Friday, August 24, 2007

Disciple means discipline

I have been thinking about the ever-controversial issue of church discipline. In fact, many Christians have never even heard of this practice. People refuse to believe that Jesus taught it and few would find the stones1 to carry it out. But what does the bible say?

Well, before I start this study in the word, I would like to point out that this whole discussion refers to people who claim that they are saved. So we are not looking at the world here, we are looking at the people we call 'brother.' This is not for people who do not claim salvation. This applies to Church members and servants in the church, not to the sinner who just comes in and listens to sermons.

So let us begin with our Saviour, what is his take on discipline. Well, the model is given in Matthew:

"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector."
- Matthew 18:15 - 17

Things I notice from the text
  • The sin is against you. This means it is personal
  • We must not allow the brother to remain in 'fault' we tell him about it
  • It must be brought to the church, if he refuses to listen
  • If he does not listen, we treat him as a gentile or a tax collector
This all goes after forgiveness. The brother must be forgiven before the approach is made. We are to forgive, so that we no longer approach out of anger, but rather out of love. If he repents (not just by his mouth) we have gained our brother. If he does not repent we are to treat him as a gentile or tax collector, like someone who is a sinner. We do not cut him out or anything like that, but treat them with all the care and love as we do with any other sinner.

Paul tells us that it is those inside the church we are to judge, not the world:

"I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people-- 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler--not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. 'Purge the evil person from among you.'"
-1 Corinthians 5:9 - 13 [Emphasis added]

What do we do with this? We are all guilty of this, right? We are all sinners and all have broken the law. So now we should be put out? No, you see, the Christian is the person whose sin is sickening to them. This passage is talking about people who boast that they are sinners but claim to be Christian. They were proud of their sin to the point they boasted about it. Paul is saying that people who boast in their sin and claim to be Christians we should not eat with. They must be put out.

Put out? Really? Yes. Lets look at the word purge. 'Ex-ah'ee-ro' is the Greek word used there. It literally means to remove. Ans it is a pastoral epistle, so that means they are no longer a part of the church. This does not mean they cannot repent. People will argue with me on this, but I did not write the bible. If someone wants to explain this verse, please tell me. I trust God and His word, but if I am wrong, please tell me. You cannot simply say that "God is love," because you would have to admit that "God is also wrath." But why purge them? Why so harsh? Well, Paul does not leave us in the dark:

"Do not be deceived: 'Bad company ruins good morals.'34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame."
- 1 Corinthians 15:33 - 34

You see, the Christian is the person who does not grow indifferent to sin. Every sin is another nail in the cross. Every time you sin you should be reminded of God's grace to you, but also be repentant. Paul is also saying that some people have no knowledge of God, so who are you to judge? You cannot look at them and say "I am better than them" - the only reason we are 'better' has nothing to do with you, but the grace of God! You have more light, and therefore your sin is done in direct defiance, not blindness. If a seeing man walks into a wall, he is a fool, but how dare you call a blind man a fool for his blindness. I can understand why Paul said that 'to their shame.'

I must mention that it is not Paul who teaches that Christians are not apathetic to sin. John teaches that you are not a Christian if you claim you have no sin, but the Christian is someone who is afflicted by their sinful nature:

"Whoever says 'I know him' but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, ... 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked...9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness... 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes... 15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions--is not from the Father but is from the world... 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also."
- 1 John 2:4, 6, 9 , 11, 15 -16, 19, 23 [Emphasis added]

To be specific, Christians try to keep the commandments. We may sin, but we repent, as we are commanded to. But here we have criteria that identify true Christians. We must not be afraid to use these on ourselves and on others, so we all may see.

My conclusion is this: church discipline must be practiced. At the worst extreme it does involve someone being removed from the Church. This does not mean they cannot repent and return, we are to implore them to. But while they are apathetic to their sin, we cannot even eat with them. Just a reminder, these are people who claim to be saved that refuse to repent, are proud or apathetic towards the sin in them and have been publicly exposed. People may call me unloving, but to correct my brother according to the word of God is loving. It would be my sin to stand back and let him continue building wrath for himself.

1 "find the stones" is a poor turn of phrase in a biblical context. You are not to stone them, what I mean is that find the confidence.

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