Isn’t Church Discipline Mean?

A common accusation thrown towards churches that practice church discipline is that they are intolerant, ignorant, and just plain mean for putting people out of the congregation.  Unfortunately, there have been churches that unbiblically put someone out of the church and are just plain mean.  But this doesn’t make all church discipline “mean.”  In fact, I would argue that to not exercise church discipline when it is called for would be mean.   The most damaging thing that a local church can do is provide someone with false assurance of their salvation.  Because church disciplines helps guard against this it is not inherently mean.  But we do need to make sure that we don’t make it mean with our sinful attitudes.

It is of the utmost importance for the church to keep in mind that the purpose of church discipline is restorative not punitive. In other words, when the church moves forward with the discipline process the desire should be the restoration of an unrepentant believer into the fellowship and holiness of the church. Punishment is certainly an element of church discipline, but as with our children, punishment itself is not the goal. The goal is restoration not condemnation.

Church discipline is only exercised when there has been a failure of self-discipline (1 Corinthians 11:31-32). As brothers and sisters in Christ we are to be forbearing and patient with one another, tenderhearted and forgiving, even as Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:31-32).  We should be quick to seek reconciliation, letting not the sun go down on our wrath (Ephesians 4:26). We must not be overly sensitive (Philippians 2:3-4), and remember love covers a multitude of sins (Proverbs 19:11).

Why Would You Kick Someone Out of a Church?

In our men’s study at GCCWilm we are studying church discipline.  We didn’t intend to study this topic, but when it came there were a lot of questions and not a lot of men who had seen it done biblically. So, we are taking a short excursus on the topic.  Since I have been preparing for that conversation it has been on my mind.

The first question that must be answered with respect to church discipline is, why in the world would you perform church discipline? For many it seems like a strange practice in theory, and then when it actually happens its seems cruel and unusual.  Why would a church risk bad publicity, upsetting part of the congregation, and possibly even face a lawsuit? Let me see if I can briefly answer that…

The church must be willing to confront unrepentant sinners within the church. In some cases church discipline must be implemented (Matt 18:15-17). This process is certainly not easy, and for some, it might even be off-putting.  However, there are at least six biblical reasons why the local church must practice church discipline:

  1. The bible commands church discipline. (1 Corinthians 5:9-12; Matthew 15:17)
  2. The Lord models church discipline. (Hebrews 12:6-8)
  3. The holiness of the church depends upon church discipline. (1 Peter 2:11-12)
  4. The effectiveness of the church depends upon church discipline. (Revelation 2:14-6)
  5. The restoration of unrepentant believers depends upon church discipline. (Matthew 18:15; Jude 23)
  6. The congregation is deterred from unrepentant sin through church discipline. (1 Timothy 5:20)

Why does Jesus have white hair?

Here’s the sermon audio from last Sunday night when I preached on Rev 1:14 and why Jesus has white hair:

Seeing the Invisible: The Wisdom of Christ (Rev 1:14)

Here’s the passage:

The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow.

Here’s the outline I preached from:

Jesus had white hair because

1) He’s God (cf. Dan 7:9) and

2) He posses divine wisdom (cf. 1 Cor 1:18-31)

*sorry, lite notes this week… not much for you to go on this week… if you listen to it and take notes send them to me so that I will have something to use next time.*

Meeting Heroes, Past and Present

This past Friday I had the opportunity to attend a lecture on Martyn Lloyd-Jones given by Iain Murray.  For those of you who don’t know Murray, you should.  Iain Murray is the preeminent  Christian biographer.  He is able to bring people alive & transport readers to a different time through his writing.  His biographies include:

  • D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones : The First Forty Years, (1982), ISBN 0-85151-353-0
  • D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones : The Fight of Faith, (1990), ISBN 0-85151-564-9
  • The Forgotten Spurgeon, (1966), ISBN 0-85151-156-2
  • Jonathan Edwards : A New Biography, (1988), ISBN 0-85151-494-4
  • The Life of Arthur W. Pink, ISBN 0-85151-883-4
  • The Life of John Murray : Professor of Systematic Theology, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1937-1966, (1984), ISBN 0-85151-422-7, ISBN 0-85151-426-
  • Letters Of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, (1992), ISBN 0-85151-606-8
  • Wesley and Men Who Followed, ISBN 0-85151-835-4
  • The happy man : the abiding witness of Lachlan Mackenzie, (1979), ISBN 0-85151-282-8
  • Lloyd-Jones: Messenger of Grace, (2008), ISBN 0-85151-975-X
  • John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock, (2011), ISBN 978-1-84871-112-9

These are just the biographical works produced by Murray, and they would be beneficial for all Christian to read.  In fact, Murray’s work on Jonathan Edwards opened up an entire new world for me when I first read it.   This biography gave me a taste for the encouragement that Christian biographies can provide a Christian and the theological benefit that can be gained through church history.  I have read through this biography 3 times & benefited from it each time.  That is why it was such an honor not only to hear Murray speak, but also to be able to meet him & have him sign my copy of Jonathan Edwards : A New Biography.

If you’ve ever heard Murray speak then you know that he is a soft-spoken and gentle man (in his entire lecture I don’t think he moved his feet more than once), and that is exactly how he was toward me in our very short conversation.  As he spoke with me it was clear that he was genuinely interested in the work that God had called me to, and as he signed my book he told me that young pastors like myself are the hope of the church.  This was certainly a humbly thing to hear, especially as I realized that I had done most of the talking in our short meeting (never a good thing).  When I got home I excitedly told my story to my wife and on closer inspection realized that Murray had inscribed a verse with his signature:

Psalm 145:4

One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.

On this night Psalm 145:4 was certainly honored.  Murray shared with us about MLJ the man, and MLJ the preacher.  At the end of it all Murray closed his lecture with a passionate and compelling call to believe in the Gospel and be saved.  It was spiritually edifying and God-glorifying, which is exactly how I would describe Murray’s writing ministry as well.  As a pastor there are few authors and few subjects that I would commend to you more highly than I would Murray and his collection of Christian biographies.  Other than scripture, there are few resources that you will find as edifying and life changing as these biographical gems.  Murray has allowed me to meet some of my heroes from the history of the church, which is why in some ways meeting him was like meeting a hero for me.

Do Christians have to Keep the Sabbath?

The Sabbath was created by God for man’s benefit. In creation God embedded a 7 day cycle with one of those days intended for rest and concentrated worship. In the Mosaic Covenant this cycle was formalized as part of the law (Ex 20:8-11) and also as a covenant sign (Dt 5:14-15). Even in this institutionalization of the Sabbath it was still intended to benefit man. The people had just served over 400 yrs under a master who gave no days off. Now, the people of Israel were officially a theocracy under the direct rule of YHWH

. Under this new Master Israel was provided a day of rest.

This Sabbath day was to be a day of ceasing. A day to cease from normal activity and focus all your efforts on worshipful enjoyment of God. This day was graciously provided, not maliciously required.

Today we don’t observe the Sabbath as Israel did. Jesus has fulfilled the Sabbath so that all who believe in Him participate in a spiritual rest (Sabbath) that anticipates ultimate rest in the Kingdom (Heb 4:9). Furthermore, we are no longer under the civil requirements of the Mosaic Covenant because we are not national Israel. This is why the church doesn’t have to check for skin diseases, stone people, or observe the Sabbath in the same way that Israel did.

However, the 7 day cycle of creation and the principle of weekly rest and worship still exists. In the Old Covenant this principle was upheld in the Sabbath on the last day of the week. In the New Covenant this principle is upheld in the Christian Lord’s day on the first day of the week. The day has changed because in the New Covenant we are remember the resurrection of Christ for our deliverance, which happened on the first day of the week. Additionally, we are not required to keep all the regulations of the Old Covenant Sabbath because it’s been fulfilled in Christ. But this does not mean that we don’t have to uphold the principle behind the Sabbath regulations. The principle of weekly ceasing from our normal activities to rest and focus our efforts on worshipful enjoyment of God. God still intends for us as Christians to uphold this principle (Heb 10:25).

As Christians our attitude should be TGIL (Thank God it’s the Lord’s Day). Upholding the principle behind the Sabbath is not always easy for us though. We don’t like to rest, because we think the world won’t survive without us. When we do rest we would rather focus on ourselves than on God. However, when we uphold this principle it is to our benefit (by God’s design).

The bible has always taught that the Sabbath is a benefit to man, unfortunately the Pharisees took a beneficial principle and twisted it into something oppressing (Mark 2:27-28). They made the Sabbath about man working for his salvation instead of man resting in the God of salvation.

Church Planting is not “Sheep Stealing”

Last week Paul Levy wrote an article on church planting that struck a nerve with me.  It struck a nerve with me because 1) I’m pastoring a young church plant, 2) he makes a good point; 3) I think that he is wrong. Here’s the meat of Levy’s post:

My question, having met a few church planters in the last few weeks, is, when somebody says they are looking to gather a core, is that code language for we’re looking to take people from another church and put them into our church plant? That isn’t a criticism but I think we need to call a spade a spade. Of course those of us in established churches need to be gospel hearted and generous but I think we also need to give the church planting movement a bit of a slap. To grow churches in this country is hard, hard work and to turn churches round is tough and so somebody turning up and trying to take the people you’ve cared for can be somewhat trying. I’d love it if I met with a church planter and, when I asked him what stage are you at, he replied ‘I’m trying to steal Christians from other churches.’ I’d at least give him points for honesty.

The Good

Let me start with what I think is a good point embedded within Levy’s statement.  The current craze of church planting is not all good.  As with any fad or movement, you have to acknowledge the good with the bad.  In this case the bad is the entrepreneurial personality driven church plants.  In other words, you have a guy who wants to be a pastor and so he shows up into town and sets up his own lemonade stand by himself.  In these cases the new church plant is built upon two pillars 1) a man’s desire to be a pastor & 2) a man’s personality.  Hardly the Titus 1:5 model of churches planting churches.  Unfortunately the evangelical church has done little to discourage this kind of church planting.  In fact, in some ways it has celebrated this by elevating self-made & self-ordained pastors who “personally built their church from the ground up.” (I hope you see the problem with this statement) Theologically speaking, this is wrought with problems.  Practically speaking, there are thousands of self-made church planters whose lemonade stand… I mean church plant is utterly failing because they are ungifted and “unaffirmed.” They are working outside the church, which is what Christ has promised to build.

The Bad

That being said, I think that Levy is absolutely wrong when he subtly equates all church planting with “sheep stealing.” I’m not saying that this kind of thing doesn’t happen.  But it doesn’t happen in all church plants and it is not limited to church planting.  I could just as easily say I wish that Paul Levy would have enough integrity to say that he is growing  his church by putting the church down the street out of business.  It’s almost as if Levy is saying that it is inappropriate for a church to grow numerically through transfer growth.  I doubt that he would put it in those terms though.

The Ugly

I mentioned that I was drawn to this article for three reasons.  I already explained what I think about two of these reasons, now let me explain this from my perspective of the pastor of a church plant.

 

First of all, we are not interested in “sheep stealing” or movement growing.  In other words, we don’t want to have more people come so that our kingdom will be bigger. Whether that kingdom is our local church or our theological position we don’t believe that it is the real kingdom.  We are interested in seeing God’s kingdom grow through the conversions and spiritual growth of His people.  Practically this means that at our church we might send you back to the church that you are coming from, even if that church doesn’t agree with us theologically (but the gospel is clearly articulated and the bible is revered). In fact, we have had this happen already.  When I speak with a visitor I always find out if there are coming from another church and if they are I ask them why they left, and then I call their pastor next week.  If they don’t have the blessing of the pastor or they are leaving to run away from the shepherding of that pastor then I will give them a call and tell them they can’t come back until they work it our with their pastor.
Secondly, what we must  recognize is that providentially God has allowed different local churches to exist within the same area.  One of the ways that the unity of the Universal Church is preserved is through Christians who disagree on certain issues worshipping separately. This allows me to have unity with my paedo-baptist brothers without having to keep my young children out of the splash zone at church.  When we have a new family come to our church we want to know if there is a theological disagreement that would prevent them from worshipping or serving in their previous church.  Sometimes this is easily distinguishable and doesn’t really require a conversation (i.e. coming out of a charismatic background to a boring expositional church like ours). Sometimes it takes a lot of conversation.  For instance, our leadership teaches futuristic premillennialism but recently we counseled a possible new member to continue attending a church where they teach amillennialism.  We disagree on this issue, but in speaking to him it was clear that this doctrine wasn’t preventing him from worshipping or serving.
Third, sometimes a new church is providentially given the opportunity to minister to people that other churches might not have.  This happens through evangelism and new conversion (at least you hope it does).  It also happens with Christians who need to grow.  We have someone in our church who wasn’t a committed part of any church.  But one day he was at his storage unit and saw us next door.  He came and has been blossoming under the ministry of the word. He is passionately evangelizing his family and friends and has brought two new people with him already… Two new people who weren’t previously a part of a church.
Finally, it helps to remember that the established churches were at some point “trying to take the people hard working established churches cared for.” That was no doubt trying…
As you can tell I am more than conflicted about Levy’s article.  He’s right. He’s wrong. It’s personal.  In the end I think that church plants need to be more interested in God’s kingdom than their own kingdom, and all churches should rejoice in the fact that there are other local church that faithfully proclaim the Gospel.
note this post was written wile still under the influence of anasthesia from surgery