2 Timothy 4:4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. (NKJV)
(Previous devotionals can be found at www.seriousfaith.com)
We live in a time of competition for church members; a time where success is measured primarily by numbers and income. There is no end of teachers, writers or churches who will present what feels good and tickles the ear. There is no shortage of churches that provide programs, support groups and myriads of resources that will “meet your need”.
This wouldn’t be so alarming were it not for the fact that many uncomfortable or unpopular issues are avoided because they aren’t “good marketing” and don’t put behinds into pews. The Bible has many unpleasant topics. I call them “distasteful doctrines”. These are being sorely neglected today and that’s a shame because they are a vital part of Christianity. Over the next few days we will take a look at Christian doctrines that you may have never studied, rarely studied or only lightly studied unless you are in a good, uncompromising Bible-teaching assembly – or you have studied them personally.
Jesus had much more to say about hell than heaven. Hell is a grim reality that is virtually ignored by Christians today as being too harsh, unloving or uncomfortable. We don’t want to scare people away with talk of hell, so we simply ignore it, or give it a quick passing mention before moving on to more friendly subjects. That’s a shame because our friendly intentions won’t count for much to those who find themselves in eternal torment. We’ll take a look at the facts about hell straight from the Bible.
It has been said by a very prominent “Christian” preacher that teaching about sin is one of the worst things we can do because it destroys self esteem. Quick, somebody tell Jesus and Paul. Regardless of whether we want to hear it or not, the Bible is very clear about the sinfulness of man. As Christians, we typically believe in the “idea” or doctrine of sin as it applies to humanity as a whole, but very rarely do we get honest about sin when it comes to ME. We’ll take a look from Scripture at the real nature of sin in our lives.
You would think that Christian liberty would be a very pleasant doctrine, but to teach it threatens our stranglehold on “truth” as we define it. I’m not talking about the core essentials of salvation, but all the other peripheral issues that have divided Christians into almost 3000 different “flavors”. We don’t hear much about Christian liberty because we’re afraid people might actually take hold of it and not do things OUR way. Christ died to bring us liberty, and we constantly want to rob other sincere Christians of it simply because they disagree with us on some issue or doctrine. We’ll take a look at liberty, where it applies, where it doesn’t apply and what it means to the Christian life.
Suffering is seen as something today that either is caused by a lack of faith, or is something to avoid and alleviate immediately as all costs. Does God have a use for suffering? Does He allow it? How are Christians supposed to think about suffering? We’ll examine the Bible to see if God agrees with today’s opinion about suffering..
- Christian Discipline
In this age of political correctness, competition for church members and fear of lawsuits, Church discipline has all but disappeared. That’s a shame because a leading factor in the ineffectiveness of the Church today is its hesitation to apply Church discipline. We’ll look at Scripture to find out what it is, how it works and what it accomplishes.
- Jealousy, Wrath & Judgment
We hear much about God’s love, mercy and forgiveness – and rightly so. But how much is our concept of those things distorted when we hear little about God’s jealousy, wrath and Judgment? The lack of teaching on these subjects certainly contributes to the lukewarmness of the average Christian. “Yeah, but you’re not supposed to SCARE people about God!” Oh, really? Who says? There are lots of scary and fearful things about God that we would do well to know and understand. We’ll take a look at the “unpleasant” side of God and how it affects our daily walk with Him.
- Intolerance & Exclusivity
There is only ONE way to avoid being eternally damned in hell, and spend an eternity with God in Heaven. There couldn’t be a more unpopular message today than that. All the political correctness, ecumenism, tolerance, diversity and inclusivism in the world doesn’t change that fact. We’ll look at the Bible to see how it teaches very plainly this “one way”.
I don’t know whether to chuckle or cry when I hear the nonsense about how spanking (when properly administered by loving parents) teaches kids to be “violent”; or, it teaches them that “the powerful bully the weak”. When I got my behind busted for disobeying my parents, I felt like being anything but violent, and I certainly didn’t sit around pondering my plight as the “weak and oppressed” who was being taken advantage of by the “strong”.
No, when I got disciplined (translated: a whuppin’) I was all of a sudden acutely aware of the consequences of my choices. At that point, I had two choices: 1) continue to disobey and face even worse consequences, or 2) see the error of my ways, repent of my wrongdoing, conform to what I knew was right, and have the loving, peaceful relationship restored with my parents.
In a nutshell, church discipline is meant to do that exact same thing but on an adult level. Like parental discipline however (and school discipline, and societal discipline, and personal discipline), church discipline has virtually disappeared, and when it does make an appearance, is often misapplied and misunderstood. The application of church discipline is all but considered an archaic Puritan process which has suffered from poor Bible teaching, weak moral foundations and fear of lawsuits.
When is the last time you studied or heard preaching on the subject? How many of your church leaders (who are the ones that should be shepherding the process of church discipline) could adequately describe the steps and reasons for church discipline? How many of your fellow Christians do you know that 1) understand church discipline, or 2) would have the courage to pursue it?
Another big setback for church discipline is the overall worldliness found in Churches today. It’s a little hard to enact church discipline in all but the most extreme cases because sin, immorality and worldliness are so prevalent in most lives, including the church leaders. As the overall level of holiness declines within the Body of Christ, the moral courage and foundation required to apply church discipline fades away.
Fear of lawsuits by disgruntled or embarrassed church members is the culmination of these factors. Someone gets disfellowshipped (the final step of church discipline) and put out of a church, and the next thing you know, your church is on the news being sued for multiple millions of dollars for harrassment, slander and “pain and suffering”. The entire community then comes down on you for your intolerance, judgmentalism and “unloving” ways. I don’t make light of this, it’s a very intense pressure on the church and frankly, it’s just easier to avoid than risk for the most part.
So what’s the solution? I have no idea. I know that PART of the solution is to accurately teach the process and purpose of church discipline, so let’s start there.
The Steps of Church Discipline
Matthew 18:15 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. (NKJV)
It’s not rocket science. When someone has openly sinned, they are first to be approached privately and confronted. Tell them their sin. Show them in God’s Word where what they have done is wrong. Make every attempt to allow them to confess and repent privately. If they do, the matter is over, the sinner is restored.
Matthew 18:16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ (NKJV)
If the sinning brother refuses to listen, then we are to take one or more witnesses with us so that there will be no question that erring person was properly confronted. Having other Christians there to witness the process not only assures fairness and accountability, but also signals to the unrepentent sinner that “this is getting serious”. It’s not private anymore. His sin has been found out. This adds a loving peer pressure and dramatically increases the consequences of ignoring the correction.
Matthew 18:17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. (NKJV)
If the brother still refuses to repent, then it must be brought before the church. All of the believers of the local assembly must be made aware of the situation and the sinning brother is to know that the whole church now knows of his stubborness and unrepentant attitude. This increases the level of consequences and pressure even more dramatically. No longer is this matter private, nor is it just between a few people. The transgressor now stands to lose fellowship and reputation with his entire church family.
If that is not enough to cause him to repent then the result is simple, but harsh: he is to be put out of the church and treated like a “heathen and tax collector”. In Biblical times the meaning of this was very clear. The disfellowshipped brother was not to be associated with, tolerated or allowed any participation in the lives of his fellow Christians. If this sounds incredibly harsh, it’s because it is. This final step was meant to force the unrepentent brother to face the full consequences of his choices and perhaps come to realize that his sin was not worth the results.
Matthew 18:18-20 “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (NKJV)
Notice the context of these verses: CHURCH DISCIPLINE. They have nothing to do with Christians binding Satan, or Christians “agreeing” that God will bless them or answer a prayer for them. This verse is smack dab in the middle of church discipline and relates directly to it. It is VERY common today to use this verse to support the ideas of positive confession and prosperity. Whatever your opinion may be of positive confession and prosperity, these verses can NOT be accurately used to support the idea. They are specifically speaking of church discipline.
It was the authority of the Jewish Rabbis to “bind and loose” which means they could make an oath binding, or they could loose someone from it. They had the power to enforce an oath or contract, but under circumstances deemed worthy, they could free someone from the same. So in the context of church discipline, when we follow the steps properly, God is granting us the authority to restore the erring brother if they repent, or to turn him out of the church and over to Satan if he does not. This is the meaning of “bind and loose” in these verses, and it is also the meaning of “if any two agree”. If Christians follow the proper steps of church discipline, they have the authority to agree to put a person out of the church and God will honor that agreement; or, more importantly, to restore them to fellowship, and God will honor that decision.
To pull these verses out of context and make them speak of “binding Satan” or support the teachings of “health, wealth and prosperity” are to simply RIP them from context, regardless of whether you agree with those doctrines or not. HEAR ME…. I’m not commenting on the correctness of those teachings; I am commenting on how verses are torn from context to support it. Understand the difference.
What Church Discipline Is, and Is Not
Let’s start with what it is not. Church discipline is not a witch hunt, a way to get even, the rumor police or a gossip factory. It is not a way to show how pious we are by pointing out the sins of others. It is not a dictatorial power play meant to show someone who has the real authority. It is not meant to embarrass or humiliate the recipient any more than what is necessary to help restore him.
Church discipline, like loving parental discipline, is meant to open the eyes of the sinner. It is meant to cause the transgressor to realize the consequences of willful, unrepented sin. It is meant to teach a person that you cannot shame the name of Christ with impunity and go on as if nothing happened. Church discipline, again like loving parenting, is meant to inflict just enough “pain” to make the person think long and hard about what they are doing and for them to see that they are destroying the fellowship they have with their Christian family.
The purpose of church discpline is to win back your Brother (Matt 18.15); restore the sinner to fellowship (Gal 6.1); lead the erring person to repentance (2Tim 2.25) and perhaps save the person from God’s severe intervention (1Jo 5.16). Church discipline is to be implemented without hypocrisy (Matt 7.1-5), in love, patience and with fairness. The purpose of church discipline is also to guard the purity of the Body (Titus 3.10-11), protect the doctrinal purity of the church (Gal 1.8) and deal with unnecessary arguing or dissension over sound doctrine (Titus 1.9).
In summary, church discipline is the process of restoring an erring Christian and protecting the purity of the Church. The teaching and implementation of church discipline has all but disappeared today and perhaps that is an indication of why the modern Western church suffers from ineffectiveness. To return to a proper balance, we must first have individual holiness which gives us a moral foundation upon which to act. Then we must teach and implement church discipline according to Scripture for all the reasons given in Scripture.
Easier said than done.
Lord, Help us learn, understand, teach and apply church discipline in the manner, and for the purpose You have declared. Help us to do it love, with patience and for the right reasons. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Contemplation: Have you ever even heard of church discpline? Have you ever seen it implemented? Why do you think God instructed us to use church discipline? What would your attitude be if church discpline had to be applied to you, or someone in your family?
Application: Church discipline is God’s method for keeping the church pure, and restoring a wayward Christian. It is to be done with love and patience, devoid of hypocrisy and motivated by a burden to restore those who have strayed into sin. Church discipline is hard to act on today because a holy foundation is missing, and because of simple ignorance of the process and purpose of church discipline.
James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)
- What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
- What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
- What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?