“Cast Out those who willfully sin…”

“Cast Out those who willfully sin…” June 24, 2014

I just wanted to share a thought. Please understand my heart and intention behind this post is not to condemn the person who wrote this comment but to simply address what I think is a deadly stream of thinking among reformed evangelicals.

A month or so ago, I posted a survey about what types of churches young evangelicals desired. Pretty consistently for about a month, I have gotten posts offering various critiques and dreams for the way we do church. Today, however, I received a comment that was very different from anything else I have received on this survey. When asked “What 3 things do you hope for the future of the Church and Christianity?”, an anonymous participant responded:

-Unapologetic preaching of the gospel and of truth.
-The outpouring of grace and truth within Christianity so that we may unite, while still standing for the truth and casting out those who willfully sin. (1 Cor. 5:5)
-Increasing the quality of Christian video; movies and video are very powerful in the western world, we need to step up and stay relevant.

First, a few observations. This person is most likely an emerging reformed Christian. (Mark Driscoll-esque) I say that because while they are calling for relevant Christianity and actively innovating and engaging in culture creation, they are also showing a root of fundamentalist practice that runs deep in the emergent reformed movement.

I agree with the notion of “unapologetic preaching of the gospel”. Absolutely! That’s one of the two major parts of having faith in Christ. The other part is, of course, living the gospel. I find it curious, however, that they don’t end with gospel but continue with “truth”. I wonder what they mean? Isn’t the Gospel truth? Anyways.

The part that really shook me up (thus causing me to blog) is the call for an outpouring of “Grace and truth so that we can unite” …. “and casting out those who willfully sin.” What?

I want to give this participant the benefit of the doubt. He/she can’t mean what they said. Can they? Before we look at the reference they used from 1 Corinthians, lets go to Jesus to see what he has to say.

“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners’”

Matthew 9:13

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

-Mark 2:15-16

Jesus Christ has always been known as the friend of sinners and the enemy of the self-righteous. Jesus always chose to embrace the sinful and broken and despise the religious and seemingly righteous. Jesus did anything but cast out the sinners. He embraced them. Loved them. Had dinner with them. Partied with them.

And may I suggest that all Christians sin willfully every day? There are two types of sin, commission and omission. We engage in both. Every time we choose to lie. Or cheat. Or steal. Or lust. We are willfully sinning. And if this person was held to their own standard, they would be cast out of the church forever. I know I would be.

The verse referenced is 1 Corinthians 5:5 says:

“…hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord”

A few things. First, let’s get some context. As my friend Frank Schaefer says, “A text without a context is just a con.”

1 Corinthians 5:1-5

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife.And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this.So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present,hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

Wait. Did Paul Just say that someone in the Corinthian church was sleeping with his mother?And the church was…proud? Paul is referring to an indecent within the Corinthian church that is unprecedented. A man is sleeping with his mother which either means that his father is dead or that he is not only sleeping with his mom, but he is cheating with her against his dad. Anyway we look at this- it’s a really messed up situation. This person is doing something so perverted without any evidence of guilt of conscience and is being rewarded with the praise of his fellow Christians. Something is really wrong. So Paul says that this man should be “handed over to Satan”, which does, in fact, refer to disfellowshipping. Paul orders this man to be removed from the church until he repents.

Now, this makes sense. This would be like having a child molester in your church who doesn’t think its wrong and people are praising him for his molesting. That be really bad. You’d have him removed. This isn’t a case of “willfully sinning”, rather, there is something really dark going on. Something outside the ordinary.

In other words, handing people over to Satan should be something that is almost never done. This isn’t “Oh, your a struggling alcoholic or struggling with porn so get out of the church.” This is “You’re happily engaging in sexual relations with
your mom and are getting others to support you”. Big difference. This person probably should be disfellowshipped for a time- not because of his sin, per se, but because of the effect it could have on other Christians.

Why would this survey participant want to cast people out? I don’t believe they really want to. But rather, they think thats what Christianity is about. The righteous vs. the unrighteous. The elect vs. the unelect. I used to be the same way. They aren’t talking out of hate or judgement. They think they’re speaking truth. As you can see based on their response- they’re really concerned with “truth” which also probably means that they believe they possess “truth”. I once walked in those shoes. I understand the thinking.

But this just goes to show how antithetical to the Gospel and to Jesus some fundementalist theology can be. It can lead people to think that their greatest hope for the Church is to see sinners cast out- no matter how antithetical to Christ that statement may be.

So what’s the point of this post. It’s twofold. One, to reach out to my friend who posted that in love and show them another way of believing. A way focused on love. A way focused on Christ. Two, to show the dangers of believing that we have and know “truth”. In Christ, we know truth relationally. But we do not, and will never, know truth objectively. As a great theologian once said, “Questions aren’t scary. What is scary is when people don’t have any.”

May we continue to seek truth by loving the one who is truth– Jesus Christ. And may you know- sinner or saint, that you are loved.

Grace and Peace


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