Church Discipline

Church discipline is the single biggest problem in the church today. There is nothing more serious that the lack of serious commitment to the keys of the kingdom. Many churches have decent Word and Sacrament. But they fall flat on their face with regard to church discipline. As a result, Christ’s name is dragged through the mud, and serious offences are overlooked, or dealt with in an atrocious way.

If church discipline does happen, then many people will cry foul, especially if there is hypocrisy involved. This is understandable, but not warranted. If the church officers are so brave as to actually enforce church discipline, then the parishioner should abide by it, and take their lumps, and, most importantly, repent! One thing that countless parishioners forget is that church officers must give an account to God for their actions, especially in how they maintain the purity and peace of the flock. That includes the spiritual well-being of the people in the church.

What is usually more difficult to accept, as a parishioner, is that the action of the session is warranted (when it is warranted). Everyone who undergoes church censure thinks that they are innocent, or in some way not deserving of the church censure. This is always the case. However, the fact of the matter is that offending brothers and sisters need that discipline for their spiritual well-being. We should then be encouraging our church officers when they have the guts to enforce spiritual discipline, rather than reproaching them for “being unkind.” After all, you wouldn’t reproach a doctor for cutting into you to remove a cancerous tumor. That is not unloving, but rather loving in the extreme. If the church council does not love their parishioners, then discipline will not occur. If they do love their parishioners, then discipline will occur. It is that simple. Do we love our parishioners enough to exercise church discipline on them?

And then the question is how this should be done. It is a fact that some exercises of discipline are unloving because they have not gone through the proper steps, as laid out in Matthew 18. They might skip a step or two, and then the parishioner is left wondering where this came from. Instead, gentle but firm admonition is the first step, by oneself (unless there is a history of misbehavior before, or if it is a case of a man and a woman who are not married confronting each other; then there should be a witness, one who is impartial and friend to both sides). If that does not work, then bring someone along. If that does not work, then it should be brought before the session. There are steps before excommunication, as well. There is suspension from the Lord’s Supper, and maybe even an excommunication that is temporary. Every chance should be given to the offender to repent and come back, since that is the entire and sole purpose of discipline anyway. Only then can it be said that the church did everything possible, and the offender refused to listen.

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Church Discipline

Church discipline is the single biggest problem in the church today. There is nothing more serious that the lack of serious commitment to the keys of the kingdom. Many churches have decent Word and Sacrament. But they fall flat on their face with regard to church discipline. As a result, Christ’s name is dragged through the mud, and serious offences are overlooked, or dealt with in an atrocious way.

If church discipline does happen, then many people will cry foul, especially if there is hypocrisy involved. This is understandable, but not warranted. If the church officers are so brave as to actually enforce church discipline, then the parishioner should abide by it, and take their lumps, and, most importantly, repent! One thing that countless parishioners forget is that church officers must give an account to God for their actions, especially in how they maintain the purity and peace of the flock. That includes the spiritual well-being of the people in the church.

What is usually more difficult to accept, as a parishioner, is that the action of the session is warranted (when it is warranted). Everyone who undergoes church censure thinks that they are innocent, or in some way not deserving of the church censure. This is always the case. However, the fact of the matter is that offending brothers and sisters need that discipline for their spiritual well-being. We should then be encouraging our church officers when they have the guts to enforce spiritual discipline, rather than reproaching them for “being unkind.” After all, you wouldn’t reproach a doctor for cutting into you to remove a cancerous tumor. That is not unloving, but rather loving in the extreme. If the church council does not love their parishioners, then discipline will not occur. If they do love their parishioners, then discipline will occur. It is that simple. Do we love our parishioners enough to exercise church discipline on them?

And then the question is how this should be done. It is a fact that some exercises of discipline are unloving because they have not gone through the proper steps, as laid out in Matthew 18. They might skip a step or two, and then the parishioner is left wondering where this came from. Instead, gentle but firm admonition is the first step, by oneself (unless there is a history of misbehavior before, or if it is a case of a man and a woman who are not married confronting each other; then there should be a witness, one who is impartial and friend to both sides). If that does not work, then bring someone along. If that does not work, then it should be brought before the session. There are steps before excommunication, as well. There is suspension from the Lord’s Supper, and maybe even an excommunication that is temporary. Every chance should be given to the offender to repent and come back, since that is the entire and sole purpose of discipline anyway. Only then can it be said that the church did everything possible, and the offender refused to listen.

Self Rights or Other’s Rights?

Matthew 5:38-42
In 1878, Floyd Hatfield had a pig. But Randolph McCoy said it was his. The courts decided in favor of Floyd Hatfield because of the testimony of Bill Staton, a relative of both families. Staton was murdered by two of the McCoy brothers, who were eventually acquitted on account of self-defense. Then Roseanna McCoy decided to have an affair with Johnse Hatfield. Johnse was kidnapped by the McCoys and had to be rescued by the Hatfields. Then, in 1882, Ellison Hatfield was murdered by three McCoys, who were murdered in turn by the Hatfields. The vendetta escalated until more than a dozen members of these two families had been killed. The vendetta didn’t end until the Supreme Court stepped in, as well as the National Guard, called in by the governors of Kentucky and West Virginia. The feud finally ended in 1891. It is commemorated in the TV show “Family Feud,” in which the winner got a symbolic pig. The show was started with descendents of the Hatfields and the McCoys. This kind of revengeful attitude is everywhere. You see in bumper stickers (“I don’t get mad; I get even”). You see it in the slogan, “Fight fire with fire.” This kind of attitude has one thing at its heart: the self. As long as the self reigns supreme on the throne of the human heart, then revenge will always be a problem. We want to stand up for our rights. We are even told by the US Bill of Rights that we have certain unalienable rights. But as long as we are so concerned about our own rights, then we will continue to view our own rights as more important than the rights of others. That kind of thinking is precisely what Jesus is challenging here in this portion of His Holy Word. What Jesus gives us is a practical application of the seventh Beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” We are to give up our lawful rights, even when the retribution would have been just. We are to fight fire with water, not with fire. If we fight fire with fire, then we increase the fire. Instead of looking out for our best interests, we should be looking out for the interests of others.

Now it is vital to state at the outset that this passage does not refer to the government. As Paul says in Romans 13, the government is there to punish evildoers. They are there to give “tit for tat.” But Jesus is talking to Christians as individuals. Some people have interpreted this passage to mean that there should be no police force at all. Leo Tolstoy, the Russian author believed this, as well did Mahatma Ghandi. They have not interpreted this text correctly. This passage is addressed to Christ’s disciples. Besides, what is true of one person within a group is not necessarily true of the group as a whole. The authority given to government is not given to individuals. This is very important to keep in mind.

Jesus starts by reminding us of OT law. This law was called the “lex talionis,” or “law of the claw.” This is given for us in Exodus 21:23-25: But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. We must be aware of the fact that this law was given to the government of Israel, NOT to individuals. The law was given to prevent private revenge. It was also given to limit revenge. It was given to prevent something like the Hatfield-McCoy feud. Instead of one person killing another for a relatively small injury, they were to go to the court, where the judge would pronounce a public verdict, making the punishment fit the crime. However, Jews had taken this to mean that they should take private revenge, and that they should always take this revenge, and that the courts did not need to be involved. That is the background for what Jesus says to us.

The first thing that Jesus tells us to avoid is retribution. That is what is meant by “resist.” It could mean that we don’t take the person to court. It also means that we don’t seek immediate retribution by hitting the other person back. How hard that is! And yet, as Joseph Caryl the great Puritan said, “When ye have received one wrong, be ye not meditating how to revenge that but be ye preparing how to receive a second.”

The first example Jesus gives is that of personal insult. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, and they are facing you, then that means they must have used the backside of their hand (assuming they were right-handed). To slap someone with the back of the hand was regarded as one of the most insulting things you could do. The rabbis instituted a very heavy fine for doing so. This is what they said, “If someone slaps his fellow, he must pay him 200 days’ wages. If he slaps him with the back of the hand, then it is 400 days’ wages.” So Jesus is saying here that retaliation has no place at all in the Christian life! We often say, “Don’t just stand there, do something!” Well Jesus says, “Don’t just do something, stand there!”

This is all about dying to our self. As one writer puts it, if we are already justified before God, then we can endure any kind of unjustifiable behavior from others. Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it this way, “This morbid sensitiveness, this whole condition in which self is ‘on edge’ and so delicately and sinsitively poised and balanced that the slightest disturbance can upset its equilibrium, must be got rid of.” we often are so sensitive for the rights and interests of ourselves that the slightest insult can put us completely over the edge. That kind of attitude has no place at all in the Christian life. Lloyd-Jones goes on to say, “Self is the main cause of unhappiness in life. ‘Ah,’ you say, ‘but it is not my fault; it is what someone else has done.’ All right; analyse yourself and the other person, and you will find the other person probably acted as he did because of self, and you are really feeling it for the same reason.” Often we get this idea that what we do is determined by what the other guy does. “Well, he struck first.” Instead of blindly striking back, we need to go through a much more deliberate procedure: we need to identify what it is that the other person has done. Then we need to examine how that action made us feel. Then we need to examine the various options for a reply. Only then should we respond. Someone else’s sin NEVER forces us to sin. If we say that, then we are just passing the buck along to someone else.

Notice something truly amazing about this example. Jesus says that the person is evil who is insulting you. In other words, this is a true provocation. In human terms, you would have a right to retaliation. You would have a right to the court-room. Jesus says that we are to forgo even a righteous vengeance. The other person is clearly called a sinner. In fact, the language suggests that Satan himself is egging on the other person. That person truly sinned against you. Your sense of justice is correct if you think that retribution must come. However, the vengeance belongs to the Lord. It is NEVER for us to exact this vengeance. Again, remember that we have been justified by faith. If that is so, then we can be treated as unjustifiably as possible: God will vindicate us. The fact that the person is evil indicates to us that he will be judged. But he will be judged publically before the whole world. Jesus is not telling us to eliminate our sense of justice. He is asking for us to get the big picture of the final judgment day.

The second example involves the law-court. It was not lawful for anyone to sue someone for their outer cloak. That was specifically forbidden in OT law in Exodus 22:26 and Deuteronomy which both command the return of the cloak before sunset so that the poor man can sleep in his cloak. In other words, the OT itself says that every man has a right to his outer cloak. Jesus says that we should not even stand on a right given to us in the OT. William Barclay says this, “The Christian thinks not of his rights, but of his duties; not of his privileges, but of his responsibilities.” If one literally did what Jesus said, then he woud be standing in the court without any clothes on at all! That is precisely Jesus’ point: we should consider worldly honor to be very important. The world is always throwing mud at Christians. We should not be like that. We should not stand on our rights or clutch at our privileges. Instead, we should have the mind of Christ Jesus, Philippians 2:6-11 “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Our premier example of this kind of self-abasement is Jesus Himself, who washed His disciples’ feet, stood still before those who mocked Him, was led like a lamb to the slaughter, like a sheep before its shearers was silent.

The third example concerns an oppressive government. This vers is where we get our phrase, “Go the extra mile.” However, we usually mean by that merely that we give 110%. That is not what Jesus is talking about. He is talking about government. Roman soldiers had the right to compel someon to carry something for a certain distance, here a mile. This actually happened in the NT when the Roman authorities compelled Symon of Cyrene to carry the cross of Christ. That was the compulsion that Jesus was talking about. This was an extremely irritating thing that the Roman governement could do, and the Jews hated it. But as T.W. Manson said so eloquently, “The first mile renders to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. The second mile renders to God the things that are God’s.” Going the second mile also indicates that you are not a slave inside, even if you are one outside. You are free from inner oppression, since you have been set free by Jesus Christ Himself. That is what He did on the cross, becoming subject to the power of death, that He might conquer it completely. Ultimately, Rome would bow before the power of the cross, and so will all worldly governement. Jesus implies that we must do it graciously. William Barclay says, “A man can do the irreducible minimum and not a stroke more; he can do it in such a way that he makes it clear that he hates the whole thing; he can do it with the barest minimum of efficiency and no more; or he can do it with a smile, with a gracious courtesy, with a determination, not only to do this thing, but to do it well and graciously.”

This means that when the governement asks us to do something that is irksome, like pay our taxes, we should comply. We need to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. When the governement asks us to go a certain speed on the road, we should comply. I know that I am often guilty of that one. But should we not go the speed limit? What difference does it make as to whether the police officers don’t enforce the rule as strictly as they should? If we think that way, then what we are really doing is asking how much we get away with. We should obey the laws of the land.

This verse also has application to all that we do. We can wash dishes to the glory of God, shovel manure for the glory of God, take out the trash for the glory of God. We can do the most demeaning, humble things imaginable. If you do that with a cheerful heart as unto the Lord, He will not forget it. Jesus did the most demeaning thing ever done, and was glorified for it. If you do something to the glory of God, it does not matter how little it may be, you will not lose your reward.

In verse 42 we see the same principle applied to someone who has not offended us. In the previous examples, our dying to self was in reference to those who were hurting us in some way. Here, however, we see that the same principle applies to the situation in which we find ourselves asked by someone in need to do something or give something. Augustine noticed something important about this passage: this does not say, “give everything to him who asks,” but “give to everyone who asks.” Give to the person what they really need. If they need gas in their car, then go fill their tank. If they need food, then feed them. If they need a place to stay for the night, then arrange it. This is wisdom. Someone might ask you for money on the street. This used to happen all the time in Philadelphia. The church we were attending told us not to give money to people who asked you on the street, since you don’t know what they are going to spend that money on. However, if they say that they need food, then you go buy them a meal. You will know whether they truly need food or not by their response. If they reject you because you wouldn’t give them money, then you know that they would have spent the money on drugs or alcohol. But if they accept your generosity, then you know that they really needed that. Give what is really needed, if it is in your power. This is also part of dying to self. Other people’s needs come before our convenience. All four examples then, teach us to die to self, and rise to God. This cannot happen but by the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Jesus Christ is the One who always gave more than what was required. He didn’t have to come down to earth and die. He could have just stayed up there in heaven. But He did not. He humbled Himself for our sake. He gives us grace to believe in Him that He has saved us from our sins. He also gives us the grace to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and to be generous with those in need.