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Tag: church discipline

Remove the Persistent Agitator

This is adapted from a manuscript of a recent sermon preached at Southside Baptist Church in Lebanon, TN.

As Paul brings his letter to Titus to a close, he wants to give some instructions on what to do with divisive church members who persistently disrupt the unity in the church with their wild theologies and controversies.

Titus 3:10-11—As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

1. The Church must be patient with divisive members (v.10a): Paul has already alluded to divisive members who promote “controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law” (v.9).  He says they are “unprofitable” and “worthless.”  Notice, Paul didn’t say that these divisive members were being unprofitable and worthless or that their theology is unprofitable and worthless, though those things are certainly true.  Paul says that they, the members themselves, are unprofitable and worthless.

This is why the job of the shepherding elders is so tough.  Not every person that enters our building is membership material, meaning that not every visitor is here for the right reason.  The reason we exist as the Church is to “declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pt.2:9).  But people come in all the time with their own agenda and motivations that are rooted in selfishness and not the gospel.

And sometimes, some of our own church members will become like those self-righteous visitors.  Some of our own members will hear a weird preacher with weird views, or else they’ll hear a good preacher with good views but they misunderstand something he says.  And then they begin to promote those weird views in the church, and before you know it divisions arise.

Paul gives Titus, as one of the elders of the Cretan Church, the responsibility of rebuking such divisive people.  But notice the patience with which the Cretan leadership is to have with them.  They are to be warned not once but twice.  This is very similar to Jesus’ teaching on church discipline in Matthew 18: call for repentance privately; then with two or three witnesses; and then tell it to the church.

In Matthew 18, however, sinning church members get three warnings.  In Titus, Paul is dealing with a more serious problem, namely false teaching that is causing division.  Someone who is committing adultery may or may not threaten the unity of the church.  Someone who has been unfaithful in gathering with the church may or may not threaten the unity of the church.  But false teachers spreading their gangrenous division is always a threat to the unity of the church.

Paul, however, is not saying that the false teachers ought to be ousted because of their false teaching, although that would be permissible.  Rather, Paul is saying that false teachers that are causing division in the church ought to be ousted.  And it is Jewish legalism that is especially in view in Paul’s mind.  Today, it might be denominational legalism or American-pride legalism or self-made moralism.  Yet in God’s grace, God calls for patience.

2. The Church must remove divisive members from its fellowship (vv.10b-11): Paul says to “have nothing more to do with” the divisive church member.  It means that after two warnings, the agitator is to be excommunicated and ostracized.  No more hanging out.  No more game nights or Mexican cheese dip or guy outings of any kind or shopping trips for the gals.

Paul is very adamant about this, and he tells us why in verse 11: “knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

Warped and sinful means that a person is beyond ordinary instruction.  While they are not beyond the power of God’s grace to work in them, we must understand that the primary way that God works grace into a person is through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.  If a person is unteachable, always arguing and debating doctrine with a know-it-all attitude, then they are beyond God’s ordinary means of grace.

The phrase, “He is self-condemned” is very interesting.  Often people will react to church discipline by saying, “Who are we to judge?”  But notice that Paul does not promote the judging of others.  Rather, he makes it clear that such people are self-condemned, meaning they have brought judgment on themselves.  The church is simply confirming the sinner’s unrepentant status.

Sometimes we react to a single teaching of Scripture like this as if it is an isolated instruction, but the teaching on church discipline is far from being a single teaching.  Here’s a few examples of other places that mention the removal of and warning about unrepentant members:

2 Thessalonians 3:6—Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.

2 Thessalonians 3:14—If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.

Galatians 6:1—Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

Romans 16:17-18—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. 18 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 naïve.

The biblical evidence is clear.  The church should not tolerate theologically divisive people, but we should lovingly remove them from our fellowship.  For church discipline is love in three directions:

1) Love for the unrepentant person–It is better they suffer now than to suffer eternally in hell.  The hope is that they will repent and get right with Jesus.

2) Love for faithful members–We hear a lot about harming the unrepentant sinner, but what about the rest of the church that is walking faithfully with Jesus?  What is it teaching our children when a church member is living in adultery and the church stands by and does nothing about it?

3) Love for the glory of Jesus–Ultimately, it’s all about Jesus.  The Church has been saved and set apart for the purpose of making Jesus look good, for shining the spotlight on Him.

May the Lord continue to purify for Himself a people who willingly remove unrepentant members from its fellowship with patience and love in the hopes of bringing them back to repentance.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

Double-Standard Discipline

Without doubt, one of the most popular Bible verses among many professing Christians today is, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1).  While anti-judgment sentiments have always been an issue throughout the church’s history, we live in an age that prides itself on its non-judgmentalism to a degree not previously known.  This becomes a practical issue when it comes to Chirst’s church, and more specifically church discipline.  If we are not supposed to “judge,” then what, if anything, should the church do about obvious sin in the lives of professing believers?  But a more basic question must be answered first.  Are these persons who are crying “Don’t Judge!” correct in their interpretation of Matthew 7:1.  I give a vehement, “NO!”  They are absolutely in error.  More than that, they are in sin, and I hope to demonstrate my conviction in this article.

While not exhaustive, I want to put forth three reasons that the “Don’t Judge” advocate is incorrect, each followed with Scriptural support.  By “Don’t Judge” advocate, I am referring to Christians who believe that it is wrong to confront a fellow Christian about sin and to call him to repentance.

1.   “Don’t judge” is itself a judgment:  So we can see the irony in the argument immediately.  If we are not supposed to judge at all, then telling other people not to judge is the same as making a judgment.  In this case, the judgment being made is against judging.  So in essence, “Don’t Judge” advocates undercut their own conviction from the start, which is the same problem that all postmodern understandings of reality face.  While a bit out of context, Romans 2:1 can be applied to this argument.

Romans 2:1–“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, everyone of you who judge.  For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things

2.   “Don’t judge” is steeped in partiality:  Again, we sense the thickness of irony.  For most of the “Don’t Judge” advocates, their conviction usually only applies to the things or persons they “love” or in which they have a vested interest.  This is especially true in cases of partiality that involve ethnocentrism, family relations, and authority issues–each of which is important and needs to be illustrated with possible scenarios:

  • EthnocentrismThis can be seen when the hearts of “Don’t Judge” advocates bleed with mercy over a member of their own ethnicity who has committed a grievous sin, but the same mercy is often withheld from a sinner of a different ethnicity.  Therefore, church discipline is for “those other kind of people.”
  • Family Relations–The old adage “blood is thicker than water” proves too often true.  This can be seen, for example, when the “Don’t Judge” advocate may affirm homosexuality as a sin against God that will be met with God’s wrath if Christ is not trusted and this sin forsaken.  Yet, many refuse to believe that their own homosexual son or daughter is bound for hell without Christ, especially if that son or daughter has made a previous “profession of faith.”  Therefore, church discipline is for “other sinners outside of my family.”
  • Authority Issues–People the world over are depraved sinners ever seeking to be “free” from authority.  One way that this form of partiality manifests itself in the local church is in regard to the pastor-sheep relationship.  Not only have I experienced this first hand as a pastor, but practically all of my pastor friends have experienced the same thing.  Time and again, the “Don’t Judge” advocates will defend the members of their own ethnicity, family, or their close friends to the hilt.  If you want to see people’s blood boil, then simply obey the Lord’s instructions on church discipline, and the “Don’t Judge” sword will be thrust in you repeatedly.  Ironically, many of these same “Don’t Judge” advocates will gladly throw you under the bus for your own sin, whether perceived or actual.  In other words, the only people subject to church discipline in most evangelical churches today are pastors.  To add insult to injury, churches that discipline the pastor most often do so unbiblically.  Rather than follow the commands of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 18:15-20, they more often than not skip to Step 4 in the process and rashly excommunicate the man of God, affecting multiple consequences in the life of his family and many families within the church.

James had quite a lot to say about the sin of partiality in his epistle, primarily drawn from chapter 2.  The entire book, however, speaks to the issue of true religion, and the sin of partiality is especially pinpointed as evidence of relgion that is false.

James 2:1–“My brothers, hold no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.”

James 2:8-9–“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.  But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as trangressors.”

3.    “Don’t judge” is rooted in the eisegesis of God’s word:  Eisegesis is sort of a tongue-in-cheek term that means that a person reads his own meaning into the Bible rather than allowing the Bible to speak for itself (the latter of which we call exegesis).  Now admittedly, all people read into the text due to our naturally biased slant, but this doesn’t mean that we should desire to do so.  Rather, our desire should always be to exegete the text, that is bring out the meaning of the text as intended by God through His inspired author.  Eisegesis is severely detrimental when it comes to the church discipline passages in Scripture and in the use of Matthew 7:1 as a supposed defense against church discipline.  This form of partiality can be seen when the “Don’t Judge” advocates do one of several things with Holy Scripture:

  • They frequently rip verses out of their context, as in the case of Matthew 7:1
  • They frequently ignore or downplay what the Bible says altogether, as in the case of Matthew 18:15-20 and Galatians 6:1
  • They frequently under-contextualize the Bible (in other words, they say that these verses are for first-century Christians only), as in the case of 1 Corinthians 5:1-7 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15

In answer to these common twistings of God’s word, let’s look at a more complete context of these passages.

Matthew 7:1-5 (this passage clearly teaches that the judgment that Jesus has in mind is primarily hypocritical in nature, though He may also be alluding to a final/eternal judgment; but there is no doubt that believers are to help fellow believers remove specks of sin from their lives)
1     “Judge not, that you be not judged.
2     For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
3     Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
4     Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?
5     You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Matthew 18:15-20 (this passage clearly teaches that there is a minimum of a four step process for dealing with sin between Christians for the purpose of reconciliation)
15   “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.
16   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.
17   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.
18   Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
19  Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.
20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Galatians 6:1 (this passage clearly teaches that believers are to restore/reconcile sinning believers back to a repentant status)
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”

1 Corinthians 5:1-7 (this passage clearly teaches that ignoring and/or enduring sin in the local church leads to arrogance and impurity; therefore, church discipline is actually meant to be a process of humility and purity;  further, excluding an unrepentant believer from church fellowship is for the purpose of reconciliation and for his eternal salvation)
1     “It is acutally reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.
2     And you are arrogant!  Ought you not rather mourn?  Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
3     For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing.
4     When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus,
5     you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.
6     Your boasting is not good.  Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?
7     Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.  For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”

2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15 (this passage clearly teaches that sinning believers who are unwilling to repent must be excluded from fellowship but that they must continue to be warned of the need of repentance)
6     “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.
14   If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.
15   Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.”

In conclusion, while a complete picture of church discipline has not been presented and all objections have not been answered, the basic question of whether Matthew 7:1 condemns all forms of judgment/discipline has been addressed.  We must conclude with Scripture and with common (sanctified) sense that discipline is necessary in all aspects of life and especially within Christ’s church.  We can no more deny biblical church discipline than the Lord who gave us the command to carry it out (Matt.18:15-20).  May God in His grace reconcile all of us sinners to Himself and to one another through Jesus Christ our Lord.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta