Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A long journey in church discipline-Pt. 1

On June 1 I began my 24th year of serving as pastor of Grace Baptist Church. While there are challenges that go with a long pastoral tenure blessings that attend it far surpass them--things like baptizing and marrying the children of people you baptized and married 20 years ago. A long ministry in one place also allows you the opportunity to see God work in ways that you would otherwise miss if you hadn't stuck around.

Woody Allen said that 80% of success is showing up. If you show up long enough you get to see some special things. One of the greatest blessings of my pastoral ministry at Grace has been unfolding over the last 6 months and culminated last Sunday night. A man that we had been forced to remove from our membership due to unrepentant, public, scandalous sin was restored to our fellowship after living for more than 15 years in the far country. He has given me permission to tell part of what happened. It is a great story of God's great grace.

Steve came to faith in Christ and was baptized during the 2nd or 3rd year of my ministry in Cape Coral. He had been caught up in long-time patterns of life-dominating sin that had taken their toll on his personal life and his family. When I first met him his wife had taken their children and fled to Texas to get away from him. After Steve became a covenanted member of Grace I had the opportunity to fly to Texas to meet with his wife and persuade her to return home. When she agreed, several men from our church took up a collection for plane tickets for her and the children to come home.

Within a few months, she also professed faith in Christ and their home began to be rebuilt by the gospel. After 4 years, Steve began secretly to flirt with some of the sins that had previously dominated his life. His activities were providentially brought to light when he was arrested one night. That event began a 2 year effort to help him put sin to death and learn to live by gospel grace. He was removed from all ministry responsibilities, formally admonished and the church was called on to engage in the effort of encouraging him to live faithfully.

These efforts, though apparently promising for the first year, ultimately proved fruitless and ended when Steve became belligerent and completely rejected the counsel he was being given. As we moved forward with the final step of church discipline, he moved his family to Texas.

On September 25, 1995, with many tears, the church voted to remove him from membership. On that occasion I said to the church, "In one sense Steve has already removed himself from us. Our action tonight is simply a sad confirmation of that. In another sense, we are called on by the Word of God to 'deliver such a one over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus' (1 Corinthians 5:5)."

As you would imagine there was no joy in taking that unanimous decision. After we voted, I made the following statements to the church:
  1. This is the most serious step the church of Jesus Christ can take on this earth. It ought to humble us and make us very sober. It is not something that we have come to lightly. There have been countless tears and sleepless nights by many of those involved who have tried to help Steve.
  2. Do not stop praying for the __________ family. They have left our area, but God knows exactly where they are....Pray that God will bring Steve to the end of himself, that he will repent of his sin and will be restored to fellowship.
  3. Take this as a reminder that Satan is constantly on the prowl seeking whom he may devour. Do not trifle with sin. What may seem to be a harmless, secret tryst with sin today can destroy you tomorrow. Do not give Satan a foothold in your life.
  4. Pray for your church. That God would protect us and keep us faithful as we seek to follow Jesus Christ in obedience to His Word.
Over the next several months and into the ensuing years, I had indirect contact with Steve through one of a couple of his relatives. For most of the last 14 years, however, he has been out of contact even with them. All that changed on Sunday afternoon, January 11 of this year. Waiting in my in box after church was the following email, sent through our church's website:
Pastor Tom:
May I first start off by apologizing for turning my back on Jesus Christ, Grace Baptist Church and all the people who helped me in my faith and walk with GOD. I don’t know where to start but you are one person I know I can trust for direction. I’ve spent the last 12 or so years going through divorce’s addictions, etc. due to my own doing and [I am] very empty inside (soul sick). I have been attending several different Baptist churches...but just can’t seem to fit in or understand how Christ can allow me to return for what I’ve done, or if my faith was ever real. I have a lot more to say, but want to make sure it is you that will get my e-mail. I just want to find my way back into Christ’s love and His grace.
Pray for me and thank you for your time,
Steve
That email led to the reestablishment of a relationship that culminated in Steve's restoration last Sunday night. In the next post, I will explain how that process unfolded.

23 comments:

Thy Peace said...

Amen.

Praise God for a Church that truly cares for the well being of people being Church Disciplined.

And that it was not Pastor Discipline.

BoldLion said...

The Lord is so good and faithful! I love this and does reminded me of Luke 15 the Prodigal Son.

Thank you for your faithful service to him and praying for him.

I do agree with having church discipline. Every church need to do this.

Hungry to eat His Word,
'Guerite ~ BoldLion

C. M. Sheffield said...

Tom,

Thanks for this and the following posts. As a pastor in a denomination that has altogether neglected church discipline as a means of grace, this kind of thing is a wonderful blessing! I could tell you the ins and outs of biblical church discipline in theory, but actually seeing it worked through in real lives is enormously helpful.

oldbutweary said...

Not very many posts make me well up with tears but this one of them. This is the church being the church. Thanks for your faithful obedience and trusting God to be God.

Lydia said...

"I first met him his wife had taken their children and fled to Texas to get away from him. After Steve became a covenanted member of Grace I had the opportunity to fly to Texas to meet with his wife and persuade her to return home. When she agreed, several men from our church took up a collection for plane tickets for her and the children to come home."

You brought her all the way back to go through it again?

I realize you are not through with the story but it seems to be all about the husband. What on earth did you do for the wife who had to endure it all over again because you talked her into it?

RichardS said...

It seems that this man should not have been considered a Christian after a long period of rebellion. There was no evidence of the fruit of the Spirit nor of the life of Christ in the person. The final step of Church discipline, according to Jesus in Matthew 18:17, is to treat the disciplined person as a Gentile and a tax collector. Perseverance of the saints does not teach the same thing as the Arminian view of eternal security does, but instead teaches that the believer perseveres in the faith because God is the One working in him or her to persevere. If the man has truly repented now, it would seem that he is just now truly converted.

There are many who seem to repent and believe in order to make a hard situation better. It is much like the fox hole conversion of some in the military. Men (and women) who are hurting will indeed fool others and themselves at times to make situations better. A person that is truly converted is a truly converted person for the long haul.

Tom said...

Richard:

I would caution you from making judgments about things that you know so little about. All you know of this situation is what you have read here. That is a slim foundation on which to stand to build your opinion.

I agree with our Baptist forefathers who wrote in the 1689 Confession (chapter 17):
"In various ways-the temptations of Satan and of the world, the striving of indwelling sin to get the upper hand, the neglect of the means appointed for their preservation-saints may fall into fearful sins, and may even continue in them for a time. In this way they incur God's displeasure, grieve His Holy Spirit, do injury to their graces, diminish their comforts, experience hardness of heart and accusations of conscience, hurt and scandalize others, and bring God's chastisements on themselves. Yet being saints their repentance will be renewed, and through faith they will be preserved in Christ Jesus to the end."

Tom said...

Lydia:

It wasn't "all about the husband." It was all about Christ.

Kendall said...

Luk 15:28-32 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, 'Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!' And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'"

Please, brothers and sisters, let us celebrate this great story of restoration and praise God for what He has done. Is this not the purpose of church discipline?

RichardS said...

Tom: "I would caution you from making judgments about things that you know so little about."

Tom's Post of Steve's words: "IĆ¢€™ve spent the last 12 or so years going through divorceĆ¢€™s addictions, etc. due to my own doing and [I am] very empty inside (soul sick)."

Other statements in your post was that he was removed from church membershp due to "unrepentant, public, scandalous sin was restored to our fellowship after living for more than 15 years in the far country."

The night he was disciplined, you said this: "In another sense, we are called on by the Word of God to 'deliver such a one over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus' (1 Corinthians 5:5)."


Indeed I know very little about the situation as a whole, but from the man's own words that you posted he was living in rebellion for 12 years and you said 15 years. My words were not intended as an attack on him, but surely we must think through the whole issue of church discipline and of what conversion really is.

I would agree with the 1689 in what it said there, but I am not sure that it could be stretched to include 12-15 years of rebellion to Christ. Christ is Lord of those He is Savior of. The words of Christ through Paul are quite clear in I Corinthians 6:9-11. As can be seen these are things that were descriptive of what people once were. But now they have been washed from the guilt and from the practice of those sins as well. " Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God."

The 1689 also says in ch 15 sec 4 that "repentance is to be continued through the whole course of our lives." Again, I am not arguing about the man's present state of conversion but about the line of thinking that allows people to live in open rebellion (per the content of the post) to Christ and still be considered a Christian during that time.

It seems that we are all passing judgment on the situation as all who read it form a judgment. You have evidently made the judgment that the man was converted during his time in rebellion and he is being welcomed back into the church. I don't see it as judgmental to raise the question or make the point that perhaps the man was just now converted rather than having been converted during his time of rebellion. A converted person is one that has been changed by God and the life of Christ is now the life of that person. I simply don't see a changed life and the life of Christ in 12-15 years of rebellion.

My understanding of church discipline is that the person being disciplined is declared an unbeliever by the fact that the person is unrepentant. This is underscored by Matthew 18:17 and I Cor 5:5. Evidently the church disciplined the man but still viewed him as a believer, or at least you now believe him to have been a believer the whole time. I guess I am puzzled on the one hand and alarmed on the other.

Tom said...

RichardS:

I appreciate your willingness to engage this issue at this level because I believe that our dialogue can highlight some of the dangers that always lurk about the path of obedience in church discipline. Let me respond to some of your remarks in hopes of clarifying my view and perhaps calling attention to some exegetical fine points that must be maintained in this work.

You write:
"I would agree with the 1689 in what it said there, but I am not sure that it could be stretched to include 12-15 years of rebellion to Christ."

Where is the stretch? On what basis do you limit the phrase "for a time?" Would 10 years be a stretch? 5? 1? 2 months? 2 days? The confession wisely does not try to set a time frame and any such effort that is made is purely arbitrary and unwarranted.

The descriptions of the new life in Christ that believers have do not mitigate against the reality of backsliding. The very reason that is is backsliding is because the person is going back to his old ways. When that happens, 1 of 2 things is true. Either he was never truly converted or, he is converted and yet has fallen "into fearful sins, and may even continue in them for a time," to quote the confession.

You write:
"You have evidently made the judgment that the man was converted during his time in rebellion and he is being welcomed back into the church."

Yes, that is my judgment at this point, after hours of counsel, dialogue and consultation with the elders who are personally involved with Steve now. My understanding of grace and sin sees this as a biblical possibility. Evidently yours does not because you, as you put it, "simply don't see a changed life and the life of Christ in 12-15 years of rebellion." Again I would ask, just what is the limit, then?

You write:
"My understanding of church discipline is that the person being disciplined is declared an unbeliever by the fact that the person is unrepentant. This is underscored by Matthew 18:17 and I Cor 5:5. Evidently the church disciplined the man but still viewed him as a believer, or at least you now believe him to have been a believer the whole time. I guess I am puzzled on the one hand and alarmed on the other."

I think this statement gets to the crux of our disagreement, and I hope that my explanation may win you over. If not, I hope I can clear up your puzzlement and alleviate your alarm. In Matt. 18:17 Jesus says, "And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector."

Jesus is not granting the church the authority to make an infallible judgment on the state of the person's soul. Rather, He is telling us how to regard such a person. We are to regard him as an unbeliever, which means that we do not grant to him the blessings of church membership but rather treat him as a man who needs to be evangelized--who needs to repent and believe the gospel.

That is *exactly* how we regarded Steve. Here is what we said to him, and to others who tragically put themselves in the position of having to be removed from the church: You have no biblical reason to hope that you are saved. If you do not repent, you will go to hell. Christ calls you to turn from your sin and trust Him.

In taking this posture we are not saying, "There is no way that you are a Christian; you never were saved." Rather, we are putting the onus on the individual and the Word: "You have no biblical basis to hope that you are saved," which is true for the unbeliever who lives in his unbelief as well as for the backslidden Christian who has fallen (temporarily) into patterns of unbelief.

Being extremely careful with Jesus' words (as well as Paul's in 1 Corinthians 5) prevents us from any need to make arbitrary judgments about how much a Christian can sin.

I hope that at least this clarifies our understanding and approach.

Blessings,
tom

RichardS said...

I hope you understand, as you seemed to in the last post, that this is an attempt at discussing important issues. I am not intending a personal or impersonal attack on you. These are very important issues. This post is Part I of this response.

Tom said: Where is the stretch? On what basis do you limit the phrase "for a time?" Would 10 years be a stretch? 5? 1? 2 months? 2 days? The confession wisely does not try to set a time frame and any such effort that is made is purely arbitrary and unwarranted.

R: I hope that I am coming from the Bible in my aversion to thinking that a person can live in unrepentant and scandalous sin for 12-15 years. There is another side to the time period or issues brought up by this, but also at least an important theological issue. I believe it was Zane Hodges or someone of that theological persuasion that said as long as a person has said the prayer that person will be saved no matter what. Then the person went on to say that even if the one that had made the profession became an atheist that person would still be saved. In other words, the person would then live a life in unrepentant sin for the rest of his or her life.

One of the theological issues is conversion. A converted person is one that God has changed from a dead sinner into a new creature in Christ. That new creature is then the temple of the living God. As the temple of God that person has the life of Christ residing in him or her and the Spirit is bearing fruit in His temple.

In II Cor 13:5 Paul tells people to examine themselves to see if Christ lived in them. I John is a book written so that people would know that they had eternal life, that is, the life of Christ in them. Christ Himself is eternal life. Where the Lord Jesus Christ lives (the kingdom of grace) He will exert Himself as Lord. That does not mean that one is perfect, but now that person that was under the dominion of darkness is now in the kingdom of His beloved Son. I simply cannot see how one that has been delivered from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom (reign and rule of Christ) of the beloved Son live in unrepentant sin for very long at all.

Tom said: Yes, that is my judgment at this point, after hours of counsel, dialogue and consultation with the elders who are personally involved with Steve now. My understanding of grace and sin sees this as a biblical possibility. Evidently yours does not because you, as you put it, "simply don't see a changed life and the life of Christ in 12-15 years of rebellion." Again I would ask, just what is the limit, then?

R: My understanding of grace is that it is not an abstract power, but is the action of the living God in the soul. Grace in the soul is the power of God in the soul delivering the soul from sin and giving the soul Himself which is real grace. The soul is the temple of the living God and as such sin will not have dominion over the dwelling place of God.

RichardS said...

Answer Part II

Tom said: Jesus is not granting the church the authority to make an infallible judgment on the state of the person's soul. Rather, He is telling us how to regard such a person. We are to regard him as an unbeliever, which means that we do not grant to him the blessings of church membership but rather treat him as a man who needs to be evangelized--who needs to repent and believe the gospel.

R: I am not claiming that the church is infallible, but Scriptiure speaks with power to the subject. Matthew 18:17 "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 "Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

I would understand this text as teaching that when the church is seeking and finding the face and will of God, when it carries out church discipline it is carrying out what God has already declared. I know this is dangerous, but it seems to be what the text is teaching. The church, as the body of Christ, has access to its Head who is in perfect union with the Father. When the church is truly walking with God and receiving its marching orders from Him, this text seems to tell us that what the church declares in disciplinary matters is what heaven has already declared about that person.

Tom said: Being extremely careful with Jesus' words (as well as Paul's in 1 Corinthians 5) prevents us from any need to make arbitrary judgments about how much a Christian can sin.

R: I don't think I am making arbitrary judgments but am taking the lordship of Christ, His kingdom of grace in the soul, and many biblical texts into account. Galatians 5:19-21 gives a list of sins (not intended to be exhaustive) that the text then goes on to say "and things like these, I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." Then the Scripture goes on to describe the fruit of the Spirit. The question for the people and the leaders of the church, then, is what is being displayed in and through that person. What is it that is dominating the person? Is it sin or is it the Spirit?

Eph 5:3 But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; 4 and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
7 Therefore do not be partakers with them; 8 for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light
9 (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), 10 trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord."

When I read passages like these, though they do not give a specific time, they do give great warnings. We are not to be deceived and we can know these things with certainty. People who behave or live in certain ways display something that we can know. I John tells us that the children of the devil and the children of God are obvious. I John tells us that "if anyone loves the world the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions--is not from the Father but is from the world" (I John 2:15-17). I don't think it is an arbitrary judgement about how much a Christian can sin, but simply looking at these texts and others say that a life that is focused on certain things is one that Christ does not live in. A life that is in sin is not one that is saved from sin.

Tom said...

RichardS:

I do not take your questions and concerns as attacks. I simply take them as a disagreement and I see the position that you have staked out, though well-motivated, as being untenable unless you are willing to let subjectivity rule exegesis or apply your principles inconsistently. Let me explain.

You write:
"I hope that I am coming from the Bible in my aversion to thinking that a person can live in unrepentant and scandalous sin for 12-15 years."

Then please tell me where the line is. Take my 1st question to you literally and answer it. Does your biblical thinking allow you to believe that a Christian can live 1 year in unrepentant and scandalous sin? What about 1 week? 1 day? I really want you to answer this question, and then I want you to add a day to your answer, and tell me if your thinking could allow that, and so on. Whatever answer you give will be based purely on your *subjective* notions. This seems to me to be unavoidable. So, if your objection is purely subjective, then it holds no authority beyond your own mind.

Further, to raise Zane Hodges' position in this discussion is almost offensive. If you cannot see stark differences in his views and what I am espousing then I have grossly miscommunicated.

You write:
"I simply cannot see how one that has been delivered from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom (reign and rule of Christ) of the beloved Son live in unrepentant sin for very long at all. "

OK, how long can you see that such a person could live in unrepentant sin? It seems to me that the track you are on should lead you to perfectionism if you were consistent. I gather that you believe that remaining sin in the regenerate man's unperfected nature prevents him from living in perfection, but it cannot prevent him from living in gross sin "very long at all." I want to know 2 things: Why do you believe this? From the Scriptures you have cited I gather that you would answer because of the radical nature of the redeemed life. While I agree that new life in Christ brings radical change, if that eliminates the possibility of a Christian from living "very long at all" in sin then why doesn't it also eliminate the possibility of his living even a moment in sin? Isn't the power to keep him from living a long time in sin more than adequate to keep him from living at all in sin?

If you answer this negatively without showing me from the Bible--and not your subjective opinion--why this is not the case, then I will conclude that you are inconsistent in the way that you hold your principles.

You write:
"When the church is truly walking with God and receiving its marching orders from Him, this text seems to tell us that what the church declares in disciplinary matters is what heaven has already declared about that person."

What exactly do you believe that the church is declaring when it excommunicates a person? Is it declaring that he never was a Christian? If this is so, then you would have to conclude that every excommunicated member who repents and seeks restoration must be received as a new convert and, assuming you are a Baptist, would need to be baptized as a believer. That is what such a judgment would logically necessitate. Unless you hold your principle inconsistently, you have no other choice.

This is why I argued for extreme care in exegeting Jesus' words. The church is to treat a person put out of their midst as one who is unconverted and in need of evangelization. That is different from saying that the church makes a definite judgment that he has never been saved.

We have no disagreement on the doctrine of regeneration. What I think we disagree on is the power and nature of remaining sin and the doctrines of backsliding and temporary apostasy.

While this is no guarantee that my view is correct, it is in line with the Westminster and 1689 Confessions as well as with John Owen.

I must ask that you answer my questions with specific answers before we go further. Otherwise, I don't think we will be able to make any headway.

RichardS said...

Answer Part I

Tom said: Take my 1st question to you literally and answer it. Does your biblical thinking allow you to believe that a Christian can live 1 year in unrepentant and scandalous sin? What about 1 week? 1 day? I really want you to answer this question, and then I want you to add a day to your answer, and tell me if your thinking could allow that, and so on. Whatever answer you give will be based purely on your *subjective* notions. This seems to me to be unavoidable. So, if your objection is purely subjective, then it holds no authority beyond your own mind.

R: I gave several passages of Scripture that show that unrepentant sin declares an unrepentant person a non-believer. There are many more that can be given. I will list several from just one book.

1 John 1: 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

I John 2:3 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;

I John 2:15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.

I John 3:4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. 7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

I John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

I John 5:18 We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. 19 We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.

What I am saying is that the Scripture does not give a specific time either way. It simply says that if a person does X or is X then that person is not a believer or is one that does not have eternal life. I would simply say that the New Testament does not have anyone living in unrepentant and scandalous sin for any length of time and the person still be called a Christian. My failure to state a specific time is not due to a fault with my position or the Bible, but may simply be that a person that does those things as a practice for any length of time and does not repent of them is not to be known as a believer. The Scripture does not say that a person living in unrepentant sin for any length of time should be considered a believer. When one looks at the Scripture, it simply does not allow for a person to go on in unrepentant and scandalous sin.

RichardS said...

Answer Part II

Tom said: Further, to raise Zane Hodges' position in this discussion is almost offensive. If you cannot see stark differences in his views and what I am espousing then I have grossly miscommunicated.

R: I am not saying that it (Zane Hodges’ position) is what you are holding, but that it appears to be the logical end of the slippery slope that you are on. I am not accusing you of holding that at all. I am trying to take your position and take it the opposite way of where you are taking mine. You want me to answer the question of whether a Christian can live 1 day in unrepentant and scandalous sin and then slowly move on. I am saying that if you say that a Christian can live in unrepentant and scandalous sin for twelve years, then if pressed as to how far can one go then it seems that the slippery slope you are on must press you on to an entire lifetime. If a person can live an entire lifetime in unrepentant and scandalous sin, then to what degree can that unrepentant and scandalous sin actually be?

Tom writes: OK, how long can you see that such a person could live in unrepentant sin? It seems to me that the track you are on should lead you to perfectionism if you were consistent.

R: The fact that a person cannot live in unrepentant and scandalous sin for very long at all does not lead to perfectionism if one takes into account all of the unrecognized sin that a person has to repent of as the Lord leads him or her to the knowledge of it. It also does not deny that a person may and will fall into sin. It simply denies that a true believer will stay in open and unrepentant sin.

Tom said: I gather that you believe that remaining sin in the regenerate man's unperfected nature prevents him from living in perfection, but it cannot prevent him from living in gross sin "very long at all." I want to know 2 things: Why do you believe this? From the Scriptures you have cited I gather that you would answer because of the radical nature of the redeemed life. While I agree that new life in Christ brings radical change, if that eliminates the possibility of a Christian from living "very long at all" in sin then why doesn't it also eliminate the possibility of his living even a moment in sin? Isn't the power to keep him from living a long time in sin more than adequate to keep him from living at all in sin?

R: The simple answer is that Scripture tells us that the very nature of belief or faith is that it unites a person to Christ. The nature of the life of faith is that faith and repentance are inseparable. People can only believe if they repent and they can only repent if they believe. Yes, there is a radical nature of the redeemed life because it is the very nature of the life of Christ in the believer. In the sovereignty of God He has not stamped out all sin in the believer. However, this verse still stands: I John 3:4 “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin” (I John 3:4-5). Jesus Christ came in order to take away sins. The person who has been saved has been saved from his or her sin or that person has not been saved.

RichardS said...

Answer Part III

Tom said: If you answer this negatively without showing me from the Bible--and not your subjective opinion--why this is not the case, then I will conclude that you are inconsistent in the way that you hold your principles.

R: You must remember that your words cuts both ways. My position is that the living in unrepentant sin is clearly denounced in passage after passage as unchristian in the New Testament. I can find of no example where any person lived for any length of time in the New Testament in unrepentant sin and was still thought of as a believer. The very nature of the New Covenant is that God would put His Spirit in believers and they would walk according to the law. I believe that my position has been solidly set out from Scripture. One reason that Scripture does not give specific times is because God is sovereign in making human beings and over human beings. Whether a person is unrepentant over sin for one hour or one week is in His hands. But the texts given above and in other posts are very clear that a Christian does not live in unrepentant sin. I cannot find one passage of Scripture or one example in the New Testament where a true Christian lives in an unrepentant state for very long at all.

Tom said: What exactly do you believe that the church is declaring when it excommunicates a person? Is it declaring that he never was a Christian? If this is so, then you would have to conclude that every excommunicated member who repents and seeks restoration must be received as a new convert and, assuming you are a Baptist, would need to be baptized as a believer. That is what such a judgment would logically necessitate. Unless you hold your principle inconsistently, you have no other choice.

R: So far I have not seen where Scripture tells us to excommunicate anyone but those that are non-Christians. I see Scripture teaching us that it is declaring that a person has never been a Christian. This is when a true church is practicing biblical church discipline and the elders are truly in fellowship with God. There are false churches and there are those who practice church discipline based on unbiblical reasons. I was simply saying that the text in Matthew 18:17-18 leads me to believe that what a true church does for biblical reasons in the area of church discipline has already been done in heaven. The tenses of the verbs (whatever you bind or loose on earth…shall have been bound or loosed in heaven) point to the fact that the church is carrying out whatever has already been done in heaven. Church discipline, therefore, is a deadly serious activity. I have no problem asserting that a person that has been biblically disciplined by a true church was never a believer and needs to be received as a new convert. That would include believers baptism since the person was not baptized as a believer previously.

Tom said: This is why I argued for extreme care in exegeting Jesus' words. The church is to treat a person put out of their midst as one who is unconverted and in need of evangelization. That is different from saying that the church makes a definite judgment that he has never been saved.

R: I believe I have been extremely careful in exegeting the words of Jesus. I will admit that it is a strong view of the local church, but I can’t see the text itself teaching anything differently at this point.

RichardS said...

Anser Part IV
Tom said: While this is no guarantee that my view is correct, it is in line with the Westminster and 1689 Confessions as well as with John Owen.

R: I would disagree with your statement on this.

Tom said: I must ask that you answer my questions with specific answers before we go further. Otherwise, I don't think we will be able to make any headway.

R: I don’t think it is wise for me to be more specific than Scripture is. It is clear that a believer does not live in unrepentant sin. I John is so clear on this that I don’t think that it can be disputed. While I cannot set out a specific amount of time that a believer can live in unrepentant sin because Scripture does not, neither can a person set out a time that a believer can live in unrepented of sin. The Scripture simply sets out that those who live in sin are not Christians. It simply says that Christ came to take away sins. Those who live in sin have not had their sin taken away. One is not free from sin until it is washed by the blood of Christ.

Tom said...

RichardS:

I think we have reached an impasse in our discussion. I am unable to communicate clearly enough to prevent your misunderstanding of my position. We do disagree but our disagreements arise in the effort of trying to take seriously what the Bible teaches on an important and often neglected subject. We can be encouraged in that.

Blessiings,
tom

Lydia said...

It wasn't "all about the husband." It was all about Christ.

11:27 AM, July 02, 2009

Good answer. But you still had a responsibility for what you talked her into coming back to and her children living through. I am just curious what you did for her during that time. You do not mention her or the children. Just the husband.

RichardS said...

Lydia said: Good answer. But you still had a responsibility for what you talked her into coming back to and her children living through. I am just curious what you did for her during that time. You do not mention her or the children. Just the husband.

R: If we could remove your response from the particular case that was brought up on this thread, your question is quite important. I doubt that your question could be answered by Tom because of privacy issues. It is one, however, that is very important and even daunting in church discipline issues. When one person of a family is in sin it has ramifications for the rest of the family as well. When one person abuses another in the family, and the family is restored afterwards, are you saying that the church that restored the family is responsible to some degree if the abuse continues at a later point? Again, this is not an attack on you or your position. Your question or point is very important if we desire to be biblical in all respects.

Tom said...

Lydia:

I gave my word to his wife on certain issues, and I kept my word. No doubt that will not satisfy your curiosity but it is as much as I am going to say to someone who has no right to information that is requested.

Lydia said...

I gave my word to his wife on certain issues, and I kept my word. No doubt that will not satisfy your curiosity but it is as much as I am going to say to someone who has no right to information that is requested.

11:51 AM, July 03, 2009

You are wrong, sir. I take you at your word. And this will be the end of my inquiry about the wife and kids.

I realize I asked an inconvenient question.