"Them That Sin, Rebuke Before All" - I Tim. 5:20
Burl E. Russell
In a previous article I made the observation, in substance, that all thoughtful moralists are alarmed at our nation 's skyrocketing crime rate (recently reported to be four times our population increase), the obvious contempt so many of our citizens hold for our civil laws, and the moral depravity many segments of society have plumbed. I firmly believe that the principal underlying cause for this moral descent is that "the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Gen. 8:21) and that man has unleashed the fruits of his evil imagination upon society. As evil deeds are outward manifestations of images conceived in an evil mind, our overt evil acts emerge from corrupt thoughts in direct proportion to the restraint placed upon such thoughts; hence there can be but one explanation for our national dilemma. Our citizens have become increasingly uninhibited, having allowed their evil imaginations free rein, and this complete lack of discipline has produced an abundant harvest of wicked deeds as a natural consequence.
Because of man's twofold nature consisting of an inner world in which he is the absolute dictator, and an outer world into which he is inclined to project the autocratic rule of his inner world upon other people ruled by like desires, an inevitable clash of ambitions is posed,' unless a common denominator is used to compromise and harmonize man's individual dictatorial inclinations.
Society, of course, has provided this common denominator in its disciplinary laws, systems of rules for conduct, laws to encourage individual self-imposed restraint, with an enforced control and punishment as a last resort. But as the severity of such laws and their enforcement are dependent upon the will of the majority, we must conclude that because individuals have refused to practice voluntary restraint, and~ collectively, society has not demanded discipline of others from enforcement officials, it is society as a whole which is responsible for our decline in morality.
However I believe that it is the religious world that must bear the most guilt, because it has not produced the exemplary conduct we have a right to expect of it, but rather it has "dignified" and "legalized" many corrupt practices by consent. Because immorality has reached and corrupted men purported to represent spirituality, as well as "high places" in our government, and because it is difficult for society to rise above its leadership, such examples have proved devastating. There was a time when merit and morality occupied a prominent place in the formula for "success," but now with our youth constantly exposed to an idea of success in which one's qualifications need consist only of a certain physical charm, a flair for exhibitionism and a set of decadent morals which will allow him to peddle his dubious talents on the most profitable market, we are reaping exactly what has been sown.
While I dislike being an alarmist, it is becoming increasingly apparent that this lack of discipline and' distorted sense of values have invaded the church until it is a rare occasion when a member is ostracized. If this influence continues to grow, I shudder to think of the future of the church.
Reasons for Discipline
I believe a study of the reasons for discipline will do much to emphasize its importance. It is first A PROTECTIVE MEASURE. We read in 2 Cor. 8:13 that some are not to be eased and others burdened, which is a principle that every world, national or community organization must practice to remain morally and financially solvent. This measure is stressed in 2 Thess. '3:10: "if any would riot work, neither should he eat." Each and every member of any society must contribute his fair share of the elements by which such society is maintained. Every one knows what happens when even a comparatively small number of our citizens are allowed to evade their taxes and their moral responsibilities by disobeying moral laws of common decency.
Such an influence soon has more and more citizens following suit until it is only a matter of time until there will be too few to pay taxes and uphold our moral standards. So, moral and financial bankruptcy must follow.
The same results will occur in the church if the members are not convinced that they also must contribute their fair share of these important elements, or the church will follow society into the same bankruptcy. While financial contributions should always remain in the voluntary category, God's moral laws must be enforced, after every other measure is exhausted, to convince the members that self-imposed restraint should be practiced, if His laws are to be obeyed and He is to receive the glory and honor rightfully due Him.
TO CREATE FEAR AND RESPECT FOR GOD'S LAWS: In I Timothy 5:20 we are commanded to rebuke those that sin, before all, that others may fear. While our love for God and the brethren should be a sufficient incentive for obedience, God has deemed that the element of fear be injected to motivate those who are weak or do not have sufficient incentive without it. Fear of public ridicule and loss of public esteem, with the privilege of freely associating with society revoked, has kept millions from disobedience, and when this fear is removed by lack of discipline, it lends encouragement to transgression, and in turn produces a contempt for laws which cannot touch them. This is true in both the civil and religious realm, and in Acts 5, we view this principle in action, when Ananias and Saphira were destroyed for disobedience. "Great fear came upon all them that heard . . ." and with this fear also came a greater respect for laws which punished the guilty with such certainty and dispatch. They witnessed exactly what they could expect under similar circumstances and the memory of this example weighed heavily in favor of obedience when they were tempted to disobey.
TO SAVE THE SOUL: In I Cor. 5:5 we are told that the purpose of "purging out the old leaven" is "that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord . . ." Just as the enforcement of civil law is not intended to be pleasant or profitable, neither is the enforcement of God's laws. Man's laws are legislated and enforced to rehabilitate the criminally inclined, to remake them into good law abiding citizens who can contribute substantially to society. God's laws are intended to convince His children that they too must contribute their share of the necessary finances and spiritually, that living a Christian life leaves nothing to be desired, but that indulging in sin is unprofitable, and that the loss of the fellowship and esteem of the brethren, with the prospects of spending an eternity in hell is a prohibitive price to pay for the fleeting and dubious pleasure of transgressing divine laws.
In I Cor. 5, Matt. 18, Rom. 16:17, 2 Thess. 3, 1 Tim. 6, we are told of many traits which must be abandoned by Christians, either voluntarily, or those who have them must be ostracized by the church. All are clearly sins of commission, which if allowed to be practiced will bring reproach upon the church, and all are so clearly defined that there can be no misunderstanding about them. However, perhaps because sins of neglect do not bring as much disrepute as sins of commission do, it is apparent that the importance of the transgression of those who "fall away" is not given the proper recognition. In Heb. 10:25, we have the command "not to forsake the assembly," and in 2 Thess. 3:6 to withdraw from those who walk "disorderly," and I believe both are dealing with the same sin of omission.
Translators of the original Greek believe that the word from which "disorderly" comes, means "out of place" or "out of rank,'' and this translation gives this word a similar meaning as "forsaking the assembly." Now the question is posed, "When is a member out of place and when has he forsaken the assembly?" In the Jewish economy the phrase "every man stood in his place" was used to indicate one was doing his duty, where he belonged. Hence a member today must also have his place. I believe that no one will deny that one's place is certainly in the assembly, and unless one does assemble, I believe that we can safely assume that he is not working for the Lord in any other capacity.
Does a salesman, if he is working at all, fail to show up at the office out of which he functions, where he gets his instructions, his compensation, and where the progress of his work is certified, for a long period of time? But how long can either a salesman or a member stay away from his "headquarters" and still be considered as working or assembling? Apparently the apostle Paul in 2 Thess. 3:10 defines "disorderly" as "not working at all," so we must conclude that when we determine a person is not working at all, he is disorderly, and subject to discipline.
I doubt there is a hard and fast rule by which we can determine when one is disorderly and has forsaken the assembly, but would the salesman have a job and participate equally in all the benefits offered by his employer with the other employees who had worked faithfully, if he neglected to show up for some six months? The answer is very obvious. Then why should a church member who is a healthy normal person, able to provide for his family and indulge in recreation, not be considered, after repeated admonitions, as "disorderly" and as having forsaken the assembly, if he neglects to show up for the same period of time? Is he not then a subject for discipline? Has he not also dethroned God, and became an idolater, because it is obvious that he has replaced Him with other gods?
I believe much preparation is necessary in withdrawal cases. We must first restore the subjects if at all possible (Gal. 6:1; Matt. 18:16), exhausting all other means before actual withdrawal takes place. As the pattern t for withdrawal, with all its facets, is not outlined in any one scripture, we must draw our pattern from many. Only after several have been unsuccessful in reconciling a brother who has offended another, or brought reproach upon the church, should we use the procedure designed by the Holy Spirit. If after we find that reconciliation is impossible, we must follow the instructions left us in Matt. 18:17, i.e., "If he neglect to hear them, tell it to the church, if he neglect to hear the church, let him be to thee as a heathen man and a publican." If one refuses to repent of his wrongdoing, after a letter stipulating his wrongs is read before the entire assembly (the usual manner), he is to be "one apart." "Purge out the old leaven" (1 Cor. 5:7); "avoid them" (Rom. 16:17); "no not to eat with them" (1 Cor. 5:11-13); "Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person."
What Constitutes a Confession of Wrong?
Many hold that a mere confession that "I have sinned" is sufficient, but I am convinced that this is too vague, because in Rom. 3:23 we can read "all have sinned." So such a general statement reveals nothing not already known. In James 5:16 we also read, "confess your faults, one to another," which suggests enumerating our faults, not merely telling something others already know. A study of examples in this respect reveals that in Acts 5, all the details of the sin of Ananias and Saphira were made public, and in Joshua 7:21-25, in the account of Achan's sin in stealing the spoils of battle, we read that everything he had stolen was laid out before all Israel, for all to see, and nothing was kept hidden. As one purpose of rebuke before all is "that others may fear," how would "others" know what to fear if they were not aware of all the circumstances involved, or what the sin was?
How Are They Received Back?
When there is genuine repentance on the part of the one from whom the church withdraws, he is to be welcomed back with all the enthusiasm and pleasure that the "prodigal son" was offered by his father. No stone should be left unturned in efforts to get him to repent, and when he does, he should be made to feel that all is forgiven. In 2 Cor. 2:7, we find the reason for a warm reception him and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow." And surely we cannot expect God to forgive us unless we forgive those who trespass against us.
Consequence of No Discipline
To add a much needed emphasis to the importance of discipline, I would like to cite what has happened without it! I believe that the organization now known as the Roman Catholic Church evolved from the true church of the second century, although it does not even remotely resemble the early church today.
But what other religious body in the world today is held in such low repute? Church history reveals the fact that the first sign of apostasy was the elevation of one bishop over others. Was not this a failure to practice restraint in the area of the pride of life, both on the part of the one elevated and hi~ brethren for not controlling his desire for preeminence? From this laxity in discipline has come a perpetual compromising with sin, as expressed by the most honored historian of the Middle Ages, Henry Charles Lea, who speaks about this church in these words: "In each successive age, it has claimed that the increased wickedness of man renders impossible the maintenance of the old severity (discipline--if you please--BER) and by condescending to that wickedness, it has stimulated rather than repressed evil."
This stimulation of evil has been effectively accomplished by removing the fear of the consequences of evil deeds. With such examples as scores of vicious gangsters profiteering in violent crime, and not a word of criticism from their clergy, and then being laid "to rest" with the full honors of the church; and such mass murderers as Hitler and Mussolini, with their slaughter of millions, without a breath of censure or a hint of "excommunication," and presumably in ''good standing'' with their church; is it any wonder that "good devout" Catholics can habitually evade taxes, lie, cheat, steal, drink themselves into a paralyzing stupor and even exterminate "bigoted heretics," all completely without fear of divine retribution, when their church, which is to them "the voice of God," sanctions much greater sins?
It is only a matter of record that multiplied thousands of innocent girls have been seduced and ruined via the "confessional" by drunken licentious priests, that when these "other Christs" get insensibly drunk, they are tucked into bed by their parishioners, who invent excuses for them; they break up homes in every community, by invading their sanctity and alienating the affection of wives and mothers. Yet even when the scandals become extremely odious and when the victims of these knavish affronts to decency threaten physical violence, their church shields them, and Catholics band together to boycott any and all newspapers and radio stations that would dare reveal the truth. How could evil and corruption possibly be stimulated more effectively?
One letter from a former Catholic is representative of the stigma this has caused: "I have seen so much wickedness, envy, spite, malice, greed among priests, bishops, and even nuns that it has sickened me. So many of them are materialists, while hypocritically preaching against it, so many are opportunists, gluttons, drinkers, socially ambitious..." All this depravity has come about by individuals letting down the bars of restraint and this church refusing to invoke discipline.
Every intelligent person knows that all this debauchery and affronts to decency would grind to an abrupt halt, if the guilty were held up for public ridicule with every detail of their disobedience brought to light and judgment rendered, which in turn would bring about a new respect and fear for God's laws, now held in contempt. If God's command in 1 Tim. 5: 20 "to rebuke before all, that others may fear" were obeyed, in time there would be no need for the many "guest houses" over our nation dedicated to the "cure" of priestly alcoholics. There would not be the disproportionate number of Catholics in our penal institutions, nor would there be the wholesale corruption which is so pronounced in Catholic political circles.
While it has taken centuries to reach this depth of immorality, which has doubtlessly caused God to disown this church, it all began by thinking that controlling the evil imagination of man was not worth the effort. So this church compromised with sin, and its hierarchy even fabricated laws that openly allowed the gratification of fleshly lusts. It did not happen overnight, but little by little this laxity in discipline grew until it became a Frankenstein monster that has gotten out of control. Is this what we want to happen to the Lord's church? It will take time, but unless the church begins to teach individual voluntary restraint and practice discipline, when it becomes necessary, this is exactly what will happen!
Truth Magazine VIII: 6, pp. 17-20 March 1963