DO WE LOVE ONE ANOTHER ENOUGH TO ENACT CHURCH DISCIPLINE?
Does it make any sense for a Christian group to consist of non-Christians? Before you answer this question let me be clear about what I am saying. I am asking not thinking about services where non-Christians are in attendance but the membership and leadership of such groups. Most of us may think this question would be a matter of common sense, but if you have been following the news you will know that under consideration right now at the Supreme Court there is a case which deals with this question. In Christian Legal Society v. Martinez (UC Hastings) the court is being asked whether the Christian Legal Society (CLS) should be exempt from the University of California nondiscrimination policy which forced them off campus. Since voting members and leaders must adhere to the CLS Statement of Faith, the CLS had a choice relent in their convictions, or refuse to abolish this membership and leadership requirement. The CLS so chose to pursue legal action all the way to the Supreme Court to preserve both their right to freedom of expression and assembly but more importantly faithfulness to their Savior with a consistent biblical witness.
Do we have as ardent an adherence to regenerate church membership as the CLS has to the membership of its group? Certainly the CLS loves one another and those around them enough to let them know what they believe upfront rather than masquerading those beliefs. Do we have a similar love for others? If we do then we will have to exercise both preventative and prescriptive church discipline guided by an agreed upon set of principles and process. I wonder how many of us have even considered whether or not we agree to those documents which organize what we believe the Bible teaches. Such efforts are not popular and normally meet with resistance but they are preventative care for the church as well as profitable instruction for a church’s spiritual growth.
If our church desired regenerate membership so much that we asked members and new members sign a church covenant which outlines the faith they will practice before God and fellow man. Those who fell short of such practices would know they would be subject to discipline. According to our Constitution, if you are a member of the church you have already agreed to such a covenant by joining, whether or not you have signed the document. If our church was being sued for discrimination against homosexuals or atheists because we would not admit them to our membership, would we stand so firm in our beliefs and practices? Perhaps a little closer to home, consider the church having a ball team with a rule that only members who attended services ¾ of the time could play. Would we stand firm in the face of angry parents who don’t think it is loving to tell their children can’t play because they don’t attend? Even in recent Southern Baptist heritage, a great spilt came about when a directive went out from the International Mission Board for missionaries to affirm the Baptist Faith and Mission or be removed. Some of the missionaries took offense to this directive and resigned. To our detriment, I fear that some in the SBC were all too ready to see them go. Even though we may disagree about the process of implementing such discipline on some level I think we all desire to see a faithful witness to Jesus Christ be maintained in our church family.
These pressures make church discipline a daunting task, but such discipline is still needful if we are to have a regenerate church membership testifying to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. How can we effectively accomplish church discipline? We must never allow church discipline to get away from the gospel call to love others as God loves them. Let me direct you to two passages. First look with me at Proverbs 27:6 which instructs us that wounds of a friend are more faithful that kisses of an enemy. For us to discriminate against someone who does not share our faith or practices by refusing or removing from them membership will cause a wound. Even so refusing or removing fellowship with such a person must be careful to include an explanation of the mortal danger in which the person is. A person is distinct spiritually from the body of believers until he truly repents of sin – meaning both to confess and to cease the sin and then trusts in Christ alone – meaning that we trust Christ pays the penalty for our sin, and transforms us by faith to live free from sin for Him. Whether or not someone has church membership is not the issue, they must live by faith in Jesus. Certainly such living cannot include blatant sin as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 5. Further, verse 5:5 points out that discipline allows the wavering brother an opportunity to experience temporarily the torments of Satan through being removed from church fellowship. Experiencing this might bring him to beg for such Christ to save him. So I ask the question again, do we love one another enough to enact church discipline? I certainly hope and pray that we do.