Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 11: Church Discipline: One Essential of a Healthy Church, Part B

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence is a series of articles by faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary that seeks to offer some definitions of what constitutes a GCR, why we believe the SBC is in need of such a movement, and what such a movement might look like in SBC life. The series will address biblical, theological, historical and practical issues related to a GCR with the hope that God will use our finite and flawed efforts for His glory and the good of the people called Southern Baptist.

Church Discipline: One Essential of a Healthy Church, Part B

Jesus spoke directly to Church Discipline in Matthew 18:15-20. Paul did so in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. Note carefully the sin we confront. It is 1) public, 2) habitual, 3) serious and 4) lacking repentance. We are not called to be spiritual garbage inspectors or theological peeping-toms. When we become aware of a sinning brother or sister we go to them first individually, second with witnesses, and finally with the whole fellowship being involved if there is no repentance. If at any point the evidence of genuine repentance comes forth, the process of discipline stops and the ministry of restoration begins. Let me add parenthetically that restoration to fellowship does not entail restoration to leadership. God’s standard for the latter is higher than His standard for the former.

My friend Mark Driscoll has led his church at Mars Hill in Seattle to carefully examine and address this issue of church discipline. His church has adopted what they call nine guiding principles from Scripture on the matter of church discipline. (Mark has a whole chapter on church discipline in a forthcoming book entitled Vintage Church. It is excellent!) What are the nine guidelines that a church should follow?

1). When sin has come between people, the goal is repentance and reconciliation, along with recompense, if needed.

2). Church leaders must always pursue the protection of the gospel’s reputation and the well-being of the entire church, not just the interests of individual people who have sinned. This explains why sometimes individuals must be put out of the church.

3). Such matters in the church are entrusted to Christian leaders who must be careful not to abuse in any way the responsibility to oversee the obedience of its members.

4). Discipline is unpleasant but, in the end, produces a holy people by distinguishing between the world and the church.

5). All matters in the church, including church discipline, are to be done in a fitting and orderly manner.

6). Because the situations causing church discipline can be incredibly frustrating, it is important that those involved don’t let their anger lead them into sin.

7). For the truth to emerge, the elders must hear first-hand reports from all sides of a dispute before a decision is reached.

8). When at all possible, multiple witnesses should be required.

9). The fellowship of the church is a regular time appointed by God when his people are to be reminded that unrepentant sin and unnecessary division in the church are unacceptable to a holy God. It is a time to look at sin in light of God’s grace and commitment to help us grow.

The ministry of Church Discipline is mandatory, if we are to be faithful to our head who is Christ. We do it for the sake of the body and for the sake of the sinning brother. Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw the crucial nature of this when he wrote, “Nothing can be more cruel than that leniency which abandons others to sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than that severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together – Prayer Book of the Bible, in Bonhoeffer Works vol. 5., 105).

Dealing with an individual in the manner noted above also has pastoral benefits. It will keep the issue on the level of principle and not personality. Personality battles result when we delay in taking action and are perceived to be showing favoritism. This is always a lose – lose scenario and must be avoided. We must move quickly in the initial stage when the sin is discovered. We may extend the “grace of patience” as we seek the repentance of the one living in sin. However, we must be clear, above board and timely. We cannot go once, and then walk away as if all is forgiven, if there is no change. Vigilance and steadfastness are required, all the while keeping Galatians 6:1-2 before our mind’s eye.

Now a crucial question: why must habitual, public, serious, unrepentant sinners be disciplined? Because they are dangerous. Paul describes them in Titus 3:11 as warped and sinning. Warped is in the perfect tense and means twisted, turned inside out. Sinning is in the present tense. Here is a man living life upside down and inside out. This is his settled state, heart and mind. It is his continuous habit of life. GOD FORBID THAT WE WHO LOVE THIS PERSON WOULD STAND BY AND DO NOTHING! Now an important question begs to be asked. What sin(s) require church discipline? Again I like the approach adopted at Mars Hill Church in Seattle because of their rigorously biblical commitment.

  • When a Christian sins against another Christian and it cannot be overlooked in love.
  • When a Christian who professes faith lives in sin without repentance.
  • When a Christian continually blasphemes God.
  • When someone encourages or promotes false doctrine.
  • When a Christian is a habitual doctrine debater.
  • When a Christian will only heed false teachers.
  • When a Christian is sincere but deceived.
  • When a teacher is in moral sin or doctrinal error.
  • When an elder is in moral sin or doctrinal error.
  • When a Christian appoints himself or herself to leadership.
  • When a Christian is divisive.
  • When a Christian is an idle busybody.
  • When a Christian promotes legalism.
  • When a Christian refuses to obey civil laws.
  • When an alleged offended Christian seeks legal recourse.
  • When a Christian has repeatedly rejected counsel by a church elder.
  • When a Christian is not consistently in community.
  • When a Christian leave the church to pursue sin or heresy.

Bonhoeffer was right, “When another Christian falls into obvious sin, an admonition is imperative, because God’s Word demands it” (Bonhoeffer, 105). We do neither the sinner nor ourselves any favors when we wink at or ignore. Why?

Because sin is destructive. It destroys. What it can do to a fellowship is serious. What it does to the sinner enslaved by its addiction is tragic. Sometimes a sinning brother or sister will claim the leading of the Spirit, even the providence of God, in their sinful actions. There are times when he or she may even say, “my head tells me this is wrong but my heart tells me it was never more right.”

With grief, humility, self-examination and a broken heart we must confront them and if necessary shun them and reject them. Following Paul’s directive in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 we must turn them over to Satan with a hope and prayer that the discipline of the heavenly Father (Hebrews 12:5-13) will bring them to brokenness and repentance, and that they will give evidence that they are indeed God’s child after all. We have our duty. God has games

Podcast with Between the Times

The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina recently conducted an Insight Podcast with the contributors to Between the Times. You can read about the podcast here. To listen to the podcast, check out the Insight website. You will also find a number of other helpful podcasts available at Insight’s website. Those of us at Between the Times are grateful to the BSCNC for the opportunity to participate in the podcast.

Guest Blog by Central Asia RL: Biblical Foundations and Guidelines for Contextualization (Pt 5)

Guest Blog: Biblical Foundations and Guidelines for Contextualization (Pt 5)

Editor’s Note: This guest blog is written by the IMB’s Regional Leader for Central Asia. It is a six part series, giving the biblical foundations and guidelines for contextualization, and making application to Christian ministry in the Muslim world. This series will appear as a chapter in the forthcoming book “Look What God is Doing in the Muslim World.”

The Message of the Good News

We can use their book as a bridge to the Gospel, as long as we do it in a way that does not imply divine inspiration or equality with the Bible.

We can choose our terminology carefully, and delay the use of red-flag terms like “Son of God” in favor of other equally-Biblical terms until we have reached the point where we can explain those red-flag terms Biblically.

We can and should utilize the full scope of Biblical narrative to establish a worldview in which the Gospel is intelligible. The Bible doesn’t jump straight from the Fall of Man in Genesis 3 to the birth of Jesus in Matthew 1. God took centuries to establish who He is, what He requires, what humanity is like, and what He intended to do about it, before He brought Jesus on the scene. The worldview of the Old Testament is essential to understanding the Biblical Gospel. Most Muslims who come to Christ do so after exposure to a broad scope of Biblical revelation over a period of time. Take the long view. In each conversation, ask yourself, “What Bible/Gospel content can I add to their understanding today?” In this context, and in the oral cultures that make up so much of the Muslim world, chronological Bible storying is a wonderful tool!

We can and should utilize a variety of communication genres and media to communicate the message of the Gospel. Some cultures revel in poetry, songs or proverbs – all of which are found in Scripture. Explore the internet, audio, TV, video, and print media. Find out what genres they use to communicate worldview truth. Find out what media they use and respond to the most. Use any and all genres and media that are appropriate.

We can utilize whatever name for God is most appropriate in any given language, including Allah. We must import Biblical content and correct past understandings with any word we use for God.

We can utilize the Arabic forms of other names and terms in the Bible, rather than forms from other foreign languages like English or French or Russian or Dutch.

We should stress that we are calling people to a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and not to ethnic treason and the abandonment of their cultural identity.

We do not need to attack Islam directly.

At the same time:

We can never downplay the central doctrines of the Gospel – particularly those that contradict Islam or that cause offence to Muslims. Many examples could be given here, but in a Muslim context we need to take special care that we never deemphasize the Deity of Christ, the reality of His death and resurrection, the necessity of His substitutionary sacrifice, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, the integrity, inerrancy and finality of the Bible, and the radical nature of conversion, which is so extreme that it can only be described in terms of death and new life.

We can never downplay the necessity of repentance.

We can never deny or excise any part of Scripture or any Biblical terminology, including the term “Son of God.”

We can never construct a chronological Bible story set and call it an oral Bible. Chronological Bible story sets are wonder tools for evangelism and discipleship, but only the full text of the Bible is the Bible, and an oral Bible must be the actual words of the Bible presented in audio rather than print format.

We can never remove, substitute or downplay the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

We can never give the impression that we believe that Islam, Muhammad or the Quran are of divine origin.