Church Discipline?

Enjoying Kim Riddlebarger’s commentary on First Corinthians from The Lectio Continua Expository Commentary on the New Testament.

Kim RiddlebargerObviously, one of the reasons why Paul is so direct in this letter is because he has already told the congregation that its members should not be made up of people who still live and think like unbelievers. (pg. 130)

Indeed, as Paul goes on to say in verses 12-13, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.'” It is not Paul’s place, nor ours, to judge those outside the church. God will take care of non-Christians. But the Corinthians (and we) are commanded to judge those within the church according to their life and doctrine, yet not in a self-righteous, “holier-than-thou” attitude. The bruised reed and smoldering wick – those who are weak in the faith and who struggle with their sins – must be nurtured and comforted with the promises of the gospel. But those who claim to be Christians, yet who live like pagans in complete indifference to God’s word, are to be expelled from the church unless they repent. Paul’s words are not directed to struggling sinners, but to those who profess faith in Christ but then live as they please. The church cannot tolerate this kind of evil in its midst because it undermines the proclamation of the gospel. Christ died to save us from both the guilt of sin and its power.

There are two important points to be made. First, Paul’s point bears repeating – the apostle tells us not to judge those outside the church. God judges those outside the covenant community. Since we are sinners who are saved by grace, and since all that we have is a gift from a gracious God, who are we to judge those who are not Christians? That said, it is our duty to continually confront non-Christians with the claims of Christ and of the gospel. While we are not to judge them, we are commanded to share the good news with them.

Second, Christ’s church must be a disciplined church. If the truth were told, church discipline is that one area of church life which keeps ministers and elders up at night. Despite the difficulties associated with it, Christ commands it of us. An undisciplined church is not a healthy church. A church which practices discipline with a stern self-righteousness is not a hospital for sinners. Again, the issue is not that there are sinners in the church. Sinners belong in church. The wonderful news in all of this is that Jesus Christ’s death avails for sinners, turning aside God’s wrath from them so that those who repent and believe need never fear God’s judgment. Since the cross is the revelation of the wisdom and power of God, we undermine the credibility of that gospel we claim to love so much when we overlook those things which bring scandal to Christ’s church, and when we fail to discipline those who claim to trust Christ, but act like the cross has no power whatsoever to break sin’s hold upon us.

Leave those outside the church to God – he judges those outside. But let us strive to build churches which are a haven for sinners, yet which, at the same time, refuses to allow anything to bring shame to the cause of Christ, his church, and his gospel. (pg. 132-133)