The Mystery of “hagiasmos” – Part Three
Exclusion & Restoration
The following message is the third message of a three part series on New Covenant Sanctification and was presented by Moe Bergeron at the 2014 “All Things New”, a yearly New Covenant discussion group. This particular message addresses the difficult issue of excommunication.
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New Covenant Sanctification and a New Covenant Approach to Church Discipline
1 Corinthians 5:1-5 ESV
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
2 Corinthians 2:5-11 ESV
Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. 6 For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. 10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, 11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.
In the above passages we have a serious situation that confronted the fairly young church at Corinth. A certain man was sexually involved with his father’s wife. It is the man’s stepmother. There are so many questions that are left unanswered. Was the man’s father aware of this crime? Was his father’s wife having sexual relations with both father and son. Paul has spared us the details of the horrible situation.
We may rightly conclude the man in question heard the gospel because someone cared for his soul. An evangelist, perhaps a friend or a family member, shared the news of the risen Christ to him. In response he made a public profession of faith and was baptized. He was numbered with the church at Corinth.
In all probability he began right and prospered in the things of Christ. He enjoyed seasons of prayer and the blessedness of table fellowship with the church. In addition, he would have benefited much from his fellow saints both publicly and privately as they shared the Word of God.
Corinth was a church that was called out of the darkness of a pagan world where sin and death reigned supreme until the gospel of Jesus broke forth and the new covenant ministry of the Spirit of God brought life to their souls. The power of God was evidenced in a most magnificent way.
We may rightly assume that the man in question was under the pastoral care of the overseers, and they in all probability, were appointed by the apostles themselves or by their representatives.
It was Paul who was used of God to open the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Elect at Corinth. His overseers and the church family had learned the word of God from the likes of Peter, Apollos and even Paul himself. It would appear to be the best of circumstances for the man in question and the saints of God at Corinth. Yet, despite the best of God’s providence the saints at Corinth tolerated his rebellion.
In fact, given Paul’s appraisal of the situation, the church did’t seem to care. It was as if they couldn’t care less. They were willfully passive, so much so, Paul described their response to the situation as arrogant. When they should have been mourning they were carrying on the affairs of the church without a trace of alarm or concern.
Mourning is an excellent choice of words. The absence of true godly sorrow among them was telling. Their tolerance of such great sin reveals their own callous relationship to their Lord God and Savior. Have they grown cold in their affections for Christ so soon? I believe as a community they had to some extent. Not only has the man in question committed great sin, the church itself is in great danger.
How was it possible for the Christ lovers of Corinth to be so tolerant of such a public sin? It certainly points to a contradiction. The apostle John writes:
“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 of life —is not from the Father but is from the world.” (1 John 2:15-16 ESV)
Do not love the world or 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 desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life —is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17 ESV)
At the heart of the Corinthian church’s failure to address the situation at hand was their own failure to rightly love God and one another. Their hearts had grown cool in both directions, thus their inability to look after the man’s welfare before God. God alone could do each and everyone of them some eternal good.
How is it possible to serve as God’s priests on behalf of one another if we allow ourselves the license to love less both our Savior and fellow saints?
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18 ESV)
Some did see their wayward brother’s need and the church’s failure to meet that need. With the exception of Chloe’s people (1 Cor. 1:11 ESV), and perhaps a few others, the majority was found to be sorely negligent. How could the church as a whole close their hearts to him? When God’s New Covenant saints sin, they sin against love, God’s love.
How is it that we do not carry our brothers and sisters in Christ before the throne of His grace when they are facing moral failure?
Perhaps we fail to do so because we posses something of a smug self-righteousness of our own. That too needs to be repented of.
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5 ESV)
How then can we be strong for our fellow Christians? Notice in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (ESV) how Paul connects the dots:
stand firm in the faith,
act like men, be strong.
Let all that you do be done in love.
Paul underscores or highlights the necessity to all that we do “in love”.
Love, God’s love working in and through those who have faith, is what’s missing in the Corinthian’s response to a brother in rescue. How differently this picture could have been drawn if this man’s brothers and sisters in Christ had looked after his welfare at the first hint of sin.
Paul’s response to this extremely serious situation is law-less. That’s right and it is for good reason.
Under Moses’ Law Paul would not be instructing the Corinthian church to turn the man in question over to Satan. That wouldn’t even be an issue. Under the rule of Law there was no sacrifice for this particular sin. The truth of the matter is this: if the Law of Moses was the church’s rule of life, death and only death, was required of the man for his sin.
“If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. (Deuteronomy 22:22 ESV)
Paul does not command the church at Corinth to put to death this man. In fact he commands the Corinthians to do something that would be unforgivable under the rule of law. Paul’s instructions is: “Let him who has done this be removed from among you.”
Some would argue that excommunication is the equivalent to the death penalty. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sadly, some churches and their pastors use excommunication to rid their assemblies of problem members. That in itself is horrendous sin. It is contrary to the Law of Christ.
The apostle Paul speaks for King Jesus as he is led by the Spirit of God.
Paul is a minister of the New Covenant and not a minister of the Old Covenant and its law.
“Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:5-6 ESV)
Many preachers do not understand the weight of Paul’s word, and being unable to discern the difference between the covenants and their respective ministries, they conflate the two to their own peril. The “Letter” kills, the “Spirit” gives life!
The Old Covenant was ratified by the blood of animals. The New Covenant was ratified by the blood of the Son of God, Jesus.
The New Covenant is much about the Cross of Christ and the reconciling of fallen man to the living God. It is the means through which God has satisfied his holy and righteous demand for sin’s payment and justice. Our Lord’s atoning death upon the Cross accomplished what was impossible for the law and its sacrifices to satisfy.
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-26 ESV)
There are few who ask how Paul could have instructed the Corinthian church as he did.
What scrolls and commentary did he consult?
Who among his peers did counsel him?
Where did he find a clear word to guide him as he composed his instructions?
My friends, the answer is to be found here;
“…since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have also obtained access through Him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2 HCSB)
“We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.” (Hebrews 13:10-13 ESV)