“Expel the wicked person from among you.” Yikes.
While every church has a bylaw stating how to deal with immoral (“wicked”) people in their midst, I’ve seldom heard of anyone invoking it. Few churches would expel anyone for sinful reasons, and with good reason. Who’s to judge how wicked someone has to be before they are expelled? What about others who are as wicked but not as public? What is the church’s obligation to that person? Is this still even relevant in the modern church or was this a command to an entirely different entity?
Paul gives some good insights into these questions. First of all, he is the one who stands as judge over this person. “Though I’m not with you physically, I’m there in spirit and have already passed judgement on them.” Paul is an “overseer”, much more than our local pastors. He is more a bishop or superintendent, an outside voice with authority calling this person to account. But for what?
Yes, this person is sleeping with his step-mother, something the OT says is “detestable” (Lev. 18:8). But more than that, the church is cheering him on. “We’re free from the law so we can go ahead and do whatever we want. For example, take Cletus over there who’s sleeping with his stepmom. We applaud that!” The act has led the entire church astray, and in so doing has ruined its reputation for morality in the community. This is not just a personal sin but the very reputation of Jesus Christ at stake.
And the church is to kick this person out. This was a time where there wasn’t simply another church down the block to attend like today. If you were kicked out of the fellowship, there was nowhere else to go. This was what the Catholic’s have called excommunication at its prime. Given the communal nature of the early church, this was forcing poor Cletus (yes, I’ve made up that name) to leave his home, his church, and his community.
Is this still applicable today? Do we still kick people out of the church for immorality deep enough that it hurts Jesus’ reputation? Yes we do. Take Willow Creek as a case in point. But we need to be very careful, seek outside guidance, be sure the sin is unrepentant and pulling the whole of the church into sin, and even with that we pray for the salvation of that person’s soul.
Hard teaching today but one we cannot simply ignore because our culture tells us to be tolerant. Let them be tolerant (though they aren’t), but we are called to be holy, and that is a deeply difficult task.
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