Effects of No Church Discipline

By Irven Lee

( Note: In our special issue on “Church Discipline,” we made a production error which resulted in only half of this article by brother Lee being printed. Consequently, we are printing the article in its entirety in this issue. We apologize to brother Lee for this error and will make available to those who request it copies of the balance of brother Lee’s article for those copies which were purchased for wider distribution.)

Failure to carry out any command of God is a serious failure. It is no little thing to be found in a state of disobedience before our King. The consequences may be harmful or fatal to many.

The New Testament emphasizes the duties of the individual, but there are certain responsibilities assigned to groups of Christians (churches) because we are to work together as a family or body under elders and under Christ our chief Shepherd (Rom. 16:16; Titus 1:5; 1 Tim. 5:17; 1 Pet. 5:1-5).

Every soul is precious, and God is not willing that any should perish (Matt. 16:26; 2 Pet. 3:9). If a brother sins, he endangers his own soul and defiles his own name or influence. Any Christian near him should seek to convert or retore him to God (read Jas. 5:19,20; Gal. 6: 1). If efforts of this type fail, the important task of rescuing this one from perishing falls upon the church (1 Cor. 5). Let every member be aware of the fact that the effort is to save the sinner as well as to protect the reputation of the church (1 Cor. 5:4-8).

We may admonish the sinner as a brother because we are interested in his spiritual welfare. We want him to be ashamed of his sinful way, so we withdraw from him as the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” suggests (2 Thess. 3:6,14,15). Then comes the humiliation that there may be godly sorrow and repentance (1 Cor. 5:5). This is a worthy goal, and the plan of discipline to reach the goal is of God. We are in no position to question or reject His wisdom.

The church at Corinth was “puffed up” with its own wisdom rather than depending on the counsel of God concerning the member who was a fornicator. Allowing one couple to live in violation of the law was a way of letting the leaven of wickedness enter the “lump.” It was true then as it is now that “a little leaven leaventh the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6-8). If the church closes its eyes to the one case there will likely soon be another and then others.

Timothy was charged to preach, reprove, rebuke, and exhort in an urgent way if he would push off the day when they would not endure sound doctrine. When churches turn away their ears from the truth and turn to fables, they will be able to find plenty of teachers who for a price will preach what they want to hear (2 Tim. 4:1-5). The mouths of those who speak things which they ought not should be stopped, but who will do this if the people like the perverted pattern? (see Titus 1:10-14; 2 Peter 2:1-3.) A worldly church will look for and find a preacher who will not make the members feel uncomfortable.

“A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land; the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof” (Jer. 5:31). Israel was in a near hopeless condition when the masses liked what the false prophets said and did. True prophets like Jeremiah were rejected and persecuted. The people would not endure sound doctrine.

Isaiah found that there were those who called “evil good, and good evil; and put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.” These people were wise in their own eyes (Isa. 5:20,21). God took a hand in the days of the old prophets and allowed Israel and Judah to go into captivity. He scourged them. They suffered much. After a time men of faith like Zerubbabel, Nehemiah, and Ezra led a remnant back to Jerusalem. Idolatry was replaced by faith in God in some hearts from these trials.

Preaching by faithful prophets, disciplinary action administered by the nation’s leaders, and the scourging of the Lord saved some (see Neh. 13). In the day when Timothy preached, he was urged to be forceful and faithful in his preaching, and the churches were taught to mark, avoid, and reject false teachers, and to purge out the leaven of wickedness and disorder to avoid the evil day when they would not endure sound doctrine. Paul had worked hard to warn the people against the day of unfaithfulness. (Read 2 Tim. 4:1-5; Tit. 1:13; 1 Cor. 5; 2 Thess. 3; Rom. 16:17,18; Acts 20:29-3 1; Gal. 1:6-10.)

Firm discipline on the part of the church, faithful preaching of the whole counsel, and zeal in teaching from house to house all are dedicated to the effort to save some. We cannot reach all, but we can try. We can “by all means save some.”

Many in high places in our country are humanists, which means that they are atheists. Some of these unbelievers are very prominent in politics, courts, news media, and in university classrooms. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Organization of Women (NOW) are led by humanists or atheists. If the church withdraws from a fornicator as the Scripture demands, these people would oppose the church rather than the fornicator. To these humanists fornication is not wrong but is a matter of the private affair of the individual and no business at all of the church. Preachers and elders who would reprimand fornicators would be regarded as having a “holier than thou” attitude meddling with the “rights” of others. Likely they would object very much to the teaching done by Jesus as recorded in Matthew 23 when He was giving sharp rebukes to the Pharisees. Humanists would save their sharp rebukes for those who rebuke the immoral. Humanist lawyers would defend the immoral.

The church and each member of it should be very much interested in pleasing God by following Bible instruction. It is not our task to try to please men who are without God and without hope in the world (Eph. 2:12; Gal. 1:6-10). Standing for the truth may cost more in the future than it has in the immediate past. Let us teach and practice the will of God in the matter of withdrawal and on every thing else that is confirmed in His word. We ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 4:20; 5:29).

The National Organization of Women (NOW) has lobbied in Washington to get laws passed that would require churches to pay taxes on the buildings where they worship if they do not allow women to preach or sit in official positions in the church. The Bible is right now and will be when the Christ returns as Judge of all the earth.

Denominations are coming more and more in line with trends of our humanistic world. They lose the respect of the public as they become more liberal in their teaching. We do not use carnal weapons, but we do have powerful weapons to pull down strongholds. (See 2 Cor. 10:1-6.) Truth is worth fighting for, so we should put on the whole armor and take the sword of the Spirit and fight a good fight (Eph. 6:10-20). Compromise is not the need of the day where truth is involved.

If a church looks the other way and refuses to notice when more and more members become ungodly that church will become a gathering place for the worldly. It will also lose the respect of the community. Its zeal for Christ will vanish so it will fall into the same condition that had come to Israel when Isaiah and Jeremiah lived, and into the situation Paul wrote about when he warned Timothy of the day when they would no longer endure sound doctrine. They would then find teachers after their own lusts.

The Lord had “a few things against” the church at Pergamos when the book of Revelation was written. He explained by saying, “thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate” (Rev. 2:14,15). We live in a different age, but we have the same Christ. He was displeased then with a church that tolerated doctrines and practices that were contrary to His will. Our Lord is merciful to penitent brethren, but he does not condone error among His people.

One remark is repeated in each of the letters to the seven churches of Asia: “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Rev. 2:29). So called Protestants are not inclined to protest against false doctrine today. They are more likely to suggest that “every one has a right to his own belief,” and that “one faith is as good as another.” The true disciples of the Lord are taught to earnestly contend for the faith and to admonish one another daily lest any be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Jude 2; Heb. 3:12,13; Eph. 4:14). Let every man speak as the oracles of God; and let every church insist on sound doctrine. (Read Rom. 16:17,18; Tit. 3:9,10; 1 Pet. 4:11.)

Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 21, pp. 644-645
November 1, 1984