Was Dagg Right? (Pg. 2)
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WHEN A CHURCH ABANDONS DISCIPLINE, IT ABANDONS CHRIST
This is why Dagg said that when discipline leaves a church, Christ leaves with it. However, it is perhaps more accurate to say that when a church abandons discipline, it abandons Christ. Churches do not intend to abandon Christ, and they may not do so entirely. But by neglecting discipline they begin to drive a wedge between themselves and Jesus.
In addition the principle upon which they have abandoned discipline works like leaven, working more broadly to weaken a church's commitment to Christ and its ability to take up its cross and follow him. They conform increasingly to the world. It is only a matter of time before Christ abandons them.
In the New Testament, the Lord judged churches that tolerated offenses against God's law. The church at Corinth observed the Lord's Supper in a sinful manner by tolerating immorality, divisions, and partiality and contempt among the members. Therefore, God visited some of them with sickness and others with death (1 Cor. 11:30). Both the Greek text and the context suggest that their failure was not so much a failure to recognize Christ's presence, to "discern the body," as it was a failure of discipline, to "judge the body" (1 Cor. 11:29). In any case, there is a direct connection between the Corinthian church's toleration of sinful behavior and God's judgment upon them.
Jesus rebuked churches that disobeyed his command to exercise church discipline faithfully. He admonished the churches at Pergamum and Thyatira because they neglected church discipline (Rev. 2:14-15, 20). The Pergamum church tolerated those who held the "teaching of Balaam" and others who held the "teaching of the Nicolaitans." The Thyatira church tolerated a false prophetess. He commanded them to repent, which could only be accomplished by church discipline. We do not know to what extent they repented of these sins of failure to discipline. However, we do know that Jesus did ultimately judge these churches by abandoning them.
IF WE REFUSE TO REPENT
If our churches refuse to repent of tolerating unrepentant sin among our members, we can expect judgment. Therefore, let us presume no longer upon the Lord's mercy. Let us consider well what the Lord's reproof of the Sardis church in Revelations 3:1-3 means for our churches:
I know your works. You have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead. Wake up and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.
At that hour we will discover that Dagg was right.
Gregory A. Wills is an associate dean and professor of church history at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the author of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859-2009 (Oxford, 2009) as well as Democratic Religion (Oxford, 1997).
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