Dan Popp
Lawless churches
By Dan Popp
March 2, 2012

For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God.... — The Apostle Peter (1 Peter 4:17a, NASB)

In the initial essay of this series I said that lawless government is an oxymoron. The power of the state unrestrained by the authority of law is merely violence for hire, predation by proxy. But, to borrow from Joseph de Maistre, we have the government we deserve. The unabashed lawlessness in the corridors of power is a reflection of what's going on in our society. And our society reflects the condition of our churches.

When was the last time your church expelled a member? I've witnessed this a couple of times, though not recently. There were tears, prayers — and fervent hope that this drastic move would lead to restoration of the fallen brother or sister. Church discipline is necessary to the health of the Christian body. Jesus and the Apostles gave us both instructions and examples — like Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 5:1-12, and 2 Cor. 2:5-11. If no one is ever expelled from your church, I hope it's because the fear and the love of God pervade the congregation; the leaders are watchful for their flock; and the members of the family uphold one another in the faith. I hope it isn't because no one really cares whether fellow "believers" are bringing glory or shame to the name of Christ.

I'm afraid that our lack of church discipline is a symptom of lawlessness in the church. But we could just as easily substitute other symptoms, like the fact that there is statistically no difference between the divorce rate inside and outside Evangelical churches. What exactly is supposed to be different about Christians? If we don't know, or can't show it, no wonder the world has such funny ideas about Christianity.

This might be a good place to say that Christians determine who is a Christian, and who is not. The politically correct notion that anyone who calls himself a Christian must be accepted as such (despite all statements and actions to the contrary) is several dimensions of insane. It's yet another instance of the left confusing rights with qualifications. You don't have a "right" to be a medical doctor; other doctors accept you into their ranks if-and-only-if they are convinced that you meet the qualifications. Real names and titles are always bestowed by others. I may not pronounce myself a policeman, or a pilot, or a particle physicist. There are requirements. There are tests. Then — maybe — there is validation. No one has the authority to declare himself a member of any particular church, much less the church. This is another way of saying that you may not compel everyone else to live in your fantasy.

Someone will object that Jesus has the final say as to who's in His church. Absolutely true. But we've run into the "therefore, non sequitur" miscue again. Christ being the sole authority on church membership doesn't say anything about whether believers can have complete knowledge, some knowledge, or no knowledge of His mind in this matter. From the fact that the Lord "knows His sheep" it does not necessarily follow that we sheep can't tell the difference between another sheep, and a sheep-eater. The evidence is pretty strong that (within some limitations) we can know, and Jesus wants us to know, who's real and who's fake. He's given us a primer on how to authenticate a Christian. It's the letter of 1 John. But maybe we can talk about that another time.

The church of Jesus has struggled against pretenders for over 2,000 years. The Lord spoke about wolves in wool suits, judging a tree by its fruit, and weeds among the wheat. The Apostles warned about false prophets, false teachings, false apostles and even false Christs. In his letter to the Galatians Paul damned to hell anyone who preached a "different gospel." Peter and Jude both warned of counterfeit Christians.
    For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. ... These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. ...

    These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage. But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, "In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts." These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. (selected verses from Jude 4-19 — compare 2 Peter 2)
It's a little late to whine that Christians aren't inclusive. That's one of the defining things about real Christianity: since it is something real, it can be defined. It is definitely this, and just as definitely not that. Only imaginary things can be "whatever you imagine them to be."

Unfortunately for those who don't pass the test, there is a test.

The early church didn't admit members upon a bare profession of faith. There was a period of probation in which a catechumen learned the essential doctrines of Christianity, and during which he was observed for practical evidence that Christ had really made him a "new creature." Then he was baptized in water, hands were laid upon him to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and he was admitted to the full communion, life — and perils — of the family of God. Many churches today seem to operate like a summer softball team. Show up if you can, put a few bucks into the pot, it would be great if you could practice a little between games, but you're here — and that's all that matters.

No, what matters is the glory of God. What matters is the light of the gospel bringing some kind of illumination to society. What matters is salt tasting salty.

Christian leaders: Allowing the unrepentant to sit in the pew, sing the hymns and participate in the family meal is a scandal to those in the church, as well as to those outside the church. It is lawlessness.

© Dan Popp


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