Christians are supposed to act like Christians. Christians are commanded to gather together in local churches, wherever they happen to live, and worship the Lord as part of a congregation. If Christians within that congregation don’t act like, well . . . Christians, then the Lord expects God’s people to police themselves like adults.
Now, of course, the New Testament gives us specific guidelines about how to do this the right and proper way. The Lord Jesus Himself talked about how to handle disputes between brethren (Mt 18:15-17). The Apostle Paul gave very specific instructions for how a congregation should handle a case of known, obvious and public sin (1 Cor 5).
This isn’t a popular topic in churches today. Our culture encourages softness and timidity. The one unpardonable sin is to be certain about anything, and many Christians today would rather tolerate blatant sin under the mushy and ethereal banner of “love” than actually try and do anything about it.
Pastors don’t do church discipline. Christians don’t expect church discipline. People gasp in horror at the very idea of actually holding other Christians accountable for their behavior within a local congregation.
Once, in the midst of a very unfortunate church discipline process, a woman scolded me, saying, “Kicking somebody out of a church is a Catholic doctrine!!” Sure, and the sky is neon green and Elvis still lives . . . But, the point is that the concept of Christians lovingly holding each other accountable to, well . . . act like Christians is a scandalous idea in churches today.
This is where a well-rounded, whole-Bible approach to individual and corporate conduct can help us out. Behold this tidbit from the long section in the Book of Leviticus on sin and trespass offerings to the Lord:
Leviticus 5:1 (NET) When a person sins in that he hears a public curse against one who fails to testify and he is a witness (he either saw or knew what had happened ) and he does not make it known, then he will bear his punishment for iniquity.
Consider what this means:
- If an Israelite is aware that a particular sin occurred in the congregation,
- and this Israelite is a witness to that sin and has knowledge of it,
- and the Israelite knows he has a legal duty to cough up what he knows
- and he doesn’t say anything about it (i.e. “I know NOTHING!!!“)
- then this Israelite will be punished by God
In other words, if you don’t speak up when you know sin is in the congregation, then you’re guilty, too. Ouch. Yikes. This is pretty harsh and direct.
The Old Covenant has been replaced by the New and better covenant. But, several key principles carry right over – because they transcend temporary covenant arrangements and reflect how God has always dealt with His people. This is one of these key principles:
- God elects and saves each of His people
- God expects His people to walk worthy of their new heavenly citizenship
- God expects His people to want to do this because they love Him, and are eternally grateful
- This means God’s people will have an honest, heartfelt desire for personal holiness and corporate holiness – today, that means local congregations should want to be holy as a collective group
- Part of this honest desire for personal holiness means God’s people police one another for their own individual and corporate good
God’s people don’t police each other out of a spirit of malice or pettiness (e.g. “I’m gonna git somethin’ on ole’ Mrs. Smith this time!!”). If you do this, you’re a fool. But, the fact remains that God’s people have always been expected to police each other for both (1) the offender’s own good, and (2) the corporate good of the entire congregation. Let me offer an application for today:
- If a Christian is a member of a local congregation (and the New Testament presupposes this),
- and that Christian is aware of an unrepentant, deliberate sin another member is committing, in that he either witnessed it or has knowledge of it,
- and the Christian knows he has a legal duty (both from Scripture and, very likely, his local church covenant) to lovingly confront that brother or sister,
- and that Christian doesn’t say anything about it and pretends everything is great,
- then that Christian is being deliberately disobedient to God’s word and will likely be cursed (i.e. God will discipline him through a variety of different means)
Read Leviticus 5:1 for yourself, and consider how easy this is to swallow in the modern American church. It probably wouldn’t go over too well. When I was a Pastor, I had planned to tackle Leviticus in about six sermons or so; to do a short survey so I could at least expose the congregation to this important book and all the insight it gives us into Jesus Christ and how God expects His people to live their daily lives. I regret that I wasn’t able to get to it.
I wish more Pastors would tackle this wonderful book, and help Christians understand why it matters to read it and understand it.