Church discipline always works. Sometimes it also results in restoration.
Read / Listen
Read 2 Corinthians 2:5-11
Listen to passage & devotional:
Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 85
Q. How is the kingdom of heaven
closed and opened
by Christian discipline?
A. According to the command of Christ:
Those who, though called Christians,
profess unchristian teachings
or live unchristian lives,
and after repeated and loving counsel
refuse to abandon their errors
and after being reported to the church,
that is, to its officers,
fail to respond also to their admonition—
such persons the officers exclude
from the Christian fellowship
by withholding the sacraments from them,
and God himself excludes them
from the kingdom of Christ.
when promising and demonstrating
are received again
as members of Christ
and of his church.
Yesterday we read about the ugly account in which a man who had been proudly sinning in a way that made the pagans blush. Paul took the Corinthian church to task for tolerating such an ugly sin and instructed them to "expel the wicked man from among you (1 Cor. 5.13)." Church discipline, while necessary, can often seem cold and callous.
But when done faithfully, it always works. Sometimes it works by simply ridding the church of a cancerous sin which might infect others. But in this particular case, and many others since then, church discipline achieves its primary goal: bringing the wayward sinner into repentance.
The man we read about yesterday is quite likely the same man we read about today, only this time he's characterized by overwhelming sorrow rather than sinful pride. Being put out from the church had the exact intended effect upon him, which the Holy Spirit used to open the man's eyes to see his sin and come to repentance.
Paul's instructions regarding this man are quite different than what we read yesterday. Instead of "handing him over to Satan," the church must comfort him. Rather than expulsion, he must be forgiven.
The Belgic Confession is part of the Three Forms of Unity, which, along with the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dordt, gives expression to what Reformed churches believe the Bible says. It gives the Church three key tasks that it must perform in order to be considered a true church:
Preach the pure gospel;
Maintain the pure administration of the sacraments;
Exercise church discipline to punish sin.
In general, we're pretty good at these first two marks.
But faithfully exercising church discipline is never easy. It's awkward, embarrassing, and can easily and quickly go off the rails. Besides, as upper midwesterners, we abhor confrontation, so it's way easier to just pretend we don't see the obvious. Maybe if we just work harder at the first two marks, we think to ourselves, the need for the third will vanish.
But yet we've been commanded to keep the church pure. We're not interested in chasing out repentant sinners; in fact, we need to attract more of them! But those who willfully, continually, and unrepentantly put their own wants and desires ahead of the Kingdom have no business being in it. For our own good, and possibly even theirs, we must - after repeated brotherly counsel and pleading for them to repent - show them the door.
ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father, who demands perfect obedience, but welcomes all those who repent of their sin;
ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Pray that your church would be welcoming to repentant sinners, but hostile to those who unrepentantly cling to sin.
ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED:
Read the New Testament in a year, a chapter a day - 1 Corinthians 4