Tuesday, March 20, 2012
"The Israelites, however, were unfaithful regarding the things set apart for destruction. Achan son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of what was set apart, and the Lord's anger burned against the Israelites." (Joshua 7:1 HCSB)
There are times when radical surgery is required. No one wants to have parts of their body removed by a surgeon, but if the diseased member will be the source of death, then it must be done. It is a last resort, of course, but at times, unavoidable.
Spiritually speaking, the church is the body of Christ and the members are parts of that body--each important and all having a function. One should be sorrowful at the prospect of any ever being "amputated" and all other treatment options should be exhausted before something so drastic takes place--but church discipline that may end in excommunication is biblical.
"It is widely reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and the kind of sexual immorality that is not even [tolerated] among the Gentiles-a man is living with his father's wife. And you are inflated with pride, instead of filled with grief so that he who has committed this act might be removed from your [congregation]. For though I am absent in body but present in spirit, I have already decided about the one who has done this thing as though I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus with my spirit and with the power of our Lord Jesus, turn that one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the Day of the Lord.
Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast permeates the whole batch of dough? Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch. You are indeed unleavened, for Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us observe the feast, not with old yeast or with the yeast of malice and evil but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
I wrote to you in a letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. I did not mean the immoral people of this world or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters; otherwise you would have to leave the world. But now I am writing you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer who is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. For what [business] is it of mine to judge outsiders? Don't you judge those who are inside? But God judges outsiders. Put away the evil person from among yourselves." (1 Corinthians 5:1-13 HCSB)
Scandalous sin can be a malignant cancer, which left untreated, will decimate the body, and even kill the church. Church discipline is the process that brings health. The hope is that the sin-sick member will repent when confronted--but, if not, then stronger treatment may be unavoidable.
This New Testament truth is illustrated graphically in the Old Testament story of Achan. God had given Israel a great victory in establishing a beachhead in Canaan, when He brought down the fortress of Jericho. The people had trusted and obeyed God, winning the victory. God had also warned them that they were not to take spoils of battle--all that pertained to Jericho was under God's curse. If taken, it would be like transplanting a cancerous organ in the body--a spiritual malignancy.
God warned them, but Achan didn't listen. This led Israel to defeat. It brought Joshua to despair. It ended in Achan's death. It tragically spelled destruction for his home.
When tempted to sin, Satan's enticing words are, "Just one bite--how bad can it be?" Just one nibble and the world fell under the curse of sin. Achan reasoned that this was only a small thing, "When I saw among the spoils a beautiful cloak from Babylon, 200 silver shekels, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, I coveted them and took them. You can see for yourself. They are concealed in the ground inside my tent, with the money under the cloak." (Joshua 7:21 HCSB) It was a small amount, but a significant sin--covetousness, idolatry--defiance against God that led to defeat. Until the cancer was removed, the strength of the army would not be restored. When it was, then victory was regained.
How many of God's people today have bought into the devil's lie that sin doesn't matter? Just this little thing tolerated--yet, the implications can be far-reaching. How many churches fail to achieve the victories God has for them because they do not confront Achan?
There is a process, set in place by Jesus. Here is what He said the steps in confronting sin should be:
"If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he won't listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn't pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you. I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven. Again, I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them." (Matthew 18:15-20 HCSB)
There are those who want to "tattle" to the preacher instead of talking to the offender in private. That amounts to glorified gossip. If you know the sin, then you should prayerfully, lovingly go to the one who has failed and seek to restore them. Paul used terms of medical treatment (setting a bone) to describe the gentle, skillful manner of reaching out to sinning saints, "Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won't be tempted." (Galatians 6:1 HCSB)
If, after repeated efforts to lead them to repentance fail, then one should get one or two other believers to go with them. This increases the pressure and impresses on the offender the seriousness of their sin. Those brothers or sisters may also get through in ways that we cannot. It is better not to involve the elders--pastors and deacons--at this point, as they are leaders and representatives of the church as a whole. The intent is to bring the person to full spiritual health and a place of service in the body. The wider it is known, especially by one preaching to them each week, the more difficult it may be for them to deal with their shame. But, again--after sustained attempts to bring them to restoration--it may require the involvement of the church leadership, and ultimately disciplinary action on behalf of the church as a whole. Even, in that the motivation remains healing--and bringing them to repentance and reconciliation with the church. Sadly, it seems that many when exposed, choose to walk away. It isn't true of every church drop-out, certainly not the case of every person who moves their membership, but sometimes does happen when they do not want to confess sin themselves or be confronted by others. They "excommunicate" themselves.
We don't stone people to death under the New Covenant. But, neither in the name of tolerance should we allow open, scandalous sin like that in Corinth to be publicly practiced and not dealt with. You may know something that should be confronted. Don't pick up the phone and call me. Pick up the phone and call the backslider. Humbly, lovingly, prayerfully begin the Biblical process of bringing them back, one step at a time. But, the church must be prepared to do radical surgery, if need be. Few churches today are willing to consider the possibility. Perhaps that is one reason for our lack of impact on society. Disobedience unchallenged becomes defiance unchecked and defeat unchanged.