To be invested with the keys of the kingdom is to be charged with the positive task of opening the doors of salvation to all who believe, though that implies also the negative task of endorsing the exclusion from salvation of those who reject the invitation of the gospel. The terms" bind" and "loose" have as their background the Old Testament image of salvation as a liberation from bondage.
The gospels report Jesus' words at the opening of His public ministry, quoting from Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to. The historical setting of these words is of course the deportation of captives in the exile and the hope of their liberation and return to their homeland.
The words implied much more, however, than merely political liberation. In the prophetic mind they signified also deliverance from the sin for which deportation was the judgment. Behind the political bondage stood an enslavement to those sins which the prophets from Amos to Jeremiah had condemned. If this is so, the words about binding and loosing should be interpreted as a parallel to the words about the keys. The authority to bind and loose is first and foremost the commission to proclaim the gospel, which like the Old Testament prophetic word, liberates those who hear it, though it also consigns to bondage those who reject it.
We must conclude that Matthew , 19 does not even deal with the subject of church discipline as traditionally conceived. In the earliest church's tradition this text referred to the evangelistic mission of the church. Especially if Acts 1 - 10 is accepted as the definitive commentary on Matthew , 19, the power of the keys denotes the opening of the door of faith to both Jews and Gentiles, and the authority of binding and loosing denotes admission of people into the Messianic community.
Matthew , 19 thus contains what we could appropriately call a preview of the Great Commission. This observation is supported by the fact that John , a parallel to Matthew , 19, is clearly intended to be a form of the Great Commission, not only because its context is the appearance of the risen Lord, but because of the elements in the account itself. There is first the missionary mandate: "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.
Finally there are the words on remission and retention of sins, words which recall the Lukan version of the Great Commission Luke and Peter's words on the day of Pentecost, "Repent, and be baptized. If Matthew , 19 is to be interpreted as a preview of the Great Commission, how do we read the words in Matthew about going to the brother? For in the latter text the encounter is clearly within the discipled community, yet in both passages Jesus speaks of the function of binding and loosing. It is time that we relate these texts on grounds other than the mere accident of some words in common concerning the church's authority to bind and loose or to forgive sins.
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There is a common reality intended in these texts, which shows that the basis for incorporating people into the church is also the basis for discipline within the church. Since the church is founded upon the gospel, entrance into the community and perseverance in it rest upon the same foundation. Hence the condition laid out in Matthew 18 upon which one remains in the community is nothing other than that spelled out in Matthew 16 and John 20 upon which one enters the community.
To put it another way, the keys of the kingdom, or the authority to bind and loose, are not only a definition of the conditions for entrance into the kingdom; they also by their very nature define the ethical norms of life in the community. There is not one kind of binding and loosing in evangelism or missionary proclamation, but another in discipline of the brother. In both situations the power of the keys is the good news of the coming of the kingdom and its power to open the door to life under the rule of God.
Evangelism and church discipline are both acts of discipling. There is, after all, only one kind of Christian existence. If there were two, then one might begin in the Spirit but continue in the flesh. Galatians That is, there might be one answer for the problem of sin in the non-Christian, but another for the problem of sin in the Christian.
Happily there is only one gospel, which alone is the totally adequate answer for sin wherever it is found. And the consequence of this is that we must undertake both evangelism and church discipline in the same way -- declaring the gospel in order to bring men into the way of Jesus Christ.
Too often the meaning of the gospel, though recognized in missionary proclamation, is forgotten when it comes to discipline. Then the church is on another track -- charges, courts, trials, condemnation, punishment -- in short, legalism and casuistry. It forgets that what meets men initially as good news always remains for them the good news of the power of God's grace to free them from sin in order to live a life in conformity with God's gracious intention for mankind. We can cite illustrations from church history that reveal this inconsistency between evangelism and discipline.
The first is from early Protestantism. Some Protestant theologians, because of the plural of the term "keys," distinguished between the key of doctrine signifying warning or admonition by the Word and the key of discipline signifying admission to or exclusion from outward privileges of the church. According to one historian the Scottish churchman Durham held:.
The former reaches to the thoughts and heart, and judges them, while the latter is intended "only to restrain, regulate, and judge the outward man. The key of discipline comprised, strictly speaking, all the rest of the administration of the Church as a visible, institutional society, though in practice the phrase was more commonly restricted to the infliction of the various censures of the Church and their removal.
In the use of the key of discipline the Church condemns or approves only a man's outward practice; that is why its condemnation or approval can be absolute. It does not pretend to open or close the. On the other hand, the key of doctrine absolutely debars from the saving promises and, on condition of faith and true, inward repentance, absolutely opens the gates of heaven.
Saving grace is the condition of absolution in the exercise of the key of doctrine; serious profession, outward decency, is the condition of absolution in the exercise of the key of discipline. The quotation clearly brings out an unfortunate distinction, well illustrated in the accounts MacGregor gives of Scottish church discipline, according to which membership in the church and its" saving promises" was, in theory at least, definitely" on condition of faith and true, inward repentance," but discipline in the church was on the basis of "serious profession and outward decency.
Such practices were hardly consistent with the Protestant claim that the power of the keys was a matter of the word of the gospel alone. A similar inconsistency is to be found in a modern popular biblical commentator, William Barclay. In view of the long process of reinterpretation from the Reformation to the present of the power of the keys in Matthew 18, 19 and of the authority to remit sin in John , 23 it is somewhat startling to discover in Barclay a continuing hang-up about Matthew He contrasts this latter text rather sharply with Matthew , The importance of the issues under discussion warrants a rather extended quotation.
Matthew , says Barclay,. We may go further. It is not possible that Jesus said it in its present form. It is far too legalistic to be a saying of Jesus; it might well be the saying of any Jewish Rabbi. Jesus could not have told His disciples to take things to the Church, for the Church did not exist, and the whole tone of the passage implies a fully developed and organized Church with a system of ecclesiastical discipline.
The passage speaks of tax collectors and Gentiles as irreclaimable outsiders. Jesus was in fact accused of being the friend of tax-gatherers and sinners, and He never spoke of them as hopeless outsiders; He always spoke of them with sympathy and love, and even with praise cf. Matthew 9:l0ff; ; Luke l0ff; and especially Matthew ff , where it is actually said that the tax-gatherers and harlots will go into the Kingdom before the orthodox religious people of the time [sic]. And, finally, the whole tone of the passage is that there is a limit to forgiveness, that there comes a time when a man may be abandoned by his fellow men as beyond hope, a piece of advice which it is impossible to think of Jesus as having given.
And the last verse, which deals with binding and loosing, actually seems to give the Church the power to retain and to forgive sins. There are many reasons which make us think that this, as it stands, cannot be a correct report of the words of Jesus, and that it must be an adaptation of something which He said, made by the Church in later days, when Church discipline was rather a thing of rules and regulations than of charity and forgiveness. It is only fair to add that Barclay continues: "Although this passage is not a correct report of what Jesus said, it is equally certain that it goes back to something Jesus did say.
Can we then press behind it and come to the actual commandment of Jesus? From it he gives a good portrait of discipline according to the gospel -- "a scheme of action for the mending of broken relationships within the Christian fellowship"! But why then the original strictures? In the interpretation of Matthew , 19 the presence of the term "church" offers Barclay no trouble.
He explains it as "the new Israel, the people of the Lord, the new fellowship of those who believe in my name. They refer to Peter's" administration of the church," as we see from Acts. Yet here they denote an apparently impossible" power to retain and to forgive sins. Barclay's ambivalent attitude toward Matthew shows that the issue is not the wording of the passage and also not basically whether this is a "correct report of what Jesus said," but whether these words have been rightly understood and used in much of the history of the church. For on Barclay's own second interpretation they could with no difficulty be accepted as "a correct report.
We suspect that prejudices against Matthew such as Barclay's initial response represent an understandable reaction to centuries of abuse of the passage by legalistic interpretation and practice. But such a situation calls for disabuse of the passage, not a perpetuation of the misinterpretation. Barclay still labors under ancient misconceptions if Matthew , 19 means for him entrance into the community of faith by the gospel, while Matthew implies continuation in the community under the tyranny of ecclesiastical legalism. It is the purpose of this book to try to further the reinterpretation of Matthew -- indeed of church discipline as a whole -- and to place the doctrine of church discipline once more in the context of gospel, proclamation and to liberate Matthew from the legalistic interpretation it has suffered since medieval times.
In the following pages we will answer such strictures against Matthew as those registered by Barclay in the foregoing quotation. Our procedure will be to explore each stage of the disciplinary process by constant reference to the fact that discipline, like evangelism, is an act of discipling and as such a function of the gospel. By this method we can arrive at an evangelical doctrine of church discipline. According to Matthew 15 and the parallel in Luke the task of going to regain a brother begins with the notice of sin: "If your brother sins against you, go to him. Does this include every little sin, such as overeating or stealing an apple?
What kind of conduct merits the initiation of discipline? These are not idle questions. The history of Christianity shows alternating tendencies toward lenience or strictness, the church at one time becoming obsessed with trivia and then again overlooking serious matters. More often the church becomes preoccupied at a given period of history with restricted aspects of life - for example, sexual morals, doctrinal beliefs, personal habits such as drinking alcoholic beverages, or clothing fashions, hair styles, etc.
The very first question in this text concerns the meaning of the words "against you. Strangely enough the words have also been taken in just the opposite way: Zwingli held that sins warranting church action had to be offenses against the church. Private offenses were to be privately forgiven. Some scholars.
Therefore they should be dropped in modern versions of this passage, as The New English Bible does. The parallel text in Luke does not contain them. The words may have been inserted by an editor to whom they were suggested by Peter' s question in Matthew "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Even if they are genuine, the words "against you" do not necessarily restrict the range of sins calling for brotherly response. Surely a person's motive in going to the brother is not just concern for his own dignity. All sin affects the total life of the church.
If so, "against you" suggests simply that one's geographical location at a given time lays upon him, as the witness of the problem, the responsibility for accepting the initial role in dealing with what is otherwise the responsibility of the whole church as such. It really comes down to the question of who goes to the brother, and this is more pertinent than the question of what sins he goes to the brother about.
Most Christians would accept the claim that someone should go to the brother in need, and if the individual who knows about the brother's sin does not do so, then he should call the problem to the attention of responsible leaders in the church. Neglect is not excusable on any grounds. The question of who should go to the brother usually focuses on the issue of whether such counseling is the function of ministers or also of laymen.
In the past the tendency has been for lay people to leave this task to ministers, and too often ministers have willingly accepted it as their exclusive responsibility. Now, usually ministers have special training, skills, or gifts for counseling, but lay people should not harbor the notion that ministers possess a privileged status or authority which makes church discipline their preserve. Contemporary theology has been rethinking the role of the laity, giving much more scope once again to lay people in spiritual ministries in the church.
Whether lay people or ministers initiate the mission to regain the brother, what matters is that the whole church has a sense of being involved. In the church's evangelistic task discipling is not usually considered the prerogative of the clergy. Laymen are encouraged to witness and often do an excellent job of inviting people to accept the rule of God. Of course, when a convert makes his formal entrance into the church in baptism, the service involves the duly appointed presiding officers of the church.
Nevertheless, the total enterprise of bringing men under the experience of the grace of God and into a new life belongs to the entire church. The claim that Matthew 18 has to do with private sin suggests another common scheme that has governed the practice of discipline' in some periods of the history of Christendom that of secret and open sin. Of these, it has often been held, the church deals only with the latter. It is fairly self-evident that no action could be taken about something strictly unknown. This does not, however, justify closing one's ears to reported sin and pretending it to be unknown, for such a matter is no longer secret.
If the reporting is false or malicious, the church should deal appropriately with that problem. It should not be inferred, further, that the church needs to take note only of very specific acts of sin, and not of men's inward dispositions and attitudes, such as greed and jealousy, as if the latter do not matter. Acts of sin are related to dispositions and attitudes, and these also affect the health of the church. As one contemporary writer, Max Thurian, puts it:. Sin, whether private or public, can never be looked upon as a mere personal shortcoming. Not only does even the most secret sin create an attitude which disturbs the peace and the joy of the community, not only has it psychological consequences which shed abroad some degree of disorder and suffering;.
The problem of secret sin is not as formidable as is sometimes thought. For one thing the nature of the Christian life is such that persons cannot for long deceive themselves or others. Spiritual life is one integral reality in which sin and righteousness are mutually exclusive. Consequently even if acts of sin are concealed, the symptoms of spiritual illness will surface somewhere. Some people have the erroneous notion that sin is the positive reality and righteousness merely an absence of acts of sin. Actually, it is the other way around. The discipled life is the positive reality and sin, being its absence, is the negative.
So the church does not go around looking for hidden sins. As in evangelism, so in discipline, the church goes looking for discipleship, which by its nature is open and visible. Where discipleship is missing, the church offers the remedy for the lack. The gospel is a dynamic force impinging upon the lives of people and pressing them for a response.
It allows no neutrality and will inevitably receive its response, if not the obedience of faith, then its refusal. In each case the response engenders its consequences in the character and life-style of the individual being confronted by the call to discipleship. This implies that in general the best way to deal with the problem of secret sin is persistent teaching of the gospel. We must note yet one other principle in connection with the problem of secret sin. Corresponding to the power of the gospel to manifest itself in a discipled life is its power to confer the gift of discernment. We see this gift of the Spirit to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart in the New Testament church for example, in Acts 5 the story of Annanias and Sapphira , Acts , and Also in 1 Corinthians Paul speaks of the revelation of the secrets of men's hearts.
As one interpreter puts it, "Paul knows of a charisma which he calls the ability to distinguish between spirits' 1 Corinthians 10 f. This charisma constitutes therefore a presupposition of discipline. It is not the church, but the fellow who is trying to hide sin who has got the real problem.
There is no need for the church to appoint detectives to spy on sinners. But this is not a matter of prying into the private life of people; it is an attempt to help them return to the way of faith. If we make church discipline a game of hide-and-seek, it is a sure sign that we have lost sight of the meaning of discipling, which is what the whole thing is about to begin with. Numerous writers in the history of Christianity have attempted to compile a catalog of sins that offers a reliable guide for initiating church discipline.
Some have even sought to establish a graduated scale of sins that rather automatically triggers the appropriate response from the church -- perhaps from mild admonition through public censure to full excommunication. When a given act is committed, it needs only to be classified in order for church machinery, set for the proper cycle, to be set in motion.
Thus writers speak of sins as grave, flagrant, heinous, notorious, etc.
Corresponding to this they endorse a system of gradation in the penalties intended to deal with such degrees of sin. It is thought that small sins merit admonition, slightly more serious sins perhaps public rebuke or censure, still more serious sins suspension from communion, grave sins full excommunication, and really heinous sins the anathema. A Baptist discipline of speaks, for example, of "church censures, which differ in their nature according to the nature and degree of the offense A little reflection persuades us that this common method of cataloging sins only leads church discipline astray.
On the one hand, so-called flagrant acts of sin can be repented of and forgiven so that the sheer act of committing them does not necessarily call for an inexorable excommunication. On the other hand, what might be considered lesser sins can, with impenitence, lead to that total loss of spiritual life that ends in separation from the community of faith.
In the analogous case of a nonChristian, big sins are not, after all, an insuperable obstacle, for a sinner can repent of them. Again, it takes only very little sins to keep a non-Christian from salvation if he refuses to repent. If repentance is such a decisive consideration -- the great divide in church discipline as well as in evangelism -- then it would seem that ultimately we must operate with two categories.
Some interpreters would find this distinction in the New Testament. First Corinthians and , 11 have been thought by one writer to be an enumeration of "the sins which demand excommunication of the offender: immorality, greed, idolatry, reviling, drunkenness, and robbery" In another letter, says this writer, "an entirely different list of sins is given, perhaps 'venial sins. One might comment that if such a distinction were warranted, it would still be necessary to decide when a given act was, for example, selfishness second list or greed first list. As a matter of fact, however, New Testament lists of sins are not intended to be used for this kind of classification.
First Corinthians could hardly be a list of those who are to be put out, because this might leave a thief or murderer in communion. Paul's list is simply a timely sample in a given situation. A similar way of identifying sin calling for excommunication is to collate and generalize from New Testament references so as to establish a kind of legal precedent. According to this method, says one writer, the New Testament justifies separation on moral or doctrinal grounds.
Another claims the New Testament presents three grounds for exclusion: disruption of fellowship, flagrant immorality, and denial of the faith. Another cities three classes of sinners who must be expelled: those who live. The twofold classification of sins just noted reflects a valid principle of the gospel, but. It infers that a certain class of sins per se indicate a fall from grace and that therefore an individual's response to the gospel can be prejudged. In the case of this given class of sins the invitation to repentance can then be bypassed as unnecessary, for in effect these sins are by definition unforgivable.
The corollary inference is that another class of sins is tolerable in that they do not necessitate excommunication. The tendency to classify sins generally leads to the toleration of some sinners in the church. It is an instructive exercise to trace in the history of Christendom the development of this proclivity to classify sins as venial and mortal - that is, forgivable and unforgivable.
Quite early in the history of the church the term "mortal" came to designate three specific sins or areas of sin: apostasy idolatry , immorality adultery, fornication , and murder. Unless apostasy was defined so broadly as to include all sin not covered by immorality or murder and it likely was not this threefold classification already leaves out large areas of sin -- such as the greed and lying of which Ananias and Sapphira were condemned! It appears that along with the restriction of mortal sin to these three categories came the practice of regarding them automatically as mortal, and even indelibly mortal.
Tertullian held that murder, idolatry, fraud, denial of Christ, blasphemy, adultery, fornication, and every other violation of the temple of God - "admit of no pardon. For these Christ will no longer plead; these, he who has been born of God will absolutely not commit, as he will not be a son of God if he has committed them.
There is no reason to conclude from a reading of the New Testament that a lapse such as Peter's denial of Christ, while certainly incompatible with life in the body of Christ, inevitably called for excommunication from the church either permanently or for fixed periods of time the way some leaders of the church in the second, third, and fourth centuries thought.
If the church ever adopted an ironclad rule that refused forgiveness for post-baptismal mortal sin, this practice did not long continue. The Shepherd of Hermas already argues for the possibility of one post-baptismal repentance, and in the fourth century the twice-lapsed were readmitted to communion upon their deathbed, which constituted in effect the possibility of a third repentance. In due time the Catholic Church developed its full-dress system of penance, claiming the authority to forgive even the so-called grave sins usually classed as mortal -- namely, apostasy, adultery, and murder -- if there was genuine repentance.
The history of confessional procedure in the third and fourth centuries seems. But apparently it was not concerned enough, for just as the three major sins first became automatically mortal i. This ultimate self-contradiction in the meaning of the term" mortal sin" was simply a consequence of its being moved from an evangelical to a legalistic frame of reference. Some historians of penitential discipline commend the church of the fourth and fifth centuries for its strictness, as shown in the severity of the penances prescribed by the canonical councils.
It should not be overlooked that the discipline in vogue at the time was already largely a penal code, as any reference to these penitential disciplines will show. To be sure, allowances were made. Thus, Gregory's penitential allowed that the" disposition of the party is to be of principal account. But the fact that the disposition of the party.
On the whole the church recognized "a gradation of penalties suited to the character of the offenses. When Sixtus IV in on the eve of the Reformation pronounced the church's decisions to absolve in the confessional "binding on all courts ecclesiastical and secular," 12 and when the great ban presumed to encroach upon the civil liberties of men, this was only the fruition of a misconception that germinated at the beginning of the Middle Ages.
The misconception arose with the definition of venial and mortal as degrees of sin rather than attitudes of the sinner. Sin came to be defined within a framework of crime and punishment instead of within the framework of the gospel. Mortal sins were grave moral acts of transgression as defined by canon law. Mortal sin was no longer, as in the New Testament, sin the church was not able to forgive by reason of a lapsed Christian's impenitence. In short, because of the confusion between the church and the world with the advance of the Constantinian era, the church adopted the legalism of the state and abandoned the principles of the gospel in coping with sin among its members.
Granted the foregoing argument, is there not, some might still ask, an unforgivable sin?
We would reply that if there is, it makes no difference in the initiation of disciplinary counsel, for it is precisely through such counsel that a person is discovered to be unforgivable. The essential nature of unforgivable sin lies not in the outward form of an act, as some Christians in the history of Christianity have thought, but in the mentality of the sinner. The problem is not that there are some acts God cannot forgive, but that sometimes an individual places himself in a position where the power of grace does not move him.
As one writer expresses it, commenting upon pertinent' passages in Hebrews, "Certain states of mind secure immunity from divine grace. A New Testament text dealing with this problem in the context of discipline is 1 John One of the best interpretations of this passage, elucidating the meaning of "mortal sin" RSV or "the sin unto death" KJV , is given by Wescott:.
In the first and simplest sense a "sin unto death" would be a sin requiring the punishment of natural death compare Numbers If now the same line of thought is extended to the Christian Society, it will appear that a sin which in its very nature excludes from fellowship with Christians would be rightly spoken of as a "sin unto death. Death is, so to speak, its natural consequence, if it continue.
Clues to the meaning of this passage lie in the ban practice of the Old Testament e. In the cases of both Achan and Annanias and Sapphira, the sin of the offenders had literally mortal consequences. They forfeited their existence in the living community. Viewed against that background, mortal sin is the loss of faith and its consequent spiritual death, and it may be connected with a variety of kinds of sin, or with no particular act of sin at all.
It might more properly be termed a sin-condition. For an instance of a sin-condition unlike that of Ananias and Sapphira, a sin not unto death, one could take the story of Simon Magus in Acts Here, as one commentator points out, Simon was not in the state of mortal sin; hence there was scope for prayer that he might be forgiven. Peter summoned him to pray, and he besought the apostle to pray for him to the Lord. The text of 1 John should be interpreted in the light of the foregoing.
The prayer mentioned here is a liturgical act. Not to pray for someone who has committed the mortal sin means not to pray the prayer of absolution over him prematurely. The implication is that because of his impenitence he is not fit for restoration and thus should remain excommunicated. It does not imply irrevocable condemnation of that person or even loss of concern for him. In terms of Matthew 18 note again the parallel with the Jewish ban the church should regard him as a Gentile and tax collector.
To return to the original question of what kind of sin occasions church discipline -- it should commence where sin as such manifests itself, and the function of initial admonition is to determine whether or not the sinner is forgivable. Where he repents, exclusion is rendered unnecessary. But where he does not repent further action is required, hopefully to awaken repentance in the offender, but also, if necessary, for the church to satisfy itself that he is unforgivable. In that event the church must excommunicate him for the sake of his eventual salvation and for the preservation of the church.
As an act of discipling, church discipline brings men to decision and thereby discloses their spiritual position. The bearing of this upon our problem is crucial. There is no possibility of compiling a complete and final catalog of sins which invite disciplinary action.
Church discipline is called for by sin as such, and sin is any act or spirit inconsistent with the discipled life. Often this may not even be connected with so-called grave sins; for discipline may be occasioned by a person's coldness of heart and neglect of Christian fellowship, and it may be rendered unnecessary in the case of so-called grave sins that are followed immediately by repentance and there fall from grace.
This is the reason for the threefold admonition in Matthew The church is most painstaking in its effort to bring to light the basic attitude of the sinner, or more accurately, is hopeful and eager to find repentance as an indication that the individual concerned has not fallen from grace, but that this tragedy has been averted. It looks for tokens of his continuing acceptance of the claims of discipleship.
That is the index of whether he is continuing in that community which owns Jesus Christ as Lord.
Strictly speaking there are not even two kinds of sin. There is only one kind, and that can be described in general terms as the absence of faith. Usually we recognize this truth in the case of a non-Christian, for there we do not assign points and add scores. Why is it so hard to see this principle in the case of discipline of the brother? Sin is purely and simply the rejection of the discipled life.
Whenever it is defined in terms of casuistry the nature of sin is misunderstood and the practice of church discipline becomes unchristian. This way of looking at sin does not mean one should hesitate going to the brother until he has abandoned the faith. Nor does one need to wait until there is clear and certain evidence of specific acts behind a spiritual malaise one detects.
Too often in the past church discipline has been preoccupied with what are popularly called trespasses or transgressions, and has had in sufficient concern for a brother's general spiritual health. Identifying loss of faith as the occasion for church discipline also does not rule out other kinds of counsel not usually classed under the term" church discipline.
Too often an artificial line has been drawn between acts of church discipline, formally so called, and other processes of spiritual counsel. In the end they all have as their goal the discipled life, and in many cases timely spiritual counsel can forestall the loss of faith. The criteria for recognizing a lapse from the discipled life are nothing other than the Word and the Holy Spirit.
That is, as the church undertakes its disciplinary task, it remains aware of the message of the whole New Testament, which, when used under the guidance of the Spirit, adequately portrays the nature of life in Christ and by the same token shows up the rejection of that life. The recognition of sin that.
In each case sin is simply and only an individual's refusal to follow the way of Christ. Again we are returned to our basic thesis: if response to the gospel is the condition for the admission of persons into the church -- and there surely what decides is not the kind or size of a man's sin but his repentance for it -- then response to the gospel must also remain the condition for the continuation of persons in the church.
The foregoing is not a brief for "situation ethics. On this matter, modern Christians might learn a lesson from Luther, who threatened to excommunicate a man who intended to sell a house for gulden that he had purchased for Luther suggested as a reasonable price.
Inflation in this period had sent prices up, but the profit this man intended to rake off was exorbitant, and Luther, who was generally quite able to call a spade a spade,. In America today a church might call for disciplinary investigation of those who resist integration in the church, on the ground that. The occasion of church discipline is sin as such. In any case, cognizance of the peril of unfaith initiates discipline, and forgiveness or excommunication continues it. The following two chapters will attempt to trace this procedure with its two possible outcomes.
The instructions given in Matthew 18 for initiating church discipline say: "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. Elsewhere the New Testament speaks about the approach to an offender as "rebuke" 1 Timothy and Titus 1: 13; 2: 15 or perhaps" correction" 2 Timothy 3: What takes place in this approach has most often, however, been called admonition.
Titus 3: 10 speaks of one or two admonitions, but some traditions have it that admonition should be threefold. Perhaps this comes from the directions in Matthew 18 about three stages in a disciplinary proceeding. The prescription for this initial step in discipline seems simple enough. Unfortunately this is what has raised a problem for many Christians. It is too simple, it is thought, and does not succeed in coping with the complexities of different situations.
Sometimes admonition is considered too lenient, sometimes too severe. And so the church has vacillated between these alternatives throughout its history. It has not infrequently been argued that there are situations where the instructions about admonition are not applicable and can be laid aside in favor of peremptory excommunication. Those who would argue thus may claim to find biblical precedent for this. They might cite Acts 5, in which Peter apparently does not pause to admonish Ananias and Sapphira, and 1 Corinthians 5, in which Paul discourages further delay in the excommunication of the immoral man.
Precedent for outright excommunication can also be found in the history of the church. According to the Apostolic Constitutions, the post-apostolic church did not use the threefold admonition, at least not in the case of the cardinal sins. As noted earlier the bishop was instructed to proceed as follows:. When you see the offender in the congregation, you are to. Then you shall order him to be brought into the Church; and after having examined whether he be truly penitent, and fit to be re-admitted into full Communion, you shall direct him to continue in a state of mortification for the space of two, three, five, or seven weeks, according to the nature of the offense; and then after some proper admonitions, shall dismiss [or absolve] him.
The order here -- excommunication, then admonition -- stands in contrast with the instructions in Matthew 18 -- admonition, and only if there is no repentance, excommunication. In the time of the Reformation also there were some who held that in certain cases admonition could be dispensed with. According to the Anabaptist Peter Rideman there were two classes of sins, "those which are a cause for admonition, and those which cause excommunication without admonition, these latter being fornication, covetousness, idolatry, railing, drunkenness, theft, and robbery.
Rideman justified this by an appeal to 1 Corinthians 5 and 6. Menno Simons had the same view when he said that whereas formerly he had" made no distinction of sins" and" spoke without differentiation of three admonitions," he had come to the view that in some cases it was" altogether improper. But if the offence be more publick at first, and of a more heinous and criminal nature, to wit, such as are condemned by the light of nature; then the Church without such gradual proceeding, is to cast out the offender. These references show that the urge to bypass admonition in favor of immediate excommunication is not unusual in the history of the church.
It is a strong urge, and its rationale is concern to guard the witness of the church and to prevent presumptuousness on the part of the sinner. But it should be pointed out that the really serious danger to the church's witness is not the size of a man's sin, but the failure of the church to do anything about it. It would be strange indeed to consider admonition a toleration of sin when its intention is precisely the opposite -- to call someone to discipleship.
The truth is, the church's witness is hurt more by hasty excommunication, for then the church comes to be regarded - -with good cause -- as a body concerned not for restoration, but for its self-image. Making a distinction in procedure between big and little sins is a lapse back into the early Catholic Church's distinction between mortal and venial sin, where the decisive consideration has ceased to be repentance and faith and has become instead the nature of the act as judged by some legal or moral code.
The practice of invariable excommunication for what some would call major sins practically always carries with it the opposite -- insufficient concern for what then are called minor sins. Such misconceptions are avoided if repentance and faith remain the basis of both individual Christian existence and corporate church life. So admonition must not be bypassed.
Every erring brother must be given a clear opportunity to repent and receive forgiveness. Only if it becomes evident that he rejects such an opportunity is excommunication warranted, and then the exclusion from the church is on the ground of his rejection of that grace which offers to remove his guilt and redeem him from the power of sin. As for the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 -- he certainly did not violate the principle about admonition laid down in Matthew Out of loving concern the offender mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5 was given an offer of the gospel with its invitation to accept deliverance from sin.
Paul's reference to his previous letter 1 Corinthians bears this out. In contrast with the practice of immediate. Was not Christ nonjudgmental in His association with sinners? Did He not say, "Judge not, that you be not judged. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye" Matthew , 3? Out of concern to follow what they think is the example of Jesus, to avoid self-righteousness, to avoid mistaken judgment, or to keep from offending people and thereby maybe doing more harm than good, such well-meaning Christians desist from going to a brother in spiritual trouble.
They would propose that self-discipline is the right way to deal with sin in the church. Each person, they hold, must ultimately resolve his own moral problems. A little examination will show that the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount Matthew is no excuse for neglecting admonition. In the first place, admonition is exactly what Jesus was doing here -- He was admonishing His disciples! Furthermore, His admonition was not against admonition; it was against a self-righteous way of judging. Jesus invited men to take the log out of their own eye in order to be able to help remove the.
The log was not to be retained and enjoyed as an excuse for neglecting to help the brother! This word of Jesus, then, encourages -- and exemplifies admonition of the brother. All this does not, of course, minimize the importance of self-discipline, because self-discipline is essential. This is in fact the objective in going to the brother -- to bring him once more to the place where he can engage in self-discipline or self-judgment.
For to repent and receive God's grace is precisely the act of self-judgment. But now and then when self-discipline has broken down a person may need outside help to bring him back to the place where he is willing to engage in self-discipline, just as in physical life medical help is needed when the self-maintaining functions of bodily life fail. There is admittedly an element of judgment present already in the act of admonition and not only in the act of excommunication. It is the preliminary and tentative assessment that a given person's conduct or life-style is not in conformity with the gospel.
This initial assessment is subject to further check, as Matthew 18 teaches. It is confirmed or corrected by the response of the person in question and in addition is always subject to further review by "two or three witnesses" or on the level of the church -- maybe even on the level of conference. But in any event the kind of judgment implied in admonition is in principle no different from the judgment implied in an act of evangelism or missionary proclamation, for that too tentatively judges someone to be in need of discipling, a judgment which in that case also is confirmed or corrected by subsequent events.
Consequently his heart was turned after other gods. In conclusion, imagining positive contact can reduce intergroup attribution bias and increase intergroup favorability. Show is Sunday, March 24 at The Riverside. His great insight came from on the ground contact with those in the culture. Graham stayed in close contact with the White House during Nixon's re-election campaign and did it many favors, one of which was negotiating with Mark Hatfield to keep him from challenging Nixon for the nomination. Usually we recognize this truth in the case of a non-Christian, for there we do not assign points and add scores. The Celtic penitential system was considerably different from the earlier Latin one.
Admonition of a sinner in the church is analogous to evangelism outside the church. As in evangelism repentance issues in forgiveness and fellowship, so in discipline response to the word of admonition issues in forgiveness and continued fellowship. Likewise, as in evangelism an individual's rejection of the gospel is respected and he is not incorporated into the body of Christ, so in discipline an individual's rejection of the word of admonition is respected and he is excluded from the body of Christ.
The only difference is that admonition begins with a sinner in the church, whereas evangelism begins with one outside the church. There is a danger, it should be pointed out, of a merely formal observance of threefold admonition which does not yet really operate in the spirit of the gospel.
In such a situation admonition is not an invitation of the gospel but a judicial procedure, and the threefold admonition degenerates into three stages of a trial. Usually a sign of such a departure from grace is the use of terms such as "filing charges," "church court," or "trial. Now to be sure the process of initiating discipline can be orderly, structured, and perhaps even formalized to some extent.
But there is a danger that organization may frustrate the very purpose for which it was formed -- namely, to extend the call of the gospel. Matthew does not teach that when sin is noticed the machinery of church discipline should be set clanking in motion ruthlessly to take its course. It speaks simply about going to the brother. It might seem that a corporate institution is impartial and free from personal prejudice, but the problem is that an institution also tends to become impersonal.
Church discipline requires personal involvement and concern because the gospel is always a personal appeal. This caution about the danger of legalistic procedure does not imply that the church is not concerned for the facts or the truth in any given case. It must be very careful to avoid going on hearsay or jumping to conclusions and making false charges.
At the same time church discipline is something quite other than secret service investigations and attempts at proving someone innocent or guilty. Admonition looks for the marks of discipleship. If these are present, the truth about details of any given case is no insuperable problem. If discipleship is absent, there is no point in looking for the "facts," because the fundamentally decisive fact is already given. The use of two or three witnesses, if necessary, and the hearing before the whole congregation are not primarily to establish the fact of guilt concerning the act which originally led to the admonition though that may need to be dealt with , but to ascertain the presence or absence of faith.
Because various expressions are used in the New Testament to describe the approach to a faltering disciple, some interpreters have constructed an elaborate judicial scheme of the sort discussed in the foregoing chapter. They have therewith missed a most fundamental principle -- that the initial approach in the discipling act, whether it is called admonition, exhortation, rebuke, reproof, correction, or any other term, must be seen as a presentation of the gospel. As in evangelism, so also in discipline there is only one gospel, whether people are guilty of so-called "big" or "little" sins.
This gospel does not set out a schedule of penalties for a given catalog of sins, but offers deliverance from sin as such. Repeated admonition is intended to make certain that no offender in the church is denied a transparently clear invitation to discipleship and that no one is eventually excluded from the church except for rejection, in full awareness, of such an offer. It is sad to notice how absent this evangelical view of admonition has been in the history of the church.
From time to time the policy of the church has been either the severity of immediate excommunication without admonition or the lenience of tolerating sin without admonition. Both alternatives are not true to the gospel, because the gospel stands for the discipled life, and that is neither the demand for sinless perfection nor indulgence. If church discipline will be faithful to the gospel, it must begin with admonition.
Matthew 15 suggests the possibility of a favorable response to the presentation of the gospel in admonition: "If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. However, the nature of the response sought in discipline has been the occasion of much debate in the history of Christendom, debate on such questions as the sincerity of confession, whether the act of confession as such should be public or private, and whether such confession, public or private, requires a detailed report of the sin.
As generally used in the Bible the term "confession," like the related term "conversion," has two aspects. On the one hand is an implied or explicit admission of a wrong act or life. This is the confession of sin. On the other hand is the implied or explicit affirmation of a right way of life. This is the confession of faith or the acceptance of the way of discipleship. The Apostle Paul puts it well in Romans , 10, "If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved.
Actually these two aspects of confession are inseparable. We can never have one without the other. If a man knows the way of righteousness, he will recognize its opposite, and if he recognizes the way of sin, that presupposes the recognition of its alternative. Of these two aspects the confession of sin may be chronologically first, but the recognition of sin becomes possible only in the light of an awareness of another option.
In the light of this analysis we can see what the nature of confession should be in the context of church discipline. If an individual has sinned, the confession which an evangelical admonition expects from him will include an acknowledgment of his failure. If he has really seen the joy of discipleship as a live option, he will no longer attempt any evasion or deception. However, this negative element in confession is never an end in itself but only an avenue to the confession of faith.
Confession of sin actually has the valuable function of enabling a sinner to make a deliberate repudiation of sin in favor of the way of Christ. The ultimate evidence that a given confession of sin has fulfilled this function is a recovery of discipleship. A church involved in discipline would therefore do well to look at the spirit and fruit of a confession rather than the quantity of details dredged up. The test of a sincere confession is not just the factual accuracy of a report of someone's past behavior, but the evidence of a new walk which shows that such behavior is being left behind. In the final analysis the church is interested in the recovery of the discipled life.
And that is public and open by its very nature. There is a serious danger in getting preoccupied with merely the confession of sin and overlooking the confession of faith. The courtroom style of dragging a confession out of somebody by cross-examination is still miles away from a truly Christian confession, because confession becomes Christian only when a person sees the folly of a given way of life in the light of the Christian way and thereby discovers the power to forsake the old way in favor of the new.
In principle, therefore, there can be no objection to public confession. The reformation in many sectors is viewed as a work of God. Strictly speaking, "reformation" is somewhat a misnomer. Little reformation took place in the parent church while the children spawned were new entities. A better term may be reorganization and diversification. As an aside, the Orthodox Communion was never sold on the notion that the Roman church should be boss, so they remained separate.
They tend to view the Protestant Reformation as a quarrel within Romanism. During various periods from early 's until the 's we witness the emergence of many movements and churches. All of the proponents of these movements are adamant that it is a work of God; all of them resulted in division, schisms, new churches, and denominations. Ironically, some began as efforts to greater unity; ending in sectarianism, exclusivism, or heterodox theology. Today we witness powerful forces at work for religous plurality.
One of these is an ecumenical men's movement with rapid growth. Uncontrollable and sometimes convulsive hysterical laughter. During times when nothing is clearly funny. Even during preaching of the gospel! Beastial behavior. Animal noises: roaring, barking, "oinking", growling. Even writhing like a snake has been reported. Spiritual Drunkeness. Loss of control. Flippant behavior.
Other assorted wonders. People falling asleep. Strange and seemingly impossible movements. People emulating childbirth. These experiences attract Christians from very diverse traditions into a form of unity. However, we find certain aspects questionable:. Exhortation to avoid doctrinal examination of the events and theology surrounding the revival. Urging to "turn off" the intellect in order experience the blessing. Asking up front commitment that the revival is from God.
Promotion of prophetic revelation that is supportive of the events. Reappearance of "Manifest Sons" and "Latter Rain" teachings denounced as heresy back in the 40's. It is not within the scope of this article to explain these doctrines. They boil down to an expectation that a new breed of Christians will appear with extraordinary powers; even immortality! According to this notion even the apostles will seem lame by comparison to these spiritual supermen. They will constitute end-time "overcomers" to rule the earth. Warnings that resistance to this movement constitutes rebellion against God and will suffer judgement.
Inuendo that those who question the events are modern Pharisees, accusers of the brethren, heresy hunters At this point I would not deny that these signs and wonders are real artifacts of a spiritual power. So how does this all line up with scripture? New Testament teachings offer preparation for suffering, persecution, trials, tribulations and apostacy; not a party!
A transition in thinking is being observed in regard to the criteria used to judge if a move is of God. This paradigm shift puts emphasis on experiencial results as the evidence of divine stamp of approval and uses biblical support when agreement can be found. We are also witnessing a change from Biblical exegesis to subjective methods: i. Any practical "unity" requires a control mechanism in order to force the "sheep" in line. Enter the practice of "discipleship".
Authoritarian methods are employed to establish a hierarchical chain of command in order that men may "lord over" the church. The premise of this doctrine is that Christians must, in the same fashion as Jesus, directly control the lives of the disciples. In this process Christians assume the relationship of Christ to the twelve. These disciples become "masters" and proceed to gain for themselves disciples and thus an effective multiplication in followers. These methods have made the rounds in various denominations, intentional communities, parachurch ministries, and sects; resulting in spiritual abuse.
In the mid 's a confrontation resulted within the Charismatic movement when the authoritarian character of the "shepherds" was understood. Some of the shepherding teachers renounced the doctrine, while others continue to promote it. Although there was an effort to vomit this abberration out of the church, it has reappeared; often in the more subtle presentation as "mentoring" or "accountability".
A spirit of control. Detailed aspects of lives manipulated by disciplers. Dating, recreation, work, marriage, finances, Lack of accountability. Denigration of Christians outside the movement. Hatred of plural church organizations. Shepherding detests the availablity of other fellowships where abused followers can flee. The practice of covenantalism. Participants must agree to unconditional commitment; thus preventing dissent.
Establishment of "coverings". The notion that a Christian will not be held accountable for behavior when it is performed in submission to the shepherd. What do you think? Will God accept the plea that another authority makes you blameless? This is the same defense used by Nazi war criminals! As such it serves an vital enforcement function to maintain organic unity.
Something like a spiritual Gestapo! The theology to achieve unity is based on the effort of men to establish the Kingdom of God using the principle of "Dominion". Dominion theology holds that man is given divine mandate to conquer and rule the earth. Christ cannot or will not return until men have all things under control. The church is "Christ" on earth and the sole physical means where this may occur.
In regard to God's Kingdom; it is here now and awaits realization by the church. Hence it is sometimes designated "Kingdom Now". This theology is post-millenial by definition; Jesus will return if at all after the millenial kingdom is established. So it is man who must institute this kingdom on his own. Dominion is justified based on spiritual interpretation of scriptures; especially OT prophecies regarding Israel and the promised kingdom.
These teach that we must take "the land", drive out the Caananites, destroy the Amelikites, all the land we set our foot upon is ours to claim, we must have dominion over the fish of the sea, fowls of the air, over cattle, over all the earth Gen Prayer Marching. Taking dominion and claiming property or lives in the name of Jesus. Driving out territorial spirits who lay counter claims to our ownership; like fighting spiritual bogey-men. We have been given "all authority" in Christ. Everything is ours unless we fail to take it!
Militancy instead of humility. Show them no mercy! Prosperity Gospel. Denial of: persecution, suffering, trials, and tribulation, even the cross! Reestablishment of prophets and apostles to rule as men in the place of God. Teachings that claim deity for man; that we are "little gods". Note that those who embrace these ideas are not necessarily dominion advocates. Often these principles have very widespread acceptance.