed to inoculate against violent and premature attempts to completely purify the church on Earth. It has nothing to do with the genuine practice of brotherly discipline.

“Judge not!”

Wow, what an overused statement used to undermine the churches at every turn! Some contend that church discipline would be a form of judging, a practice which the Bible condemns. The plain truth is, not all judging is wrong!

Jesus declared: “Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). In Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthians, he clearly stated that he had “judged” already the incestuous brother (1 Corinthians 5:3). He then subsequently asked these brethren, “Don’t you judge those within the church?” (5:12). Church discipline does involve a form of judging, but it is not the unjustified, hypocritical judgment that is censured by Christ in Matthew 7:1-5.

“Where is the love?” Doesn’t love win?

There are some who argue that if the church withdraws fellowship from the erring, it is demonstrating a lack of love. That is an incredibly superficial view regarding love these days that speaks glaringly of vast Biblical ignorance.

Discipline does not repudiate love, it reflects it.  “Those whom the Lord loves, he disciplines” (Hebrews 12:6). When ancient Israel went astray, Jehovah withdrew His presence from them for 70 years (the Babylonian captivity). Was this an indication of an unloving disposition?

If you are a member of a congregation which practices church discipline, you ought to thank Almighty God that you have the privilege of belonging to such a loving family!

“What about the other guy?”

I know lots of people who resist church discipline because there are others they deem just as bad or worse and, they will point out insistently, they haven’t been disciplined. The therapists call that “rationalization” and blame-shifting.

Yeah, the churches as a whole have been remiss in their duty to provide discipline for decades. Some churches are inconsistent in providing it. That does not mean that changes for the better cannot be made. No sane person would argue: “We were wrong in the past; let us therefore always be wrong.”

Second, whom and when church discipline should be administered will frequently be a matter of leadership judgment. Some brethren may not know all the facts behind decisions concerning withdrawal or other forms of discipline. There may be extenuating circumstances that are not general information.

The fact is that church history speaks here. Loving discipline was as much a trait of the primitive church as correct worship and organization. Given that, we ought to be asking ourselves if a church that utterly refuses to practice discipline truly be a New Testament church?

The Temple of God   Leave a comment

My body (and the bodies of all Christians) is the temple of God. His home, so to speak.

I treat my home with a certain amount of respect because I care about where I live. In some ways, I can compare myself to my dogs. They don’t pee in their dog pen and they generally create a latrine for themselves in one corner of the yard. They do that because they don’t want to walk in what comes out of their hind ends. Similarly, I clean up around my house and keep my messier bodily functions sequestered in the “necessary” because I don’t want to live in the consequence of my humanity.

My body is the temple of God. I wonder how He feels about that extra 20 pounds I’m carrying? Does He object when His believers smoke cigarettes or drink to excess? What about when we have sex in ways that He has told us He does not approve? Does He look out of the windows of His temple (our eyes) and see what we’re doing? Does He weep?

In Romans, Paul talks about the struggle between the flesh and the spirit, about how we know what God wants from us, but we don’t do it. He corrected the churches at Corinth, Rome and Ephesus for not giving God His due in His temple. In Revelation, the apostle John warned that the churches were rife with apostasy. James, the brother of Jesus and pastor of the church at Jerusalem, was worried that the Christians didn’t know that God expected them to lead moral lives.

Christianity is an individual relationship with Jesus Christ as God and Savior. God has no grandchildren. My faith does not pass to my children unless I teach it to them and they accept it. If they live ethical lives based upon the moralism that I teach them, that is NOT to their credit. They must be born again — and that is something that happens 1:1 in their hearts, not in a congregation or a community or a nation. And, ultimately, we answer to God as individuals at the bema seat judgment.

If we’ve tracked the world’s mud through God’s temple because we loved the world more than we loved Him, we’re going to answer for it. Now you could argue that there are no consequences since Christians will not be denied entry into heaven, but consider this as a possibility. What if at the bema seat, God allowed you to see your sins as a Christian the way that He experienced them. This is God, Who abandoned Himself on the cross because He could not stand to look upon sin. Imagine what He experiences when you violate His laws, which He gave us for our own good, because you would rather scratch a physical itch than have full fellowship with Him?

We choose that and it must so incredibly disgust Him. Yes, He loves us, but not like some people dote on their cute little dogs. He loves us as a loving Father Who wants us to be better than we are, not for His sake, but for ours.

So, what do we do? We’ve taken a really long look at the sins of Christians. It’s easy to say “I should do better” and then just keep right on going. And certainly, there are Christians who do not believe that God cares that we’re engaging in certain activities. There’s no consequence. I enjoy my sin, so why stop?

What are the churches supposed to do about that? Frown at us? Make us feel bad? Keep opening the doors week after week in hopes that we will change? Get laws passed that outlaw our behavior?

No! The churches are supposed to discipline us!

Taking Church Inventory   Leave a comment

5:1 It is actually reported that sexual immorality exists among you, the kind of immorality that is not permitted even among the Gentiles, so that someone is cohabiting with 1  his father’s wife. 5:2 Andyou are proud! 2  Shouldn’t you have been deeply sorrowful instead and removed the one who didthis 3  from among you? 5:3 For even though I am absent physically, 4  I am present in spirit. And I have already judged the one who did this, just as though I were present. 5  5:4 When you gather together in the name of our Lord Jesus, 6  and I am with you in spirit, 7  along with the power of ourLord Jesus, 5:5 turn this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved 8  in the day of the Lord. 9 

5:6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast 10  affects 11  the whole batch of dough? 5:7 Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch of dough – you are, in fact, without yeast. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 5:8 So then, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of vice and evil, but with the bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth. 12 

5:9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. 5:10 In no way did I meanthe immoral people of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would thenhave to go out of the world. 5:11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who callshimself a Christian 13  who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, 14  or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. 5:12 For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? 5:13 But God will judge those outside.Remove the evil person from among you. 15 

Hi, this is Brad! Lela is letting me post because for once, I have something to say and she’s in training this week, so her computer access is dodgy.

Of the two of us, I’m definitely the wilder, more roguish Christian so we agreed I am the one who should tell this tale because it happened to me while she merely observed it.

Lela and I were members of a church — she for more than 30 years and me for more than 20. We attended other churches in that time, but we kept our membership there and we always circled back to it because it was home and family and the place we could go to find spiritual refuge and accountability. That part about accountability is important.

The church had several great pastors and some wonderful, unique ministries. The Southern Baptist Convention featured it several times in publications because it was unusual in a wonderful sort of way.

And then things began to change. Lela can tell you when she sensed the shift. I’m not focused enough to do that. We also disagree on what exactly was the REAL problem that led to the church’s failure. This is my version of events. A longtime pastor that I liked left. An associate pastor stepped forward as interim. I didn’t like him, so I used that as an opportunity to church-shop or, to be honest, sleep in. I was still involved in some of the church’s ministries, but I wasn’t attending regularly when things started to go awry.

There was a man in the church who I would call “friend”. He and I went fishing together and did building and grounds work together. He had a great sense of humor and he was extremely organized in a way that I am not. He was married retired military and was always trying to bring his military friends to the Lord … or at least to the church. Occasionally, he’d say some off-color things that I put down to his military service. Although this church did not have deacons because many of the older leaders believed that women should also be deacons (which is a violation of SBC rules), this man (I’m going to call him Larry) worked his way into a position of service similar to a deacon.

During this interim period, the church began to experience member “earthquakes”. A older man who had been sober for decades went off the wagon, had an affair, got an 18-year-old pregnant and divorced his wife. He admitted he didn’t love the girl, but he felt it was something he had to do because of the baby. Rose committed adultery and it became public. Another church member was accused (though it wasn’t proven) of sexually molesting her step-son (who was an older teen quite capable of saying “no”). Larry’s wife, who had long been diagnosed as bipolar, went into menopause and became unstable. We had teenagers suddenly involved in premarital sex.

When the church called the interim as pastor, Lela and two others voted against him. I was traveling for work or it would have been four votes against. We don’t know who the third person was, but we do know that the second person was an older lady, a great mentor in the church (who Lela will profile soon), who immediately left attendance in protest. We don’t know if she knew what we did not — that the pastor had been married before, briefly, prior to his now-30-year second marriage. We discovered it three weeks later when the North American Mission Board withdrew pastoral support. The church began to bleed membership.

Not long after this, the wife of one of Larry’s military friends asked Lela if she and I would be interested in “swinging” with a group of friends. Lela declined and cooled the friendship. I was helping Larry remodel a cabin, subcontracting for those areas where my skills were stronger, so we were spending a lot of time together. The cabin was 50 miles out of town, so Larry kept saying we ought to sleep over to get more done. The occasional off-color joke had become more routine. As a construction worker, I’m used to crass humor, but I was bugged by hearing it from a Christian and was beginning to question if he was indeed a Christian or a tare among the wheat. He began to talk about how the patriarchs had had more than one wife and didn’t I think the church should be looking at that and “aligning with true Biblical standards.” I can barely handle one wife, I joked. What a mess if I added more! I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable, especially when the husband of the “swinger” started joining us. One evening he brought takeout. We were in the electrical phase of the remodel, so we were sitting on the floor eating by lantern light and he came right out and asked if I’d be interested in “swinging”. I laughed, but I also said “no”. He didn’t join us again. Then late one evening, I was actually contemplating staying the night at the cabin when Larry asked me outright if I wanted to have sex with him.

I was gobsmacked! While I was trying to even formulate a response, he was babbling on and one about Bible verses and how the church had had it wrong for thousands of years and that the early churches had practiced polygamy and polyamory (that’s a Lela word) and that if we’d just free ourselves from our sexual inhibitions, we could serve God so much better. I pointed out to him that I had once had plenty of opportunity to engage in homosexual activity before I was a Christian and was not interested, but now that he was on a roll, he wasn’t taking the hint. I started packing my tools. Realizing he’d seriously misjudged me, he tried to say it was a joke, a test to see how I would react, and then he threatened me. If I told anyone, he’d kill me!

Lela had moved her membership to another church a few weeks before because she’d come to the conclusion that our beloved church had systemic problems that were affecting our children. I had resisted, preferring the occasional attendance method instead. I followed her to the new church. Not long after, Larry left attendance there and the pastor resigned. Though very different from what it once was, it looks like our home church may survive and recover.

But what happened?

Lela will say that it was much deeper than the sexual immorality that I’ve just recounted. She may be right. But I can’t help but see all these threads all going back to two people. Larry had been a member for six years. In talking to some of the former members, I’ve learned that he was involved as a mentor in many of the situations I listed above. Only one other person has admitted to overt sexual advances, but I can’t help think there were more subtle influences going on. The pastor’s unrepentant sexual immorality also played a role. He’d been associate pastor there for just about the same length of time as Larry had been a member. Our former pastor is a friend. He claims to have had no idea what was going on, but that in retrospect, he thinks he was probably wearing cultural blinders.

I think we see a lot of sexual immorality in the American churches. Remarriage after unbiblical divorce is probably the most common and public example. Jesus noted, but didn’t really promote a concession of divorce for adultery that had existed since the Exodus. Paul, carefully noting that he had this from the Lord, said Christians were free to remarry if their unbelieving partner left them, but they weren’t free to remarry if they left their partner. Larry makes me wonder how many other Christians there are who secretly think it’s okay to indulge in extramartial sex, homosexuality, polyamory, etc., and feel that these activities within the churches would be a benefit to us. What’s more … Larry went off to another church. The pastor went off to another church. With the exception of Rose, most of those who fell to sexual sins during that brief period have not repented … at least not publicly. The former members of that church don’t bring up this mess when asked why they left. Even Lela will point to another issue rather than the simple one of sexual immorality. We’re not dealing with what’s happening and so we’re letting it happen.

Sin will destroy a church. Accountability and discipline can save it, but only if Christians are willing to honestly face the problems.

Why We Can’t Just Agree to Disagree   Leave a comment

The Southern Baptist Convention, which my church is a member of, made news earlier this year when the Executive Board voted to disfellowship New Heart Baptist Church in California from the Convention citing its recent decision to become a “third way” church on the subject of homosexuality. It’s not quite a welcoming and affirming church, but its members have agreed to disagree and not to judge one another on the subject of homosexuality.

There are several problems with this ideal … the first being that it denies the Bible.

“I am not writing these things to shame you, but to correct you as my dear children. For though you may have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, because became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I encourage you, then, be imitators of me. For this reason, I have sent Timothy to you, who is my dear and faithful son in the Lord. He will remind you of my ways in Christas I teach them everywhere in every church. Some have become arrogantas if I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord is willing, and I will find out not only the talk of these arrogant people, but also their power. For the kingdom of God is demonstrated not in idle talk but with power. What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline or with love and a spirit of gentlenessIt is actually reported that sexual immorality exists among you, the kind of immorality that is not permitted even among the Gentiles, so that someone is cohabiting with his father’s wife.” (1 Corinthians 4:14-5:1)

The church at Corinth was richly blessed in gifts, but it was a young church filled with spiritually immature people (not many fathers in Christ). This immaturity grew all kinds of problems as they tried to be a light in a city that was the Las Vegas of its day. Paul told them — don’t boast of your freedom in Christ. You are leading others astray.

He uses a singular example of the need for church discipline. A member of the church was involved in sexual immorality. It doesn’t really matter what the sexual immorality was. Paul makes that clear latter in the larger letter. What matters was how the church dealt with it … or didn’t. This was apparently a well-known relationship within the church and Paul had actually heard report that the church of Corinth was proud of their enlightened view on this. They knew the behavior was unChristlike, but they felt they shouldn’t judge. In the words of a commenter — they wanted to extend grace.

Paul said they were wrong. They were excusing sin. They should immediately discipline this sinning church member because his behavior was reflecting badly on the power of Christ to transform lives. They had no business being proud of their affirming attitudes. They were sinning even greater than the guy who was screwing his father’s wife. Sexual immorality, Paul explained, was a particularly soul-destroying sin because it was something you gave your whole body to and it went against the metaphor of Christ and the Church as His Bride. Deal with it, he said, or I will come there and discipline the entire church!

He also completely reverses Jesus’ statement at the Sermon on the Mount — “Judge not or you will be judged.” Paul said instead “Are you not to judge those inside [the church]? But God will judge those outside [the church]Remove the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” he tells them in the same passage.

No, this is not a contradiction of Christ. You have to pay attention to who Jesus was addressing at the time He made the statement. Christ was talking about hypocrites judging others for their sins — those with a huge log in their eye trying to get a speck out of the eye of another. Christ was saying “You have a huge problem. Take care of your problem before you take care of the other guy’s little problem.” It’s important to recognize that Jesus was also speaking to unbelievers — non-Christians. Remember … the walking dead with the stakes through their hearts who think following a morality code will make them okay with God.

Paul, speaking to Christians who are enlivened in Christ, is saying, you with the dirty feet, wash each other’s feet. Police the church. Discipline one another for the good of the congregation and for the good of the individual and for the example the world will see.

We know from 2 Corinthians that the “evil one” was disfellowshipped, repented and sought readmission to the congregation. Paul gives advice on this that we’ll look at later.

Christians are meant to judge and discipline other Christians. But let’s be clear … if you’re a divorced and remarried woman, you are no better than the gay couple sitting across the way. If there is any shade of gray between your sin and theirs, it must rest in the area of repentance. You can be sure that the members of the 1st Baptist Church of Corinth had their own store of past sins. They’d grown up in Las Vegas. Many of them had come out of the society of sexual immorality that pervaded that community. There was no difference between them and the guy who was screwing his step-mother EXCEPT ….

They had repented of that lifestyle and were seeking to follow God and that made them eligible not only to judge the sin of this Christian, but also to discipline him for it — not to be cruel and legalistic, but for his own good.

So churches can’t agree to disagree, because God says we can’t. That’s not what the churches are there for. We’re not social clubs for getting together and feeling good. We’re schools for learning how to be better servants of God.

Intermarital Sex   3 comments

Brad and I had an unmarried couple from our church over for dinner a while back. The man was a Christian, divorced, and in his forties. He met a Christian woman who seem to be an answer to prayer. Over time they had fallen in love and hoped to get married eventually, but were delaying for “financial reasons”. Meanwhile they “become intimate.” They announced this while at our house for dinner and noted that they didn’t feel convicted by the Holy Spirit for having unmarried sex, but did feel judged by friends — though not Brad and I, which is why they felt comfortable “being honest” with us.

“We waited until we were in love before we had sex,” she explained. “I think there’s a difference between premarital sex and unmarried sex for older adults who have been married before,” he added. “God understands that we’re not young adults just having a fling, but that we can’t afford to get married right now.”

Then they did it. “So what do you think? Why shouldn’t two adult Christians who happen to be divorced and have fallen in love sleep together?”

What follows is the synopsis of what Brad and I said during the dessert course. We were flattered that they trusted us enough to be candid, but a hasty conference in the kitchen assured that we had to respond to the question.

Brad, my husband, is kind of a Christian rogue. He doesn’t necessarily attend church every Sunday and he has a few dings in his image consistent with being a recovering alcoholic. Enough said about Brad. I bring it up only to explain our particular view of things and the reason we answered the way that we did to a couple who are regular church-goers. That, and they asked. Don’t ask if you don’t want an honest answer! I suspect they asked us because they thought two Christians who admit to dirt on their spiritual feet wouldn’t condemn them.

And, we didn’t, but we didn’t give the soft-soap answer either.

In the big picture of the world, an adult male having sex (we refused the euphemism) with his adult girlfriend is no big deal. Russia’s unofficial annexation of the Ukraine … people getting their heads lopped off in Syria … the upcoming mid-term elections … those are all bigger issues than two single people loving one another with their bodies. The world we live in certainly expects two people in their 40s who love one another to have sex. Even in the churches, people pretty much wink at it, though we were puzzled how anyone knew if they weren’t telling them.

Sex is enjoyable, so we weren’t surprised that they liked doing it. The Bible supports the concept of sex as a gracious gift from God not just for procreation, but also for enjoyment … within marriage. Genesis 2, Hebrews 13 and the Song of Songs are good resources for understanding this. Fire in the woodstove is a good thing that keeps Alaskans from freezing to death, but outside of the woodstove, it burns the house down. Similarly, sex is a wonderful thing that is meant to be enjoyed. God wired human beings that way.

BUT …

And, you’ll have to wait for the next post to read what we said over coffee in the living room.

 

False Analysis   Leave a comment

Sex is a very spiritual physical activity.

I can not think of another physical activity where you can feel the same sort of oneness with another human being that you can with sex.

No wonder that we as a society are in trouble, but more, we shouldn’t wonder that the churches are in trouble.

The United States of America and Europe, circa 21st century, is highly sexualized. There are those who want to say that Christians ought to get the with times and not fight the tide of sexual immorality. How dare we say who can have sex with whom and how?

And, I partially agree with that. As a civil libertarian, much as I don’t like to see it, I agree that you have a right to have sex with any consenting adult you desire. I think there are incredibly bad consequences to society with that sort of cultural milieu, but if that is what you want to do as an individual — that’s  your choice.

And, I believe the churches have enough problems of their own with sexual immorality that we don’t really need to be arguing with the world over sex. Get our own house in order and … well, I suspect we wouldn’t be arguing with the world over sex if we had our house in order because we wouldn’t feel so threatened by the slow whittling away of our values to the majority culture.

I’ve said this before, mankind is not good and Christians are only good to the extent that we allow the Holy Spirit to work through us, which means that the churches are merely gatherings of human beings who are not good, but who may desire to be better, but are often influenced by the culture outside the church and by the tares (cultural Christians) and apostates (fallen Christians) within the congregations.

So why are we surprised when congregations act like the flesh and blood that we are composed of?

Because we (Biblical Christians) know we are called to something higher and better. Paul the apostle told the Thessalonian Christians that their first priority for achieving that higher and better God-directed life was to “abstain from sexual immorality.”

He didn’t say “Don’t have sex” or “Don’t enjoy sex” or “Only have sex for procreation”. He said “abstains from sexual immorality.” We know from koinine Greek that there was plenty of sexual immorality to be witnessed and engaged in within the Greco-Roman world that Paul traveled through. Corinth, where Paul was when he wrote back to Thessalonica, was the Las Vegas of its time, which a little bit of Key West rolled in. In other words, Paul would not have been shocked by our culture. He was familiar with the sexual practices of his own era. He knew that the Christians of Thessalonica came out of a culture steeped in prostitution, temple sexual worship, culturally-sanctioned adultery and fornication, and pedophilia. And, yet, he told the Thessalonians that if they wanted to be in God’s will, they must abstain from sexual immorality.

He told them to support their fellow Christians in this endeavor, by word, by deed, and by discipline within the church.

But what he didn’t say was that they should be concerned with what the culture around them was doing. Instead, he told the Thessalonians and later the Corinthians and others to turn inward and create a separate Christian culture within the churches and not let the outside world dictate to them how they would live.

For about 300 years after Paul wrote this letter, Christians largely concentrated on the activities within the churches and saw incredible growth. Without a sword stroke, without a government edict, often under intense persecution that prevented the attraction of the rich and powerful, the Christian church universal grew and grew and grew until it was about 1/3 of the population of the Roman Empire and Constantine realized that he would be better off harnessing the social force of Christianity than opposing it.

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. For 1600 years christian-like (deliberate small c) organizations have been the dominant cultural shaping tool of Europe and the United States.

Now it would seem that God has given permission to Satan to thresh the churches like wheat. And, I don’t think we should fight that because God sifts the churches for our good and we really need some discipline, Church.

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