Archive for the ‘#churchdiscipline’ Tag

Corinthian Hot Potato   1 comment

Paul had just ordered the Corinthian church to expel a sinning Christian for the purposes of disciple. You should go back and read last week’s post if you haven’t already. Casual readers of the Bible or those who use search engines to cherry pick will accuse Paul of being abusive at this point, but it’s important to recognize that he had a long-standing relationship with the church at Corinth and this wasn’t the first time he’d communicated with them on this point.

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. In no way did I mean the immoral people of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13.

This is not the first letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Paul indicated in verse 9 that he had previously written to the Corinthians on the subject of separation. In that first letter, he instructed them not to associate with immoral people, including unbelieving sinners of all kinds, those who are immoral, those who are covetous, those who swindle, and those who are idolaters. The Corinthians either misunderstood or twisted Paul’s words to mean something other than what Paul intended. They apparently had the Pharisaical notion that equated holiness with separation from unbelievers. Now, Paul clarified his instructions. He wasn’t talking about avoiding contact with unbelievers. In Corinth in the 1st cenutry or the United States in the 21st century, there is no way to avoid contact with unsaved sinners. The only way to avoid “the world” is not to live in the world. I don’t know about you, but I like electricity and running water and access to a grocery store. That requires a job and living at least on the edge of society. Besides, Christians are not tasked with avoiding sinners. We’re supposed to live among them in such a way as to reveal Christ to them (see Matthew 5:13-16; 1 Peter 2:9-12)

Image result for image of church disciplineThe Christian must rub shoulders with the world in order to be a witness to the lost. What a Christian cannot do is participate with the world in sin. We are to be in the world, but we are to be unlike the world, living out the life of Christ as lights in a dark place (see Ephesians 5:3-14).

Paul never meant for the Corinthians to try to keep the church out of the world. They were supposed to keep the world out of the church, meaning that those who profess to be saved must live like they’ve been saved. Among those practices, we should not embrace a believer whose profession and practice are in contradiction to Biblical teaching. The Corinthians were not to associate with a person claiming to be a Christian, who continued to live in sin. Immorality is not the only basis for church discipline. Paul touches on them briefly — there’s covetousness, idolatry, slanderous speech, drunkenness, or swindling. Fellowship with someone who falls into this category is forbidden. This does not simply mean that this person is disfellowshipped from the meetings of the church. It means that individual believers must withdraw any manifestations of fellowship. This includes the sharing of a meal, which in biblical times was an intimate act of friendship (see Revelation 3:20).

Church discipline is a form of judging that is not only permitted but required. We’re not supposed to judge outsiders, but the conduct of those who profess Christ are to be scrutinized. God will judge unbelievers at the proper time. Some unbelievers will be saved by the grace of God and, like us, escape the wrath of God through faith in Christ. Others will be judged by God, but this is not our responsibility. The bottom line for the Corinthians is that they must put this immoral man out of their church.

This last expression, “Remove the evil person from among you,” is virtually a quotation of Deuteronomy 17:7: 

Suppose a man or woman is discovered among you – in one of your villages that the Lord your God is giving you – who sins before the Lord your God and breaks his covenant by serving other gods and worshiping them – the sun, moon, or any other heavenly bodies which I have not permitted you to worship. When it is reported to you and you hear about it, you must investigate carefully. If it is indeed true that such a disgraceful thing is being done in Israel, you must bring to your city gates that man or woman who has done this wicked thing – that very man or woman – and you must stone that person to death. At the testimony of two or three witnesses they must be executed. They cannot be put to death on the testimony of only one witnessThe witnesses must be first to begin the execution, and then all the people are to join in afterward. In this way you will purge evil from among you. Deuteronomy 17:2-7

The expression is similar to that found elsewhere in the Old Testament (see Deuteronomy 24:7). What Paul called for in the New Testament church is not significantly different from what Moses communicated to the nation Israel. We forget that God dwelt in the midst of His people in the Old Testament and thus the Israelites were required to remove sin and sinners from their midst. In the New Testament, Paul informed the Corinthians that God now indwells His temple, the church. They too must remove sin from their midst, because a holy God indwells them. In both cases, it is recognized that removing the sinner may include death. This is a serious step that can only be taken by Christians who take sin and God’s commandments seriously.

It’s hard for us in this day and age to read Paul’s words to the church of Corinth. He’s reminding the Corinthians of their duty to play a part in this process by removing the wayward and willful sinner from their midst. That raises several important issues for 21st century Christians.

Whatever happened to sin?

Dr. Karl Menninger, a secular psychiatrist, wrote a book entitled Whatever Became of Sin. Though not a Christian, Menninger recognized that evil was become “psychologized”. Had the Corinthian sinner lived today, I can just imaging the diagnoses that would be applied to him in order to explain away his behavior. Here’s a man, living with his father’s wife, so a psychologist would probably look for childhood sexual abuse while another advocate would insist it’s a genetic predisposition. Some would argue that his behavior is perfectly normal and that the narrow-minded church people are the real problem. There were be long, expensive, and intensive therapy prescribed … perhaps to the man and woman, but more like to the church members since church discipline would be considered harmful rather than helpful. Paul’s diagnosis was simple, and so was the prescription. The problem was the sin of immorality, and the prescription was to remove him from the church. When the Bible is the standard for conduct, and it is viewed and used for defining sin and righteousness, the diagnosis of this man’s problem is not that difficult.

Whatever happened to discipline (church and otherwise)? The Corinthian church failed to exercise discipline on the immoral man to whom Paul was referring. At the same time, Paul accused the church of being arrogant. To exercise discipline is to acknowledge that you have done all that you can, and that you have failed. If we are thinking clearly as Christians, we realize that there is nothing spiritual which we can accomplish. We cannot save anyone; we can only proclaim the message of Christ crucified, and know that God, through His Spirit, will draw those to Himself whom He has chosen. We cannot bring about the right living of a believer. Once again, we can, as faithful stewards, do what God has given us to do, but we cannot produce the results. In Paul’s words, we may plant or water, but it is God who gives the growth.

In our arrogance, we sometimes convince ourselves that, given enough time, we can turn someone from their sin. There is a great deal of emphasis on counseling in our culture, even in the church. There is a place for counsel, but we often give ourselves and our system of counseling too much credit. We don’t want to admit failure, and so we refuse to take that final step of “removing the wicked person from our midst.” Just a little more time and we can correct this person’s thinking. Church discipline is based upon the recognition that we have done what we can in the context of the church, and that God can turn that wayward person to repentance apart from us and apart from our ministry.

The modern churches have unconsciously begun to think of themselves as support groups. There are times when we rightly act as a support group, but the overall support group mentality is a very dangerous one. Support groups can cause individuals to put their trust in “the group” rather than in God, priding themselves for “being there,” no matter what the wayward one has done, or will do. The support group purposes to always “be there,” while the church is called not to be there indefinitely for the one who refuses to heed a rebuke and to turn from willful sin.

The therapeutic movement within Christianity has propagated an assumption is that we must love one another unconditionally. There is a sense in which this is true, of course. But we are not to “love” others unconditionally if we are attempting to redefine what love means. To exercise discipline on a wayward saint is to love that person and to seek their highest good. To unconditionally accept that person is to never refuse to have fellowship with them, thinking which directly opposes Paul’s teaching in our text. Popular theories about psychology and theology must never set aside Biblical commands. Paul’s words to the Corinthians in chapter 5 end with a clear command. When called for, we will either obey this command, or we will sin.

Image result for image of church disciplineWhatever has happened to church discipline? I have seen very little of it. Even when such discipline is taken, all too many church members are tempted to second-guess the church and to privately continue to fellowship with the one under discipline. That’s pretty serious because, if I understand the Scriptures correctly, to do that is to become a partner with that person in his or her sin.

Church discipline is a very clear duty of the church and individual Christians. So why don’t we practice it? I think arrogance plays a large role in that, with a huge sidecar of fear. I think we’re afraid to take a stand against sin because we are afraid of rejection because we’re being viewed as narrow and unloving. We may be unwilling to lose the friendship and the fellowship of those we love. Some church leaders are afraid of being sued for taking disciplinary action against a church member. It can and does happen and I think we’ll see more court actions in the future.

Sometimes we are afraid that the work of God will be thwarted by church discipline. I know of several instances where a Christian leader was the brother in sin. That leader, when rebuked, would not repent. It would ruin their career. And, when the church became aware of it, they feared the harm publicity would do to the work of God. Some of those Christian leaders are still on the field. Brad and I left a church we loved because of it. God’s work is bigger than any man or any organization. God’s work is making sinners holy, to His glory. When a leader continues in sin, the church should discipline him publicly, as an example to all (1 Timothy 5:19-20). When any saint is placed under discipline, it serves notice to the world that the church does not accommodate sin.

Finally, the teachings and practices of the “church growth movement” discourage church discipline. The church growth experts generally measure the success of a church by numerical growth. This movement seeks to attract unbelievers to the church by being “seeker-friendly,” by making unbelieving “seekers” feel comfortable with the church and with the Christian message. If you’ve stuck with me through Paul’s teachings in Chapters 1 & 2, you know this is impossible. The message of the cross is foolish. Divine truth concerning God is incomprehensible to the lost. Men and women are not saved by getting comfortable with God, but by becoming uncomfortable by the conviction of the Holy Spirit that they are sinners, that God is righteous, and that judgment awaits the sinner (John 16:7-11). When God struck Ananias and Sapphira dead for their deception, the unbelieving world was not comfortable. It caused them to stay away from the church. Nevertheless, many were being saved (see Acts 5:11-16). Sinful men should not and cannot be comfortable in the presence of a holy God, save through the cleansing of their sins by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Men and women cannot come to faith without first becoming uncomfortable about their sin and God’s judgment. That is what being saved is all about—being saved from the wrath of God.

Now for the bottom line. Why would we discipline a wayward saint, when we will not discipline ourselves? I’m remarkably passive and quiet about those sins in others that I also have in my life. Self-discipline is often harder than church discipline.

God takes sin seriously. Just think about the cross of Calvary and you’ll see what I mean. God took our sin so seriously that He stepped down into history as Jesus to die in our place, to suffer the punishment for our sins. The good news of the gospel is that while God takes our sin seriously, and our sin must be judged, He has judged our sins in Christ. To enter into this forgiveness, all we need do is to receive the gift of salvation which God offers to us by faith in His Son. When we see how seriously God has taken our sins, we see how serious we must be about sin ourselves.

Love the Sinner & Purge the Leaven   Leave a comment

In the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians, Paul introduced a shameful problem in the church whereby the Corinthians had proudly attached themselves to certain leaders whose teaching seems to disclose a “wisdom” not known or taught by other teachers, and certainly not by Paul or his fellow-apostles. These cliques and factions were undermining the unity of the church and were a denial of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Image result for image of leavenPaul then turned his attention to other problems plaguing the church at Corinth. Both are pertinent to our own time.

Before we did into the Scripture, it should be noted that Chapter 5 is not primarily about the immorality of one church member. It’s more about the pride and passivity of the entire church in response to that sinner. Chapters 5-6 are all part of one discussion that should be read together. Unfortunately, that would be a huge blog post, so I’ll have to trust you to do it yourself. Chapter 5 introduces the matter of immorality and the obligation of the church to exercise discipline. Chapter 6 takes up the issue of Christians taking each other to law courts (verses 1-11), and then concludes with Paul’s teaching on immorality. Yeah, Paul viewed sexual immorality and lawsuits as similar.

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 his father’s wife. 1 Corinthians 5:1

Paul had heard about this in Ephesus, which was many weeks’ travel away from Corinth. He expressed shock and dismay and hints that he may have heard about this from Gentile non-Christians. Paul was shocked that immorality was taking place in the church, and that it was such common knowledge that no one doubted it.

Scholars suggest this wasn’t the only immorality occurring in the church at Corinth. Paul dealt with the most egregious examples. On the subject of sexual immorality, Paul focuses on the specific instance of a son who was having sex with his father’s wife. This wasn’t a one night fling. The sin was still going on as Paul put pen to parchment. We don’t know if the father was still alive or if the woman was a professing Christian. Paul didn’t instruct the church to disfellowship the woman. His instructions are specifically for the man who was living immorally with his father’s wife, which would have certainly been forbidden by the apostles on Scriptural grounds (see Leviticus 18:8; Deuteronomy 22:30; 27:20, Acts 15:20, 29; 21:25). It was apparently considered taboo by the pagan Corinthians.

And you are proud! Shouldn’t you have been deeply sorrowful instead and removed the one who did this from among you? 1 Corinthians 5:2

Paul could no doubt have dealt with other cases of immorality that were acceptable to the Gentiles. While Paul was distressed by the actual sin of this one man, he was more disturbed by the sinful response of the church.

LISTEN CAREFULLY, modern church. Paul is talking to us!

Paul told the Corinthians that they had become proud (or arrogant) and were virtually doing nothing to correct this matter. Paul had already addressed their arrogance in the first four chapters of the letter. Now he draws a parallel with this case of immorality.

The Corinthians actually appear to be proud of this man’s sin. Remember that in the pagan religions of Corinth, immorality was practiced as a part of their heathen religious ceremonies. The Corinthians could have redefined the apostolic rules so that this sinful act was looked upon as enlightened Christianity. If you’re tempted to think this suggestion is groundless, I encourage you to read about the false teachers in 2 Peter and Jude and then take a look at some modern-day teachings on sexual immorality in the churches.

If they didn’t condone his sin, the Corinthians might have been proud of the “open and accepting way” in which they were dealing with his sin. Yeah, hello, 21st Century churches! In this therapeutic age when the church is often looked upon more as a “support group” than a “holy temple,” church members refuse to discipline members and continue to embrace sinning saints, even when it is clear they have no intention of repenting of their sins, and even when they publicly persist in their sinful ways.

Let’s face it – the Corinthians were proud and arrogant already. The sin within the church and their response to it were just symptoms. They took pride in their leaders, in their message, and in their methods. They took pride in their “wisdom,” a worldly sort that looked down on the simple message of Christ crucified and the apostles who proclaimed it. These Christians were so proud of themselves that they would not or could not acknowledge or act upon sins within the church that were public and undeniable. Their pride was the result of turning from the truth. Pride keeps one from seeing the truth. The Corinthians maintained an attitude of pride in situations that should have produced mourning.

Pride kept the church from expelling the wayward and willful saint rather than mourning what was taking place in the church and disfellowshipping this immoral man for his own spiritual good.

For even though I am absent physicallyI am present in spirit. And I have already judged the one who did this, just as though I were presentWhen you gather together in the name of our Lord Jesus, and I am with you in spirit,  along with the power of our Lord Jesus, turn this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. 1 Corinthians 5:3-5

Paul actually could have ignored this situation. He was a long way away and he could have pretended not to know, but he refused to do that. Paul might have been physically absent, but he was never spiritually absent. This was true not only of the Corinthian church, but of the other churches (see Colossians 2:5). Paul’s references to his prayers (see Romans 1:9; Ephesians 1:17; Philippians 1:3-5; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, etc.) and his personal knowledge of people in churches where he had never yet visited (e.g. Romans 16) are indicative of his spiritual presence beyond his physical local church. Many of the Corinthians were Paul’s spiritual children (see 4:14-16). He not only wrote to them, but he made every effort to obtain reports of how they were coming along. When word of problems in Corinth reached Paul, he didn’t allow his absence to keep him from doing the right thing. He was with these saints in spirit and so, while the Corinthians had not yet done anything to correct the situation, Paul informed them that he had taken action. He had already acted as though he were present. He had done what he would do if he were present and instructed to the Corinthians to carry out the kind of discipline Scriptures requires. (see Matthew 18:15-20; also Galatians 6:1-2, 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15; Titus 3:10-11).

If your brother sinsgo and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brotherBut if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be establishedIf he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector. 

I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven. Again, I tell you the truth, if two of you on earth agree about whatever you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three are assembled in my name, I am there among them. Matthew 18:15-20

That’s Jesus talking to His disciples, some of whom became the apostles. Jesus commanded the apostles to instruct the churches, so that church discipline would be an on-going practice throughout the history of the church. More than any other text, Matthew 18 spells out the process of discipline. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 5 closely parallel those of Jesus.

Church disciple in a process. Paul speaks of the final step in 1 Corinthians 5, referring to the full process spelled out in Matthew 18. Private rebuke one on one, followed by an elder confrontation, followed by the collective disfellowshipping from the congregation by the whole church. The reason Paul dealt only with the last step of this process in 1 Corinthians 5 is that the willful rebellion of the sinner was evident, and his sin had already become public knowledge. Discipline must be as public as the sin.

Church discipline is the obligation of the whole church. Paul wrote that he discipline process should take place “when you gather together.” Jesus instructed that, if the wayward individual did not repent following a private confrontation, the matter was to be told “to the church” (Matthew 18:17).  In the case of the immoral man in the church at Corinth, the matter had already become a matter of public knowledge. Jesus promises His special presence when such a gathering is assembled for discipline:

Church discipline involves the entire local church and its implications are church-wide. Paul called for the whole Corinthian church to be involved. Think about that. The Corinthian church was already divided into various factions that seemed unable to work together on anything. Church discipline should be exercised in unity. What an impossible task in a church that lacks unity, but Paul required the whole church to participate in this act of discipline. A elder of our long-time church suggested it was a “team building” exercise.

Paul strongly implied that church discipline should be exercised by all the churches. In our day of great mobility, we have many churches to attend. Someone who is under discipline usually finds it easy to simply attend elsewhere. I’m sure it would be scandalous to suggest that matters of discipline need to be communicated to other churches and that those other churches have an obligation to honor that act of discipline if the wayward party attempts to “move his membership” to that church. We might consider it rude, but it is Biblical that newcomers to any church should be interviewed to be certain that they are not under discipline elsewhere. Why? Because appropriately applied discipline is for the disciplined person’s own spiritual good.

Church discipline should be done in the name and power of the Lord. The church acts on behalf of God in carrying out discipline. The Lord’s presence is promised in discipline. The church acts on God’s behalf, and thus when we act, God acts as well (see Matthew 18:18-19).

Church discipline delivers the sinner into the power of Satan. Church discipline expels the wayward and unrepentant Christian from the church, from participating in its worship, and from fellowship with individuals or small groups of believers. In so doing, the sinning saint not only loses the positive benefits of being a part of the church body, but is placed in the very dangerous position of being vulnerable to Satan’s attacks. In Paul’s words, the one who is disciplined is “delivered to Satan” (see also 1 Timothy 1:20). Satan is a destroyer( see 1 Peter 5:8). When the church expels a wayward member, that person is given over to Satan, knowing that he delights in destruction. It is not a pretty picture and churches should not take it lightly. When we deliver a brother or sister over to Satan, we are simply giving the unrepentant Christian what he or she has chosen. To remain in sin is to be in the bondage of Satan (2 Timothy 2:24-26). To be disciplined is simply to hand that Christian over fully to Satan. Discipline confirms a choice the sinner has already made.

While Satan has the power to destroy the flesh, he doesn’t have the authority to destroy the spirit. Satan was given the authority to attack Job, but this authority had boundaries. Given God’s permission, Satan could do so much to Job and no more (see Job 1:12; 2:6). Satan does not have the power to spiritually destroy someone who is saved by the blood of Jesus Christ (see John 10:27-29; Romans 8:31-39; Matthew 10:28; Revelations 11:18).

It’s important to understand that church discipline is only for those who are Christians or profess to be Christians. Paul made it very clear in verses 12 and 13 that church discipline is for those who are inside the church, and not for those who are outside. The Lord makes the same point in Matthew 18:15, where He begins, “If your brother sins. …” The final outcome of church discipline is that a believer who willfully remains in sin is treated as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer (18:17). Association with the believer under discipline is to be terminated, but he is still to be regarded as a brother, and not as an enemy (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15).

Church discipline is not a final judgment that condemns a Christian to eternal hell. The goal is the sinning Christian’s repentance. Church discipline is to be exercised for the highest good of the sinning saint. Consequently, Paul made it very clear that “turning one over to Satan” in church discipline is not a final act of condemnation, but an action taken with a view to the wayward saint’s repentance from sin in this life. Discipline is as painful for those who must exercise it as for the one disciplined. It is an act of mercy that seeks the highest good of the wayward Christian. It is something Brad has had to endure and many of the insights in this series come from him.

Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast  affects the whole batch of dough? 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. 1 Corinthians 5:6-7

Paul wanted to be absolutely clear that the arrogance of the Corinthians was not good. Why not? Because it was destructive. We know deep down that it is harmful to the man living in sin. Paul showed us how destructive failing to deal with sin is to the church.

Paul turned his readers to imagery of leaven. If you’re unfamiliar with old-style baking, you keep a “mother loaf” of dough separate from the day’s break. You cut off some of that mother and use this tiny bit to change whole dough into something other that flour and water and oil. The sinner whom the Corinthians embraced and failed to put out of the church is likened to a little leaven placed in a lump of dough. If left there for long, it changes the whole batch of dough. If this sinner is allowed to remain in the fellowship of the saints at Corinth, he will contaminate the entire church. By removing this man from their midst, the church at Corinth not only seeks the sinner’s restoration, they also promote their own purity.

Paul fine tuned this leaven and loaf analogy, turning to a specific celebration in the Old Testament. Although his audience were Gentiles, they’d come to faith through the teachings of a Jewish rabbi. Paul reminded his readers of the feast of unleavened bread, which was to begin immediately after the Passover lamb was sacrificed:

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. 1 Corinthians 5:8

After the Passover was celebrated, the Feast of Unleavened Bread commenced. The Israelites were to go throughout their dwellings, seeking to find any leaven and remove it. They were to eat unleavened bread because leaven is a symbol of sin, and the Passover lamb was a prophetic foreshadowing of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul called Him “Christ our Passover” (verse 7) and reminds us that He has been sacrificed. If Christ is our Passover and He has been sacrificed, what is to follow. In keeping with the Old Testament prototype, the leaven is to be removed Since Christ has been sacrificed, we are not to harbor sin in our lives, but to seek to identify sin and remove it. The Lord’s Supper is the Christian equivalent of the Passover Feast and acts as a reminder of what should follow the sacrifice of the Lamb—cleansing in the camp! The leaven in the Corinthian church (the camp) was this sinner. He must be removed. What better time and place was there than in the meeting of the church, where the Lord’s Table is celebrated?

Paul was not content to allow us to think that Christ’s atoning death, celebrated at the Lord’s Table, should only be applied to this man and his expulsion from the church. In verse 8, Paul broadened the application, indicating other forms of “leaven” which were all too evident in the church. The “old leaven” (this sinner who needed to be expelled) and the “new leaven” of malice and wickedness, must be put away. Malice and wickedness refers to that whole spectrum of “sacred sins” which are harbored and even nurtured in the church. They must go, and in their place there should be the “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (verse 8). Christians, individually and collectively, are to put off the hypocrisy and the false wisdom we have embraced and return to purity of motivation and of doctrine.

This blog post is getting too long, so I’m going to stop here and pick up next week. I suggest, however that you return to this lesson because really, next week’s lesson and this one are a whole.

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