- Discipline - its Necessity
- God's Holiness
- Christ's Authority Maintained
- Leavening Character of Sin
- Object of Discipline
- Manner of Exercising It
- Its Various Forms
Discipline - its Necessity
In chapter one we spoke of the Church as being the house of God on earth and pointed out that order and responsibility were the principle thoughts connected with this figure of the Church. We further saw that God is a God of order and that if He dwells in a house, as He does in His Church, that house must be according to His mind and His order. Therefore, since "holiness becometh thine house, O Lord" (Psa. 93:5), it is our responsibility to keep the Assembly, His dwelling place, pure and holy.
In I Timothy 3:14, 15 we read: "These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." This was the reason for Paul's writing this Epistle to Timothy-that he and we might know how to behave ourselves in the house of God. We thus learn that there must be a becoming behavior in God's house and that order, holiness, and discipline must be maintained in His dwelling place.
Discipline in the Church is a necessity because of the holy and true One (Rev. 3:7) who is in the midst of His people and whose eyes are purer than to behold evil or to look on iniquity (Hab. 1:13) . Sin cannot be allowed to go on unjudged or evil tolerated where the holy One has His habitation. His house must be kept clean. Psalm 101:7 declares: "He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house: he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight."
It is important to remember as we take up the subject of discipline that it is connected with that aspect of the church presented in Scripture as the house of God. It is not the Church as the Body of Christ that is before us when considering the matter of discipline.
Christ's Authority Maintained
In Hebrews 3:6 we read of Christ being "son over his own house; whose house are we." Since Christ is Son over His house, His authority must be maintained and the lawlessness of man shut out. What is agreeable to Him is to be manifested. We have, therefore, to act in the responsibility of maintaining the order of His Word and to keep His house clean. This is the discipline of Christ as Son over His house. It is ecclesiastical in character-Assembly discipline. The discipline of the Father is that of fatherly care for a child. It is the exercise of individual love and grace flowing from the Father's love towards an erring child. This is the the Father's care over His family and is quite distinct from the Son exercising discipline over His house.
Discipline means subjection to rule, development of the habit of obedience by training and instruction, correction, and chastisement. It is the educative training of the disciple. This is what is necessary in the home, in the school, in government, and likewise in the house of God. No institution can prosper or succeed without such discipline.
If there is not the maintenance of discipline and godly order in the Assembly, it will soon be evident that the lack of it hinders the operation of the Holy Spirit and quenches His ministry. The Spirit of God is grieved by all that dishonors Christ and is contrary to His Word. He cannot bless disobedience, self-will, or unjudged sin. So spiritual dearth and lack of power in the Assembly are sure to follow the neglect of discipline which should be exercised for the honor and glory of the Lord, whose house we are.
Leavening Character of Sin
Another reason for the necessity of discipline in the Assembly is the fact that sin is like leaven which leavens the whole lump. The apostle speaks of this in I Corinthians 5:6-8. "Know ye not that a little leaven leaventh the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened." The nature of leaven is such that even a small particle of it will spread, leavening the whole lump. The only way to stop its leavening effect is to purge it out or to bake it in an oven thus arresting its action. Likewise sin will spread in an Assembly and leaven the whole gathering if it is not judged and purged out. Sin is defiling. It must be judged wherever it manifests itself, otherwise it will become diffused and corrupt the whole company.
Thus godly discipline is necessary to arrest the defiling effect of sin in the Assembly, thereby keeping it clean and unleavened. If one in whose heart the leaven of sin is working does not yield to instruction, pleading, warning, reproof, and godly care and judge himself, but persists in his course, the Assembly must, after due time and effort to deliver him, purge out that leavened person by putting him or her away as an evil person so that the gathering will not become leavened by this defiled one.
But we must not think of discipline as being merely a deliberative and judicial act whereby one is excommunicated-put out of the Assembly. The great purpose of discipline should ever be to prevent the necessity of putting one away from the fellowship of believers. Nine tenths of the discipline which should go on in an Assembly ought to be individual in character, the exercise of pastoral care, and not that of the whole Church acting in judgment. All discipline should have correction and restoration as its aim. The extreme act of putting one outside the Assembly is not, properly speaking, discipline.
It is an admission that discipline has been ineffective and that no more can be done except to put such an one in the outside place as a wicked person. The Church has then nothing more to say to such an one, unless there is repentance and restoration to the Lord.
It is within the Assembly that discipline in its various forms is maintained and exercised to the glory of God and to the blessing of souls (I Cor. 5:12). Thus saints are led in the paths of obedience, trained in the ways of the Lord, and educated in that which is pleasing to Christ and becoming to saints. Truly, then, in view of what has been before us, it is imperative that discipline according to God's Word be maintained in the Assembly -the house of God.
Object of Discipline
1. Maintenance of God's Glory - Surely our first concern in the matter of discipline in the Assembly should be the maintenance of the glory of God and the honor of His holy name. He dwells in the Assembly and if evil is tolerated there, the holy name of Christ is thereby linked with it and that precious and hallowed name dishonored. The Assembly must be kept as a fit place for His holy presence and His glory and honor must be maintained by judging every form of sin and evil that manifests itself. This should indeed be the first object of Assembly discipline. By correcting the erring one and judging evil, His holy name is cleared before the world and His glory and honor maintained. An Assembly which refuses to judge evil in doctrine or morals is not an Assembly of God at all, but a disgrace and dishonor to His holy name.
2. Clearing of Assembly - Closely connected with the foregoing would be the clearing of the Assembly before the eyes of the world by discipline and judgment of evil. We are to shine as lights in the world, that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16). We have a testimony to maintain in this scene and the world watches the conduct of those associated with God's Assembly.
When a believer falls into sin and evil the Lord's name is dishonored and the testimony of the Assembly is brought into disrepute. But if such evil is judged and discipline executed upon the guilty one, the testimony of the gathering is maintained in the eyes of the world in spite of the dishonor. For when it is seen that evil-doers are excommunicated and not fellowshipped in the Assembly, the respect of the world for the Church is retained and the gathering is publicly cleared of the evil which sprang up in its midst. The holiness of the name of the Lord, which is connected with the Assembly, is vindicated.
After the Corinthians had acted in discipline and put away the wicked one from the Assembly, Paul could write them, "In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter" (II Cor. 7:11) .
If another is going on carelessly in a lesser degree and is corrected in discipline and his walk thereby improved, this is also noticed by the world. The Lord's name is glorified thereby and a good testimony goes forth from the Assembly. All this is an important and necessary object of discipline in the gathering of believers.
3. Correction of Offender - Another purpose of discipline is to correct the offender and to teach him what he ought to have learned from the Word of God. God has given us His Word and we are responsible to read it and to learn, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, what is His mind concerning our walk and behavior. The Scriptures are "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (II Tim. 3:16). But if a believer becomes careless and does not heed God's Word, but walks contrary to it, he is awakened from his careless and sleepy condition and made to realize what he should have learned from God's Word and what his walk should be by the discipline exercised in the Assembly upon him. Thus by discipline saints are trained in the ways of the Lord and taught obedience to His Word.
4. Profit and Restoration of Souls - As already stated, the great purpose of discipline is that the erring one may be corrected and restored to communion with the Lord and with His people. Discipline in all its varied aspects should ever have as its object the correction and blessing of its subjects. This is God's purpose in chastening His children. Hebrews 12: 10, 11 says it is "for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness," and that it might yield to the exercised soul "the peaceable fruit of righteousness." So the Assembly should ever seek the profit and spiritual good of souls in the exercise of discipline. It may be instructive to the soul, preventive, corrective, or punitive, but is always profitable to the heart exercised thereby.
It is important to see that even when it comes to the severest act of discipline the act of excommunication from the Assembly and the cessation of discipline-the purpose of it, the apostle says, is that the flesh which caused the odious sin may be destroyed, broken down, "that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (I Cor. 5:5). This is very precious and noteworthy and is the blessed result which we should ever have in mind and for which we should always look in exercising discipline. No other purpose than this should be in our hearts.
We should never put away evil-doers in order to get rid of a disgrace or to be done with a troublesome person who may have caused much sorrow and greatly tried the saints. Neither should there be the thought of executing vengeance upon a wrong-doer, but rather there should be deep sorrow that such discipline is necessary. And the one put away should be followed with much prayer, that the discipline might have the effect upon him of causing him to cease his wrong-doing and be restored to the Lord and to the communion of saints.
This blessed result is seen in the man whom the Corinthians had to put away from among themselves as a wicked person. In his second Epistle to them the apostle says that the punishment inflicted upon him was sufficient and that they should forgive him and comfort him and confirm their love to him, lest he be overwhelmed with overmuch sorrow (ch. 2:6-8). The desired purpose of excommunication had been accomplished. He was now broken down, repentant, restored to the Lord, and ready to be forgiven and restored to the fellowship of the Assembly. Blessed result of discipline which we should ever aim and pray for!
Manner of Exercising It
We come now to a most important aspect of our subject - the spirit and manner in which discipline is to be administered. The Assembly is not a mere court of justice where a judicial process goes on for the trial of wrongs by certain laws. To act thus is to go entirely off the ground of grace upon which we stand before God.
Remember What We Are - As another has well said: "We ought to remember what we are in ourselves, when we talk about exercising discipline it is an amazingly solemn thing. When I reflect, that I am a poor sinner saved by mere mercy, standing only in Jesus Christ for acceptance, in myself vile, it is, evidently, an awful thing to take discipline into my own hands. Who can judge save God? This is my first thought.
"Here I stand, as nothing, in the midst of persons dear to the Lord, whom I must look upon and esteem better than myself, in the consciousness of my own sinfulness and nothingness before the Lord; and to talk of exercising discipline!-it is a very solemn thought. Indeed to my mind; it presses on me peculiarly. Only one thing gets me out of that feeling, and that is the prerogative of love. When love is really in exercise, it cares for nothing but the accomplishment of its object . . . Though the subject-matter of conduct be righteousness, that which sets it going is love-love in exercise, to secure, at all cost of pain to itself, the blessing of holiness in the church. It is not a position of superiority in the flesh" (J. N. D.).
Galatians 6:1 instructs us: "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." It is in a spirit of meekness that the erring one is to be dealt with and not in any spirit of being better than he. Notice that the aim is noted here as restoration.
Mourning and Identification - When Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the evil that was in their midst, unjudged, he reproved them because they were puffed up and had not rather mourned, that he that had done this deed might have been taken away from among them (I Cor. 5:2). Thus we see that mourning and deep heart exercise should be the attitude of the Assembly when one must be put away as a wicked person unfit for fellowship. Instead of acting in a cold, judicial, Pharisaical way there should be sorrow, humility, and confession of common sin and shame that such a thing has happened in God's house. There may even be occasion for self-reproach that it has had to come to this extreme act of cutting off. Had the erring one been looked after enough? Had he been prayed for? Had a godly example been set him? Had true shepherd care been exercised toward him? All these questions will surely arise in hearts truly realizing the shame of the case.
Furthermore, instead of looking at the evil as that of the erring individual, the Assembly must take it up as their sin and in confession of common sin and shame. Paul wrote the Corinthians, "ye . . . have not rather mourned." It was their sin; they were all identified with it as a whole family is with the shame of one of its members.
So one has written: "The Assembly is never prepared, or in the place to exercise discipline, unless having first identified itself with the sin of the individual. If it does not do it in that way, it takes a judicial form, which will not be the administration of the grace of Christ ... The Church is never in the place of exercising discipline until the sin of the individual becomes the sin of the Church, recognized as such-I do not think any person or body of Christians can exercise discipline, unless as having the conscience clear, as having felt the power of the evil and sin before God, as if he had himself committed it. Then he does it as needful to purge himself" (J. N. D.).
In the Old Testament the priests were to eat the sin offering of the people in the holy place (Lev. 10:17, 18). They were to bear the iniquity of the congregation and to make atonement for them. This typifies for us priestly intercession, making the sin of another our own and pleading with the Father, as a priest, that the dishonor done to Christ's body, of which we are members, might be remedied. This is the spirit in which discipline is to be exercised.
When the apostle wrote sternly to the Corinthians commanding them to put away the wicked person from their midst, he said it was "out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears" (II Cor. 2:4). This is the only right spirit in which to exercise discipline.
Its Various Forms
Thus far we have had before us the necessity of discipline, the object of it, and the spirit and manner in which it is to be administered in the Assembly. With this preface, we may now consider the matter of discipline itself as it is presented to us in Scripture.
We shall find that there are various forms or phases of discipline which should go on in the Assembly. Discipline embraces a great deal. In its broad sense it covers the order and government which belongs to God's house. By this term is meant the general exercise of care in the government of His house. It takes in, in this way, the various forms in which that care manifests itself from the simplest forms of brotherly interest and advice to the more public correction and reproof in the Assembly, sometimes resulting in the necessary act of putting away from the Assembly a wicked person.
Discipline must not be thought of as merely an act of the Assembly. It is much more than that. It embraces the instructing of souls in the ways of God, correction, training in obedience, subjection to rule, and all phases of pastoral dealing with souls. The majority of cases of discipline which should be handled in an Assembly should be of a private nature, exercised by overseers and pastoral in character. The exercise of such watchful, shepherd care for the sheep, feeding, guarding, leading, correcting, and reproving in love, is a most important phase of discipline and will often have the result of rendering more severe forms of discipline unnecessary. It is of the utmost importance, then, that such care be exercised in the Assembly. Discipline begins with this.
It is quite evident that there is a great variation and difference in the offenses that may be committed in the house of God. Some are more serious than others and require a severer form of discipline, while others call for a lesser form. Hence the Word of God gives us various forms or degrees of discipline which are to be exercised in the Assembly. Each case must be dealt with upon its own merits and spiritual discernment is needed to ascertain under what class of discipline the offense would properly come. With this general word, we pass on to specific forms of discipline.
1. Restoration When Overtaken in a Fault
Galatians 6:1 gives the general instruction, that "if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness." While this may refer in general to any case of sin where the work of restoration is needed, we may also take it as applying to a class of failures where this individual restorative dealing with the soul is all that is required in the way of discipline. This form of discipline would be that exercise of watchful, shepherd care for souls which we were previously speaking of.
The original word, rendered "fault" in the above passage, means "falling from the right way," and is elsewhere translated "trespass," "offense," and "sin." The word rendered "overtaken" has the thought of "to take or seize beforehand." Thus the passage literally means, "one surprised, seized or caught by a sin or trespass." The word translated "restore" in the original means "to make thoroughly right, or bring into line." It is else where translated "mend" and "joined together." In medical language it is used of setting a bone or joint.
Thus we learn the nature of the case supposed, the labor of love it calls for, and the result that should be the aim. One has been seized and caught by a trespass and falls into sin through lack of watchfulness and dependence upon God. This state calls for tenderness and gracious handling. The evil must be dealt with in a spirit of meekness and the soul led to judge both it and the root cause of carelessness, self-confidence, or neglect of spiritual exercises which made possible the fall. A visit is needed, a kindly talk, and the prayerful application of the Word to the erring one, as water to the feet by the Lord in John 13:5-14.
When restoration or mending of the wounded soul is the object, and when all is done in meekness by one who is spiritual and who has a deep sense of his own weakness, confession and restoration of soul will most likely follow in the majority of cases. It may not take place at once, so more than one visit and much prayer may be required. If the failure is confessed and judged and the soul restored to the Lord, the matter is settled and others need not know of it. But if the soul does not yield to the Word nor confess its wrong and is not restored, another form of discipline may be required.
2. Warning and Withdrawing from Those Walking Disorderly
In I Thessalonians 5:14 we read, "Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly." If one is not submissive to rule and the Scriptural order of the Assembly, but is disobedient to God's Word, going on in self-will and disorder, he is an unruly person and must be warned by the brethren who care for souls in the Assembly. Such an one is in a carnal state of soul and is unaware of what his unruly conduct will lead him to; but this is evident to the Assembly's watchmen who are responsible to sound the note of warning in, order that the serious consequences which will follow such a course may be avoided. As brethren in Christ we are to be "full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another" (Rom. 15:14).
A spiritually minded brother is a man of vision and discernment, able to warn of coming trouble. When believers are not acting according to godly order, it is the responsibility of such in the Assembly whom God has raised up as overseers to warn the unruly, showing them what will be the result of their present course and admonishing them to change their ways and act in submission to God's Word. Such a warning may be given by individual brothers or in behalf of the oversight of the Assembly. The results are left with God, entreating Him in prayer to use the warning and admonition for the blessing of the one concerned.
If the warning is not heeded a further step of discipline is needed. This next step is stated in the second Epistle to the Thessalonians, chapter 3, verse 6: "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us." One walking disorderly, or "out of rank," as the term implies, and who does not heed the warnings and admonitions given him is now to be withdrawn from.
In II Thessalonians 3:14, 15 the apostle further adds: "And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother." A believer walking contrary to the Word of God is walking in disorder and is to be marked out and isolated that he may be made to feel his wrong and be ashamed of His course. All social intercourse with such is to be withheld and no expression of fellowship with him is to be granted. The Assembly is not to shake hands with him, even though he is still permitted to the fellowship of the Lord's Table. There is not as yet sufficient grounds to put such an one away from the Assembly as a wicked person. This discipline of withdrawal is corrective in purpose, that the disorderly one might thereby be broken down in his course, restored to the Lord, and retain his place at the Lord's Table. He is not to be counted as an enemy, but is to be admonished as a brother. However, if there is not repentance and a change in walk such a case may end in excommunication.
The special form of disorderly walk that was found among the Thessalonians was idleness and going about as busybodies. "We hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies" (II Thess. 3:11) . They were probably "living off" the saints and not working for their own living. Being idle, they occupied themselves with others' affairs and became tattlers. I Timothy 5:13 also warns of young widows falling into this: "they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not." An idle person can soon become a tool in Satan's hand to spread trouble among believers by meddling in others' affairs and spreading gossip. Assemblies are often in turmoil and difficulty because of idle busybodies and tattlers. Such are walking in a disorderly manner and are to be warned and withdrawn from if they do not change their course.
But the above is not the only form of disorderly walk. Such a walk may show itself in the associations formed, the company kept, the places visited, etc., by which there is in evidence a manner of life not according to the Gospel of Christ and His Word. A general principle is given us here in Thessalonians which covers all cases of disorderly walk and instructs us as to the form of discipline to be enacted.
3. Public Rebuke
In I Timothy 5:20 the apostle instructs Timothy: "Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear." Here we have a more serious form of discipline than the private warning and admonition which we were last considering. This Scripture applies to cases of sin which are of such a nature that a public rebuke in the Assembly is necessary. The passage is literally, "Them that are sinning (present participle, i. e., those found going on in a sinful course) convict, or put to shame before all." The sinning here is of such a character that it affects the public testimony of the gathering and a public rebuke is necessary to clear the Assembly and convict the offender.
It may be a case of one who is not subject to private admonition. It has now gone beyond being a matter of simple private admonition. The evil has grown to such a character that it is plain to all that the public testimony of the Assembly is injured and that there is need of more strenuous discipline if the wrong-doer is to be convicted and restored. A public rebuke is thus administered to the erring one in the presence of the whole Assembly that he may be convicted, put to shame, and delivered from the error of his way.
There may also be a case of one mixed up with a street brawl or of one beating his wife in public or a public shame of some kind-all contrary to the Word of God. It was done in public and must be rebuked in public. Of course, facts must be established and the thing certain. No action in discipline is ever to be taken on mere "hear-say."
A Scriptural example of a brother rebuked publicly in an assembly of saints is found in Galatians 2:11-14. Here is the record of the apostle Paul rebuking the apostle Peter before the saints at Antioch. Peter, by his refusal to eat with the Gentile believers, had gone backward from the liberty of grace to the bondage of the law. Because of this Paul "withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed," and "said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?" By Peter's action others were led away with him, even Barnabas, and "walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel." This was serious and the apostle Paul rightly rebuked Peter publicly for his inconsistency. By doing so he not only corrected the latter's wrong step but also prevented the evil influence from spreading among the others in the Assembly at Antioch who were in danger of being turned away from the pure truth of the Gospel of the grace of God.
When any one is publicly rebuked it should be made plain to that one that what he has said or done is contrary to the Scriptures. The offender is to be publicly shown his wrong and corrected of it by a wise and skillful use of the Word of God. The Scriptures used would also enlighten the consciences of all present and preserve them from the same fault.
There should be no display of anger, or any manifestation of a Pharisaic spirit of self-righteousness on the part of the one who administers the rebuke. It should be carried out with a real sense of sorrow and in such a way that the solemn and serious character of such action would be deeply felt and self-judgment produced in the offender as well as fear in all who hear-"that the rest also may have fear" (New Trans.) .
Timothy was further charged, in connection with rebuking those that sinned, to "observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality" (I Tim. 5:21). He was to rebuke any who merited it, irrespective of age, place, or standing in the Assembly, even an elder. We have no one today, such as Timothy with authority from an apostle, but we have the apostle's words in Scripture and the Assembly is responsible to carry out this injunction without partiality. It is to be done by an individual, preferably an older brother of good report and generally after counsel with responsible brethren in the gathering.
Such public rebuking of those that are sinning is not often seen in the Assemblies of saints today, but we believe that if there were more of it practiced we would see more godly fear in the hearts of believers and more carefulness of walk. We would also see fewer cases of excommunication from the Assembly because the erring ones would be rebuked and arrested in the beginning of their pathway of sin. May this healthful, faithful form of discipline not be neglected in the Church, but be used when necessary. We may also think of Paul's words to Titus in connection with this phase of discipline: "These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee" (Titus 2:15).
4. Dealing With a Heretic
Titus 3:10, 11 gives us the form of discipline that is to be exercised toward one that is a heretic. "An heretical man after a first and second admonition have done with, knowing that such a one is perverted, and sins, being self-condemned" (New Trans.).
The word for heretic in the Greek means "a choice, course of action or thought, opinionated." One who chooses his own course of thought and is self-opinionated is a heretic. In self-will he presses his own opinions and showy teachings and forms a sect or party of those who support his views. This brings in the serious danger of division in the Assembly. A heretic may be sound on fundamental doctrine and yet form a party around himself by his self-chosen opinions and peculiar views.
Heresy in church history is something contrary to the orthodox faith, but the real meaning of the word "heresy" is self-will. Wherever it works its direct tendency is to produce a sect or schism in the Assembly.
Such an one is to be admonished once and twice. He is thus reminded of the seriousness of his sin and warned of the grave consequences. If the double warning of his heretical and party-producing behavior is not heeded, he is to be shunned and "done with." By repeated refusal to yield to admonitions he manifests his real state. He is perverted, turned away from the right, and sins. A spiritual pride is manifested and he is self-condemned. His unfitness for fellowship is apparent and he is to be refused as a sect-maker.
It may be supposed that such a man would go out of the Assembly because he could not impose his own will and way upon it. There is no mention here of putting him out of the Assembly as a wicked person. Perhaps because this Epistle of Titus was written to an individual. If people do not listen to him and he is shunned, the result will undoubtedly be (if he persists in his course) that he will eventually go out of his own accord. This form of discipline will either break down his self-will or further manifest his spirit as he withdraws from the gathering. Should he remain in the Assembly, he should certainly be put under public rebuke, silenced as to any public activity in the gathering, and no company be kept with him. The case may develop into that of a wicked person and necessitate his being put away as such according to I Corinthians 5:13.
Marking and Avoiding Division Makers - Closely connected with the above instruction as to a heretical man is the injunction in Romans 16:17, 18 regarding makers of division. "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple."
This is what a heretical man will do. He seeks to gather around himself those who will support him in his opinions. The result is that schism made within leads to outward division. The discontented go out that they may have their own way. Those who separate themselves from their brethren to follow their own opinions or form of teaching are makers of division and are to be marked and avoided; we are to turn away from them. This is the force of the word "avoid" in the original.
In Paul's day there were probably those who had created division elsewhere. Should they come to Rome, the apostle instructs the Christians there to mark them and to keep away from them, for they serve not the Lord Jesus Christ but their own belly (their own gain), and deceive the simple.
The Christian is told to depart from iniquity, but making division by insisting on one's own opinions is contrary to the doctrine we have learned from Scripture. There we are taught to endeavor "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3). Therefore only when righteousness, truth, and holiness can be maintained in no other way than by separating from those among whom iniquity is practiced and upheld, is division among professed Christians justified in Scripture (see II Cor. 6:14-18 and II Tim. 2:19-22).
5. Discipline of Silence
Having alluded to this in connection with dealing with a heretic, we may now consider this form of discipline of silencing a brother in the Assembly. We will not find a definite Scriptural injunction for this, as we have had for previous forms of discipline, but we do find Scriptural principles which guide us as to such discipline.
While the Scriptures teach that there is to be liberty in the Assembly for the Holy Spirit to use whomsoever He will as His mouthpiece for the expression of prayer, praise, or ministry in the gathering (I Cor. 12:11), they also teach that there is a corresponding responsibility for those thus used to conduct themselves in holiness and to the glory and honor of the Lord.
Fleshly and Unprofitable Ministry
Galatians 5:13 reminds us, "ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another." Liberty of the Spirit is not to be used as a license for the flesh to act and exalt itself in the Assembly. Mere fleshly activity which is without the power of the Spirit and not unto edification should surely not be allowed in the Church of God; it ought to be silenced. Serving one another in love and not the vaunting of self should be the motive for all ministry.
In I Corinthians 14:3 we read "he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort." Verse 26 further instructs, "Let all things be done unto edifying," and verse 29 enjoins, "let two or three prophets speak and let the others judge" (New Trans.) and I Peter 4:11 says, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ."
These Scriptures would indicate that if any one would speak in the Assembly, he should speak as the mouthpiece of God unto edification, exhortation, or comfort and that the object in speaking should be that the hearers might be built up and helped in the faith and that God in all things might be glorified. To prophesy and to speak as the oracles of God means more than just ministering truth in an intellectual way. It is bringing that particular truth which God would have to be ministered at the moment home to the hearts and consciences of all in the power of the Spirit.
According to I Corinthians 14:29 (quoted above) the Assembly is to judge as to the ministry given and if one's ministry is continually not edifying and is without the power of the Spirit for blessing to the hearers, such an one should be labored with and if there is no change he should be silenced as to giving out the Word. If one has not power from God to set forth the Word of God in a way that is understandable and edifying, it is surely not God's will that he should seek to minister in the Church. The saints are not to be harassed by unprofitable or fleshly ministry. The Assembly is responsible for the ministry and doctrine that is given out in the gathering, so it is duty bound to silence any one that continually ministers what is not Scriptural, profitable, glorifying to God, or of the spirit.
The apostle Paul wrote Timothy that he had besought him to remain in Ephesus and to "enjoin some not to teach other doctrines, nor to turn their minds to fables and interminable genealogies, which bring questionings rather than (further) God's dispensation, which is in faith" (I Tim. 1: 3, 4, New Trans.). Thus we see that some were warned as to their ministry that it must be sound in the truth and profitable and not taken up with questions which do not edify. If such persisted in giving such troublesome ministry they would manifest self-will and would certainly have to be disciplined and silenced. Such ministry might be the beginning of that which would later manifest such an one to be a heretic.
Paul also wrote Titus of "unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped" (Titus 1:10, 11). While this may especially refer to men outside of the Assembly, it gives instruction for within the Church as well. Unruly and vain talkers must have their mouths stopped, especially in God's Assembly. Pride, vain glory, and selfwill may prompt one to speak, but if there is no power in one's words and souls are not benefited it may be a question whether such an one's motive for speaking is the glory of God and the edification of the hearers. If it is apparent that it is continually only self at work and not the activity of the Holy Spirit, the discipline of silence should be exercised upon such an one by the Assembly.
Blemishes - Leviticus 21:16-23 furnishes us with a Scriptural principle which may find its spiritual application to the activity of Christian priests in the Church and give further enlightenment on our subject.
"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Aaron, saying, Whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations that hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God. For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous, Or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded, or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken; No man that hath a blemish of the seed of Aaron the priest shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the Lord made by fire: he hath a blemish; he shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God. He shall eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy, and of the holy. Only he shall not go in unto the wail, nor come nigh unto the altar, because he hath a blemish; that he profane not my sanctuaries: for I the Lord do sanctify them."
A priest with a blemish could not enjoy the full privilege of his place as a priest. Though permitted to eat the bread of his God, he could not go in unto the sanctuary or approach the altar to offer the bread of his God; he could not represent the people in priestly service. If we apply this principle to the Church, we observe that to lead the gathering of believers in prayer, praise, or ministry is an official, representative, priestly service, and the above principle would mean that a believer with a corresponding, spiritual blemish is not to approach God for the people, or speak to the people for God. Though privileged to partake of the Lord's Supper, he is not qualified to be the mouthpiece of the Assembly; "he shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God."
The physical blemishes mentioned in the above Scriptures would picture spiritual blemishes found amongst Christian priests today. One who is blind cannot see; he lacks spiritual discernment. "He that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins" (II Pet. 1:9). A flat nose would indicate one who cannot discern the sweet odor of sacrifice, one who is unable to enter into somewhat of the preciousness of what Christ is to God. A dwarf would speak of stunted spiritual growth. And one who is lame or brokenfooted would typify one whose walk is weak or not good. Such are incapacitated for priestly service in the Assembly.
But in Christianity no "blemish" need be permanent, for eating the bread of God, spiritually, will remove defects. As another has said, "Our High Priest can remove all the defects in the members of His family." So there is no necessity for saints to be permanently incapacitated for holy service in the Assembly. The blind can have their eyes opened, the lame can be healed, and the dwarfs can grow up in Christ if they desire to do so. So being silenced in the Assembly need not be permanent.
We may further consider the matter of a priest who is lame or brokenfooted. A believer who does not live a good Christian life or walk according to God's Word has a serious blemish. He is a lame priest and is incapacitated for service. If one that ministers in the Assembly fails seriously in his walk he becomes a lame priest and should be silent in the gathering, for his words will have no moral weight. If God is not glorified in one's walk, how can He be in his ministry? If the glory of God does not govern one in his everyday life, how can God's glory be his motive for ministering in the Assembly?
Such an one is not walking in communion with God and cannot be used by the Spirit to speak as God's oracle in the Assembly. If he persists in speaking in the Assembly he should be put under the discipline of silence until his walk is corrected and confidence regained.
Isaiah 52:11 contains an important admonition for those who minister in the Church. "Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord." This must be maintained, God's priests must have clean hearts, tongues, hands, and feet. If not, they cannot minister in the sanctuary. Of old the priests always had to wash their hands and their feet before they went into the tabernacle to serve (Ex. 30:19, 20). The need of continual cleansing by the water of the Word is thereby typified.
6. Personal Trespass
In Matthew 18:15-18 the Lord has given us instructions as to the proper course to pursue in the matter of a brother trespassing against another believer. He also shows the discipline that is to be enacted toward such an one if all efforts to gain and restore the erring one prove futile. But before taking up the instructions in the above mentioned passage we should notice briefly what the Lord told the disciples in the preceding verses of Matthew 18.
Becoming Spirit and Moral Features
Here He shows the moral features and the spirit that suits the subjects of the kingdom of heaven. First, He set a little child in their midst as an example and taught them meekness, humility, littleness in their own eyes, and that true greatness is to humble oneself as a little child. He told them how much He valued a believing little one and what a serious matter it was in His eyes to offend one of these little ones.
He then taught them that they must guard against anything that would be a stumbling block to themselves or to others. The knife of self-judgment must be applied to all that offends in ourselves. Following these words, He illustrated the spirit of saving grace which characterized His mission of coming to save that which was lost. He also told them how the Father values every little one and desires that not one of them should perish.
After seeking to imbue the disciples with the spirit of humility and dependence, and with the spirit of tender love and seeking grace of the Father and Himself, the Lord now applies all this to their practical conduct one towards another. He says, as it were, "I want you now to become the channels of my seeking grace and love in looking after the straying and erring one and in bringing him back to the right path." They were to be severe towards any failure in themselves, but the spirit of gracious consideration for the welfare of others was to characterize them.
This is the connection between the verses we will now consider on personal trespasses and the rest of the chapter. With this background, we are ready to examine the Lord's instructions on our subject.
"Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother" (v. 15).
First of all, I must be sure that my brother has actually trespassed against me. "If thy brother shall trespass against thee"-it is not if I think he has, or some "hear-say" that he has, but a definite case of one actually wronging another. It is not a case where both parties have wronged each other, but of one alone trespassing against the other. The word for "trespass" in the original Greek has the meaning of "missing the mark, to fail, do wrong, err or sin." The English meaning of the word is that of wilfully violating the rights of another, to pass the bounds of propriety or rectitude in the injury of another, or the violation of a positive law, rule, or custom.
The First Step
"Go, reprove him between thee and him alone" (New Trans.). This is what the Lord said should be done as the first step on the part of the one who has been wronged. In comment upon the above, we would quote the fine words of Wm. Kelly:
"Supposing your brother does you wrong, something that may be very hard to bear, perhaps; an evil word, or an unkind action done against you-something that you feel deeply as a real personal trespass against you; the man has done it deliberately, and of course it is a great sin. Nobody knows it but himself and you. What are you to do? At once this great principle is applied, When you were ruined and far from God, what met your case? Did God wait till you put away your sin? It never would have been done at all. God sent His own Son to seek you, to save you. `The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost.' That is the principle for you to act upon.
"It is not merely that this is the way in which God acted. You belong to God: you are a child of God. Your brother has wronged you; go you to him and seek to set him right. It is the activity of love, which the Lord Jesus now presses upon His disciples. They are to seek the deliverance, in the power of divine love, of those who have wandered from God. It is not the flesh feeling its wrong, and resenting what has been done against itself ... I want you, He says ... to be characterized by grace, going out after that which has sinned against God-grace to seek the man that has gone astray.
"This is a great difficulty, unless the soul is fresh in the love of God, and enjoying what God is for him. How does God feel about the child that has done wrong? It is the loving desire to have him right. When the child is near enough to know the Father's heart, he goes out to do the Father's will. It may have been a wrong done against him, but he does not think about that. It is his brother who has slipped into evil, and he sorrows over him. It is a real desire of heart to have the person righted who had gone astray; and this, too, not in order to vindicate self, but that his soul may be restored to the Lord.
"He could not bear that another should know it It is not here the case of a sin known to a great many, but some personal trespass only known to you two. Go, then, to him and tell him his fault between you and him alone. A thing, no doubt, very contrary to the flesh, which would ever demand that the offender should first come and humble himself, or that would act on the worldly ground of not troubling itself about the man, but let him go from bad to worse. Love seeks the good, even of the one who has done ever so wrong."
The course natural to our flesh would be to avoid the offending brother and to say nothing to him about his fault, but to tell it to others, or one might determine to bear the injury in long-suffering and "try to live it down," as people say. This might at first seem the right thing to do and to have the appearance of grace on one's part, but it leaves out the most important matter of consideration-the spiritual condition of my offending brother. Therefore this is not the Lord's way of treating the matter. Besides, staying away from the brother may leave a tinge of bad feeling in my heart. Love does not rest while knowing that the conscience of one's erring brother is defiled. Leviticus 19:17, 18 says, "thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people."
The Lord does not say, "Go and write him a note." No, He says, "Go, reprove him." To send what I think may be a good and faithful letter may spare one's feelings and suit pride, but it will not work the blessing of restoration like a face to face talk in love. Much mischief has come in among God's people by such letter-writing instead of doing what the Lord instructed in the matter whenever possible.
The original word, translated in our common version "tell him his fault," is "elegzon" and means to "cross examine with a view of convincing or refuting, to censure, to bring convincing proof." It is thus translated in other versions as "reprove him" or "shew him his fault." The injunction is to go and prove to him how he has erred and trespassed.
This is to be done "between thee and him alone." Yet, alas, is it not all too common to discuss a personal trespass more publicly than this? Often it is passed on from one to another and distorted, and thus finally reaches the ear of the offending one in this round about way. The result, then, is hard feelings and the erring one is caused to drift farther astray, rather than gained and restored. In our selfishness, it suits us better to tell the story of our grievance to others who may be ready to sympathize with us and tell us how badly we have been treated and the like, than to go and seek to gain the one who has done us an injustice. This is not the spirit of Christ or obedience to God's Word. It is rather only another form of the same flesh that manifested itself in our brother's trespass.
"If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother." Love is ever bent on gaining the brother and not on vindicating self. It is not the offender, but "thy brother" that should be the thought before the heart. The Lord had told the disciples of the joy that the shepherd had when he found the straying sheep (v. 13), showing them that the delight of His heart was the recovery of those going astray. Such should be our purpose and delight too.
But, as another has well written, "This going to `gain' him will necessarily put my own soul through deepest exercises. If, in true love to him, I am set upon his recovery in a righteous way, what godly watchfulness and carefulness will be wrought in me! With what earnestness and fervent desire shall I plead for him before God! When a bird has left his cage any rude hand or discordant voice can drive him further away, but how great the care and caution that is exercised by the one who really desires to bring him back to food and shelter! If my errand to my brother were only to pain him, the task might easily be accomplished without a particle of exercise; but if I am to gain him, then grace must work both in him and in me" (Geo. Cutting).
It is well to notice that nothing is said here about making satisfaction for the wrong done to one. The Lord does not say that "if he hear thee, all thy wrongs shall be put right," but "thou hast gained thy brother." Undoubtedly, if grace really works in his heart, if he is really gained, one of the earliest fruits of it will be a real desire to right the wrong or the injury he was guilty of. But the securing of this is not to be the motive leading one to go to him. Leaving our wrongs with the Lord we are to seek our brother's blessing.
Second Step - If the first step of going alone to a brother and telling him his fault does not restore and gain him, but is fruitless, one is not to give up and take for granted that the erring one is beyond recovery. There is always the possibility that one's manner of dealing with the sinning one may be at fault, so the Lord instructs that another effort must be made to gain the offending brother. A second step is to be taken.
"But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established" (Matt. 18:16). This is the next step which is to be pursued in the matter. The erring one is to be visited again with one or two more who are to plead with him about his fault. It would undoubtedly be best that they should do the talking this time and seek to gain him. If he hears them and yields, the matter will be settled and no further step is necessary. But if he does not hear or yield to the pleadings and efforts of the two accompanying brothers, the case becomes more serious and another step must be taken. The case is now not just a matter of one saying this and another that, but of every word established by two or three witnesses.
Third Step - "If he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church" (v. 17). The two efforts to restore the offending brother in a private way having failed, the matter is now to be made public to the Church. It is to be investigated by the Assembly and pronounced upon. The Assembly warns and entreats this man. If he hears and repents, it is well and he will be restored to the Lord and reconciled with his brother that he trespassed against.
"But if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican." If he refuses to hear the Assembly, the limit in seeking to restore and gain the erring one is reached and nothing more can be done. He is to be regarded by the offended brother as an heathen man and a publican; that is, you no more acknowledge him in his impenitent state as a Christian.
A man who is called a brother in the verse before is like an heathen man and a publican now. A most solemn thing! He has shown a hardness of self-will and a spirit of self-justification. It might have arisen out of a small matter, but his unyielding pride about himself and his own fault is that on which God may pronounce him to be regarded as an heathen man and a publican. The Lord here shows how a great fire may be kindled out of a little spark. The end of this personal trespass might be that the Church is convinced that the man manifests not a trace of Christian life about him.
However, we should notice that Matthew 18:17 does not indicate any action of the Assembly as yet against the man. "If he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican." While the Assembly may not have acted in the case as yet, the individual trespassed against regards the unrepentant offender as an heathen and a publican.
Fourth Step - The Lord now goes on to speak of binding and loosing by the Assembly of even two or three gathered in His name. This is a fourth step - that of excommunication from the Assembly of the unbending, rebellious trespasser. "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:18-20).
Because the Lord Himself is in the midst of the gathered Assembly, it is responsible to purge itself of evil and is given the authority to bind or loose sins in a governmental way here on earth. The sin of the unrepentant one is bound upon him and he is put out of the Assembly as an evil person. Such an act, accomplished in the fear of the Lord and in His name and according to His Word, is bound in heaven, ratified there.
The Assembly is also given the power and authority to loose sins in an administrative way on earth. In connection with this the Lord speaks of the power of united prayer in the next verse. This power the Assembly should use for the restoration of the one they have had to excommunicate from their midst, remembering that the object of all discipline should be the recovery of the erring one. When such an one is repentant and restored to the Lord, the Assembly looses or remits his sin and receives him again.
7. Putting Away Wicked Persons
We shall now consider the extreme form of discipline, or more properly speaking, the act of excommunication from the Assembly of one who fails to respond to all other forms of discipline and has to be put away as a wicked person. We have alluded to this act of putting away several times and have seen that it constitutes the fourth step in dealing with the matter of one who is unrepentant and unyielding in the case of a personal trespass.
Putting away is the most solemn and serious of all disciplinary measures and is only to be enacted as a last resort and when no other form of discipline can be applied. This action of excommunication from the Assembly cannot be taken by an individual, or by any group of individuals, not even by elders, or by those exercising oversight, but must be the action of the whole Assembly.
For instructions as to this extreme discipline we must turn to I Corinthians 5. This chapter deals with the matter of one in the Corinthian Assembly who was guilty of fornication. The whole chapter is instructive and should be studied whenever evil has to be dealt with in the Church. We have already referred to several verses in this chapter in connection with the necessity of discipline and the manner of exercising it, so we shall only quote verses 11 through 13 here.
"Now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person."
It is important to notice that it is wicked persons and only such that are to be put away from the company of believers. "Put away from among yourselves that wicked person." It would be very wrong to put away one who had merely been overtaken in a fault or one that had only committed an offense. In applying this discipline of I Corinthians 5:13, the prime necessity for the Assembly is to be sure that the person is really wicked. This must be established and manifest to all. Mere suspicion of evil will not do.
We have seen that there are various forms of discipline for the different offenses committed. These forms of discipline which we have hitherto been considering may be called preventive and corrective discipline. Their purpose is to prevent the erring one from going on in sin and becoming a wicked person and to correct him in his walk.
But when one refuses to be corrected and persists in an evil course it becomes wickedness and when wickedness in any form manifests itself in the Assembly it must be severely dealt with to preserve the gathering from being leavened by it. "Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump" (I Cor. 5:6, 7). The wicked person must be put away. This is preservative discipline and necessary if the Assembly is to maintain itself in communion with the Lord, the holy and true One.
Putting one away as a wicked person is like cutting off a member of one's body. It is a very painful and grievous thing and only done when there is no hope of saving the member. The amputation is performed to preserve the body from the poison in the diseased member. So putting away an evil person is necessary to prevent the leaven from spreading in the Assembly.
But what is wickedness? we may well inquire. The word for "wicked" in Greek is "poneros" and signifies the active exercise of corrupt and unruly desires, not just a single act, but a positive injurious activity of evil, a living in sin. Generally speaking, a wicked person is one who is morally bad and evil in principle and practice. He is characterized by either violence or corruption as in the days of Noah (see Gen. 6:5, 11-13) and is full of bitterness and enmity and viciously bent on doing harm or evil. Wickedness is more a course of conduct than a single act of wrong. It is evidenced by a persistent course of evil in which the will is actively engaged.
Wickedness answers to leprosy in the Old Testament. In this connection a careful study of Leviticus 13 will give much light on our present subject. We can only touch on it in passing, but would call the reader's attention to this chapter. There we have minute instructions as to how to discern leprosy and how to deal with it. The priest was to patiently investigate anything that bore the symptoms of leprosy. He must look on the scab or bright spot and see if it was deeper than the skin. If it was, he pronounced it leprosy and the man had to be shut up as a leper. If it was not deeper than the skin, he was to shut him up seven days and look on it again. If the case was still uncertain, he was shut up another seven days and examined again. Then, if the scab was spreading, he was finally pronounced unclean and a leper.
All this emphasizes the priestly care, patient observation, and godly discernment that is needed before one can be pronounced a wicked person. Note the oft recurrence in this chapter of the words "shall look," "shut up," "see him," and "shall consider." There must be no undue haste or mere assumption in judging.
If one had a white rising in his skin and there was quick raw flesh under it, it was clear that it was leprosy and the man was pronounced unclean. It was something deeper than the skin and not just a mere sudden outburst of nature, but the deep seated disease of leprosy which shuts one out from God's presence.
So it is with sin and wickedness. Sin dwells within the believer and if one is not watchful and walking in self-judgment, it will show itself in a sudden outburst of temper, in rash hasty speech, or in being overtaken in some fault. This is like a rising in one's skin or like a burning boil, which is spoken of in Leviticus 13:2 and 23. These sad manifestations of the flesh are not leprosy or wickedness, though leprosy or wickedness might develop out of them. But such outbursts of our evil nature need to be judged and watched, lest they spread and become like a sore deeper than the skin. If indwelling sin is allowed to work in a believer, it may soon become deep seated and develop into wickedness-something deeper than just an outburst of nature, something on the surface. It may develop into a real case of wickedness and become like "quick raw flesh in the rising," which was a sign of real leprosy in Leviticus 13:10, 11.
Returning to I Corinthians 5:11, we find therein six characters of moral wickedness. "If any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat." Here are some characteristic examples of what marks one out as a wicked person.
A fornicator is one who is morally corrupt and living in immorality*., Such an one is not fit for the fellowship of saints. A covetous person is one who is greedy of gain and actively seeking to grasp what he has not and desiring to take away what another possesses. Covetousness is an unlawful desire to possess oneself of something in opposition to good morals. "Greedy unsatisfied lust" or "unbridled lust" is a good rendering of the word "covetousness." (See Eph. 5:3 and Col. 3:5, New Trans.). One whose course of conduct is characterized by such unbridled desires and lust for that which does not rightly belong to him, should be put away as a wicked person. Covetousness is idolatry according to Colossians 3:5.
* When Potiphar's wife desired Joseph to lie with her and commit fornication, he replied, "How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" (Gen. 39:9) One act of fornication or adultery was great wickedness to Joseph and is such before God. It begins with lusting after another and committing adultery in the heart, (Matt. 5:28) and then the actual sin follows.
An idolater is one who pays divine honors to idols or images, or one who pays excessive veneration or love to any human person or thing. A railer is an abusive person, one who is quarrelsome, insolent, noisy, manifesting temper, and who attacks others with vile slander and abusive language. As another has said, "The habit of evil speaking stamps him who practices it as a railer; and such a man is unfit for the company of saints, for God's Assembly" (W. Kelly).
A drunkard is one who is a sot, one habitually under the influence of strong drink. An extortioner means one who practices oppressive and unjust exaction and obtains by threats and violence. The New Translation renders the Greek word that is used here as "rapaciousness," which means one given to plunder and seizing things forcibly, one greedy of gain.
If any one who is called a brother is found pursuing a course of conduct, such as is indicated by any of the above terms, he is to be put away as a wicked person. We might add that we do not believe that I Corinthians 5:11 gives us a complete list of things which mark one out as a wicked person, or the only characteristics of evil for which one is to be put away. It is rather a characteristic list of what moral wickedness is. The apostle says, "with such an one no not to eat." We believe this phrase has a wider application than just referring to the six things of this verse. From I Samuel 15:23 we learn that "rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry." So rebellion and stubbornness, which is really self-will, are wickedness also. It is well to notice that the same evils which I Corinthians 5:11-13 gives as marking out a so-called brother as a wicked person are also listed in I Corinthians 6:9, 10 as characteristic of those who shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven. Thus by being guilty of these things the person concerned places himself outwardly in the class of those who have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and his place is without the Assembly and not within.
Such wickedness raises the question as to whether the person is really a child of God. His walk is contrary to his profession, so the apostle says, "If any man that is called a brother be a fornicator" etc. He does not say, "If any brother," for when a professing Christian is walking in such wickedness, one cannot be sure that he really is a brother or sister in the Lord. If godly sorrow and repentance follow, as was the case with the man in question in I Corinthians 5 (see II Cor. 2:6-11), the Assembly can be assured that the person was and is truly a child of God.
We have considered what wickedness is and what characterizes those who are to be put away from the Assembly as wicked persons. We have been principally occupied with moral wickedness, or evil in one's life and walk. There is, however, another form in which serious evil may manifest itself and that is doctrinal evil, or evil teaching. Scripture speaks of this in several places. We shall now consider this phase of evil.
We have already noticed the words in I Corinthians 5: 6, 7, "Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump." There we find moral evil spoken of as leaven that needs to be purged out lest it leaven the whole lump-the entire Assembly. We also find the same words, "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" in Galatians 5:9. In studying this Epistle of Galatians we find that the leaven which the apostle referred to, and that by which the Galatian Assemblies were in danger of being leavened, was evil teaching by some as to the Gospel. The Gospel was perverted by these teachers and thus the fundamentals of the Christian faith were attacked.
We thereby learn that evil teaching is also leaven and is to be regarded equally as destructive of the purity of the Assembly as evil in practice or moral evil. Consequently the responsibility enforced upon the Assembly at Corinth to purge out the old leaven was also binding upon the Assemblies in Galatia and all Assemblies of today are likewise responsible to purge out from their midst any leaven of evil teaching or persons teaching it just as they are also responsible to purge out any leaven of moral evil.
Evil doctrine undermines the foundation of the Christian faith, debases its entire character, and insults the Person and work of Christ, thereby robbing Him of His proper glory. It is more dangerous and destructive than moral evil, because it is more subtle. Wicked doctrine may be propagated by those whose lives are outwardly blameless, hence it is more deceptive than evil that is outwardly manifest in the life. Satan transforms himself into an angel of light and so do his ministers (II Cor. 11:12-15). There is also more danger of evil teaching spreading and being taken up by others than moral evil, as the latter is more readily detected and more naturally abhorred. A man may hold and teach blasphemous doctrine and yet seem as pious in his language and life as the most devoted Christian. Therefore the people of God must be much on their guard against the leaven of doctrinal evil.
Many warnings are given in Scripture against such false teachers arising among God's people, who secretly "shall bring in damnable heresies even denying the Lord that bought them." (See Acts 20:28-30; Phil. 3:18, 19; II Tim. 3; II Peter 2; the Epistles of John and Jude). "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy" (I Tim. 4:1, 2).
Doctrinal evil is any teaching which touches the Person of Christ, anything which denies His full deity, His real, full, and sinless humanity, His perfect sacrificial work as being complete atonement and the only ground of salvation, His bodily resurrection, or coming glory. If any one teaches or holds that which denies these truths as to Christ's Person or work, or the truths of justification by faith and grace alone, or the necessity of regeneration, or the eternal punishment of the unsaved, and persists in such teachings, that one is guilty of doctrinal evil and has no place in the Assembly of God. His place is "without" and not "within." Any teaching that subverts the fundamentals of the Christian faith is evil doctrine and leaven that must be purged out of the Assembly. Behind all such teachings are seducing spirits and demons.
However, here we must exercise caution. We must not go to the extreme and call every erroneous teaching evil doctrine, or mark every interpretation or application of Scripture which differs from our view, as wicked teaching. Where no fundamental truth is in question, love and forbearance one with another is to be exercised and Philippians 3:15, 16 acted upon. "If in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing."
Of course, one whose teaching is not correct and Scriptural cannot be accepted as a teacher in the Assembly. It may be necessary to impose silence upon him, yet his teaching may not be such as necessitates his being put away as a wicked person.
The second Epistle of John also furnishes us with important instructions as to evil teachers and our dealings with them. "For many deceivers have gone out into the world, they who do not confess Jesus Christ coming in flesh-this is the deceiver and the antichrist ... Whosoever goes forward and abides not in the doctrine of the Christ has not God. He that abides in the doctrine, he has both the Father and the Son. If any one come to you and bring not this doctrine, do not receive him into (the) house, and greet him not; for he who greets him partakes in his wicked works" (II John 7-11, New Trans.).
The above was written to a lady and is the path which an individual is to pursue in regard to one who does not abide in the doctrine of Christ and is therefore an evil teacher. Such an one is not to be received into one's house or greeted, for to even greet such makes one a partaker of his wicked works according to the above Scripture.
We may therefore rightly conclude that if such a person is to be so treated by an individual believer out of loyalty to Christ, whom that one is dishonoring, certainly the Assembly is to act the same towards such and to have no fellowship whatever with that person. Thus on the ground of II John 7-11, any one who teaches or holds subversive doctrine as to the Person of Christ-one who goes beyond what Scripture teaches and does not confess Jesus Christ coming in flesh is a wicked person and must be put outside the Assembly and not received into one's home or even greeted on the street.
If an individual or a company of God's people knowingly associates with a wicked person they are partakers of his wicked works and are as defiled in God's sight as though personally holding or practicing evil. Association with evil defiles. This is a principle taught throughout Scripture. "A little leaven leaventh the whole lump," and "evil communications corrupt good manners" (I Cor. 15:33). Believers must purge out evil and have no link whatsoever with it or with the person who holds it. If an Assembly refuses to put away a wicked person, one guilty of moral or doctrinal evil, it becomes defiled and may, in due time, if it continues in that path, have to be rejected as an Assembly of God.
Having considered what moral and spiritual wickedness is we may now speak of the proper and godly procedure in carrying out this solemn act of putting away wicked persons.
First of all there must be a thorough investigation of the case by brothers of maturity and experience, those who have the general confidence of the Assembly and who exercise oversight in the gathering. Details must be gone into and the facts of the case collected and conclusively established by evidence. "Hear say" and reports must be looked into, sifted down, and the truth ascertained. All disciplinary action of any form must be based on facts and Scripture.
Deuteronomy 13:12-15 gives us important instructions as to what to do when a report of some evil is heard. "If thou shalt hear say in one of thy cities ... Certain men, the children of Belial, are gone out from among you, and have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known; Then shalt thou enquire, and make search, and ask diligently; and, behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought among you; Thou shalt surely smite" etc.
Inquiry, search, and diligent asking must take place. Then if the report of evil is found to be true and the thing is certain, the smiting of judgment is to take place. "Hear say" or reports of evil are never to be accepted as truth until careful inquiry has proven such to be true and evidence is found as proof.
We have already referred to Leviticus 13, noting how the priest must carefully and patiently investigate any person who had any of the symptoms of leprosy. There must be no haste or presumption. Before any disciplinary action is taken there must be absolute certainty of the charge of evil. What is not clear, manifest, or certain, we must wait upon God to manifest and bring into the light.
"One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established" (Deut. 19:15). "In, the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established" (II Cor. 13:1; Matt. 18:16) . This is an important principle in God's Word and is stated a number of times. For the establishment of any charge of iniquity, there must be two or three witnesses or the confession of guilt by the one so charged. One witness will not do. It is not said that the witnesses must be Christians, as is sometimes insisted upon. Any reliable and upright person's testimony should be accepted as a witness.
The case of the man in I Cor. 5 was one that was commonly reported as fornication. It was a publicly known sin and there was no need to establish the guilt. It was something known by common report and the duty of the Assembly was clear; the wicked person must be put away. When such is the case, we must act likewise today, but generally charges of evil need to be investigated and established first.
When a case has been thoroughly investigated by responsible brothers and the person is found to be wicked, the facts should be laid before the Assembly as the basis for reaching a united agreement before the Lord to put away the unrepentant person. The whole Assembly is not called to discuss all the details of cases of discipline. Even nature would teach one the impropriety of bringing the details of a case of immorality before the whole Assembly. But when a case has been searched into and facts mark the offender as a wicked person who must be excommunicated from the gathering, the whole Assembly is called upon to perform the solemn and humiliating act of putting away. Putting one away from the Assembly, as well as the reception of believers into the gathering, is the act of the entire Assembly. It must be an Assembly act and not that of a few brothers claiming to act for the Assembly.
In I Corinthians 5:4, where the apostle is speaking of the act of putting away, he says, "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ." This would imply that all the gathering (as far as possible) should be present to act together in the unity of the Spirit in this most serious act of excommunication. All should be exercised about the dishonor brought upon the Lord by the evil that has been manifested in their midst and be humbled before Him about it, making the sin their own. This attitude of humiliation and deep heart exercise which should characterize the Assembly in putting one away from their midst, we have previously discussed, so we shall not enlarge on it here.
Acting for the Whole Church
The local Assembly must ever remember that it is the local representation or expression of the whole Church of God and that it is acting for the Church everywhere. The Church is one body and there can be no such thing as Assemblies acting or existing independently of each other. The truth of the oneness of the Body of Christ and the necessity of keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace requires that all true discipline exercised by one Assembly be accepted and acted upon by all other Assemblies. What is bound according to God's Word in one Assembly is bound in heaven and everywhere on earth. The Assembly is responsible to act as representing the authority of the Lord in its midst and that which is His mind in one place is His mind for the Church everywhere.
But this means a corresponding responsibility for the local Assembly. If its acts are binding upon all other Assemblies, it must act according to God's Word and thus satisfy the consciences of the Churches elsewhere. Its actions must be of such a character that any inquiry as to them would reveal them as righteous and according to the name of the Lord and His Word.
Attitude Toward One Put Out
The one thus excommunicated is put outside the entire sphere of Christian fellowship. With such an one we are not to keep any company or to even eat a meal. "With such an one no not to eat" (I Cor. 5:11) . "Put away from among yourselves that wicked person" (v. 13). We should note that the injunction is not just to put the evil one out of the Assembly, but "from among yourselves." That means outside of the whole circle of Christian fellowship, ecclesiastically and socially. Such an one is to be left alone and made to feel the seriousness of his sin, so that he may be broken down, brought to repentance, and restored to the Lord.
Of course, where the wrong-doer is a member of a Christian household and living in the same home (as a husband or son) it would be going too far to literally apply the word, "with such an one no not to eat." A wife would not thus refuse to sit at the table with her husband under discipline, because to do so would ignore her responsibility as a wife. She manifests her refusal of fellowship in other ways.
While the Assembly is to act in faithfulness towards the excommunicated one, the desire and prayer of each one should be that the person may be restored to the Lord and to the fellowship of the gathering again. This we have previously dwelt upon in the beginning of our study of "Discipline. "As time goes on, brethren may feel led of the Lord to visit the erring one in a purely pastoral way and labor for his restoration. If there is not grace and spiritual strength to deal thus with him, no advance should be made towards such an one, as a mere social visit would really be annulling and depreciating the act of excommunication and would greatly retard restoration of soul.
Properly speaking, the advances for return to fellowship ought to begin with the one who has been put away. His sorrow and humble attitude would indicate to the Assembly that the discipline has been effective and that a work of God is going on in his soul. When the cause for excommunication has been owned and judged and removed out of the life, and when there is real evidence that the disciplined one is truly restored to the Lord, the Assembly may take up the case for restoration to Assembly fellowship and loose the discipline.
Sometimes a difficulty may arise in an Assembly in connection with an individual where the facts are not clear to those who investigate, or to the Assembly, and there is uncertainty as to what should be done. The case is not cleared up or manifest, either as to the person's guilt or innocence, or perhaps as to how serious the matter is, whether it is but a case of one overtaken in a fault (Gal. 6:1) or a wicked course of conduct. In such circumstances the Assembly should not act in discipline until everything is clear, manifest and established. There should be an earnest waiting upon God to clearly manifest the true nature of the case and to direct as to what action or course should be taken according to the Word of God.
As previously noted from Leviticus 13, anyone in Israel that showed symptoms of leprosy was to be shut up for seven days and then examined by the priest. If the plague had not spread, he was shut up seven days more and again examined by the priest at the end of this period. If the plague was seen to be somewhat dark and had not spread and was not deeper than the skin, the person was pronounced clean. But if the scab had spread abroad in the skin after he was seen of the priest, he must be examined again and if it was manifest that the scab had spread and was deeper than the skin, he was pronounced unclean and a leper that had to be put outside the camp.
While there may not be a parallel Scripture in the New Testament directing us to similar action in corresponding cases of possible evil in the Church, many brethren believe that a principle is contained in the typical action of Leviticus 13 which may be helpfully applied to uncertain cases in the Assembly which show some characteristic marks of spiritual leprosy, yet are not clearly established or manifested.
Where the evil is-of a serious character, yet not fully developed or manifested, the priestly care of the Assembly may be led to ask the person to voluntarily refrain for the time being from partaking of the Lord's Supper. where fellowship is expressed, until the matter is cleared up, established and the Scriptural course definitely perceived. This would be a sort of "shutting one up" as in Leviticus 13. This is not a grade of discipline, but simply a temporary measure while awaiting investigation or further examination. This investigation should be prompt, thorough, and Scriptural, that the reproach of possible evil be not allowed to rest upon a person unless proven guilty. No person should be asked to refrain from breaking bread upon a mere suspicion of evil. But where there are grave fears that the evil may be worse than what is already known and manifest, the Assembly could ask such an one to "sit back."
While there may be no New Testament Scripture that would give the Assembly authority to demand that one in such circumstances refrain from breaking bread and "sit back," yet for the sake of the testimony because of the cloud of possible evil resting upon the person (as in a case of public scandal), the brethren acting in priestly care may be led of the Lord to suggest to such an one that it would be best if he or she would refrain from breaking bread until the matter is cleared up and established one way or the other. If the person refused to do so, the Assembly could not demand it, as in the case supposed, guilt is not yet established and the Assembly cannot act in discipline until it is. The reaction of the person to this request might further manifest his true state of soul. In any case of "sitting back" the priestly care in the gathering must carry on in the case until the person is cleared or manifested as wicked. The matter must not be left lying, so to say.
With this we close our meditations on the subject of "Discipline." May the Lord give us a greater understanding of the holiness that becomes His house and of the restoring grace and love of His heart towards His erring people.
And as we close our chapter on the Local Aspect of the Church," we trust that the reader has seen more clearly from God's Word what constitutes a Scripturally gathered Assembly and what should characterize such a gathering.
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