Church Discipline and the Faith Once Delivered

By John J. Blanchard

February 8, 2014

Good morning, brethren.  It’s a beautiful Sabbath here inUpper Michigan.  As I was saying during the announcements, we have had a lot of cold this winter and a lot of snow, but that’s good for the moisture levels in the Great Lakes area.

Today I want to start with a Scripture, and it is going to be the basis for this entire sermon/Bible study.  It’s in Jude.  We don’t often turn to Jude, but I want to turn to the Book of Jude which is just before the Book of Revelation toward the end of your Bible.  We are going to read a couple of verses.

I want to read Jude verses 1-4.  “Jude, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to those who are called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ:  Mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.  Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.  For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Here we are told that there was a faith that was once delivered.  That’s an important Scripture to understand, because I think it is often misunderstood and misapplied leading to abuse.

If you noticed following the faith once delivered, there are some harsh words for certain men who crept in unawares long ago.  They are ungodly men and men against the grace of Christ.  Obviously we are talking about a very serious condition.  If you drop down further, you are talking about a condition in the Church because they are people who have crept in.

I want to drop down to verse 10.  We are not going to read all of Jude.  Let’s continue in Jude 10:  “But these speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves.  Woe to them!  For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.  These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves.  They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.  Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.’”

It is obviously speaking of some very ungodly and wicked people here.

Continuing in verse 16 of Jude:  “These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage.  But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ:  how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts.  These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.”

Obviously it is talking about severe trouble makers who found their way into the Church.

I am speaking in general when I say the Church of God, which is now broken up into many separate pieces, so we won’t talk about individual pieces.  Commonly throughout the Church these Scriptures that we just read and a few more that we are going to read are the basis for some Church discipline.  As a matter of fact, in other faiths and other denominations the same Scriptures are used to apply Church discipline.  I want to read a few more Scriptures that are used to justify some very harsh discipline on brethren.

Let’s turn to II Timothy chapter 3.  Go back to II Timothy chapter 3 beginning in verse 1: “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:  for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power.  And from such people turn away!”

We can see once again it says, in the last days, which is similar verbiage to Jude.  It says, there would be all these people with very harsh, cruel traits.  We are speaking about people in the Church, because we are to turn away from them.  These are brethren.

Now let’s go to Romans chapter 16, please.  Turn all the way back to Romans.  Romans 16, verse 17:  “Now I urge you, brethren, note [the King James Version says mark] those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.  For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.”

We are talking about people to take note of who, contrary to the doctrine that they have been taught, have now turned on the brethren and use the brethren to feed themselves.   That in essence sounds mostly like people in authoritative positions who are able to feed off the brethren, but I think in general terms it can be the brethren as well.

The last Scripture I want to turn to is I Corinthians chapter 1, verse 10:  “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

This is why I read these Scriptures starting with Jude and then showing these various characteristics that we are to be aware of and careful of with the people who exhibit these.  I am putting together the Scriptures that are used in what seems to be a reasonable and logical way in order to dispense discipline.  In fact they can be used wisely for discipline, because sometimes you really have to protect the brethren either from other brethren who have gone bad or from ministry.  This is a very serious situation because they can be leading people astray as we just read.

MISUSING SCRIPTURES TO ABUSE PEOPLE

Often these Scriptures can also be used by those in authority to control the flock the way they want.  In other words, you can use these Scriptures to apply discipline to people who are perhaps disagreeing with the authorities on various subjects or exhibiting what they would term “disobedience to government.”  In other words, these individuals are seen as not towing the line exactly as prescribed.

They could also say that you are exhibiting a bad attitude, so therefore they have to apply Church discipline.  They could say you are causing division by not adhering to the doctrines in the faith once delivered and that you crept in unaware.  You have snuck in here, and now we have to deal with you!  I am just using a generalized quote when I say, now we see who you are and what you are like.  Therefore we must disfellowship and mark you.  This is where the terms “disfellowshipping” and “marking” are often applied to people.  Sometimes they use the phrase to make it look like they are not doing it but as if “you have disfellowshipped yourself” when really it is they who are driving the individual out.

It all seems logical.  You could be using these Scriptures to identify people who are leading others astray, causing divisions, and not adhering to the faith once delivered.  As a matter of fact, that is the title of this sermon/Bible study:  Church Discipline and the Faith Once Delivered.

Some faiths would call this whole process disfellowshipment, as I mentioned.  Or they would call it marking.  Others would call it shunning.  Some call it excommunication.  In any case, it can be very cruel and very harsh.  It can cause a lot of family pain, sorrow, and disruption.  It can really harm people’s physical, mental, and emotional health, so it has to be done very carefully.  Unfortunately what I have noticed over the years is that this is done often for very flimsy reasons, hurting people in serious ways for no good reason.  It brings on a lot of sadness.

I have shown you the Scriptures for all of these things that I have spoken for people who have become hardened and who have turned against the truth.  Sometimes you do have to protect the flock, as I have said.  When used properly and for the right reasons, disfellowshipment, marking, shunning, excommunication or whatever can be very helpful to protect people.  But it is crucial to know what the right reason is.  It is never just to crush opinions that aren’t in agreement with you if you are in authority.  It is never to crush legitimate dissent when somebody in authority needs correction themselves or needs to be shown a place where the Church needs to correct itself and change.  It should never be done to exercise control through fear and intimidation.  It should never be done to discourage legitimate questions that people have.  As one of our members so aptly puts it, sometimes these disciplinary approaches are used to keep the boot on the neck.  That should never be the object of Church discipline.

I want to go back now to where we started in Jude 3.  Go back to Jude 3, and let’s re-read verse 3.  Obviously there is only one chapter in Jude.  Jude 3:  “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to content earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”

What has been “once for all delivered to the saints?”  That’s crucial!  Let’s determine what that is because that’s where this whole set of Scriptures jumps off into discipline, what’s gone wrong with people, why we need to withdraw from them or mark them.  Let’s determine what the faith once delivered actually was.  We are going to turn to Scripture to do that.

THE FAITH ONCE DELIVERED INCLUDES THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

Let’s turn to II Peter chapter 2, verse 18:  “For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error.  While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.  For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.  For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.  But it has happened to them according to the true proverb:  ‘A dog returns to his own vomit,’ and, ‘a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.’”

If you notice, verse 21 says it’s the holy commandments that they have turned from.  Now we are getting into what the faith once delivered was.  This whole chapter starts talking primarily about false teachers who are teaching the brethren incorrectly, and it broadens into certain behaviors that go contrary to God’s commandments.  Now we see one of the things that we would have to say is the “faith once delivered” is the Ten Commandments.

Now let’s go to the Book of Romans.  Romans chapter 6, verse 15:  “What then?  Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  Certainly not!  Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?”

It is talking about obedience to the law versus disobedience—breaking the Ten Commandments.

Verse 17 of Romans 6:  “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.  And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.  I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh.  For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.”

He is teaching the brethren here how important it is to observe the law of God and be obedient to God and to righteousness, rather than to continue to be slaves of sin.  Obviously he is teaching brethren how to grow in conversion, how to grow in the truth, and how to produce holy righteous character.  He didn’t jump on them and disfellowship them for the sins they have.  He is teaching them.  He is teaching them to keep the law, so therefore the doctrine once delivered that he mentions here is the commandments once again.  These are the doctrines once delivered.  That’s in verse 17.

THE FAITH ONCE DELIVERED INCLUDES THE GOSPEL

For another Scripture along those lines I would like to turn to I Corinthians chapter 15.  We are going to find another very important element of the faith once delivered.  I Corinthians 15, verse 1:  “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand…”

The gospel is one of the things that is the faith once delivered.

Continuing in I Corinthians 15, verse 2:  “…by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.   For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received:  that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures…”

Of course the rest of chapter 15 is dealing mostly with the resurrections.  It starts out with the thought where Paul says, I have delivered to you the gospel that when we have sinned, have believed, and accepted the blood of Jesus Christ those sins are forgiven.

First of all the faith once delivered is the law—the Ten Commandments.  And along with it is the gospel which speaks of the grace of Christ wiping away our sins when we break the law and go to Him in faith to have our sins forgiven. Thereby this leads to a resurrection and eternal life.  Those are the two basic tenants of the Christian faith.  The faith once delivered is the Ten Commandments and the gospel that you could also say is the gospel of the kingdom.  Christ’s teaching was about the gospel of the kingdom.

Turn to Matthew chapter 4.  We could go to many Scriptures about that, but we will just refresh our memories by going to Matthew chapter 4, verse 23:  “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.”

Christ went everywhere preaching about the gospel of the kingdom which is what we want to enter through Christ’s grace which covers and removes our sins.  We have to understand what sin is and then why we need Christ’s blood.  Sin is the transgression of the law.  We need to try to keep that law and obey that law in order to grow in holy righteous character.   This is how we learn to be righteous.

If you go to the next chapter, Christ says this in Matthew 5, verse 17:  “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets.  I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.  For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.  Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

Obviously we need to be keeping the commandments of God and teaching others to do so.  It’s crucial.  That is one of the basic tenants of Christianity, therefore it is part of the faith once delivered.

Let’s go to Matthew chapter 22, verse 34:  “But when the Pharisees heard that He [Jesus Christ] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.  Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’  Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’”

The first four commandments are how to love God and worship God.  The last six are how to love our fellow man.  Christ also said, if you love Me, keep My commandments.

That is the crux of the faith once delivered.  You need to have the law to understand what the breaking of the law is, to know that you need the blood of Christ and His grace to be forgiven for breaking the law.  It all goes together.  That is the faith once delivered.

DO NOT ADD TRADITIONS

Far too many people are disfellowshipped, shunned, or excommunicated for the wrong reasons.  There are too many traditions within various churches, too many precepts, and too many rules that are enforced as if they are the Ten Commandments.  They are enforced as if they are the faith once delivered.  I am going to give you a few examples.  Where do you stop time and thereby stop knowledge and the growth of knowledge in Christianity?  I am not picking on the Amish, but if you were to look at the Amish community, they have chosen to stop time at a certain place.  If you don’t follow their rules, their traditional dress, and the way they go about their lives, you can be shunned.

For our friends in the Catholic faith it is the same way if you don’t accept various doctrines that have been adopted by the Catholic Church.  It could be the infallibility of the Pope.  It could be various other doctrines.  You can get excommunicated.  I was born and raised Catholic.  I remember when I was Catholic, if you didn’t at least go to Church on Christmas and Easter, you were under threat of being excommunicated, and neither Christmas or Easter are in the Bible!  These are doctrines that they have adopted.

In the various branches of theChurchofGodit is the same.  There are various dates that have been set.  People have called themselves to various authoritative positions and the head of various Church governments.  You must obey them or be in breach of the government.  It doesn’t matter where you go throughout Christendom.  You can find people who believe in a rapture or who believe in going to a place of safety.  There are people who believe everyone is going to go through the tribulation.  Christians won’t go through the tribulation.  Some Christians will get left behind.  Some people won’t get left behind.

Various groups have identified who the two witnesses are or one witness.  Other groups are sure they know who the beast power is, what nations comprise it, or if it is a human being.  I have heard others identify who the false prophet was.  There are various prophetic interpretations of all sorts such as:  what comprises the signs of Christ’s return, what we should be watching for, who are the 144,000, or who are the saints. There are specific events and the order of events that you must believe to be part of a certain faith or group.

DO NOT ADD GOVERNMENT

And simply, there is the government of God.  You have to believe that church group that you are a part of is where God is primarily working, therefore that is the government of God.  You must let them decide on these doctrines and how they must be interpreted, or you are in danger of being disfellowshipped.  That’s not godly.  That is not what God taught.  None of those things that we just went through are of the level of the faith once delivered.

In Matthew chapter 15 Christ says some words for the ministry of His day which were the Pharisees and Sadducees.  We already saw Him take them to task in a Scripture we just read.  Read Matthew 15:1-9.

People really do need to look up to a person who is in a position of authority as part of God’s real governmental system, but it is real easy to start to abuse that authority and throw your weight around.  They discipline people when they prick their ego because they knew something they didn’t know.  Or they discipline people because they are questioning something that they believed and taught all their lives.  This is the sort of thing that got me in trouble.  I saw some things that didn’t look right, but I could not question.  If you question or if you point out an inconsistency, all of a sudden you have a bad attitude!  You are worthy of Church discipline.

I have now been a minister in God’s Church for quite a few years, and I have seen so many people shattered and crushed.  They became very dismayed and lonely because they were shunned, put out of the Church, and disfellowshipped.  They were told they had not adhered to the faith once delivered when it had nothing to do with the Ten Commandments!  It had nothing to do with the gospel.  It was some obscure teaching or something that no one can absolutely prove for certain is correct.  This is where people need to be able to study on their own, learn from God, and discuss things as mature adults.  This is where the ministry needs to be a little bit more understanding and compassionate, realizing they have all made mistakes in their Bible study as well.  There is not a denomination or a group on this earth who has all the truth correctly in their doctrinal statements.  None are absolutely 100% certain. We all have to realize there is margin for error in anything we are learning about prophecy or doctrines—other than the Ten Commandments, and part of the Ten Commandments of keeping the Sabbath is the holy days- and the gospel of the kingdom.  Those are absolutes that we can be 100% certain of.

If someone is breaking those commandments in a profligate or open way and will not listen to teaching or if they are teaching others to break those commandments, now you need to protect the Church with disfellowshipment under those conditions.  If someone has denied the grace of Christ after being given that grace, we are to avoid them. These are such few cases compared to the thousands and thousands of people that have been disfellowshipped around the world in God’s Church and in the various other denominations.  They have been shunned, harmed, and hurt for no good reason.

Turn to II Peter chapter 1, verse 16 where we are told:  “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.  For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory:  ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’  And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.  And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

It’s very important to realize no prophecy and no Scripture is of a private interpretation.  We have to do and observe what God says.  Prophecy by the very nature is fulfilled over a period of time of thousands of years and therefore can’t be understood until you get to the time when it is to be opened up.  All the conjecture and all the theories that have been held to by people and that have been pushed upon people as the belief you must have can be wrong.  Indeed many of them will be wrong.

I will read you one more Scripture.  Turn back to I Corinthians chapter 13.  We think of this as the Love Chapter, but love of course is the thing that trumps all else.  It trumps prophetic knowledge as we will see as we read starting in verse 1 of I Corinthians 13:  “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.  And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

I will say here, nobody can have all the knowledge, so he is saying something here that he knows is impossible, so you had better be humble about it.

Continuing in I Corinthians 13, verse 3:  “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”

I would say that’s very important because there are a lot of ministers and people in powerful positions within the churches who would be willing to die for the faith, but are very harsh on the brethren.  They don’t exhibit love.  You can make all the sacrifices all your life, and it can be for nothing if you pound on the sheep for nothing.

Verse 4:  “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Now we come to verse 8:  “Love never fails.”

PROPHECIES FAIL

It’s never a mistake to love somebody, but look what it says here next.  “But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part.”

How much of the Church literature written in the last fifty years can be thrown in the garbage because it was speaking of prophetic interpretation that turned out to be all wrong?  How many people were put out of the Church for questioning it?  How many were shunned or disfellowshipped?   That’s why those things have to be done very carefully.

What I want to focus on is whether there are prophecies they will fail.  That word “fail” is katargeo (#2673, Strong’s Concordance, 1995) which actually means to be or rendered entirely idle or useless.  There could even be prophecies that you could correctly understand, but when God says, this will happen if you do not repent, then it may not happen.   One has to be extremely careful even when they know something and they believe it to be right, because it may be rendered idle or useless.  All you have to do is go back and look at the story of Jonah andNineveh.   It should give us all a little bit of a comeuppance.

We need to be extremely careful when we put people out of the Church for not agreeing with us, unless they are going directly against the gospel or flagrantly breaking the Ten Commandments and will not listen.  Or there are those who teach others not to keep the commandments.

It is important to have mercy.  We need to always view people as fallible, including ourselves.  When one wants to administer Church justice (Church discipline), one must be very careful to be doing it correctly and for the right reason.  It should be mixed with plenty of mercy and self-restraint, realizing but for the grace of God there go I.

The reason I am giving this sermon today is because too many people use that Scripture in Jude to adhere to the faith once delivered as the body of knowledge they received at their conversion.  Basically anything beyond the Ten Commandments and the gospel of God is subject to error and revision.  There are no mistakes in the Ten Commandments.  There is no mistake in the gospel of the kingdom.  We can make a mistake on almost anything else in the Scriptures.  We have to be very careful.

Having said that, it doesn’t mean we ignore the rest of the Scriptures.  Absolutely not!  There is too much valuable truth to help us understand where we are in time, what we should be looking for, and what the real signs of Christ’s return are.  It all builds up.  Generally knowing the truth builds up one and those around you.  Those things that are used to impose fear and anxiety to control are generally wrong views of the Scripture.  I made it clear there are some cases where someone needs to be judged, and they need to be disciplined.

By and large, we need to view anything we are teaching or believing beyond the gospel and the Ten Commandments as subject to change as more knowledge comes along.  As time advances, we realize more and more things.  God opens us up to more and more truth.  If you say you have to adhere to the faith once delivered, you cut yourself off from change.  You cut yourself off from growth.  You cut yourself off from further understanding while at the same time possibly harming others with disciplinary force applied over the wrong issues.  That’s why I thought it was important to give this study today. We all need to have the humility to know we could be making a mistake.

With God’s blessing and His grace He will teach us the things that we need to know as time advances further.  He says He does reveal things to His servants first, so we don’t want to limit ourselves with the “faith once delivered” if God is trying to teach us something that we haven’t seen before.

With God’s blessing we will ask that He continue to work with us to help us stay humble in our eyes and to not be overly proud with the things that we know.  We certainly need to be gentle and merciful with the people who just can’t quite see it our way, realizing we probably have some mistakes in what we believe, too.

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