Recently I came into contact with some people that are connected to a very famous European church. One of these folks expressed distress that many of the young adults were living together out of wedlock, and others were having sexual relations without the commitment of marriage. Because they had attended my leadership seminar, their eyes were opened to the importance of enforcing discipline. Readers of this newsletter know that I am deeply concerned that Western congregations rarely enforce biblical standards.
I did some research on this church and found that the Pastor had actually written very powerfully on the importance of covenant marriage and the dangers of sexual relations before marriage. He correctly taught that all extra-marital sexual relationships were sin, and presented powerful reasons for limiting sexual relations to within marriage. He presented convincing empirical evidence of the consequences of pre-marital sexual relationships: negative effects after marriage, difficulties maintaining lasting commitments, the lingering pain of broken relationships, disease, the loss of trust and finally the loss of the joy that is especially reserved for those who wait. The most important reason to hold unswervingly to covenant marriage is of course, the commandment of God.
A Culture of Sexual Indulgence in a Church
Yet, how could it be that a culture of sexual indulgence has been established in the context of such fine teaching? The reason was brought out in another statement in one of this pastor’s books. He basically stated that the Church was to teach the truth but “to accept all people who come at whatever stage they were in.” That certainly should be true for those who are searching and do not profess to be followers of Yeshua. It is equally certain that it is not the measure for professing believers. The unfortunate reality in the conduct of this church community is that the culture of the young adults has undercut the application of the fine teaching of the pastor; the culture has become a stronger influence than his teaching!
Messianic Jews are to Uphold the Standards of the Word
As a Messianic Jewish leader, I would hope that Messianic Jews would be in the forefront of enforcing biblical standards, for the Torah is to go forth from Zion. We embrace the words of Yeshua that we are to teach people to obey all His commandments. Yeshua in us is the key to this obedience. Yeshua has very clear commandments on discipline as well.
Many believers erroneously think that enforcing standards and practicing congregational discipline run contrary to showing love and mercy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hebrews 12:7-11 tells us that God himself disciplines us because He loves us as His children. In Matthew 18:15 Yeshua outlines the process of correction; He commands it. Paul echoes this in Galatians 6:1,2. Of course, if a professing believer is in serious sin and does not repent after the stages of loving confrontation, then this person is to be barred from the fellowship.
Paul says in 1 Cor. 5:10 that followers of Yeshua are not to keep company with immoral people. He clarifies that this does not mean the people of the world, but those who profess to be believers in Yeshua and yet practice sexual immorality, covetousness, extortion, idolatry, reveling, and drunkenness (1 Cor. 5:11). He then asks,
“Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside, God judges. Therefore put away from yourselves the evil person.” (1 Cor. 5:12, 13)
The Consequences of Failing to Enforce Discipline
When a community of believers allows people to practice sin and maintain their involvement in the community, all the while continuing to profess that they are believers in Yeshua, terrible consequences follow. What are these consequences?
For the persons involved in practicing sin, the lack of discipline teaches more than pulpit messages: it says that their sin is really not so serious. They are thereby lulled into complacency. They lose the fear of God, the blessing of God, and finally may even lose salvation, for no one that practices sin will enter the Kingdom of God, either here or in the hereafter. Therefore, not practicing discipline is very unloving. When the consequences of sin are the loss of fellowship in the Body, the person is required to take stock of their behavior and the possibility of real repentance is greatly increased. Discipline as enjoined in the Bible is a mercy from God.
The consequences in the community are enormous. As in this one church, we can create a culture of sin in the community as a whole or in a particular sub-group. When this happens, the community loses the presence and power of God. They will become ineffective. In addition, they will become a source of dishonor to Yeshua. Many in the world will see the congregation as “just a bunch of hypocrites.” There is a basic standard of holiness we must maintain. If people fall into sin, repent and fall again, even multiple times, God is merciful both to the person and the community. However, when the person has no intention of repenting but is intent on continuing in sin, this must not be met with indulgence. We do not speak here of visitors or seekers, but those who profess to be believers. The health of marriages and families is at stake in enforcing discipline. We must not let it be said of us that the name of God is blasphemed among the nations due to our sin.
I have been in some kind of pastoral leadership for over 36 years. I have seen our many communities take discipline seriously. The results are wonderful. There is very little divorce and a strong sense of holiness and the presence of God. May we see this in Israel and then from here, may this spread to the nations!