I’m realizing from a discussion I’m having with Restless Pilgrim that to many people I seem like I’m against a lot of things rather than for one thing.
Here’s my goal: That Christians would walk together, full of mercy to one another, but also full of zeal for obedience to Jesus Christ; that we would love one another and take care of one another’s needs, and that we would meddle in one another’s lives, admonishing and comforting each other as needed in order to provoke each other to love and good works (Heb. 3:13; 10:24).
There’s something standing in the way. It’s a system that promotes attending services rather than living as family to one another and which treats the pointing out and correcting of real problems as judgment that Jesus forbids.
A former pastor and current Sunday school teacher admitted to me recently that his church never has and never will obey 1 Corinthians 5:
I have written to you not to keep company with anyone who is called a brother who is a fornicator, greedy, an idolator, verbally abusive, a drunkard, or a swinder—no, don’t even eat with such a person. … Put out from among yourselves that wicked person. (1 Cor. 5:11, 13b
There are very few congregations, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, that are even allowed to find out if a person is a fornicator, greedy, or verbally abusive. Yes, if one of the minority deeply committed Christians confesses such sin, we will provide help. Those with damaged marriages, who struggle with pornography or substance abuse, or who have some other problem that Christians tend to seek professional counsel—or non-professional counsel in a counseling environment (weekly meetings with a person that was a stranger before the counseling)—then we deal with it.
But what we do today is not church life Biblically. Paul didn’t write 1 Corinthians 5 because he had a vendetta against greedy swindlers. I’m not writing this blog because I have a vendetta against denominations.
Paul was building the church, and accommodating the wicked inside the church was in the way. I’m trying to proclaim the church, and our organizational practices are in the way of obedience to that extremely central Biblical teaching!
There’s two problems with leaving the sexually immoral and verbally abusive (if they’re unrepentant) in the church.
- They’re not going to heaven. Paul says so in the next chapter. Treating them like Christians is lying to them and stealing their opportunity to repent and be saved (cf. Jam. 5:19-20).
- There is incredible power in the fellowship of the saints. That is the church. When the saints are in fellowship with the sons of the devil, even if they’re sweet children of the devil (Eph. 2:1-3), then they’re not in fellowship with each other, the church doesn’t exist, and the power of the church vanishes.
Jesus gave himself for the church! (Eph. 5:25-27; Tit. 2:13-14). He wants his own special people, zealous for good works. Those people will be led by the Spirit of God (1 Jn. 2:27), protected from deception (Eph. 4:13), and will grow together into everything that Jesus is himself (Eph. 4:14-16).
In the first couple centuries of the church, the devil failed to rip Christians apart by attacking them. But then he switched tactics. Rather than try to terrify these bold Christians into fleeing into the world, he sent the world into the church. As the church forgot 1 Cor. 5 and admitted almost everyone into their fellowship, Christians were crowded apart, and the power and benefit of the church disappeared.
The devil couldn’t pull Christians apart, but he was able to crowd them apart.
He had to. When they were near each other, they were exhorting each other to higher and higher levels of power and holiness, and they were beginning to convert many and influence everyone.
We have come to believe a lie today. We believe that we can listen to the Gospel, read the Bible, pray, and go off to live a Christian life.
That’s not Biblical.
Christians need one another. We need daily exhortation, says the writer of Hebrews (3:13).
Not only that, but when we listen to the Gospel, read the Bible, pray, and go off to live a Christian life, then our invisible, deceptive sins go undealt with. We wind up with our own righteousness, but we miss God’s righteousness, which goes deep down inside and deals with the places even we don’t know about, but which others—if they’re spiritual others—see.
One final note. Yes, there are superstars who do great in the current system.
Most people, though, are not offered the help that was offered in the first century. They have Christ the head, but they don’t really have Christ the body, the family that takes them in, ends their loneliness, and grows with them into the fullness of Christ. And we cannot say that we don’t need the body. Paul was pretty vehement about that (1 Cor. 12).