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John F MacArthurJohn MacArthur often laments the state of the Church today.

In May 1998, he gave a sermon on 2 Corinthians 13:1-2, which I cited in my post yesterday.

The sermon is called ‘The Pattern of Sanctification, Part 1: Church Discipline’.

Whilst discussing the first two verses of 2 Corinthians 13, he also gave an excellent exposition of everything that is wrong in the Church today. Excerpts follow, emphases mine below.

Since 1998, the following has exploded in churches around the Western world. Around the end of the 20th century, church growth rose to prominence. Moving on to the 21st century, the last decade saw a rise in home churches. Online church services surfaced during the pandemic and became normalised. The Church of England hierarchy wants more online services and fewer church buildings, retaining them only in community ‘hubs’. I do despair.

MacArthur points out the folly of it all:

Now, before we look at the text itself, I want to kind of get us into the importance of the subject and the importance of the attitude of the apostle Paul here by sharing with you perspective that I think exists in the Church today. Many people are concerned about the state of the Church. The condition of churches today have caused a myriad of seminars and conferences and books to be written. There are constant calls for renewal in the Church, for better understanding of the culture, for changing the style of the Church to fit the style of the ‘90s, replacing preaching of the Scripture with more interesting methodologies and technologies.

All across our country – in fact, all around the world there are these efforts being made to reinvent the Church. The fear is that the Church is not speaking to the time, people are not listening. The Church has somehow become irrelevant; it has become obsolete. Self-styled experts are saying that the future of the Church is in the balance, and the Church may not survive in the West if it doesn’t become culturally relevant, if it doesn’t learn how to package its message better, if it doesn’t target felt needs, if it doesn’t employ more popular and efficient communication devices that it currently uses.

All of this comes into focus in a new book that’s just been out a couple of weeks. It’s one of those books that you could pick up and read rather rapidly. I read it fairly rapidly; I couldn’t put it down. It just kept compelling me to read. It was sort of like enjoying the pain, actually. It was like there’s something redeeming in this self-flagellation that I’m going through, and I’m going to carry it all away to the end. The book pained me deeply, and every page added more to my pain, but I couldn’t put it down because I was so startled by what the book was saying.

It is a book that calls for the Church to do what I just said: reinvent itself. And it says, on the cover of the book, “Today’s Church is incapable of responding to the present moral crisis. It must reinvent itself or face virtual oblivion by mid twenty-first century.” End quote.

So, the book says that if the Church doesn’t reinvent itself, and put itself in better cultural relevance, it’s going to go out of existence in 50 years. That statement alone was overwhelming for me. Do you mean to tell me that the eternal God who determined in the counsels of the Trinity, before the foundation of the world, before time began, who He would redeem and how He would gather His own to Himself and bring them to eternal glory is somehow going to find His whole plan coming unglued in the next 50 years? Do you mean to tell me that the Church which Jesus Christ purchased with His own blood is somehow going to escape His purposes for redemption and atonement? Do you mean to tell me that the Church which Jesus said He would build, and the gates of Hades could not prevail against it is somehow going to become victimized by its own inept[itude]? That is a brash and irresponsible statement, to say that if the Church doesn’t reinvent itself, it’ll face oblivion by the mid twenty-first century.

The only thing that could possibly obliterate the Church on earth by then would be the end of the age and the return of Jesus Christ and the glorification of the Church. That’s a very irresponsible thing to say. And the author of the book fearing – and I think he probably genuinely fears that the Church might go out of existence – suggests that there are some ways to save the Church, and these are the suggestions. “Develop cyber churches, virtual churches on the Internet.

Secondly, develop house churches which appeal to people because they have low control, low authority, and operate without historical tradition, I might add, or theology.” “Eliminate congregational churches” – like this – “for more congenial, less confrontational, and more dispassionately interactive forums. Preachers must be replaced by presenters who have no notes and don’t hide behind pulpits, and who generate a more positive response for their listeners.

“We must get rid of sermons, because one-sided communication is ineffective, and eliminate series and Bible exposition, because everybody’s attendance is sporadic, and people really get irritated coming in and out of series that they can’t consistently hear. So, we need to play to their sporadic attendance. And every sermon should be a unit in itself because most of the folks will miss the next two weeks before they decide to come back.”

You say, “Well, where did he get those ideas?”

They were the result of a survey. If you ask unbelievers outside the Church what they want, you can get answers like that. If you ask unbelievers inside the Church what they want, you can get answers like that. If you ask believers in the Church, ignorant of Scripture, what they want, you can get answers like that. But if you were to survey biblically literate believers, you wouldn’t get answers like that.

So, who is it that determines the character of the Church? You go to the lowest possible source. Unbelievers outside the Church, unbelievers inside the Church, or ignorant believers in the Church. What is the hope of the Church? Is this really it, if we can just disband congregational churches and develop a virtual church on the Internet, will that solve our problem? Will that dramatically affect the Church’s ability to confront the moral crisis of our day, as if that were somehow our reason for existence? And it’s not. Ours is not a moral agenda. Ours is a spiritual one.

Would it be better if we had presenters instead of preachers, and we got rid of pulpits, and got rid of sermon notes, and sat on stools, would that be the difference? And just sort of told stories?

Would it be better if instead of somebody preparing to preach a sermon and giving forth an exposition of Scripture we had a pooling of everyone’s ideas? Would it be better if we never had any continuity in or sermons but had little units week in and week out? Would that really save the Church from virtual oblivion?

And by the way, are we the ones responsib[le for] sav[ing] the Church from going out of existence? Is that our job? That’s all the result of a survey. You see, that’s what people want. And what they want is what they should get. That’s the basic thesis behind all of that.

Now, if you ask me what the Church needs, I don’t need a survey. I just ask the Lord of the Church, and He’s revealed it in His Word. And what the Church really needs is more consistent, faithful, clear theological exposition of the mind of God through the pages of Scripture. What it needs is better preaching, better sermons – and I may get in trouble for saying this – fewer small churches with ungifted, untrained, and unskilled preachers.

The Word must dominate the Church and bear its God-intended power and authority over all who hear. You see, the only way that the Church will ever effectively counter the crisis of our time – moral crisis, spiritual crisis – is when the Word of God is working powerfully in the Church – listen to what I say – to produce not information, but “holiness.” There’s the operative word, folks. Write that down somewhere; that’s the theme of the message this morning.

You see, the hope of the Church and the impact of the Church is all connected to the purity of the Church. Holiness is the issue. When Jesus first addressed the Church in Matthew 18, the first time he ever said anything related to the Church, in that great sermon in Matthew 18:7, the first thing he said about it is this, “If somebody’s in sin, go to him. If he doesn’t listen, take two or three witnesses. If he doesn’t listen, tell the church. And after the church has pursued him, if he still doesn’t repent, throw him out; treat him like an outcast.

The first instruction our Lord ever gave to the CHURCH had to do with sin. In that very first sermon, Jesus said, “If you ever lead another believer into sin, you’d be better off if a millstone were put around your neck and you were drowned in the depths of the sea.” The Lord of the Church is concerned about the purity of the Church. He’s concerned about the holiness of the Church. Sin is the issue to the Lord of the Church, and it should be the issue for us. But I daresay you can go from conference to conference to conference, and book to book to book, and this is not the concern today. You won’t hear talk about the holiness of the Church, the purity of the Church.

When I was at Moody this week, I spoke, and I basically said to them, “You know, I’m going to preach the sermon I’ve prepared for my own church on Sunday.” I kind of tweaked it here and there a little bit. But I said to them what I’m going to say to you, because everybody’s talking about church growth and how to grow your church and have a successful church in a flourishing ministry and more folks and church growth is a begin thing. And I said to them, “It may surprise you to hear this, but I really believe the single greatest contributor to the impact of our church, to the growth of our church, to the ministries of our church, to the effect of our church – the single greatest factor that exists – has existed through the years of Grace Community Church – the single greatest contributor to the influence, and the strength, and the growth of our church has been” – and I paused, and it got real quiet, and I said – “church discipline.” And there was a pall over the meeting.

Church discipline. That is not normally considered a principle of church growth. Most people would assume, “If you want to kill a place, do that. Just start poking around in everybody’s life and they’ll split.” Not the people who love righteousness. Not the people who hate sin. Not the people who want to honor God. Not the people who care about obedience. And that’s the Church, isn’t it? That’s the true and redeemed Church.

It may surprise you to hear this. I believe that ignoring church discipline is the most visible and disastrous failure of the Church in our time. Because what it conveys is we aren’t really concerned about – what? – sin. The Lord of the Church is concerned about sin. The apostle Paul was concerned about sin. It left him with a constant, unrelenting ache in his heart.

The problem with the Church is not that it’s got bad methodology or bad technology. The problem with the Church is it’s lost its interest in holiness. It’s lost its interest in maintaining purity. Churches have become content to be fellowships of independent members with minimal accountability to God, and even less to each other

The absence of church discipline – and I mean it’s absolutely a foreign thing in churches – the absence of church discipline is a symptom of the moral decline, the theological indifference of the Church. It’s a symptom, I believe, of a shallow commitment to Scripture. It’s not as if the Bible is unclear on the subject. It couldn’t be more clear. It is a lack of reverence for the Lord of the Church. It is saying, “Well, I know you’re concerned about the holiness of the Church, but we’re really not. We have other things to be concerned about.” Church discipline is not an elective; it is not an option; it is a necessary an integral mark of true Christianity and life in the church.

And I say it again; the absence of church discipline is the most glaring evidence of the worldliness of the Church. And the worldliness of the Church is the reason for its impotence. And you can have all of the entertainment, and all the hoopla, and all the big crowds that you want and not impact the world. It’s the purity of the Church; it’s the holiness of the Church that is the cause of its power. The problem is the Church is unholy.

Even the idea of confession of sin is outdated in an age of moral relativism and moral ambiguity. The answer is not let’s break up the congregation and produce less accountability; let’s get down to house churches where we have less authority, less confrontation, more autonomy, more independence. The answer is not let’s have more compassion; let’s have a kinder, gentler church.

Albert Mohler, who’s the president of Southern Seminary, writes – and I quote – “Individuals now claim an enormous zone of personal privacy and moral autonomy. The congregation, redefined as a mere voluntary association, has no right to intrude into this space. Many congregations have forfeited any responsibility to confront even the most public sins of their members.” He says congregations are consumed with pragmatic methods of church growth and what he calls congregational engineering. And most churches just ignore the issues of sin.

Let us contrast that approach with that of St Paul:

Well, the apostle Paul wasn’t that way. We’re learning, at the end of the book here, about the faithful pastor’s concerns. What is it that concerns a faithful pastor? What is it that concerns Paul? Well, he’s giving us a summary of that, starting in chapter 12, verse 19, running all the way to chapter 13, verse 10. That whole section is a summation of what concerns Paul.

And we could sum it up in a word. He’s concerned with the spiritual well-being of his flock. That’s what he’s concerned about. Corinth was a challenge. The city was gross in terms of its wickedness. People who came to Christ in that city were coming out of very immoral backgrounds. They brought some of that garbage into the church. He had to write to them 1 Corinthians to confront a long litany of iniquities that they were still engaging in, even though they were in the church and calling themselves believers.

Having sorted out those problems in the writing of 1 Corinthians, it wasn’t long until false teachers had come, and along with false teachers came pride, and along with pride came more sin. And Paul could see the subsequent impotence of that unholy situation and the loss of testimony, the loss of evangelistic impact that would follow.

Paul knew that the problem in Corinth was not going to be whether they were culturally relevant or not. The false teachers criticized Paul for not having a relevant message, not taking into account the expectations of the Corinthians for what oratory ought to be because of what they were used to. They had criticized Paul because his person, his persona was unimpressive, and his speech was contemptible; he was a lousy communicator; he didn’t speak in the venue that people were used to hearing. He didn’t have all of the personal charm to woo the audience.

He had already addressed the issues that he didn’t speak with men’s wisdom, and he didn’t come in the wisdom of the world to achieve divine purposes. He already had laid it down that he was going to come and speak the Word of God, and he believed the Word of God, and he believed the Word of God was the power. And behind that came this conviction and commitment to the fact that the church had to be holy. And what Paul feared in his church was error and sin. Either one of those destroys the church. Theological error, theological ignorance or inequity devastates the church.

I can think of very few pastors who would pursue Paul’s route. Yet, it is the correct one for the Church.

There is the world, the slave to sin. And there is the Church, which teaches that the way to eternal life is through the repentance of sin, a turning around of ourselves and our worldly ways towards … holiness.

Do we notice how the more modern and relevant the Church becomes, the more people avoid it?

There is another problem and that is the use of churches as tools for evangelising. Evangelising is a necessary activity but, done properly, it takes place outside of the church service, not during it.

The church service is designed for worship of our Lord and the exposition of Scripture, not winning converts off the street.

How bad do things have to get before our clergy realise the error of their ways? Sadly, I fear this will drag on and on for decades.

Bible treehuggercomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

2 Corinthians 13:1-4

13 This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them— since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.

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In last week’s post, we saw how much Paul grieved over the state of the Corinthian church under the influence of the false teachers and the unrepentant souls in the congregation.

It is no wonder that Paul never married. He had a deep agape for all the churches he planted and he wanted them to be pure, a true Bride of Christ. He suffered a broken heart for the Corinthians but still wanted them to straighten themselves out for the Lord.

As we enter the last chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul says that he will be making his third visit. He says that he will be exercising church discipline by asking two or three witnesses to be present before each charge of serious sin before a member of the congregation (verse 1).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says (emphases mine):

… the apostle had told these Corinthians before, in his former epistle, and now he tells them, or writes to those who heretofore had sinned, and to all others, giving warning unto all before he came in person the third time, to exercise severity against scandalous offenders. Others think that the apostle had designed and prepared for his journey to Corinth twice already, but was providentially hindered, and now informs them of his intentions a third time to come to them. However this be, it is observable that he kept an account how often he endeavoured, and what pains he took with these Corinthians for their good: and we may be sure that an account is kept in heaven, and we must be reckoned with another day for the helps we have had for our souls, and how we have improved them.

John MacArthur says that it was an imperative for Paul to deal with ongoing sin in the church in Corinth. He had similar experiences elsewhere, too, Galatia being another example:

When it came to sin, for the sake of the sinning believer, Paul wanted to confront that sin … He sees the effect of what’s going on in the church crippling believers and cutting them off from God’s blessing. And he also sees its devastating impact in the community, because an unholy church has no power, no witness. You cannot convince a community of the transforming power of God if the church is characterized by sin and wickedness.

Paul was very confront[ational] with his churches. In Galatians chapter 1, you remember he writes the Galatians. In verse 6 he said, “I am amazed that you’re so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ for a different gospel.” He confronts the fact that they had wandered off after Judaizing false teachers who were teaching them legalism. “I can’t believe you’ve done it; it’s not really another gospel at all. People are coming, distorting the gospel. I’m telling you” – in verse 8 “though we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed!”

The call for witnesses is in Deuteronomy as well as Numbers, and Christ spoke of it in Matthew 18. MacArthur expands on our Lord’s desire for a holy and pure Church:

You see, the hope of the Church and the impact of the Church is all connected to the purity of the Church. Holiness is the issue. When Jesus first addressed the Church in Matthew 18, the first time he ever said anything related to the Church, in that great sermon in Matthew 18:7, the first thing he said about it is this, If somebody’s in sin, go to him. If he doesn’t listen, take two or three witnesses. If he doesn’t listen, tell the church. And after the church has pursued him, if he still doesn’t repent, throw him out; treat him like an outcast.

The first instruction our Lord ever gave to the CHURCH had to do with sin. In that very first sermon, Jesus said, “If you ever lead another believer into sin, you’d be better off if a millstone were put around your neck and you were drowned in the depths of the sea.” The Lord of the Church is concerned about the purity of the Church. He’s concerned about the holiness of the Church. Sin is the issue to the Lord of the Church, and it should be the issue for us. But I daresay you can go from conference to conference to conference, and book to book to book, and this is not the concern today. You won’t hear talk about the holiness of the Church, the purity of the Church.

He warns again that when he returns he will be harsh with the unrepentant, sparing no one (verse 2).

Henry says that, after a long period of patience, stronger measures are sometimes necessary, as God is our judge. Better to repent now than to experience His wrath later:

Note, Though it is God’s gracious method to bear long with sinners, yet he will not bear always; at length he will come, and will not spare those who remain obstinate and impenitent, notwithstanding all his methods to reclaim and reform them.

MacArthur explains the verb ‘to spare’ in Greek:

The verb here is pheisomai. It’s a very strong word. It’s used to describe a battle situation, and it means to spare the life of a captured enemy. You have every right to take his life, because he’s the enemy. To spare means not to kill him when you have the opportunity to do so and the right to do so. The idea is to have mercy on an enemy who deserves death.

Well, Paul says, “When I get there, I’m not going to have any mercy. When I get there, I’m not going to spare anybody; you’re going to get exactly what your sin calls for.” This is no idle threat. Paul’s going to do this; he’s going to deal with sin. And he wants the Corinthians to know that this is his concern.

Paul returns to the troubling reality that the Corinthians need further proof that Christ speaks through him, saying that our Lord is not weak in dealing with them but is, in fact, powerful among them — via sanctification (verse 3).

MacArthur interprets this verse and notes the thematic transitions from the end of 2 Corinthians 12:21 through 2 Corinthians 13:4:

So, verse 3 says, “Since you are seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in me” – that’s the issue. They were saying, “We want some proof that it’s really Christ speaking in you; how do we know it’s not just your opinion? You’re just telling us what you want to tell us. You’re just saying what is your own view, and your own idea. How do we know? Give us some proof of the Christ who speaks in you.” That was the issue here. Now, remember, Paul had already indicated that his concern for his people was repentance, chapter 12, verses 20 and 21.

That was our first point in this little outline. And secondly, he was concerned for the discipline of his people, verses 1 and 2. And now, in verses 3 and 4, he’s concerned for the authority of his people. Any faithful pastor is concerned with these issues. He’s concerned about sin and repentance. He’s concerned about discipline, which is the purging and purifying of the church. And he’s concerned about making sure the people come under the authority of the truth. Those are the faithful pastor’s concerns.

And we come to this third one, this matter of authority, and Paul wants to address it. So, he says in verse 3, “You’re seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in me, huh? You haven’t had enough proof already?” Go back to verse 12, of chapter 12. “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.” Well, they had a lot of proof; miracles that Paul had done there. That was proof enough. And there was even more proof. How about this?

“You’re saved. You’ve been justified. You’ve been regenerated. You’ve been converted. You’ve been transformed. You’ve been changed. You’ve been born again. You’ve been redeemed. Isn’t that indicative of the fact that the truth came through me, the saving truth? Not only that, you’re in the process of being sanctified, you’re in the process of growing, and maturing, and being nurtured, and becoming more like Christ. Isn’t that evidence?” They had evidence from signs. They had evidence from salvation. They had evidence from sanctification.

But they were so fickle they allowed themselves to get sucked into this false teacher’s effort, and to question things that they really had no reason to question. So, he says, “Okay, you want more proof of the Christ who speaks in me?” – go back to verse 2 – “If I come again I’ll not spare anyone.” That’s what he’s talking about. “I’ll not spare you, and that will give you more proof.” What does he mean? He means, “When I come, I’m going to take out the sword, if need be, of discipline, and I’m going to act in behalf of Christ in dealing with your sin.”

As for Paul’s statement that Christ is speaking in him, MacArthur says:

What a great statement: “The Christ who speaks in me.” And how does Christ speak in us? Not in an audible voice; He speaks in us when we proclaim His Word. Christ isn’t indicated to have given special words to Paul on every occasion. Once the Word of God was revealed, Paul preached it, and re-preached it, and re-preached it, and gave it to us. When you speak the Word of Christ, Christ speaks in you. So, you – that was the question. And that should be the question. That should always be the question

“And you’re going to see more when I come and don’t spare anybody, and apply Matthew 18 to all of you. And then you’ll see the Christ who speaks in me” – verse 3 – “and who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you.” And he’s saying, “You already have seen that. He – He is not weak toward you. You know that, because you’re saved, and you’re being sanctified. He is mighty in you, and you know that. You’re experiencing it. Your lives have been changed and transformed. You know that, and you’ve seen the signs and wonders.

“You want more proof of how mighty Christ is? You want more proof of how powerful He is? Then I’ll give it to you, when I come against that unrepentant person, with the very same authority of the Word of Christ.” Beloved, always, there is power, when believers act in line with the truth of God’s Word. Christ is the Lord of the church, and He expresses authority in His church through His Word, proclaimed by gifted, and called, and faithful preachers and teachers.

Paul concludes this section by saying that Christ appeared weak on the Cross but He lives forevermore because of the power of God; similarly, Paul was weak so as to allow the Lord to work through him, and this would also be true in his exercising of church discipline (verse 4).

Compared to the false teachers, Paul lacked their charm, persona and physical attributes. He was a humble man but he took care to preach and teach the truth.

He wanted to be humble and weak, an empty vessel, so that Christ could work through him in everything he did.

MacArthur explains the power of humility which Paul employed to great effect, making way for the power of God. The ‘we’ refers to Paul, who could not abide saying ‘I’:

Well, he gives a tremendous analogy, brilliant analogy. Listen to this – verse 4, middle of the verse, start with the word for – “For we also are weak in Him.” “We admit it. I admit it. I’m weak. I’m weak, and I’m in Christ. I’m in Him. That is, I’m in Christ; saved, redeemed, belong to Him, but I’m weak. I admit it.” “Yet we shall live with Him.” What does that mean? What does it mean, “we shall live with Him?” Well, what it means is that he’s found spiritual life, and it’s eternal. He has found spiritual life, and it’s eternal spiritual life.

And he found it because of the power of God. God, in power, came into his weakness, and made him alive with spiritual life forever. And then it says, in verse 4, “God directed that same power through him toward you.” Wow. What’s he saying? He’s saying, “Well, my weakness didn’t stop the power of God, it facilitated it. Because there’s no other explanation for my life than that it was the power of God, because there’s no human explanation. I’m too week, too frail, too inept, too unimpressive, to have pulled it off myself.

“Whatever has happened has been the power of God, surging through my weakness.” Back to verse 9, of chapter 12, God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” God says, “Power is perfected in weakness.” Wow. “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” That’s – that’s the principle. God said, “I’ll perfect My power through your weakness.” Paul said, “I’m happy to be weak, because in my weakness, God’s power came.”

It was in Paul’s weakness and brokenness that he was redeemed. It was when he was going to Damascus, a proud, confident, arrogant Jew, persecuting Christians, and he was crushed in the dirt, and shattered, and broken, and dismantled, and made blind, and halting, and stumbling, he fell before God. And in the midst of that weakness he was crushed into nothing, and through that weakness God saved him, and began to sanctify him, and he became the great, great preacher; the greatest preacher ever, next to the Lord Jesus Himself.

Brokenness can serve a great purpose in that it gives way to God’s power working in us. Jesus set the example.

MacArthur notes, with regret, that this notion of humility is no longer a message that most churches convey. However, it is essential, because Christ was broken on the Cross, yet He lives through the power of God:

And again, I say, the church doesn’t need less of this; it needs so much more of it. So, he says, “We’re weak in Him.” It’s true. “Yet we have received spiritual life which is eternal, because of the power of God that has come to us, and through us, is directed toward you.” “You’ve experienced it. You saw the miracles. You were saved. You’re sanctified. And you’re about to see some of it, too, if I find some sin there; you’ll see more of the power of God coming through.”

And then he gives this really wonderful, wonderful analogy, in the beginning of verse 4: “For indeed He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God.” Well, I mean, that is the end of the discussion, right there. Who’s He? Jesus. “You’re saying I’m too weak to be powerful? Let me give you an analogy. I am weak; that’s why I’m powerful, and so was Jesus.” This is great. “Indeed He was crucified because of weakness” – or literally, it could be in the Greek, “He was crucified in weakness.”

The bottom line is that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is an unmistakable evidence of His weakness. I mean, He came into the world in the form of a servant, Philippians 2 says; He humbled Himself, came in the fashion of a man, became a servant. He lived a very humble life. But when He got to the cross, you really began to see His weakness. Through His life, you could see human weakness. He was weary. He was sad. He sorrowed. He was disappointed. He wept. But then He was betrayed, and then He was taken before a court of Jews in a mock trial, and blasphemed.

And then He was blasphemed by the Idumeans, and then He was blasphemed by the Romans, in a mock of a trial before Pilate. And then He was treated with disdain and abuse, and spit on, and punched, and poked, and laughed at. And then He was crucified, and then He died. And that is weakness. The supreme evidence of His weakness is His death. And Paul says, “Indeed, that’s true” – indeed meaning truly, that’s true – “He was crucified because of weakness, yet He is alive because of the power of God.”

What’s that refer to? Resurrection, right? The resurrection. God raised Him from the dead. Romans 1:4 tells us God raised Him from the dead. The Lord Jesus was weak. He was so weak that His enemies defeated and executed Him in the most debasing, humiliating, and shameful manner possible. His human nature was so weak that it was fully susceptible to death. Yet He lives. Once weak in death, He was made alive in power, and He came out of that grave on the third day, His resurrection being the most monumental evidence and revelation of His power.

So, Jesus is the pattern. He was weak, weak all the way to death, and yet He is alive because of the power of God, which raised Him from the dead. So Paul. He’s weak. He’s in fear and trembling. He suffers a lot. He lives with sorrow, pain, and disappointment. He’s been beaten, and battered, and rejected. Humanly, he’s not welcome. He’s not ranked among the great preachers or speakers and orators of his day. He says, “We’re weak in Him, yet we shall live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you.”

Like Christ, it was Paul’s weakness that God used to make him strong. The power of God came into his life, transformed him, and surged through his life to transform the Corinthians.

Next week’s post concludes 2 Corinthians, part of which is in the Lectionary.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 13:5-10, 14

bible-wornThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 5:9-13

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church[a] whom you are to judge? 13 God judges[b] those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

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My previous post discussed the first five verses of 1 Corinthians 5 wherein Paul said that church discipline was necessary to keep the congregation holy. Those guilty of sexual sin needed to be excluded from the congregation until they had repented.

Paul reprises this in verse 9. It is a sin to have a sexually immoral person in the congregation. Paul mentions ‘my letter’, which Matthew Henry’s commentary says could refer to a previous letter of his or this particular one (emphases mine below):

Some think this was an epistle written to them before, which is lost. Yet we have lost nothing by it, the Christian revelation being entire in those books of scripture which have come down to us, which are all that were intended by God for the general use of Christians, or he could and would in his providence have preserved more of the writings of inspired men. Some think it is to be understood of this very epistle, that he had written this advice before he had full information of their whole case, but thought it needful now to be more particular.

Paul then writes something interesting, clarifying that exclusion pertains to someone in the congregation but not from the world in general, because one would then need to leave the world altogether (verse 10). What is our purpose? To spread the Good News in whatever way we are able. Therefore, we must have contact with the world as it is.

John MacArthur explains:

You’ve got to get in the world, let your light shine in the world. You’re to be in the middle of the system. You’re to be contacting it, up against it, hearing what it’s thinking, seeing what it’s doing, and winning the people that are in it and loving them in the love of Jesus Christ without conforming to them

MacArthur points out that Paul names all the major sins in verse 10:

notice he classifies the sinners of the world in three primary categories: fornicators – or immoral – covetous – and extortioner ties right in with covetous – and idolaters. If you notice those three sins, you pretty well sum up the whole of human philosophy. Immorality is hedonism, covetousness is materialism, and idolatry is religionism, and it’s pretty well all there.

The sin of fornication is the sin against the body. Covetousness and extortion is the sin against others where you regard people as objects to be exploited, and the sin of idolatry is a sin against God where you allow something to substitute for God. So here you have all of the sins possible, against self, against others, against God. All of the kinds of philosophies, whether they be hedonism, the libertarian philosophy of the expression of the body, or covetousness, materialism, idolatry, religionism, it’s all there.

Verse 11, in which Paul tells the Corinthians not to associate with such people, might appear to contradict the previous verse. However, Paul is speaking of those in the Church, not the wider world. We know because he clarifies it with the words ‘anyone who bears the name of brother’.

Paul says that he is in no position to judge those outside the Church (verse 12). However, inside the church, judgement is another matter.

MacArthur says:

“What have I to do with outsiders?” Nothing. The literal way to translate the last part of verse 12 is this: “Is it not those within the church you are to judge?” Is it not those within the church you are to judge? And the answer is yes.

Now you say, “John, does this mean that everybody in the church has to be perfect?” No. No, because then there wouldn’t be a church. People always say, “Well, I don’t go to church. There’s so many imperfect people there.” The church never claimed to be the society of the perfection. The church is a hospital with people who at least know they’re sick, and they’re there because they seek to be what God wants them to be, and that’s all God’s asking. He’s not asking for perfection; He’s asking for the desire for it.

Think of it this way. Imagine a hospital had doctors and nurses who practised poor hygiene and infected patients causing them to become sicker and maybe die. That is an intolerable situation, wouldn’t you say? Think of the purity of the Church in the same way as you would a hospital. We should want the best of spiritual care in a church in the same way we would expect hygienic physical care in a hospital. High standards, all the time.

Paul concludes by saying that God is the only one capable of judging those outside the Church (verse 13).

MacArthur thinks that these verses must have had a huge impact on the Corinthians:

that must have hit like an absolute bomb in the Corinthian assembly when that was read. You know why? Every one of those sins can be found in 1 Corinthians. They were immoral, right here in chapter 5, that was the start. They were covetous, chapter 10:24, he tells them to quit being greedy for things and seek other people’s wealth. They were also idolatrous in chapter 10, 20, and 21. They were going to the assembly of the believers, and they were going to worship at the pagan temple, and they were having fellowship with demons.

Not only that, they were slanderers. They had these little factions, and one group was slandering another group. Even when Paul sends Timothy in 16:11, he tells them, “Now, you be easy on Timothy, and don’t speak evil of him” because this is what they were doing. They were drunkards. In 11:21, it says they would come to the Lord’s supper and get drunk at the Lord’s supper. They were extortioners, according to chapter 6. They were taking each other to court and they were taking money from each other, and it caused all kinds of conflicts and problems. Every single one of those sins that are mentioned there was characteristic of the Corinthian assembly.

And he says, “Look, you find all those people and put them out.” You know, they probably would have had a handful of people left if they’d really done it. You say, “Isn’t that the opposite of church growth?” That’s really part of it if your growth is on the right basis. You can’t just accept everybody who calls himself a Christian, no matter what he does.

We expect the world to be imperfect. However, the Church should be synonymous with purity. These days, we have some work to do in that regard. Pray for our clergy and for our people.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 6:1-8

Some Christians say that voting for Donald Trump is a matter of church discipline.

This post on another site lays out the full case.

Why isn’t voting for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders worthy of church discipline?

There are scandals that took place during Bill Clinton’s administration, and his wife was at the heart of the action. Her term as Secretary of State has also had its episodes: Benghazi, then the classified emails which are still being investigated.

One could equally question whether Bernie Sanders represents a Jewish God-fearing perspective. One has to wonder about someone who went to the USSR on his honeymoon and who thinks that a highly-taxed populace is acceptable, when, in fact, excessive levies on a population could be construed as a form of theft.

More importantly, what about the Democrats’ pro-choice positions?

First, voting has always been considered a private activity, one of conscience. If your pastor or elders demand that you tell them who you are voting or have voted for, it’s time to find another church.

Secondly, do a bit of research and see who is making these statements. I shall look at one of these clergymen tomorrow. He is not a Republican — rather, a Democrat — yet he is advising conservative Republican Christians how to vote.

The second name mentioned in the post linked to above is that of a man who came to the Republican Party when James Dobson and the Religious Right began meddling in it during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. He is upset Ted Cruz is out of the running and a moderate Republican is in.

The third man mentioned in that post is one who, like many of his ilk, voted Republican only because of the party’s stance on social issues. He says (emphases mine):

We voted Republican because of the issue of abortion and a desire to protect our religious values against government coercion. Sometimes we went in for the various economic arguments, but we never really dug in deeply to understand them, and they didn’t actually come from any kind of long-standing conservative root system. For a variety of reasons, not all of them honorable, the GOP was not our home. We were just a passin’ through. And so now we have our opportunity to begin leaving it for good. We do not need to do this all at once, but we need to begin preparing ourselves to do so, and the Donald gives us our best opportunity to get started.

That is an honest assessment. (Incidentally, this man also admits to being partial to ‘distributivist theocracy’.)

It also calls into question what the word ‘conservative’ means. For him and his people it primarily means a biblical social policy.

For people like me ‘conservative’ means small government and fiscal responsibility.

In any event, the party is called the Republican Party. Until 1980, most of its members and unaffiliated supporters considered it a secular party that upheld the values upon which the United States was built. It was a broad church, so to speak, of people — including centrists — who loved America. They sought to preserve the Great Republic.

Donald Trump is a centrist candidate who loves America and wants to make the Republic great again. The Religious Right recoil because he rarely brings the Church or social issues into the equation.

In conclusion, one Democrat and two Religious Right men are mistaken in telling Christians that voting for Trump is a cause for church discipline.

This comment to the post cited in my second paragraph says it all:

I believe there to be some confusion between Christianity and politics here. Christians ought to be cautious when the church starts playing politics. There is only one mediator between man and God and He assures every man the right to his own conscience before God. The church is truly deceived if she looks to politics to fulfill her her responsibility to spread this truth. Perhaps in need of discipline herself.

Your vote is private, between you, God and the ballot box. No pastors, no elders — and, for women — no husbands or elder sons. Keep it that way.

Tomorrow: Russell Moore

Today Churchmouse Campanologist features the letter of Jesus Christ — the ascended Lord, King of Kings — to the church of Thyatira.  Over the past few Sundays, letters to the other churches in Revelation 2 have also featured: Ephesus, Smyrna and Pergamum.

As with the other letters in Revelation 2, the letter to Thyatira does not appear in any standard three-year Lectionary, therefore qualifying it as part of the ongoing series of Forbidden Bible Verses, those essential verses.  The letters to the churches reveal much about them and about ours today, for better and for worse.

Today’s reading comes from the New International Version (NIV).

Revelation 2:18- 29

To the Church in Thyatira

18“To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. 20Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. 24Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): 25Only hold on to what you have until I come. 26To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—
27‘He will rule them with an iron scepter;
he will dash them to pieces like pottery’— just as I have received authority from my Father. 28I will also give him the morning star. 29He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

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If you have read the past three entries on Christ’s letters to the churches, you will readily recognise the commonality amongst them.  One feature is that He comes in power and majesty as a judge.  The other is that He orders them to pay attention to His specific message.

The church of Thyatira is no exception.  If the church of Pergamum ‘married the world’, then Thyatira was fully immersed and at one in it.

Thyatira had no prominent pagan temples as Pergamum and Ephesus.  Yet, it was linked with the pagan priestess Sambethe, who told fortunes for a sum of money.

Thyatira has also been known as Pelopia and Semiramis.  Today, it is part of Turkey and is called Ak-Hissar, with a population of around 20,000.  The populace are comprised of Greeks, Armenians and a minority of Jews.  Ak-Hissar means ‘white castle’.  The name derives from the ancient castle ‘of Thya’, the ruins of which still exist today.  In the very ancient world, it was the city of the sun god Tyrimnos.  At right is a map of the seven churches to which Christ wrote through the apostle St John (the Divine). 

The city was in the old province of Lydia. Thyatira is to the northeast of Ephesus (designated by the red marker on the map at right).  Note that the early Christian whose name is connected with Thyatira is also called Lydia.  She was a merchant of purple dye (‘Turkish red’) who travelled the region and heard the teachings of St Paul whilst on a trip to Phillipi (Acts 16:14). It is believed that Lydia went back to Thyatira with St Paul’s teachings and converted her family.  They were the original disciples of the church of Thyatira.

Lydia’s merchandising of purple dye would have made her a member of a tradesmen’s guild.  This was not unlike a mediaeval guild or, in today’s equivalent, a union.  In Thyatira, the dyers’ and coppersmiths’ guilds held much influence.  They owned property, could negotiate grand contracts and engaged in other important activities.  Some people, whom Christ refers to collectively as Jezebel (see below), thought that the church should unite with them in order to increase the number of Christians — not unlike today’s church growth advocates linking congregations with community-based organisers and movements in the United States.

Before we go into the text, think about the power that today’s trade unions — whether in Europe or the US — possess.  They can negotiate their own pay, they can hold a nation to ransom through strikes (whether to put out a fire, deliver post or ensure sufficient electricity).  Along with that is the ideological aspect which Pope St Pius X warned against: the ideology of such a common bond (in his and ours, e.g. Communism, Socialism) that can interfere with Christ’s Great Commission.  Do we make disciples of the world’s people in His name or do we follow man-centred teachings with its yearnings for equality, justice and church growth?

A prophetess whom Christ calls Jezebel attempted to do just that in the city of Thyatira.  But, she had a precedent.  Let’s read on.

As with the previous letters, Christ writes through St John (on exile in the Greek island of Patmos, circa 95 AD) to the church in Thyatira.  Lydia, the seller of the purple dyes, has no spiritual connection to the Jezebel mentioned in this passage.

In verse 18, Christ announces himself as a powerful judge: note the mention of His being ‘the Son of God’ in majesty (not ‘the Son of Man’ in humanity).  To emphasise this, He says that His eyes are like ‘blazing fire’ and His feet ‘burnished bronze’ (or ‘fine brass’, if you read the King James Version).   We are all acquainted with eyes that burn like fire from a person in authority who comes in judgment.  The Lord tells Thyatira’s church that He can also, quite rightly, dominate us in judgment with feet like burning bronze, burnishing us into submission unto the Truth or damnation.  ‘Burnished bronze’  indicates Christ’s perfect holiness, nature, judgment and wisdom.

Yet, as a good manager so often does at work, Christ acknowledges the church at Thyatira’s ‘deeds, love and faith’ (verse 19).  He says they are also doing more as a church than they did initially, all to the good.

However, Jezebel is leading the church into sin by integrating it with the world through pagan practices (verse 20).  A word about Jezebel as Christ uses the name here.  Matthew Henry wrote that it may have been several people, not necessarily one woman.  John MacArthur writes that Jezebel is one woman.  Whoever this person or persons are, they suggest to Christ the Jezebel of the Old Testament, who persuaded her husband Ahab and Israel to worship the god Baal (1 Kings 18).  Some in the church of Thyatira are now fornicating and engaging in idol worship whilst calling themselves Christians.  By doing so, they are profaning Christ and His Church.

Christ reminds the Christians of Thyatira that He has given them ample time to repent (verse 21).  He always gives us time to change our ways and obey Him.  However, if we refuse, we must accept His perfect judgment.  If Jezebel chooses to lie in sin (verse 22), Christ will ensure that she suffers for her disobedience.  Furthermore, all those who join with her on that ‘bed’ will also suffer more than they could ever imagine.  ‘You made your bed, now lie on it!’

But worse is yet to come for Jezebel’s children, whom Christ will strike dead (verse 23).  John MacArthur reads this literally, saying that their removal is necessary for the purity of the Church.  Matthew Henry interprets it as remaining alive on Earth but being condemned to Hell. God took the Jezebel of the Old Testament out of the equation;  He told Ahab that dogs would devour her (1 Kings 21:23).  Similarly, Christ will ensure that those who continue in serious sin will lose the promise of everlasting life.  If this seems harsh, remember that the church in Thyatira should have disciplined Jezebel for perverting the Gospel message and corrupting the church. (Perhaps they feared the guilds’ power.) St Paul lays this out clearly in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5. Henry also notes that this verse predicts the fall of Babylon.

Christ goes on to say in verse 23 that this judgment will be a very clear message not only to Thyatira but to the other churches that gross sin will not go unnoticed or unpunished.  Therefore, we must leave churches which have moved towards integration with growth methodology, political involvement or the social gospel.  And there are many churches today doing just that.  Think of Rick Warren, the USCCB and those working with politicians and community organisers with a secular agenda.  Also think of congregations whose priests and ministers turn a blind eye to or advocate sexual immorality and deviance.

In verses 24 and 25, He tells the faithful in Thyatira that He will ask nothing more of them but to remain true to Him until He comes again.  Christ tells the good Christians of Thyatira (verse 26) that those who overcome in faith and obedience will share with Him authority over all nations.  In verse 27, He cites Psalm 2:9 and His authority from God the Father.  This power may refer to the time of the Roman emperor Constantine or to the afterlife, when they will be co-judges of those who have sinned against Him and His church.

In verse 28, Christ promises Himself — ‘the morning star’ in all His grace, wisdom and glory — to the faithful.   He closes (verse 29) with an exhortation to the church in Thyatira to pay attention and repent.  Those who have not sinned are asked to stand firm and persevere in faith.  The judgment or reward is everlasting.

Because many of today’s Christians are unaware of the content of these letters to the churches, next Sunday’s instalment will look at the letters in Revelation 3, beginning with the church in Sardis.

For further reading:

Matthew Henry’s Commentary

‘The Disaster of the Church that Tolerates Sin’ — John MacArthur

‘Thyatira’ — Bible Encyclopedia

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Revd Rowan Williams, has threatened to ban Anglican provinces from attending wider ecumenical discussions and voting on doctrinal issues if they refuse to go along with the larger programme for the Anglican Communion.

The Telegraph reports:

His action, taken after years of patiently asking both conservatives and liberals to abide by agreed rules, will affect both sides in the dispute over whether the Bible permits openly homosexual clergy.

It has been triggered by the progressive Episcopal Church of the USA, which ordained its first lesbian bishop, the Rt Rev Mary Glasspool, earlier this month. The Episcopal Church also elected the first openly homosexual bishop in the Communion, the Rt Rev Gene Robinson, in 2003.

But the move will also hit orthodox provinces in the developing world – known as the Global South – that reacted to the liberal innovations in America and Canada by taking conservative American clergy and congregations out of their national churches and giving them roles in Africa and South America. This has triggered bitter legal battles over the fate of church buildings.

The Anglican provinces found to have broken the “moratoria” – on ordaining homosexual clergy; blessing same-sex unions in church; and making “cross-border interventions” – will soon be sent letters telling them about the proposed punishment for straying from the Communion’s agreed positions.

All will be made clear when Primates — the bishops heading the national churches — meet in July. Any disciplined clergy would be considered consultants rather than full members.  Is that the worst that could happen?  Would anyone rescind the Episcopal Church’s Mary Glasspool’s appointment to the bishopric in California? 

And — did the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori call the Archbishop’s bluff in her Pentecost Sunday letter, modeled closely on hisThe Living Church Foundation, along with many other Anglican sites, carried excerpts of the letter:

In a pastoral letter to the Episcopal Church, distributed on June 2, she wrote that efforts to “impose a singular understanding in such matters represent the same kind of cultural excesses practiced by many of our colonial forebears in their missionizing activity.”

“Native Americans were forced to abandon many of their cultural practices, even though they were fully congruent with orthodox Christianity, because the missionaries did not understand or consider those practices exemplary of the Spirit,” she added. “The uniformity imposed at the Synod of Whitby did similar violence to a developing, contextual Christianity in the British Isles. In their search for uniformity, our forebears in the faith have repeatedly done much spiritual violence in the name of Christianity.”

Mmm.  A bit of a stretch in both cases. I cannot speak to Native American cultural practices.  Could it be that missionaries viewed them as syncretic, so possibly heretical?  The Synod of Whitby was necessary as the early Church in the British Isles was tearing itself apart because of so many differences in belief and practice.  Thank goodness it happened. 

And, speaking of PB Schori, Church of England canon law forbade her from wearing her mitre on June 13, 2010, when presiding at a service of Holy Communion at London’s Southwark Cathedral.  This is because the C of E does not currently recognise women bishops.  However, what is unclear is to what extent Mary Glasspool’s appointment played in actually enforcing this rule.

It would be nice to think that the Archbishop and members of his hierarchy are taking action against the roguish elements of the Anglican Communion.  Perhaps it is a case of too little, too late.  I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

A Catholic friend of mine wrote to me a couple of weeks ago saying that she is worried about the state of the Church in light of the paedophile priest cases coming to light.  She cited stories from Newsweek as the source of her concerns.

To her and any other Catholic readers who are similarly troubled, please remember that the left-wing press covering this story, mainly Newsweek, the New York Times and the Times (London) adopt an anti-Catholic viewpoint.  Therefore, they already speak from a biased perspective.

Having said that, the problem lies within the Catholic Church’s leniency to discipline these priests immediately.  Beginning in the 1990s, they should have investigated these claims quickly and, in cases of proven abuse, made doubly sure that priests were disciplined by moving them to other posts out of the public eye or by defrocking them.

It seems as if only Protestant churches take church discipline seriously.  It’s there to keep the churches pure.  Yet, we see very little of this with our Catholic cousins.  The last real case I could think of involved laity: some Catholic priests refusing to give Sen. John Kerry Holy Communion during the Presidential contest in 2004 because of his laissez-faire stance on abortion.  Yes, the secular worldwide press fumed at that, but those few priests were doing the right thing. 

Similarly, the Vatican should not be leaving disciplinary decisions to local bishops, whether in the US or elsewhere.  Vatican II dramatically increased the autonomy of the bishops, and many in America took it seriously to the point where they run their dioceses as fiefdoms. 

As a result, many Catholics are disappointed in their leadership.  It does the traditional wing, however well-intentioned, no good in promoting Church teachings only to ignore these scandals and call for Christian unity under the Catholic banner. 

Whilst we do not need the sensationalism of the NYT, Newsweek and the Times, there is a need to approach this problem objectively and realise that had the Catholic hierarchy cared to apply disciplinary measures sooner, the Church would have had fewer scandals.

No one is saying that Protestant denominations are free of similar sins, but, by and large, they have a better system of internal checks and balances with higher expectations of clergy (and laity).  It’s called church discipline: Biblically mandated and there to be used.

When you read these Forbidden Bible Verses, you will understand why they are excluded from the Lectionary.  This letter from St Paul is a short but powerful one.

Today’s reading comes from the New International Version.

1 Corinthians 5:1-5

Expel the Immoral Brother!

1It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. 2And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? 3Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. 4When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature[a] may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord. 

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St Paul devotes the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians to mending divisions in their church.  In chapter 5, he tackles the immorality and indifference among church members. 

Were you startled to read the first verse discussing incest? (In the Bible this act would have been called incestuous whether the woman in question were his mother or his stepmother.)  If you were taken aback, it shows that, even in today’s world, sin still has shock value. We react to it atavistically, instinctively.  It wouldn’t be out of place on some of the lowbrow talk shows which many people watch precisely for that reason.

In some translations, the word ‘fornication’ appears instead of ‘immorality’. John MacArthur says that the Greeks would use the word porneia.  It was a catch-all word to describe:

… any kind of sexual involvement. The word adultery means sex outside of the marriage, a married person having sex outside his marriage. That’s the particular sin of adultery. Fornication is a general term that would include adultery, incest, lesbianism, homosexuality, any kind of perversion, beastiality, sexual relations with animals; anything would be included in the term porneia. Pornography is our word today. The root word, porne, means a harlot for hire. The masculine form, pornos, means a male prostitute. But it started out to mean that and the Greeks just filled it out so that it meant every vice and they were really big on them. In fact, in Corinth and Athens, you have the seat of most of the immorality. They, according to historians, were the two most immoral cities

Paul rebukes the church members in verse 2 not only for their nonchalance and indifference over the matter but because they glory in it! Matthew Henry says this is because the man was prominent in their eyes, through intellect, profession or social status. Yet, Paul says, ‘Even pagans won’t stoop that low.’ Yes, some did but, because of an innate sense of right and wrong, other pagans wasted no time in condemning them. But the Christians of Corinth did nothing and took pride in this sin. Paul asks how they could not have felt shame and distress, how they could not expel this man from their midst.  Apparently, this man’s sin is the talk of the city.  And he professes to being a Christian.  What does that say about the Church and its members in Corinth? 

Paul, on the other hand, says that even though he is far away, he has already passed judgment on this man (verse 3). He doesn’t need to be there in person to know the man has committed a serious sin.  Note that Paul says he is with the Corinthians ‘in spirit’ twice (verses 3 and 4).  Paul reminds the Corinthian Christians that when they are together, Christ is also present in spirit and authority (Matthew 18:20).   In verse 5, when Paul says to ‘hand this man over to Satan’, he means ‘excommunicate him as a church member’ — remove his body and his carnal urges from the assembly of Christians — so that when the man dies, his soul will be saved.  Matthew Henry says that Paul intends for the man to be handed over when the congregation has gathered together.  It must be a corporate act.   MacArthur says:

So you turn him over, his flesh will be destroyed by Satan, but his spirit will be delivered. Why? Because Satan can’t touch the inner man. That’s already redeemed forever. Right? And in the day of the Lord Jesus, when that day comes, that man will stand there with the redeemed, but he’ll pay a price in this life. And, of course, remember this. The idea of this discipline is not to just wipe the guy out, but to change him. Wouldn’t you agree? … You say, will he be in Heaven? Yes, he will, because Satan was given his flesh but not his…what?…not his spirit. That belongs to the Lord and in the day of the Lord Jesus, he will be there with the redeemed. But I like to think that he didn’t die in this destruction. I kind of like to think that he got straightened out. Wouldn’t you like to think that? That’s just a good guess. But in II Corinthians, chapter 2, verse 5, there is the story of a man that Paul told them to chastise. And the man repented. He was thrown out and the man repented and Paul says to them, now, you confirm your love and take him back. I like to think that the man of II Corinthians 2:5-11 is the man of I Corinthians 5 and that he got it together and got straightened out.  

This passage indicates the importance of church discipline.  Wrongdoing must be dealt with quickly, otherwise the rest of the congregation is affected, directly or indirectly.  Some denominations take church discipline more seriously than others.  What this passage intimates is that one sin leads to another.  Failure to condemn another member’s sin leaves the congregation vulnerable to more sins, of the same or other kinds. A church is duty-bound to pass judgment where serious sin is concerned. This is why, in some churches, someone guilty of a serious sin is decried before the entire congregation. In others, the pastor and elders will meet with the guilty party in private.  In the Catholic Church, the parish priest will make the judgement call, e.g. whether to give Communion to someone who publicly advocates abortion.  Onlookers may find these judgments harsh, yet Christ mandates them for the health of His bride, the Church.  He tells us to point out one another’s sins:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  — Matthew 18:15   

MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

I really think that when the church gets to the place where it doesn’t mourn over sin, it’s on the way out. You’re right on the edge of the disaster. When we cease to be shocked by sin, then we’ve really lost our defense. Then we just don’t care anymore. It was sin that killed Jesus. Did you know that? And you can’t take it lightly. The church cannot tolerate sin…any kind. We’re not just here to get up on Sunday morning and give sermonettes for Christianettes and little platitudes to make you feel better. This isn’t just a Sunday morning/Sunday night operation. We’re here to get involved in your lives, to make sure that the church is what God intended it to be and that involves purity. And if we find out about sexual immorality, we have in the past done something about it, we are in the present doing some things about some we know of, and we will continue to in the future because that’s what God has called us to do to keep His church pure. In fact, you know, wherever there is immorality in the church, there should be discipline. And that’s one good thing to do in the church because it tends to keep the tares out. You know, unbelievers don’t flock to a church where they discipline people. Like Ananias and Sapphira, they sinned and they dropped dead and the word went around town, don’t join that church, one false move and, whoo, it’s curtains, see (laughter). That’s one way to keep the church pure.

In Revelation, our Lord wrote the letters to the churches. And in Revelation 2:18 He wrote to the church of Thyatira. And He says, I know your works. You got a lot of things going. You got the big operation there, your love, your service, your faith, your patience, your works and the last are even better than the first … But I want to tell you; I have something against you. You allow that woman … she ‘calls herself a prophetess and she teaches and seduces servants to commit fornication and to eat things sacrificed to idols. I gave her space to repent of her fornication…she repented not…I will cast her into a bed and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation unless they repent … I will kill her children with death and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts and I’ll give unto every one of you according to your works.’

…  There is no place for the toleration of evil, immorality in the church. The church must be pure. And the job and the responsibility of the church is not just to go and attend and sit there and watch what happens, but to seek out the purity of the church. In Ephesians, chapter 5, it says you are to have ‘no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them’. That means correct them, rebuke them, speak against them. If you know somebody in immorality, it’s your responsibility as a Christian before God to go to that individual and if they don’t hear you, to take a witness, and if they don’t hear them, to bring it to the church leaders. That’s for the purity of the church. That responsibility belongs to you. You should mourn.           

John MacArthur and Matthew Henry have more.

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