Tag Archive | John Calvin

Church Authority

 

Matthew 18:18–20 “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (v. 18).

In our day, respect for church authority has all but vanished. Many professing Christians think their “private lives” are no business of the church. Excommunication from a local body is hardly ever taken seriously since it rarely prevents someone from joining the church next door with no questions asked.

Several phenomena explain this sad reality. The church’s fragmentation makes it easy to move from one denomination to another. Many church leaders exalt numerical growth and will not ask hard questions of the people in the pews for fear of learning a fact that would bar someone from membership. Furthermore, individualism and the way our culture falsely divides our private and personal lives makes it hard to honor the authority of Christ’s church.

Yet our “private sins” are the church’s business, and her judgments, when they conform to Scripture, are divinely authorized. We see this in today’s passage as Jesus in Matthew 18:18–19 gives to the apostles primarily, and the church derivatively, the keys of the kingdom first given to Peter (see Matt. 16:18–19; John 20:19–23). Matthew Henry writes, “If the censures of the church duly follow the institution of Christ, his judgments will follow the censures of the church, for Christ will not allow his own ordinances to be trampled on.”

Church discipline decides whether or not a person is a member in good standing of Christ’s church, and such decisions have weight only if they agree with God’s Word. The keys belong first to the apostles, making their inspired writings determinative. Moreover, the curse on the self-proclaimed “prophets” who denied the Word (Jer. 23:9–15) teaches the church to make decisions according to Scripture. Augustine warns that unbiblical verdicts are null and void. In discipline, the church must “bind [people] justly. For unjust bonds justice doth burst asunder” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, first series, vol. 6, p. 359).

Safety resides in an abundance of counselors (Prov. 11:14), and a decision church elders make corporately is more likely to be biblical than if made by one man alone. Thus, Jesus assures us of His approving presence when two or more gather in His name to make decisions according to His will (Matt. 18:19–20).

Coram deo: Living before the face of God

The church’s ability to liberate people, says John Calvin, is not limited to the restoration of disciplined members to full participation in the congregation. Such liberation is also discharged when elders, according to Scripture, assure repentant people of pardon after sin is confessed. This “awakens in the godly no ordinary confidence, when they hear that their sins are blotted out before God and angels, as soon as they have obtained forgiveness from the Church.”

For further study:  Numbers 11:16–30

The Bible in a year:  Psalms 62–64

INTO the WORD daily Bible studies from TableTalk Magazine, Matthew Studies. Copyright © 2008 by Ligonier Ministries.

 

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Redemptive Discipline

Matthew 18:15–17 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (v. 15).

James M. Boice’s comments on Matthew 18:13 remind sinners that “everything God has done is for your salvation, and no one in all the universe will be happier at your repentance than God” (The Gospel of Matthew: An Expositional Commentary, vol. 2, p. 388). If the Father rejoices to see errant sinners return, we must also desire transgressors to be restored, no matter their offenses. This principle undergirds today’s passage, the classic text on church discipline.

Discipline necessarily means confrontation and is established in Christ’s call for us to care for the spiritual growth of one another (Matt. 18:10–14). We are required to intervene when Christian friends and family go astray, otherwise sin might destroy that person. In a real sense, we are our brother’s keeper.

Verse 15 addresses offenses between two believers privately, not those against the church corporately. John Calvin wisely teaches that in certain cases we can skip this first step and right away call witnesses (vv. 16–17) and, if necessary, local authorities, if the sin is an illegal activity. Physical abuse, for example, might be a case in which this is done. Normally, however, we face those who offend us in private. Of course, we overlook peccadilloes in love, without mandating repentance for every sin (1 Peter 4:8). Nevertheless, more consequential sins demand us to go alone to the offender first, without gossiping and spreading the news to unconcerned parties (Matt. 18:15). We hope for repentance, but regardless of the initial outcome, Calvin teaches, no one may disgrace “his brother, by rashly, and without necessity, divulging secret offenses.”

If no repentance is forthcoming, the offended party must go back to the accused with one or two others (v. 16). This conforms to God’s principles for justice (Deut. 19:15); witnesses protect the offender and the offended from false accusations. Finally, if the sinner remains impenitent, he is excommunicated from the assembly (Matt. 18:17). Even then, Augustine writes, let us not neglect the offender’s salvation: “For the very heathen, that is, the Gentiles and Pagans, we do not reckon among the number of brethren; but yet are we ever seeking their salvation” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, first series, vol. 6, p. 359).

Coram deo: Living before the face of God

In excommunication, Dr. John MacArthur writes, “the idea is not merely to punish the offender, or to shun him completely, but to remove him as a detrimental influence from the fellowship of the church, and then to regard him as an evangelistic prospect rather than as a brother” (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1,158). Think of someone who has, on account of unrepentant sin, been cast out of your church. Take time today to pray for his salvation.

For further study:  Proverbs 24:28–29

The Bible in a year:  Psalms 59–61

INTO the WORD daily Bible studies from TableTalk Magazine, Matthew Studies. Copyright © 2008 by Ligonier Ministries.