Controversy over Church Discipline
A letter is being circulated around social media from the elders of a church of Christ to one of the members. The elders wanted to let the member know that since she has decided to not assemble with the Church anymore, and because they have also learned that she is living with someone outside of marriage, they are withdrawing fellowship from her. This letter was then posted online (not by the elders). The ladies name hidden, but the name of the church and the three elders names were publicly posted for all to see.
The congregation’s Yelp review page has been temporarily suspended as the world attempts to “cancel” the Church with bad reviews. They have had to cut their phone line because of the onslaught of calls. They have removed their social media, and have had to take down their website.
A quick browsing of the comments and reactions to the letter reveals what we would expect. People calmly and rationally looked at the evidence and came to good sound conclusions… Just kidding. It is what you expect. Comments such as:
“Wow, that sounds very judgmental to me. Poor person. She definitely needs to find another welcoming church.”
“Christ was about love. They are exalting themselves pretending to be better than others. Run lady run! Find a church thats about love and forgiveness.”
“And this judgment is why the church has become the laughing stock of society.”
“this is why the Christian church gets such a bad name”
The perceived value in the internet and social media is that everyone has a voice. But in situations like this, we are reminded that some voices are no good.
I have no idea about this letter besides what is revealed in the letter itself. And neither do most. But we can make some very important observations by what is revealed in this letter.
The letter has a letter head with that particular congregation’s title. You don’t see their address, and then the address of some convention or headquarters. The local church is autonomous. They don’t need to ask permission of the entire brotherhood of the churches of Christ to make decisions of things pertaining to that congregation. This letter did not get instructions from some president, or council. This is because the church of Christ is of Christ. It is not of a convention, or denominational affiliation.
This is exactly like the church of the New Testament. The Church’s head is Christ (Eph 1:21). He commissioned his apostles to send forth His doctrine of His church (Matt 28:18ff). That doctrine is found in the 27 books of the New Testament and it hasn’t changed since (Jude 3). If this church just let’s Christ be their head, and follow his teachings, then they are run just like the church I read about in my Bible.
In like manner, there is a plurality of elders on the letter. This church’s leadership look’s just like the leadership of the church in the New Testament (Acts 14:32). The office of an elder is mentioned close to twenty-five times in the New Testament. And it is spoken of in a plurality. At this church, there is no single “pastor” doing the shepherding. There is no chief elder. There is no board of trustees. This church looks like the one we read about in our Bibles!
While, I would have to go into the realm of speculating, I will give the benefit of the doubt to say that if these men are elders, then they fit the Bibles qualifications of that office (1 Tim 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9). The Lord’s church doesn’t vote someone in, or allow someone to step in who is not qualified. The Holy Spirit determined who is qualified through his revealed word (Acts 20:28, Eph 6:17).
I also see that this church is serious about assembling together. This is exactly like the church I read about in my Bible. It is actually kind of redundant to say the church assembled because that is one way you could define the word “church”. The church of Christ is the assembly of Christ. It goes against the very idea in the word to think one can be in fellowship without assembling.
The first century church came together on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1), and they have been expected to assemble together ever since (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor 11:17-22). The fact that people quit coming to assemble is a warning sign that that individual is apostatizing from the faith (Heb 10:25-29). This church is serious about assembling just like the church I read about in my Bible!
This letter also tell’s me that this church has a strong reaction to sin. This is the same attitude I read about in the Bible.
Prior to becoming a Christian, one must repent of their sins (Acts 2:38). Repentence has two key components. There must be a change of mind (2 Cor 7:10). You change your mind in your view to sin. But the second part it is a change of action (Jn 8:11). You must quit sinning.
Walking into an assembly of the first century you would find people that had at one time lived in the most sinful ways imaginable, but no longer lived that way. A beautifful passage is found in 1 Cor 6:9-11. Paul lists a catalogue of sins that will keep someone from going to heaven, but then says, “And such were some of you: but ye were washed, but ye were sanctified…”. The New Testament church could be identified by the change in the lifestyles of its members.
It is documented in the classical work of Edward Gibbon that one of the five keys to Christianities growth in the Roman Empire was the morality of those converts. He says, “The friends of Christianity may acknowledge without a blush, that many of the most eminent saints had been before their baptism the most abandoned sinners… As they emerged from sin and superstition to the glorious hope of immortality, they resolved to devote themselves to a life, not only of virtue, but penitence”(Gibbon 151). And this was the testimony of an enemy of the cause of Christ!
The first century Christians could be identified by their attitude toward sin. I can see in this letter that this church could be identified as having that same attitude toward sin.
Another interesting similarity is between what this church did, and what the New Testament church did when someone was living in sin.
In Matthew 18:15-17 the Lord says,
15 And if thy brother sin against thee, go, show him his fault between thee and him alone: if he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
16 But if he hear thee not, take with thee one or two more, that at the mouth of two witnesses or three every word may be established.
17 And if he refuse to hear them, tell it unto the church: and if he refuse to hear the church also, let him be unto thee as the Gentile and the publican.
These instructions are from the Lord in dealing with conflicts especially between brethren. They are very simple to follow and don’t need much interpretation. I could give those instructions to a 10 year old and they would understand them.
But we can also see that these instructions were to actually be applied. In 1 Corinthians 5 there was a member of that congregation that was living with his father’s wife. It is apparent that all knew about this, but instead of trying to win this brother back by pointing out his sin, they were “puffed up” about it (5:2). Paul gives these brethren the instructions to “deliver such a one unto satan for the destruction of his flesh”. The parallel in this phrase and the Lord’s “let him be unto thee as a Gentile and a publican” (Matt 18:17) are obvious.
We have the teaching of the Lord on it, and then we have the example of it being done.
Paul explains the “reasoning” behind the discipline in the continued context of 1 Corinthians 5. He says in verse 5, “for the saving of their spirit”. This person needs to know that they are lost, so that they can repent and be restored (Luke 13:3, Gal 6:1). He also says that they have to keep the purity of the Church (5-8). The Church is not to be identified by these wicked sins. If the unrighteous remains, sin will influence like leaven. The reason for discipline is from a love of the individual and a love for the entire congregation.
When I hear that a church has practiced discipline like this, I have identified a church that is trying to look like the church of the Bible.
When I look at the facts that I have available, this church looks an awful lot like the Church that was established in Acts 2. I would need to investigate more, but this would be a very good starting point. But I am fairly certain that this group probably just does what the Bible says to do. If someone is looking for the truth, this church has been put on display saying "we value that here". How wonderful.
On the other hand, many people who have called themselves Christians have exposed themselves as haters of truth. Many have jumped to the defense of someone who, as far as the letter is concerned, is living in sexual immorality. Many have made it easier for this poor lost soul to never see the need to repent. There are many self professed Christians doing the Devil's heavy lifting for him. How terribly sad.
May God bless every eldership with backbones to do what He has said to do in these situations. And may God bring those wandering sheep back to the fold.
Gibbon, Edward. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Penguin 2005