Cover Story

Lawmakers, lawbreakers

"Lawmakers, lawbreakers" Continued...

Issue: "Roe v. Wade @ 31," Jan. 17, 2004

"Traditional Baptist polity, affirmed again and again in Baptist history, indicates that Baptists indeed have disciplined members for sins, both private and public," he said. Mr. Mohler added that the Baptist doctrine of soul competency, which stresses the priesthood of all believers, should not be misused to allow someone to violate the teachings and the moral principles of the church.

Mr. Mohler, whose exhortation to Mr. Clinton's church went unheeded, was not aware of any recent cases of a Baptist congregation disciplining a pro-abortion politician. "This is the tragedy," he said. "It is not a problem with the polity, but a failure of conviction and courage.... Our churches will either recover biblical church discipline or cease to be churches at all."

Discipline in the right way

Certainly, church discipline has often been abused and clumsily applied. The goal is not to purge a congregation of sinners. Otherwise, who would be left? Properly understood, church discipline should simply be a part of the church's spiritual care of its members.

A pastor seldom knows about the private sins that his members struggle with, but the proclamation of the Word in the normal functioning of the church can bring them to repentance and forgiveness. Sometimes a sin becomes public-a member getting thrown in jail for drunk driving or embezzlement-whereupon the pastor or elders are obliged to meet with the offenders to help them get right with God. If the sinner spurns this pastoral care, insisting that repentance isn't necessary and that it is none of the church's business, then there is another problem. But the processes of Matthew 18 must be followed, with the purpose of trying to save the sinner's soul.

The goal should never be to expel a member. But if, in the course of spiritual counseling, it is evident that the person rejects the church's ministry and does not believe in what the church believes, it becomes a question of whether the person who rejects what the church believes is really a member at all.

Politicians who are willing to reject their church's teachings about abortion are, of course, unlikely to care much about their church's teachings about church discipline. And if they were to be cast out of their church, they would easily find another one, if it matters to them, since prominent and powerful members are much in demand by socially ambitious congregations.

So churches cracking down will not necessarily change politicians' minds or turn the tide against abortion. God, though, can change their minds, and their conversion can come through the conscientious application of spiritual care, in the classic description of the church's ministry as "the cure of souls."

But if it comes to the point of casting out the unbeliever, at least the church would have its integrity.

Sin is more than just an individual action. It is a sin to cause someone else to sin. This is why sexual sin is so problematic. It involves not just oneself but the corruption of another person-one's sexual partner or even the pornographic actors being degraded and sexually abused. Sexual immorality is a sin against the love we should have for our neighbors.

Whereas an individual transgression can be repented of and forgiven, causing someone else to stumble has untold consequences. A man may have a fling with a prostitute, who, unknown to him, becomes pregnant and has an abortion, killing his own child. A politician's scope is even wider, as a vote can be turned into a law that enables the slaughter of millions of innocents.

Churches must shape the way their members think about such things, forming them morally and spiritually for their eternal salvation. The problem is not just that some of their members are in need of church discipline. Churches need it.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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