The Law of God in the Life of the Church (8)
Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” 1 Corinthians 5:12, 13
We have been considering the place of the Law of God in the Church today, and we’re in the midst of considering how the local church “enforces” the righteousness of Christ and His Law on its members. Church discipline is the Lord’s means for helping those who are straying from the path to be guided back to it through loving confrontation and admonition.
Hopefully, by these means, lovingly and consistently applied, those who are caught in the snares of sin will be willing and able to extricate themselves and resume a proper walk with the Lord according to His Law and Word (1 John 2:1-6; 2 Tim. 3:15-17).
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 as a whole 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).
Historically, in most churches two steps precede that of excommunication. The first is admonition, in which a formal judgment is drawn up in writing by the elected officers of the church, together with instructions for corrective behavior, and put in the hands of the offender. 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 against offenders (1 Cor. 11:27-32). But if admonition and suspension do not accomplish the righteous judgment determined by church leaders, then excommunication must follow.
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. Only when the final judgment of excommunication has been enacted should the congregation be apprised of the situation, for then it, too, becomes involved in enacting judgment against the sinner and seeking justice for the one offended against.
Not many churches today practice church discipline with any degree of consistency. As a result, sins of all kinds ravage the Body of Christ, grace is not provided the necessary space in which to work, the Holy Spirit is squelched, and the holiness, righteousness, and goodness of God’s Law are denied.
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In the Gates is a devotional series on the Law of God by Rev. T.M. Moore, editor of the Worldview Church. He serves as dean of the Centurions Program of the Wilberforce Forum and principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He is the author or editor of twenty books, and has contributed chapters to four others. His essays, reviews, articles, papers, and poetry have appeared in dozens of national and international journals, and on a wide range of websites. His most recent books are The Ailbe Psalter and The Ground for Christian Ethics (Waxed Tablet).
Scripture quotations in this article are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, (c) copyright 2001, 2007 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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