Rabu, 17 Februari 2010

CHURCH DISCIPLINE

Republished February 18, 2010 (first published August 3, 2006) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143,fbns@wayoflife.org)

The term church discipline might sound harsh and cruel to the ears of this pampered, self-esteem mad generation, but true discipline is neither. Church discipline is a matter of love–love for God, love for holiness, love for the truth, love for Christ’s testimony in the church, love for the brethren, and love for the unsaved who are observing the church’s testimony and who might stumble and be offended and therefore not get saved if sin is not disciplined. “So long as the churches fail to preserve a pure membership, so long as they refuse to purge out the obvious leaven, so long as they fail to seek to reconcile those who may have been excluded, there is little hope for any improvement in the condition of the churches, and good reason to expect the churches to move in the opposite direction” (Davis Huckabee, The Constitution of the Church).

One of the root problems with the lack of spiritual power and zeal in Baptist churches today is the neglect of discipline. This affects nations as a whole. When President Bill Clinton committed adultery and lied to the country about it and tried to pervert the judicial system to cover himself, there was a call for his home church to exercise discipline; but the call was ignored. Bill Clinton was a member of Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. In that context, Dean Register, president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention, testified: “IT’S VERY UNUSUAL FOR SOUTHERN BAPTIST CHURCHES TO TAKE DISCIPLINARY ACTION AGAINST AN INDIVIDUAL” (The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Mississippi, Sept. 13, 1998).

This is a very sad testimony, but there can be no doubt that it is accurate. Across the length and breadth of the land there are unrepentant moral reprobates and heretics on the rolls of denominational Baptist churches. Billy Graham and many other radical ecumenists who are promoting unity with Roman Catholicism are members of Baptist congregations. Many politicians, such as Bill Clinton and Al Gore, who support the murder of unborn children, are members in good standing in Baptist churches. More than a million Freemasons, who are yoked together with idolatrous organizations in disobedience to 2 Corinthians 6, are members of Baptist congregations. Many heretics who deny the infallible inspiration of the Holy Scripture are members of Baptist congregations. An example is Mercer University President R. Kirby Godsey in Georgia. In his 1979 book, When We Talk about God, he said, “The notion that God is the all powerful, the high and mighty principal of heaven and earth should be laid aside.” Wicked heresy such as this is held by thousands of men and women who are members in good standing in denominational Baptist churches. 

Neglect of discipline has spread across the entire realm of “evangelicalism.” In “Church Discipline: The Missing Mark,” R. Albert Mohler, Jr., observed: “The decline of church discipline is perhaps the most visible failure of the contemporary church. No longer concerned with maintaining purity of confession or lifestyle, the contemporary church sees itself as a voluntary association of autonomous members, with minimal moral accountability to God, must less to each other. . . . THE PRESENT GENERATION OF BOTH MINISTERS AND CHURCH MEMBERS IS VIRTUALLY WITHOUT EXPERIENCE OF BIBLICAL DISCIPLINE. . . . By the 1960s, only a minority of churches even pretended to practice regulative church discipline. . . . Consumed with pragmatic methods of church growth and congregational engineering, most churches leave moral matters to the domain of the individual conscience” (from chapter 8 of The Compromised Church, edited by John H. Armstrong, Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1998).

Even among non-affiliated fundamental Baptist churches, the ones that are so frequently labeled legalistic and are thought of as being exceedingly strict, there is a rapid decline in the practice of church discipline. Many of the big ones don’t practice discipline and have not done so for decades. Even many of the smaller ones are so busy trying to build impressive numbers that they avoid anything that would interfere with the potential for growth. That includes not only discipline of sinning members but also a plain warning ministry. Recent history has demonstrated all too evidently that fundamental Baptist pastors at large can commit immorality and other gross sins that should bring serious discipline and discrediting of their pastoral qualifications, but instead they simply move to another church and continue as if nothing had happened. If someone protests such an action and calls for the permanent resignation of the sinning pastor, he is treated with a withering blast of mocking reproach by those who think pastors are above correction and who have, in effect, ripped 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1 out of their Bibles.

Never has the instruction of 1 Corinthians 5 been more relevant and important than at this present time.

1. PAUL DESCRIBES THE NEED AND OCCASION FOR DISCIPLINE (1 Cor. 5:1).
First, the sin was public. It was common knowledge. It was not a private matter but was “reported commonly.” “The heinous sins of professed Christians are quickly noted and noised abroad. We should walk circumspectly, for many eyes are upon us, and many mouths will be opened against us if we fall into any scandalous practice” (Matthew Henry).

Second, the sin was grave. There are many sins of commission and omission that are committed by believers, but not all are the object of church discipline, which is intended for particularly grave sins, the kind that bring serious reproach upon the church and the testimony of Christ. “Note that persons ought not to be in this severe and solemn manner proceeded against, but for notorious, scandalous sins. To denounce this awful censure upon every slight and trivial occasion, is to prostitute one of the most venerable ordinances of Christ to contempt and scorn” (Burkitt).

In this particular case, a church member was committing fornication with his father’s wife. As Paul does not say that she was his own mother, she was probably his stepmother. It could be that he had enticed his father’s wife away from him, because 2 Cor. 7:12 mentions two people, one who had done the wrong and one who had suffered the wrong. The one who had suffered wrong could have been the sinner’s own father.

This sin was so grave that even the unbelievers avoided it. Incest, such as with one’s own father’s wife, though committed at rare times was universally approbated. “That this offence was regarded with abhorrence by even the heathens has been abundantly proved by quotations from classic writers. Cicero says of the offence, expressly, that ‘it was an incredible and unheard-of crime.’ The crime was known in a few instances, but chiefly of those who were princes and rulers; but it was nowhere regarded with approbation, but was always treated as abominable wickedness” (Barnes).

Paul lists six categories of grave sins that should be the object of church discipline (1 Cor. 5:11):
Fornication. This is a broad term for sexual impurity. It refers to fornication outside out marriage (1 Cor. 7:2) and to adultery within marriage (Mat. 5:32). It is likened to “concupiscence” in 1 Thess. 4:3-5, which refers more particularly to the lusting aspect of sexual impurity. A believer would be a fornicator, therefore, who engages in such things as homosexuality, incest, rape, bestiality, and the use of pornography.

Covetousness. This means “to desire inordinately; to desire that which it is unlawful to obtain or possess; excessively eager to obtain and possess” (Webster). A church member who is covetous and therefore who should be disciplined for this sin will be characterized by the following:
Covetousness is to be greedy. Covetousness is to desire that which is not my own or that which is forbidden (Ex. 20:17; Deut. 5:21; Josh. 7:21).

Covetousness is to enrich oneself at the expense of others; it is to oppress and use others for one’s own selfish ends (Prov. 28:16; Mic. 5:2).

Covetousness is to love and pursue money and personal wealth instead of being content with the basic needs of life and pursuing the will of God (1 Tim. 6:6-11). It is to make money and possessions the focus of one’s life (Lk. 12:15).

Idolatry. This refers to worshipping idols or to putting some material possession or pleasure in the place of God and to bestow upon it the love and devotion that belongs to God alone.

Railing. This means to heap abuse upon another, to revile. The same Greek word (loidoros) is translated “reviler” in 1 Cor. 6:10. “A reproachful man; a man of coarse, harsh, and bitter words; a man whose characteristic it was to abuse others; to vilify their character, and wound their feelings” (Barnes).
Drunkenness. To be intoxicated with foreign substances, either by alcohol or drugs.

Extortion. “The act or practice of wresting anything from a person by force, duress, menaces, authority, or by any undue exercise of authority, or by any undue exercise of power; illegal exaction; illegal compulsion to pay money, or to do some other act” (Webster). See Ps. 109:11; Ezek. 22:12.

2. PAUL DESCRIBES THE WRONG ATTITUDE OF THE CHURCH TOWARD DISCIPLINE (1 Cor. 5:2).

They were puffed up and proud rather than humbled and mourning because of the sin.

What does “puffed up” mean? It is from the Greek word “phusioo,” which means “to inflate” and describes a haughty, proud spirit, the very opposite of the meekness that characterizes a spiritual Christian. It is used seven times in the New Testament, six of which are in 1 Corinthians. It is therefore used particularly to describe one of the characteristics of the carnal Christian. The Corinthians were “puffed up” against one another (1 Cor. 4:6), against Paul (1 Cor. 4:18), in regard to the sin in their midst (1 Cor. 5:2), and in regard to their conceit about how knowledgeable they were (1 Cor. 8:1).

What was the result of their being puffed up?
They were so puffed up, so spiritual in their own thinking, that they did not mourn about the sin that was in their midst. They weren’t proud of the sin; they were too proud to be concerned about the sin.
As a result of their pride and misguided self esteem they did not deal with the most important things in the Christian life and church but rather focused on things of no consequence. Instead of being concerned for the testimony of Christ and dealing with sin (1 Cor. 5) and error (2 Cor. 11:1-4) they were caught up in human philosophy, vain wrangling, exalting men more than the Word of God allows, and other such things.

Other observations about their pride and the failure to deal with sin:
Their attitude toward this matter was probably associated with their carnal divisions. The fornicator was doubtless a member of one of the divisions, if not one of the leaders, and the church as a whole was too busy fussing with one another and too busy following their favorite leaders to care about this sin. Those of the man’s own faction were doubtless busy defending him.

They were puffed up in a false perception of Christian liberty. Perhaps they are like the “rock and roll Christian” crowd today that thinks it is free to love the world and Christ, too. Perhaps they did not understand the truth taught by Peter in 1 Pet. 2:16 — “As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.”

3. PAUL DESCRIBES THE PROPER SPIRITUAL ATTITUDE GOD’S PEOPLE SHOULD HAVE ABOUT DISCIPLINE (1 Cor. 5:3).

The sin should be judged. God’s people should be more concerned about obeying Him and about preserving His testimony than about the feelings of any one person or group of persons.
Note that Paul did not feel it was necessary to visit the church to see the situation for himself. The matter was public knowledge and he had learned of it on reputable authority and no further investigation was necessary. He didn’t see any need to find out why the man acted as he did, to see if there were perhaps “extenuating circumstances.” It was enough to know that such a grave sin was taking place and that the sinner was unrepentant and persistent in his sin.

4. PAUL DESCRIBES THE WAY OF DISCIPLINE (1 Cor. 5:2-5).

It was to be done by the church (1 Cor. 5:4, “when ye are gathered together”). Even Paul the apostle did not exercise this discipline himself. It was to be done by the church. There is no higher body of appeal in the New Testament dispensation than the assembly. It is the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Denominational practices of establishing headquarters and committees and judicial bodies outside of the church and to which the church must appeal its decisions are unscriptural and destructive to the work of Christ. The New Testament assembly has the authority to ordain its own pastors (Acts 14:23), to send out its own missionaries (Acts 13:1-4), and to carry out its own discipline (1 Cor. 5).

It was to be done in an assembly of the church (1 Cor. 5:4). It was not to be done merely by the pastors acting alone or by the pastors and deacons; it was to be done as a function of the entire church assembled together for this purpose. “It was to be done also when they were gathered together, in full assembly. The more public the more solemn, and the more solemn the more likely to have a good effect on the offender. Note, Church-censures on notorious and incorrigible sinners should be passed with great solemnity. Those who sin in this manner are to be rebuked before all, that all may fear, 1 Tim. 5:20” (Matthew Henry).

It was to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by His power (1 Cor. 5:4). See also Mt. 18:18-19. Dismissing someone from the church is not a light matter. There are often many doubts and fears. Will it hurt the church? Has everything possible and proper been done to correct the problem in other ways? Will some protest and sympathize with the offender? How will the erring one(s) react? How will his or her friends or relatives react? I recall a church that had to discipline a member for marrying an unsaved man; and the offending party’s mother and sister sided with her and all of them left the church. This is not uncommon. The power of God is needed in exercising church discipline, and the Bible promises that His power and blessing will be available when His people are earnestly seeking to walk in obedience to Him. Along these lines I received the following note from a pastor: “I brought a lady before our Church back in 1999 because she would not repent of the poker machines [used for gambling] in the restaurant she just purchased. They had her picture on the front page of the newspaper with the poker machines behind her and her smiling. I found out about the poker machines when I got the newspaper that Sunday morning. She promised me she would get them out, and I explained to her what we would do if she did not repent. Well, to make a long story short, she held on to the poker machines! After we excommunicated her out of the Church I sent her a letter to let her know. But she already knew what was going to happen. She took the letter to the news media and the newspaper. I had poker parlors calling my house and screaming and cussing at me and threatening to come to our Church and disrupt our worship. There was only one Church that stood with us openly! Every other Baptist Church around, Southern Baptist or Independent, seemed to dodge the issue. We are an Independent Baptist Church. We stood firm upon the Word of God and He has blessed our Church because of it. I, for one, believe in practicing what the Bible says! And I thank God that the poker parlors were shut down in my state of South Carolina on my Birthday July 1st 2000!”

The sinner is to be delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Cor. 5:5). This refers to turning the unrepentant offender over to Satan’s domain, the world, and over to Satan’s power for punishment. See Job 2:7; Lk. 13:16; 22:31-32; 2 Cor. 2:7; 1 Tim. 1:20; 1 Jn. 5:16.

This is not for the destruction of the person himself or for the destruction of his body, but for the destruction of “the flesh.” It is for the purpose of destroying fleshly lusts, of bringing the man to conviction and repentance about living according to the flesh. Of course, there is a sin unto death, so it is always possible that an unrepentant sinner will die (1 Jn. 5:16).

Note that the Scripture promises here that the erring saint’s spirit would be saved. Paul can’t mean here that there is some possibility that a true believer might not be saved unless he is turned over to the devil. In this same epistle he has already promised that God would keep them (1 Cor. 1:8). When he says “that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus,” he is talking about God being justified in His work of salvation. Since God deals with the sin of erring believers in this world and chastens those who sin, He is not unrighteous in saving their spirits in the day of the Lord Jesus. The doctrine of eternal security does not mean that someone can be saved and “live as they please.” It means that if a person is truly saved he will have a changed life and if he does try to live according to the flesh, he will be chastened. The fact that he is chastened is an evidence of his salvation (Heb. 12:7-8).

The sinner is to be put out of the assembly (1 Cor. 5:3, 13).
The brethren are not to keep company with him (1 Cor. 5:11). There should be no close association with the man as long as he is under discipline. Though they might spend brief amounts of time with him, they were not to “keep company” with him, meaning not to have the close association with him that they had prior to this. They are not to act as if nothing serious has occurred. This is for the purpose of shaming him and enforcing upon him the gravity of this matter. The brethren were not to act as if nothing had changed in their relationship with the individual under discipline.

The other members were not to eat with him (1 Cor. 5:11). The eating in this verse can refer to personal social eating as well as to eating the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:26, 29).

It is important to note that this is the extent of the church’s authority in regard to discipline or so-called excommunication. It has no authority to take away someone’s salvation, and it has no authority to punish anyone physically, to imprison them, to torture them, or to put them to death. Anytime churches have gone beyond the bounds of 1 Corinthians 5 and have become persecutors they have proven themselves to be false churches, to be wolves rather than sheep.

5. PAUL DESCRIBES THE REASONS FOR DISCIPLINE (1 Cor. 5:6-8).

Church discipline is for their testimony’s sake. The church must maintain a good testimony before the unbelieving community (1 Cor. 5:1). The matter was common knowledge in the church and doubtless in the community, as well. The church bears the name of Jesus Christ and represents Christ in this world. It is the light that the world sees, and if the light is corrupted by open and grave sin, the world will be offended at Christ. Compare Ph. 2:14-15; 1 Pet. 2:9-12.

Church discipline is to please the Lord (1 Cor. 5:4). This action was to be taken “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Church discipline is what Christ has commanded and what He desires. In Titus 2:14 we see that a pure church pleases the Lord because this is His objective in redemption.

Church discipline is to correct erring church members (1 Cor. 5:5). See 2 Cor. 2:6-8, where the sinning member was to be restored. As we exercise church discipline, we must ever keep in mind that our goal is not to destroy people but to help them if at all possible.
Church discipline is to protect the church from being permeated with sin and error (1 Cor. 5:6-8). Sin is a leaven that can quickly spread.

There are two types of leaven mentioned in the New Testament: the moral leaven of sin (1 Cor. 5:6) and the doctrinal leaven of false teaching (Gal. 5:7-9). Scripture does not use the term “leaven” to refer to something good.
Leaven is yeast, which spreads throughout the dough. Sin and false teaching are called “leaven” because if moral and doctrinal impurities are not corrected they have the potential to spread through the church and corrupt it.

Therefore, unrepentant sin and false teaching cannot be ignored in the vain hope that the problem will somehow disappear on its own, because God tells us that the problem will definitely spread. It must be dealt with in a clear and biblical fashion.
Paul uses the feast of unleavened bread to typify the church (1 Cor. 5:7-8).

The feast of unleavened bread was preceded by the Passover (1 Cor. 5:7). See Exodus 12:1-14. In the Passover we learn that our salvation was by substitutionary sacrifice. It is a matter of Christ purchasing salvation “for us,” acting in our behalf before God through His one offering on the Cross. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). “The weight of all our sin was laid upon his innocent shoulders: our guilt became his, by a voluntary susception of the punishment, and consequently the sufferings of this sacrifice are imputed to us. He took our sins upon himself, as if he had actually sinned; and gave us the benefit of his sufferings, as if we had actually suffered and satisfied” (Burkitt). Note that the believers at Corinth are said to be “unleavened” (1 Cor. 5:7). This is their positional standing before God in Christ. They were clothed in His righteousness, even though they were still sinners in this world. Paul is saying, “Since you are saved and sanctified, live like it!”

Immediately after the Passover, the feast of unleavened bread began and lasted for seven days (Exodus 12:15, 18-20). During this feast, the Jews were not allowed to have any leaven in their homes. This depicted putting sin out of one’s life following redemption. Compare Ephesians 2:8-10, where we see that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ but that we are saved “unto good works.” As the feast of unleavened bread was kept for seven days, and with seven being the number of perfection and completion, we are taught that believers are to keep themselves holy throughout their Christian lives.

Paul instructs the brethren at Corinth to keep the feast of unleavened bread in its truest sense, not by putting actual leaven from their homes but by putting sin out of their lives and churches.
Christians are to keep the feast of unleavened bread by putting away all malice and wickedness. This refers to all sins, both of the spirit (malice, envy, hatred, wrath, strife, covetousness etc.) and of the flesh (fornication, drunkenness, theft, lying, revellings, etc.), sins both external and internal.

Christians are to keep the feast of unleavened bread by sincerity and truth. The emphasis here is on honesty and candor and openness and a rejection of all hypocrisy.

Church discipline is to restrain sin (1 Tim. 5:20). See also Deut. 13:11; 17:12-13; 19:18-20; Acts 5:1-11. “Modern psychology objects to a negative approach and opposes commandments and warnings. God’s Word does not support such a theory, for the theory ignores the awful fact of a depraved human nature. It would be ideal if men could be encouraged to live godly lives without any warning of judgment upon ungodliness. But to suppose they will do so is idealistic and contrary to all observation, as well as to Scripture. God warns of impending judgment and says, ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ (Heb. 10:31). ‘Because there is wrath, beware…’ (Job 36:18). If sin goes unjudged in a church, we are thereby inviting others to become self-indulgent. It will not do to plead ‘love’ as a basis for neglect. … God does not put love and punishment in opposition to each other. He says, ‘For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth…’ (Heb. 12:5-11). The church has a solemn responsibility to restrain sin by proper discipline. If we do not exercise the judgment, the Lord will (1 Cor. 11:31-32)” (Paul R. Jackson, The Doctrine and Administration of the Church).

6. PAUL DESCRIBES THE EXTENT OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE (1 Cor. 5:9-13).

Note: Paul seems to mention here a previous letter that he had written to the church at Corinth. Together with many other of his epistles, this first one to Corinth has perished and we know nothing about it beyond this brief mention. God chose which of the apostolic epistles were to be divinely inspired and canonized and preserved, and those that He chose are all that we need (2 Tim. 3:16-17). (Some commentators believe that Paul was referring here to an earlier portion of this same epistle, though we do not accept this view.)
First, discipline does not extend to those who are outside of their company, those who are “of this world” (1 Cor. 5:10).

If the believer were to try to separate from all sinners he would have to go out of the world. Paul explains that this is not what he is talking about. He knows that the believer must associate to some extent, in a wise and careful way, with the unsaved who are fornicators and such. He associates with them in commerce, in employment, in politics, in public works. He lives in the towns and cities with them, stays in their hotels, eats in their restaurants, works in their employment, shops in their stores. This is a normal and expected part of the Christian life.

We see that we are not to hold the unsaved to Christian standards. It is not possible to “Christianize” the world. That is why I do not join programs that seek to enforce biblical righteousness on secular corporations. I am not surprised if Wal-Mart or the Ford Motor Corporation or the Disney Corporation is unrighteous! What else would they be? My business in this present world is not to try to Christianize the world but to preach the Gospel to it so that the unsaved can have an opportunity to be saved and to be an example to it so that my light shines in the darkness and hopefully some will be convicted and drawn to Christ.

We see here that the church has no authority to discipline the world. The church is not the world and the world is not the church. The Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant denominations of old greatly erred in this, confusing the church with society at large and attempting to exercise authority over the unregenerate.

We see here that the entire monastic system that rose up in the early centuries after the apostles and that flourished during the Dark Ages and that is still with us to some degree is unscriptural and misguided. It is not God’s will that we move to a commune and live isolated from the world. God wants us to be in the world but not of the world, to witness to the world but not to be conformed to the world. “Paul emphasized once again the importance of separation from the world. Christians are not to be isolated, but separated. We cannot avoid contact with sinners, but we can avoid contamination by sinners” (The Bible Exposition Commentary).
Second, the churches are to discipline those who are professing Christians and who are of their company (1 Cor. 5:11-12).

Notice that Paul says “if any man that is called a brother.” Thus he does not expect us to know for sure whether the individual is saved or to have to make such a decision. It is enough that the individual calls himself a Christian.

Not only does the individual have to be a professing Christian to be put under discipline, but he has to be a member of that church. A church has no business disciplining those who are not a part of it. It cannot discipline the unsaved or casual visitors or even believers who are members of other churches. Paul did not teach that the church at Corinth could discipline members of the church at Jerusalem or the church at Ephesus. Each church practices its own discipline of its own members.

7. FINALLY WE SEE THE ATTITUDE OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE

God’s people must be careful to maintain the proper attitude when dealing with sinning Christians and not to give the Devil a place.
We should have the attitude that we are doing this for the Lord’s sake and not for our own, not to please ourselves but our Saviour (1 Cor. 5:4).
We should have the attitude of humility and mourning (1 Cor. 5:1). See Gal. 6:1.
We should have the attitude of compassion for those who have sinned and are being disciplined (1 Cor. 5:5; 2 Cor. 7:12).
We should have the attitude of a zeal for holiness and righteousness (1 Cor. 5:8).
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