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Protecting the "Innocent"

May 14, 2014 | by: Robert Pruitt | 0 comments

Posted in: Pastor's Blog Tags: Fellowship, Holiness, Discernment, Church Discipline

Perhaps most Bible believing Christians would agree with the statement, "When the guilty are punished, the innocent are protected."  What is true in the society as a whole is also true in the church and should be seen as a reason to enact proper church discipline.  We see the truth of the statement "when the guilty are punished, the innocent are protected," in passages like Genesis 9:6 which reads, "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image."  God instituted the death penalty in cases of murder.  The primary reason for this is that such an attack is an attack on that which God made in His very image.  That being said, can it be argued that the execution of the man or woman who is guilty of murder fails to protect other potential victims?  When a murderer is either executed or imprisoned he can no longer harm other individuals (with the possible exception of other inmates or guards in the case of imprisonment).  When a rapist is imprisoned he will not be able to rape a woman for many years, or perhaps ever again.  Obviously, when a violent offender is taken out of the public square, society as a whole and individuals within that society are protected.  To allow murderers and rapists to remain free is to subject others to the dangers they pose.

What, you might ask, does this have to do with church discipline?  First, note that church discipline was commanded by God and is to be regulated by God through His Word (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5; etc.).  Second, since God commanded and regulated church discipline, the church that refuses to practice discipline is a church that is disobedient to the Lord it claims to serve.  The church who strives to practice discipline, but does so contrary to God's regulations concerning it, is also behaving in disobedience to its Lord.  Third, Jesus made it clear in Matthew 18 that the main goal of church discipline is the restoration of the sinner to fellowship with God and with the church, especially the members of the church who have been directly offended by the sinful actions of the man or woman under discipline.  However, there is another factor that should be considered in the area of discipline.  Let me state it in a negative manner.  The church that fails to properly inact church discipline is failing to protect it members, especially its immature members.  The unrepentant church member has, in essence, become one who scoffs at the things of God.  The right "punishment" of that scoffer will encourage wisdom in one who is immature, or simple.  Solomon mentions this fact twice in Proverbs.  In chapter 19 verse 25 he says, "Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence; reprove a man of understanding and he will gain knowledge."  Then in 21:11 Solomon says, "When a scoffer is punished, the simple becomes wise; when a wise man is instructed, he gains knowledge."  In both verses the wise king declares that the punishment of the scoffer will awaken the simple one to wisdom.

Note that when the unrepentant sinner is disciplined fully due to that lack of repentance, he or she is dismissed from the church.  Paul said of the immoral man in 1 Corinthians 5, "Purge the evil person from among you" (1 Corinthians 5:13b).  That man was to be "put out of the church."  Fellowship with him had become impossible, for his actions and lack of repentance pointed to an unregenrate heart (see Jesus' teaching in Matthew 18:17).  The unrepentant sinner needed to be dismissed from the assembly in order that he would see the dire state of his own soul.  But beyond that, his dismissal from the assembly would also protect immature believers who might be fooled by him.  When the guilty is punished the "innocent" are protected.  When immoral people who do not repent are dismissed from the church, they are less likely to coax others into immorality.  When their sin is overlooked or treated lightly, they are left to prey on others.  It is true that their "victims" are not innocent, but the scoffer is one who will encourage the simple to become scoffers.  The immoral young man will encourage "innocent" young women to become immoral in order to fulfill his own lusts.  The fact that he is not disciplined from the church leaves him there to corrupt the morals of others.  We must, however difficult practicing church discipline may be, put in to practice this command of God.  Not to do so is to fail to protect the weak of Christ's flock.