Sunday, April 03, 2011

Observations about Church Discipline from 1 Corinthians 5

Part five of my story about how I left fundamentalism engendered some controversy in the comment section of the post about a few points therein. The most contention came with the attack on a case of discipline practiced by our church. At least two readers questioned the veracity, integrity, or credibility of our church. They argued that they could ignore the discipline of our church with impunity, rightfully rejecting it and then accepting the excommunicated member. One of the key ideas is that one church does not have authority over another one, so a church cannot stop another church from taking in its former, disciplined member. Another thought is that to be able accept witnesses, one had to be present to be sure that everything was done right. People are sinful and can do wrong things, so it would be easy for someone to receive discipline who really didn't deserve it.

Paul writes about church discipline in 1 Corinthians 5. The church at Corinth had not practiced discipline against one of its sinning members, so Paul admonishes them to do so. I want us to consider some truth in the first five verses of that chapter that relate to the discussion about the discipline as reported in part five of my story. First, here are the first five verses of 1 Corinthians 5:

1It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife.

2And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.

3For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed,

4In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,

5To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

First, Paul wasn't in Corinth to witness the sin in Corinth himself. You can see in v. 1 that it was reported to him by others. We can and should believe reports from others. If several people are saying that they are seeing the same thing, that report can be believed. And Paul believed. An unwillingness to believe a report is just that, an unwillingness to believe it. It should be believed.

Second, according to v. 3, Paul believed that he could unilaterally decide, based upon that report, without even being present, that discipline should have been enacted. And we are talking about the church at Corinth here, who was harboring a man in the state of committing incest without repentance. Could anyone there be trustworthy to give an accurate report when no one had stepped up to the discipline of this man? Paul had already decided that this man should have been removed from the church.

Third, in v. 4, Paul calls upon the vertical authority of Jesus Himself in the case of discipline. Jesus is acting in church discipline. The "power of our Lord Jesus Christ" goes back to Jesus' teaching on discipline in Matthew 18. What is bound or loosed on earth is bound or loosed in heaven. Heaven is acting in a case of church discipline, even if it were the church at Corinth. And then when two or three witnesses speak in a case of church discipline, Jesus' presence is there in their witness.

Why would there need to be so much of an introduction to the method of church discipline, calling upon the authority of Jesus Christ in it? Because men are going to question and attack church discipline. They will have their "reasons" to do so, moving into the credibility and the veracity of the church. But they are crossing Jesus when they do so, because Paul said that Jesus' power was involved as well. Paul calls upon the "name of Jesus Christ" because church discipline is exactly what Jesus would have done if He were there. We get a taste of that from Revelation 2:18ff when Jesus speaks to the church at Thyatira for harboring a Jezebel in its midst.

Fourth, Paul relates the authority of the church in this matter, when he writes, "when ye are gathered together" in v. 4. There was no authority over the church of Corinth in its discipline of this member. Paul says "ye." That church was operating with the power of Jesus Christ when it gathered together. A person or other church which ignores the discipline by a church, when the issue is witnessed by two, three, or even commonly reported, they disrespect Jesus. It's His power by which this is done. Surely the credibility of the church of Corinth could be questioned, but even with that church, it was the power of Jesus at work in discipline.

A separate church, gathered together, has the authority to discipline a member. That is the kind of authority God gives a church. And God trusts a church in doing that. It is a shame when other professing Christians or churches will not do that. Really it is more than a shame, it is a repudiation of Jesus Christ Himself, because the act of discipline was done by His authority. The discipline of a single church is the act of Jesus. His authority rests with a church.

Some might judge Bethel Baptist Church in El Sobrante, CA to be illegitimate simply because it believes in one text of Scripture, which English translation is only the King James Version, or because it believes God expects men and women to wear clothes with designed distinctions between genders. Or they might judge that Bethel Baptist Church should be ignored in its discipline because its pastor, like other pastors, makes strong, dogmatic statements about belief as if scripture is perspicuous. They might feel justified in disbelieving a violation which is commonly reported by that church. I would ask anyone like that to consider the problems of the church of Corinth, and that Paul believed that church could and should practice discipline of its members even without his presence. And then understand that you do not just oppose Bethel Baptist Church, but also the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, when you disrespect its discipline.


d4v34x said...

One of the interesting things to me is the weird dichotomy that seems to be present in some universal church believers (of which I am one). If we want to be all "unity, unity, unity," how can we with any legitimacy ignore or scoff at another local body's discipline? A thorough investigation and communication between the two churches about the case just seems mandatory.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the post, Pastor Brandenburger,

Another thing to consider is that by refusing to give credibility to another church's disciplining of a member, and accepting him in (and subsequently giving him a positive mandate, under the authority of that church, to go out and train as a missionary), the members of the receiving church are setting themselves up for destruction because they are aiding and abetting the defilement of their own church (I Cor. 3:17). Taking in another church's problem case - one who was unrepentant, one who positively refused biblical correction on what should be a pretty obvious case of wrongdoing - and giving this person kudos, in essence, is to basically introduce leaven into your own church. After all, biblically speaking, there doesn't seem to necessarily be a really good reason to think this man is even saved (Titus 3:10-11), and BBC would in fact even seem to be commanded to treat him as a heathen man and a publican (Matt. 18:17). Yet, this is what that other church did.

I won't address the mission board in this aspect of the matter, since the mission board has no real biblical authority, and therefore no real legitimacy, anywise. The mission board is a "political vacuum," so to speak.

So the question I think is interesting is "Why were there so many folks coming on with their knickers in a knot about your church disciplining an obviously erring member who positively refused to get right, and your efforts to maintain fellowship with another church that was acting in a foolish and undiscerning manner?"

That's an interesting question, one that I've been mulling since the discussion really started to get heated on the last thread a few days ago.

Frankly, I think it comes down to the fact that we have a number of people coming on here who basically seek to try to use "exceptions" to get around the rule.

It's like with discussions that have been had on this very blog before, about honouring the Lord with our dress, about how we should wear our best when we come to worship, in contradiction to the dumbed-down, "come as you are" approach being adopted by many evangelical, and even fundamental churches.

You know how it goes. There's always got to be one or two guys who think they've got it all figured out and can "refute" the idea of dressing to honour the Lord by asking questions like "what if all you have to wear to church are overalls?" or somesuch.

The answer? Then you wear your best overalls, because what matters is your heart attitude of giving God your best. If your "good overalls" are what you have, then you wear them. I come from a part of the country where people really do have such a thing as their "good overalls," btw.

But we have folks who actually, for whatever reason, think that asking that type of question is some sort of good argument. In other words, they're trying to find some legalistic little exception to get around the rule.

Sort of like how the Pharisees would let adult children declare their goods "Corban" - dedicated to the temple, even though they could continue to use and enjoy them in practice - so as to get around the biblical mandate to honour their parents, in this case, by taking care of them in their old age (Mark 7:11; I Tim. 5:4,8)

In other words - the "exception clause people" are basically acting like Pharisees. Sorry, but they are. (more)

Anonymous said...

(from previous) And so we see it with the matter of church discipline. They all say they're for it. Except that there always seems to be a reason why it shouldn't have been done, in every particular case. In the discussion on the previous thread, this was had by means of questioning the matter of this lazy man's refusal to get a job.

It was "rude" and "arrogant" to offer him a job at the church (no it wasn't).

The Bible never says that *men* have to be the ones bringing home the bacon (well, yes it does actually).

Proverbs 31 says a woman can support a household (no it doesn't, actually).

He wasn't lazy - he was taking care of the kids (not really his job anywise, Titus 2:4-5).

And so on. Essentially, rather than just accept what the Bible plainly teaches, and accepting the authority and the legitimacy of Bethel Baptist Church's disciplining of this man for violating the Scripture, the Sharper Iron crowd (and look folks, we know that's who a lot of you are) comes on here trying to find every possible nitpicking exception to get around the simple fact of the rule of Scripture.

I find this to be a very sad thing.

Don Johnson said...

Well, Kent, let me propose a scenario for you to aid my understanding of what you are saying. Suppose I am pastoring in your area and we have a guy in our church who we discipline. We discipline him out because we discover he believes like you believe, in "one text of Scripture, which English translation is only the King James Version", but we don't hold that view. The guy hasn't been divisive about it, but we just don't like him believing that so we discipline him out.

This guy now is looking for a church to attend. He hears about you and comes to your church. He finds that he believes exactly the same as you do and wants to join your church. He is still under discipline from our church, we haven't been able to get him to repent and he won't see things our way.

What do you do?

Don Johnson
Jeremiah 33.3

Kent Brandenburg said...


In order to answer your hypothetical question, Don, would you discipline someone out for believing as we do on the versions, who has not caused division in your church? I don't really desire to deal with situations that have no reality in the actual world.

I can tell you this though, Don, if you disciplined someone out of your church, and he came to me, you would get a phone call, and it is very highly unlikely that we would take him into our church. That's not a sense I've gotten from you in this discussion. I sense you support the church that took in our disciplined member---I base that on your "snarky" comment over at your blog.

Your hypothetical is not anything at all, even a scintilla of anything what happened here. It is nothing more than a smokecloud, a red herring in this, very much like our two commenters to part five of the blog.

Don, I would support your discipline. If you had my situation, I would support your church. I would take whatever "political" loss there would be because Jesus loves the church.

Would you discipline someone for believing there is one Hebrew and Greek text for Scripture, based upon the doctrine of perfect preservation?

Kent Brandenburg said...


Good observation.


I do believe that finding some exceptional situation as the way out is par for the course. When California tried to pass a education voucher in the state, the opposition said it would result in "witch schools" taking the vouchers. Or it could be that situation where we have a godly, non-divisive man disciplined out of a church for believing there is one Bible, disciplined out of a multiple version church, who comes to join our church.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Bloggerburg,

I was just going to mention Don's example as being in the same vein: find an outlandish hypothetical example that supposedly overturns the rule, and use that as an exception clause.

To address your example Don, I think you're comparing apples and oranges here.

In Pastor Bloggenburg's case with the man in his church, you had a man who was both violating Scripture, AND refusing the church's authority to deal with his matter (i.e. being divisive).

In the case you've proposed, the man in question would be doing neither. You're already set up the question such that the man is not being divisive. And it would be absolutely, unfathomably ludicrous to think that believing in the Scriptural promise of preservation is somehow "unscriptural" (one would think this would be readily apparent, "by definition.")

As such, the circumstances that were found in the case of Bethel Baptist are not found in your hypothetical. The question is not relevant.

Don Johnson said...

Hi Kent, no, I wouldn't discipline someone just for believing as you believe, only if he was divisive about it.

However, I was trying to paint a scenario of an unjust church discipline situation, which I think my scenario would be. I am not making a comment about the specific situation you are talking about since I don't know and can't know all the details.

My point was, if someone was unjustly disciplined from a church, would you accept him as a member in spite of that cloud of unjust discipline hanging over him?

I am not saying that is the case here, but simply pointing out that it isn't simply a matter of taking one church's word for it. I think you are mistaken in this article to suggest that your report should be believed simply because you say so.

I also think that you aren't doing right by bringing up this particular issue at this time. It seems you have more of an axe to grind with BWM than you have of explaining why you left fundamentalism.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Kent Brandenburg said...


I agree.


If I had an axe to grind with BWM, I would have ground it years ago. This is something I believe needs to be exposed. Fundamentalism has had no problem exposing Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham, rightfully so. Some fundamentalists also expose John MacArthur and John Piper, rightfully so. I'm one of those, and you've never questioned my doing so---for instance, the Resolved Conference. However, here is an example of an unresolved violation of scripture, a typical situation in fundamentalists, and a fundamentalist judges it to be an axe to grind. Why judge it that way? Why not judge it like you would fundamentalists who expose Jerry Falwell?

We would not discipline someone who was not causing division. I believe we would take someone who was not disciplined according to God's Word, but we would thoroughly check it out with the church first and also completely explain why we would take them in. Churches that just cast out members, like Diotrephes, should not be respected for that. I reject and resent any implication that this is what we did. We did not.

You say that you were not there so you cannot know what happened. Paul was not there in Corinth, so could he not know what happened? Why is it we can believe reports about Jerry Falwell when we are not there, but we can't believe this?

And Don, if one of my best friends did what was done to our church to you and your church, I would support you and your church. I would confront the friend and expect repentance. I've got a track record too of doing this kind of thing. I guarantee that I would. However, my good friends wouldn't do this.