By Tim Haile
Some local churches of Christ have become like the city dogpound. They take in all the strays that have been “run off’ from the other churches. These “dogpound” churches have the tolerance of the Corinthians when it comes to sin and immorality (1 Cor. 5:2). The purpose and importance of church discipline is clearly taught in the New Testament. It saves souls, aids in keeping the church pure, and the identity of the church is preserved and maintained (Acts 5:1-11; 1 Con 5:3-8 K 2 Cor. 2:6; Matt. 18:17; 2 Thess. 3:6,14). The 2 Thessalonians 3:6 passage makes it clear that churches do not have some type of “exempt option” by which they “opt out of practicing discipline.” Paul said, “We command you by the authority of Jesus Christ.” A church simply has no right to fellowship those who are not in fellowship with God (Eph. 5:11).
Are We Stronger Than God? (1 Cor. 10:22)
It is against God’s nature to forgive an unrepentant person, whether an alien sinner or a child of God (Acts 2:38; 8:22), but some Christians have the idea that they can “go the extra mile” and forgive the sinner regardless of his unwillingness to repent! They view themselves as “Christ-like” when in reality they are violating the very words of Christ. Jesus said, “If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him” (Lk. 17:3). We simply have no right to forgive those who will not repent of their sins! We are certainly taught to have a forgiving disposition. That is, we should be ready and willing to forgive when repentance does occur, but to do more is to “go beyond the doctrine of Christ” (Col. 3:13; 2 Jn. 9). This is thelesson that some churches have notlearned. Theyfeel they are doing a great service to God and man by taking people into their fellowship who have been “disfellowshipped” elsewhere. It is true that there are times when the righteous are withdrawn from by congregations that are ruled by the wicked (3 Jn. 9-11). I am not condemning their admittance. I am questioning the “open-arms” policy of so many churches of Christ which overlooks sin and its dangerous consequences. A little yeast will eventually “work through the whole batch of dough” (1 Cor. 5:6). When we knowingly and willingly receive sinners, then we are sinners!
How To Escape and Avoid “The Dogpound Syndrome”
1. Let us not become so concerned about numerical growth that we lose sight of the importance of the purity of the church (Eph. 5:25-27). One saved is better than one hundred lost. Churches sometimes lose their spiritual sense and objectivity when faced with the possibility of gaining a new family.
2. Question the new prospect(s). Sometimes people have just moved, and they are looking for a church to work and worship with. Sometimes people havebeen withdrawn from because of lying, sexual immorality, teaching false doctrine or other sins resulting in that person “walking disorderly” (Acts 5:3-5; 1 Cor. 5:1; Rom. 16:17; 2 Thess. 3:6). The only way to find out is to ask! In my experience, those Christians who are dedicated and conscientious are happy to answer background questions. They are happy to know that this church is concerned about its own purity and standing with God.
Follow the Jerusalem church example. After Paul’s conversion (“Saul” at that time), he “straightway preached Christ in the synagogues” (Acts 9:20). When Paul went to Jerusalem and “tried to join the disciples,” they were “afraid of him and believed not that he was a disciple” (Acts 9:26). It was necessary for Barnabas to explain Paul’s situation to the Apostles at Jerusalem before they were willing to accept Paul. We read nothing in the New Testament that would indicate that the Jerusalem church was wrong in their refusal to accept Paul into their fellow-ship. They acted in accordance with their own best knowledge of the situation. In this case, the prospective member was in fellowship with God, but at that time the church did not know it. They refused fellowship until they found out the facts! By the way, this is an approved apostolic example since there were “apostles” in that Jerusalem church (Acts 9:27). We need to study, learn, and apply the New Testament lessons of the nature and extent of church fellowship. We need to understand the importance of the purity of the church and the purpose of church discipline. The failure to act may cost us our souls.
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 17, p. 15
September 2, 1993