The Church Is Not the Civil Magistrate (2)
The Law of God in the Life of the Church (6)
I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 1 Corinthians 6:5, 6
The state, as Paul and Peter remind us, has been established by God to accomplish His good purposes (Rom. 13:1-4; 1 Pet. 2:13, 14). Thus, believers must work within the civil structures of society to ensure that governments act in accord with the teaching of God’s Law. The Church must not presume to enact civil judgments against its members or others. Rather, because the state also is subject to the righteousness and justice of God’s Law (Ps. 9:7, 8: Dan. 4:27; Matt. 14:1-4), believers must labor to persuade civil magistrates of the essential wisdom, goodness, and justice of the Law of God.
This they do through the political process, electing leaders who fear the Lord and auguring for laws that reflect the character and purposes of the Law of God. But even in this arena believers must remember that, in the age of grace, not even the vilest offender is completely cut off from the reach of God’s Spirit and Truth. Penalties for violating the Law of God must, therefore, leave room for grace to work; they must not be so harsh as to harden the hearts, but they must be sufficiently harsh as to achieve justice and encourage behavioral change.
There is a role for civil government to fulfill in overseeing a just society, where neighbor-love obtains through submission—even grudging submission (Ps. 81:15; Ps. 66:3—both, NASB)—to the standards and sanctions of the Law of God. But in the Church, no actions must be taken against offenders of God’s Law to which they do not willingly submit. The single exception would be in the Church’s authority to excommunicate unrepentant offenders, leaving them to the wiles of the devil and the pleasure of the state until they repent of their wickedness, make all due restoration, and return to their proper place in the Body of Christ.
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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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