Monthly Archives: August 2014

The Lord’s Supper

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV.)

The Lord’s Supper is one of two sacraments, the other being baptism, ordained by Jesus. Baptism is observed only once by each Christian, as a sign of beginning his or her Christian life. The Lord’s Supper is observed repeatedly throughout our Christian life, as a sign of our continuing in fellowship with Christ. As observed in the quotation with which I opened this post, Jesus instituted it on the night of his betrayal. Although it has counterparts in other religious traditions, such as the sacrificial meals described in the Old Testament, it goes far beyond them in meaning and importance.

For the past week my family and I have been reading about the Lord’s Supper in our after-breakfast Bible reading, our reading Chapter 50, “The Lord’s Supper,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). Here I’ll share some of what we read, occasionally referring to other systematic theology books that I consulted in preparing for our family reading. I’ll summarize the major views of it, share what Grudem says about its meaning, and consider some questions about how it should be observed.

Major Views of the Lord’s Supper

Roman Catholics believe that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ when the priest says “This is my body” during Mass (their name for the Lord’s Supper), a view called transubstantiation. They believe that when this happens Christ’s sacrifice is repeated and that grace is imparted to those present. The view fails to recognize the symbolic nature of Jesus’ statements, which his disciples would have understood because of seeing him before them when he made the statements, and the finality and completeness of his sacrifice.

Although Lutherans don’t believe that the bread and actually become the body and blood of Christ, they believe that his physical body and blood are present “in, with, and under” the bread and wine. This view is called consubstantiation. Like transubstantiation it fails to recognize the symbolic nature of Jesus’ statements.

Other Protestants don’t believe that the bread and wine change into or somehow contain the body and blood of Christ. Instead they believe that the blood and the wine symbolize his body and blood. Many of them believe that Christ is also spiritually present in a special way. Thus Grudem says, “Certainly there is a symbolic presence of Christ, but it is also a genuine spiritual presence and there is a genuine spiritual blessing in this ceremony” (page 996). The belief that Christ is symbolically present is generally associated with Zwingli, and the belief that he is also spiritually present is generally associated with Calvin (both were leading Reformers).

Besides the discussion of these views in various systematic theology textbooks, I found helpful in understanding them the chapter on the Lord’s Supper in Gregg R. Allison’s Historical Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2011, pages 635-58).

The Meaning of the Lord’s Supper

Grudem identifies and comments on these things symbolized by the Lord’s Supper:

1. Christ’s death. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

2. The benefits of Christ’s death. “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins'” (Matthew 26:26-28).

3. Spiritual nourishment. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53).

4. The unity of believers. “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17).

He also identifies and comments on these things affirmed in the Lord’s Supper:

5. Christ affirms his love for me.

6. Christ affirms that all the blessings of salvation are reserved for me.

7. I affirm my faith in Christ.

Louis Berkhof terms #’s 1-4 “things signified” and #’s 5-7 “things sealed” (Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1939, pages 650-51).

How the Lord’s Supper Should Be Observed

Who should participate in the Lord’s Supper? Protestants generally agree that only those who believe in Christ should participate in the Lord’s Supper because it is a sign of being a Christian. Many also argue from the meanings of baptism and the Lord’s Supper that only those who are baptized or who plan to be baptized should participate in the Lord’s Supper, and some churches restrict participation in the Lord’s Supper to their own members and/or specify a minimum age for participating in the Lord’s Supper. The Pentecostal church which I attend practises what is called “open Communion” (Communion is another name for the Lord’s Supper), which means that all believers present are invited to participate in the Lord’s Supper.

Still on the same question, Paul told the Corinthians that people should examine their behaviour before participating in the Lord’s Supper–“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29). A. H. Strong suggests these as reasons to bar a person from the Lord’s Supper: immoral conduct, disobedience to the commands of Christ, heresy, and schism (Systematic Theology, Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1907, pages 973-75).

Who should administer the Lord’s Supper? Ordinarily the pastor or other leader who officiates at a church’s worship service should officiate at the Lord’s Supper too. However there doesn’t seem to be any reason why only leaders should distribute the elements. Thus the Pentecostal church which I attend invites different members of its congregation to share in distributing the elements.

What elements should be used in the Lord’s Supper? In the original Lord’s Supper a single loaf of unleavened bread and a single cup of wine were used. However often substitutes are used that retain the symbolism. For example, the Pentecostal churches which I attend uses wafers and small glasses of grape juice.

How often should the Lord’s Supper be celebrated? Throughout much of church history most of the church has celebrated the Lord’s Supper every week. However since the Reformation many Protestant groups have celebrated it less often. For example, the Pentecostal church which I attend celebrates it once a month.

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The Subjects and Mode of Baptism

For the past week my family and I have been considering baptism in our after-breakfast Bible reading, guided by Chapter 49, “Baptism,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). A few days ago I shared from what we read about the meaning of baptism, and in this post I’ll share from what we read about the subjects and mode of baptism. In both posts I occasionally make reference to other systematic theology books which I consulted in preparing for our family reading.

The Subjects of Baptism

In the New Testament water baptism was administered to believers when or shortly after they made a profession of faith. This practice is often called “believers’ baptism.” Here I’ll summarize the arguments made for it by Grudem, the arguments made for infant baptism by Louis Berkhof in his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, fourth edition, 1939, pages 632-42), and Grudem’s response to Berkhof’s arguments.

Grudem makes two main arguments for believers’ baptism. First he refers to several New Testament narratives in which baptism was administered to believers on their making a profession of faith, including:
– “Those who received his [Peter’s] word were baptized” (Acts 2:41).
– “When they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12).
– “Then Peter declared, ‘Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:46-48).
– “The Lord opened her [Lydia’s] heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And…she was baptized, and her household as well” (Acts 16:14-15).
– “They [Paul and Silas] spoke the word of the Lord to him [the Philippian jailor] and to all who were in his house…and he was baptized at once, he and all his family” (Acts 16:32-33).

Second he argues that Romans 6:3-4, Galatians 3:27, and Colossians 2:12 assume that baptism was a sign on inward regeneration.
– Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).
– “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).
– “[You were] buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12).

Berkhof makes these points in arguing for infant baptism, supporting them with Biblical or (for point 6) historical evidence:
1. The covenant made with Abraham was primarily a spiritual covenant, though it also had a national aspect, and of this spiritual covenant circumcision was a sign and seal.
2. This covenant is still in force and is essentially identical with the “new covenant” of the present dispensation.
3. By the appointment of God infants shared in the benefits of the covenant, and therefore received circumcision as a sign and seal.
4. In the new dispensation baptism is by divine authority substituted for circumcision as the initiatory sign and seal of the covenant of grace.
[Berkhof concludes from points 1-4 that just as children were circumcised in the old dispensation they have the right to be baptised in the new dispensation.]
5. [Although] the New Testament contains no direct evidence for the practice of infant baptism in the days of the apostles…the New Testament repeatedly speaks of the baptism of households….It is entirely possible, of course, but not very probable, that none of these households contained children.
6. [Although] the earliest historical reference to infant baptism is found in the writings of the last half of the second century…from the second century on, infant baptism is generally recognized, though it was sometimes neglected in practice.

Grudem responds to Berkhof’s points 1-4 by demonstrating the difference between the “covenant community” of the Old Testament and the “covenant community” of the New Testament. The former consisted of all Jews, one’s becoming a member of it by being born a Jew. Therefore all Jewish males (and even their male servants who lived among them) were to be circumcised. The latter consists of the church, one’s becoming a member of it by having saving faith and being born again. Therefore baptism should be given only to those who give evidence of being born again.

He responds to Berkhof’s point 5 by pointing out that in two of the three household baptisms reported in Acts (the household of Lydia, 16:15, and the household of the Philippian jailer, 16:33) and the epistles (the household of Stephanus, 1 Corinthians 1:16) indication is given of saving faith by all who were baptized–the family of the Philippian jailer (“[Paul and Silas] spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house,” Acts 16:32; see also 16:34) and the household of Stephanus (“you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints,” 1 Corinthians 16:15). The report of the baptism of Lydia and her household doesn’t indicate whether or not the household contained infants and thus must be considered inconclusive.

The Mode of Baptism

Historically the three major modes of baptism have been immersion (dipping the subject under water), affusion (pouring water on the subject), and sprinkling (sprinkling water on the subject). However in the New Testament baptism seems to have been administered just by immersion. Here I’ll summarize the arguments made for it by Grudem.

1. The Greek word baptizo means “to plunge, dip, or immerse” in water.

2. Immersion is appropriate and probably required for the word in several New Testament accounts:
– “All the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him [John] and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan” (Mark 1:5).
– “Jesus…was baptized by John in the Jordan…and…came up out of the water” (Mark 1:10).
– “John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there” (John 3:23).
– “They both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And…they came up out of the water” (Acts 8:38-39).

3. The symbolism of the believer’s union with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection seems to require baptism by immersion.

With Grudem (and with the denomination to which the church which I attend belongs, the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador), I think that baptism of believers by immersion is most consistent with New Testament practice.

The Significance and Meaning of Baptism

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3-5, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV.)

Baptism is one of two sacraments, the other being the Lord’s Supper, ordained by Jesus. A couple days ago my family and I began reading about it in our after-breakfast Bible reading, our reading Chapter 49, “Baptism,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). In this and my next post I’ll share some of what we read, occasionally referring to other systematic theology books that I consulted in preparing for our family reading.

The importance that Jesus gave to baptism is indicated by his being baptized by John the Baptist before beginning his ministry and his commissioning the eleven to baptize converts before returning to Heaven:
– Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)
– And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Almost all Christian churches practice baptism. However although there is agreement that it is connected with the beginning of the Christian life and of one’s initiation into the church, there is also much disagreement about it. Three questions about which there is disagreement are: what does it mean? who should be baptized? and how should it be done? I’ll consider the first one in this post and the other two in my next post.

Before considering what baptism means, I’ll share from Millard J. Erickson’s exposition on the four basic views of baptism held by different groups in his Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, third edition, 2013, pages 1017-24). I also found helpful in understanding those views the chapter on baptism in Gregg R. Allison’s Historical Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2011, pages 611-34). My consideration of what baptism means draws from Erickson’s exposition on the meaning of baptism (Erickson, pages 1025-28) as well as from Grudem (pages 968-69, on the symbolism of baptism, and 973-75, in responding to the Roman Catholic teaching that baptism is essential for salvation).

Views of Baptism

1. Baptism is a means of saving grace, resulting in the remission of sins. This view is held by Roman Catholics and Lutherans, the difference being that Roman Catholics hold that baptism saves by itself and Lutherans hold that faith is a prerequisite. A key passage is Romans 6:1-11, from which I quoted at the beginning of this post. The subjects of baptism are both believing adults and, to remove the taint of original sin, infants.

2. Baptism is a sign and seal of the covenant that God made with Abraham. This view is held by Reformed and Presbyterian churches. An important passage is Colossians 2:11-12, which affirms the replacing of circumcision by baptism. As in #1 the subjects of baptism are believing adults and their children.

3. Baptism is a token of salvation, an outward symbol of the inward change that takes place in the believer on placing his or her faith in Jesus Christ. This view is held by Baptists and other groups, including the denomination to which the church which I attend belongs (the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador). They prefer describing baptism (and the Lord’s Supper) as an ordinance rather than as a sacrament. An important passage is Matthew 28:18-20 (quoted above), in which Jesus ordained the act of baptism. The subjects of baptism are believers, those who have met the conditions for salvation–repentance and faith.

4. Baptism is the point at which God gives salvation. This view is held by Christian Churches and Churches in Christ. An important passage is Galatians 3:26-27, which connects both baptism and being sons of God with union with Christ and thus with each other. I don’t understand this view.

What Baptism Means

Some passages seem to support the view that baptism is a means of salvation:
– “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16; however the second part of the verse doesn’t refer to baptism).
– “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5; however the context indicates that “born of water” is synonymous with “born of the Spirit”).
– “Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16; however Ananias gives Saul two distinct commands, to be baptized and to have his sins washed away).
– “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5; however “washing of regeneration,” like “born of water” in John 3:5, could refer to a spiritual washing rather than to literal washing).
– “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21; Grudem explains how this passage could be paraphrased, “Baptism now saves you–not the outward physical ceremony of baptism but the inward spiritual reality which baptism represents,” page 974).
However, as indicated by my comments on the passages, I understand them to show that baptism symbolizes our being cleansed from sin rather than to assert that baptism cleanses us from sin.

Romans 6:3-4, quoted at the beginning of this post, indicates that baptism also symbolizes the believer’s union with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection. Another passage showing this symbolism is Colossians 2:12, “Having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”

Grudem concludes his consideration of the meaning of baptism thus: “The amazing truths of passing through the waters of judgment safely, of dying and rising with Christ, and of having our sins washed away, are truths of momentous and eternal proportion and ought to be an occasion for giving great glory and praise to God. If churches would teach these truths more clearly, baptisms would be the occasion of much more blessing in the church” (page 969). Amen!

Means of Grace Within the Church

For the past week my family and I have been reading in our after-breakfast Bible reading Chapter 48, “Means of Grace Within the Church,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994).

“Means of grace” are the ways used by God to bestow His grace or free and undeserved favour on mankind. Some theologians restrict the number to three–the preaching of the Word and the two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper–but others, including Grudem, add other activities. He lists and comments on these eleven ways accessible to believers within the church:

1. Teaching of the Word
2. Baptism
3. The Lord’s Supper
4. Prayer for one another
5. Worship
6. Church discipline
7. Giving
8. Spiritual gifts
9. Fellowship
10. Evangelism
11. Personal ministry to individuals

Performing the activities, even the first three, doesn’t automatically convey God’s grace. He conveys it only when they are performed with faith and obedience to Him.

In considering item 11, personal ministry to individuals, Grudem specifies and comments on various forms that it can take: “words of encouragement or exhortation or wise counsel…giving to assist the material needs of a brother or sister in need…anointing with oil [and] laying on of hands” (page 959).

I found particularly interesting what he says about the laying on of hands. He gives several examples of Jesus laying his hands on people to heal them and of people’s asking him to lay his hands on sick people. He also gives examples of early Christians laying on hands to heal, to empower people for ministry, and to impart a spiritual gift. As well he notes that Hebrews 6:1-2 includes the laying on of hands among the foundational doctrines, indicating its importance.

Since the activities generally occur within the church, we should not neglect “to meet together” (Hebrews 10:25). Grudem warns, “Those who neglect the fellowship of the church willfully cut themselves off from most of the ordinary means that the Holy Spirit uses to bring blessing to his people” (page 963).

Church Government

For the past week my family and I have been reading about church government in our after-breakfast Bible reading. We read parts of what Wayne Grudem says about forms of church officers and about church government in Chapter 47, “Church Government,” of his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994) and most of an Assemblies of God position paper on the role of women in ministry. I’ll share here some of what we read.

Church Officers

Grudem defines a church officer as “someone who has been publicly recognized as having the right and responsibility to perform certain functions for the benefit of the whole church” (page 905). The New Testament gives information about one church office which was limited to the early church, the office of apostle, and two church offices which continue through the church age, the offices of elder and deacon.

The New Testament identifies as apostles the twelve (with Matthias replacing Judas, Acts 1:26)), Barnabas and Paul (Acts 14:14), James the brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19), and possibly a few others. Their qualifications included having seen the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:21-22), winning converts for him (1 Corinthians 9:1-2), and exercising the gifts of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:12). Grudem observes that they “had unique authority to found and govern the early church” and “could speak and write words of God” (page 911).

Elders were the main governing group in New Testament churches. Acts 14:23 says that Paul and Barnabas “appointed elders for them [the disciples or believers] in every church” (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV). Other names used for elders in the New Testament are pastors (Ephesians 4:11) and bishops or overseers (1 Timothy 3:1). Their major roles in the New Testament were to govern or rule and to preach and teach (1 Timothy 5:17). Paul lists their personal qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:2-7 and Titus 1:6-9.

Deacons are distinguished from elders in Philippians 1:1, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers [elders; see above] and deacons.” The word for “deacon” is translated “servant” when it is used in contexts not dealing with church officers, suggesting the function of deacons. Although the seven men appointed “to serve tables” because of the neglect of Hellenist widows in the daily distribution of provisions to the needy in Acts 6:1-6 aren’t referred to as deacons, they are generally considered to be the first deacons. Paul lists the personal qualifications of deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8-13.

Forms of Church Government

Churches today have many different forms of government, ranging from the Roman Catholic Church with its world government under the Pope to independent churches with no government beyond the local congregation. However they can be grouped into three main categories–episcopalian, presbyterian, and congregational.

In the episcopalian form of church government the chief ministers are bishops. The Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, the Church of England (known as the Anglican Church in Canada and as the Protestant Episcopal Church in United States), and the Methodist Church have this form of church government. They vary in the number of levels of ministers. The first level is priest or rector, who administers a local congregation or parish. The second level is bishop, who administers a church district called a diocese. The third level is archbishop, who administers a church district called an archdiocese. The episcopalian form of church government is not found in the New Testament, but its proponents claim that it developed naturally from the New Testament church.

In the presbyterian form of church government the chief ministers are elders. At the Reformation the Presbyterian leaders thought that they were restoring the original form of church government. In the system each local church elects elders to a session, which governs the church. A church’s pastor is chosen by its session but ordained by its presbytery. The members of the session are also members of a presbytery, which has authority over several churches in a region. Some of the members of the presbytery are members of a general assembly, which has authority over all the presbyterian churches in a country or region. Reformed churches have a similar form of church government but use different names for the governing bodies: consistory instead of session, classis instead of presbytery, and synod instead of general assembly.

In the congregational form of church government ultimate authority rests with the local congregation. Grudem distinguishes among five varieties of it which he calls single elder or single pastor, plural local elders (with one of them being the pastor or senior pastor), corporate board, pure democracy, and “no government but the Holy Spirit.” Congregations may enter into cooperative affiliations but these are strictly voluntary in nature. Congregationalism as a system appeared after the Reformation. Major denominations with the congregational form of church government are Baptists, Congregationalists, and most Lutheran groups.

Grudem gives extensive arguments for and against each form of church government, but instead of reading them in our family Bible reading we read the description of the organizational structure of the Assemblies of God by Michael L. Dusing in Systematic Theology: A Pentecostal Perspective (edited by Stanley M. Horton, Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1994, pages 551-52). I won’t share from either here, but if you have a question about them ask it in a comment on this post and I’ll answer in a reply to your comment.

The Role of Women in Church Ministry

Because Grudem argues that women should not function as pastors or elders within the church but the denomination to which my family belongs allows them to do so, we read an Assemblies of God position paper on the role of women in church ministry, The Role of Women in Ministry as Described in Holy Scripture, instead of Grudem’s discussion of it. Basically it concludes that the Biblical and historical examples of women in ministry and the Holy Spirit’s distributing spiritual gifts to women as well as to men indicate that women should be allowed to minister and provide spiritual leadership. Thus it explains the New Testament passages that seem to prohibit them from doing so, 1 Corinthians 14:34-36 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15, as dealing with specific local problems that needed correction rather than prohibiting women from functioning as pastors or elders.

Church Discipline

For the past few days my family and I have been reading in our after-breakfast Bible reading what Wayne Grudem says about the power of the church in Chapter 46, “The Power of the Church,” of his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). In my last post I shared some of what he said about the keys of the kingdom, and in this post I’ll share some of what he says about church discipline. Although we read the entire chapter (except for what it says about discipline of church leaders), I won’t be sharing here from what it says about the church’s power in spiritual warfare and about the power of the church and the power of the state.

The Purposes of Church Discipline

Sin hinders fellowship among believers and with God, and the sin must be dealt with for reconciliation to occur. Thus the primary purpose of church discipline has two goals, to restore the offender to right behaviour and to bring about reconciliation between believers and with God. Grudem compares the role of the church in doing this with parents’ and God’s disciplining their children. In doing this he cites Proverbs 13:24 and Hebrews 12:6, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” and “The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).

Another purpose of church discipline is to keep sin from spreading to others. Paul had this mind when he asked the Corinthians, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (1 Corinthians 5:6), in connection with his telling them to put out of the church a man who was having sexual relations with his stepmother.

A third purpose of church discipline is to protect the purity of the church so that Christ will not be dishonoured. He wants his bride, the church, to be “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing” (Ephesians 5:27). Thus we should “be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish” (2 Peter 3:14).

Sins Subject to Church Discipline

On the one hand, in Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus taught that if a personal sin against someone else couldn’t be resolved privately, then it should be dealt with by the church:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

On the other hand, the New Testament specifies several kinds of sins that should be dealt with by the church: incest (1 Corinthians 5:1-5); laziness and unwillingness to work (2 Thessalonians 3:6-10); disobeying Paul’s writings (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15); blasphemy (1 Timothy 1:20); divisiveness (Titus 3:10); and teaching heresy (2 John 10-11). Grudem notes that all of these sins were publicly known and thus brought dishonour to Christ.

How Church Discipline Should Be Carried Out

Matthew 18:15-17, quoted above, suggests both that knowledge of the sin should be kept to the smallest group possible and that disciplinary measures should increase in strength until there is a solution. Grudem suggests a step between the small group meeting and the church meeting, consulting the church leaders, and that the church might have to meet twice, first to decide what to do with the offender and then to exclude him or her from church fellowship. He also notes that Jesus went on to say that God would support the church’s discipline of the offender (Matthew 18:18-20).

If the church’s discipline results in the repentance by the offender, those who know about the situation should welcome him or her back into church fellowship. “You should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him” (2 Corinthians 2:7-8).