Discipline: Those no longer penitent

by Jay Guin

We generally cannot distinguish someone who is struggling with his penitence from someone who has abandoned Jesus altogether. In such cases, I think we have to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume we’re dealing with a Christian but a Christian who is struggling with sin and needs to be confronted and perhaps even to be disfellowshipped.

However, where it’s clear this person has so left Jesus that he has become an enemy of the Kingdom, our response is dictated by several passages –

(2 Tim. 3:2-5) People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.

Does this passage, fairly read, describe those who –

  • Use the instrument in worship (or don’t)?
  • Accept the “Pauline exception” to the prohibition against divorce (or don’t)?
  • Refuse to build a fellowship hall with church money (or do so)?
  • Allow couples who divorced and remarried before baptism to join the church without first divorcing (or don’t)?

Obviously, not. You can disagree on any of these issues and not be described in this passage! These sinners Paul is discussing are plainly enemies of the faith — they even deny the power of God!

(Matt. 10:16) “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

We are instructed not to be stupid – or naive. When evil is present in the church, we must rid the church of the evil.

But sin by a penitent believer, who is trying to obey God but who fails, is not this kind of evil. If there’s any doubt, we treat the sinner as a brother in need of correction, not an enemy to be ejected.

(Matt. 7:15-17) “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”

I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve seen Matt. 7:15-17 wrongly used of godly brothers and sisters in Christ. If someone argues for the use of instrumental music, he is characterized as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Not so!

A sheep is not a wolf. You cannot be among the saved and be a wolf. If your error is covered by grace, you are still in error and need to be corrected, but you are nonetheless a brother in Christ who must be treated as a brother.

If you and I disagree on one of the countless questions that divide the Churches of Christ, I must consider you wrong (and you must consider me wrong), but if we are both believers (have faith in Jesus) and penitent (yield to Jesus as Lord), then we’re still brothers (as annoying as that may be!). And neither is a wolf. Both of us are sheep.

Many people disagree with me about lots of different things. Disagreeing does not a wolf make. Disagreeing does not make one “ferocious.”  You are not ferocious unless you intend to do harm – that is, what you know to be harm.

I know men and women who’ve joined a church to seduce women or to receive undeserved charity or to steal. Any church of any size has had this experience. These are wolves.

I know men and women who’ve joined a church in hopes of drawing away a portion of the flock to create a preaching job for a man looking for a post. Again, this is evil and must be recognized as such — because such a man joins a church intending not to submit to its leadership. He’s a liar and a rebel.

Now, it may be that those who do such things are sincerely deluded and can be taught better and brought to repentance. But if this fails, or if the church must immediately expel the evil-doer to protect its members, expulsion is the solution. You don’t let a thief or sexual predator hang around while you pray with and console him and he continues to steal or take advantage of your members! In such a case, expel first – and keep counseling, if possible.

In such a case, the expulsion isn’t foremost to drive the person to penitence, although this is always a desired outcome. Rather, the primary goal is the protection of the flock.

It’s hard to state absolutely rock-solid, black-letter rules for how to make the necessary distinction. It starts with a proper foundation in grace – but not going so far that you put your church or its members at unnecessary risk.

Love. Be gentle. Don’t be stupid.

Advertisements
Explore posts in the same categories: Apostasy

13 Comments on “Discipline: Those no longer penitent”

  1. Royce Says:

    I’m wondering why you would consider people who do the things you mention Christians? On what basis, church membership, baptism?

    Royce

  2. laymond Says:

    Royce, Why do you feel compelled to go into the world and preach the gospel, and teach your theology/doctrine
    , is it because you are an indwelled/saved Christian, or because Jesus asked you to? There is a difference, one is the spirit working through you involuntarily on your part , the other is you working for Christ, voluntarily. How did this work with Paul.? I was just wondering who it is being judgmental, in your comment.

  3. Royce Says:

    My point is this Laymond. The only way I can hope to know who is and who is not a Christian is by how they live. I can’t “see faith” as Jesus could, I don’t know the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

    1st John provides a grid against which I can measure my own life and others. Loving the brothers, receiving the apostolic teaching, agreeing with God about my sin, and walking in the light the best I can are marks of a true disciple. Those who practice sinning, deny that Jesus was the anointed one, hate their brothers, and reject the truth about Jesus as taught by John and the other apostles is not a Christian.

    However, the doing or not doing is not the determining factor. Having Christ or not having Christ is the deciding factor.

    Royce

  4. Jay Guin Says:

    Royce,

    I’ve been saying for months now that those no longer penitent are lost, per Heb 10:26 ff. I believe God is quite generous and patient in judging whether we are penitent, but once someone refuses to submit to Jesus as Lord, he’s lost.

  5. Ed Boggess Says:

    Greetings Jay,
    You ask if 2 Tim 3:2-5 describes brethren who . . . (fill in the blank) and obviously it doesn’t. But the same could be said of Simon the Sorcerer (Ac 8:22f), the Corinthians who were at risk of being condemned with the world because of improper LS observance (1 Cor 11:29, 31, 32), Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Tim 2:17, 18). Using the last of the three, H & P appear to have simply believed false doctrine and spread it – “the resurrection is already past”. From v 19 H & P appear to not be among “those who are His” and a part of the “iniquity” to be avoided. In verses 20, 21 H & P are identified as dishonorable vessels that need cleansing in order to be “sanctified”. In v 22 they are grouped (“also) with others who encourage “youthful lusts”. Previously, Paul warned Timothy that he should remind his hearers of profitless words that could be “the ruin of the hearers” (v 14). If one through unintentional profitless words (teaching or preaching) ruins hearers with a message that spreads like cancer and overthrows the faith of some, can he himself be saved all the while robbing others of their salvation? Where does this fit in your system? H & P “strayed from the truth” instead of “handling aright the word of truth”. Paul ordered Timothy to “shun” (v 16)such departures from the truth. If one believes using money from the church to build a fellowship hall is a departure from the truth, how can he do otherwise than to shun?

  6. Jay Guin Says:

    Ed asked,

    H & P “strayed from the truth” instead of “handling aright the word of truth”. Paul ordered Timothy to “shun” (v 16)such departures from the truth. If one believes using money from the church to build a fellowship hall is a departure from the truth, how can he do otherwise than to shun?

    Let’s first attack the question from a broad view and then look more narrowly at it.

    From a broad perspective, conservatives and progressives in fact agree that some doctrinal error damns and some does not. This is true despite the fact that some conservative writers and preachers like to claim that all doctrinal error damns.

    The question which we should focus on is, therefore: which errors damn and which do not? Merely asserting that some damn hardly makes the point, as we are already agreed on that.

    It is a serious mistake to argue something like: this error damns; therefore your error damns. That suggests that all error damns, which we agree is not true.

    It is an equally serious mistake to argue something like: this error doesn’t damn; therefore your error doesn’t damn. That suggests that no error damns, which we also agree is not true.

    If we intend to be serious in our conversations and studies, we have to get away from shortcuts and polemics and try to find where the line is drawn — with both sides agreeing that there is a line.

    If we can agree on this much, we can have a profitable discussion about where that line might be. If we can’t agree on this much, we can’t.

    Now, let’s look particularly at the Hymenaeus and Philetus situation. This passage is clearly not the place to go looking for the answer to where to draw the line, as we know so little about their particular error. Paul doesn’t give a lot of detail and he doesn’t say much about why this particular error damns.

    On the other hand, whatever solution we propose for where to draw the line has to be consistent with what Paul says about H&P.

    Here’s how I see it. Paul says they left “the truth.” The “truth” in New Testament vocabulary is not a reference to all doctrinal truth or all Biblical truth. And we certainly agree – or else all doctrinal error would damn, and I hope we agree that it does not.

    If we pull out a concordance to see how the NT writers use “truth,” we’ll find that they consistently use “truth” to refer to the gospel of Jesus — that is, who Jesus is, what he accomplished on the cross, his resurrection — that sort of thing.

    Indeed, John wrote in 1 John that “You all know the truth.” He wasn’t saying that his readers knew the entire contents of the NT (which hadn’t been entirely written yet). He was saying they knew the gospel — because ALL Christians know the gospel. I doubt that John’s readers all knew God’s position on fellowship halls.

    I demonstrate the meaning of “truth” in detail at http://oneinjesus.info/index-under-construction/truth-what-is/.

    And so we know that, in some sense, H&P strayed from the gospel. And, of course, this means they were lost. Personally, I’m not willing to speculate on their error. It’s enough to me that Paul said they left the gospel and so are lost. It makes sense.

    But a fellowship hall is not a question of “truth” — unless we intend to insist that new converts state faith in building or not building fellowship halls before they are baptized. It’s not a gospel question. It’s not Jesus and him crucified.

    (I’ve also addressed the meaning of “gospel” in the New Testament in detail: http://oneinjesus.info/index-under-construction/gospel-what-is/.)

    In our previous posts, Todd and I argued that the line of fellowship is drawn based on faith in Jesus, the Lordship of Jesus, and the sufficiency of Jesus. In other words, the line is drawn at the gospel — the truth.

  7. Ed Boggess Says:

    Greetings Jay,
    Thank you for your answer in regard to 2 Ti – H&P. I thought this is how you would handle it. I would like to move on to the other two examples I mentioned. Simon the Sorcerer asked to buy the HS power manifested by the apostles, Peter & John. In Peter’s rebuke, Simon is characterized as having a heart not right and wickedness. Simon took it to mean his soul was at risk, v 24. Was it? If so, why? Was his sin presumptuous? Intentional & willful? Rebellion? Or did he just think he could make a little money on the side and still be a Christian? The other example is the worship of the Corinthians. By failing to properly partake of the LS (not examining himself & not discerning the Lord’s body), they had brought “judgment” on themselves (11:29), had put their souls at risk (11:32) and some were not only spiritually weak and sick but some were asleep (11:30). They weren’t impenitent (their partaking of the LS & participating in the worship shows their loyalty), they had not abandoned the faith or rebelled against Jesus and they were not trying to earn their salvation. They were simply breaking commandments (Mt 28:19, 20). Of course if they were to continue to this after Paul’s rebuke, their actions could fit the impenitent category. But here they have already brought judgment on themselves and some sleep! Suppose a church (assembly) chooses to have women preachers and worship leaders, believing 14:34f does not apply today. Should a congregation offer two services; one with women leading and the other without? In the mind of those who refuse women leading worship, it is a departure from keeping “all things whatsoever I have commanded you” and therefore a rejection of Jesus or an expression of an impenitent heart. In the mind of those using women preachers/leaders this command was a cultural phenomena no longer applicable. You draw the line of fellowship at faith in Jesus, Lordship and sufficiency of Jesus; or “at the gospel – the truth”. The Great Commission is certainly a part of the gospel, isn’t it? I appreciate your desire to find a common ground on which to unite brethren and your efforts at studying so as to identify it. Too many of our brethren are satisfied with the status quo and are not interested in bringing brethren closer. As far as the “line of fellowship”, there has always been limited recognition (Paul was already an apostle to the Gentiles before James, Peter and John extended the right hand of fellowship). “The Lord knows those who are His.”

  8. Jay Guin Says:

    Ed,

    Let’s start with 1 Cor 11. What was the sin being dealt with?

    First, there was division —

    (1 Cor 11:18) In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it.

    Second, there was drunkenness —

    (1 Cor 11:20-21) When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk.

    Third, there was a profound absence of Christian love —

    (1 Cor 11:20-21) When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk.

    Now, modern Christians get confused in reading this, as the way we do the Lord’s Supper, everyone stays hungry! You could starve a mouse on what we serve. We don’t serve a full meal, as the Corinthian church was doing.

    We know from Jude 12 that the apostolic church celebrated the “love feast,” a common meal that was often enjoyed with the Lord’s Supper. The Patristic evidence for this practice is clear. The church at Corinth was taking communion as part of a meal — just as Jesus had done.

    Imagine a modern covered dish dinner where some bring food, refuse to eat with those in different faction, don’t wait on others, and allow the poor to go hungry. Imagine a modern covered dish dinner where some get drunk!

    And imagine that this is all caused, not by mere rudeness, but by divisions in the church. One group eats together while allowing another group to go hungry!

    Worse yet, some of those being left to go hungry are the poor! (v. 22).

    Were these people penitent? No. You see,

    (Gal 5:14) The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

    It’s hard to imagine a less-loving congregation, and therefore, it’s hard to imagine a less-penitent congregation.

    You wrote,

    They weren’t impenitent (their partaking of the LS; participating in the worship shows their loyalty), they had not abandoned the faith or rebelled against Jesus and they were not trying to earn their salvation.

    I disagree. Indeed, they were very much in the category condemned by Isaiah,

    (Isa 1:11-17) “The multitude of your sacrifices– what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. 12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations– I cannot bear your evil assemblies. 14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; 16 wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, 17 learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

    Worship is repugnant to God if performed by those who care nothing about justice and the oppressed. Some within the Corinthian church were using a worship event to get drunk and despise the poor. That was as far from penitent as I can imagine.

    Indeed, it’s a mistake to imagine that getting the form of worship right when your heart has no love is somehow a demonstration of penitence. It is precisely what the prophets repeatedly condemn as an abomination.

    (1 Cor 11:29) For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.

    Paul is speaking particularly about the body of Christ that was sitting together at the table (1 Cor 10:17; 12:12-27). Paul is telling us that we can’t claim to love God and not love our brothers in Christ. And loving our brothers in Christ is at the very core of penitence.

  9. Jay Guin Says:

    Ed wrote,

    Simon the Sorcerer asked to buy the HS power manifested by the apostles, Peter & John. In Peter’s rebuke, Simon is characterized as having a heart not right and wickedness. Simon took it to mean his soul was at risk, v 24. Was it? If so, why? Was his sin presumptuous? Intentional & willful? Rebellion? Or did he just think he could make a little money on the side and still be a Christian?

    (Acts 8:22) Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.

    It’s intriguing that Peter didn’t say God would forgive Simon if he did this. He only said “perhaps he will forgive you.” “Perhaps”?? Why “perhaps”? Why doesn’t Peter assure him of God’s forgiveness, as we normally teach?

    Surely, Peter wasn’t doubting God’s faithfulness to his promises to forgive his children! Rather, the “perhaps” must be a reference to Peter’s uncertainty that Simon was capable of repenting.

    Peter said,

    (Acts 8:23) “For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

    Peter saw that Simon’s heart was far from God and doubted his penitence — and even that he could repent (cf. Heb 6:4-6)

    The text is clear that Simon has an impenitent heart.

  10. Ed Boggess Says:

    Greetings Jay,
    Thank you for your response to my questions. Your conclusion is that the sinful practices in 1 Cor 11 regarding the LS was prompted by impenitence. This was the same conclusion that Todd made. I had written: “they weren’t impenitent (their partaking of the LS; participating in the worship shows their loyalty), they had not abandoned the faith or rebelled against Jesus and they were not trying to earn their salvation”. In other words I was having difficulty fitting this situation into the three categories that you and Todd had outlined. You replied with a quotation from Isaiah 1:11-17 to show that the Corinthian practice was comparable. However, the comparison falls short of proof because the Israelites were guilty of serving two masters. They were guilty of worshiping false gods, 2:18, 20, etc. Though Paul instructs regarding idols (10:14-22), I doubt you would suggest that the Corinthians had a problem with idol worship. Their problem was that some were so conscientious that they wouldn’t even eat meat that might have been offered to an idol while others with more understanding exercised their freedom to the harm of their brethren.
    You wrote: “We know from Jude 12 that the apostolic church celebrated the “love feast,” a common meal that was often enjoyed with the Lord’s Supper. The Patristic evidence for this practice is clear.” I disagree. The evidence is far from clear. Both Tertullian and Cyprian expressly say that the LS was not celebrated with a meal but also speak of a fellowship meal and call it a Love Feast. While the Didache and Ignatius might be called on by others, there simply is not sufficient information to draw a firm conclusion.
    However, your point on loving brethren is certainly without question. An unwillingness to love brethren certainly indicates impenitence. But this category is very much like the new Glad bags – very stretchable! Discipleship includes following the Lord and the refusal to follow the Lord exhibits impenitence (“teaching them to observe all things I have commanded” Mt 28:19f). The Corinthians were praised because they kept “the traditions just as I delivered them” (11:2). This is not impenitence; it is discipleship. Nevertheless, Paul was compelled to correct some problems and each example is an assembly problem: women’s roles, LS improprieties, gift abuse and orderly worship. The first involved a rejection of God’s order of creation, the second a distortion of the LS, the third a prideful and selfish use of God’s gifts, the fourth lists rules to follow to prevent the former. Any of the first three could be argued as “impenitence”. However, the fact that they did not continue to be problems (not mentioned in 2 Cor) shows their genuine discipleship. Yet, in regard to the second and its warnings you place it in the impenitent category. So, my point is this: how have we helped ourselves when any of these can be argued either way: as impenitence or as imperfect but growing discipleship?
    Respectfully, Ed Boggess

  11. Ed Boggess Says:

    Greetings Jay,
    In regard to Simon the Sorcerer, you conclude that “perhaps” indicates the possibility of a heart incapable of repentance and therefore obviously impenitent. However, the text provides the reason for Simon’s soul in jeopardy: “you thought that the gift of God could be bought with money” v20 and “the thought of your heart may be forgiven you” v22. His thinking was not in line with God’s thinking. He believed error. His heart was penitent as revealed by his response in v24. It appears to me that Simon had begun down the road of apostasy as soon as he acted on his error, putting his soul at risk. Had he refused to correct his thinking, he would have been impenitent, but he confessed and asked for prayer and forgiveness.
    Respectfully, Ed Boggess

  12. Jay Guin Says:

    Ed,

    I think the questions you raise are resolved when you recognize that impenitence is tested at an individual, not a congregational, level. Thus, some of those at Corinth were so impenitent that they were at risk of eating and drinking condemnation on themselves (11:29) — due to a lack of love for their brothers. However, others were penitent, as evidenced by their respecting Paul’s instructions and correcting the problem.

    I should also add v. 32 —

    (1 Cor 11:32) When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.

    Sometimes, God disciplines us because we’ve started down the path toward impenitence but have not yet fallen away — so that we’ll repent and stay saved. Hence, God’s bringing sickness (and even death!) on many (v. 30) was God’s way of warning them to turn from this dangerous course of conduct.

  13. Jay Guin Says:

    Ed,

    You say the issue of one of believing error rather than penitence. To fairly test that theory, I think you need to state just what your theory is.

    Are you saying that belief in any error at all damns? Are you saying that belief in only certain errors damn? If so, which errors?

    The difficulty with this approach is that no one has yet been able to state a general rule that defines which errors damn and which do not (other than the approach being argued by Todd and me). As soon as you attempt to add (to faith and penitence) certain errors as damning, you are caught in a trap — either all error damns (and no one actually teaches that) or only certain errors damn. And if only certain errors, where do scriptures draw the line?

    Thus, I don’t think it’s even possible to state a theory, much less prove it. When I read the writings of conservatives, they seem to teach a very ad hoc theory. They pull out the “error damns” verses when discussing errors they feel strongly about and the “grace saves” verses when discussing errors that don’t invoke such feelings.

    And when I ask them to explain where the Bible tells us which errors are covered by grace and which are not, the conservatives flee the conversation (and not just here).

    Therefore, before your theory can even be tested against the scriptures, you have to be willing to say what your theory is. Can you state a rule for which errors damn?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: