November 15, 2014

Strained Relations III: The Road Less Traveled

[Continued from Previous Post]

So, when it comes strained relations between professing Christians, I guess this short series of posts comes down to one final question: 

Are there places where I should avoid relationships with Christians or people that call themselves Christians altogether? 

Are there places where I should seek to avoid or restrict fellowship or relationship? In this new evangelical age where many within the Church will tell us that we should be accepting of others and inclusive of questionable ideas...are there definitive places where we should forsake relationships? In short, yes. There are times in the church where fellowship must be restricted to one degree or another. Sometimes the separation needs to be complete.

First are the recalcitrant and rebellious.

The Disobediently Immoral

In 1 Corinthians 6, states that unrepentant immoral persons like fornicators, drunkards, etc. will not inherit the Kingdom. They are therefore worthy of Church discipline. Paul informed the Corinthians that Christians were not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all. He was referring to the people of the world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. Christians must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. They are not even supposed to associate with these type of people in non-spiritual situations unless it is to directly lead them to Christ. Do not even eat with such people. Instead they are worthy of rebuke and correction or are to be delivered to Satan (1 Corinthians 5:5-7). 

The reason this separation must occur is because of the really bad influence it has on the obedient Christian. Even the obedient Christian is prone to sin. When in the presence of the immoral the obedient Christian is likely to wander and may stumble in their Christian walk. Even if the Christian does not engage in the sin of the immoral Christian there is a risk of guilt by association. Just being around these people will have people flapping their mouths in gossip and we owe it to Christ not to allow this. It is best to just get away from these types of people. This is one of those old adages that is actually in the Bible.

1 Corinthians 15:33 ~ Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”

The Apostates

The second category of people which we should have restricted relationships with are the apostates. We must be leery of those who “fall away” (Luke 8:13) or those who “depart from the faith”. No I will not be discussing the possibility of people losing their salvation and that is why I have put "falling away" and "departing from the Faith" in parenthesis as a generalized euphemism. What I will state is that, if these people are in the church they must be dealt with in accordance with Scripture. Whomever they are they need to be handled with some form of discipline.

1 Timothy 4:1 ~ “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.”

This discipline should not be unduly harsh for the new-believer because they may not even know the gravity of their wrong. This punishment is geared more towards those “in the know”. The “mature Christians” who know better having learned the Scripture and chose to walk way form it intellectually in the Church itself. The new believer might not even understand the significance of the disciple but the older member should. Those that have “matured” somewhat know the implications of their apostasy and why discipline is involved. In these cases discipline has to be exercised or the entire body could be in jeopardy of false teaching or false doctrine which is the next restriction.

2 Thessalonians 3:6,14-15 ~ “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.”

If apostates remain unchecked in the church they will always lead people astray through false teaching and demonic doctrines. They are the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. It is the act of apostasy where these one-time sheep don the apparel of the wolf. More accurately, it is at the point of apostasy where the true wolves divests themselves of the sheep’s disguise and manifest their true character which is the character of a rapacious predator.

The Fomenter of False Doctrine

The final and most dangerous group that demands restriction concerns teachers of false doctrine right within the church. These people are poison in the well. We are to ἐκκλίνετε or turn away from these people completely. Just as they have turned away from the True God, we must turn away from them back in the direction of God. This turning away is to fully avoid by deliberate, decisive rejection. Contrary to common belief, we are to shun them and deviate from the same path that false teachers are on. To say another way, even if the whole church is on the wrong path, we need to avoid that path. We must take the road less traveled that leads to God. Not because the path lacks wear but because we are called to be different from the world. We are called on a path of holiness and this path will often see us walking alone to avoid the falsity of the world and its deceitful thinking and deceptive teaching.

Romans 16:17 ~ “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them”

After a firm and public rejection of their doctrine which includes explaining why the false doctrine is wrong, the false teacher needs to be rejected and ejected. The correction must be made public and harshly because no one knows to whom or what depth the false teaching has burrowed into the body. A public rebuttal and public form of proper teaching arrests the infection or corruption of false teaching. False teaching is like a diseased parasite entering a host. It must be completely excised and removed to avoid risk of another infection. Paul speaks heartily to Titus about this very thing…

Titus 1:10-16 ~ For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

This passage of course goes back to the last post’s idea that things might be well-communicated but poorly backed or acted on. Paul says it explicitly here, “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works…” Actions speak louder than words! This is the perfect Scriptural example.

Paul dealt with two people like this in the exact manner prescribed above when writing to Timothy. Paul severed relationship with what appeared to other “believers” and delivered them to Satan just as he had with those in 1 Corinthians 5.

1 Timothy 1:19-20 ~ “….holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”

1 Corinthians 5:5 ~ “…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”

How does one determine which teachings are significantly erroneous to warrant disciplinary action? When two brethren (or two groups) hold opposite viewpoints on various points it is quite obviously someone is usually in error. How to tell what to do? Knowing what is false teaching and what is not leads us to two things stipulated by Scriptures. One: Scripture itself. Two: Prayer after Scripture. These are the avenue demanded of us as Christian. When we rely on any other measure, we subject ourselves and the Body of Christ to error.

As I have heard it said many times and it still holds true. In essentials, unity in Scripture and Christ, in non-essentials we need to have liberty. We cannot be dogmatic in non-essentials. What should be considered essentials? We need to see salvational issue as essential. Anything that would jeopardize someone’s salvation should be rigidly gripped and held on to. We need to loosen our grip on things that do not pertain to salvation and allow breathing room. When it comes to issues of conscience or foibles we need caution.

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