Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 23, 1964

Destroying The Power And Purity Of The Church

J. D. Tant

It is lamentable to note so many churches throughout the land that are losing or have lost their power and purity. Many of the churches of which we are speaking are considered faithful and sound, and this makes it even more tragic. Perhaps there are various ways in which a church might lose its power and purity, but we can think of none that will do the job so quickly as a lack of discipline, including withdrawal.

To be sure, many of these churches will exercise discipline when some flagrant sin arises, such as the song leader living with two wives, a deacon's wife running a house of prostitution, etc. But we are speaking of the church's neglect in withdrawing from those who are guilty of somewhat less spectacular sins. The church should also be concerned about the souls of those members who have "quit," or who come to the assemblies when the notion strikes them — maybe two or three times a month. The soul of the "common" sinner is in danger of hell as much as the soul of the "infamous" sinner. Why cannot we appreciate this fact? Why cannot we have the same love and concern for the souls of all the lost, whether the lost be merely a little covetous or an unrepentant murderer?

The "marking," "avoiding," or "withdrawing" of which we are speaking is not a matter of option with the church. It is commanded. We cannot put it in the same class as deciding whether to buy songbooks or do without, or deciding whether to rent a meeting house or build one. There is no parallel. We have no more latitude in deciding this than we have concerning the command to be baptized.

The sins calling for this discipline are not limited to the "notorious" sins of which we spoke earlier, but are as general as the word "sin" is. Many of these sins are enumerated: personal offences (Matt. 18:15-18); divisions or occasions of stumbling (Romans 16:17-18); fornication, covetousness, idolatry, reviling, drunkenness, extortion (1 Cor. 5); a lack of love for the Lord (2 Cor. 16:22); false teaching (Gal. 1:8-9); filthiness, foolish talking, jesting. (Eph. 5:3-13)

The whole picture might be summed up by the words written by Paul in 2 Thess. 3:6: "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the traditions which they received of us."

Albert Barnes says of this:

"A 'Disorderly walk' denotes conduct that is in anyway contrary to the rules of Christ. The proper idea of the word used here is that of soldiers who do not keep the ranks; who are regardless of order; and then who are irregular in any way. The word would include any violation of the rules of Christ on any subject."

As we would expect, the Lord is not without reason in commanding us to carry out these orders. He has told us what is to be accomplished by our compliance with them. (1) To save the sinner. This is stated in 1 Cor. 5:5: "....deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." In 2 Thess. 3:14 Paul says this is to be done " the end that he may be ashamed." If, as some have done, we say this will do no good, then we pit our wisdom against God's and surely God will not overlook such a presumptuous sin on our part. (2) To save the church: The punishment inflicted upon Ananias and Sapphira not only served to reward them for their deed, but "great fear came upon all that heard it," thus dissuading any others who may have been tempted to do the same thing. Paul warns the Corinthians that "....a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" (I Cor. 5:6), and commands that they purge out the influence of sin, lest the whole church be contaminated.

That church which fails to fulfill its responsibilities towards the disobedient can well expect to lose its power and purity. As the members see no action taken against sinners, others will be influenced by the example of the sinner, and the purity of the church will soon be compromised. Paul warned Timothy that if the evildoer is not shunned, his influence will "eat as doth as gangrene." (2 Tim. 2:17) That gangrenous or cancerous part of a body that is not treated will soon affect and afflict the whole body. It is the design of Christ that his body be "a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish." (Eph, 5:27) To this end he has provided for the purging out of evil and sin.

That church which has lost its purity loses its power. Consider the lesson of Achan and Israel in Joshua 7. Because of the deed of Achan, there was sin in the camp of Israel, and Israel lost her power. She became weak and ineffective against the enemy until the sin was purged out. Is not the same true today? What power and influence for truth and against evil can a church have when it is known that the indifferent and ungodly are members "in good standing"?

That church which is militant in its integrity is a marvelous and joyous thing to behold, and what wonderful things it can accomplish. But how pitiable and sickening is the church riddled and weakened by sin, bereft of its power and purity.

However unpleasant the task of withdrawal might be, it is ever necessary. "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great a salvation?"

— 2622 Snapfinger Road, Decatur, Georgia