Submit to Jesus, Submit to His Bride

Article by Matt Smethurst, managing editor of The Gospel Coalition and author of 1–2 Thessalonians: A 12-Week Study (Crossway, 2017). He and his wife, Maghan, have three children and live in Louisville, Kentucky. They belong to Third Avenue Baptist Church, where Matt serves as an elder. (original source here)

Church membership can feel boring, secondary, extrabiblical, and unimportant. Aren’t there plenty of more pressing things to talk about? Not really, suggests Jonathan Leeman in Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus (Crossway, 2012). In just 132 pages, Leeman unfolds a clear and compelling case for submitting our lives to King Jesus by submitting to his earthly bride.

I corresponded with Leeman, editorial director for 9Marks and editor of its Journal, about the surprisingly pressing significance of local church membership.

Why is it significant to understand that Christians don’t really “join” churches so much as submit to them?

“Join” is a club word. You join a club, whether it’s a country club or a wholesale shopping club. You pay your dues. You receive the benefits. You come and go as you please. Nothing about your identity changes. No real demands are placed on you that you cannot extricate yourself from.

“Submit” is a kingdom and citizenship word. It recognizes the presence of an authority established by King Jesus. It speaks to a changed (new) identity. It suggests that you now belong to a new nation, a new people, a new family. And it suggests that all the new benefits you receive as a member of this nation and family also come with a set of obligations that are not so easily dispensed of.

What difference should church membership make in a Christian’s life?

Your question is sort of like asking “what difference should righteousness make in a Christian’s life?” It should make all the difference. A Christian is declared righteous in Christ, and then he or she “puts on” that righteousness in everyday decisions. By the same token, a Christian is declared a member of Christ’s body through the gospel (e.g., see Eph. 2:14), and then he or she “puts on” that membership in a geographically specific local body.

Don’t tell me you’re united to and committed to the Church—-capital C—-unless you are united to and committed to a local church: “for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).

Less abstractly, our membership in a local church is where our discipleship to Christ takes shape. It’s where we learn to love our enemies, where we learn to turn the other cheek, where we learn to forbear in love, where we learn to go the extra mile, where we learn to employ our spiritual gifts, where we learn to speak to one another in love, and so forth. Certainly, these lessons apply beyond our fellowship in a local church, but the lessons begin here. And they begin here precisely because it’s the local church that has the authority of the keys to bind and loose—-to formally affirm our profession of faith or deny it.

“Kingdom” is a very popular concept among Christians today. How does the kingdom relate to the local church?

The local church is the place on earth where the citizens of heaven can, at this moment, find official recognition and asylum. Churches represent Christ’s rule now. They affirm and protect his citizens now. They proclaim his laws now. They bow before him as King now and call all peoples to do the same. You might say that a local church is a real-life embassy set in the present that represents Christ’s future kingdom and his coming universal church. Continue reading

Reasons to Avoid Churches Who Will Not Practice Church Discipline

Article: Reasons to Avoid Churches Who Will Not Practice Church Discipline by Eric Davis (original source here)

The biblical church discipline process described in Matthew 18:15-20 is often messy, costly, and accompanied by damage. The pain experienced is typically unmatched when a professing believer must be publicly put out of the local church.

Even so, when practiced biblically, it is consistent with biblical love, care, and obedience to Christ. It is that sacred process where the holiness of God is upheld, the purity of the church maintained, and the value of souls practiced. Mark Dever rightly says that church discipline is “a loving, provocative, attractive, distinct, respectful, gracious act of obedience and mercy, and that it helps to build a church that brings glory to God.” A friend of mine personally experienced that very thing. He was biblically disciplined out of a large church and to this day he confesses that it was one of the best things that ever happened to him.

But more importantly, it’s a non-negotiable matter in God’s kind of church. Robust confessions of faith such as the Belgic, Scottish, and Heidelberg Catechism rightly identified church discipline as a sine qua non ingredient of a local church.

Now, the existence of church discipline in a church does not necessarily mean that a church is sound. Sadly, it’s a process that is sometimes abused. However, a refusal to practice it is a certain red flag. It’s one thing if a church leadership has not been practicing church discipline and is attempting to implement it. But it’s quite another thing if a church will not practice it. That refusal is symptomatic of other problems, making it a church to be avoided.

Here are 10 common problems among churches that will not practice discipline on you, making them unsafe:

1. A dangerous approach to God and his word.

God commands the sacred practice of church discipline. In addition to Christ’s clear command in Matthew 18:15-20, it shows up in passages like Romans 16:17-18, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, Galatians 6:1-3, 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15, and Titus 3:9-11. Continue reading

Concerning Church Discipline

thinking_manJonathan Leeman (MDiv, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist in Washington, DC. He serves as director of communications for 9Marks and is the editor of its eJournal. He is the author of Church Discipline, Church Membership, and The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love. He has written an article entitled “10 Things You Should Know about Church Discipline” (original source here).

1. Jesus and Paul both command churches to practice church discipline.

Church discipline is not man’s idea, but God’s. Whatever Jesus meant by “You shall not judge” in Matthew 7, he didn’t mean to rule out loving correction between Christians, as he describes it in Matthew 18:15-20. Paul then takes Jesus words seriously and exhorts the Corinthian church to put Jesus’s instructions into practice (compare Matthew 18:20 and 1 Corinthians 5:4). Do we know better than Paul?

2. “Church discipline” goes by different names.

The term “church discipline” is employed in different ways, and people use different terms for discipline. Broadly, people might make a distinction between formative discipline (referring to teaching) and corrective discipline (referring to correcting sin).

Inside the category of corrective discipline, people might use the term “church discipline” to refer to any act of correction, whether that involves privately and informally warning a friend or formally removing someone from membership in a church. When it gets to this last step, people frequently use the word “excommunication.” Among Protestants, excommunication does not refer to removing someone from salvation (which the church is incapable doing). It refers to removing someone from membership in the church and participation in the Lord’s Supper. To excommunicate is to ex-communion someone, kind of like a reverse baptism.

3. Nearly every organization practices discipline.

In spite of its biblical basis, the idea of church discipline can be controversial among Christians and churches, even though people readily accept the fact that other organizations or group must have some means of correcting or removing its members. A fraudulent lawyer can be debarred. A volatile player in the NBA can be fined. A malpracticing doctor can lose his or her medical license. A teacher can be fired.

Ironically, even “watchdog” websites who decry the practice of church discipline exist exclusively for the sake of correction, or discipline (albeit without any accountability!). This reaction to discipline in the church speaks volumes about the individualistic nature of spirituality and personhood in the West.

4. Churches should practice discipline for the sake of love. Continue reading

Corrective Church Discipline

tom-ascolCorrective Church Discipline article by Tom Ascol (original source here)

One of the most important and difficult tasks a pastor must undertake is leading his congregation to understand and obey what the Bible says about church discipline. The widespread neglect of the practice can cause even faithful Christians to be fearful of the idea. When biblical texts that give instruction on the subject are introduced it is not uncommon to hear responses that border on panic. “This will split the church.” “So then only perfect people can be members?” “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” “I’ve been a Christian for ___ (20, 30, 40, etc.) years and have never heard of this, so why are you bringing it up now?”

Such fears can only be overcome by leading people to trust the Lord and His Word. The authority and sufficiency of Scripture are foundational not only to restoring the practice of church discipline but to every matter of faith and work in the Christian life. On that foundation the specific texts on the nature of the church and the steps of discipline must be simply and plainly taught.

To introduce church discipline I would begin with the classic passage on the subject found in Matthew 18:15-20. Any church that obeys Jesus’ words will find that most sin in the church will be effectively dealt with in private as brothers and sisters give and receive correction as they help each other follow Christ together. Repentance and forgiveness will characterize relationships—which is exactly the way life together in the body of Christ is supposed to work.

When such private efforts fail and the offender continues in sin without repentance, the matter must be told to the church. Only if he refuses to heed the admonitions of the church is he to be removed from membership, not as an act of punishment but as an expression of love for his soul and with the hope and prayer that he will come to his senses and be restored through repentance. Continue reading

Church Discipline Mistakes

church (1)Jonathan Leeman is the Editorial Director of 9Marks and an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. You can find him on Twitter at @JonathanDLeeman. In an article entitled “22 Mistakes Pastors Make in Practicing Church Discipline” he writes:

Pastors sometimes make the following mistakes regarding formal church discipline.

1. They fail to teach their congregation what church discipline is and why they should practice it.

2. They fail to practice meaningful membership, which includes (1) teaching people what membership entails before they join; (2) encouraging casual attenders to join; (3) carefully interviewing everyone who wants to join; (4) giving regular oversight to all the flock; and (5) maintaining an up-to-date membership list that accurately reflects who is present at the weekly gathering.

3. They fail to teach their congregation about biblical conversion, especially the need for repentance. Continue reading

Matthew 18 and Heresy in the Public Arena

DA CARSONDr. D. A. Carson go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Several years ago I wrote a fairly restrained critique of the emerging church movement as it then existed, before it morphed into its present diverse configurations.1 That little book earned me some of the angriest, bitterness-laced emails I have ever received—to say nothing, of course, of the blog posts. There were other responses, of course—some approving and grateful, some thoughtful and wanting to dialogue. But the ones that displayed the greatest intensity were those whose indignation was white hot because I had not first approached privately those whose positions I had criticized in the book. What a hypocrite I was—criticizing my brothers on ostensible biblical grounds when I myself was not following the Bible’s mandate to observe a certain procedure nicely laid out in Matt 18:15–17.

Doubtless this sort of charge is becoming more common. It is regularly linked to the “Gotcha!” mentality that many bloggers and their respondents seem to foster. Person A writes a book criticizing some element or other of historic Christian confessionalism. A few bloggers respond with more heat than light. Person B writes a blog with some substance, responding to Person A. The blogosphere lights up with attacks on Person B, many of them asking Person B rather accusingly, “Did you communicate with Person A in private first? If not, aren’t you guilty of violating what Jesus taught us in Matthew 18?” This pattern of counter-attack, with minor variations, is flourishing.

To which at least three things must be said:

(1) The sin described in the context of Matt 18:15–17 takes place on the small scale of what transpires in a local church (which is certainly what is envisaged in the words “tell it to the church”). It is not talking about a widely circulated publication designed to turn large numbers of people in many parts of the world away from historic confessionalism. This latter sort of sin is very public and is already doing damage; it needs to be confronted and its damage undone in an equally public way. This is quite different from, say, the situation where a believer discovers that a brother has been breaking his marriage vows by sleeping with someone other than his wife, and goes to him privately, then with one other, in the hope of bringing about genuine repentance and contrition, and only then brings the matter to the church.

To put the matter differently, the impression one derives from reading Matt 18 is that the sin in question is not, at first, publicly noticed (unlike the publication of a foolish but influential book). It is relatively private, noticed by one or two believers, yet serious enough to be brought to the attention of the church if the offender refuses to turn away from it. By contrast, when NT writers have to deal with false teaching, another note is struck: the godly elder “must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9 NIV). Continue reading

When to leave a Church and what to look for in a new one

John-MacArthurDr. John MacArthur Bible-believing church. Christians are commanded to respect, honor, and obey those whom God has placed in positions of leadership in the church (Heb. 13:7, 17). However, there are times when it becomes necessary to leave a church for the sake of one’s own conscience, or out of a duty to obey God rather than men. Such circumstances would include:

If heresy on some fundamental truth is being taught from the pulpit (Gal. 1:7-9).

If the leaders of the church tolerate seriously errant doctrine from any who are given teaching authority in the fellowship (Rom. 16:17).

If the church is characterized by a wanton disregard for Scripture, such as a refusal to discipline members who are sinning blatantly (1 Cor. 5:1-7).

If unholy living is tolerated in the church (1 Cor. 5:9-11).

If the church is seriously out of step with the biblical pattern for the church (2 Thess. 3:6, 14).

If the church is marked by gross hypocrisy, giving lip service to biblical Christianity but refusing to acknowledge its true power (2 Tim. 3:5).

This is not to suggest that these are the only circumstances under which people are permitted to leave a church. There is certainly nothing wrong with moving one’s membership just because another church offers better teaching or more opportunities for growth and service. But those who transfer their membership for such reasons ought to take extreme care not to sow discord or division in the church they are leaving. And such moves ought to be made sparingly. Membership in a church is a commitment that ought to be taken seriously. Continue reading