August 25, 2006

Further Thoughts of Church Discipline We had a good discussion and Q & A from last week's sermon. Since New Hope is a young church, it is good to get to know how the Bible teaches the way God designed churches to operate.

The following excerpt from the New Geneva Study Bible further explains answers to some of the issues and questions brought up last Sunday in the sermon and Q & A --- anyone interested in translating this into Mandarin? I think it would be very valuable to do so. In Christ, Pastor Joel Linton

Church Discipline and Excommunication

Making Christians disciples involves a whole range of activities for nurture, instruction, and training. To produce mature disciples, Christian learning, devotion, worship, righteousness, and service, are all to be taught in a context of care and accountability (Matt. 28:20; John 21:15-17; 2 Timothy 2:14-26; Titus 2; Hebrews 13:17) among believers. Not abstractly, but in this context Reformed theology has emphasized the importance of church discipline as the official procedures of the church permitting it to define its membership and maintain its standards of belief and practice, derived from the Bible.

Since believers are required to be holy, unspotted by the morals of the world, the church itself is separated from the world, and it is necessary to define the boundary between the world and the church. The New Testament clearly shows that in the whole context of church life judicial procedures have a significant place for the health of churches and individuals (1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14, 15; Titus 1:10-14; Titus 3:9-11 ).

Jesus instituted church discipline by authorizing the apostles to prohibit or permit certain kinds of behavior; this is the power of "binding" and "loosing" sins (Matthew 18:18; John 20:23). The "keys of the kingdom," first given to Peter and defined as power to bind and loose (Matthew 16:19), have usually been understood as authority to oversee doctrine and impose discipline. This authority was given by Christ to the church in general and to its ordained leadership in particular.

The Westminster Confession (30.3) explains:

" Church censures are necessary, for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren, for deterring of others from the like offenses, for purging out of that leaven which might infect the whole lump, for vindicating the honor of Christ, and the holy profession of the gospel, and for preventing the wrath of God, which might justly fall upon the church, if they should suffer His covenant, and the seals thereof [the sacrements] to be profaned by notorious and obstinate offenders. "

Church censures may have to escalate from admonition through exclusion from the Lord's Supper to expulsion from the congregation (excommunication), which is described as handing a person over to Satan, the prince of this world (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, 11; 1 Timothy 1:20; Titus 3:10-11). Public sins (that is, those that are open to the whole church's view) should be publicly corrected in the church's presence (1 Timothy 5:20; cf. Galatians 2:11-14). Jesus teaches a procedure for dealing privately with those who have given personal offense, in hope that it will not be necessary to ask for the church's public censure of them (Matthew 18:15-17).

The purpose of church censure in all its forms is not to punish for punishment's sake, but to call forth repentance and so recover the straying sheep. Ultimately, there is only one sin for which a church member is excommunicated -- impenitence. When repentance is apparent, the church is to declare the sin remitted and receive the offender into the fellowship once again.

src: New Geneva Study Bible copyright 1995 Foundation for Reformation

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