There’s likely something missing form our understanding of what it means to be part of the church, both the wonder and beauty of it.
This week I was reflecting on where we we’ve come through this series, and I’ve been struck by some of the things we’ve seen.
One of those is the corporate nature of our identity as believers. We have been incorporated into this new community. There’s very little left of me in that portrait the New Testament gives us. The distinction between the individual and corporate is very blurred in the New Testament.
There’s a new responsibility that comes with that. Whatever I call the Christian life is shaped largely by that community. If my identity is wrapped up in that corporate nature, then my responsibilities are expounded upon in the New Testament. I was never intended to be a Christian alone.
There is also an accountability. The church is so sacred and real, and its focus supersedes me. Its health rises above my own and I’m accountable to it. I have to help protect it from wherever I sit.
God has provided a way to hold us to it. It’s not assumed in the New Testament that you can easily make it to the end with your faith on your own. It is assumed it will be a struggle all the way to the end, and you cannot do that on your own. God has to have a way for those moments in our lives where our faith wavers and our life gets off track. If what we’re doing matters, there has to be a way to call us back. That’s what the whole idea of church discipline and restoration is all about.
We’re focusing on Partnership as we go into December and trying to engage our Partners with more intentionality and seriousness.
The following three things are what we have together.
This gives shape to what Partnership looks like and how we can be what God wants us to be.
How do you care for each other and protect each other on the journey? There are people who are on the fringes and don’t really want all in. How is any church leadership supposed to care for people on that wide spectrum? It helps if you’ve established people at the core who get the whole picture. That’s what Partnership is. Identify people among the group who get what that is supposed to be. It’s not to lord it over anyone.
That’s why before you join a church you make sure it’s not a people who just love being in authority and lording over people.
We’re trying to engage the Partners we have in better ways. Partners come and join with us and then slowly drift over time. That’s essentially what we all do unless there are people in our lives who care.
We want to engage our Partners to be exactly what God has called us to be as a church, to the best of our ability. That’s why we’re going to give you an opportunity in December to join us.
We’re calling communication with the Partners “Partner Point,” and it’s just a way to better engage.
We didn’t bring up church discipline because I think we need to get in each other’s faces more, but because its the most serious process that communicates who were are together. From there we can tease out the other things that feel relatively easy in comparison.
To give you a feel for that, I want to take you to Revelation. We get to the last book, written at the end of the first century, and John is the last apostle. If that’s the case, this is the last words of the New Testament we get. And this is what he says to John:
These were the major churches in the area at the time.
John gets transported up in this vision and sees Christ ruling the world. He’s standing among seven lamp stands and seven stars. The stars are the angels of the seven churches and the lamp stands are the seven churches. It’s a beautiful image of Jesus standing among the churches.
This message is for anyone who has an ear to hear it. John is assuming if you’re in the church you want the message.
There is a picture of paradise here. Heaven is not individual. It’s going to be one glorious community. He says, I will dwell among them and they will be my people.
There is a cosmic, heavenly connection between who the church is and what it’s called to be. When the curtain is pulled back on heaven, you see Jesus and his focus is on the church.
And just as chaos is about to be unleashed in Revelation, you see where Jesus’ heart is, getting the church ready for chaotic times. We are not called to change the political structures of the world, but to be a certain kind of people in the middle of the chaos and bear witness.
The church is the only safe place from the forces of darkness and evil. When we gather together, whether or not we can make it to the end, which is one of the points of Revelation––he’s hoping everyone makes it to the end.
If we’re going to function as believers, there will be times the community needs to give an assessment of you that is better than the one you give yourself. When that time comes, hopefully you’re connected to community and there’s someone else that cares about you.
There are different levels of community when we get to the third step. It could just be that your small group and leadership need to be brought in. Most people don’t even stick around to this point, because they don’t want others brought into the reality of their sin or their issues.
For a church to come to a place where all these people care about you and your life, and you’re being defiant, a whole lot is going to have to go into to telling you that you can’t be a part of this anymore.
I’m using this as an illustration of a whole process. The church has made an assessment of you and cannot affirm what you’re saying about your faith. That’s alarming when the people around you know and love you and cannot affirm your faith.
We’re all accountable to each other. And to be out is not a good place to be.
I just want to say this, I went through the New Testament and every text that dealt with discipline. There are times where you are removed or “delivered over to Satan.” It’s a place where you’re so defiant we officially consider you out.
The other kind is a sort of shunning. Imagine you have a small group and you have created a bad situation. For example, the Thessalonian church deals with people who are idle and not working and feeding off the church. Paul said if you don’t work, you don’t eat. He said don’t feed them or associate with them. Don’t let them in your small group to have dinner. I don’t consider that to be an all-out expulsion of the church. But there may be something between the leaders and the group that shuns because of how the person is damaging the church.
These are kind of rare, but every once in a while, people damage the church in certain ways with their defiance.
This doesn’t happen without thoughtful prayer and consideration. There are different reasons you would do this. One we’ll look at today is blatant immorality. That’s happened in this church in Corinth. I’ve preached before while looking into the face of someone doing something about as immoral as you could imagine. Our elders had to deal with it.
Then there’s direct harm, like the guy who is idle. There could be different things, but you’re draining the life out of the church.
Or there’s divisiveness. People relationally causing problems and hurting people. That has to stop.
The final one is false teaching, poor doctrine. When we talk about divisiveness, there’s lots of room for differences. We all do things differently. It’s when your differences become divisive or you start teaching false doctrine.
Not everyone agrees on a lot of things in your Bible. But on the key doctrines we do. It happens all the time in churches where somebody takes something that’s not a core doctrine and makes it central. We can disagree on those things all day. But the core doctrines cannot being touched.
We had to remove a small group leader earlier in the life of this church and he took half of his small group with him. A decade later, this guy comes into a coffee shop, pulls up a chair in front of me and apologized for being divisive. We have to live with petty differences in doctrine that isn’t a core issue.
This isn’t about being in each other’s faces, but living in harmony. I’m trying to show you how to create harmony in the church. If you’re not here, how do you get to contribute to the health of the church? It’s a burden we all have, not just any one person.
We’re going to look at all three of these pieces within a church discipline process in 1 Corinthians 5.
This one man is committing sexual immorality in a way people outside the church wouldn’t even think is ok.
If you’re not in the church, you can’t even mourn. I want you to hear the implications of who we are together. We’re supposed to be heartbroken over this, but you can’t do that if you’re not in the church.
Somehow, when you remove this guy, that is equivalent to being delivered over to Satan. As if somehow you are pulled from the safety of the community. When you’re outside of the community, you are in Satan’s domain and vulnerable to darkness in some way. This is another graphic picture that it’s better to be in than be out.
Now, it’s very possible that the destruction of his flesh is just his sinful way he’s engaged in. That’s the best way to understand it. This has to do with weeding out a sinful practice that is destroying your life and harming the church, in the hope that he might be saved on the last day.
You better have a group of people in your life that will throw you out because it’s not a given that the way you’re living is going to carry you to the end. If you don’t have a community like that, it’s very dangerous.
This guy is removed so that there is potentially hope for him. Being disconnected from the fellowship will hurt him deeply enough to make him come to his senses and want to stop this.
Paul is going to explain his rationale for not keeping the guy in there. This is ecclesiology at its finest.
You have a corporate identity here where the church is considered a lump, a batch of dough. It only takes a tiny bit to affect the whole thing.
Leaven represents this moral contagion. There’s no private morality here. What you do affects the church. I guarantee most of us don’t live our lives like that. Would it stop you in your tracks if you knew that you weren’t the only one affected by it. It’s disproportionate. Tiny things affect the whole thing.
There’s a real blurry line between who I am in Christ and who I am in the body. My identity is so caught up in us that it’s not just about me. So what does it say to do? Cleanse out the leaven.
When you’re talking about leaven, you’re just talking about purity and impurity.
He’s talking about identity. This is who you really are. You are pure. So be pure. Christ has sacrificed for you.
Israel would celebrate Passover. Right after they did that, they would spend the next day and clean all the leaven out of their house as a ceremonial act of saying because God has made us pure we would be pure (where we get the idea of Spring cleaning).
They go through the whole house, not just the kitchen. He made us pure, so we’re going to be pure. He didn’t just make you pure, he made us pure.
We have identity and responsibility. Be pure. It’s not just between you and God, but between the whole church.
You have identity, responsibility, and accountability to pull it off. All three are right here in this process.
You hear this and see the weight of our responsibility with each other. None of this is happening if you’re not in the church. Notice what Paul writes here.
You can’t keep from associating with people in the world. We’re called to be mixing with them. Paul is writing so that we don’t associate with anyone who calls himself a brother and doesn’t live like it.
Who is outside and who is inside? We’re talking about being outside or inside the church.
We have to make sure we’re looking out for one another. God judges the ones who are outside.
Paul is distinguishing people who are in or out. You don’t want to be the guy outside in this picture. Every picture in the New Testament of a guy outside is not a good one.
You have responsibility to keep the church pure by keeping your life pure. Then holding others accountable. The church’s assessment of you really matters. There’s a sense in which Paul puts the church above the individual.