Posts Tagged With: Matthew 18

Demystifying Church Discipline

The Lost Sheep A U SoordI was away this week, sharing a precious memorial service for my dearly beloved mom with my family. Consequently, I have selected one of the MOST IMPORTANT podcasts that we have recorded in our Jesus in HD series.

In this Encore PODCAST, as we continue in our chronological study of the life and ministry of Jesus, we come to Matthew 18:15-17 — one of the most seriously significant passages in all of the New Testament, the so-called “Church Discipline” passage.

Church Discipline, a teaching in many local churches that really rose into prominence in the late 1970’s and became quite the trend.

I can remember attending church leadership conferences back then and hearing pastors — I’ll use word “boast.” — of the fact that they recently removed individuals from their congregations, thereby “preserving the purity of their churches.” Others would then oooh and ahhh at the boldness of these pastors in confronting the sin in his church and taking decisive action in order to preserve the purity of his church by the process of Church Discipline as outline by Jesus here in Matthew 18.

Today, one of this nation’s leading Church Discipline proponents insists that church discipline, as outlined in Matthew 18, is one of the marks of a healthy church. He writes this on his website, clearly articulating the prevailing view of Church Discipline, and indeed includes this as one of his main talking points as he addresses pastors’ conferences throughout the country, encouraging them to do the same:

“Church discipline is the act of correcting sin in the life of the body, including the possible final step of excluding a professing Christian from membership in the church and participation in the Lord’s Supper because of serious unrepentant sin.”

Consequently, it has become standard practice to “exclude” or remove or excommunicate (you choose the term) unrepentant sinners from their local churches. This notion of Church Discipline is certainly included in many if not most of our evangelical churches’ bylaws.

Well, in light of the above definition — More importantly, in light of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18 — I must ask, Is that really what Jesus taught to His disciples and to us?

Let’s discover the answer together.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you as you listen.

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Demystifying Church Discipline

images2In this week’s PODCAST, as we continue in our chronological study of the life and ministry of Jesus, we come to Matthew 18:15-17 — one of the most important passages in all of the New Testament, the so-called “Church Discipline” passage.

Church Discipline, a teaching in many local churches that really rose into prominence in the late 1970’s and became quite the trend. I can remember attending church leadership conferences back then and hearing pastors — I’ll use word “boast” — of the fact that they recently removed an individual or individuals from their churches, thereby “preserving the purity of their churches.” Others would then oooh and ahhh at the boldness of the pastor in confronting the sin in his church and taking decisive action in order to preserve the purity of his church by the process of Church Discipline as outline by Jesus here in Matthew 18.

Today, one of this nation’s leading Church Discipline proponents insists that church discipline, as outlined in Matthew 18, is one of the marks of a healthy church. He writes this on his website, clearly articulating the prevailing view of Church Discipline, and indeed includes this as one of his main talking points as he addresses pastors’ conferences throughout the country, encouraging them to do the same:

Church discipline is the act of correcting sin in the life of the body, including the possible final step of excluding a professing Christian from membership in the church and participation in the Lord’s Supper because of serious unrepentant sin.

Consequently, it has become (and in many places still is) standard practice to remove or “exclude” or excommunicate (you choose the term) unrepentant sinners from their local churches. Or if not standard practice, this notion of Church Discipline is certainly included in most of our church bylaws.

Well, in light of the above definition — More importantly, in light of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18 — is that really what Jesus taught to His disciples and to us?

Let’s find out together.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you as you listen.

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Amazing Love, How Can It Be?

jesus_heals_blind_man2Well, I’ve got good news for you. Great news, at least as far as Jesus and His disciples were concerned. Just in case you were worried about this.

As you will hear in this PODCAST, Jesus finally got a break in the action.

Finally, mercifully, after His enormously long and draining and tiring day — in which He taught a series of seven parables, sailed to the other side of the sea, stilled a raging storm, sent two thousand or more demons to flight, healed a bleeding woman, raised a dead girl, all of which we have discussed in minute detail over the past (if you can believe it) 4 months — this one singularly momentous day has now finally come to an end.

Then, after an indefinite period of time, Jesus and His disciples once again took to the road.

No sooner did Jesus get out the door, He was met by two blind men, begging Him to heal them.

It is most intriguing to me that of the three Gospel-writers — Matthew, Mark, and Luke — who gave us the record of Jesus’ so-called longest day, it is only Matthew who recorded this encounter with the two blind men.

I have got to ask the reason why. Why did Matthew, and only Matthew include this story? Especially given the fact that we have seen Jesus heal the blind before. This was old news.

Or was it?

Trust me when I suggest that after hearing about this singularly significant story, you may never view God’s love for you the same way again.

Yes, THIS story is THAT significant.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

HAPPY LISTENING, and God bless you as you listen.

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Church Discipline: “Protecting the Purity of the Church” — Oh, Really? (Spiritual Abuse, Part 3)

How did we get it so wrong?

And what has the church, and so many of the “Christians” who attend them, become in the process?

stern-churchWe ended our discussion in the previous blog post by making the observation that Matthew 18 is the “go-to” passage when it comes to judging others “holding others accountable.” It has become fashionable today in our evangelical church to suggest that it is a noble thing to hold others accountable, even to the point of remove sinning members from their local churches, all based on Matthew 18.

A noble thing because every time leaders begin the “process of Matthew 18” on a “sinning” church member, they can then make the bold (and sometimes boastful) claim that they are “protecting the purity of the body,” especially when they kick the sinners out.

Doesn’t that sound noble? “Protecting the purity of the body.” Would someone please tell me what that means? I mean, that’s like doctors protecting the health of a hospital by kicking the sick people out. And BTW how’s that for leaders “lording it over” the people? Deciding who’s in and who’s out?

What in God’s name have we become?

Would someone tell me please what local church is in fact pure? It’s the old story. If you find a local church that is indeed pure, please don’t join it. If you do, there goes its purity. “There’s sin in the church,” someone will cry. Yes! You bet there is sin in the church. There was sin in every church that I have ever attended. Know why? Precisely because I was attending it, not to mention everyone else who attended it! Who do we think we are? Paragons of virtue? Pictures of purity?

If Matthew 18 was meant by Jesus to be the process of confronting sinners about their sins, perhaps even to the point of kicking some sinners out of church, where do we start?

May I humbly suggest that this is a common misinterpretation and gross misapplication of Matthew 18 that completely ignores the fact that — Are you ready? — when Jesus spoke the words of Matthew 18, the church wasn’t even in existence yet. Oops.

Ekklesia, translated “church” in Matthew 18, is a general term that means “community.” In our context, for want of a better word, in a “religious” context, an ekklesia refers to a person’s family of faith. A loving redemptive family of faith that gathers together to worship God.

It might just interest you to note that in the LXX, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the word that Jesus used in Matthew 18, ekklesia, occurs 80 times. Jesus’ use of that word was anything but new, novel, or unique.

Ironically, ekklesia does not biblically refer to nonprofit corporations with by-laws, budgets, buildings, business meetings; personnel, payrolls, politics, power-plays, and all of the resultant problems there-to. Ekklesias, as Jesus invoked the term, were never meant to be run like clubs with crosses on them.

Trust me. Neither Jesus nor His disciples were thinking about tax-exempt religious institutions where a person’s membership can, and sometimes should, be revoked. SMH <sigh>

The 3 interpretive keys that unlock this Matthew 18 passage are its context, the word “sins,” and Jesus quoting of Deuteronomy 19:16.

Listen to what Matthew 18 actually says (not what we have been taught is says, not what we want it to say) in its context, sandwiched as it is in between Jesus saying this:

If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? Matthew 18:12

This clearly refers to someone who is tragically teetering on the precipice of losing his or her faith. How do I know that? Because right before that, Jesus warns “anyone (who) causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble…”

We’re talking here about someone whose faith is faltering. Do you really think that Jesus was instructing leaders of churches that at the time did not exist to identify those whose faith is faltering, start a process of Matthew 18 on them, and if need be, kick them out of church? I could cry!

And then this (the other half of the sandwich) immediately following the “Church (that doesn’t even exist) Discipline” part of Matthew 18:

Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven! (Matthew 18:21-22)

Now watch! Matthew 18 is NOT a “Church Discipline” passage. Nor is it a let’s-hold-sinners accountable passage. Matthew 18 is a redemption passage, a restoration passage. An all-about-leaving-the ninety-nine-sheep-and-going-after-the-one-whose-faith-is-faltering passage. Not to kick that sinning brother or sister out of their family of faith, their ekklesia. They have already left it.

Matthew 18 is all about bringing that precious little lamb back into the fold.

Don’t believe me? Then read it, IN CONTEXT, Matthew18:15-17:

Moreover if your brother sins against you…

Sins: a clear violation of a biblical absolute. In this context, a clear violation of Torah Law. We are not talking here about a violation of someone else’s personal preferences. This has NOTHING to do with someone not approving of someone else’s music preferences, body art, piercings, or any other of the myriad of things for which people get judged nowadays.

Now watch! If the context of this passage, and the character of Jesus means anything, this is clearly, to use Jesus’ own words, a sheep that wanders away from their faith situation, where a beloved member of a faith family wanders away from their faith-family and is in danger of losing his or her faith.

Go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.

No gossip here, which is indeed a sin, one of the worst in fact, one that causes division to the unity of any church and untold damage to the subject of the gossip, but one for which anyone is rarely kicked out of church. Hmmm…

LOOK, Matthew 18 is clearly a Galatians 6 situation:

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens.

No judging here; no “lording it over” here, no (remember the word from our previous blog post?) krino here!

This is clearly a James 5:19 situation:

My friends, if any followers have wandered away from the truth, you should try to (What? Confront them, and if need be, kick them out of their faith family?) lead them back.

Similarly, Matthew18:15,

If that person listens, you have won back a follower.

Do you see it? This is clearly referring to a wanderer who returns home to his or her ekklesia, their loving, redeeming, forgiving faith-family.

But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’

Here Jesus quoted the Torah, Deuteronomy 19:15. Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, was teaching Jews about what to do when someone in their faith-family wanders away from the teachings of the Torah.

Matthew 18 has nothing to do with Christian Church Discipline, specifically when and how to start process to kick someone out of the institution that we have come to call a church. Again I will respectfully remind you that at time Jesus said this, there were no churches.

Jesus took what was already the practice, established at the very beginnings of the history of Israel, quoted from Deuteronomy, the Torah, that dealt with those who wandered away from Torah teaching. And Jesus carefully/purposefully/mercifully inserted it between two passages about restoration, redemption, and forgiveness.

And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the Ekklesia.

IOW, to again invoke Jesus’ words, his or her family of faith who will then go looking for their wandering little lamb.

Now here’s the kick-them-out-of-the-church part:

But if he refuses even to hear the church (Ekklesia), let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.

Striking, isn’t it, that Jesus did NOT say to kick him out of the church! The clear implication, as determined by the context of the passage, is that this wondering little lamb has already left it!

What does this mean, Matthew 18:17 (CEV)?

Anyone who refuses to listen to the church must be treated like an unbeliever or a tax collector.

QUESTION: How did Jesus treat unbelievers and tax collectors? Are you ready for an “Ah-ha” moment of monumental significance? Jesus ATE with them. Jesus loved them. Jesus pursued them. Jesus sought to lovingly return them to fold.

For crying out loud, Matthew who wrote Matthew 18 was a tax collector! What if Jesus had kicked Matthew out of his ekklesia? No! Jesus pursued him! Jesus left the 99 sheep and went after the one who wandered away.

And Jesus told us do same!

How did Jesus treat a member of a family of faith who wandered away? Judge him? Kick him out of family? Hear Jesus’ own answer, Jesus’ own selfie of what this looks like: An all-to-familiar story, the story of the so-called Prodigal Son, someone who did indeed lose his faith and left his family:

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him (looking, praying, hoping, expecting his return!), was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Umm, excuse me. But that doesn’t sound like judging, krinoing, kicking him out of the family to me. This son had already left the family!!! That’s the point! It’s all about coming home!

The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned (same word as Matthew 18) against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.

I am no longer worthy to be in your family. How should an ekklesia act toward its wandering family members who abandon their faith to choose a lifestyle of sin? Krino them? Kick them out of the church? Shun them?

But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

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Now, I need to ask, Is there ever a time to remove someone from a family of faith? Yes. Paul did. Once. Coincidentally, in my 40 years of ministry, I have been involved in what was clearly a remove someone from the church process only once. (And BTW, the church blinked, didn’t remove him, subsequently split, and is today a dying ministry, a church whose lampstand God has extinguished. But I digress…)

Again, this only happened in my 40 years of ministry once!

In all of his 13 letters, Paul called for what we typically call “Church Discipline” only once.

Remember the story? 1 Corinthians 5? A guy involved in ongoing, public, present-tense sins so extreme that Paul described them as something that even pagans don’t do. Yet, the church ethos was such that this scandalous individual felt comfortable in his scandalous behavior, even to the point where the church bragged about how progressive they had become!

Corinth as a faith-community had become an uber-sinful ekklesia. And isn’t it fascinating that Paul rebuked the church, not the individual. Once in 13 letters did Paul call for the removal of a sinning member. And even then Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians for the church to restore this repentant sinner to his ekklesia.

Back to the rule, not the exception to the rule. What we have come to call “Church Discipline” I would prefer to call an Ekklesian Celebration of Restoration.

Yes, indeed! Matthew 18 is in every sense of the words a Celebration of Restoration.

So how did we get to this place of judging others? “Holding others accountable”? Even to the point of considering it a noble practice to kick others out of their churches? Why has it become fashionable to krino others to their everlasting hurt and destruction? You’ll discover the answer in tomorrow’s post. And the answer will amaze you.

But in case you can’t wait, you can hear it all explained by clicking on this podcast player:

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I’m Not Judging You; I’m “Holding You Accountable,” Just Like the Good Book Says (Or Does It? Spiritual Abuse, Part 2)

OK, where was I? Ah, yes.

I ended yesterday’s blog post by making this rather novel assertion:

This whole, entire “judging” thing finds its justification in one insidious, all-too-common, non-biblical phrase: “holding others accountable.”

Ouch! OK, so what gives here?

Well, let me first make one thing crystal clear. We are not talking here about you or me going to a trusted friend or loved one — someone we respect, someone who has earned the privilege, someone we are absolutely certain loves and cares deeply about us — and asking him or her to hold us accountable. THAT is, of course, perfectly appropriate. Someone who holds us accountable by our invitation.

The focus of this blog post are those who appoint themselves as those who hold us accountable, not by our invitation, but by their instigation. People who believe that it is their God-given, biblical mandate to scrutinize our lives, put us under their magnifying glasses, and call us to account whenever they see something that doesn’t look quite kosher to them. Oi Vey!!!

Accountability-photo4Did you know that the word “accountable” appears a grand total of (Are you ready?) three times in the New Testament. Only three times.

I will now share with you each of these three occurrences. As I do, you tell me if you can get from any of this trio of occurrences the faulty, deadly, prideful notion that we have biblical mandate to hold anyone accountable.

Romans 3:19 (NIV), Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.

Who holds people accountable? Say it with me: God!

Hebrews 4:13(NLT), Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked&exposed before His eyes, and He is the one to whom we are accountable.

Who is the one to whom we are accountable? Say it with me: God!

Hebrews 13:17 (NLT), Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow.

Leaders, watch over the people. Is that not a clear mandate for pastors to hold their people accountable? Hang on to that thought. But first, according to Hebrews 13:17, to whom are your spiritual leaders (AKA pastors) accountable? Say it with me: God!

And yet, how ironic that the writer specifically tells the people to let their pastors do their work with joy and not sorrow. Sorrow caused by whom? I hear it from pastors every single week. Sorrow caused by church members who set themselves up as self-appointed judges, krinos, to hold their leaders accountable, making their ministries a living Hell in the process.

For sake of pastors everywhere, of whom 1700/month left the ministry last year (Note I said not “their ministries,” as if they went from one to another; they left “the ministry!”), #This.Has.Got.To.Stop!

God holds pastors accountable, not church members. If someone reading this blog post cannot abide by their pastor, QUIETLY leave the church. Do NOT take anyone with you. And for crying out loud, when you leave the church (Notice I said “the” church, not “your” church. It’s NOT your church; it’s Christ’s church), when you leave the church, leave your pastor alone. IOW, quit criticizing him, either to his face or to someone else’s face.

On the other hand, pastors, who holds church members accountable? Say it withe me: God! God does! Not us.

As pastors, we dare not abuse our spiritual calling by abusing the people we are called upon to serve, excusing the abusing as “holding them accountable.”

Don’t take my word for it; take Pastor Peter’s word for it:

1 Peter 5, As a fellow elder, I appeal to you to care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it…

(Ah Ha! some pastors will gleefully read. Watching over the flock. There it is. “Holding them accountable!” Really? Really?

Question, Reverend Petros. How does a pastor watch over the flock? Verse 3: 

Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.

BTW, Who does the assigning? God does. They are not your people! They are God’s people. Paid for not by your shed blood, but paid for by the shed blood of His Son!

What does a faithful pastor do? Every week we show up to teach the next passage, and allow the clear teaching of God’s Word to do what 2 Timothy 3:16 says it will do:

All of Scripture useful for teaching and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live.

Then add to that, we lead these precious people by example, not by “lording it over” anyone. Which means what, exactly? Great question.

“Lording it over” someone means exactly what it sounds like it means: We are not their lords. We are not God sitting in judgment over them.

Pastors feed the flock and lead by example. Pastors do not lead as self-appointed lords over the people. Pastors are not krinos; we are not the peoples’ judges. I mean, you want to talk about spiritual pride? Who do we think we are?

As a practical matter, you tell me what’s more effective? For someone to be held accountable by a self-appointed krino named Pastor Dewey? (Though I do prefer Bishop. Don’t judge me. That was a joke!) Or for someone to be held accountable by an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful God?

What in name of Christ have we done to His people?

OK! Look! I know, I know. Somebody reading this post will now commence to shouting, “But what about Matthew 18? What about Matthew 18?” You know Matthew 18, the go-to passage to justify our judging each other within the cozy confines of the church? Well, I’ll address that subject in this blog post tomorrow.

But just in case you can’t wait until tomorrow, you can hear the entire discussion by clicking on this nifty little podcast player.

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Straight Talk About Spiritual Abuse — What it is, Why it happens, and What we can do to guard ourselves and our loved ones from it

Stop-spiritual-abuseSpiritual Abuse is a much-neglected, but all-too-common condition in our Christian circles. So let the conversation begin!

What Spiritual Abuse is, why it happens, and how we can guard ourselves and our friends from its devastation. I don’t often beg. But I am begging you now: PLEASE Listen, and then PLEASE “Share” this message with your friends.

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