Expositional commentary on Scripture using an inductive exegetical methodology intent upon confronting the lives of Christians with the dogmatic Truths of God's inspired Words opposing Calvinism and Arminianism, Biblical commentary, doctrine of grace enablement, understanding holiness and wisdom and selfishness, in-depth Bible studies, adult Bible Study books and Sunday School materials Dr. Lance T. Ketchum Line Upon Line: Four Failures That Should Result In Excommunication

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Four Failures That Should Result In Excommunication

If there is one thing we learn from the Scriptural testimony of hundreds of believers throughout the Scriptures it is that people have two lives; the one God uses to teach us with and the one we have to live with after we have learned from our own failures. The life that we have to live with is often more difficult than the life with which God used to teach us. The consequences of a person’s sin continues in their influence into numerous generations after the sin itself has long descended over the horizon of that person’s lifetime. No one knows this better than the person who lives long enough to see his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren grow to adulthood. It seems like every failure is magnified in the lives of succeeding generations.

The local church, as ordained of God, is intended to be a living, spiritual organism in corporate “fellowship” with God. The only way the spiritual dynamic of corporate “fellowship” can exist within a local church is when each person in the formal membership of that local church is genuinely “born again” and living each moment of their lives filled to overflowing with the supernatural energizing (grace) of the indwelling Spirit of God. To insure that a local church maintains unbroken “fellowship” with God, a local church MUST maintain internal purity among its formal membership. When a single believer in the formal membership of a local church lives in unrepentamt sin, worldliness, or carnality, the spiritual unity (“fellowship”) with God is broken and the blessings of God upon the “work of the ministry” of the whole local church is lost until internal purity is restored either through genuine repentance of the sinner or through excommunication of the sinner from formal membership. This is what Paul addressed in I Corinthians 5:6-7; “6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? 7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened.” Excommunication is to disfellowship someone.

The first qualification for formal local church membership is a testimony of being a “born again” Christian. Initially, such a testimony is mainly verbal. A believer’s life should begin to manifest the genuineness of progressive transformation as that believer grows in grace (II Peter 3:18). Growing in grace is visable in the progressive transfiguration of a believer’s life as that believer begins to live the truths he learns from Scripture (Rom. 12:1-2). Orthodoxy (right doctrine) becomes orthopraxy (righteous practice) and a life is progressively transfigured. Therefore, there are four main failures that necessity the dis-fellowshipping of an individual from a local church:

1. False profession of faith

2. Refusal to genuinely repent of moral turpitude

3. Doctrinal heresy

4. Unwillingness to resolve personal offenses

As I have already said, everyone likes to garden, but nobody likes to put the weeds. Church discipline is about evaluating who are genuine Christians and those who are either false Christians or pretending Christians. If there has been life transference (salvation), there should be some visible progressive life transfiguration (practical spiritual growth; I John 5:11-12). There will always be people who profess to be “born again” children of God, but who live like children of the Devil. This is an anomaly that cannot be allowed within a local church.

9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance {and the accompanying genuine salvation}. 10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. 11 Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness {internal moral purity within the local church}, 12 Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? 13 Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. 14 Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless {living in repentance, confession of sin, and cleansed by the Blood of Christ; I John 1:7-9}. 15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; 16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. 17 Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked {false doctrine}, fall from your own stedfastness {in the practice of Truth}. 18 But grow in grace {progressive supernatural transfiguration}, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen” (II Peter 3:9-18).

II Peter 3:9-18 addresses the four realities that should be evident in the life and in the living of a genuinely “born again” person and commands purity and accountability in all four of these areas. According to II Peter 3:9-18, there should be the expectation of some real practices of life that correspond with the expectations of a real faith as true believers look to their futures as those futures relate to the second coming of Christ.


Perhaps the most difficult area of discernment regarding evaluating a person for formal membership in a local church is that of the genuineness of having been “born again.” It is difficult because church members are not able to know the heart of another person.

When a person expresses a desire for formal church membership, he should be carefully examined regarding his understanding of the gospel, repentance of sin (as a whole and in general, not specific sins) and “dead works,” belief/rest/trust in the “finish” work of redemption, belief in and confession of the deity of Jesus, calling on His Name to save him (signifying a moment in time or an event when they trusted in Christ), and having received the Lord Jesus in the Person of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The significance of salvation being an event (even if the date and specific time cannot be remembered) is of extreme significance to a genuine testimony of salvation.

A preliminary examination of a formal membership candidate should be made by the Pastor and deacons prior to the time the individual is questioned and approved by the congregation for formal membership. If there appears to be some area where the person lacks understanding or some issue that might be in question, those things should be dealt with at this time.

There should be extreme caution in this examination in that if a person is allowed to come into formal church membership under a false assumption of salvation, there is a very high probability that such a person will go through the rest of his life living under a delusion of salvation when it is not real. This should be explained at the time of the private questioning so that the membership candidate can understand that the questioning is being done out of genuine concern. Secondly, the person that is not “born again” does not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and such a person cannot live the Christ-life no matter how hard he tries. Such a person is doomed to an existence of legalism and a life of continual failures. When salvation is a delusion, the Christ-life can never be anything more than an illusion. Sadly, the person with a delusion of salvation lives under that delusion never recognizing it as a delusion because he thinks that his Christian life is like every other Christian’s life. When two delusional Christians get together, they tend to reinforce each other’s delusion with the commonality of never experiencing the Spirit filled Christ-life and its accompanying progressive transfiguration. As a result, they think that what they know experientially as Christianity is normal Christianity. The delusion then reinforces the illusion.

It is important to note that the genuineness of a person’s salvation may be QUESTIONED, but no one should be removed from formal church membership because of another person’s doubt or even because a person may doubt his own salvation. A person must admit to a false profession of salvation before that person should be removed from formal church membership or give evidence of trusting in something other than the “finished” work and Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. If a person states he is now trusting in either some degree of Moralism or some form of Ritualism for salvation, that must be corrected or that person must be removed from membership.

Refusal to genuinely repent of moral turpitude

The only sin that would cause a local church to disfellowship another believer is a sin accompanied with the refusal to genuinely repent (to sincerely turn from that sin in remorse). Moral turpitude deals with sin in such a way as to see it as more than just an offense against a holy God. Moral turpitude is essentially a judicial term describing action that is criminal in that the impact of the act goes beyond the individual to effect a group or a society. This is what defines the unrepentant sinner who lives in secret sin and deception of his fellow local church members. His unrepentant lifestyle causes the whole of the formal membership of a local church to lose the supernatural enabling of the Spirit of God upon their ministry. It is the unrepented sin in the life of the unrepentant sinner that Paul refers to in I Corinthians 5:6 by the phrase “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” Moral turpitude as a judicial term is defined as:

“act of baseness, vileness or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes to his fellowmen, or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and man.” [1]

The heinousness of secret moral turpitude is that God acts upon the secret sin by withdrawing Himself and His blessings from the fellowship. This is what happened in Joshua chapter 7 in the sin of Achan’s moral turpitude.

1 But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing: for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed thing: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against the children of Israel. 2 And Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Bethaven, on the east side of Bethel, and spake unto them, saying, Go up and view the country. And the men went up and viewed Ai. 3 And they returned to Joshua, and said unto him, Let not all the people go up; but let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai; and make not all the people to labour thither; for they are but few. 4 So there went up thither of the people about three thousand men: and they fled before the men of Ai. 5 And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty and six men: for they chased them from before the gate even unto Shebarim, and smote them in the going down: wherefore the hearts of the people melted, and became as water” (Joshua 7:1-5).

Because of one man’s selfish act of secret moral turpitude, 36 innocent men were killed when God withdrew His blessing and protective custody upon the nation of Israel. That which defines the criminal action in moral turpitude is revealed in the extensive levels of impact upon the nation of Israel as a whole.

1. Joshua, the leader of Israel, was discouraged and began to wrongly accuse God of being unfaithful to His covenant promise (Joshua 7:6-7).

2. An open door was provided for God’s Name and God’s abilities to be blasphemed among the heathen and the congregation of Israel to be mocked by their enemies (Joshua 7:8-9).

3. 36 innocent men died (Joshua 7:5). These men had fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, wives, children, and other extended family members who became victims of the consequences of the moral turpitude of Achan and his family as they concealed his sin.

4. The whole congregation of Israel was defiled and accursed before God (Joshua 7:11) until they corporately dealt with the problem judicially and were once again sanctified before God (Joshua 7:13-26).

5. God established a memorial in the “great heap of stones” (Joshua 7:26) and, from that day forward, the valley where this stoning took place “was called, the Valley of Achor.” Achor means trouble. This was to be an ongoing historical testimony to the infamy of one man who brought so much trouble upon the congregation of Israel because of his own carnal selfishness.

It should be noted that the whole immediate family of Achan were required to be present at his stoning and it appears that they were stoned along with Achan, which would require their complicity in the concealing of the sin. This complicity of family members, or anyone, to conceal sin is a level of moral turpitude that must as well be dealt with during church discipline through congregational polity. It should also be noted that in order for the defilement to be removed from the congregation of Israel and God’s blessing restored through sanctification that the whole congregation was required to take part in the stoning and the burning of all the bodies and belongings of the family of Achan (Joshua 7:24-26).

REFUSAL TO REPENT OF Doctrinal heresy

Ephesians 4:2 emphatically states that there is but “one faith.” Since “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17), we should understand that the “one faith” Paul refers to is one correct interpretation of Scripture that is defined as right doctrine. The word “doctrine” in the N.T. is translated from the Greek word didache (did-akh-ay'). The Greek word simply means instruction. Doctrine is the teaching that explains the meaning of the inspired Words of Scripture. Our modern term for doctrine is the word theology. Right doctrine (orthodoxy) provides the correct foundation for righteous, God-pleasing practice (orthopraxy).

Heresy is any wrong interpretation of Scripture that creates a disunity. The word heresy means disunion. It is false teaching of false doctrine that breaks the “. . . unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; 5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph. 4:3b-6). The word heresy actually refers to the creation of another sect or division of people that brakes away from the original fellowship by teaching things contrary to that right doctrine and its practice or the unity that existed in right doctrine and right practice.

17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. 18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:17-18)

The word “mark” in Romans 16:17 is from the Greek word skopeo (skop-eh'-o). It means to focus upon, point out, or take aim at. People, both within a local church membership and without, who teach false interpretations of Scripture that lead to disunion should be singled out and pointed out. If they are members of a local church and refuse to repent of their false teachings, they must be removed from the formal membership of the church and not allowed to have any position of leadership. Since they will continue to teach their false interpretation of Scripture even after they have been excommunicated, it becomes the responsibility of the leadership and the formal members of a local church to constantly warn new believers about them and maintain a public mark upon them through continual warnings.

Unwillingness to resolve personal offenses

In most cases, Matthew 18:15-20 is used for the foundation of church discipline in dealing with issues of moral turpitude. That is not the context of the instruction of Matthew chapter 18. The context is about lifestyles that lead little children astray (Matt. 18:1-6) by living in contradiction to the practice of right doctrine. Contextually, the instruction of Matthew 18 is about how believers should treat one another and resolve personal problems in a God-honoring way. Sadly, dealing with the issues of false professions of salvation, moral turpitude, and heresy are all mixed together. According to the teaching of the Word of God, we have separate instructions regarding the way these various issues are to be dealt with by individual believers and within the context of formal local church membership. Matthew 18:15-20 gives us instructions regarding how God wants individuals to deal with personal offenses they might cause or receive.

15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. 18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:15-20).

The word “trespass” is from the Greek word hamartano (ham-ar-tan'-o). It simply means to miss the mark. It is usually translated sin, but in this case the better translation is “trespass.” It means to err or make a serious mistake in judgment or to say or do something that causes another person grief because of that wrong statement. What is usually the case, one person says something wrong or makes a false speculation about another person to a friend or acquaintance. Then that person goes to the person that the statement was made about and repeats it or asks that person if the statement is true. The latter person is the person offended by the statement. Both the person who made the original offending statement and the person who repeated the offending statement become party to the offense and become accountable to try to resolve the offense. The false statement is gossip. The person who listened to the gossip and repeated the gossip, even in bringing it as a question to the person the gossip was about, becomes party to the gossip. Gossip is a secret assault upon the character of another person. If a person has a concern or question about an action of another person, the only appropriate person to discuss the issue with is the person in question. ALL PARTIES INVOLVED IN THE DISCUSSION NEED TO BE INVOLVED IN THE RESOLUTION.

The context of Matthew chapter 18 is the bad example that adults establish before children that lead those children into similar practices. One of the most basic principles of parenting, in teaching children self-discipline, is the principle, WHAT YOU MESS UP, YOU STRAIGHTEN UP! In Matthew chapter 18, the mess up is the question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” This question was asked in almost complete ignorance of those little ears and little eyes that hear everything and see everything and record those things they hear and see that are endorsed by the actions of the adults they learn from. The question raised the issue of WHAT is important in life by raising a false example of WHO is important in life. Christ brings those invisible ears and eyes into the midst of those disciples and in the midst of the theological debate and shows these adults the perspective of their discussion. Congregational polity holds formal church members accountable to resolve the offenses created by misstatements and bad examples.

The testimony of any local church will never be any better than the testimony of any individual who is allowed to live in contradiction to his profession of salvation or in contradiction to his commitment to die to the “old man” and live in the indwelling power of the resuurected and indwelling Christ. The basic responsibility of Congregational Polity is the protection and maintainance of a testimony that will bring glory to God and His power to completely transfigure the lives of sinners.

[1] Chadwick v. State Bar, 49 Cal. 3d 103, 110, 776 P.2d 240, 260 Cal.Rptr. 538 (1989); Sosa-Martinez v. United States AG, 420 F.3d 1338, 1341 (11th Cir. 2005)

Audio of this is available in the two links below:
I. Four Failures That Should Result In Excommunication
II. Four Failures That Should Result In Excommunication

Anonymous comments will not be allowed.Numerous studies and series are available free of charge for local churches at:http://www.disciplemakerministries.org/Dr. Lance Ketchum serves the Lord as a Church Planter, Evangelist/Revivalist.He has served the Lord for over 40 years.

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