Local Church Discipline, and the Statement on the Removal of JD Hall from Fellowship Baptist Church – The Garrett Ashley Mullet Show
A certain ‘Statement on the Removal of JD Hall from Fellowship Baptist Church’ was published July 25th, 2022 at the website for that church. It deserves close attention.
More than that, however, I read the statement. Thereby, I realize that the arrogance of some and the flippancy of others makes clear the need for a closer examination of what God’s Word says about ‘church discipline,’ since clearly not all know what it is. And just as clearly, not all know what obedience to God’s Word entails, particularly where conflict resolution and the rebuke and repentance of sin is concerned.
Both the confrontation and resolution of private sin of a man against his brother should be handled as privately as possible. A special emphasis on the “as possible” with regards to privacy is clear from a close reading of what Christ says in Matthew 18:15-20.
Go privately to your brother first, then. And if he won’t listen, take along two or three witnesses and try talking with him again about how he sinned against you. If he still won’t listen, take the offending brother before the whole church and regard him moving forward as you would an outsider, at least until he repents and the relationship is restored.
Where Jesus speaks of “the church” here, most reasonably interpret the appropriate context as referring to the local body of believers. However, specific examples of rebuke and correction are found throughout the Scripture. The inclusion of these alone proves that rebuke and correction is not confined to only the knowledge and purview of the local church.
If this were not the case, the inclusion of these stories in the Biblical narrative would be very curious indeed. Therefore, those who object that any attempt to make the larger body of Christ aware of private sins on the part of a Christian brother or sister must reckon with this fact. So far, I have yet to see this done. But it really needs to be done, and I suppose this fact is a primary driver of my work here right now with this episode.
Meanwhile, the Biblical standard, principle, and command for handling sin and confrontation of church leaders like elders, pastors, and overseers is clearly different than the sin of one brother against another.
As James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”
We read elsewhere in the New Testament that confrontation and resolution of sin by an elder requires the fuller counsel of God than Matthew 18 alone. The testimony of two or three witnesses, according to what the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5, establishes any charge which can be admitted.
The reasons for this are not stated explicitly in that passage, but they must be related to the Biblical qualifications for overseers that they must be above reproach.
As the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:2, “an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…”
And as he writes in Titus 1:7, “an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain…”
It apparently needs to be stated explicitly that “above reproach” here does not mean incapable of sin or error; it means blameless, in the sense of the character of these men being so undeniably high that false charges of impropriety cannot stick because the man in question never behaves in the way some are alleging, particularly outside the church.
We talk about Romans 13 a lot on this podcast. As such, it is worth noting how the ideal of the governing authority being God’s minister to do justice should not be misconstrued or twisted to mean the one in authority is infallible or perfect in the civil sphere.
So also, the ideal of overseers being above reproach should not be misconstrued or twisted to mean they are imbued with infallibility or perfection in the ecclesiastical sphere. That interpretation was tried and failed miserably in the old Roman Catholic Church during the Protestant Reformation five centuries ago. God forbid we go down that road again, though we may be sorely tempted to, and for very similar reasons.
But 1 Timothy 5 says that when there is an established charge against an elder, that charge is to be leveled in the sight of all.
“As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.“
Some want this word “all” here to be narrowed to not mean “all” for reasons which may be sincere. Yet their handling of the truth requires gentle encouragement and correction. They are pure-hearted, perhaps. But they have not studied the relevant passages diligently enough. They need to be shown their mistake gently, but no less surely.
Others, meanwhile, want this word “all” here to be narrowed to not really mean “all” for reasons which are to my mind doubtlessly self-serving and self-protective. God alone knows perfectly the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. Yet Jesus tells us to judge trees by the fruit they bear. Whether good or evil, the fruit spoken of by Christ is not doctrinal statements and verbal professions of faith. Otherwise it would be odd that the text here explicitly speaks of “works.” And where I, at least, have weighed and measured what fruits I have observed, I see some fruit which looks over-ripe at best.
For instance, too many in the Reformed tradition in America – who have had JD Hall’s back, who have defended their not having recognized the warning signs sooner, or who have testified that they reproached Hall privately in recent years – plead a kind of innocence now. This they do on the basis that Hall’s doctrine was sound. It could not be argued with or against. They themselves both held and do hold to the same doctrine.
I dare say these same ones should also repent – and this for having neglected to judge trees by the fruit of their works and lives, in accordance with the Scriptures, especially if they neglected to pay any attention whatsoever to said fruit, and all the more if they ignored the warnings of others closer to him who were observing said fruit and gave warning which could have so easily been heeded.
After all, Christ commands us clearly in Luke 3:8-10 with regards to this.
“Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
So also, the Lord says a very similar thing in Matthew 7:15-20.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
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