I recently read that singer, songwriter Willie Nelson once owned a golf course. He said the great thing about owning a golf course is that he could decide what was par for each hole.
“See that hole over there,” he pointed.
“It’s a par 47. Yesterday I birded it.”
When it comes to religion and matters of morality, we can’t decide what is par for the course. God has already legislated what is good and bad. Right and wrong. Moral and immoral. And He has instructed us on matters relating to His church.
When we fail to measure up to God’s standard, the Bible calls it “sin.”
If you’re using Mark Roberts Bible reading program, today is 1 Corinthians 5. It’s not a delightful passage to read. It’s difficult. Demanding. And disturbing.
The text tells us that a man in the church at Corinth was having a sexual relationship with his father’s wife. Commentators speculate whether this was his mother or step-mother. Actually, it made no difference. Either way, it was a sinful, shameful, and sordid affair. In fact, Paul said that such a sin was not even tolerated among the pagans.
Worse yet, the brethren knew it and did nothing. Incredibly they not only ignored it but were arrogant about it. Really? Among Christians? That’s what the Bible says.
The Corinthian church was a moral mess. Some might think the situation was hopeless. That the church was beyond repair. And that this man was so immoral, he would never change. But Paul and the Holy Spirit had other ideas.
Paul instructed the church to discipline the erring brother with the goal of saving his soul. It is often called withdrawing fellowship. The language is plain and direct.
“Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” (v.2)
“You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (v.5).
“Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump.” (v.7)
“With such a man do not even eat.” (v. 11).
“Purge the evil person from among you.” (V. 13).
Furthermore, this action was not to be taken behind closed doors. Rather it was to be done in the public assembly when the church was gathered together (v. 4)
The text, as well as other passages, list additional sins that require a withdrawal of fellowship when a brother or sister fails to repent and follow God’s Word.
Those in the world don’t understand this action. They charge us with being unloving and say, “They kicked him out of the church.” Or justify the behavior by saying, “We all make mistakes.” Or “It’s not our place to judge.”
Actually, God has already judged these matters. He instructs the church to exercise loving discipline not only to keep the church pure but to impress on the erring one the seriousness of his sin so that he will repent.
Sometimes, even brethren object to church discipline and say, “It won’t work.” However, it can work. And in this case, did work. Paul’s 2 Corinthian letter records that the immoral man repented. So, the church was instructed to joyfully receive him back into fellowship.
The purpose of church discipline is not to kick people out, but to bring them back. Back to the Lord. Back to walking in the way of righteousness. Back to a godly life that will lead to heaven.
Sadly, too many churches today fail to follow this divine directive. If fellowship is withdrawn at all, it’s often directed toward those who’ve already quit and withdrawn their fellowship. All the while, immoral, idolatrous and divisive members are allowed to enjoy full fellowship within the church.
Remember, God wrote the rules. Not man. It’s His church. Not ours. And He has the right to decide who’s in fellowship. Let’s not change His commandment for our own convenience or comfort.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman