“… you don't have to wait for someone to treat you bad repeatedly. All it takes is once, and if they get away with it that once, if they know they can treat you like that, then it sets the pattern for the future.” ― Jane Green, Bookends link
I got home this morning at 8AM after spending the entire night in the Emergency Room with my elderly stepfather. He is doing better even though he is declining. Hopefully, what I wrote makes sense.
We are beginning to suspect that most churches which institute church discipline do so without considering what sins should be disciplined. The one *to be disciplined* sin mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 involved a man sleeping with his mother-in-law. However, the passage appears to indicate that Paul was more concerned that the man was justifying this sin as an allowed activity, and there were some members of the church that were buying into this. 1Coriinthians 5:1-3 (NIV-Bible Gateway.)
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn't’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? 3
If you read on, it is for this reason that Paul says he should be thrown out of the church. (verses 4-7)
So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present,5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,[a][b] so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are.
It appears Paul was extremely concerned about the effect this man's justification was having on the congregation. Tragically, the church was buying into the argument that such activity was allowed due to the freedom found in Christ. Such a belief system could lead to serious ramifications in what constituted true Christian belief in the nascent church.
The point I am trying to ram home is this. The particular sin in question went far beyond the sin of having illicit sex. It was the justification of such sin being *Christian* which inspired Paul's wrath.
"Simil iustus et peccator" causes difficulty when it comes to church discipline.
This phrase, attributed to Martin Luther, describes the state of the Christian who is simultaneously justified but still sinful. One of my pastors puts it this way: "We are positionally holy but functionally sinful."
Let me stop for a second and explain to you what I do not mean. Being functionally sinful does not mean I cannot deal with and overcome sins in my life. It means that I will still have other sins in my life even though I have dealt with a number of them. I have been challenged by some who say believing this means I cannot believe that pedophiles are capable of not molesting children, ever. That is not true.
As Christians we continually work to overcome sin in our lives. Some sins are far worse than others in how the affect us and those around us. So, suppose Joe is a pedophile and also has a habit of spitting gum on the sidewalk and giving the finger to his boss behind his back. It would seem to me that Joe should first concentrate all of his resources on dealing with his pedophilia, which ruins the lives of those who are abused. With the help of God and excellent counselors, he may be able to overcome his need to molest children. Then he can go onto dealing with gum spitting, etc.
Luther described this state as being “simultaneously justified and sinful at the same time,” or simul iustus et peccator in the Latin. So Christians are two things at the same time, both enduringly sinful and completely forgiven and justified by the imputed righteousness of Christ. Their identity is dual. This is not a half-and-half relationship; it is 100% and 100%. Paradoxically, we are fully saved and made righteous in Christ, and at the same time we are still the same old sinner we used to be.
An email we received.
As you know, emails that we receive are kept confidential, so I am going to change some of the details so you won't be able to guess who wrote it. This individual, who committed a high profile sin, wrote and asked a favor of me. It was a favor that I was leaning towards granting, and I told him so. However, before I complied with his request, I asked a favor of him. This individual was deeply embedded in the Neo-Calvinist movement. My question went something like this.
I am leaning towards granting your request., However, I would like you to answer this question for me before I do. There are a number of people within your circle of friends who blame those who are not Calvinists of committing more sin because they are not Calvinists. Calvinists are more obedient. Since you obviously committed a high profile sin, and you are a NeoCalvinist, do you believe that Neo-Calvinists are involved in less sin than non-Calvinist Christians?
I never heard back from him; therefore, I did not grant his request. I believe that Calvinists are just as sinful, after conversion, as Arminians and whatevers.
All sin is the same.
During the years we were closely following Sovereign Grace Ministries, we frequently came across comments on the SGM Survivor blogs that discussed the harsh, sin sniffing environment in those churches. It seemed that a number of alleged members were encouraged to *observe* the sins in the lives of others and then report them to the pastors. One lady was allegedly told that she needed to button the top button of her shirt since she was being immodest.
Others who attempted to deal with the issues within this troubled ministry would attempt to approach pastors and explain their concerns. Such encounters usually ended badly, as the person who went to the pastor was often accused of the sin of pride or disunity, etc.
Why sins that can be treated by church discipline should be outlined a priori.
Pastors and church leaders are just as capable of sinning as the average church attendee. The Master of Divinity degree does not wipe away the sin of the pastor. Churches which utilize the threat of church discipline to keep their members in line are abusive. All such a system accomplishes is to shut down transparency, causing members to hide their struggles from the light.
If a church is know more for church discipline than for sharing the love of Jesus Christ, that church should be viewed with great suspicion.
Spare the rod or discipline thousands.
In 2012, The Gospel Coalition posted Spare the Rod, Spoil the Church by Wes Pastor.
In 1992, Wes planted Christ Memorial Church, where he continues to serve as senior minister.
This is also the hard work of shepherding. Ministers and church leaders are, like parents, guardians of the souls of their flocks. This requires constant attention to sinful attitudes. An unreconciled relationship or relational aloofness, spotty attendance, a critical spirit, an unhappy marriage and family—-all must be pursued and, as needed, lovingly confronted. This is the down-in-the-trenches work of church discipline, designed, like the small encounters in Matthew 18, to bring about repentance and, Lord willing, avoid the ultimate step.
We’ve seen this work pay off in our church. In one case the mere threat of bringing an issue before the elders as a preliminary step to going before the whole church was sufficient to bring about repentance. Another required a visit from two elders to elicit repentance from a lifetime habit of sin. And thousands of one-on-one encounters, where sin was confronted and quickly repented of, have kept situations from escalating and marriages from being torn apart. Even church elders experience this day-to-day discipline, taking mandatory sabbaticals from time to time to shore up areas of sin and neglect
Ministers and church leaders are like your parents.
This is unfortunate, patriarchal, condescending language. Years ago, we wrote a post called You Are the Child; Your Pastor Is Your Dad. The moment your pastor says this to any of you, get out of that church! You are being reduced to a child who must obey *daddy.* Unfortunately, that *daddy* is just as much of a sinner as you are. He is putting himself into the position of being able to sideline you because you have not reached his level of maturity.
1. This requires a constant attention to sinful attitudes.
Read that carefully. He is not pointing to observable sin like sleeping with your mother-in-law. He is mentioning *attitudes.* And he is constantly watching. Folks, attitudes are a matter of judgment. Let's look at a few of the ones he mentions. Ask yourself if you want to be constantly judged by a sinful pastor for:
- Relational aloofness
- Undefined spotty attendance
- A critical spirit
Let's see, I guess he wants everyone to kiss up to the leaders, always be in church, and never, ever criticize anything because, after all, he is your *daddy*.
2. They use the threat of going before the elders and the congregation to achieve obedience.
Granted, if this was someone like Bernie Madoff who was ripping off poor people in the congregation, I would understand. But it does appear that relational aloofness and a critical spirit are very, very important to this pastor. Can you imagine disagreeing with your pastor on his latest church discipline scheme and suddenly you are being discussed in front of the congregation?
3. Thousands of one on one encounters
This is what jumped out at me. This is a church of about 300 folks. And they have thousands of sin encounters??! Good night! Folks, run while the going is good. This church, as it is being presented by their pastor, is ripe for abuse.
4. The elders are treated quite a bit differently.
They get to go on a sabbatical to *shore up* their sin. That kind of beats being hog tied and run before the congregation. But, then again, they are your daddies and you are just a kid in need of punishment.
As we prepare to discuss another abusive church discipline situation, I believe it is imperative that we look at how the current system of church discipline is both described and employed. When relational aloofness is considered a 1 Corinthians 5 discipline situation, you can be sure that such a church is ripe for abusive situations.