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

Church Discipline

Justin Taylor writes:

The following notes are from Jonathan Leeman’s short and very helpful book, Church Discipline: How the Church Protects the Name of Jesus (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).

3 Forms of Discipline

Formative discipline helps to form the disciple through instruction.

Corrective discipline helps to correct the disciple through correcting sin (Matt. 18:15-17; Gal. 6:1; Eph. 5:11; Titus 3:10; 2 Thess. 3:14-15; 1 Cor. 5:1-13).

Preemptive discipline disallows someone from participating in the fellowship of the church in the first place (2 John 2:9-10; see an example of this in Acts 8:17-24).

The following notes have to do with “corrective discipline.”

6 Reasons Churches Should Practice Church Discipline

Church discipline is biblical.
Church discipline is an implication of the gospel.
Church discipline promotes the health of the church.
Church discipline clarifies and burnishes the church’s witness before the nations.
Church discipline warns sinners of an even greater judgment to come.
Most importantly, church discipline protects the name and reputation of Jesus Christ on earth.

4 Ways Church Discipline Demonstrates Love

Church discipline shows love for the individual, that he or she might be warned and brought to repentance.
Church discipline shows love for the church, that weaker sheep might be protected.
Church discipline shows love for the watching world, that it might see Christ’s transforming power.
Church discipline shows love for Christ, that churches might uphold his holy name and obey him.

5 Purposes of Church Discipline from 1 Corinthians 5

1. Discipline aims to expose.

Sin, like cancer, loves to hide. Discipline exposes the cancer so that it might be cut out quickly (see 1 Cor. 5:2)

2. Discipline aims to warn.

A church does not enact God’s retribution through discipline. Rather, it stages a small play that pictures the great judgment to come (v. 5). Discipline is a compassionate warning.

3. Discipline aims to save.

Churches pursue discipline when they see a member taking the path toward death, and none of their pleading and arm-waving causes the person to turn around. It’s the device of last resort for bringing an individual to repentance (v. 5).

4. Discipline aims to protect.

Just as cancer spreads from one cell to another, so sin quickly spreads from one person to another (v. 6).

5. Discipline aims to present a good witness for Jesus.

Church discipline, strange to say, is actually good for non-Christians, because it helps to preserve the attractive distinctiveness of God’s people (see v. 1). Churches, remember, should be salt and light. “But if the salt loses its saltiness . . . ,” Jesus said, “It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled by men” (Matt. 5:13, NIV).

4 Foundational Assumptions for Church Discipline

1. An expectation of transformation.

The new covenant promises that Christ’s people will live transformed lives through the power of the Spirit. Even if change comes slowly, churches should expect change—the visible fruit of God’s grace and Spirit. Discipline is the right response to a lack of visible fruit, or, even more, the presence of bad fruit.

2. The work of representation.

Christians are to be little Christs, representing Jesus on earth. The concept of representation depends on the idea that Jesus is Savior and Lord; it depends on the fact that Christians are given a new status and a new work. Discipline is the right response when Christians fail to represent Jesus and show no desire for doing so.

3. The local church’s authority.

Jesus gave the local church the authority of the keys to officially affirm and oversee citizens of his kingdom. Churches do not make people Christians. The Spirit does that. But churches have the declarative authority and responsibility for making public statements before the nations about who is and isn’t a Christian. A church’s act of excommunication, therefore, does not consist of physically and forcibly removing the individual from its public gatherings, as if the church had the state’s power of the sword to physically move people’s bodies; rather, it consists of the public statement that it can no longer vouch for an individual’s citizenship in heaven. Excommunication is a church’s declaration that it can no longer affirm that an individual is a Christian.

4. Membership as submission.

Christians are called, as a matter of obedience to Christ, to submit to the affirmation and oversight of local churches. When threatened by a possible act of disci­pline, therefore, church members cannot simply preempt the church’s action with a resignation. That would be analogous to an individual resigning his national citizenship before a court could prosecute the criminal activity for which he had been indicted.

5 Principles for the Process of Church Discipline

The process should involve as few people as possible for yielding repentance.
When the process moves beyond one or several people, church leaders should lead the process.
The length of the process depends on how long it takes to establish that a person is characteristically unrepentant.

Individuals should receive the benefit of the doubt until the evidence indicates otherwise.
Leaders should involve and instruct the congregation as appropriate.
What Excommunication Signifies

“The church removes its public affirmation by barring the member from the Lord’s Table. It takes away his passport and announces that it can no longer formally affirm the individual’s citizenship in Christ’s kingdom” (p. 50).

1 of 3 Conclusions Churches Need to Arrive at before Determining It Is Time to Act

When a church becomes convinced that a person is genuinely repentant, it should not proceed with any form of discipline (and I cannot think of a single exception to this principle).
When a church becomes convinced that a person is characteristically (not temporarily) unrepentant, it should proceed with excommunication.

When a sin is so deliberate, repugnant, and indicative of a deep double-mindedness that a congregation is left unable to give credence to a profession of repentance, at least until time has passed and trust has been re-earned, it should pro­ceed with excommunication, determining to test for repentance after the fact.

See also, Pastors, Don’t Let Your People Resign into Thin Air and 22 Mistakes Pastors Make about Church Discipline.

Restoring Grace

Here is an article on the subject of “Church Restoration” from the website of Cross Church, found here.

The grace of biblically restoring those who fall

Introduction:

Church Restoration (known widely as church discipline) is one of the primary means God uses to correct and restore His children when they fall into sin. It is not meant for retribution, revenge or retaliation; but for repentance, reconciliation and restoration. It is also one-way in which unity, purity, integrity, and godly reputation is maintained in the church. Though we may approach others in private or public instruction, by admonishment, counsel, or rebuke, and in some cases exclusion from membership, God is the One who chastens or disciplines His disobedient children, not us, as a sign that they are truly His (Heb. 12:3-13). However, Christ Himself designed the church to be heaven’s instrument in carrying out this grace-filled process of restoration and repentance (Matthew 18:15-20; Galatians 6:1-4).

The purpose of this statement is to define, in general terms, five classes of sinful behavior for which church restoration may be necessary, and to explain how the Bible instructs us to respond to each one. We must not assume, however, that every situation will fall neatly into a single category. Transgressions are often confusing combinations or variations of these general classes, making the proper course of action difficult to determine. For this reason, the church and its leaders must carry out this process of restoration clothed in humility, motivated by love, bathed in prayer, being led solely by the diligent application of Scripture, and utter reliance upon the Spirit of God for discernment and grace.

May any circumstance we face regarding Church Restoration be done to God’s glory and for the good of His people. Continue reading

Matthew 18:15-20

Question: Pastor John, what do you do if you confront a chuch member with an offense and they do not respond. You then get another witness to confront them and they will not respond. Then the two of you go to the church eldership with the whole matter because the offender will not respond. Then the elders take the position of the offender. What in the world do you do then?

Thanks for your question. In Matthew chapter 18, Jesus outlined the sequence of steps we are to take when there is an offence between an individual and a fellow brother or sister in the church. This process is something rarely enforced today, much to our shame. However, Jesus’ words still stand. He expects His disciples (including those privileged with the task of leadership) to follow His word in these matters.

Jesus, in Matthew 18:15-20 says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 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. 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. 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. 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. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

If you have indeed followed Jesus’ protocol, once you have exhausted the biblical steps mentioned here, there’s really not much you can do. You have discharged your duty before God in doing all in your power to see the matter brought to justice. The Lord knows that.

The elders have then taken a position you do not agree with. Not knowing the situation, I do not know if the disagreement you have with the elders is because the they do not see enough proof that the other party is in violation of Scripture in their conduct, or whether the elders know of the violation but will not implement Church discipline. It is hard for me to comment further on the matter, not knowing any more than what you have revealed.

The only question that remains is whether you believe the matter to be so serious and such a violation of Scripture that your conscience will no longer allow you to submit to the leadership of the Church.
Continue reading

Church Discipline

Dr. David Murray, president of HeadHeartHand, is the Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. He lives in Grand Rapids with his wife, Shona, and four children.

Church discipline is an often englected subject in the life of the Church. Historically, that was not the case. The Reformers noted three marks of a true Church: (1) the preaching of the Gospel; (2) a right administration of the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper); and (3) the use of Church disipline.

There are good reasons for the people of God to be made aware of what Church discipline actually is, how it is to function in the life of the local Church, and how it can be very useful to them personally to make the experience of life in the community of God a safe place for them.

I found the following two articles by Dr. Murray to be both wise and practical. I will put the two articles together in the one place here.

(1) PREPARE FOR CHURCH DISCIPLINE

Prevention is better than cure, especially in the sphere of church discipline. As discipline cases can very easily consume a pastor’s time and energy, and even consume the pastor and his congregation, the prevention of church discipline should be a high pastoral priority.

And how do we do that?

We do it, first, by preaching, by regularly setting forth clear standards of Christian confession, character, and conduct in our regular preaching ministry. Our flock needs to know where the fences are, where the no-go areas are, and what to expect if they cross them.

Second, we prevent church discipline by pastoral visitation. We need to keep in close and regular contact with the sheep to gauge where they are in their walk with God. In those one-to-one situations we may detect small changes in belief, attitude, spirit or character that can be addressed before they become big and irreversible problems.

However, no matter how well we preach and pastor, no matter how much we try to prevent it, church discipline problems are going to arise. It’s therefore best to prepare the congregation, and especially the officebearers, before it arises.

Early in a pastor’s ministry (not the first sermon, of course, but certainly within a few months) he should preach a sermon on church discipline, before he has to deal with any cases. That keeps the subject objective and avoids personalizing it. Points to make may include:

The necessity of church discipline
One Church order book puts it like this: “Any institution or society which is to function effectively must be well-ordered: it must have recognised means of correcting aberrations which threaten its integrity. This is true pre-eminently of the Church of Jesus Christ, whose witness in the world depends so intimately on the godly behavior of its members.”

The warrant for church discipline
This is not something thought up by legalistic control-freaks. Rather, it has divine warrant (Matthew 18:15-19). So important did the Reformers see church discipline that they included it as one of the marks of the church along with preaching and the sacraments.

The benefits of good church discipline
Listen to this comprehensive list of benefits from a Scottish book of Church order: “Church discipline and censures are of great use and necessity in the Church, that the name of God, by reason of ungodly and wicked persons living in the Church, be not blasphemed, nor his wrath provoked against his people; that the godly be not leavened with but preserved from the contagion, and stricken with fear; and that sinners who are to be censured may be ashamed, to the destruction of the flesh and saving of the spirit in the day of the Lord Jesus.”

The procedure for church discipline
The roolz! Don’t we just love ‘em!! Well, whether we love them or not we’d better get to know them, and get to know them fast. I know it is far more edifying and enjoyable to read the latest books from Reformation Heritage Books, but knowing the intricacies of the church’s discipline procedures could save a pastor’s ministry, and even save a soul.

As so many of the problems associated with church discipline arise from a lack of procedure, a failure to follow it, or an abuse of it, we must familiarize ourselves with the principles and the practice. If your church does not have any formal procedures, then find one that does, get their protocols, and copy or adapt their methods. Train the elders in this and also communicate to the congregation what they can expect, so that they are not taken by surprise or think that they are being unfairly treated.

Whatever we do, we must not abuse, shortcut or override the stated procedures, however tempted we are to do so. When some people are accused of sins, they train their sights on the procedures rather than their sin, and can easily turn the focus away from themselves, away from what they have done, and to what we have done or not done in the process.
Continue reading