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Sunday, February 23, 2014

One Size Doesn't Always Fit All

How are we to behave toward (i) un-repented brothers in the church, (ii) profane people, (iii) splendid pagans (i.e. the populace) who live in the neighborhood and (iv) those who preach another gospel?

Imagine a person plotting to commit murder. Would any sane person think that after the murder was committed the killer was no longer guilty of sinful contemplation? Although the intention to act is not typically as consequential as the act itself, the manner of an intention often times determines the degree of punishment that will be inevitably indexed to the act itself.  Was the murder committed in self-defense and not intended, intended but spontaneous, or committed with considerable malice aforethought etc.? It’s easy to see that the intention from which an act proceeds is indeed relevant, and all the more when God judges. That is why premeditated acts may be weighed differently than spontaneous ones that result in the same outcome. At the very least, isn’t an intention to commit a crime still worthy of penalty in cases in which the ultimate act is providentially prevented by something other than the will of the plotter?

Why is it then that those who have plotted to sue out unlawful divorce are not considered throughout the universal church in need of repentance even after the divorce is finalized? Is high-handed, premeditated and unlawful pursuit ever absolved upon culmination, in this case receiving a written bill of divorcement? I should say not. One’s “victory” in gaining an unlawful divorce can never exonerate him. Even after divorce, any guilty party is to repent and seek forgiveness for pursuing divorce.
Now what about unlawful acts that can be undone but should not be? Many sorts of "unlawful" marriages, for instance, ought not to be dissolved though entered into unlawfully. Why are professing Christians after pursuing unlawful marriages to unbelievers not universally deemed candidates by the church for biblical confrontation even after entering into such an unholy alliance? In a biblically informed ecclesiastical setting, one in which elders are doing their job, such an unholy union resulting from considerable deliberation in the face of loving confrontation would result in excommunication.

un-repented brothers in the church

Upon excommunication Scripture is clear that believers are to withdraw themselves from the unrepentant sinner; any contact should be conscious and deliberate, never casual or idle, according to a ministry of focused gospel reconciliation lest the seriousness of ecclesiastical sanction is undermined along with any proper sense of urgency for repentance and restoration. Although the unrepentant sinner is to be regarded as an unbeliever, he is not like the world. Repentance in such cases is not to be seen as bringing forth salvation but rather restoration of a wayward child. Excommunication is for reclaiming a brother. It is not to be seen as evangelism. Accordingly, those brothers from whom we are to withdraw are not to be counted as enemies of Christ but rather lost sheep (not goats) in the need of admonishment. The Westminster Confession of Faith rightly states that “Church censures are necessary, for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren...” Our hope should be that shame would come from God’s mandated avoidance, which in the end might aid in a changed heart and biblical restoration. (2 Thess. 3:6 ff)

There is a difference between a covenant breaker and a heathen. Yet it is wrongly thought that one who is excommunicated is no different than the world and that spending idle time with such a one is acceptable. First off, no time spent should be utterly idle and without Godward purpose. Even rest should be thought of in self-conscious terms of recharging our batteries in order to serve God. In any case, this sort of thinking (that an excommunicated person is no different than the world) makes way for covenant breakers to live comfortably in their sin, without the shame that should accompany their obstinate heart. It is often times out of selfishness or familial convenience that Christians disobey God’s word on this matter and spend unjustifiable amounts of time with wayward friends and family members. What’s worse is when Christians disobey God’s word by spending out of convenience  inordinate amounts of  time - void of prayerful purpose - with the decidedly unrepentant in the name of “building relationships” so that an occasion might arise to offer, once again, the demands of the gospel. We must share in the sufferings of Christ and if we feel called on to engage, then engage we must but with purpose and in tears. 

Yes, Jesus spent time with sinners but it was always on his terms and on his time table. Jesus preached the Kingdom of God. He warned of eternal damnation. Jesus confronted sin and preached righteousness. The relationship building that Jesus was engaged in was saturated with the word. His relationships were always brought in short order to a terminus point, Himself.  Jesus' relationship buidling and ours looks much different I'm afraid.

Unfortunately, many congregations do not practice formal ecclesiastical censure. What is the parishioner to do in such cases? That can be a thorny question to many but I think the answer is clear. The instruction to withdraw from disorderly brethren is given to all in the church, whereas the "keys" are granted only to the elders. So even if the elders don't discharge their ministerial and declarative obligations, parishioners can discharge their own. The charge to avoid disorderly brethren  still stands. There is also a time to withdraw from liberal ministers who refuse to obey God's word on this matter and others.
profane people
There are other sorts of people who are utterly self-indulgent, existential, living without constraint and without natural affection; from such we are to turn away. (2 Timothy 3:5) We are forbidden to cast pearls before swine. Yet we must balance such instruction with the Great Commission, to preach the gospel to every creature. The resolution to this conundrum is that we are not to waste undo time with profane persons. “Preach the word; be instant in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” but be willing to shake the dust off your sandals should the profane person not respond with interest.  (Matt. 10:14; 2 Timothy 4:2;)

splendid pagans (i.e. the populace) who live in the neighborhood

A Christian’s manner of life is to be consistent with the gospel. Our light is to shine before men. There should be more striving with people and building purposeful relationships in order to win the lost. We need to strive with splendid pagans and be prayerfully purposeful in our pursuit. 

by way of review (the first three groups)

When one who is called a brother has been unambiguously confronted with sin that undermines a credible profession of faith and there is no repentance to be found in him, he is to be avoided until such time he repents. If the person is attending a church that does not have the pastoral fortitude to confront and censure their rebellious members, the instruction to Christians still abides. Individual Christians are to confront in all longsuffering and if necessary avoid such people (whether the church does its job or not).

We are to place mockers of the gospel and those living without constraint in a different category all together. We are to throw them the life line of the gospel then move on if the fish aren’t biting.

We are to be all things to all men so that we might win some. This pertains to the populace.
those who preach another gospel
Finally, there is a fourth category of person - those who would bring another gospel. The short answer is, do not receive such a one into your house or even extend him a greeting. (2 John 1:10)


How often have we seen Christians attend marriages that were entered into unlawfully? How often does this occur under the pretense of wanting to be supportive? It's a terrible thing to rely upon our own understanding and not God's word. Just imagine fathers of sons and daughters refusing to attend a wedding on biblical principle. Imagine if the church marshaled together and obeyed God in faith?

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Anonymous said...

The good results that come from obedience won't happen until people obey.

Anonymous said...

How about Christians dating non Christians!!! Parents are as weak as the church! Parents should forbid it but they don't liove their children God's way and that's not to love at all! Keep crying in the wilderness brother!

Reformed Apologist said...

Dating is hands on education for ungodliness. And I mean hands on. Parents that allow it are either willfully ignorant or spiritually blind. Elders who see it without speaking up aren't qualified for the office. It's a disgrace.

Reformed Apologist said...

There is a "dating" that is not like the world's and is consistent with biblical principles. Some thoughts on that can be found here.

The dating I'm referring to in the comment box above has to do with the sort if recreational dating that would even contemplate believers matched with unbelievers. Can two walk together if they're not agreed?

Puritan Lad said...

Had an interesting discussion and am curious to hear your thoughts. What does the church do in the case of a polygamist Mormon who converts to Christianity? Does he keep all of his wives? Is it a case of where we accept the family into church membership but deny the possibility of the man being in church leadership?

Reformed Apologist said...


Real quickly, when faced with choosing between what appears to be competing truths I try to exam the premises more carefully. I'm not big on choosing the lesser of evils. I suspect the solution might be that the man only has one wife, the first woman he actually did marry. The subsequent relationships were all unlawful I'd say. Accordingly, if the first one were to die he wouldn't then be married to the second in line. Rather, he'd have no wife (and a lot of explaining to do to those he had known).

Is this for real?

Reformed Apologist said...

Found this, which opposes my view.

I think one problem with such a common view is it ignores the ontological reality of marriage with respect to one flesh. It also undermines the archetype and singularity of Christ's one bride.

Tough issue, no doubt.

Puritan Lad said...


It was a hypothetical, but it was asked of me just last week. Definitely a tough issue, especially if there are children involved.