Our Position on Church Discipline
When a person reflects upon the church, they often think about the preaching, music, or programs offered for children and families. Or, perhaps, they think about certain outreach opportunities, mission trips, or evangelistic endeavors sponsored by their local congregation. But what rarely comes to mind when thinking of the church is public discipline. Discipline seems outdated and archaic, hardly fit for a loving community in today’s tolerant culture.
However, discipline is a part of everyday life. People practice it in their homes with their children. Teachers administer discipline to unruly students. Employers discipline workers who are not fulfilling their responsibilities. Police practice it with citizens who are not abiding by the law. In virtually every relationship we are in, there is an aspect of discipline which undergirds it. It is a built in set of checks-and-balances that place healthy parameters on our social structures. This is no different from what we find in the Church today. To be sure, there is confusion about public discipline in the church. Most churches don’t practice it and those which do may not even handle it correctly.
The first question which should be asked is, “Why would a person come under public church discipline?” R. Albert Mohler Jr. has rightly noted that the New Testament reveals three areas of danger requiring the church to take this sort of serious action: 1) Purity of doctrine, 2) Purity of life, and 3) Unity of Fellowship. These categories can undermine the health and safety of any local church and must be confronted. Whether it is heresy, sexual immorality or gossip, the Bible is clear that when sin goes unchecked, the entire Body will feel the effects. Not confronting such issues would allow unrepentant individuals to cause further spiritual harm to themselves. Looking the other way would also set a morally compromising standard for those who are aware of the sin yet don’t see the leadership addressing it.
When looking at Mt.18:15-17, we find a step-by-step process that the church must take in bringing discipline against one of her members. The initial stage is where there is a simple confrontation of the individual in sin. It is to be done one-on-one, and instigated by one who has already removed the plank from their own eye so they are able to see the speck in their brother’s eye (Mt.7:3-5). This keeps the circle tight and allows dialogue between two people rather than sharing the situation more broadly. It also allows the offended party to see if they had misperceived or misunderstood something without having rumors flying like sparks throughout the church. If the brother or sister was in sin and is repentant, then the discipline should stop there.
However, if the offending party disregards the Word of God and the admonition of a Christian friend, then the next stage in discipline is enacted and the circle is enlarged. The second level of confrontation is where one or two additional witnesses join the conversation and try to help bring Scriptural clarity to the situation (see also Gal.6:1). This helps guard against witch-hunts, personal biases, and misconceptions. These individuals ought to be godly and spiritually mature enough to determine if, in fact, there has been any sin committed.
If the believer caught up in sin repents, then the situation can and should be dropped. There shouldn’t be any further need to address the issue in a larger context unless it is important for church leadership to be aware of the situation. However, if there is no repentance, then the circle is opened up, and the entire church is to be involved.
Many people who see this stage fail to take into account the many hours of counsel and admonition that it took to get here. They see a catastrophic event where the church appears to be installing smoke alarms after the fire has been set, but in reality, there has been a long and patient history of dealing with that individual. If the person brought before the church repents, then the church can rejoice along with the forgiven offender. But if the unrepentant believer digs their heels in, the church has no choice but to remove that person from their fellowship.
Once this measure is taken, the disciplined believer shouldn’t be coddled, given emotional support, or spiritual approval. If church members do have contact with this individual, it ought to be focused on their repentance and reconciliation. Such accountability isn’t meant to be unduly cruel. Each successive stage of discipline upholds God’s Word as the standard, preserves purity within the Body, and serves as a warning to others engaging in the same behavior.
Of course, in every stage of discipline it must be remembered that God’s heartbeat is for restoration, not retribution. The individual who was put under public church discipline by Paul in I Cor.5:1-13 is the very one who, when repentant, was brought back into the life of the church (II Cor.2:5-11). Even if trust isn’t immediately restored, repentance ought to cause fellowship to be reinstated without reservation.
It should also be noted that church discipline in Protestant churches is quite different than what is practiced in a Catholic context. When a person is excommunicated from the Catholic Church, they are supposedly removed from the Universal Church. In other words, they are put out from the scope of salvation. But when we as Protestants practice public discipline, we are making no such charge. A Christian can be removed from the protective umbrella of the local church without having lost their salvation. They are excluded from fellowship and from taking communion, but this does not mean they are excluded from heaven.
Ultimately, all believers require discipline. When we fail to walk by the Spirit or confess our known sins, we may need someone to come along side us and lovingly remind us of God’s standards. If we fail to listen to this counsel repeatedly, then public discipline becomes a final resort to help us grasp the gravity of a life lived contrary to God’s Word. May we desire to keep short accounts with God so our discipline doesn’t have to affect the larger Body of Christ.
Our Position On the Creation in the Genesis Account
We affirm that God’s Word, the Bible, is His special, verbal, infallible, inerrant revelation to man, and that it takes priority over the general, non-verbal revelation of His glory and greatness in creation (Ps.19; Rom.1:20). His special revelation explains His general revelation, and not vice-versa. This means that while science has the potential for illuminating which of several probable biblical interpretations might be more plausible, science is never to dictate which interpretation must be followed.
We affirm that the creation of the universe was miraculous, and as such, may not have any scientific explanation. This means, for instance, that the “Big Bang” theory might not have any usefulness at all as an explanation for how God created (see Job 38-39). Miracles are not subject to scientific (in the sense of “materialistic”) analysis, and it is risky business to speculate about how God did or did not use “natural” processes to accomplish them.
We affirm that the “days” of Gen.1 are intended to be understood as literal 24-hour days, as indicated by their sequential, ordinal numbering, by the phrases “evening and morning”, by other supporting references (Ex.20:11, 31:17), and by the affirmation of Jesus Christ to the words of Moses (Lk.16:31). There is nothing in the Genesis passage to indicate that the days are to be understood metaphorically or symbolically for millions or billions of years; nor is there anything in the Text which would imply that the creation account should be interpreted figuratively.
We affirm that death and suffering entered the world when Adam sinned, and not before, as is plainly taught in Rom.5:12 (where “death” means physical death, throughout the context). Other passages all confirm that death in nature is inextricably connected to sin (I Cor.15:21-22; Rom.8:19-21; Rev.21:4). This means that fossil remains of sentient creatures simply cannot predate Adam.
We affirm that Adam was created directly and immediately by God out of the dust of the ground (Gen.2:7). The “breath of life” which God breathed into Adam caused him to become a living creature. This means that there is no Scriptural basis for a pre-Adamic, evolutionary history for man as a living physical being.
We affirm that the Noahic flood was not a local flood, but covered the entire earth with water, as the language of Gen.6-9 repeatedly emphasizes. No local flood can satisfy the requirements of the Text. (i.e., Why should animals have to come aboard the ark to escape a local flood?). The flood caused massive destruction on a global scale, just as God promised in Gen.6:13. Hence, any scientific extrapolations in our interpretation of early earth history must consider the catastrophic effects a global flood of judgment would produce.
Our Position on Homosexual Marriage
In light of the current publicity and resulting confusion about churches which are affirming homosexuals in their sexual behavior, performing gay weddings, and seeking to be more inclusive in their membership and leadership, we feel that it is important to explain our position on the matter.
The core of life at Montage Bible Church is the authoritative, inerrant Word of God (II Tim.3:16-17). It is the foundation of our teaching, our behavior, our mission, our outreach, our worship – everything. Scripture is not some lifeless set of words on paper; it is truth on fire. It is the verbal (in words) revelation of the living God (II Pet.1:19-21), telling us what God is like, what He has done, is doing, and will do. It is sharp as a two-edged sword, separating truth from error (Heb. 4:12). It is a living Word which the Holy Spirit uses, not only to bring salvation to those who place their faith in its message (Jms.1:21), but to mold their thinking, change their values, re-direct their behavior, and form within them the image and character of Jesus. It encompasses history, doctrine, worship, and Christian experience. It is, in fact, so much a revelation of God’s character and His will that Jesus is called “the Word” (Jn.1:1, 14).
It is the Word of God that tells us about His love, as well as His justice and holiness. It is the Word which tells us about the sacrifice of Jesus for our salvation, about how to have new life in Him by believing in Him, about the coming Kingdom and our future in heaven, and also . . . about sin (Ps.119:9).
While there are surely a few passages in the Bible which can be difficult to understand and interpret confidently, the prohibitions against homosexuality are not. They can only be “misunderstood” if one is trying to justify his or her own viewpoint. Those who do this like to say that the Bible doesn’t even address the homosexual “union” of two people who are committed to one another in love. They often say that the Bible’s condemnation of same sex behavior is only addressing lustful behavior or inhospitality, not committed love. Others say that the Bible is only condemning homosexuality in the context of idolatry. Some even claim that homosexual relationships are acceptable as long as there is fidelity between the partners (i.e.; gay marriage). None of these claims hold up to their contexts, nor to a valid hermeneutic (way of interpreting Scripture), nor even to common sense. The Bible condemns homosexual behavior unequivocally (Gen.19:1-13; Rom.1:26-27; I Tim.1:10). It is sin, along with adultery, lust, lying, jealousy, gossip, and a host of other sins. It is considered sin in the Old Testament, and it is considered sin in the New Testament. It is sin in the culture that doesn’t know God, and it is sin in the church.
Montage Bible Church does not affirm sin, nor will we facilitate it. Montage believes what the Bible teaches. We affirm that it is more important to be B.C. (biblically correct) than it is to appear P.C. (politically correct). The leadership of Montage will not reinterpret God’s Word to try to make it more politically correct or culturally acceptable (a culture Jesus said is walking in darkness and running towards sin, Mt.5:13-16; Jn.3:17-21). We will not change until God’s Word changes, which is never (Is.40:8). If Montage were to change its position on the subject, we would no longer exist as a church that is faithful to God and obedient to the Bible that He inspired. Put simply, we will not put culture before Christ.
It is not for us to judge those who are practicing homosexuals (I Cor.5:12). It is our job to love them with the love of Christ, present the Gospel to them, and pray that they might come to receive Jesus as their Savior. We can welcome them to our church without affirming their lifestyle.
It is also not for us to judge those who innocently attend compromising (welcoming and affirming) churches, though it would be wise for them to reevaluate the leadership they are placing themselves under as well as to have a better understanding of Biblical love and tolerance, rather than what the world’s definitions of those things are.
The same Bible which names homosexual behavior as God-defying sin also has strong words of condemnation for under-shepherds (pastors) of God’s people who lead them astray (Lam.2:14; II Pet.2). We call on such pastors either to repent of their willful defiance of God’s Word and re-examine their faulty hermeneutic and instruct their people in the truth, or else leave their “ministries”. It’s time to insist that Christians, and especially their leaders, either step up to the plate and humbly assent to God’s Word rather than a shifting culture, or come right out and say they don’t believe Scripture is authoritative. The judgment of God awaits all of us who seek to teach and lead God’s people (Prov.28:10; Mal.2:7-9; Jms.3:1), and faithfulness to the plain teaching of the Word of God is absolutely essential.