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NEGLECTED CHURCH DISCIPLINE
By Pastor James Crumpton
"And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou are neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and write raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and him with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" (Revelation 3:14-22).
In our other chapters, we have looked at church discipline from several viewpoints: Constructive, Personal, Corrective, Punitive, and Local. Now in this chapter we want to consider how church discipline has and is being neglected and some of the tragic results.
Our Scripture passage gives not only the command of our Lord that we exercise church discipline, but also the trend of the churches to neglect it during the time since our Saviour returned to the right hand of the Father after His death, burial, and resurrection.
There is not much true love -- God's kind of love -- known and practiced today. There is not a lot of sentimental selfishness that is passed off as love. I might illustrate what I am talking about by referring to the pastors who "cut corners" and compromise when it comes to preaching the whole counsel of God (and that would include church discipline). They claim to love their people and cannot press for these points that reprove and rebuke. But the truth is that they so love themselves they fear the criticism which Satan would foster against them, if they were true to the teachings of our Lord, if they really loved their people, they would teach them and lead them to practice what our Lord taught. Certainly, He loves the people and knows what is best and a necessity for all. It is never right to do wrong to make an opportunity to do right, and love -- real love -- true love -- always constrains us to do right.
The loss of respect by many unsaved people for the churches goes right back to the spineless position, sentimental selfishness, unscriptural promotion, and numbers racket that exists in some of our churches today.
"And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; these things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God" (Revelation 3:14).
The word "angel" means messenger or pastor. So, the letter is addressed to the pastor, and the message is for him and for his flock. It is the church at Laodicea. Laodicea means "the rights of the people" or "the rule of the people." In other words, it means "democracy." Could any other term more aptly set forth the condition of the present-day church affairs? It is the mistaken idea that the voice of the people is the voice of God; the age of anarchy is almost upon us. Someone has said that we once fought a war to save the world for democracy, but that the day will come when we will have to fight to save the world from democracy.
The Bible nowhere teaches that the New Testament Churches are democracies; it does teach that they are theocracies. Baptists have been as guilty, if not more guilty, than other groups in this matter. What is a theocracy? It is government by the immediate direction of God; yes, it is government by priests, servants, and kings as representatives of God. Who are the priests, servants, and kings in the New Testament church? Every believer is a priest, servant, and king. Therefore every individual member is under obligation to find God's will in the policies, and methods followed in His church. And then when the church votes, there will never be divisions. He will not lead two people in the same congregation two different ways on the same subject. We have no right to vote and do as we please. We do have the right to vote and do as He pleases. So, New Testament churches are theocracies operated on democratic principles. He is the one "to run" the church as He speaks through us: His priest, servants, and kings! Most churches are far more concerned now about what will please the people than they are about what He wants. It is characteristic of the church that neglects discipline as ordained by our Lord.
The remainder of the verse states that this message comes to the Laodiceans from "the Amen," "the faithful and true witness," "the beginning of the creation of God." When our Lord is spoken of as "the Adam," It means that He is the truth. He could be the truth without uttering a word, but the expression, "the faithful and true witness" means that He is not only the truth but that He faithfully proclaims, manifests, and makes known the truth to us. What He says will be exactly true because He is in Himself absolute truth, and there is nothing beyond Him in all the realm of truth. He is the faithful and true witness of God. When He speaks there is no exaggeration and no minimizing. When It says that He is "the beginning of the creation of God," it is referring to His deity. The Lord Jesus is God, and thus He speaks to this church at Laodicea.
"I know thy works, that thou are neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth" (Revelation 3:15-16).
The meaning of hot is seen in Romans 12:11, where the same Greek word is used -- fervent (burning) in spirit. The word translated cold is used in Matthew 10:42, "a cup of cold water" and "as cold waters to a thirsty soul... " (Proverbs 25:25). The church at Laodicea was neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm. Some would lead us to believe the hot means the saved, the cold means the lost, and the lukewarm means the saved who are out of fellowship. Such an interpretation is not acceptable. The hot and the cold could both be applied to the saved who were doing something for Him. Some burning hot in His service -- some doing little things that will also be rewarded -- as those giving a cup of cold water in His Name. Certain things are good whether hot or cold -- tea for example -- but nothing that is lukewarm is good to the taste. This church was neither hot nor cold -- nothing was good -- it was a church filled with unsaved members. The Lord spoke of it as such a disgusting situation that He was about to spue (vomit) them out of His mouth.
"Because thou sayest, I am rich, ands increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see" (Revelation 3:17-18).
These people had no consciousness of any need. They considered themselves rich. We see the same all around us today; churches so often measure themselves by the size of their offerings, membership, and buildings. And many of them from that materialistic viewpoint have need of nothing. But Jesus said that they were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. Jesus said that they were miserable; it means pitiable. His heart was moved in pity toward them; He had no congratulations to offer them. When He said that they were poor, He meant that from His standpoint they were possessing nothing worth having. Then He used the word "blind" to describe them; it is the word "nearsighted" which most accurately expresses the thought -- lacking in vision, lacking light, devoid of the sense of the far distances, confined within narrow limits. Then again, He says that they are naked; yes, they were nude, stripped of the clothing of glory and beauty that ought to adorn the church as the Bride of Christ. They were lost people who needed to be clothed in the garment of His imputed righteousness.
The Lord Jesus counsels them to get "gold tried in the fire," "white raiment," and to "anoint thine eyes with eyesalve." "The gold tried in the fire" would make them rich; it is divine righteousness -- that which is imputed to helpless sinners when they receive our Lord Jesus Christ as personal Saviour. The "white raiment" would give them clothing; this is referring to practical righteousness. It is the bride's trousseau, that she may be properly clothed; yea, it is practical righteousness produced in the life of the saint by the Holy Spirit, when the individual surrenders to Him. The "eyesalve" for the eyes is the anointing of the Holy Spirit. John in the second chapter of his first epistle tells us what is ours through this anointing. Let us read verses 20 and 27, "But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. But the anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him."
"As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent" (Revelation 3:19).
Here our Lord makes it clear that these stinging words of rebuke from Him come because He loves them. He then challenges them to repent. And that is Christ's last word to the churches -- "repent." Today the way so many leaders talk you would think that His last word is "go," evangelize. But it is not! Evangelism comes as a result of revival. Revival comes when men repent. So, to get to the bottom of our troubles, we need repentance. He said "go" before His ascension. The churches were not going now; so, this time His Word is "repent."
"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me" (Revelation 3:20).
Here our Lord stands outside the local church seeking entrance. Think of it -- Jesus shut out of a church which claims to be His. What a tragedy! But after all, the church which "cuts out," ignores, and refuses to practice some sections of His Word that displeases the members is shutting Christ out. We cannot refuse His Word and have Him!
"To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the spirit saith unto the churches" (Revelation 3:21-22).
Our Lord certainly knows that many local churches as such in these last days will never open the door to Him. Yet, some are so stupid as to teach that the whole world will be converted. And when He is not even wanted in so many churches! Yet, our Lord does plead with any and every individual who will heed. He also mentions the special reward for those who do heed and who overcome.
NEGLECT OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE IS REBELLION AGAINST GOD'S AUTHORITY
The fact that man is sinfully depraved makes him rebellious against authority. And the Word makes it clear that this rebellion will wax more and more evident as we approach the second coming of Christ. Today we see as never before rebellion against authority in the home, school, government, and churches. Is there any wonder so many fight against the Bible as being verbally inspired? They desire to excuse themselves from accepting the authority of the Word.
Yes, the Laodicean age is upon us. There is much talk that illustrates it: "The majority is right" -- "The people don't like it" -- "The voice of the people is the voice of God" -- "You should not preach like that; people won't like it" -- "I believe in going along with the boys" -- "Everybody does it; it must be all right."
In neglecting the Word of God and its teachings concerning church discipline, we are simply showing how we are rebelling against God's authority. We prefer our ways and will to God's Way and Will. The natural man is that way, but God expects us to be different because He saved us. He expects us to submit to His authority. Could it be that the big trouble today is the same as it was at Laodicea -- church members who need to be saved?
NEGLECT OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE LEADS TO BOASTING IN THE FLESH
The church at Laodicea was actually boasting that she had no needs. These folk felt that they "had arrived." Churches with big buildings, offerings, and memberships often do the same and class folk as "of brand," and "fanatical" who emphasize the need of not compromising the Word, living a separated life, and walking in the Spirit.
Paul said, in the second verse of the fifth chapter of First Corinthians, that the church at Corinth was all puffed up. Look at the verse, "And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you." They were boasting of how liberal they were in having a man in the church guilty of this gross sin of fornication or adultery. You see, they did not want to be accused of being narrow-minded; so, they boasted (and surely such boasting was in the flesh) that they permitted such a man to retain his membership with them. Does it not remind us of such boasting today?
Could you imagine one in the leadership of the Holy Spirit boasting that his or her church condoned immorality? But the Laodiceans believe that what pleases the people is right; they believe the voice of the people is the voice of God. Their own will is their authority, not the Word of God. They follow their own desires and defy those who would in any way cross them.
NEGLECT OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE CONDONES IMMORALITY
As Paul wrote to the brethren at the church of Corinth, he reminded them that to neglect dealing with the case of immorality in their midst would affect the whole congregation. He put it this way, "Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Corinthians 5:6-8). Surely as members of the same local church of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are our brother's keeper. And not to do something to help our brother who has gone into gross sin that needs to be dealt with by the church makes us guilty before God.
To ignore sin that should be dealt with in our local congregations is to condone it. Today many people remain in good standing in their churches even though they are drunkards, harlots, murderers, adulterers, adulteresses, gamblers, dope addicts, etc. We know that there are unsaved people who will always be critical of the churches, but they certainly have a right to be so, when churches so operate as to condone immorality.
NEGLECT OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE EVENTUALLY OMITS THE GOSPEL
Practically all churches who neglect the practice of church discipline do so because it displeases the people. It is so clear how the erroneous idea of the churches of Jesus Christ being democracies instead of theocracies leads to the doing of what human nature likes instead of what God commands.
The average church begins by saying that she is opposed to drinking, adultery, gambling, etc., but that she can not, or will not, go so far as to take any action against it. You know, it is like being against a rattlesnake coming into your house, but certainly not being so drastic as to put it out should it come in anyway. THIS SPIRIT OF COMPROMISE GROWS LIKE CREEPING PARALYSIS. AND BEFORE ONE REALIZES IT, THE CHURCHES SPEAK OUT SO WEAKLY AGAINST ANY SIN THAT IT CAN BARELY BE HEARD, AND CERTAINLY THEY WOULD NEVER TAKE ACTION OF ANY KIND. THEY JUST SIT TRYING TO BE PLEASING TO EVERYBODY UTTERING A FEW PIOUS MEANINGLESS PLATITUDES.
And, of course, when the churches get to this point, they cannot afford to preach the Gospel, telling people that they are hopelessly lost unless they get born again and washed in the blood of Christ. They are already so filled with unregenerate members that the voice of the people, which they suppose is the voice of God, would not allow such preaching or teaching. It would be all right to brag on buildings, offerings, membership, etc., but to preach on Hell, Sin, or Regeneration would be unthinkable. They need nothing, in their estimation, not even the Gospel!
NEGLECT OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE LEAVES CHURCHES NO MORE THAN SOCIAL CLUBS
When a church is what Christ teaches her to be, she is as attractive as a very beautiful woman, but wrong doing is as out of place in her presence as immorality is with a real lady! But today because of rebellion against God's authority, holy living, and an uncompromising stand for right and against wrong, the average church is no more than a social club. In fact with the eating programs, athletic programs, and forms of amusement programs you would think that most of them ARE social clubs. If an Elijah, Moses, Amos, Paul, John the Baptist, or our Lord Jesus Christ should come to preach in the average church today, they would declare them fools and fanatics who were so crude that they should not be permitted to speak in polite (?) society. You can join the average church today, and then, never attend, never give, and do everything to destroy that church's influence for 40 years and still be in good standing. The average social club is not that lenient. What a shame and a tragedy for a church of the Lord Jesus Christ to command less respect than a social club, all because of an effort to appease the sinful flesh.
NEGLECT OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE CAUSES A LOSS OF SPIRITUAL VALUES
The church at Laodicea was thinking altogether in terms of the materialistic: money, buildings, crowds, popularity, etc. They had no place for the message of salvation and finding of God's Will for Christian lives. Today we see the same things. Some are more concerned to have a good report at the close of the year than to reach the lost, build up the saved, and walk with Him. Some are more concerned to build fine buildings than to send out missionaries, claiming that they will send out missionaries after they get well fixed at home. Do you suppose they ever realize that it may be to late then? Most of them forget about missionaries when they get their fine buildings. They feel like the people at Laodicea -- they are in need of nothing.
Oh, how temporal and materialistic churches can become. How easy it is for spiritual values to be lost in the debris of the desires of the flesh. How they find themselves trying to appeal to and please the material man who knows not Christ. Yet from this standpoint Christ was a perfect failure, and so will these churches be when they follow His steps.
NEGLECT OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE MAKES CHURCH MEMBERSHIP MEAN LITTLE IF ANYTHING
How many members of the average church could die and it would make no difference, as far as the work of our Lord is concerned? Can one honestly say that his or her church membership really means something, if the church would have to close her doors if all the members were like that individual? Church membership reports are the highest ever in our nation and so is crime. Does being a church member really mean something today, or is it a sort of badge of respectability or even a "cover-up?"
If churches respected the authority of Christ and His Word instead of rebelling against them, it would be a different matter. Church membership would then mean something. I had rather be a member of a church of Jesus Christ than any other organization on earth. But many prize membership in lodges, clubs, and societies above that of membership in a church. They prove it by the small place they give the church in their lives. And this all goes back to our churches neglecting to do what our Lord Jesus taught them. What a price has been paid to please people! How foolish to believe that the voice of the people is the voice of God!
1. The churches as a whole are doomed because they are listening to and will continue to listen to the voice of people as though it were the voice of God. Jesus made it clear such would be the case.
2. New Testament churches are theocracies and not democracies.
3. Churches cannot please unregenerate men, if they follow their Christ.
4. Many preachers today find where their churches want them to go and follow along instead of finding out where Christ wants them to go and teaching and leading them in His way.
5. Most churches had rather be popular with men than popular with Christ.
6. The measure of greatness by most local churches today is money, members, and buildings, not devoted faithful servants of God.
7. The historical Christ and His message are just as unpopular today as when He lived here on earth some 1900 years ago.
8. The supreme need now is for saints who will follow Christ regardless!
The previous is one chapter of the book New Testament Church Discipline by the late Pastor James W. Crumpton of Westside Baptist Church, Natchez, Mississippi.
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