If he refuses to listen to the church, he is to be put out of the assembly.
- Matt 18:17b-20; 1 Cor 5:4-5, 13b; 1 Tim 1:19-20; Ps 1:6
And then, if he refuses to listen to the church he is to be put out. If he refuses to listen, even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. We cannot judge someone definitively to be an unbeliever, but that is the status they acquire, and it’s actually in a sense worse than that because it’s a person who claims to be a Christian that we’re judging by their actions to be outside. And our understanding of that is that not just that your ex-communicated, meaning you’re not allowed to have communion, but you can sit there and talk with your friends and go to the fellowship meal, and hang out but it means that if you’re in this status of being in open rebellion against the Lord by refusing to repent of disciplinable sin, it’s a picture of judgement, you are cast out, Paul said turn him over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. He says remove the evil influence from among you. If he’s still attending, he’s still leaven right? You’ve got a man who’s been seducing women, and you don’t want him still in the church unless he’s repentant and under guard. So he is to be regarded as an unbeliever and an outsider. Paul says don’t even eat with such a one. And so you’re not to socialize with him. Will explain that if the person wants to repent, good, if they wanna hear admonishment and encouragement from the Lord and his word, to the way of restoration, we’ve seen people who have been disciplined, who will come back and say can we talk, yeah we’ll be glad to talk with you, but I’m not willing to go play golf with you. I’m not willing to go out and just hang out and have coffee and talk about sports. That’s the only business we have with you, is you need to turn back to the Lord.
And church discipline takes place with the authority of the Lord. Right after, it says cast him out, he’s a heathen and a tax collector, Jesus said, truly I say to you, whatever you bine on earth shall have been bound in heaven, whatever you lose shall have been loosed in heaven, again I say to you, that if any two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by my Father, who is in heaven, for where two or three have gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst. And that’s a verse that people often quote out of its context. The context isn’t the prayer meeting. The context is the church as the church has united to exercise judgement on the Lord’s behalf with his authority, and as we’ve done it according to His word, He is with us. And it is done on his behalf which makes church discipline a very very solemn thing.
What’s the purpose of church discipline? One is to protect the church from impurity. That false doctrine, divisiveness, immorality is going to spread. If somebody’s a swindler, do you really want him hanging out, with everybody else? And then a second purpose, Paul said I’ve handed him over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, with the hope that he would learn and what happens actually is when you get to 2 Corinthians is the guy who was disciplined in 1 Corinthians repents and is restored. And that’s our long term goal, is that we would love to see those who have been disciplined, and Paul talks about this in 2 Corinthians 2, where he says, sufficient for such a one is the punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so on the contrary, you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise, such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. So we hope that will happen. And we hope even if a real believer is put out of the church, that he will feel that it’s pretty cold outside and he wants to come back in and be with the people of God. And then to guard the reputation of Christ. It’s shameful for a believer to act in such a way.
Other comments, about church discipline, biblical peacemaking requires a biblical church structure. A major problem many of the counselees who come to our counseling center have is they don’t come from churches which practice discipline, and don’t do many other things churches are supposed to do, which makes their problems much more complicated. There’s some controversy over the subject of membership. And the word member is used of we’re members of the body but it’s not used always in the way we mean, but our understanding would be that membership in a local church is a concept which is taught in the New Testament, the concept being if you wanna look for example at Hebrews chapter 13 verse 17, obey your leaders and submit to them for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief for that would be unprofitable for you. See, this scripture’s defining that every believer should be identified as being in a particular local church flock, which has leaders, I would say plural as biblically taught, who share oversight over them, and membership is where you say this is my local church.
I am accountable to this leadership including for discipline. And I am thankful that they will shepard my soul. And membership is very beneficial, because sometimes when trouble comes into your life, to have the support of the church and the commitment of the church to you, it’s a great blessing. So membership is simply saying that I’m committed here, I’m gonna use my gifts here, I’m gonna give here, I’m gonna be accountable here, I’m gonna love these people. You can say I love everybody, well we’re supposed to love particular believers in the local church of which we are members and use our gifts there. I see, there’s one guy in particular, who loves to go to different churches almost every week. And he goes to different churches, actually somewhat similar to ours, and you might, in the past we would see him every couple months as he had the little circuit he would do around the county, and he just kinda considered himself to be a member of the body of Christ at large. And we finally cornered the guy and said that you need to commit to some particular local church. To whom are you really accountable. And I think he kinda likes being a visitor, like oh we’re glad to see you again and no… It’s not the way that the Lord has designed the church. In the early church, if you had one church in a town it wasn’t a question of which are you a member, even then they might have divided them by elder or something like that.
But this is the place where I am committed, to submit to the leadership, to have them watch over my soul, and then that produces many benefits as well. We also need local churches which faithfully shepard the sheep. Where the pastors realize, back to Hebrews 13:17, we are gonna give an account to God, and the objective isn’t to gather as many bodies as we can, the objective is to care for whatever God gives us and to care for them well. And sadly, many church leaders don’t wanna be bothered with this. There are many churches that simply, we’ve actually had churches come back and say we don’t do that when it comes to church discipline. Again, I’m glad to see some frowns, but some of you may not be surprised to hear that. We’re trying to get more people to come in, why would we tell anybody to leave, maybe someday. We also need local churches to be willing to work together to resolve disputes. Like our contractor and the bathroom people that sometimes it’ll be believers from different churches and then the elders of the churches need to work together to solve the dispute. And of course we need to work together as well when it comes to discipline. What so commonly happens now is some church has the gumption to exercise discipline over a person who has false doctrine or immoral behavior, and they just go down the road and of course what they do is say oh boy I’m so glad to come into this church, you guys are so much nicer than that judgemental church down the road that I just left and you’re great and they never check up. They never follow up, well can we contact your previous church, do they give a good report of you. Somebody asked me yesterday well what do you do about someone who’s been divorced in the past, can they be remarried. Well the church they were apart of before should be able to give a report as to whether they conducted themselves honorably and their marriage that broke up or whatever happened. But churches aren’t following up like that.
I like one thing Jay Adams says, is that the problem is that you never come out ahead if you invite a Jonah into your boat. And if someone was running from God at the last place, he’s not really gonna be very beneficial to the next place either. But it’s very very common to hear of this. I think that also means if we learn someone we’ve disciplined is going somewhere else, we have a responsibility to contact them. But it’s sad to me that many people, they choose a church because of things that are less important, and neglect the things that are most important. And then when trouble comes, and again sometimes that trouble is a couple is having difficulty and they need a church which is gonna act biblically, which is gonna hold them accountable, which is gonna take care of the person who may be abandoned. And one way we try to implement this in IBCD, is we are continually sending people back to their churches to plead with them to do what they’re supposed to do. It doesn’t always happen. We had a case one time I was counseling a lady and she had moved out here, actually lived with family, she’d come from the east coast, she was going through a divorce back east, she was telling me about her abusive husband and it was very sad hearing her tale of trying to deal with all the consequences of his evil treatment of her. And as this so often happens when you have the first of five cases for the evening and the very first case with five minutes left she starts crying and I said what’s the matter, she says well, I’m committing adultery right now.
Oh no, well, and I asked some questions, I was saying, well probably you need to go to the leadership of the church. Well, he’s one of the elders in the church I’ve been attending. We live in the same apartment complex. So as I went through this with her and showed her biblically what needed to be done, one thing that needed to be done is I sent her and she brought the guy along, this elder, to the pastor of the church to confess what they had done that was sinful. Obviously the guy’s disqualified as being an elder right? He was a single man but he still shouldn’t be sleeping with a woman who’s still married, to whom he’s not married. So we were kinda explaining, well this is what the pastor should do in terms of keeping this guy accountable, he shouldn’t be a leader in the church anymore, he doesn’t meet the qualifications, and finally the pastor calls me, and I asked well did they meet you. Yeah they met with me, and I was so impressed, I’ve never had anybody do that before. And I said well what are you gonna do about it? Well what am I supposed to do, I’m not doing anything, I’m just so glad they, they’re gonna wait til her divorce is final, they’re gonna get married. And I said but is this guy still an elder? Oh he’s the best elder I’ve got. I might have been a little bit heated at that point, I don’t yell very often, but I did admonish him just in my shock. But that’s not an uncommon scenario in some churches. So we need churches committed to this and it’s more important to be in a church which is really sound and Godly in its leadership then to be in one that has a crowd where you feel comfortable.
A few other comments to make about peacemaking and church discipline, one thing I don’t think I mentioned already is that my understanding is that authority relationships do not negate the freedom and the responsibility to confront sin. Meaning that, I’ve seen several cases, where the husband is involved in some egregious sin and he says but, wife you’re to submit to me and you can’t tell anybody about this. And so he’s indulging in porn or he’s abusing her, but he’s saying, I’m the boss, God made me in charge and you have to submit to me and you can’t bring in other people and sometimes you can’t even confront me. Well Jesus didn’t say if your brother sins against you, unless you’re a wife, confront him, and unless he’s your husband bring others in, whether it’s a child to a parent, a wife to a husband, an employee to a boss, if they’re both Christians, these responsibilities remain. And sometimes we’re tempted to say well, but it’ll just make him mad, he’ll leave me, he’ll hate me. We have to trust in God and do what he says. And what actually typically happens is when people have conflict, even in marriage, instead of doing the right thing, which is confronting and getting help, they’ll do other things which are unbiblical in terms of being angry and bitter and sullen and distant or abusive back. So we have to trust in God and not lean on our own understanding.