Your word is a lamp to my feet
Volume 02, Number
In this issue:
"Why, I never heard of the church withdrawing from anybody," is a statement recently heard from two members of the church in widely separated areas. Neither of these members are young in years. Both are probably in their late sixties. This points up a fault that has existed among churches of Christ for many years, and still does in many areas today. I speak of disciplinary action toward members of the church who fail to live as God directs Christians, His children. There are many members of the church who have been members for 40, 50, or maybe 60 years, who have never seen the church take disciplinary action against any member. It is not that they have never seen members who "walked disorderly," or who have flagrantly violated God's law, but because the church has failed to take the action that it should.
To "withdraw" ourselves from brethren who refuse to live as God commands them, is a command of God just as much as to sing, pray, teach, eat the Lord's Supper, or any other that he has given to the Christian. Listen: "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus .... But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat" (1 Cor. 5:4-5,11). "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us" (2 Thess. 3:6). Thus it is clearly stated that this action is a command of God.I am convinced that this command has not been carried out in many instances, because of the unpleasantness connected with it. In many cases the offender has been associated with the brethren in the congregation where he is a member, friendships and ties have been formed that are of long standing; and, in some cases, the erring brother has relatives whom the brethren think might be offended if disciplinary action is taken.
But this is no excuse for failing to carry out God's command. They regard and esteem fleshly ties greater than that of spiritual. Consequently, the ultimate disciplinary action is never taken.
Withdrawing fellowship from a member of the church is to be used as a last resort, when all other efforts to restore them have failed. We should do all we can to convert him "from the error of his way" (James 5:19-20). We should "warn them that are unruly" (1 Thess. 5:14). We should do all we can to "restore such an one" (Gal. 6:1). If these efforts fail, then we must "withdraw" ourselves from him.
Sometimes, when this final step is taken by the church, those members who are close friends, or relatives of the one withdrawn from, become offended and will stop attending the services of the church or go elsewhere to services. Such action on their part shows that they do not know the purpose of discipline, or they are esteeming the fleshly ties greater than the spiritual salvation of a soul.
What then, is the purpose of church discipline? It is not taken to get at someone. It is not taken for revenge on the offender. But the God-given purpose of withdrawing from a brother is two fold: (1) To save the guilty party from eternal destruction, "that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor. 5:5). (2) To save the church from pollution, "Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?" (1 Cor. 5:6) The Lord wants the church to be pure (Eph. 5:25-27; 2 Cor. 11:1-2; Col. 1:22), but if we harbor sin and rebellion in the church, even in one member, others will be inclined to follow the example of the sinful one. If we fail to carry out disciplinary measures against the unruly member and permit sin to be engaged in by the members, then the church will have lost it distinctiveness and its influence for good; and it will become a hiss and a byword in the world.
After we have withdrawn from a member, we must not completely stop all efforts to save him. We are to "count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (2 Thess. 3:15). May the Lord ever give us the faith, the courage, and the wisdom to carry out His divine will in all things.
God is not an experimenter, trying first one thing then another, and then making such changes as trial and error demand. His purposes are eternal and his methods of accomplishment sure. In Ephesians 3: 9-11, we read: "To make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery which for ages hath been hid in God who created all things; to the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord."
The Divine scheme of redemption for lost humanity was conceived and hidden in the mind of God before time began, but has now been made known through the gospel. This plan of saving sinful man involved the church of the Lord Jesus Christ revealed to us in the New Testament. This church with its simplicity in organization, doctrine, work, and worship stands as a manifestation of the "manifold wisdom of God according to his eternal purpose."
Ephesians 1:4 adds this bit of testimony: "Even as he (God) chose us in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should he holy and without blemish before him in love." The phrase, "before the foundation of the world" is from the Greek "pro kataboles kosmou." "pro" means "before"; "kata" is a Greek preposition denoting direction from higher to lower, therefore "down"; "boles" is to "throw", and "kosmou" is translated "world." Hence, "pro kataboles kosmou" is literally "before the throwing down of the world." Before God stretched forth his hand and said, "Let the world exist" and before he threw it down as the "footstool of his feet" (Matthew 5:35), he had formed purposes and made plans for the saving of man--even before man existed. This but evidences the concern which God has for our salvation. Can we afford then to treat it lightly?
According to his eternal purpose "when the fullness of time came, God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the law that he might redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of Sons" (Galatians 4:4,5). The old prophets who prophesied of this salvation "sought and searched diligently concerning what time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow them. To whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto you, did they minister these things, which now have been announced unto you through them that preached the gospel unto you by the Holy Spirit set forth from heaven; which things angels desire to look into" (1 Peter 1:10-12).
The old prophets knew they were foretelling glorious events and wanted to know more about it, but God would only reveal to them that it was not for them but for those to come after them. We are today among those for whom the prophets ministered these things, which have been announced by the preaching of the apostles as they were guided by the Holy Spirit, and which have been recorded in this book we call "The New Testament." We are living in a highly favored age to have access to these things and the freedom to obey them to the saving of our souls. MacKnight judiciously puts it this way: "If our salvation and the means by which it is accomplished, are of such importance as to merit the attention of angels, how much more do they merit our attention, who are so much interested in them?"
Created by Chuck Sibbing, last updated. 01/29/2023
The Mount Baker Beacon is a
weekly publication of the Mt. Baker church of Christ, Bellingham, WA.