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The Church and the Grace of God

Grace is the Church's coin of there realm.

The Law of God and the Church (3)

For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.” 1 Corinthians 5.12, 13

Judge righteous judgment
It’s not that believers – and the Church as a Body – are not to exercise judgment against sinners. They are, as our Lord Jesus explained, but strictly according to the standards of righteousness in the Law of God (Jn. 7.24; cf. Deut. 16.18-20), and, indeed, all His Word. The Law of God, as the foundation for Scripture, provides the framework of wisdom, justice, holiness, and love to guide church members in building a community that reflects the love and oneness we have in Christ (Jn. 17.21). Unless we judge with righteous judgment, according to God’s Law, we shall not be able to build one another up in our most holy faith, nor our churches in unity and maturity in Christ, for we will lack good consciences and a reliable framework for loving God and our neighbors.

So churches, as signs and outposts of the Kingdom of God, must learn and keep the Law of God. But since the church is not the State, she may not wield the weapons of the state in seeking to achieve justice. Rather, the church applies the methods of church discipline to cleanse the Body of sin, restore relationships among the members, and maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

So in the local church, following the Law and Word of God, we practice righteous judgment and exercise discipline to encourage individual and community growth in the Lord.

Church discipline
Jesus outlined the steps of church discipline in Matthew 18.15-20. Most Christians are perhaps familiar with these. If a brother sins against another, the one offended or the one aware of the offense must first go and confront his brother, pointing out his transgression, calling him to repentance, and standing ready to forgive and help in achieving restoration.

That failing, the accuser must take another church member with him to confront the sinner. Hopefully, the testimony of two witnesses – as per the Law of God (Lev. 19.15) – will be compelling, and repentance and restoration will be achieved.

Suppose that fails, however. In that case, the accuser must take the sinner to the church – typically, to its rulers, the elders and pastors of the church. There a formal charge may be laid, the leaders of the church can weigh the evidence and claims, and, through prayer, searching the Scriptures, and further considering the alleged offense, reach a just judgment.

But what if the sinner continues to insist he has done nothing wrong, or refuses to abide by the decision of the church’s leadership? At that point, the unrepentant sinner must be put out of the church – excommunicated. This is a formal and public act in which the congregation is informed of the situation and the judgment of church leaders. Members are then expected to abide by that decision and have no fellowship with the unrepentant believer until he recovers his senses, repents of his sins, and sets about to achieve restoration and a changed life (1 Cor. 5.11).

We cannot stress enough that, during the process of church discipline, church members at every level must be careful to encourage and edify one another in love. This makes it clear why we need a community of law-keepers to help in purifying individualconsciences by the Law of God.

Two intermediary steps
Historically, in most churches two steps precede that of excommunication.

The first is admonition, in which a formal judgment is drawn up in writing, together with instructions for corrective behavior, and put in the hands of the offender. Typically, a shepherd is then assigned to help the offending member work through the corrective regimen as prescribed.

That failing, the offender can be suspended from the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, since to eat and drink the body and blood of Christ in an unworthy manner brings judgment and discipline from the Lord (1 Cor. 11.27-32).

But if admonition and suspension do not accomplish the righteous judgment determined by church leaders, then excommunication must follow. Paul is clear on this, following Jesus; we must not slink back from bringing the teaching of God’s Word to bear against recalcitrant sinners, for the sake of righteousness and the purity of the church.

Room for grace
It’s not hard to see how, at every step of the process of church discipline, ample room for grace is permitted, and the Holy Spirit is given abundant opportunities to convict the guilty and lead him to repentance. Such acts of the local church must be kept within the circle of the sin for as long as possible. Should the final judgment of excommunication be taken, only then should the congregation be apprised of the situation, for then it, too, becomes involved in carrying out the judgment against the sinner, and seeking justice for the one offended or restoration from scandal.

Not many churches today practice church discipline with any degree of consistency. It seems we have as little taste for this teaching of Jesus as we do for His teaching about the Law of God. Consequently, sins of all kinds ravage the Body of Christ, grace is not provided the necessary space in which to work, the Holy Spirit is quenched, and the holiness, righteousness, and goodness of God’s Law are denied.

And the consciences of church members are deprived of an important component of the Lord’s work.

It takes a community for the Law of God to accomplish its good, wise, holy, and loving purposes. And that community must not only teach and obey the Law but be prepared to enforce its teaching against any who transgress.

For reflection
1.  Most people don’t think very kindly about church discipline. Why is this so? Is church discipline a form of punishment or an act of love? Explain.

2.  How can you see that church discipline cannot be practiced effectively where the Law of God is ignored?

3.  What is the goal of church discipline? How can you see that this goal is in line with the purpose of God’s Law?

Next steps – Preparation: Does your church practice church discipline? See what you can find out.

T. M. Moore

All the installments in this “Strong Souls” series are available in PDF by clicking here. Check out our newest feature, Readings from the Celtic Revival (click here).

Why does the Law of God still matter? How can we make best use of it? Our book, The Ground for Christian Ethics, addresses those questions in a winsome and conversational manner. Order your free copy by clicking here.

Thanks for your prayers and support
If you find ReVision helpful in your walk with the Lord, please seek the Lord, asking Him whether you should contribute to the support of this ministry with your financial gifts. As the Lord leads, you can use the Contribute button at the website to give with a credit card, or you can send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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