TEXT: 1 Corinthians 5
I like the title of this conference which says, “Striving not to build great churches but true churches.” Here is a church that failed to deal with a very serious issue in its midst. To deliver someone to Satan is to cast someone outside the care and protection of the church and into the world (Satan’s territory). This man will have a great difficulty because he will be apart from the care, guidance, protection, and ministry of the church.
Here’s the problem with this church. “Your boasting is not good.” It is, “We do not have to do church discipline. We’re above it. It’s not going to be a problem here.” The problem is that a little leaven leavens the whole lump. The picture Paul is getting across is that this matter will surely affect the rest of you. This business of keeping sin in your midst will have devastating effect in the rest of the church. It is serious business not to deal with sin in the camp.
Paul is putting the emphasis not on immorality in general but immorality in the church. He is telling them that they need to get this man out of their midst.
Counseling and church discipline go hand in hand. Now let’s go on to talk about this here. This business of putting someone outside the church for the destruction of his flesh is also found in 1 Tim. 1:18-20. Here they were to be taught not to blaspheme. Even when they were being handed over to Satan, the church is reaching out, teaching (in a disciplinary manner) them not to blaspheme. Handing over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh is to admonish them of their sin and bring them back.
It was “commonly” or generally reported that this man (in 1 Cor. 5) was committing incest. Church discipline began where the knowledge exists. In this case, the knowledge was common, in that everyone knew about it. Therefore, you begin at that moment where the knowledge is.
Christians have to work for restoration. In 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, you have the account of this man’s restoration in the church. There are three items necessary for the restoration of the church.
1. “You must turn rather forgive him.” (forgiveness) – v.7
2. “You must turn and comfort him.” (comfort/help) – v.7
3. “Reaffirm your love for him.” (affirmation) – v.8
This word occurs only once in the NT, and it is here. It is the readmission of something lost. It is not bringing him back a person to a special status, but treating him as a reinstated member of the church. He is a part of the body, even if that part of the body is wounded.
What about an officer of the church? Do we reinstate an elder who has undergone church discipline? No. Though a person who has sinned has been in a leadership position might conceivably might eventually be reinstated back into the office or place of leadership, they should not at this time, because the qualifications of being an elder or deacon is clear in 1 Timothy. And the person involved falls short of the qualifications as deemed by Scripture. For instance, 1 Tim. 3:7 says:
Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
Leaders in the church need an exemplary reputation, above reproach, and not a disgrace to the church.
One last issue: a special case or situation as seen in Titus 3:10-11.
When someone is schismatic, bad-talking the church or leadership in a divisive fashion, a person like that after a first or second time to bring to repentance, he ought to be put out. There should be no hesitation on this matter. If you do not do it quickly, he’s going to tear your church apart. I’ve known what this is all about. One of my elders got a group to have a Bible study and eventually take this Bible study and start a church. I met with the elders and together we put him out of the church. That kind of thing can happen to your congregation if you do not deal with it right away.
It’s wonderful to know that, at every stage, the goal is the restoration of that person to right standing with the church and full functioning in the body of Christ.
I appreciate the point that Dr. Adams brought up about the relationship of biblical counseling and church discipline. As believers in a covenant community, we bear responsibility to one another’s sanctification, to speak the truth in love, bear one another’s burdens, and stimulate one another to love and good deeds. Perhaps one of the reasons why there are so many factions in the church is that members have abdicated themselves of this responsibility and in turn closed their spiritual life off from the community of faith in which they belong. In a day where it seems like hyper-individualism dominates the air we breathe, the church’s responsibility to care for one another is amazing counter-cultural and a great way to show the distinctive characteristic of Christ’s disciples. They will know that we are his by the love we have for one another. This love means that we will not let each other go, wander off into sin, and blaspheme the name of our Lord. May the Lord increase a burden upon our hearts to become more intimately involved in the lives of one another for our sanctification, the Church’s unity, and Christ’s glory.