He was a middle-aged pastor of a nice-sized and fairly affluent church. The church was theologically conservative and held a high view of Scripture, which is what made his comment so tragically memorable.
He had asked me what I was working on, to which I answered, "A case of church discipline." I had been strongly convicted about taking God at his Word concerning church discipline. My own congregation had recently endured a difficult and painful situation, so I shared that I felt we would not be faithful if we did not strive to obey God in this area.
This was his response: "You're right, of course. But, you know, I decided early in my ministry what I would and would not be about, and that's just not a road I'm going to go down."
I've never forgotten his words. It's no small thing to deliberately decide to not heed Christ's instructions (Matt. 18:15-18), apostolic application of divine truth (1 Cor. 5:1-7,12-13), restorative congregational instruction (2 Cor. 2:6-8), a call to "fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:1-5), clear apostolic command (2 Thes. 3:6-10, Titus 3:9-11), injunctions to steer clear of those who disobey these instructions (2 Thes. 3:14), a God-ordained tool for instruction against blasphemy (1 Tim. 1:19b-20), and an unambiguous command that we "keep these rules" (1 Tim. 5:19-21).
Even so, many pastors have chosen not to go down "that road." They want job security. They want to avoid the difficulties of confrontation. They want to steer clear of the complex dynamics that inevitably surface in a congregation when we practice church discipline.
It's worth reminding ourselves as pastors what we stand to lose if we neglect biblical church discipline, as well as what we stand to gain by faithfully following God's Word.
WHAT WE STAND TO LOSE
- The Blessing and Favor of God
By neglecting church discipline, we stand to lose the blessings and favor of God. To make a knowing, intentional, and deliberate decision to write "No!" over the biblical teachings concerning church discipline is to write "Ichabod!" over the church. One seeks in vain for the blessing and favor of God when one chooses to ignore his instructions for his bride.
- Our Fallen Members
We may also lose our fallen members. Here is a sad irony: the fallen members that we don't want to "judge," "hurt," or "drive away" will, if left in their sins and robbed of the church's call for repentance, find themselves eventually despising and leaving the church anyway. Even if they don't leave, their inward distance from God makes their presence a mere façade, which means we've lost them anyway.
- Our Faithful Members
If we fail to take seriously the whole counsel of God, we risk alienating those members who do take God's counsel seriously. How odd it is to give up faithful members because we fear lovingly calling wayward members back to the Lord through the ministry of church discipline!
- Our Witness Before the Watching World
The world may despise the gospel, but at least it respects consistency. When we fail to speak the truth to those who shipwreck their faith, thereby complying with their harmful rebellion, the watching world turns away in derision at the open hypocrisy of the church.
- Our Authority to Speak
What right do we have to speak a prophetic word to our culture about unhinged sexual libertinism if the very same rebellion runs unchecked in our churches? What right do we have to speak against corruption and greed if we fail to confront those things in our own church? To tear out the passages on church discipline is to tear out our own tongue.
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