15 Disciplines of a Loving Church (1 Corinthians 5–7)

sermon photo

After spending the last eight weeks (JuneJuly) looking at Paul’s instructions on sex, singleness, marriage, divorce and remarriage in 1 Corinthians 5–7, we pulled back the lens yesterday to see how these three chapters inform our understanding of church discipline.  As Jonathan Leeman argues in The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love“local church membership and discipline . . . define God’s love for the world” (17).

In our sermon, we too considered from the text of 1 Corinthians how a church displays love through church discipline. If this sounds like a contradiction in terms, please listen to or read the sermon and read this article on objections to church discipline.

(If you are still not convinced, order Leeman’s book and a set of steak knives. The fusion of holy love and church life is a feast to consider, but it is not for the faint of heart. It is not a milky doctrine but true meat for the maturing disciple). Continue reading

Love Disciplines: Addressing Five Objections to Church Discipline

sheepLast year the elders of our church preached through a series on the church. The penultimate message in that series turned to the important but often misunderstood topic of church discipline. Expounding Matthew 18, our elder-turned-fulltime-seminary-student, Jamie McBride, articulated a vision of church discipline that is compassionate, convictional, church-building, and Christ-centered.

This Sunday we return to the topic of church discipline, as we summarize and apply 1 Corinthians 5–7. For the last eight weeks, we have walked through Paul’s instructions on church discipline (ch. 5), legal proceedings and sexual purity (ch. 6), and singleness, marriage, divorce, and remarriage (ch. 7). Now we will consider how these teachings are meant to shape life together in the church.

In preparation for Sunday’s message, let’s consider five faulty objections that come against church discipline. Jamie answered these objections in his sermon. And I will answer them here, drawing on many of his biblical insights.

Five Objections to Church Discipline

1. “It’s none of my business.”

In our hyper-individualistic culture, we are accustomed to passing by the plights of others. In the church, however, we cannot simply ignore the needs of others. We are not a restaurant that gives out biblical teaching and communion wafers. We are a family, a household of God, brothers and sisters committed to Christ and one another. We are not like Cain who mocked, “Am I my brothers keeper?” We are our brothers keeper.  Continue reading

Not Hardening Our Hearts Against the Hard-Hearted: A Pastoral Meditation on Hebrews 3:12–14

heart12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
— Hebrews 3:12–14 —

Until the day when Christ returns, churches will be faced with the mystery of iniquity. And more, we will be faced with the challenge of responding to erring church members with grace and truth.

Hebrews 3:12–14 gives us a number of things to consider when a Christian acts upon their hardness of heart. What follows is a five-fold meditation on how to address the hard-hearted without hardening our own hearts.

1. We must read Hebrews as speaking to Christians.

The threat of Christians being led astray by sin, the devil, and the world is very real. Verse 12 crushes any notion that salvation makes Christians impervious to sin. The author addresses “brothers,” meaning his words are for Christians, not some other spiritually-mixed community.

Accordingly, we learn the new birth doesn’t—in this age—make us sin-free, even as it frees us to fight sin. Even so, there are times when sin deceives us, ensnares us, and we need the help of the church to free us. Conversely, the church needs to patiently endure the words and actions of its members. It must preach the gospel to them and bear with them as God’s truth brings change. Continue reading

Church Discipline?

This Sunday, our church will meet to discuss a new church constitution and covenant.  One of the additions to the constitution is the inclusion of the important and biblical, but often misunderstood, practice of church discipline.  This Sunday morning I will be preaching on 1 Corinthians 5:1-8, addressing church discipline and why it is so important for the health of Christ’s church.

In my preparation for Sunday’s message I came across many helpful comments by David Garland on Paul’s sobering instruction to the Corinthians.  In his commentary on 1 Corinthians, Garland provides a summary of Paul’s teaching on church discipline.  If you are thinking through the subject, it is is worth reading.  

  1. Paul consider the purity of the congregation to be a serious matter, as it affects the congregation’s relationship to God and its witnesses to the world.  The immorality of church members not only undermines any grounds for the church’s boasting but also wrecks its witness of God’s transforming power to change lives.  Paul assumes that the church is implicated in the sins of its individual members.  There is no such thing as private morality (or immorality) for church members.  The sin of one tarnishes all.  Glossing over infamous sin implicates a congreagtion even more seriously in the sin.  In many cultures, what consenting adulats do in private is nobody’s business.  If they are Christians, however, it is very much the business of the church when it brings shame upon the believing community.
  2. Infamous sin cannot be swept under the rug.  The reason is that Paul understands the church body to be one lump.  The moral depravity of one element affects the moral condition of the whole group.  They are either leavened dough [i.e. pure] or unleavened dough [i.e. impure or corrupt with sin].  The sin must be confronted openly and decisively for the good of the individual and the good of the church body.  The only way to make sinners aware of the serious plight of their dire spiritual condition is through drastic discipline–the church’s complete renunciation of them.  Forgiveness can come only after this discipline has been imposed and the sinner has comprehended the full gravity of the sin and genuinely repented.  The church must be humbly mindful, however, that ‘only on the Last Day of the Lord will it become apparent what was decided on the ‘previous days of the Lord.'” [In other words, only when the Lord speaks on judgment day will the judgments of the church today be made fully manifest].
  3. The church walks a tightrope between being a welcoming community that accepts confessed sinners and helps the lapsed get back on their feet and being a morally lax community where anything goes.  The danger carrying out disciplinary measures is that the church can become judgmental, harsh, and exclusivistic.  Nevertheless, paul assumed ‘that the well-being of the community is primary and cannot be compromised.'” (1 Corinthians, BECNT [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003], 180-81)

May the Lord give his churches grace, wisdom, and power to heed his word in a culture of (in)tolerance and moral chaos.  The biblical injunction for church discipline (Matt 18:15-20; 1 Cor 5:1-13) is not optional, but neither can it be operational apart from the guidance of God’s Word and the administration of Spirit-filled Christians.  As Garland later adds,

[Church discipline] has its dangers.  The church can degenerate into a defensive commmunity that regards everyone with suspicion and deals out harsh discipline.  It can lead to vain self-righteousness, a chilly exclusivism, and a spirit of suspicion.  The context [1 Cor 5], however, refers to glaring sin that is very public and brings disgrace upon the community.  There is a limit beyond which patience, toleration, and charity toward another’s sin ceases to be a virtue (190)

The balance of grace and truth, correction and compassion is a Spirit-led process.  Man-made decisions, manipulated in the flesh will not succeed.  We must be humble, prayerful, and hopeful that Christ himself will work in and through us.  And indeed his word promises that he will, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt 18:20).  In that promise we trust and act for the good of Christ’s church.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Who Seeks Discipline? The Seventh Mark of a Healthy Church Member

Really, who seeks discipline?

In our pleasure-seeking culture and churches so inundated with the gospel of self-gratification: Not Many! Yet for those who know Christ and are known by him, discipline is not a pain to be avoided, but a necessary and blessed part of the Christian life.  As Thabiti Anyabwile shows in his chapter on the subject in What is a Healthy Church Member?,  formative and corrective discipline are actually “means of grace” that lead to life, liberty, and eternal happiness (cf. Heb. 12:3-11; 2 Tim 3:16-17; and Matt 18:15-20).  For a biblical perspective, consider these wise words:

Proverbs 3:11-12: My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.

Proverbs 9:9: Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.  Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.

Proverbs 27:5-6: Better is open rebukethan hidden love.  Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

With that said, seeking discipline is not easy.  It requires the work of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) and a God-given boldness (2 Tim 1:7).  Still, while we depend on God’s work in us, there are practical ways that we can grow, as we trust God to work in us as we seek him.  Here are five:

1. Personal Discipline.  Practice the personal spiritual disciplines on a regular basis.  These include Bible intake (reading, meditating, memorizing, studying), prayerr, evangelism, giving, and others.  An excellent resource for developing these personal disciplines is Donald Whitney’s book, Spiritual Discipline for the Christian LifeDon’s website is also a treasure trove for resources on cultivating a life devoted to Christ and his word.

2. Informed Discipline.  Learn more on what the Bible teaches about Church Discipline.  You could do this by doing inductive Bible studies on some of the key bibliclal passages: Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5; Hebrews 12:3ff; and by reading a good book on the subject.  An excellent introduction to the topic is Jay Adam’s book, simply titled, A Handbook on Church DisciplineOther resources can be accessed at the IX Marks website.

3. Formative Discipline.  Avail yourself of every form of Bible teaching and discipleship that your church offers.  If you are at a church that loves and labors to teach the whole counsel of Scripture, why wouldn’t you?  Church discipline is not merely corrective, it is also constructive, and one of the best ways to grow up in Christ is through the regular intake of Bible teaching available at your church. 

4. Corrective Discipline.  Memorize the steps of Matthew 7:1-5 (as it pertains to the individual in corrective discipline) and Matthew 18:15-20 (as it pertains to the steps of the church in cases of corrective discipline).  This action step builds on step 2, which requires an informed understanding of God’s reasoning(s) for church purity and unity.  Corrective church discipline is God’s ordained means for handling sin in the church, and though painful, the end result is good for the offending party and the good of Christ’s church. 

5. Proactive (“Rescuing”) Discipline.  James concludes his epistle with a heart-felt appeal to reach out to church members coming perilously close to destruction.  He says, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (5:19-20).  Ultimately, the aim of church discipline is restoration and rescue, not humiliation and accusation.  Consequently, church discipline cannot be something that we evade; it must be something we  embrace–individually and collectively.  Like James and Jude, we must “save others by snatching them out of the fire” as we have opportunity, all the while “hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 22-23).  In this way, we grow together as healthy church members.

For more on the subject of church discipline, check out this months’ e-Journal by the guys at IX Marks.