Should People Ever Be Excommunicated From The Church? + Stay Away From Hebrew Caves! #poop #248
Hello friends, and happy Monday to you. Warning: I am about to engage in some sophomoric humor, thus upholding my theory that all men never fully leave fifth grade. The great thing about us going through 1st Samuel is that I don’t have to write many cold introductions to the show, I can just use something from 1st Samuel, because there’s always something interesting, or strange, or outrageous to talk about! Today is one of the best we’ve had to this point. When I say “King David” what do you picture? Maybe the killing of Goliath? Maybe sitting on his throne regally? Maybe observing Bathsheba and falling into sin? Maybe writing Psalms while attending to his father’s sheep? There are many acceptable answers, and let me give you another one: today when I am thinking about King David, I am thinking about a man in a cave sneaking up on another man who is in the act of, uhm, pooping. (I thought about using defecating here, but that word just sounds much worse to me!)
Now, before you tune out, let me say that I’m not being crazy here – this really happens in the Bible in our Samuel chapter today! King Saul is out leading his men in an attempt to kill David. David and his men are hiding in a cave. Saul happens upon the cave at a time when he needs to…cover his feet….and he goes into the cave. I should note here that ‘covering your feet’ is a euphemism for pooping. (Because that’s what your robe does when you do that act back in the day.) David’s men see what is happening, and whisper to him – this is your big chance! You can kill him…and David sneaks over and…well, you’ll have to wait until we read the passage to hear what happens. Our other passages for the day include: Psalms 39, Ezekiel 3, and 1 Corinthians 5. Our focus passage is dead-sober and serious, and this introduction has been all potty-humor all the time. The transition between the two is quite difficult for most normal adults, such as my mostly serious wife, but for fifth-graders trapped in an adult’s body, it is really quite easy.
Excommunication is a Catholic word that I intentionally chose for the title of this podcast because it is a very evocative word with lots of power. It’s not a biblical word, and not really a biblical concept, exactly, but it refers to a church disfellowshipping a person, or booting them from membership to be more crass. In the modern Catholic church, if one is excommunicated, they are still required to attend Mass, but there are certain activities (such as the Eucharist) that they cannot participate in, until the are De-excommunicated, which is not the official term, but I like it. When somebody in a Protestant church is removed from membership, in most cases it just means that the particular person just can’t go back to a particular church – they could always go to a different church, or different denomination. Surely kicking a person out of church isn’t a biblical activity, is it? That seems so harsh! Well, let’s read 1 Corinthians 5, our focus passage, and see.
Here’s the situation: a church member was sexually sinning by sleeping with his father’s wife (his step-mother) and the church was tolerating it. Paul says, “Shouldn’t you be filled with grief and remove from your congregation the one who did this?…5 hand that one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.” And by now, we should be saying, “wow!” That is pretty serious. This tells us that there are some sins that warrant removing people from membership in the church, but what is the point – to consign them to hell? To punish them and make them suffer? No!, says Paul, the point is redemptive, even in this most serious of disciplines, “Hand that one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” Some might object that this seems judgmental, but to this objection, Paul says that there is a time to judge those who are inside the church (and also says that there is NOT a time to judge those OUTSIDE the church!), “12 For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders? Don’t you judge those who are inside? 13 God judges outsiders. Remove the evil person from among you.”
So – is there ever a time to put people out of the church? Yes, there is, as harsh as that sounds, but again: the focus is on eternity – the focus is on salvation – the focus is on saving somebody who is in danger of death – sobering them up so that they would repent and turn to God.
Here’s Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones on church discipline and removing somebody from membership, which is more and more a neglected practice among churches – even more so now than 25 years ago when Dr. Jones wrote this:
When did you last hear any reference from a Christian pulpit to the subject of discipline? How often have you heard sermons or addresses on the subject? The word has almost gone right out of existence and what it stands for and represents has fallen into disuse. And unfortunately, not only is discipline neglected, but there are numbers of people who would even try to justify the neglect, and it is because of this that I want to go fairly fully into the subject.
Now it is on scriptural grounds that I suggest that discipline should be exercised. Take the passage in Matthew 18, beginning at verse 15: ‘Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican’ (vv. 15–17). Those are the words of our Lord Himself.
Then, again, in Romans 16:17 we read: ‘Mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.’ Discipline is the whole theme of 1 Corinthians 5, which ends with these words: ‘Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.’ Nothing could be more explicit than that. We have it again in 2 Corinthians 2, especially verses 5 to 10, where Paul talks about receiving back a man who had been disciplined; and, again, in 2 Thessalonians 3, where he gives instructions as to what should be done with members of the church who are living disorderly lives. Then in Titus 3:10 there is this explicit command: ‘A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject.’ This teaching is also to be found, as we saw in the last lecture, in 2 John 10. And, of course, in the various letters to the individual churches in the book of Revelation there are exhortations on the exercise of discipline.
But, in spite of that, there are those who often try to justify the absence or the lack of discipline in the local church and, strangely enough, there are many who do so in terms of the parable of the tares in Matthew 13. ‘You must not discipline Christians,’ they say. ‘If you try to exercise discipline and to put people out of the church, then you are contravening our Lord’s own instructions, for when the servants said, “Shall we pull up those tares and destroy them?” the master said, “No, lest you uproot the wheat at the same time. Let them grow together until the harvest.” ’ Furthermore, for exactly the same reasons, some people object to any separation of Christian people from what may be regarded as an apostate Church.
But this is a grievous misinterpretation of Scripture because the parable of the tares obviously does not refer to the Church but to the kingdom. All the parables in Matthew 13 are parables of the kingdom, and you may remember that in the last lecture I pointed out that the Church and the kingdom are not identical. The Church is one expression of the kingdom, but the kingdom is bigger than the Church. And, of course, our Lord Himself explicitly says, in His own interpretation of this parable, that the field in which the wheat and the tares are sown is not the Church but the world (Matt. 13:38). The good seed are the children of the kingdom, but the tares are the children of the wicked one. So the parable of the tares has no bearing upon the question of discipline within the local church. It is a picture of the whole world which, since it belongs to God, can in that general sense be regarded as His kingdom. But within the world there are the two groups—those who are Christians, who belong to the eternal kingdom, and those who belong to the devil.
David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Church and the Last Things (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998), 14–16.