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Dealing with Sin in the Church

Tom Pennington • Selected Scriptures

  • 2018-08-12 AM
  • Sermons


Lord willing, next Sunday we will return to our study of Romans, but as I sometimes do on Communion Sundays, I want to step away from our study of Romans to deal with a specific issue.

On Sunday nights, we have been studying this summer, James, in fact, we'll return there tonight, Jonathan takes us back to James 3. But I want to begin this morning by asking you to turn to James 1. James 1. This letter, written by our Lord's half brother, the leader of the church in Jerusalem, contains one of the most misunderstood passages in Scripture. James lays down for us in his letter a series of tests of true saving faith. And the test that we come to in chapter 1, beginning in verse 19, and running down through verse 25, the test is this: how do we respond to the Scripture?

The right response as he says in verse 21 is to, "receive the word implanted," and verse 22, to be, "doers of that word." That's the right response. So this entire paragraph is about how we respond to Scripture as a test of the reality of our faith. Now with that in mind, look at the two verses that I think are frequently misunderstood. Verses 19 and 20 of James 1.

This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

Now what I want you to see is that those two verses are not there in isolation from their context. In reality, those are not generic commands about our personal interactions with other Christians, which is addressed in other places. Instead, these commands are about our response to the Scripture. Now why would Christians not be, as He says in verse 19, "quick to hear," and "slow to speak," when it comes to the Scripture? In other words, why would we be quick to speak; that is, to talk back to the Bible? And why would we be tempted to become angry with God's word? That's the point of verses 19 and 20, we must not allow that to happen; but why does that happen? It's because, let's just be honest with ourselves, there are many statements and commands in the Scripture that confront our personal sin, and that's hard.

Also, there are many commands and statements in Scripture that contradict the personally entrenched views that we have about all kinds of things. We come to a passage and it just slaps us in the face and says, no, here's how you should think. In addition, there are clear statements in Scripture that oppose the current cultural climate in which we live, and it's uncomfortable to step outside of those boundaries. For example, the exclusivity of Christ in the Gospels stand in direct opposition to the cultural climate of our day of inclusive-ism. Or the objective, understandable, universal nature of truth that the Bible teaches contradicts the subjective post-modern view of truth that absolutely permeates our society. Take another example, the biblical teaching on women's roles in marriage and the church clearly runs contrary to the stated agenda of both the Christian and secular feminists.

The biblical teaching on gender, this is a huge issue in our day, the biblical teaching on gender rejects a self stipulated gender identity and instead presents God as sovereignly creating every person as either male or female. Now when Scripture contradicts, in those areas are others, our own ideas, or the prevailing mindset of the age, or the perspectives even of pop Christianity, we can all be tempted to argue with the Scripture. To be slow to hear and to be quick to talk back to the word of God. And we can even be tempted to become angry with what the Scripture says.

Without question, one command of Scripture that runs counter to the cultural climate, to pop Christianity, and to the personal views of many Christians, has to do with the loving confrontation of the sins of other Christians in the context of a church family. Now, many Christians agree theoretically with the importance of privately confronting a brother or sister caught in sin. Very few Christians would say you shouldn't do that although most of them never have and frankly never will. But many Christians struggle when a church tries to follow our Lord's commands in Matthew 18, and addresses the sin of an individual publicly.

Folks, our first response about any issue as followers of Jesus Christ, should never be, well, I think... No, our first response as followers of Jesus Christ should always be this: what does the Bible say? Scripture demands that we practice what has been called church discipline. In one sense I am not a huge fan of that label because of how it sounds and how it comes across, but the reality is taught in Scripture and we're to do it both privately and publicly.

For the next few minutes, I just want to share my heart and that of the elders with you. I want us to examine a few key passages together answer a couple of the questions that the elders and I hear even among our own congregation about this issue. And so, this is more of a family time this morning, I just want you to think about how we, as individual believers, in the context of this church, are to deal with sin.

Let's start with the biblical texts on church discipline. The biblical texts on church discipline. Ask the average Christian where the Bible talks about church discipline and they have absolutely no idea. But the few who do have an answer for you will assume that it's only taught in one passage, Matthew 18. Now, let's be clear, one passage would be enough. How often does God have to say something in order for us to take it seriously and obey it? But in this case, there are a number of New Testament passages. I am not going to give you and exhaustive list, let me give you a representative list.

First of all there are those biblical texts, in which, church discipline is laid upon us individuals and as a church by Christ's own authority and command. There are two texts, I am not going to have you turn there right now because we are going to come back in a few minutes.

Matthew 16: 16-19, and there Jesus refers to these keys, or this authority that is given to bind and to loose. It's left somewhat ambiguous in that text, but you come to Matthew 18:15-20, and that is tied directly to the authority Christ gives His church to enact discipline. To discipline their members. So Christ both commands and grants local church's authority to discipline their members.

Christ refers to the keys or authority for binding and loosing of sins on earth in Matthew 16 and then He gives that authority specifically to local churches in Matthew 18, again we'll come back to the key texts there.

A second group of passages that deal with this issue of church discipline are in the epistles. So we are to carry this out by apostolic command and pattern. Now I am not going to take you to all of these texts, let me just note what they are, what they describe. In 1 Corinthians 5, you have the entire chapter devoted to the discipline of the man who is committing incest in the church in Corinth. But not just that, at the end of that chapter, there is a list of other kinds of sins that ought to be, that church discipline ought to be practiced because of moral sins that are involved beyond the specific situation there in 1 Corinthians 5.

In 2 Corinthians 2, it's the discipline of a false teacher. In Galatians 6:1, it's a brother over taken in any kind of sin. In 2 Thessalonians 3, specifically it is for those who got so carried away with their eschatology, that they refused to work. Refused to support their families. In 1 Timothy 1, Paul deals out discipline on false teachers. In 1 Timothy 5, he talks about the public discipline of sinning and unrepentant elders, leaders in the church. In 2 Timothy 2, he again comes back to the issue of false teaching. And then in Titus 3, he talks about disciplining someone who causes division in a local church.

So, in these verses, Paul either describes the process of church discipline or he models it by his own example. So, what I want you to see is that there are a number of places in the New Testament where we learn how to deal with sin in the church. And the pattern is the same.

So, let's move to a second issue that we need to consider, those are the biblical texts, secondly, let's consider the primary reasons for church discipline. What is the point for church discipline? Why would Christ demand this, which seems almost archaic to us, what is it supposed to accomplish? Well there are several reasons. First of all, let us consider the reasons that have to do with the Lord Himself. Yes, church discipline is ultimately for our Lord, the Lord of the church. It is to protect and honor the reputation of Jesus Christ. In Matthew 18:20, it talks about, "those who are gathered in My name." "Those who are gathered in My name," in the context of church discipline. In other words, you have gathered to carry out discipline, in the defense of my own reputation, because of Me.

In 2 Timothy 2:19, at the end of that passage on discipline, Paul says this, as he describes discipline and its importance, he says, "everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness." In other words, your behavior, an individual Christian's behavior, affects the reputation of Jesus Christ.

Here's how Jonathan Leeman puts it in his excellent article on the 9Marks website. He says, "The church is called to guard the name and glory of Christ." Let me say that again, he says, "The church is called to guard the name and glory of Christ. Fundamentally, church discipline is about the reputation of Christ and whether or not the church can continue to affirm the verbal profession of someone whose life egregiously mischaracterizes Christ;" that's the point, discipline is for the Lord.

Secondly, it's for the church as a whole. It's for the church as a whole. Let me give you several ways it's for the church. First of all, it keeps the church pure. First Corinthians 5:6-8, Paul describes sin tolerated in the church like leaven, like yeast that spreads through a piece of dough. And he ends that passage in 1 Corinthians 5:13 by saying, "Remove the wicked man from among yourselves." Get the leaven out so that the rest of the dough isn't affected. It keeps the church pure.

Secondly, it protects the church from false teachers and doctrinal error. Sometimes church discipline is used to deal with someone who is teaching rank error in the life of others. 1 Timothy 1, Titus 3.

Thirdly, it makes the entire church, each of us individually afraid of sin. First Timothy 5:20 says that we are to discipline elders publicly who sin and are unrepentant in that sin, just as we discipline the members. And he says this, "so that the rest," that is, the rest of the church, "also will be fearful of sinning." Church discipline is to remind us all of the terrible nature of sin in all of our lives. Church discipline is a serious call to our own self-examination.

Robert Saucy, in his book on the church, writing about church discipline says this, "the execution of discipline has the beneficial effect of reminding all members of their own propensity towards sin and warning them of its consequences."

Folks, this whole process is very serious, in fact, go ahead and turn to Matthew, Matthew 18. And I want you to see that, we're going to look at it in just a moment, Matthew 18:15-18. There's the key text on church discipline, but I want you to notice that part of that paragraph are two verses that are often taken out of context, but they have to do with when the church is carrying out church discipline. Matthew 18:19, "Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven." In other words, where believers are carrying this out in keeping with the command of Christ, it matters. And then he says, "where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst." We often use that verse as, when the church gathers for worship, and that's true, but this is about when the church gathers to carry out church discipline. You see, in church discipline, the church declares the decision of God.

Verse 18, "Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth," He's talking again about discipline, "shall have been bound in heaven;" notice the order. "And whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." In other words, the church is merely declaring the decision of God. How do we know the decision of God? Based on the clear teaching of His Word. It happens under Jesus' command, under His authority, and verse 20 says, He is present as the process is carried out.

So, it serves a purpose for the Lord, for the church; thirdly, church discipline serves a purpose for the sinning Christian. This is obvious, but let me just give them to you. Here's the purpose it serves for the one who is in that discipline. First of all, to restore him to the Lord, and to his church. That's the point. You know, Galatians 6:1, you're to restore such a one to the church, that's the desire.

Now, let me just say this, we should do what our Lord commands. Whether we think it works or not. Let me just make this clear, we are not pragmatists here. We don't do it because we think it works. However, that said, let me say to you, that I was thinking this week, I have been at Countryside this October, 15 years. It's hard to believe, but 15 years- it may be hard for you to believe too, in a different way. But, 15 years, I have been here, we've only had to discipline someone, we've only gone to the third step of church discipline and brought it publicly, ten times in 15 years. And here's the amazing thing, that, if I counted correctly, ten times disciplines gone public at Countryside in 15 years, six of those times, the people involved have repented. And two of those six even came to faith in Christ through that.

So it works. We ought to do it whether it works or not because it's what our Lord commands. If we had zero out of ten, it would still be right. But I want you to see that it does restore people to the Lord.

Secondly, for the sinning believer, it creates a proper sense of shame for their sin. A proper sense of shame for their sin. Second Thessalonians 3:14, "do not associate with that sinning brother," whose under discipline, "so that he will be put to shame." You know, we all like the concept of shame in our culture, we try to avoid it. Unless you're doing it anonymously on the Internet. But the Bible says there is a proper kind of shame. We ought to be ashamed of our sin, and that's brought on us in the process of church discipline.

Number three, to deliver him over, "to Satan for the destruction of his flesh," that's 1 Corinthians 5:5. To deliver to Satan is just another way to say to excommunicate someone. To put the person out of the blessing of Christian worship and fellowship and to put them into Satan's realm; that is, the world system that he has created. And then he adds, "for the destruction of his flesh." What is that? It means divine chastening. Divine chastening which at times, even as we read in 1 Corinthians 11 includes physical consequences.

And number four, we do it for the sinning Christian in order to save his soul. That's how Paul puts it at the end of 1 Corinthians 5:5, "that his spirit may be saved." In other words, that he may be restored to the Lord, and, of course, his eventual salvation because that restoration will prove that he was, in fact, truly Christ's.

In the end, what I want you to see, is that the purpose of church discipline, for the sinning Christian, is perfectly in line with the Father's plan when He disciplines us directly without the church. In Hebrews 12, the writer of Hebrews puts it like this, Hebrews 12:10,

they disciplined, [speaking of our human fathers, they disciplined], us for a short time as seemed best to them, but God, [our Father], disciplines us for our good, [listen to this], so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

That's what God is doing. It's what He does directly, when He disciplines us. He brings us to holiness and righteousness. It's what He does through the discipline of the church. You see, some think church discipline is ungracious and unloving. Maybe you're tempted to think that. Let me just encourage you to think about it like this. You are in one sense, by saying that, arguing that you are more gracious and more loving than God Himself. Because this is what is commanded. Also, because our Lord directly commanded this, as we'll see in a moment, we're in one sense, when we reject this, saying, we know better than Christ. We are wiser than Christ himself, the Lord of the Church. Does the Lord of the church have the right to command what's done in His church, or not? That's the question.

So let's look thirdly then, having looked at the reasons. Let's look at the biblical process of church discipline. And that does bring us to Matthew 18. In Matthew 18:15-18, Jesus lays out a simple four step process. This is the rescue plan that Jesus Himself designed. And He, let me just say this, He has commanded every single one of us, without exception, to play our part in this process. So let's look at it together.

The first step, we'll call private confrontation; it's in verse 15. "if your brother sins," remember now these are the words of our Lord in this earliest chapter, chapter 18 about life in the church. He says, if your brother sins, "go and show him his fault in private." Brothers and sisters, this is a command directed to every single one of us. Whether it is a member of this church or whether it is a member of your family who professes Jesus Christ. "Go," in other words, take the initiative. If you know of a sin in the life of someone else, you need to act. Now let me just say, every time you see a sin, you don't need to go and confront it. If that happened in a marriage, for example, we would spend our whole lives doing that. There needs to be, and Scripture teaches, there needs to be a love that covers a multitude of transgressions and sins. So, when do you do this? You do this when there is a serious sin or when there is a pattern of sin or when it's going to, in some way, affect the on-going life and health and holiness of that person. "Go," and then He says, "show him his fault." Show means, to convince, or to expose, "in private;" literally the Greek text says, between you and him alone. This is the first step. By the way, this step goes on in our church all the time because this is what our Lord commands. I know many of you have spoken into the lives of your fellow brothers and sisters.

Now, there are two possible results of this first step. Verse 15 says, "if he listens to you." That is, there is either a reasonable, believable explanation, and it turns out not to have been sin after all, or he repents of the sin, then verse 15 says, "you have won your brother." If this happens, your responsibility is over, you're to forgive it and to drop it. Now, that said, let me say that there are a couple of exceptions to dropping it even if the person repents. If the sin involves someone else, if they've sinned against someone else, then they need to go and seek the forgiveness of that person. Or, if the sin is so public, on such a huge public scale, that it requires public repentance for the testimony of the gospel. Or when the sin has consequences. Primarily, for example, there's a sinning elder or pastor whose sin rises to the level that he is no longer qualified to serve. But, ordinarily, verse 15 says, "if he listens," if he repents, "you have won your brother."

The other response is in verse 16. "But if he does not listen to you," if he doesn't repent, if he doesn't turn from his sin, then you go to the second step. The second step is in verse 16. It's private confirmation. Verse 16 says, but if he does not listen to you, "take one or two more with you." So you are to go back to your brother a second time, if he doesn't repent the first time. But this time, you're to take one or two others with you. it's still essentially private. The knowledge of the sin is a relatively small group. The point is to keep the matter as small as possible at this stage. Now, why the witnesses, what are they there for? Well, the witnesses are included for two reasons. First of all, verse 16 says, "so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed." That is, as you can see a quotation from the Old Testament from Deuteronomy 19:15, it is a key principle of the Mosaic Law. Now, what are these witness to. They are not necessarily witnesses of the original offense. Rather, they are witnesses of this second step, of this private confrontation. Because if it goes to the next step, then there are three people who know what has gone us thus far.

Verse 17 says, "if he refuses to listen to them," now this is another reason the witnesses go. Not only to confirm what's said, but notice, he refuses to listen to not only the first guy, but to "them." The implication is that the witnesses, once they've established the facts, join the first person in trying to persuade this sinning brother to repent. And again, there are two possible outcomes: repentance and complete resolution and forgiveness, if he listens or continued rebellion against the Scripture, in which case the process moves to the third step.

Verse 17, which is public proclamation. Public proclamation, notice verse 17, if he refuses to listen to them, "tell it to the church." Now, Christ doesn't explicitly mention the elders in this passage, but since the rest of the New Testament makes them responsible to lead all aspects of church life, it's understood that at this point the elders become involved in evaluating the circumstances, the process so far, the people involved and so forth. And if the elders determine at this point, that there is clear biblical sin, that the first two steps have been carried out, then notice what Jesus says, they are to tell the church. The word church is the normal New Testament word for the assembly of believers. Tell the whole assembly.

Why? Why would you do that? Well verse 17 explains, "if he refuses to listen even to the church," so here's why you tell the church, it's not just to spread the news, absolutely not. The point is the church is told so that all who know that person may join the two or three who have already been involved, and the elders, in calling that person to repentance. You see the goal is to have an ever widening group urge that sinning brother or sister to repent.

Now, when it comes to this third step, there is one biblical reason to skip it. It's given by Paul in Titus 3:10-11. He says that, "after a first and second warning," there are your first two steps, "reject a factious man." In other words, you skip step three, and you go right to putting him out of the church, the fourth step. Why? Because the divisive person wants nothing more than to have everybody in the church come to him so that he can sow his discord. And so Paul says, in that case, skip the third step. Don't send the church, just put him out of the church.

So, what I want you to see is that when you come to step three, when you come to public discipline, the entire church is now on a rescue mission. Now, here's a crucial question and one that often comes up. What kind of sin rises to the level that it would be told to the entire church? Well, when you examine the sins in Scripture that the church publicly disciplines, the examples we have in the New Testament, you find that the sins can be described in three ways. And I don't have this on a slide, but you can jot them down. Sins that are outward; that is, as opposed to just sins of the heart. That doesn't mean sins of the heart aren't serious. It just means we can't see into somebody else's heart. And, given enough time, the sins of the heart will express themselves, what? Outwardly. And so it ought to be outward sins as opposed to merely sins of the heart. It's pretty hard to discipline someone because they are proud. That may be true, but how do you fasten that down? How do you know that is risen to such a level that it ought to be disciplined, so they need to be some sort of outward manifestation of the sin.

Secondly, they need to be serious or dominating sins. As I said earlier, love is supposed to cover a multitude of the smaller sins of life. Discipline becomes necessary, public discipline, when the sin is serious or life dominating, life altering.

And thirdly, and this one is really key, it comes to public discipline when the person is unrepentant. In one sense you could say that public discipline is for any sin that a professing believer refuses to turn from. It's reserved for hard-hearted rebellion against the Scripture. Listen carefully, because there's a lot of confusion on this. Public discipline is not determined by the amount of sin or the length of sin or the seriousness of sin even. Public discipline is determined by the response of the sinner to God and His word. When a professing Christian confesses his sin, when he seeks God's forgiveness, when he seeks the forgiveness of those he sinned against, and when he makes sincere, real efforts to manifest repentance, he is never to be publicly disciplined regardless of how bad the sin itself was. Instead, the public steps of church discipline are reserved for those who remain defiant against God and His word. Those who refuse to repent of their sin, whatever it may be. Whether their sin is committed in open defiance, like the open handed fist we talked about a few weeks ago, or whether it is defiance cloaked behind a facade of spirituality, like the Pharisees. Whether sin is committed in defiance of God's word or sin justified by some distortion of God's word which is often the path people take.

Now, let me just say because I know some of you may feel nervous, you struggle with sin as we all do, and you're thinking, wow, is this for everybody? No listen, there are always people in church who struggle with sin. Paul calls them the weak, in 1 Thessalonians. As long as a person is willing to express repentance and to make genuine attempts at change, they should never be publicly disciplined.

Public discipline is reserved for those who say, I know what the Bible says, and I don't care. You've shown me from Scripture, I understand that that's what the church has taught for 2,000 years, but now I have my own views. And I'm going to do what I want. How can a professing Christian, go through the first two steps in this process, and justify continuing in sin? Well, you'll hear excuses like these, I know that's what the Bible says, but God just wants me to be happy. This other church that I found or this other Christian author I found, they understand, you guys are just too black and white. There's just no grace and no love in this church. I know it's wrong, but I want to do it, and I am sure God will forgive me if I do. Those are just a few examples.

Jesus says, notice verse 17, "If he refuses to listen to the church," then you come to the fourth step, final excommunication. Verse 17 says, "let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector." The sense of that expression is treat him as you would. By the way, there's an important point in the Greek grammar in verse 17. Jesus uses the singular pronoun, you, and a singular verb. In other words, He is not addressing the entire church at Countryside. He is not saying, all you people out there. No, what He's saying is you, and you, and you, and you, and every single person must respect the discipline of the church. Jesus says, treat him, if he hasn't repented, as a Gentile and a tax collector. In other words, treat that person as outside the people of God. As one who is living in sin, as one who has refused to repent. It means to put him out of the church.

Again, in that excellent article on 9Marks, Jonathan Leeman writes this, "The family members," and this is a question that often comes up. The family members, "of a disciplined individual should certainly continue to fulfill the biblical obligations of family life." He's not saying, don't be a family member. "But, the tenor of church members relationships with the disciplined individuals should markedly change. Interaction should not be characterized by casualness or friendliness, but by deliberate conversations about repentance."

In other words, be kind, be gracious as you would to any unbeliever, just don't treat them as if everything is okay. As if they're a brother and sister in Christ because they may be, they may not be, and so we are to treat them as if they're not. This fourth step is crucial because it doesn't let a person living in rebellion against God cling to some profession that they made years ago. It lets them know that from the church's perspective and as we saw in Matthew 18, ultimately from the Lord's perspective, they have serious reason to question whether or not they are believers at all.

Number four, what is the right attitude for carrying this out? You know sadly, there are many Christians who abuse others under the guise of our Lord's words here. There are actually people, I promise you I am not one of them, and I know many of us are not, who enjoy being confrontational. But to obey this command with the wrong attitude is to disobey it. The context of Matthew 18 here identifies two attitudes that we must have that should govern this entire process. First of all, genuine love. Have you ever noticed the paragraph that comes right before church discipline? It's Jesus talking about a guy who has a hundred sheep and one has gone astray and he goes out and searches for the one who has strayed. He loves that individual sheep. That's the spirit with which we are to do this. That's what we're doing in church discipline. We are going out and seeking out that person because they have strayed, they are in danger. And we are trying to bring them back.

Secondly, there must be an eagerness to forgive. Again, here in Matthew 18, that comes up, beginning in verse 21. So, should I have a spirit of forgiveness toward those who sin against me? What if it happens a number of times? And Jesus tells that amazing parable of the unforgiving slave, and says, yes, forgive, and forgive, and forgive. Be eager to forgive.

Thirdly, in Galatians. Three other reasons are found in Galatians 6, turn there just for a moment. Galatians 6:1, first of all, we should do this with a desire to restore. "Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one," that's the spirit with which we are to go, it's the desire to see them restored to the church and to the Lord.

There should also be gentleness. Galatians 6:1 says, "Restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness." Plead with them. Don't come in and give them orders, plead with them on behalf of Christ.

And humility, "each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted." We are not to restore someone or seek to do so in the spirit of how could you do that? No, it's the spirit of listen, I may not understand the specific sin you are struggling with, but I understand my own struggle with sin, and I understand. Spirit of humility also means we show deference and respect to those who are over us in either age or position. That's why Paul in 1 Timothy 5:1-2, says, Timothy, if you go and confront an older man, then don't rebuke him sharply, but appeal to him as to a father. There's the spirit.

Very quickly, two common questions about church discipline that I hear and the elders hear. First of all, why does our church do this when so many other churches don't? Well, there are lot's of reasons, I have 12 of them in my notes, but I am not going to go through them in the interest of time. But let me just say this, for the first two centuries after the apostles, the early church disciplined it's members publicly. It was common to announce the discipline in the context of the Sunday church service. In the third and fourth centuries, discipline became more private. Until it became in Catholicism, the confessional booth. But it was eventually restored, church discipline was eventually restored under the Reformers, Luther, Calvin, even the anti-Baptists practiced Matthew 18.

Many of the Reformers taught that there were three marks of a true church: where the word is taught, where the ordinances are practiced, and where church discipline is carried out. What I want you to see is the reason our church practices this and other churches don't is simply out of a sincere desire to obey the Lord of the church. Either He commanded this or He didn't. Either He has a right to be Lord of His church or He doesn't. You've seen it, it is very clear.

And then, another question that comes up is why do we do this at communion? Well, the timing is not prescribed in Scripture. Historically, it's been connected with protecting the elements of the Lord's table from being taken by those who are living in open and rebellious sin. And biblically, Communion is a time of introspection, self-examination and so it does fit well with Communion, church discipline does. So let me just plead with you to do this. For now anyway, the elders are going to continue when we carry it out, as you heard it's not often. Ten times, this will be number 11 in 15 years since I have been here. But when it happens, don't cringe, don't be ashamed, this is our Lord's command to His church. This is His rescue mission of these individual believers, and as I shared with you, even in our church, we've seen God do amazing things as a result of it.

So, don't see it as getting in way of your worship at the Lord's table. See it instead as obeying Jesus Christ our Lord. As loving a sheep who has strayed and seeking to rescue them, and as preparing our own hearts to take our own sins seriously and to confess them in preparation for the Lord's table.

Let's pray together.

Our Father, this reminds us of the temptations we all face, of the sins we all struggle with. And Lord, left to ourselves, we could easily become hard-hearted, stubborn, resistant to Your word and Your Spirit. Father forgive us, we freely confess our sins, and we plead with You for our forgiveness. Lord, don't let our own tendencies to sin become entrenched in our hearts so that we no longer care, we no longer act, we no longer return to You and confess it, but we seek to justify them.

Father, we come to You now, pleading for Your forgiveness, we thank You that while we've talked about what happens when someone doesn't repent, Lord we're so grateful that when we do, when anyone does, You are a God who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin.

That's what we celebrate in the Lord's table together, Lord receive our worship.

We pray in Jesus' name.