Friday, August 13, 2010

Church Discipline, part 7

Last week, we touched on the qualities or characteristics that must be present in order for a church to practice church discipline in a God-honoring, Christ-exalting manner.

The natural question that comes to many people’s minds is this: What conditions or circumstances would require the exercising of church discipline, specifically corrective church discipline?

Formative discipline should be taking place consistently through small group discipleship classes like Sunday school and through one to one relationships where “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17). These relationships need to be cultivated so that we can lovingly confront sins in each other’s lives in order that we might all grow toward Christ-likeness (Matthew 7:1-5). We all have “rough edges” and “blind spots” in our character formation where we need others to lovingly admonish and exhort us toward the gospel to overcome those sins.

However, there are times when a person who has been confronted about their sin and refuses to confess and repent of that sin. There are several factors that would determine the proper course of action in a particular set of circumstances on a larger scale.

The following must be evaluated by much prayer and scripture investigation:
  • ·         The ongoing nature of the sin
  • ·         The public or private nature of the sin
  • ·         The attitude of the wayward church member
  • ·         The effect the sin is having on the church (unity, fellowship, and witness)

Evaluating the answers to these questions are helpful in deciding what the proper course of action is in the particular situation.

Christ Fellowship Church in Kansas City uses the following categories to guide them through this process of determining the course of action to take:
·                     Minor Faults
·                     Unverifiable sins (gossip)
·                     Personal Offenses
·                     Public Disobedience
·                     Insufferable wickedness

One thing that must be said is that God hates all sins. We try to separate “big” sins from “little” sins, but there really is no distinction. The distinction can only be made with respect to the immediate consequences of one sin versus another. All sin is ultimately against God (Psalm 51:4).

Next week…the conclusion to our series on Church Discipline.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Some more to ponder...

7 Principles to avoid burnout (good to remember, especially for me)

Congregations Gone Wild (thought this was interesting)

On the blogs for 8/12/2010

Overcoming Laziness (some practical tips I thought were helpful)

The Compound Effect (thought this was insightful as well)

Church Discipline, part 6

If we are going to practice church discipline in a biblically healthy way, what are some things that must be present in our church to do so?

Here is a list of attitudes & characteristics we must cultivate and realizations we must come to and understandings we must possess and scripture references to consider:
·                     Love, honesty, openness, vulnerability, humility
·                     Concern for the holiness of God (Acts 5:1-11 and Hebrews 12:14)
·                     Concern for the testimony of Jesus to our community (1 Corinthians 5:1-13)
·                     Biblical understanding of church membership—what does it mean to be part of the family?
·                     Understanding that we are all on a journey toward a destination that none of us has reached—guarding against jugdmentalism (Matthew 7:1-5)
·                     Realization that discipline, including corrective discipline, is for our good (Hebrews 12:3-11)
·                     Guardrails & boundaries & accountability (w/o being legalistic, but for protection) to keep us from straying (Ephesians 4:15 and 25)
·                     Submissive attitudes toward one another (Eph. 5:21)
·                     Recognition of the authority of the local church over her members; we belong to each other (Matthew 18:15-20)
·                     Recognition of the inter-dependence of the local church (1 Cor. 12)
·                     Motivated by love & restoration for the individual (Galatians 6:1-2)
·                     Culture of peacemaking in our church; willingness to do the hard work of confrontation & reconciliation (Matthew 5:9, 21-26)
Several of these scripture references could overlap to other points.

I would like to encourage us this week individually to think about these points and then evaluate our church with respect to the presence of these characteristics in our church. Are we cultivating this kind of atmosphere in our church? Are there areas where we are healthy? Are there areas that need to be strengthened? Are we healthy in this particular area of church life?

Pray about it. How can we move toward healthiness in this area?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Church Discipline, part 5

We are continuing our series on church discipline this week. I pray that these are informative and thought-provoking as we seek to be a healthy church in loving one another toward godliness.

Today, we continue looking at more common objections to the practice of church discipline. We examined three last week and will examine two more this week.

A fourth common objection to practicing church discipline is the attitude, “it’s not any of your business.” Ultimately, the underlying cause of this attitude is pride. It does not express the humility that Jesus calls all Christians to exhibit within the church. This objection also comes from a misunderstanding of what it means to be part of a local church and is fueled by an overemphasis on the individual’s “rights” that is promoted by the American individualistic mindset that is pervasive in our culture. In the body of Christ of Christ, we belong to one another. 
We are not islands, nor do we live unto ourselves. We are all on a journey toward becoming like Christ and honoring him with our lives. We need each other to encourage, exhort, and admonish us toward godliness. We all have blind spots that hinder our progress in spiritual growth. We need each other to lovingly point out areas that need attention as we walk with Jesus.

A fifth common objection to practicing church discipline is a general desensitization in churches to how much God hates sin. It was our sin that Jesus died for. Many people have forgotten how deceptive and destructive sin is in our lives, even what we call “little” sins (there really is no such thing). We forget that sin in the life of a Christian has detrimental effects on the effectiveness of a church in reaching the community with the gospel of Jesus Christ. All sin harms the body of Christ. However, the consequences of on-going unrepentant sin in the body of Christ cause strife, discontentment, disunity, distractions, and harm to the body of Christ and her witness of the gospel. It has the potential to destroy the church. It is like an infectious disease for which there is only one cure—the cross of Jesus.

Of course, we have not exhausted all the objections that could be raised, nor have we examined these objections extensively.

Our goal through this series is to help us grow toward a healthy view of church discipline. Church discipline is a Jesus-commanded biblical practice. It is our responsibility to obey Jesus as the Holy Spirit guides. We have been given sufficient principles to guide us in this endeavor for the health of the church.

Next week, Lord willing, we will begin looking at the characteristics and biblical attitudes that accompany the healthy practice of church discipline. Tune in next week.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Church Discipline, part 4

This week, let’s look at a few common objections to the practice of church discipline.

One of the most common objections is that we are not to judge others. This is usually quoted from Matthew 7:1 – “judge not that you be not judged.” It is true that Jesus is declaring a certain kind of judgment off limits, but not any and all judgment. One of the things that many fail to do is to read all of what Jesus says in this passage. He calls his disciples in this passage not to be hypocrites. He says in v. 5, “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” He condemns hypocritical judgment of a person who fails to deal with his/her personal sin before dealing with another brother or sister’s. It is also helpful to review Paul’s instructions to the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13.

Another common objection is the statement, “God is love.” No one who believes in the practice of church discipline will deny the veracity of that statement. The bible declares that one of the expressions of God’s love is discipline—formative and corrective—in the lives of his children. Hebrews 12:5-6 says, “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives.” The absence of discipline from the Lord actually reveals that the person is not one of God’s children.

One more common objection for this week is the humanistic perspective: “We’re all humans. We all make mistakes.” In one sense that might be true. However, when it is used in the context of a discussion on church discipline, it is usually delivered in such a way as to “excuse” the sinner from any responsibility for his/her sin with respect to the body of Christ and without any attempt at dealing with the sin by calling the person to confession and repentance from that sin as the bible instructs us to.

These are three common objections to the practice of church discipline. We will examine three more possible objections next week.

Church discipline, if done rightly, can be a beautiful process for the person caught in sin, for the church, and for the watching world to demonstrate the application of God’s holiness and His love in the life of the church.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Church Discipline, part 3

This week, we are continuing our reflection on the subject of church discipline. We began last week to look at several biblical purposes for God’s institution of church discipline.

Today, we will finish out that list. We got through five, so here are six, seven, and eight.

Sixth, the right practice of church discipline is necessary for the spiritual health of the church body. Through formative and corrective measures (see part 1 for explanation of these two types of discipline), discipline is essential to being a healthy church. Un-repented of sins, in my life or any believers’ life, is detrimental to the spiritual health of the body of Christ; it is like a disease that if left un-checked could destroy that local church. It is my conviction that if we (church members & leadership) were better equipped in mutually accountable and edifying relationships, much of the angst over church discipline would be eliminated because the difficult conversations that needed to take place would be taking place on a small group level (cf. Matthew 18:15-20—notice the first part of that text).

Seventh, the right practice of church discipline is necessary for the corporate witness of the church to the gospel. How many times have we heard stories of people saying, “there are too many hypocrites in the church.” 
Unfortunately, there is a reputation like this for many people who are part of a church. And, unfortunately, there is some truth in that statement. Formative & corrective discipline helps the world to see that we, the church, seek to live what we say we believe. And, though, we may not do it perfectly, we are striving in that direction. The purity & health of the church body is an outworking of the effect the gospel is having on a particular church.

Eighth, the right practice of church discipline is necessary for the obedience to Jesus. Jesus is the head of the church. He has given us instructions to practice church discipline in all the forms as is necessary depending upon the circumstances. Jesus has also given us the authority to practice church discipline, and in the corrective form if necessary.

Next week, we will discuss some common objections that are offered against the practice of church discipline. We’ll deal with each one briefly in their context.

Jesus desires for his church to be spiritually healthy. One of the means of God’s grace to cultivate that spiritual health is the right practice of church discipline in obedience to his commands.

What happens when we die?

Here is a transcribed outline of yesterday's sermon entitled, "Do Ghosts Really Whisper?" from 2 Corinthians 5:1-10--

I.             Introduction
a.    Title: TV show, Ghost Whisperer (similar to Medium and Supernatural)
                                          i.    Star has the ability to see & communicate w/ the “spirits” of people who have died
                                         ii.    “Spirits” have not “crossed over” into their final resting place
                                        iii.    Must resolve something from their earthly life; star helps them do this
b.    John Edward’s Crossover
                                          i.    Goes around the country to help people “contact” & “communicate with” relatives who have passed away
c.    How do we evaluate these issues as we encounter them in our culture?
d.    How should we, as Christians, respond to the issues of death, the grave, and beyond as they are presented in our culture?
e.    What does the bible say about these subjects?
II.           Couple of qualifications as we get started
a.    Emotional subject & I want to be sensitive
b.    At the same time, I want to exhort us to find hope& peace in dealing w/ death not in the pop culture of our day, but in Jesus and the scriptures—not that the grief will suddenly vanish, but that Jesus is sufficient for whatever we face
c.    That the scriptures would shape our thinking on these issues; guard against misconceptions about death & what happens when we die that are pervasive in our culture
III.         Nature of man
a.    Vv. 1 & 4 – “tent” as an analogy for our physical bodies;
b.    Physical bodies, like tents, are temporary dwelling places for our true selves, the real us
c.    Conclusion: distinction made about our nature/composition; how humans are made up—material part (body) & immaterial part (soul)
d.    Our soul is “housed” in our physical bodies, our “tent”
e.    Distinction clear: vv. 6 & 8
f.     Distinction is realized at the point of physical death—the body dies & the soul enters another state of existence, separated from the body
IV.          What is that state of existence like?
a.    Called the “intermediate state”—refers to the period of time between a person’s death and the resurrection
b.    What happens to the body?
                                          i.    It decays and returns to the dust from which it was made—Genesis 3:19—“till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken, for you are dust, and to dust you shall return”
                                         ii.    It awaits to be reunited w/ the soul at the resurrection at which time the soul will be housed in a glorified body—one not subject to decay—1 Cor. 15:53—“for this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality”
                                        iii.    Intermediate state is temporary—not the final state that we will be in when the new heaven & new earth are revealed in Rev. 21
                                       iv.    The eternal state is where the streets of gold & the crystal sea are
                                        v.    Either at the resurrection for those who have died in Christ or at the second coming, we will receive our glorified bodies (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
c.    What happens to the soul/spirit?
                                          i.    Popular theological positions
1.    Soul sleep – the soul is in a state of unconscious existence until the resurrection
a.    “sleep” – used as a metaphor, but it’s used to show the temporary nature of death, not as an exact analogy
b.    Rich man & Lazarus story – both are conscious & aware of what is happening
2.    Purgatory
a.    RC tradition – soul stays in limbo until it has suffered for the sins committed in the body for which it did not receive punishment while on earth
b.    Fails to acknowledge the sufficiency of Jesus’ atoning work on the cross for my sins
3.    Reincarnation – Buddhism; Hinduism
a.    Ideas of karma; coming back as something better or worse than before depending upon your karma
                                         ii.    Popular culture positions
1.    Soul hangs on earth “floating” around trying to resolve some inner conflict or trying to communicate w/ relatives hoping to eventually cross over to the other side
a.    TV  shows – Ghost Whisperer, Medium, & Crossover
2.    Naturalistic position – evolution; nature worship – our energy that connects us to the earth (not soul) returns to the earth to continue the circle of life
V.            What do we learn from 2 Corinthians 5 for the believer in Jesus Christ?
a.    V. 8
b.    At physical death, an immediate separation occurs, and the spirit/soul for the believer is transported immediately into the presence of the Lord
c.    Jesus is at the present time at the right hand of the Father, which we call heaven
d.    During the intermediate state, believers are ushered into the presence of Jesus—this is between our death and our resurrection
e.    Then, we enter the eternal state of Rev. 21 & 22 after we receive our resurrection & glorified bodies
f.     Intermediate state is a state of blessedness & joy that will only get better; a divine foretaste of what is to come
VI.          What about the unbeliever, those outside of faith in Christ?
a.    Immediate separation of soul from body—transported immediately to a place of realization that they are relationally separated from God b/c they rejected Jesus as Savior & Lord
b.    Beginning of the eternal punishment & torment for those who reject Jesus
c.    Personally, I do not take this to mean “hell”—at this point
d.    Hell (not dogmatic about this) is the “lake of fire” referred to in Revelation 20—the second death, the eternal death—it is the carrying out of the sentence of judgment & condemnation
e.    Place of torment before the “lake of fire” is like those who are sitting on death row w/o the possibility of pardon until the sentence is carried out—they are already judged and condemned waiting to receive their just punishment
VII.        Some practical considerations (3 questions)
a.    Is it possible to communicate w/ the spirits of those who have died?
                                          i.    No, but…two cautions
1.    Two incidents in scripture are worth noting
a.    1 Samuel 28:3-16 – Saul consults a medium and calls for the spirit of Samuel who shows up—scares the medium out of her wits—probably a con-artist
b.    Luke 9:27-36 – Mt. of Transfiguration; Elijah & Moses are there
2.    Explain these two incidents: They are isolated events  through which God intervened for a specific purpose in a special set of circumstances, but they are not normative nor are they something we should go seeking after or expecting to happen on a regular basis (so someone can make a TV show)
                                         ii.    What about stuff people claim is going on today? (my conclusion)
1.    OT forbids seeking after a medium to conjure up a spirit of someone who has died to make sure they are alright (psyhics, hypnotists, etc.)
2.    Why—b/c this is an act of dabbling into the world of demonic
3.    Our comfort does not come by getting in “contact” w/ someone who has died, but in trusting the promises of Jesus Christ and finding comfort in who he is and the reality that he has conquered sin, death, and hell on our behalf
b.    Is it possible for spirits to haunt houses or make after death appearances?
                                          i.    No—spirits of humans who have died are transported to one of two places, immediately—the presence of Jesus for believers or the place of separation from the relational presence of God for unbelievers
1.    So, what is my conclusion—either our minds are playing tricks on us in our sub-conscience, the power of suggestion, or demonic activity—therefore, ghosts do not whisper
                                         ii.    Don’t want to discount anyone’s experience, but I want to strongly urge us to interpret our experience by the scriptures & caution us against allowing popular culture or even our own imaginations to shape our thinking
c.    Are there any second chances after death?
                                          i.    No…”today is the day of salvation”
                                         ii.    Rich man & Lazarus - Luke 16:26 – “and besides all this, b/t us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us”
                                        iii.    It is during this life that one has the only opportunity to enter into a saving relationship w/ Jesus Christ through repentance & faith—there is no purgatory, there is no praying for the dead, no baptism for the dead—no hope for those who die w/o Jesus Christ
VIII.      Conclusion
a.    Though there are some uncertainties surrounding death & what happens next, it is certain that death is a reality for all of us…the bell will toll for all of us, unless Jesus comes back first
b.    In the resurrection of Jesus, He conquered death & the fear of death for us
                                          i.    1 Cor. 15 – “death is swallowed up in victory; death where is your sting; hades, where is your victory; the sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law; but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”
                                         ii.    Hebrews 2:14-15 – Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
                                        iii.    Though the pain & grief we experience at the loss of a loved is real, as Christians, we need not fear death b/c Jesus has conquered death
c.    Our comfort in death is not in wondering whether our loved one has crossed over or not—but, rather, our comfort is found in knowing whether or not our loved one trusted in Jesus Christ as his/her personal Lord & Savior & is in the presence of Jesus right now—it doesn’t necessarily make us cry less tears, but it gives us steadfast hope & confidence for facing eternity b/c we trust the one who has conquered sin, death, and hell

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Church Complexity

Unless the structure of the local church furthers the mission of the local church, the structure will become the mission causing that local church to slowly die.

Church Discipline, part 2

Last week, we wrote about the biblical foundation for church discipline. We also talked about the two forms of discipline that are present in all of our lives.

Today, let’s look at a list of several biblical purposes for the right practice of church discipline.

One, the right practice of church discipline is necessary for preserving the purity of the church. God has called us “to be holy, for he is holy”. The fact that we are human and do sin does not preclude us from striving by grace-driven effort to live holy lives before God—attitudinally and behaviorally. Church discipline, formative & corrective, is a means by which God trains us toward holiness.

Two, the right practice of church discipline is necessary for preserving the fellowship of the church. This is in regard to striving for reconciled relationships among church members. The immediate context of Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18:15-20 have to do with a relationship that needs to be reconciled. Jesus prayed in his high priestly prayer in John 17 that we would be one; church discipline, practiced rightly, is a means by which we can be an answer to Jesus’ prayer for his followers.

Third, the right practice of church discipline is necessary for restoring someone caught in sin. Galatians 6:1-2 says, “Brethren if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” To restore means to set back into place or to restore to former good condition. The ultimate goal of all church discipline, especially corrective discipline, is for the offending brother or sister to come to confession & repentance and be restored to fellowship with the church.

Fourth, the right practice of church discipline is necessary for protecting and warning the rest of the church body against the danger of sin. Sin is deceptive and we are all susceptible to being drawn away into its clutches; it is crouching at our door (Genesis 4:7). The right practice of church discipline helps as a deterrent to falling into sin’s grasp.

Fifth, the right practice of church discipline is necessary for guarding the honor of God’s name. We who call ourselves Christians have a great responsibility as we wear the name of Christ. Therefore, to call ourselves Christians and a member of the church and then, to live contrary to all that the name we wear represents demonstrates a blatant disregard for the honor of the name of Jesus.

Well, that’s enough for today. We’ll finish these biblical purposes next week for the right practice of church discipline.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Church Discipline

Recently, I wrote a series of newsletter articles for the church I serve on the subject of church discipline gleaning information and perspectives from several resources, primarily the scriptures.

Over the next several days, they will be posted here on the blog. I pray that they will be helpful and encouraging.

So, here's the first:

On Sunday, June 13, we studied Matthew 18 in our Sunday morning gathering time concerning Jesus’ teaching on the subject of church discipline.

We were only able to scratch the surface on this subject and begin the journey toward a healthy view of church discipline for our church.

Over the next several weeks in our Forerunner, we are going to continue that discussion on church discipline. 

Each week, we’ll go a little bit deeper into the subject praying that we will grow in our understanding toward a healthy view of church discipline.

Let’s do a little review this week beginning with a definition of sorts.

The restorative & redemptive process of church discipline is the mediatorial work of God’s grace through the members of the church to help encourage brothers & sisters in Christ to remain faithful & if necessary to bring a straying brother/sister back on track before he/she crosses the line because of love for that brother/sister who is on a path to destruction. This mediatorial work of God’s grace is put in place to protect & guard the church.

There are two forms of discipline: formative discipline and corrective discipline.

Formative discipline is the process of building into one’s life through routines and habits those things that encourage godly living. This is usually what we call discipleship.

Corrective discipline is the form of discipline that seeks to correct when one gets out of line; it is to restore someone who has fallen into sin.

The major passages of scripture that deal with this subject are Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, and Galatians 6:1-2. There are a host of others, but these are primary.

Matthew 18 provides the general process of church discipline for churches to follow. First, there is a private meeting with the offending person. Then, there is a small group, two or three, meeting with the brother/sister. If the person is not reconciled at this point, the matter is made known to the church for the purpose of exhorting that brother/sister to confession and repentance and then restoration. If the person refuses to listen to the church body, that person is to be treated as if they are lost since that is the lifestyle they are living in.

The goal in all this loving confrontation is restoration, to restore the straying brother/sister to the fellowship of the body for their protection and good (cf. James 5:19-20).

Next week, we’ll look at the biblical purposes of church discipline and why it is necessary for us to practice it rightly.