This present generation abhors all confrontations and considers those who try to be true to Scripture as being “judgmental,” “unkind,” “pugnacious,” “unloving,”
A former friend of mine in Jacksonville, FL was arrested on multiple charges of child molestation. Rumors regarding this “celebrity” preacher have been circulating for many years. It’s been reported to me that several Baptist leaders took the position that the rumors were “all lies,” but how do they know “it was all lies”? Were they convinced of his innocence because of the admiration they had for him (that most all of us had), were they lied to, or was it the “good ole boys’ club” mentality that kept them from looking into the rumors? Whatever their motives, it was a massive failure on their part.
It is not disloyal to tell a friend what rumors are circulating and expect a reply. In fact, Christians are required to search out such things so we can make a decision about cooperation with him, the possibility of church discipline (within that person’s church), or to mark such people and avoid him if he refuses to confess and forsake the sin that has been exposed. Contrary to what mushy evangelicals, soft fundamentalists, and unbelievers in the pulpit tell us, we are definitely to make judgments and “prove all things.” While it is unpleasant, we must be confrontational when necessary. It goes without saying (and often without practice) that we must be loving and never self righteous as we try to follow the Bible.
In ancient Rome, one witness could charge a plebian (common citizen) of a crime; however, a member of the senate (a patrician) had to have two accusers. The thought was that those in places of great responsibility with authority were more vulnerable to false charges, hence requiring two accusers for the sake of justice. I think that is reasonable in the case of a pastor who is in the business of correcting others, because he would have more enemies who might resort to false accusations. That is why I Tim. 5:19 commands us: “Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.”
This present generation abhors all confrontations and considers those who try to be true to Scripture as being “judgmental,” “unkind,” “pugnacious,” “unloving,” “Fundamentalists” (gasp!), “unchristian,” “mean-spirited,” “uncompassionate,” “legalistic,” etc. We failed our children in permitting them to grow to adulthood so twisted. Paul commands: “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ.” So we are required to be informed and make sincere judgments.
James Henley Thornwell, a principled Presbyterian preacher who fought against the inroads of unbelief in Presbyterian circles in the 1800s, was also president of what is today the University of South Carolina; however, I’m convinced that most people at that university would run from this statement as if their hair were on fire! Things do change, don’t they!
Thornwell said: “To employ soft words and honeyed phrases in discussing questions of everlasting importance; to deal with errors that strike at the foundations of all human hope as if they were harmless and venial mistakes; to bless where God disapproves, and to make apologies where He calls us to stand up like men and assert, though it may be the aptest method of securing popular applause in a sophistical age, is cruelty to man and treachery to Heaven. Those who on such subjects attach more importance to the rules of courtesy than they do to the measures of truth do not defend the citadel, but betray it into the hands of its enemies. Love for Christ, and for the souls for whom He died, will be the exact measure of our zeal in exposing the dangers by which men’s souls are ensnared.” If Baptist pastors are unwilling to live by that statement, they should be selling cars for a living.
Paul commands in 1 Thess. 5:21 “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” Christians must “prove” all things. They must not defend evil whoever the perpetrator may be. Sin must be dealt with. The Seventh Century churches were very severe in their discipline. “Whosoever was 3 days together from church without urgent necessity was to be excommunicated.” All right, maybe that was a little extreme; but you can see how far our churches have fallen when most churches have people on the roll that are thieves, liars, tale bearers, adulterers, sodomites, gluttons, boozers, child molesters, as well as those who seldom attend church!
When church leaders perceive that a member is walking in an offensive way, Matthew 18:15-17 tells us to go to that person with the expectation of helping him repent and turn from his sin. If he repents then we have gained a brother. If he does not repent then the offended person or pastor is to take two or three others to seek repentance and reconciliation. If the offender continues to resist then verse 17 commands us to “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.”
The redeeming features of church discipline are that thousands of preachers and laymen will see that any of us are capable of horrific sins and a church’s responsibility is to follow the Bible in trying to set things right. Then, when proper church discipline is exercised, great fear will come upon the church. Younger people will think, “If I get into sin, I will be held accountable.” However, we are not holding many people accountable today, and we have convinced ourselves that our noble motives of “protecting the church,” or “the cause of Christ,” and “not embarrassing the friends and relatives of the offending person” are legitimate. They are not and informed preachers know they are not! It is past time for Baptist preachers to act like historic Baptists in the matter of church discipline.
Of course, there may be legal hurdles that church leaders may face whenever they discipline a member, but only unprincipled people will permit that to deter them when discipline is necessary. No court has jurisdiction in these matters, and judges must be told to “bug out” since they have no authority in such matters. If churches can no longer accept and exclude members using their own Bible-based criteria, then America is far down that slippery slope.