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Prof calls church discipline ‘compassion of confrontation’

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–“If you find me in sin, confront me,” professor Hershael York pleaded Sept. 22 at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Preaching from the Apostle Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 to a first-century church regarding a sex scandal in its midst, York called on Southern Baptist churches to have the “compassion to confront” those who have fallen into sin through biblical church discipline. York, associate professor of Christian preaching at the Louisville, Ky., seminary, served as pastor of the historic Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., from 1990 until his appointment to the faculty in 1997.
Tears welled up in York’s eyes as he read words of love and appreciation in a card given to him by his son, Seth. York asked how such sentiments could come from a child that he had disciplined, even spanked, in years past. York asserted that biblical discipline is not the antithesis of love, but the two are integrally intertwined, both within family relationships and within the spiritual family of believers.
“It is the discipline that [God] imposes on us that keeps our heart close to his, that keeps us in fellowship with him,” York said. “It is the correction that he offers us through the body of Christ, through our fellow believers and church members that keeps us in love with his people, in love with his heart, in love with his way.”
Reading of Paul’s prescription that the Corinthian church expel the man who had become sexually involved with his father’s wife, York noted there are “two ditches” which Southern Baptist churches must avoid when it comes to implementing church discipline. The first ignores church discipline, labeling personal sin a “private matter.” Such an approach guts the security, and ultimately the fellowship, of a congregation. The other extreme forgets the redemptive purpose of biblical church discipline, opting instead to wield capricious and censorious tactics against erring members. Nonetheless, York said, no practice can be argued against based upon its abuse.
Redemptive, loving church discipline is not optional, but is “commanded in the church of the Lord Jesus,” York maintained.
Just as Paul noted in his epistle that those outside had recognized the gross immorality being tolerated in the Corinthian church, York said the world would judge the church based upon her commitment to holiness and doctrinal soundness.
“The Lord gives the world the right to judge the church, though he does not give the church the right to judge the world,” York asserted, citing Jesus’ teaching that Christians could be identified by the world because of their love one for another.
York pointed to various scriptural passages which outlined gross immorality, doctrinal deviance and facetiousness as mandating church discipline to be administered along the guidelines given by Jesus and Paul, York said.
He recounted events during his own years in pastoral ministry when he found it necessary to lead the churches he served to discipline members for such things as unrelentingly embracing the heresy of universalism in one instance and conducting a homosexual affair in another. The removal of these individuals from the fellowship of the church came only after pleas for repentance had been refused, he said. They also were tied from the start to the church’s earnest hope that they could soon welcome the disciplined members back into the fold.
“Believe me, as a pastor, it is much easier to just sweep [sin] under the rug, to pretend that it is not there,” York acknowledged. “But when you do that, then the church preaches a subtle message that sin really is not so serious … .”
Shirking the duty to discipline also takes a hammer to a God-ordained incentive to repentance, York said.
“Perhaps someone simply doesn’t know how to repent. Maybe they don’t know they are in error,” he explained. “But when a church tries to take the shame out of sin, they are engaging in a dangerous enterprise. God wants that sin to be shameful.”
York warned pastors that they must rigidly adhere to the steps Jesus gave in Matthew 18 in administering discipline, starting with private confrontation and only as a last resort implementing public church action. When persistent, unrepentant sin remains, however, the church’s obligation is to remove the professing brother from the church, he said.
“Either they will hurt so badly that they will repent … and they return,” he explained. “Or else they prove that they were never a believer to begin with, because they can persist in that sin, be happy in that sin. To be quite frank, Satan doesn’t even bother them, because they’re one of his.
“Paul is saying this: ‘Always treat sin like sin will treat you!'” York contended. “Sin will be ruthless with you. Sin will be merciless with you. And that’s the way we should treat sin. Not the sinner, but sin.”
York echoed Paul’s alarm that an anesthetization to encroaching sin will only lead to its proliferation in the local body of believers.
“When there is just ‘a little sin,’ it results in members who are just ‘a little guilty’ and unmarried girls who are just ‘a little pregnant’ and little bigots who are just ‘a little bit racist’ and men who commit just ‘a little adultery’ and churches who have very little impact,” he proclaimed.
“Listen, if you find me in sin, confront me,” York said. “Love me that much. Don’t let me go and think that you’ve done me a favor.”
York concluded, “Jesus found me in my sin and he loved me, but he loved me too much to leave me there.”

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  • Russell D. Moore