Saturday, December 20, 2008

...pastors who love the Lord, will visibly love the people God has called them to serve

part one

There has unfortunately been a much publicized case of church discipline gone awry in the media these past few days. It is obvious it has been handled by all involved with not the best of wisdom nor humility. It has resulted in being an embarrassment to the body of Christ and His gospel. 

The following article does not mention nor deal with that particular situation alluded to above. That should be left to those who are involved first hand in that local congregation alone and not turned into blogger dialogue or cheap table talk conversation by those who love to gossip. We do need to pray for all who are involved that the Lord would grant wisdom and repentance as necessary. 

I pray the following can be an encouragement to all - and especially to pastors who truly want to honor the Lord with meekness, gentleness, grace, love, and biblical restoration and repentance for all whom they serve as ministers of the Lord Jesus. Biblical love doesn't wink at sin; biblical love isn't legalistic in dealing with sin; biblical love seeks restoration, reconciliation and repentance from sin; for biblical love "covers a multitude of sins."

Joshua Harris, mentored by C.J. Mahaney and now pastor of Covenant Life Church, has written a good little tome called, "Stop Dating the Church." It is a simple and yet important call for people to really get involved in their local churches by being committed to a fellowship of believers and serving the Lord in the midst of them. This is a much needed message in today's church hop, drop and shop mentality. 

But the converse is also true: pastors need to "stop dating the congregation" and really get involved in the daily lives of its people. It's not enough to produce programs, preachments, outreaches, fellowship groups, missions, concerts, etc. Pastors need to--in fact they must--invest themselves in the lives of their congregations to the point that they are tirelessly serving them, praying for them, loving them, faithfully preaching the Word to them, equipping them to do the work of the ministry, and yes if necessary, disciplining them. I don't know about you, but I have blind spots in my life. My heart heart is desperately wicked and apart from God's restraining grace, I could be given to all sorts of waywardness. That is why I need godly men (and so very thankful for those the Lord has brought into my life) to invest with me, my family and the ministry; to help guard my heart, challenge me, and encourage me in my daily walk with the Lord. I need men of God that will care enough to say the hard things to me, but also to love me enough to journey with me through the heights and depths of my daily life. Contrary to the Emergent Church Movement, what I am suggesting is far more than a "conversation of faith", it is living in a "community of faith." Is that your hearts cry as well? Oh for pastors that would honor the Lord in their churches and do this with humility, grace, sacrificial love, and broken hearts... Why? Because pastors are sheep too; shot through with all the same sins, cares, burdens, blind spots and moorings that every member of their congregations are. And that alone should motivate them in their service to the King; for when any of us have tasted deeply of God's forgiving grace, the impulse of our hearts should be to extend it to one another.

Church discipline begins by servant-leaders of Christ humbly shining the light of God's truth on every area of our lives; and then lovingly calling each other to live in response to that truth. If there are sins to confess, then we must quickly do it; if there is grace to be extended to another caught in sin, then we must fulfill the law of Christ and bear their burdens; and if there is reconciliation that needs to occur, then we must willingly pursue it. It is almost a forgotten duty in the church today and a forgotten grace. That's right. Church discipline done biblically, humbly and with right motives is a grace given by the Lord to protect the purity of the church and guard against anything that robs it of Christlikeness and holiness. Pastors that are afraid to discipline sin because of potential lawsuits, church politics, fear of losing their jobs, etc. should not resign themselves to a spirit of fear, but should do the godly thing, honor Christ and lovingly confront sin. Pastors that want to be your friend first, fellowship group leader second, and elder third have abandoned their calling and are suffering from a severe case of spiritual amnesia as to their biblical duty as an under-shepherd of Christ. They would be bettor off to leave the ministry and become something benign and ineffectual like a psychologist; for they ultimately bring tremendous harm upon the body of Christ due to their puscillanimous propensity for self preservation.

The highest form of worship, as Luther says, is the clear teaching and preaching of God’s Word lived in daily obedience to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is presenting our bodies as “living sacrifices holy, acceptable pleasing unto God for this is our just and spiritual worship” (Roms. 12:1). Holiness, purity, obedience, faithfulness—these are the marks of sincerity of faith. IOW, pastors should stop dating the church and serve her with love, grace, patience and longsuffering as the precious bride of Christ. Biblical restoration is at the heart of the gospel and should be at the heart of every servant-leader within the church. Why? Because pastors are sheep too and in need of grace for repentance every day! 

Hypocrisy, Instead of Holiness
God desires for His people to be pure and holy and to live a life of integrity in the world and before Himself. As the Apostle Peter has said, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). When the church embraces strong Bible teaching and rejects being held to its standard, we have the spiritual chaos that is evidenced today. When we divorce biblical preaching from biblical living “it promotes hypocrisy, instead of holiness” says, John MacArthur. To illlustrate, I had an opportunity last week to share the gospel with a Muslim gentleman while my front brakes were being changed. Through the course of our conversation he said something very insightful and convicting; his number one bewilderment about Christians is “why do you all believe one thing and constantly live another?” This is a tremendous indictment against the church.

Divine Chastening: The Mark of the Father’s Love
Even in the human realm, discipline is vital by parents to their children. Proverbs 13:24 says, “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” Proverbs 3:11-12 says, “My son, do not reject the discipline of the LORD, Or loathe His reproof, for whom the LORD loves He reproves, Even as a father, the son in whom he delights.” I am a parent of five children and I desire for them to live right and honorable lives. They not only need to be told what the right thing to do is, but also led in living out what is right through loving discipline or correction. If I love them—I will discipline them. When we see unruly children not obeying their parents, it is a sign of indifference from the parents that they do not love their children and care how they act. Disobedient children and indifferent parents are both a terrible thing to witness. Just as a loving father disciplines his children, so a loving God chastens His people when they are living in continued unrepentant sin.

Listen to these discriptive words from the writer of Hebrews: “It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:7-11).

How does the church promote holiness and purity and cause people to live daily in the fear and reverence of the Lord?; and by what means of grace has the Lord provided for this important and holy undertaking? Church discipline; which I prefer calling Biblical Restoration.

Restoration, Reconciliation, Repentance
Church discipline is not a witch-hunt; it is not intended for retribution, reprisal, retaliation or designed for personal revenge. It is not meant to “even the score” between disenfranchised believers or fractured leadership with their congregations. It is not driven by control or to exert a “power-play” over another. The very heart of church discipline is motivated by love, clothed in humility, bathed in God’s Word, and has as its goal the restoration, reconciliation, and repentance of a sinning brother or sister in Christ still trapped in their sin. It is good and holy; an act of divine worship; and exemplifies the charity of the Lord Jesus Christ. It reveals reverence for God; hatred of sin; love for the purity of the local church; the desire for genuine fellowship with other believers; and an impartial—righteous scale of parity. When dispensed correctly, it protects the unity of the church in the bond of peace, fosters integrity, promotes holiness, and brings glory to God. It causes us all to pause and reflect on the wickedness of our own sinful hearts and to show empathy, compassion and sacrificial love for another still trapped in sin.

May I direct your thinking to a critical and key passage of Scripture that deals with this important issue: Galatians 6:1-2. There are other Scriptures we will consider, but this brief section of God's Word gives us a very powerful synopsis of the means, the motive, the manner, and the method for proper church discipline. Let’s carefully look at it together.

Ambushed by Sin… How Christians Should 
Restore One Overtaken in a Tresspass
“Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, 
and thus fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2).

“Brethren” – “you who are spiritual”. Notice that the Apostle directs the means for dealing with sin not to the therapist, the professional counselor, the courts, or even the pastor—-he places the responsibility on the body of Christ…the “brethren.” These are everyday believers in the Lord--members of a local congregation just like you and me.

A brief point for context: the churches of southern Galatia were located in the cities of Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, where Paul had ministered on his first two missionary journeys (see Acts 13:14—14:23; 16:1-5). The fact that Paul founded those churches gave him a position of authority in dealing with them (Cp. 1 Cor. 4:14-21, where Paul also states his right to confront the Corinthians because he was their founding shepherd). Therefore, Paul calls on believers, the church, to deal with the confrontation, restoration, and repentance of one who is “caught in a trespass.”

Brethren is a term of endearment given by the Lord to all He came to save at His resurrection (John 20:17). It is a sign of intimacy that signifies we belong to Him, we are His people; and that His once for all sacrifice for the salvation of our souls has so thoroughly redeemed us from the penalty, guilt, and wrath of God that burns against our sin, that we now have peace with God forever, by which Christ is unashamed to call us His brethren (Romans 5:1-2; Hebrews 2:11-13). Paul is right in calling believers in the Lord who have known His forgiving grace in their own lives to do their spiritual duty in bringing another believer who has strayed from life of holiness to repentance by that same grace.

He further clarifies the character of the brethren by saying, it is“you who are spiritual” who are to be about this work of reconciliation. Once again, MacArthur is spot on when he insightfully says, "Spiritual believers are those walking in the Spirit, filled with the Spirit, and manifesting the fruit of the Spirit, who, by virtue of their spiritual strength, are responsible for those who are fleshly" (cf. Galatians 5:16-23).

Not everyone who claims the name of Christ maybe is living for Christ. “Spiritual” also in this context, refers to those who are not new converts, but mature, faithful believers in Christ--those with proven godly character. This doesn’t mean their lives are free from sin, for that would eliminate all of us from the work of the Lord. None of us have arrived at the Christian life; none of us have perfected our sanctification, have we? But Paul means those whose lives are up to date and are consistent in their obedience to Christ.

“if a man is caught in any trespass” – “restore such a one” – “fulfill the law of Christ.” Here Paul gives us the pure motive for such action: fulfilling the law of Christ by restoring a believer overcome in sin. The Greek word for caught is prolamban; and it means to overtake by surprise; to ambush; or as Lightfoot says, “to overpower before one can escape.” This is not one whom is premeditatively pursuing sinful desires or a life of lasciviousness, but one has let his guard down and failed to maintain a strong daily walk in the Lord so that he has been, as it were, surprised by sin in submitting to its deceptiveness. He has been ambushed by sin and overtaken in a fault. Sin is subtly deceptive and can overpower someone or ambush one when you least except it, leaving no room for escape from its snare. 

Paul’s command is when you see a man ensnared by sin of this kind… “restore such a one.” This is a surgical term used for the setting right of a fractured bone. As in medicine, the repaired bone that once was broken may heal so completely that it would be impossible to detect where the fracture originally occurred; and usually the healed bone is stronger than its original state. The same truth applies spiritually—the restoration should be so thorough in ones life and the repentance so profound, that the later state carries with it a strength that didn’t exist formerly. The fallen believer is stronger and useful to the Lord once again.

What is the law of Christ Paul speaks of? Love. This is self-sacrificial, unmerited, undeserved, unreciprocated love that seeks not its own comfort, but the benefit of another. There is no greater love demonstrated in the church than when Christians lay down their lives, risking even their own reputation, to see others within the church restored to a right relationship in Jesus Christ.

“in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.” This is the humility of Christlikeness that guards against gossip, expose, and self-righteous religious pride. Gentleness is not simply a quiet demeanor—far from it. It means:
to submit to injustice free from revenge without malice; while doing acts of kindness to those who would see your own demise; trusting God in spite of it all—knowing that He is sovereignly working all things for our good and His glory. It is staying in the provocation until the breach is fully mended.
Restoring a sinning brother or sister in Christ can painstaking, tireless work and could mean even your own reputation comes under fire. It takes one “mindful of the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1-2) to love someone seeing it through to the end. We are to take inventory of our own proclivity to sin and beware lest we succumb to the same temptation while trying to be agent of grace in the restoration of another.

“Bear one another’s burdens…” Burdens means heavy loads that weigh down. Paul is not generally referring here to the daily trials, sufferings, or “bad days” that we all may experience. He is referring to the weight of sin which so easily can beset us. Only Christ and His grace are sufficient to equip another believer to bear this kind of burden. How can we as fellow sinners saved by and in need of grace each day do such a heavenly and gracious thing? We do so by gentle reproof and loving, humble confrontation; when we comfort another when overpressed with guilt by pointing them to Christ and His unfathomable grace; we do so by sympathizing with them in their sorrow or by interceding for them in prayers to God to manifest His pardoning grace to them; and most importantly, we do so by forgiving them and holding no ought against them.

So the burdens here is the weight of sin(s) that is pressing down on another believer to further tempt them to transgress. If we are to “fulfill the law of Christ”, then we must “bear another’s burdens.” It is the idea of coming along side another believer in Christ, under-girding the weaker brother or sister struggling under the heavy load of sin and then walking with them faithfully until they are repentant, strengthened spiritually, and able to walk faithfully once again in their daily live. This is discipleship at the most crucial level.

But if we are honest here in our appraisals, the reality for most believers in most churches is tragic. As the old saying goes, “Christians serve in the only army that shoots its wounded.” This is the cruelty of sin to others trapped in their iniquity when gossip, slander, bitterness, ego, pride, etc. are given prominence over the restoration of the fractured saint.

This admonition beloved to bear another’s burdens encourages us against turning away from a weakened brother or sister in a self-righteous attitude of superiority and to serve that one at the point of their need for their repentance and restoration.

And if we fail in this holy endeavor, the world around us sees our faith as one of legalism, cultish oppression, judgmental hypocrisy, political elitism, and a sham. It is by this shall all men know that you are Mine, Jesus said, "if you love one another as I have loved you." May we remember the grace we have been given in our lives to overcome our own sins and failings when dealing with another caught in a trespass. Those who have drank deeply of the forgiving, restorative grace of God should not be the ones who in their zeal to do what is right become calloused against one struggling under the load of sin.


Unchained Slave said...

I respectfully submit that the root problem of ‘lack of discipline’ is a ‘family’ problem. I see an alarming ‘trend’, especially in large churches, where the membership ‘reflects’ the ‘family values’ of today. Namely, we, as members do not spend time with each other. We see each other on Sunday mornings, and that is all. We can not see ‘sin’ in the church, because we do not know our brethren. Without knowing our brothers and sisters, how can even begin to consider discipline? Like the Muslim you talked with pointed out, we are hypocrites. We are ‘love’ and ‘hugs’ on Sunday mornings, get in our cars and go to our lives. We do not live with ‘our’ family.
In order for the ‘church’ to step up to discipline, it needs to be a family first. We need to be a real family, not a ‘Sunday’ family. We need to instill in ourselves and ‘demand’ of our ‘church’ strong family values. Without being a part of each other’s lives, there is no way we can see others ‘burdens’.
You stated, ”All contact is not prohibited, just all fellowship—all communion of faith. When you see one that has been put out of the church, lovingly urge them to repent of their sin and come back to the Lord.” When the reality is, the only contact many have IS in church.
While it is the ‘duty’ of the pastors to build a family, it is our duty to be a family. That is a sin; I myself am guilty of committing it.

Thank you,
In Christ

Sparks said...

I don't know what others are hearing, but at my church the commonly heard phrase is "everyone is busy with their lives". Children's extra-curricular activities seem to take up tremendous amounts of time, adults have other activities they are involved in- and so everyone is too busy to spend time building relationships with each other or make committments to spend time giving their best to God. As a result, many of the ministries at the church are content with less than the best service to Jesus.

As for as church discipline, forget it, just takes too much time and energy- besides you'll end up offending people. And that's just not allowed in today's chruch.

Bhedr said...

>And while I agree that we should be responsible citizens of heaven by conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of the Lord, why is it that we don’t see on those same codes things such as: no pride; no lust; no greed; no gossiping; no self-righteousness; no bitterness, anger, or malice, etc.<

Wow! How true how true and knowing this having once attended BJU.

ambiance-five said...

Wonderful article.

Ted Gossard said...

Steve, thanks for the spirit and grace with which you share on a topic that can be handled ungraciously.

I like the way you approach fulfilling our Lord's instruction in Matthew 18 on church discipline.

We certainly must practice grace and truth. One without the other ceases to be authentic.

DOGpreacher said...

I echo Ted in thanking you for the way you approach the tough ones. It seems to me a neat mix of Piper & MacArthur. I also liked the comments of Unchained Slave, as well as the sobriquet. The 'Purpose Driven Church' will always be pragmatic, and the 'Worship Driven' can never be so. 'Seeker Friendly' churches are actually 'Sinner Friendly', a place where you can be sure of no confrontation of sin & no exhortation to holiness. In other words, these are the churches of 2 Timothy 4:3-4. NOTICE: in verse 4, that THEY SHALL TURN from the truth (verse 3), and because of this, they SHALL BE TURNED unto fables. See the parallel in Romans 1:25-32. I am...
grateful for grace,
A fellow laborer

donsands said...

"Tolerance of sin is not a spiritual gift. The failure for a church to discipline those who sin forfeit the blessing and favor of God--"
This is true.

This is a difficult thing to do in our age: to discipline. People more than not, will leave the church, and cry, "Where is the grace! You are Pharisees!" I know this to be true.

Great teaching. Thanks. I passed it on to my pastors.

May the Lord give us the courage to deal with chronic sin in the church. Amen.

CovJack said... said it, friend.

Paul said...


You wrote 'All contact is not prohibited—all communion of faith.' Could you enlarge on this statement and on what you believe scripture means when it says "Not even to eat with one"?

Is the only accepatble contact an urging to repentance? Is any other contact acceptable?

I do remember reading that MacArthur stated that at GCC those who have gone through the process and have not repented are not even welcome to the meetings of the church.

scripturesearcher said...

"But you don't seem to understand -
this congregation pays my salary and furnishes lots of perks and benefits. You can't expect me to discipline the people that feed me."

These words have been uttered to me many times through more than half a century of ministering in the USA and abroad.

In each instance I have suggested that the pastor repent, and if he refused, he should resign.

Your article is GREAT!

Terry Rayburn said...

Regarding the Muslim who asked, “Why do you all believe one thing and constantly live another?”:

This is the age-old excuse by slippery fish who reject Christ, and try to justify their rejection (I remember doing the same thing as an unbeliever). Anyone who witnesses will hear this over and over.

The truth is that *all* people "believe one thing and live another". C.S. Lewis brilliantly pointed this out in Mere Christianity when he showed how people are unable to live up to their *own* standards, let alone God's.

And this is exactly why we need a Savior. The Muslim fellow is as much a hypocrite as the Christian he derides. In fact a double hypocrite, because he faults hypocrisy itself, while surely practicing it.

May he come to understand that salvation is a gift, by grace, from the Savior Jesus Christ, and abandon his works religion. Because unfortunately, no Christian will ever be "good" enough to stop the excuses of the one who rejects Christ.

SJ Camp said...

I agree with you Terry.

But, we must all be more aware than we are, that a lost world is watching us and our actions do matter.

Christianity is both "show and tell."

2 Cor. 4:5-7