I get upset when I hear of those who call themselves Christians and yet insist on their right to disobey God – and I’ll bet you do too. As an Anglican, in the past few years I’ve heard a lot of self-professed Christians insist that homosexuality is not a sin – in clear violation of God’s holy commandments. It’s relatively easy to see this as a clear refusal to obey God’s commandments, but I’m constantly surprised at how many Christians deny in many areas what God has so clearly said. Some of those who I’m pretty sure believe the articles of the Creeds seem to think they have to believe God about the “big” things such as the nature of Jesus Christ but that when it comes to the “little” things, i.e., our moral behavior, that they can believe and act however they want.
To which St. Paul says: “But we command you brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us” (verse 6.) In case we are tempted to wish or ‘splain this verse away, Paul reminds us again in verse 14: “And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed.”
As we congratulate ourselves for not condoning homosexuality or __________ (fill in the blank with your favorite sin), how are we doing with keeping what St. Paul teaches in his letters? St. Paul has made it very clear that in some way the church is to discipline those who refuse to walk in obedience to the Word of God.
But is this something many of our churches are doing? Do we take this commandment of God as seriously as His commandments to not sin in various other ways?
The Amish are an interesting people. On the one hand, they seem naïve and inconsistent in a lot of ways: I’m still not sure how they decide what is permissible and what is not in terms of partaking of the culture. Personally, I’m not going to give up my 1995 Toyota Corolla for a horse and buggy, and I’m kind of attached to things like Velcro and JB Weld as modern conveniences. I’ve grown accustomed to my Internet and e-mail (without which Give Us This Day could not be your daily bread and most of you couldn’t receive it), and without modern medicine I’m pretty sure I’d have been a gonner a long time ago.
But these same Amish have been able to testify to a watching world about the forgiveness of Jesus Christ because they have a genuine community with clear standards that they enforce. The Amish take seriously St. Paul’s clear commandments to discipline or “shun” those who refuse to walk according to the commandments of God. Though imperfect and off track in many ways, they have been able to maintain godly standards of behavior at least partially because they have taken seriously the words of St. Paul to withdraw from those who walk disorderly and not according to the apostolic tradition.
In disciplining the erring brother, Paul is careful to tell the Thessalonians that in disciplining him they do not treat him as an enemy but instead admonish him as a brother. The goal of discipline and even excommunication is that the erring brother would repent of his sin and return to God and His holy congregation.
Our daily devotions aren’t the place to work out the specific way in which our churches should be more faithful in their discipline, and yet we should take seriously the challenge to consider the ways in which we may be picking and choosing which commandments of God we are willing to obey. While the practice of church discipline or excommunication (the ultimate sanction the church has) may be abused, it seems safe to say that today it is mostly abused by not being used at all. One of the “benefits” of churches that don’t take discipline seriously is that any one can hop from church to church, even if in public sin, because no one in the new church is likely to find out or do anything about it even if they did find out about it.
But a church that disciplines is a church that is a functioning family, for God, the loving but holy Father, disciplines His children, that they may turn back to Him. Why should we expect that He would want us to run His house here on earth any differently? A church that disciplines is also a church that cares, for in order to discipline, you must be close enough to one another to experience not only the sweet aroma of holy fellowship we all desire but also the acrid stench of unholy living that must be dealt with. Churches that practice little or no discipline are churches that don’t know their members, don’t care enough about the sin in their lives, or don’t care enough about the destruction that the cancer of untreated sin will bring into God’s family.
In essence, church discipline is another way of “checking on” each other, which is simply another way that God has called us to love one another in His holy family.
Prayer: Thank You Lord for Your Word in my life which has come so forcefully through both the life and example of St. Paul. I ask that You would give me the same desire He had to perfectly keep Your commandments and to diligently labor in Your Church. Since I am weak, Father, have mercy on me, a sinner. Show me the errors of my life, and give me strength to do all that You have commanded me.
Point for Meditation:
Reflect on how you are being held accountable for your conduct before the Lord, by yourself, by your family, and by your church. If accountability is seriously lacking in your life, resolve today to seek one way in which you can obtain it.
Resolution: I resolve to honestly reflect on my obedience to the Lord and to find and reflect on one area He has been seeking me, to bring me into conformity with His holy will. I resolve further to repent where I need to repent for this failing, to seek His grace, and to find one practical way I can show my repentance in this matter.
© 2013 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day