The Problem With Immoral Church Members; Page 11 of 11 (series: Lessons on 1 Cor.)
by John Lowe
Sin in the life of the believer is far worse than sin in the life of an unbeliever. We cannot isolate ourselves from the world, but we can separate ourselves from disobedient believers so that God can discipline them.
Paul wrote about the whole creation groaning over the curse of sin—“For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Romans 8:22; KJV). Japanese researchers may have literally discovered what he meant. In the summer of 1999, Naoki Suda and Kaqunari Nawa revealed the results of their study concerning a mysterious hum emitted by the earth. They dredged through a mass of seismic data to discover our planet produces fifty notes that are about sixteen octaves below middle C. These notes are impossible to hear without the proper instruments and are so subtle that an earthquake anywhere on the planet will blot them out. The two researchers said the earth’s hum is like “an endless banging on a trash can.” Sin leaves us, and our world, with a song as unsettling as thugs beating on a garbage can.
13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
But them that are without God judgeth.
Those that are without (the unbelievers) are beyond the jurisdiction of church judgment. God will deal with them in due time. The church is responsible for the conduct of only those who are members of the church. If one member lives his life in such a manner that he brings reproach on the name of Jesus and upon the Gospel, the entire assembly will suffer, and if there is such a person in the church (like the young man who was guilty of fornication), it is the grave responsibility of the assembly to deal with the individual; and if they do not fulfill their duty, God will hold them accountable for that very fact. Note, Though the church has nothing to do with those without, it must endeavor to keep clear of the guilt and reproach of those within. All actions taken against wrongdoers within the church should be for the purpose of reclaiming them for Jesus and returning them to fellowship with their brothers and sisters in Christ.
God judges the unbeliever. We know that “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” We know that “the wages of sin is death.” (The final and complete wages of sin is eternal death.) This is clearly pointed out in the account of the Great White Throne Judgment when unbelievers will be judged, as recorded in Revelation 20. On the great day of judgment it will be evident to all that those persons who did not fall under the censures and punishment of the apostle, nor of a church of Christ, shall not go unpunished; God will call them to an account for their fornication, covetousness, idolatry, extortion and will judge, condemn, and punish them, according to their works; and therefore since they do not fall under the authority of the churches of Christ, they are to be left to the tribunal of God; and all that the saints have to do is to watch over one another, and reprimand and censure, as cases require, and as the church did in this case. We are to judge these; and these alone. All others we are to leave entirely in the hands of God.
HERE IS SOMETHING WE SHOULD ALL REMEMBER: “ONLY GOD IS IN A POSITION TO LOOK DOWN ON ANYONE.” —ANONYMOUS
Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
The Greek word translated “wicked” is poneros. It not only signifies that the person has bad character, but that he is also having a bad influence on others. The case in question here is a sad one, because the young man guilty of fornication is not only destroying his own testimony—he is also destroying the testimony of the entire assembly insofar as “those who are without” are concerned. They would eventually lose all respect for the Church if this fornicator were allowed to continue in the fellowship while he still lived in gross sin; therefore, Paul says excommunicate him; expel him from your society. This
is the utmost power which the church has; and the church is bound to exercise this power on all those who have openly offended against the laws of Jesus Christ.
This sentence is a quotation from Deuteronomy 17.7, which commanded the sentence of death for idolatry and disobedience to parents: “The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So thou shalt put the evil away from among you.” In Deuteronomy 21.21 we read, “And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.” In the local church a born again believer is not only a member of that assembly—he is also a member of the body of Christ; and his fellowship with God’s people depends upon his fellowship with God. Those outside the Church—unbelievers, unregenerate—are referred to throughout the Bible as spiritually dead. Therefore, the believer who is excommunicated through true Bible discipline is placed in the company of the spiritually dead—until he repents or until the Lord removes him through physical death.
In the days when Israel was under Law, a person could not be put to death except on the testimony of two or three witnesses: “At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death” (Deut 17:6; KJV). This indicates that in such cases, those who are responsible for chastening a person guilty of sin must be extremely careful. Those in authority in the assembly—the pastor, the deacons—must be careful when disciplining because the believer who has erred and brought reproach upon the Church is still a believer; he is still a child of God, and a member of the body of Christ. Therefore discipline should be carried out with only one aim in view: To restore the erring one to fellowship—not to destroy him!
Grave responsibility rests upon the shoulders of a pastor. If he condones evil in the church, he will suffer and the cause of Christ will suffer; but if he mistreats a believer—either for a selfish reason or in the spirit of “getting even”—that minister will suffer for his ugly, unChristian actions. The pastor should never knowingly allow sin to remain in the assembly.
Evil detected in the assembly calls for deep humiliation before God, on the part of the pastor and the entire church. Every member should seek God’s face, and know His will in the matter. We have the solemn warning that “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump,” and when evil is recognized in the assembly it is extremely important that corrective steps be taken immediately.
Paul was very concerned about the church at Corinth. These were his children in the faith and he loved them; but he could not allow the ugly sin that was in the church to continue. He wrote in love—but he was also stern. He demanded that something be done immediately to put a stop to this terrible thing that was going on in the assembly; even though he was absent. Today we hear this flimsy, hypocritical attitude: “Well, we don’t want to air this thing. We don’t want to cause trouble. We’ll just sweep it under the rug.” My friend, God cannot bless a church or an individual that does this. If God did bless, God would be a liar. And you know that God is no liar. He will judge inaction in a case like this.
THERE are a couple of important subjects in this chapter which intimately concern the Christian Church in general.
1. If evil is tolerated in religious societies, the work of God cannot prosper there.
2. Discipline must be exercised in the Christian Church; without it the Church will soon be little different from the wilderness of this world.
“GOD WILL DEAL WITH US AS GENTLY AS HE CAN AND AS HARSHLY AS HE MUST.” —JIM DENISON
This chapter has a tremendous lesson for us. And it is very practical, is it not?