Miguel at “God Directed Deviations” has written a good post called “Remember the guy who Paul the Apostle ‘Delivered Unto Satan for the destruction of his flesh so that his soul might be saved’?” (Yeah, that’s a long title, Miguel.)
In the post, Miguel is talking about “church discipline” as it is commonly called today (although the phrase is not used in Scripture). He quotes passages from 1 Corinthians 5 and 2 Corinthians 2 to paint a full picture of what happened between this man and the church in Corinth.
Make sure to read Miguel’s post.
Here’s something that’s usually not discussed in relation to this topic: This all assumes real community in Christ – i.e., real relationships between people. Otherwise, when we refuse to fellowship with and spend time with someone, then nothing is missing. A deep common relationship with Christ is necessary for this kind of correction.
What do you think?
Five years ago, I had just started publishing this blog. One of posts that I wrote during my second month of blogging was called “What’s the big deal about church discipline?” Even then I was recognizing the importance of real relationships among the church. I’d love to hear what you think about this post.
I’ve read several books concerning church discipline. Most of them discuss the various purposes of church discipline (God’s glory, restoration, reconciliation, purity of the church, etc.) and the various reasons that would lead to church discipline (divisiveness, sexual immorality, blasphemy, false teaching, etc.). I understand the proper motivation (love and restoration) and the proper procedure (from Matthew 18). However, one thing has always concerned me: Why should the one undergoing church discipline be concerned about it? In other words, why is church discipline a deterrent?
If I understand the scriptural teaching concerning church discipline, undergoing church discipline should be a major deterrent to sinning, or at least to unrepentance. However, as I’ve seen church discipline practiced, most people who undergo church discipline either continue “attending” church meetings with very little ramifications, or they simply begin attending another “church”.
So, what is the big deal about church discipline?
Well, I’m finally understanding what the “big deal” is. Last night, as I sat among a group of believers, I thought to myself, “What would it mean to me if this group told me that they would not fellowship with me any longer?” It would be devastating! Even if I could continue to “attend” meeting… even if I could continue to “attend” Bible studies and prayer meetings… if my brothers and sisters told me that they would no longer associate with me, it would certainly cause me to stop and evaluate my life. It would be a deterrent to an unrepentant attitude.
What was missing before? Why have I just started understanding church discipline? Because I have only just begun to understand what true fellowship is – and it has nothing to do with occasional “pot-luck” dinners. I am finally beginning to understand what it means to share my life with others, and to share their lives.
Church discipline is meaningless without true fellowship.
Last Friday evening, some friends invited us to their house. Another family joined our two families. We had dessert (cookies, brownies, cheesecake) and talked about our week and what had been going on in our lives.
Saturday evening, we invited some new friends and an old friend who was in town for the day to dinner. We went to one of our family’s favorite restaurants, which happens to be a Thai restaurant. Again, we talked about life in general. Since the new friends had recently moved into town, we talked with them alot about their move and getting adjusted to their new situation.
On Sunday morning, our family joined several other families in a place we rent specifically for meeting together. We sang some songs. We discussed Scripture. We prayed for one another. We ate lunch together. (Our family had meatball subs provided by another family.) We talked about life and the struggles that we’ve been going through.
Which of those meetings was church?
None of them. The church is not a meeting. But, in each case, believers were gathered together, so the church of Jesus Christ was present.
Did we act like the church should act in each case? That’s a different question. We were the church, and so we should seek to build each other up whenever we meet together. This is true for an impromptu gathering of friends in a house or restaurant (or park or beach or anywhere else). It is also true for a planned gathering.
In each case, we were able to get to know one another better and help one another with our walk with Christ.
Yeah, the title of this post sounds strange. But, there’s a reason to my madness.
There is alot of confusion today about apostles. In fact, this confusion has continued for thousands of years (well, about two thousand years). It’s not that I’ve figured out something that no one else has ever figured out. Many people understand the difference between apostles and apostles. But, there are many who are still confused.
You see, it all began with the apostles… the twelve… those twelve men that Jesus originally called so that he could send them out.You can see this in Matthew 9-10:
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these… These twelve Jesus sent out… (Matthew 9:35-10:5)
The word “apostle” simply indicates that the person is a representative of someone else sent out for some person. Often, it can be translated as “messenger.” An “apostle” is differentiated from other in that the apostle is “sent out.” In fact, the noun “apostle” comes from a verb that means “to send,” as in Matthew 10:5.
Thus, the Twelve (the Apostles) were apostles. They were “sent out” by Jesus both before and after his death and resurrection. They were specifically told to make disciples of all the nations (indicating being sent) (Matthew 28:19-20) and that they were to be witnesses of Jesus to the end of the earth (also indicating being sent) (Acts 1:8).
So, the apostles (the Twelve) were apostles (those who are sent out).
The difficulty comes in recognizing that others in Scripture are also called apostles even though they were not part of the Twelve. The designations are not the same. The Twelve (including Paul?) were a special type of apostle who had been personally commissioned by Jesus. However, there were other apostles in Scripture who were not part of the Twelve.
In Acts 14:14, Barnabas is called an apostle. In 1 Thessalonians 2:6, Paul indicates that Timothy and Silas are apostles (see 1 Thessalonians 1:1 for the identification of “we”). 1 Corinthians 4:9 indicates that Apollos was an apostle (see 1 Corinthians 4:6).
Finally, in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul makes a clear distinction between “the twelve” and “the apostles.”
Thus, the Twelve (and Paul) were apostles, but others were apostles as well. There is, then, no reason not to identify Andronicus and Junia as being “among the apostles” in Romans 16:7. The indication only means that Andronicus and Junia were “sent out” away from their home in order to proclaim the gospel and strengthen the churches as they went.
The apostles were apostles, but there were other apostles who were not counted among the Twelve. From the very early days after the death of the Twelve, Christians have argued about the continuing existence of apostles. The Twelve no longer exist. But, there is no reason to assume that there are no apostles today. In fact, Scripture seems to indicate that the church continues to need apostles just as we continue to need all gifted believers.
The blogosphere is often filled with vitriol, name-calling, and character assassinations. And, unfortunately, it is often a Christian vs. Christian thing. This is very unfortunate and contrary to living in the Spirit, even when dealing with “opponents.” A couple of years ago, I wrote a post called “Correcting with Gentleness” that deals with this issue:
In 2 Timothy 2, Paul instructs Timothy concerning how to deal with “opponents”:
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26 ESV)
What does Paul mean by opponents in this passage? Is Paul instructing Timothy in how to deal with people who disagree with him over any subject matter or any topic? Or, perhaps Paul wants Timothy to deal with gentleness over insignificant matters only? What is the context of this passage?
Just a few sentences previously, Paul wrote the following words:
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:15-18 ESV)
According to Paul, Timothy is to demonstrate that he is an approved worker who does not need to be ashamed by “rightly handling the word of truth”. In Scripture, the phrase “word of truth” is almost synonymous with the term “gospel”. So, Timothy is to handle the gospel correctly.
Meanwhile, others are not handling the gospel correctly. Instead, they are taking part in “irreverent babble” – or “worldly empty talk” – that is, not related to the gospel. Paul gives Timothy two examples – Hymenaeus and Philetus – of people who are contradicting the gospel by saying that the resurrection has already occurred. Later, Paul would again warn Timothy to have nothing to do with “foolish, ignorant controversies” that “breed quarreling” (2 Timothy 2:23). Instead of giving in to these types of “youthful passions”, Timothy is to pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace instead (2 Timothy 2:22).
It is in this context that Paul instructs Timothy to deal with his “opponents” in a most peculiar way: 1) without being quarrelsome, 2) with kindness, 3) with skillfulness in teaching, 4) with patient endurance, and 5) with gentleness. Why should Timothy deal with “opponents” in this manner? In hopes that God would grant them repentance.
In the context, it seems that Paul is telling Timothy how to deal with people like Hymenaeus and Philetus – those who are contradicting the gospel – as well as with those who are taking part in “worldly empty talk” and “foolish, ignorant controversies”.
I think the church has lost the ability to deal with “opponents” in gentleness, primarily because we have very shallow relationships with one another. We do not know one another, and thus the only way that we can deal with one another is through “skillful teaching” – which usually turns into a shouting match instead of a kindness match.
Are there times when “false teachers” – those who teach contrary to the gospel – should be pointed out and removed from the assembly. Yes, we see this example in Scripture. But, this seems to be the exception, not the rule. We do not begin by condemning people – in fact, we should never condemn people – and we do not begin by “excommunicating” people. Instead, we must begin with kindness, patience, gentleness… teaching with our attitude and our lives as much as with our words.
So, I seem to be on a “unity” kick lately, huh? I’m probably thinking more about unity because I’ve been reading John H. Armstrong’s book Your Church is Too Small. But, actually, I’ve been thinking about and writing about unity for quite some time.
Three years ago, I wrote a post called “There is something fundamental about fellowship.” This post casts our unity with one another in the language of fellowship. Our fellowship with one another (or lack of fellowship) is a demonstration of our fellowship with God (or lack of fellowship).
Fellowship… There is something about fellowship that makes it fundamental to the church. When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment, he answered:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV)
There are at least two amazing things about this passage. First, Jesus did not stop with the commandment to “Love the Lord your God”. It would seem that commandment would be enough. Instead, he said there is a second command that is like it. Similarly, Jesus said that the Law and the Prophets depend on both of these commandments. Again, the Law and Prophets do not just depend on “Love the Lord your God”. The Law and the Prophets also depend on the commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself”.
There seems to be a fundamental connection between our relationship with God and our relationship with other people. John said something similar in his first letter:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8 ESV)
This seems very simple. If we love God, we will love others. If we do not love others, that demonstrates that we do not love God. The two are fundamentally connected.
In the prologue to his first letter, John also discussed our relationship with God in terms of our relationship with one another:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship (ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±) with us; and indeed our fellowship (ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±) is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3 ESV)
When we have fellowship (ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± – koinonia) with one another, we are demonstrating our fellowship with God. Verse 3 could even be translated as follows: “… that you too may have fellowship with us, and that fellowship of ours is truly with the Father and with his son Jesus Christ.”
We cannot separate our love for God from our love for other people. We cannot separate our fellowship with God from our fellowship with other believers. Fellowship is fundamental in the life of a believer and in the inter-connected lives of a group of believers.
But, just as we cannot create love for God and others, we cannot create fellowship either. Instead, the Spirit creates a bond between His adopted children that humans cannot create on their own. The fellowship (“sharing”) that we have in common is the presence of the Holy Spirit. And, this fellowship exists between all believers. Certainly relationships can be deep or shallow, intimate or surface-level, but fellowship between believers is created by the Spirit, not by our interaction with one another. Relationships that are based on this Spirit-created fellowship should be nurtured, strengthened, encouraged, and sought through continued interaction. But, those relationships must be built fundamentally on Spirit-created fellowship.
What does it mean for fellowship to be fundamental to believers and the church? Here are two examples:
Discipleship depends on fellowship…
When we recognize that discipleship is more than simply teaching facts to someone, then the fundamental role of fellowship becomes clear. Discipleship requires sharing life together. Without fellowship, discipleship is reduced to the transfer of information, which is not true discipleship at all.
Discipline depends on fellowship…
When a brother or sister is living in unrepentant sin, we are taught to disassociate with that brother or sister. In modern times this has been reduced to preventing attendance at certain activities. However, if there is true fellowship involved, then discipline requires the rupture of vibrant relationships: like divorce in a family, back when divorce was not an accepted option.
Fellowship… There is something about fellowship that makes it fundamental to the church. I want to learn more about fellowship. Perhaps others could share what they’ve learned about Spirit-enabled, Spirit-created, Spirit-driven fellowship…
As far as I can tell, there are only two options: 1) I accept that someone is a child of God and I treat that person as a brother or sister in Christ, or 2) I do not accept that someone is a child of God and I treat that person as if they are not a brother or sister in Christ.
Unfortunately, denominationalism tends to teach a â€œmiddle groundâ€ where we accept that someone is a child of God, but we donâ€™t have to treat that person as a brother or sister in Christ.
In the beginning verses of 1 Corinthians 5, Paul instructs the church in Corinth to separate from a person who calls himself a brother in Christ and yet is acting in a way that even the surrounding culture considers reprehensible. I’ve heard alot about the first part of 1 Corinthians 5. We use it to talk about “church discipline”. But, I don’t hear as much about the last half of that chapter:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral peopleâ€”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. 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 swindlerâ€”not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13 ESV)
It’s seems that Paul is saying that we do not even eat with a brother or sister who is living an immoral life, but that it is okay and even expected that we eat with someone who is not a brother or sister even if they live an immoral lifestyle.
From my experience, the church has this backwards. Is it just me? How should this passage affect us as individual believers? How should it affect us as a church?
In light of my post yesterday called “Convictions without Separation,” I thought I would re-publish this post that I wrote about two and a half years ago called “Is unity important?” There is a very important discussion going on among the church right now considering unity. I’m hoping that this idea of unity moves out of the discussion phase and into the living phase soon.
A few days ago, I posted a blog called “Unity in Christ…” For hundreds of years – perhaps over a thousand years – the church was (more or less) united through hierarchy and doctrine. During the reformation, something incredible happened. Though believers sought to return to Scripture, they also began dividing. Today, the institutional church looks like a jigsaw puzzle with very few matching pieces. Why?
According to Scripture, there are various reasons that believers should separate from one another. (When I say “separate”, I mean refusing to fellowship, teach, and gather together.) However, in each of those instances, one group of believers is separate from an individual believer. This separation only happens after attempts to reconcile have failed. Also, there are only a few reasons given for dividing. More importantly, though, it seems that in Scripture, when a group of believers separates from someone, they begin to treat that person as if he or she is an unbeliever. We never see an example of believers separating from one another, while continuing to treat each other as believers.
What are some reasons for separating from someone who calls himself or herself a believer? I’ve found these reasons:
- Unrepentant Sin (Matt 18:15-20; 1 Cor 5:1-5)
- Disorderliness (2 Thess 3:6)
- Refusal to Work (2 Thess 3:7-10)
- False Teaching (contrary to the Gospel) (2 Thess 3:14-15; 1 Tim 1:20; 2 John 10-11)
In the last case, this always seems to be false teaching related to the gospel. In other words, believers should separate from someone who is teaching salvation through someone or something other than Jesus Christ. This kind of “false teaching” does not mean that someone teaches a different brand of eschatology from someone else. Teaching ideas contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ was considered “false teaching” – not teaching differently.
Scripture gives us one more reason for separating from another person who calls himself or herself a believer: divisiveness. Consider these passages of Scripture:
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. (Romans 16:17-18 ESV)
As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Titus 3:10-11 ESV)
In both of these passages, believers are urged to separate from someone who is attempting to divide the church. And, thinking about the other passages on discipline (i.e. Matt 18:15-20), this means that believers are to treat a divisive person as an unbeliever. This only works if there is true community/fellowship between believers. Only then will discipline affect the person being divisive. If the church has little community or fellowship, then the divisive person will not care if he or she is being disciplined. He will not care if other people are separating themselves from him, because he will not be missing anything.
When I put these thoughts together, something occurs to me. Unity is necessary if discipline is going to be a deterrent from divisiveness (or any other unrepentant sin). Think about that for a moment. In order for discipline to be effective, there must be unity. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that we rarely see discipline today: discipline doesn’t work because there is no unity to begin with. Of course, this is just one reason that the church should live in unity. There are many, many more reasons.
May we begin to live in unity with brothers and sisters in Christ, even if we disagree with them.
Two years ago, I wrote a blog post called “Matthew 18 and Discipline“. I remember studying this passage and writing about it while our family was on vacation at the beach. I’m planning to teach from this passage again in a few weeks. I think this passage is about reconciling relationships between two brothers/sisters, not necessarily about “church discipline”.
Yesterday, in response to my blog post “Local church again…“, a couple of people brought up the question of church discipline as it relates to structure and leadership. As I was thinking through this issue, and as I was reading through several passages about discipline, I found something new – at least, new to me. Now, I am not supposing that this is new to everyone, but since it is new to me, I thought I would post it here in case it was helpful to anyone else.
Here is the Scripture passage:
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. 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. 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 ESV)
So, here is the interesting part… there are several commands given in this passage, and they are all given to the same person… that is, the person who is sinned against! (Now, before you ask about this, yes, I know that Jesus also says you should go to your brother if he has something against you.) Let’s step through this…
Brother A sins against brother B. Who is responsible for going to whom? Brother B is responsible for seeking reconciliation – that is, the one who is sinned against. In fact, brother B is commanded to go to brother A alone. (The commands that Jesus gives are 2nd person singular imperatives – “go and tell” – thus, they are given to the individual – brother B.)
If brother A does not repent, then who is responsible for taking two or three others? Again, brother B is responsible, and again Jesus commands brother B to carry out this step. (The command that Jesus gives is a 2nd person singular imperative – “take”.)
If brother A still does not repent, then who is responsible for telling the church? Once again, the command is given only to brother B, so the same brother who was sinned against is responsible for telling the church. (The command that Jesus gives is a 2nd person singular imperative – “tell”.)
Finally, if brother A does not repent when brother B tells the church, then who is responsible for treating him “as a Gentile and a tax collector”? Once again, it is brother B. Interestingly, Jesus does not say anything at all about how the two or three witnesses or the church should treat the unrepentant brother. Instead, the brother who is sinned against (that is, brother B) is once again given responsibility for how to treat brother A. (Jesus’ command is given to “you” as a 2nd person singular pronoun – “let him be to you”.) This is perhaps the most interesting point to me.
What does all of this tell me? It tells me that relationships with my brothers and sisters are MY responsibility. They are not the responsibility of other believers. If my brother or sister sins against me, it is MY responsibility (and no one else’s responsibility) to reconcile with my brother or sister. I would even extrapolate this to say that if my brother or sister feels that I have sinned against him or her, then it is MY responsibility (assuming the brother or sister does not approach me first) to reconcile with my brother or sister.
It would seem, if we take Jesus’ words at face value, that church discipline depends upon each believer – that is, discipline is all of our responsibility. Furthermore, neither structure, nor organization, nor leadership are necessary for effective church discipline, at least, not according to this passage. Perhaps, church discipline is not effective because I have not been upholding my responsibilities.