Sunday, November 1, 2009

Church Discipline: Excluding the Wanton Sinner (for a time)

“Hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the sinful nature so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”

–1 Corinthians 5:5 (TNIV).

This is acceptable and appropriate, that a person knowingly in grave sin should be excluded (given over to Satan) until he or she becomes repentant in keeping with the teachings of Christ. The unbelieving person will say, ‘There you go, those judging Christians again...’

Judgment is, however, necessary—the Christian faith is, after all, constructed fundamentally on the premise of our unconditional acceptance of God’s will and Word.

I know I have felt a particular way in the past about my corrosive thoughts regarding personal dissension in church relationships. It is as if Jesus himself, through the Holy Spirit, has judged me at the time and withdrawn my Spirit-filled peace, until I decided I’d had enough time siding with Satan… then repentance came; then victory—again my peace returned to me. In these ‘minor’[1] cases of sin, the church never truly knows, but Christ always does.

1 Corinthians 6:9 has an interesting word that is generalised as “homosexual” in the NIV. The Greek for Malakoi (plural) is “soft ones” meaning the effeminate (as the Authorised Version has it). It also means, in Paul’s context, an instrument of unnatural lust.[2] Those knowingly against the moral biblical code, via their self-disposed actions, voluntarily meet with and abide in Satan. And when they struggle we feel compassion for them, but we cannot do a thing for them.

Paul is saying that again, those who will not enter the kingdom are people who wantonly continue in their sin; the ones who are idolaters, the sexually immoral,

“nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

–1 Corinthians 6:9 (TNIV).

And this is a difficult Word for some of us—a harsh pill which when swallowed lodges itself sideways halfway down the throat, restricting our breathing and certainly our comfort.

But, still, it needs to be swallowed lest we choke. And, still, a great many get stifled like this, and continue the logical course to spiritual oblivion, hurtling there as if it were their plain unavoidable destiny.

Yet others who do turn or ‘re-turn’ to the Lord via their repentance are washed, sanctified (made clean), and justified. This is a continual process by which the Spirit slowly brings us into the light of his Presence and anointing.

When churches necessarily exclude the wanton sinner they do what is biblically necessary in order for the person in question to have the slightest chance of coming to a right understanding of God (and his will) in the context of their very own lives.

Call it ‘tough love’ if we will. Notwithstanding, it is love appropriate for the time.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

[1] Is any sin ever really ‘minor’?

[2] Wesley J. Perschbacher (Ed.), The New Analytical Greek Lexicon (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1990), p. 264.

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