Archive | May, 2015

Five Ways to Go Wrong with Church Discipline

church-discipline

What is Church Discipline?

There is hardly a practice in the local church that is misused more than “church discipline.” Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have many answers and its misuse is understandable. I think there are three primary ways that we can find it misuse: 1) It is never used at all, 2) it is misused in an unbiblical way, and 3) people are brought in for discipline for “sins” that don’t require its use.

Matthew 18:15-17 is the primary passage that speaks to the practice of church discipline (even if we are still left with a lot of questions).

First, let’s say this: the purpose of church discipline is the restoration of the brother in sin (Matt. 18:15), to bring recognition to the seriousness of sin (1 Tim. 5:20), and to protect the church from the influence of sin (1 Cor. 5:6). This much is clear.

Here is what Christ has to say about it in Matthew

Matthew 18

15 “And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.

16 “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.

17 “And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer. (NAS)

Let’s try to take this step by step.

1. Discipling Every Time Your Brother Sins at All

If Your Brother Sins [Against You] (Matt. 18:15)

The very first thing that must be realized here is that this does not say, “If your brother sins, go reprove him in private.” Wait . . . I suppose it does. Reread the passage about. I added the text in brackets. However, while this is how it reads, this is not what is meant. To make a long story short, this here are the options of translation:

“If you brother sins . . .”

or

“If your brother sins against you . . .

See the difference? It is quite significant. The NAS, HSV, NIV, and NET all have the unqualified “If your brother sins . . .” The ESV, NAB, KJV, and NLT qualify it with ” . . . against you.” The best and earliest manuscript evidence points to the unqualified version: “If your brother sins . . .” Ouch. So, any time my brother or sister in Christ sins at all, I am to go through this process? Not only would that be an impossible task for anyone in church (can you imagine having to go take someone through this process any time any other Christian sinned?—that is all we would be doing!). However, I do believe this needs to be interpreted with the qualification “against you” due to Peter’s follow-up question in Matt. 18:21 (“Lord, how many times can my brother sin against me . . .). Peter obviously understood Christ as qualifying it, so should we.

Further Reading on this Subject: “Textual Problem: Matthew 18:15

Therefore, this is a sin against you. Thus the process begins.

2. Do Not Talk to Others About the Problem

Go to him in private (Matt. 18:15)

Let me say this as emphatically as I can: Don’t get this wrong. Incredible and sinful damage will follow if you do. God is very concerned about protecting people. The first engagement of the sin in question is one of privacy. Rumors spread, grow, evolve,  and damage people faster than anything on earth. James said this about the ability of the tongue to destroy a person:

And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. (Jam 3:6 ESV)

Just think about this . . . whatever sin your brother may or may not have committed against you would be be hard to compare to you spreading this offense to others (even one person) before you go to your brother in private. In this context, you discuss your problem, where you believe they sinned against you, and listen to the response.

Maybe after he or she explains themselves, you have more understanding and your anger either dissipates or is seen to be unwarranted. This is why private conversation is so important. Or, conversely, he or she may recognize their sin and repent. If so, case closed. You have won your brother. And the matter always remains between you and him or her.

However, their explanation may not be satisfying, they don’t repent, or they just don’t care about your problem with them. Then you take it to the next level.

3. Do Not Bring Your Wingmen to the Confrontation

Take Other Neutral Parties with You (Matt. 18:16)

Here, Jesus is taking from the Law of Moses (Deut. 19:5). The sin must be confirmed to be sin by others. There are a couple of things that must be kept in mind here. First, the issue is still private. You don’t go public with the sin. We are still protecting the accused if the sin has yet to be established. The second issue is that those you take with you on this next encounter are not your wingmen! They are not those who you have talked to, made sure they are on your side, then bring them with you to the confrontation. What good would that do?

The two or three witnesses are neutral parties, ready to listen to both sides (see 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Tim. 5:19). They are there so that they can make an unbiased judgement. If, having listened to both sides, they determine the brother has not sinned and the one making the accusation is in the wrong, then you do not repeat the process until you find those who will take your side. The matter is over. Leave it with the Lord. However, if the brother is judged by the others to be in the wrong and repents, rejoice! You have won your brother. But, still, keep it all private, not even telling your closest confidant about the proceedings.

However, if this person is determined by these neutral parties to be in sin, yet he or she remains stubborn and obstinate in their wrongdoing, then and only then is the next step is ready to be taken.

church-discipline-comic

4. Do Not Announce the Sin from the Pulpit

Bring it Before the Church (Matt. 18:17)

Bringing to the “church” is the final step. Exposing the sin to this larger gathering of believers is still to be seen as a somewhat private engagement (at least in modern terms). In other words, I don’t think we should see this necessarily as an announcement made from the pulpit (although that could be the case in smaller churches). The hope is still repentance as can be seen in the statement “and if he refuses to listen to the the church . . .”

This is only the second time the word “church” (ekklesia) is used (the first was in Matt. 16:18). Christ had in mind a small gathering of people (house church type). He may have only been thinking about the eldership of the church (those in authority), thereby upping the ante of non-repentance if guilt was found.

5. Do Not Kick the Person Out of the Church

Let Him Become as a Gentile and Tax-Gatherer to You (Matt. 18:17)

This is the final step if the accused is deemed guilty by the “church” and remains unrepentant. However, like so much of this passage, I think there are so many ways to go wrong here. For starters, what does it mean to be “as a Gentile and tax-gather.” This was a common Jewish idiom which simply means “unbeliever.” Christ was not affirming the idiom. In other words, he did not see Gentiles or tax-gatherers as unbelievers. This was just a common expression that Christ used that would have been well understood by his listeners.

To be treated “as if he were” or “just as” (hosper) an unbeliever is not affirming that the person was an unbeliever, but that he was to be treated as if he were. In the church, the implications would be severe for one who is involved in the church, but negligible for those who are merely pew-sitters.

What did it mean then? What are churches actually supposed to do when we have gone through these steps and the person is unrepentant? What do we do with those who are to be treated as if they were “Gentiles and tax-gatherers”?

First, we must realize that in the there was always a place for sinners and Gentiles in the synagogues (i.e. “church”). Even in Herod’s temple, there was a very important place called the “Court of Gentiles (seen below) for Gentiles to “attend” services and engage with God.

court-gentiles

So Christ was not saying that (except in extreme circumstances) there was to be a security usher at the door of the church making sure that said sinner could not get in. I think this has more to do with positions of leadership, influence, and authority. The guilty sinner could not hold such positions, exercising their spiritual gift. They could, however, attend church services. After all, don’t we let those whom we consider to be unbelievers into our churches? What better place for them to be!

Further complicating the matter are the words “to you” (Gk. soi). “Let him be considered as a Gentile and tax-gatherer to you” (not, as we like to say here in the south, “to y’all”). This is a singular, most definitely referring back to the person against whom the sin was committed. It is possible that it was only to this person that the sinning party was to be considered a “Gentile and a tax-gatherer.”

Either way, how to we treat “Gentiles and tax-gatherers”? Do we shun then, speak ill of them, say vile things about them behind their back, ruin their reputation, and never speak to them again? Far from it! We love them, care for them, and treat them with grace and mercy. Isn’t this what Christ did? Wasn’t he called a friend of sinners, tax-gatherers, and prostitutes? How did he engage unbelievers?

Book Recommendation: What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey

Conclusion

While we have not even touched upon the hardest question (what sins are worthy of this kind of discipline?), we have seen that this type of process has great value in the church. In fact, this is how we should approach anyone who has wronged us, in the church or not. Unfortunately, so often we go the opposite direction, bringing the sin to everyone’s attention and then ganging up on the suspected wrong-doer after his reputation has already been stained (often beyond repair). The sinfulness of going in this direction, not approaching someone in private, as I said before, rivals just about any sin that could be brought against the accuser.

I have had the reverse process happen to me twice. Once with a group of elders who called me into a meeting, all having come to agreement that I was in the wrong based on the testimony of one person. None of them approached me privately and I was not given a chance to explain myself. This was not too damaging due to the nature of the sin I was being accused of. The second was much worse. Again, no one approached me privately about the accusation that was being brought against me and none of the parties present were neutral. I was brought into a surprise meeting and given no chance to explain myself. And even after I had repented of a wrong that I had done (though nothing to the degree that I was being accused of), there was nothing private about it. The rumors had already spread and there was no way for me to get the toothpaste back in the hundreds of tubes that had been let out. It was very hurtful.

But, this process is a wonderful process when done according to the steps that Christ put forward here. Keep it private, listen to the accused, bring neutral parties, and make restoration the goal.

 

Sanctification and Holiness (Part 1) – Theology Unplugged

Tim Kimberley: Well fellas it’s great to be back together again. And this week we’re talking about something that I think is probably something that hits us all in the very core of who we are. And it’s something that I don’t think we talk about that much in the church actually and that is sanctification or holiness.

Real spiritual growth is always growth downward.

Michael, do you talk about holiness and sanctification very often when you teach would you say?

Michael Patton: Well you know

Tim Kimberley: I’m puttin’ you on the spot here.

Michael Patton: No. From a theological perspective, you know, using those words to introduce sanctification/holiness I think is something maybe we don’t talk about in theory, the way we may here today as we go through different views of sanctification.

But I think whenever we’re talking about living the Christian life there is of course an assumption behind it of how much we can be, in this life, be Christ like, how holy we can be, how much, this side of heaven, how much we can be, like we will be, on the other side of heaven.

Sam Storms: Well Tim’s already there.

Michael Patton: Tim is.

Sam Storms: We’ve already conceded up front that the other three of us are still struggling. Tim has arrived.

Tim Kimberley: I didn’t want to say anything but, Thank you Sam.

JJ Seid: I bet you we already have some listeners that are already entering the fog because we’ve already talked about holiness and sanctification. Those are two bigs words and they’re used different ways in Scripture. So somebody help us out here because most people don’t realize that sanctification and holiness are sort of interchangeable terms. And two, there is positional holiness and then there’s progressive holiness and it’s really important that you know which one you’re talking about.

Tim Kimberley: Yea. Okay so I would give a very quick definition that I would give is that God is holy. Which means that he is pure and he is the only holy being, like truly holy being that we’ve ever seen. He’s perfectly holy but we are not and we never will be.

Now I’m showing my cards there a little bit but one of the things that’s very strange I would say and I’m going to use that word “strange” I think, very strange in a very humbling way, is that God wants us to look more like him. And he wants us to look like Jesus. And so when we believe, when we becomes believers, as we follow Jesus, we’re not merely following Jesus, he is, from the inside out, making us look more like his son. And I would say that is what’s called sanctification. And when you describe what’s happening, look that person is living in holiness in one sense.

JJ Seid: Well, and I like to, people say, “In what way and what part of your life?” I like to say, you know, progressively making us look more like him in what we think, say, do and desire. Kind of giving people a concrete illustration of the areas in which there’s change, and movement and progress. But there’s something else, our status, which isn’t related to those things. Somebody help me out here

Sam Storms: Well, let’s get back, you already drew the distinction that’s important. When people read their Bibles they’re going to come across this word, sanctification, in the New Testament. They need to understand that it’s used in two very clear senses. The word “sanctify” sometimes means “to set apart” or “to consecrate as unique.” God sanctifies us in the sense that he sets us apart unto himself. We become his possession. There’s actually a book written on sanctification called “Possessed by God.” This author actually argues that the primary meaning of sanctification in the New Testament is what JJ referred to as “positional.” It refers to our relationship with the Father that is unchanging. It doesn’t fluctuate, it doesn’t alter from day-to-day, it isn’t effected by whether we sin or whether we live in holiness. It means that we have been purchased, bought by God, set apart unto him, we are his unique possession, we belong to him, we’re possessed by him.

And then it’s used of course, in a few places, to refer to as you used the term “progressive” what we would kind of call an incremental, daily, transformation in what we desire, what we long for, what we hate, what we say, what we do, that we hope–by God’s grace–is more and more like how that was revealed in the life of Jesus.

Michael Patton: You know. Speaking of this in a couple ways. And I know we’re kind of shotgunning at the beginning to give people an idea of what we’re talking about and maybe we’ll further talk about in other broadcasts. But there’s a couple things that I have that are questions, very persona questions because whenever I think of sanctification the first person I go to is myself and you know, how sanctified am I and am I being sanctified.

Sam Storms: Are you asking us for an evaluation?

Michael Patton: No, no, no. Please this is not a counseling session.

Tim Kimberley: Also I think that there’s probably proving that you need more sanctification when you always think of yourself because you’re so selfish.

JJ Seid: Man Tim’s just taking shots.

Michael Patton: He is and I’m going to take some further shots at myself. At one time in my life I did feel like because of the things that I was doing, the things that I’d changed in my life, the outward appearance, that I had become, and very very important vestiges and sins that I’d gotten ride of in my early twenties, that I was really looking sanctified, that I was really feeling sanctified, that I felt like I was more like God, and I was holy. And, you know, that I was a pretty good chap and pretty close to what I was supposed to be.

But as I’ve grown in the Lord, I think, you know this is kind of a weird thing, as I’ve grown in the Lord I’ve felt less and less sanctified. Every year I don’t feel like I’m more sanctified than I was the year before even though in some ways I should, and in other ways it’s not as if there are vestiges that I am picking up. You start to feel the corruption more and more.

JJ Seid: I love J.I. Packer said, “Growth in the Christian life is growth downwards.” It was many years before I heard that but the minute I read it I said oh man that sounds right that makes sense.

Real spiritual growth is always growth downward, so to speak, into profounder humility, which in healthy souls will become more and more apparent as they age.[1]

Listen to the full episode using the player below…


  1. Packer, J. I. (2014–01–31). Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging (Kindle Locations 570–571). Crossway. Kindle Edition.  ↩

Why I am No Longer a Dispensationalist

My Dispensational Upbringing

I have been taught Dispensationalism from my mother’s womb. I was born in a dispensational environment. It was assumed at my church to be a part of the Gospel. There was never another option presented. It made sense. It helped me put together the Scriptures in a way that cleared up so much confusion. And, to be honest, the emphasis on the coming tribulation, current events that prove the Bible’s prophecy, the fear that the Antichrist may be alive today (who is he?) was all quite exciting. But what might be the biggest attraction for me is the charts! Oh how I love charts. I think in charts. And dispensationalism is a theology of charts!

Making Fun of Dispensationalism

The first time I came across someone who was not a Dispensationalist was in 1999. I am not kidding. It was the first time! I don’t think I even knew if there was another view. It was when I was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary (the bastion of Dispensationalism) and I was swimming with some guys who were at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Once they discovered I was a dispensationalist, they giggled and snickered. They made fun of the rapture, the sacrificial system during the millennium, and the mark of the beast (which, at that time, was some type of barcode). It was as if they patted me on the head and said “It’s okay . . . nice little dispensationalist.” I was so angry. I was humiliated. I was a second-rate theologian. They were “Covenantalists” (whatever that was). But they were the cool guys who believed in the historic Christian faith and I was the cultural Christian, believing in novel ideas.

The Novelty of Dispensationalism

This made me mad enough to start studying with great passion. And you know what I came to find out? Dispensationalism was a novel idea. It did not really catch on until the 19th century and was popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible (the standard Dispensational Sword of Truth—oh, and always in the NAS). This disturbed me. But what disturbed me most is that so many of the great theologians and personalities made fun of it. The Left Behind series was in full swing at this time. I think I was on the third book eagerly waiting for the fourth. But when I listened to a popular Reformed radio personality make jokes about the books, using them as foils and examples of how radical Christians can get, I stopped reading them. I was embarrassed to even have them on my shelf.

I was very conflicted. Dispensationalism still made a lot of sense, but I did not like the fact that it was new and my reformed crowd distanced themselves far from it. I remained a dispensationalist through seminary, but I tried to keep it a secret. Continue Reading →

Historical Reliability of the Gospels Giveaway

We are giving away TWO sets of Craig Blomberg’s Credo Course on the Historical Reliability of the Gospels on DVD.

$299 value

GIVEAWAY OVER

HROG-Blomberg

Contest End this Friday at Midnight!

We will let you know by email if you won.

Product Description

The Canonical Gospels Attacked and Defended

The Canonical Gospels are constantly under attack. Some claim that they’ve been copied from earlier myths and legends. Others allege they can’t be depended on for historically accurate information. Still others argue that scribed changed the text so that we no longer have what the authors wrote. How should Christians respond to these claims?

Dr. Craig Blomberg is the author of The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. In this Credo Course Dr. Blomberg addresses the allegations against the Canonical Gospels one at a time while affirming the historic Christian faith.

dr-craig-blomberg-bw-portrait

This course contains 30 sessions over six DVDs covering all aspects of this topic:

Disc 1

1. Widely Held Myths About Ancient Sources
2. The Formation of the Canon and the Choice of the Synoptic Gospels
3. Books Not Included: The Contents of the Apocryphal and Gnostic Gospels
4. The Text of the New Testament and Especially of the Gospels
5. The Translation of the New Testament and Especially of the Gospels

Disc 2

6. The Authorship and Dating of the Gospels
7. The Reliability of the Oral Tradition (Part 1)
8. The Reliability of the Oral Tradition (Part 2)
9. The Composition of the Synoptic Gospels
10. The Literary Genre of the Gospels

Disc 3

11. Archeology for the Gospels
12. Non-Christian Evidence for Jesus
13. The Apocryphal and Gnostic Gospels Further Evaluated
14. The Quests for the Historical Jesus
15. Why Such Diversity Exists and the Criteria of Authenticity

Disc 4

16. The Most Authentic Parts of the Synoptic Tradition
17. The Resulting Identity of Jesus
18. Problems of Harmonization Among the Synoptics
19. Problems of Harmonization Between the Synoptics and John
20. The Reliability of John (Part 1)

Disc 5

21. The Reliability of John (Part 2)
22. A Fourth Quest for the Historical Jesus
23. The Knowledge of the Jesus Tradition in the Early Epistles (Part 1)
24. The Knowledge of the Jesus Tradition in the Early Epistles (Part 2)
25. The Unique Problem of Miracles (Part 1)

Disc 6

26. The Unique Problem of Miracles (Part 2)
27. The Virginal Conception: Nativity or Naiveté
28. The Resurrection: Fact or Fiction
29. The Jesus We Never Knew
30. Summary and Conclusions

Apologetics Unplugged: Christians Think They Are So Superior, Part 2

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Join our hosts C. Michael Patton, Clint Roberts and Carrie Hunter as they continue their discussion surrounding potential problems with religion. In this episode they continue the discussion surrounding Christians thinking or acting as though they are morally superior to everyone else. But is it not the case that everyone has some morality they are asserting others should live by?

Subscribe through iTunes

Apologetics Unplugged: Christians Think They Are So Superior

Join our hosts C. Michael Patton, Clint Roberts and Carrie Hunter as they continue their discussion surrounding potential problems with religion. In this episode they discuss Christians thinking or acting as though they are morally superior to everyone else. Is it the case? Find out!

Subscribe through iTunes

Are Christians Really the Fifth Gospel?

fifth-gospel

There has been a buzz phrase going around the internet about a fifth Gospel. No, this is not coming from a group such as the Jesus Seminar opting for the Gospel of Thomas (that was in the 90s). This is coming from well-meaning evangelical Christians who believe that Christians themselves are the Fifth Gospel.

The idea is that while we have the Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, in the Bible, the lives of Christians are the fifth Gospel. Our lives, our grace, our kindness, forgiveness, mercy, and good works are a witness to such a degree that we are the final good news. When our lives reflect Christ in a true way, we are his message.

Problems with Calling Christians the Fifth Gospel

We are Still Sinners

Martin Luther said that we are simul justus et peccator “same time just and sinner.” Now, Martin Luther was not inspired, but he was communicating a very biblical idea that while we are covered by the righteousness of Christ and that faith alone (without good work) is what justifies us before God, we are still sinners.

Even the great Apostle Paul, who was inspired at times, wrote about his inability to consistently live the Christian life in Roman 7:19

For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (Rom 7:19 ESV)

Peter, again, at times inspired, lived for ten years from Acts 2 (when the Holy Spirit came upon him) until Acts 10 with extreme prejudice (a terrible sin) as he would not associate with Gentiles. God came and corrected him, but he still had his problems, it seems, for the rest of his life (see Gal. 11:2-14).

All of us still sin. The Bible says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (John 1:8). Until glory, we will both represent Christ through our good works and misrepresent Christ through our sin. This is a fact of life. Therefore, our status as the fifth Gospel, if this means that we are not still riddled with sin, is not well-put.

We are Still Doubters

Not only do we sin, but our belief is imperfect. We doubt, waiver, believe more one day, and believe less the next. As “believers” we will always hold to our belief, even if by a thread (as Christ will not let us go—John 10:28), but belief is not a black or white thing. Hopefully we are believing more and more every day, but as of today, our belief is not perfect. As those who believe-yet-doubt, we are not the fifth Gospel. I think this creates great authenticity and is very endearing for those who need Christ (at least when we are honest about our imperfect faith), but cannot be said to parallel the Gospels.

I believe, help my unbelief. (Mark 9:24)

Continue Reading →

Don’t Hold Your Hair Back when You Throw Up – Transparency and the Christian

throw-up

About the Title

The title of this post may be self-evident to some of you. Others clicked on this post just to know what I mean. The latter is confused by this cultural phrase “Hold your hair back when you throw up.”  What does it mean? It is simple. When girls have too much alcohol to drink, they may throw up (i.e. vomit). In ideal cases, you have a good friend that will come to your rescue and hold your hair back so you don’t get any puke in your hair. It would not only be gross to look at and smell, it would stain your character as others would see that you cannot hold your liquor. If you don’t have that good friend by your side, you have to hold your hair back yourself. Just remember the two main components: throwing up and hair back.

Well . . . What am I doing here? I am encouraging you not to hold your hair back at all. People need to see the gross stuff, the ugly stuff, and the puke . . . in your life. I am getting ahead of myself.

Who Do You think You Are?

An old adage: “You are not who you think you are. You are who you think other people think you are.” It simply means that who we are is determined by the opinions of others. We are so concerned about what others think about us, that it dominates who we believe we are. This is false.

Who do we want to be? As Christians, what is our goal? How do we want others to view us? Chuck Swindoll used to say (and I quote loosely from an impaired memory), “If you really knew me, you would not listen to me. But don’t worry. If I really knew you, I would not let you in this church!”

Do we know who we are? Or do we keep our real selves a secret known only to us? Often we live lives so guarded that we, ourselves, don’t even know who we are. We are so scared of what people will think of us that we hide everything ugly, everything dishonorable, everything that stinks . . . or just all the puke in our hair. We throw up and remove all evidence that it ever happened. We are too scared to be transparent.

Martin Luther On Transparency

Martin Luther once made a controversial statement: “Be a sinner. Sin boldly.” I love Luther. He did not hold his hair back when vomiting. He let the vomit shine for all to see. Luther was keenly aware of his sin, and of grace. Luther’s comment was meant to provocatively communicate something much deeper. “Sin boldly . . .” the statement begins; it continues, “. . . but believe more boldly.” Luther did not care much for self-righteousness. He did not like masks. He did not like trying to impress people. He was continually attempting to make those who were satisfied with their own works recognize their own utter depravity. “Look in the mirror,” he might have said. “You are a wretch. Let your wretchedness be seen. If you clean yourself up, you may fool yourself into thinking that you don’t need grace.” What a terrible place to be: Self-fooled and graceless. Therefore, when you sin, sin boldly and let it be known (don’t hold your hair back).

Continue Reading →