The Lord’s Table is not only one of the most intimate and exhilarating times of worship for the local church, it’s also one of the most controversial. As we look back through church history, we see that John Rogers and other Puritans were burned at the stake for their view of the Lord’s Supper. Jonathan Edwards was fired because of his position on the Lord’s Supper that caused a rift in his church. Doctrine matters.
As we look back to Paul’s day, we see people in the church of Corinth who were suffering under the judgment of God (sickness and death) as a result of their perversion of the Lord’s Table (1 Corinthians 11:29-30). Doctrine matters, but so does our practice of doctrine. This history can sometimes move people beyond self-examination to self-excommunication from the Lord’s Table. This self-excommunication should not be viewed as a badge of honor. The practice of self-excommunication from the Lord’s Table should be resisted.
Self-Examination is Essential Prior to Observing the Lord’s Supper
The Lord’s Supper is one of the most intimate times of worship among the gathered church. We should never approach the observance of the Lord’s Supper in a flippant and loose manner. This high view of the Lord’s Table begins with the pastors of the church. How the Lord’s Table is fenced and how the elements of the Lord’s Supper are distributed sets the bar for the rest of the church. Any proper fencing of the table will encourage the congregation to engage in a time of self-examination in preparation for worship.
In Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, he writes, “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:28). The word translated examine is the Greek term, “δοκιμάζω” carrying the meaning “to make a critical examination of something to determine genuineness, put to the test, examine.”  In the examination process, we should look at our lives vertically, horizontally, internally, and externally.
- In a vertical manner, we examine our relationship with God. Are we in real intimate communion with Him or do we see a separation due to sin (James 4:8)?
- In our horizontal examination, do we find any division between us and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ (Ephesians 4:32)?
- In our internal examination, do we find unconfessed sins, idols of the heart, or private sins that we keep hidden from the public (1 Corinthians 11:28; 1 John 2:15)?
- In our external examination, do we find anything that’s preventing us from engaging with our church to reach the neighborhoods and the nations with the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20)?
James Montgomery Boice writes:
At the heart of the present significance of the Lord’s Supper is our communion or fellowship with Christ, hence the term “communion service.” In coming to this service the believer comes to meet with Christ and have fellowship with Him at His invitation. The examination takes place because it would be hypocrisy for us to pretend that we are in communion with the Holy One while actually cherishing known sin in our hearts. 
Self-examination is demanded of God’s children, but this examination must accomplish its intended purpose which is repentance and unity that leads to the observance of the Lord’s Supper rather than self-excommunication.
Why Self-Excommunication from the Lord’s Supper is a Bad Idea
When the Reformers were coming out of the Roman Catholic Church, they insisted that the Church at Rome was not a true church. Their passionate preaching and writing resulted in a very important question: What then constitutes a true church? The response to this question, although varied to some degree among different theologians, resulted in three essential marks of a true church. Those marks are:
- The right preaching of the Word of God.
- The right administration of the sacraments (ordinances).
- The practice of biblical church discipline.
Much emphasis is often placed on the right preaching of the Word while less emphasis is placed on the not-so-right practices of the Lord’s Supper. Sometimes you see the Lord’s Supper observed at weddings, in college dormitories, and even among volunteers in the church nursery—and sometimes you hear about people who bar themselves from the Lord’s Table due to a guilty conscience. When considering the responsibility and privileges of the Lord’s Supper, we must refrain from barring ourselves by becoming an intentional absentee (not attending the evening service if it’s observed in the evening services) or by intentional excommunication (due to a guilty conscience regarding our sin). Consider the following points.
- Refusing to eat the Lord’s Supper and worship Christ is sinful (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:25).
- We are members of a local church under authority – not self-autonomy (Hebrews 13:17).
- We are commanded to eat and remember (1 Corinthians 11:28).
- We are never called to excommunicate ourselves (notice that in Matthew 5:23-24 the man left his offering emphasizing that he would return shortly).
- The Lord’s Supper demands examination and restoration rather than excommunication (the idea of examination is designed for the opportunity of immediate repentance rather than a delayed response. This is perhaps the closest thing we have to an altar call in the entire Bible).
- The devil is the accuser of the brethren and we can expect him to remind us of our past sins which should never be the cause of self-excommunication. The devil delights in dividing the church from worship at the Lord’s Table (Revelation 12:10; 1 Peter 5:8).
Consider the words of J. C. Ryle as he comments on Matthew 26:26-35:
Let us leave the passage with serious self-inquiry as to our own conduct with respect to the Lord’s Supper. Do we turn away from it, when it is administered? If so, how can we justify our conduct?—It will not do to say it is not a necessary ordinance. To say so is to pour contempt on Christ Himself, and declare that we do not obey Him.—It will not do to say that we feel unworthy to come to the Lord’s table. To say so is to declare that we are unfit to die, and unprepared to meet God. These are solemn considerations. All non-communicants should ponder them well. 
The next time you enter the sanctuary of your local church and see the Lord’s Table ready for distribution, just remember, this is one more opportunity to unite with your church family in an intimate time of worship. This is likewise one more precious opportunity for repentance given to you by the Lord Himself. If you feel unworthy and inadequate to observe the Lord’s Supper, that’s normal and it’s one of the goals of the ordinance. Anyone who feels worthy and adequate is one who should not partake because that person is most likely not a true child of God. We approach the Lord through the Lord’s Supper as unworthy sinners who cling to Christ alone as our only hope now—and forever.
Therefore, the Lord Himself commands that we eat and drink and remember His work – His sacrifice – our salvation that comes through Him.
- William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 255.
- James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith-Book I, (Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 603.
- J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Matthew (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1860), 360.
Today marks the annual Thanksgiving Day celebration throughout the United States. Many people will cross all diet boundary restrictions, watch parades, visit family and friends, and watch football. As we engage in the annual traditions of our culture and remember the purpose of Thanksgiving Day – we should likewise take a moment to thank God for the church and the many blessings that come to us as members of a local church.
Thankful for Preaching
In an age of confusion regarding the voice of God, we must not forget that our God speaks today. Our God is the speaking God and He continues to speak to us through His Word. If we want to hear the voice of God, we do so clearly through His Word. It’s through the preaching of God’s Word that the gathered church hears the voice of God and submits to Him.
The right preaching of God’s Word that minimizes man’s opinions and elevates the Word of God line-by-line is the key to hearing God’s voice clearly. As we assemble in a long line of God’s people throughout church history, we continue to hear God’s voice spoken to us through His unadulterated Word. It’s not through mystical experiences and strange phenomenons that we come to hear God’s voice. It’s through the faithful preaching, (I believe expository preaching is the truest definition of faithful preaching), of His Word that we hear God speak.
Thankful for Prayer
Prayer is one of the great privileges of God’s people. God’s people have the privilege of prayer and can boldly access the throne of grace in private, but there is something unique and special about the gathered church coming together in prayer. Paul urged the church at Ephesus to be constantly praying for all the saints (Eph. 6:18). Colossians 4:2 speaks of being “steadfast” in prayer. Jesus instructed us on how to pray in Matthew 6:5-15. One of the great truths of the Christian life is that we as God’s children have access to the Father by the Spirit (Eph. 2:18). Alistair Begg has written:
Prayer is an acknowledgment that our need of God’s help is not partial but total… Yet many of our church prayer meetings have dwindled in size and influence. Ultimately, the explanation can be traced to spiritual warfare. If, as the hymn writer says, Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees,” then we may be sure that he and his minions will be working hard to discredit the value of united prayer. The Evil One has scored a great victory in getting sincere believers to waver in their conviction that prayer is necessary and powerful. 
Thankful for Singing
The true child of God has a reason to sing. Consider what happened immediately after the children of Israel were brought across the Red Sea. They sang a song (Ex. 15:1-18). Then Miriam sang, “Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea” (Ex. 15:21). The church is pictured as a singing church in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. The church assembled will sing – not based on preference and style – but based on truth and genuine desire to exalt Christ. One of the most important things a church does is sing the gospel. David penned these words in Psalm 9:11 – “Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples his deeds!” Something unique happens when the gathered church sings the words to Isaac Watts hymn, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Thankful for the Ordinances
The ordinances of the church are intended for two purposes—praise and worship of our God. We praise Him through the waters of baptistry as we identify with Christ as our Savior and proclaim His resurrection to those who witness. We praise God through the Lord’s Supper as we remember the very body and blood of Christ that was given as a substitutionary atonement in order to satisfy the holy justice of God. These ordinances are designed to be observed with the assembled church – not as fragmented groups on the beach, in a dorm room, or with a single family in an empty room. We gather together as a church to worship God and He has designed the ordinances to serve that unique purpose of praise.
Thankful for Discipline
Any church that refuses to practice biblical church discipline as mandated by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-20 forfeits the title of a biblical church. Contrary to popular opinions, biblical discipline is the loving thing to do. Jonathan Leeman writes, “Churches should practice discipline for love’s sake: love for the sinner, love for weaker sheep who can be led astray, love for non-Christian neighbors who need to see a holy Christian witness, and love for Christ and His reputation.”  The idea of discipline being a necessary mark of the church is rooted in Jesus’ words and historic confessions such as the Belgic Confession from 1561. Beware of any church that allows people to live loose lives of sin under the banner of “love” and a refusal to be judgmental. That’s not true love.
Thankful for Fellowship
God’s people need the church. For people to view the church as a burden, apparently they have no idea what it means to be a member of a local church. God never intends his people to be “lone ranger” believers who sail out on the high seas alone. God intends for His children to be identified with a group of people who live life together, worship together, engage in mission together, pray together, serve together, and fellowship together. God’s very best place on planet Earth is the church of Christ. It’s within the realm of the church that we should have our deepest relationships and it’s within these friendships that we laugh, weep, eat, and sharpen one another in the faith through biblical discipleship (Acts 2:42-47; Titus 2; Prov. 27:17; Heb. 10:24-25). Charles Spurgeon once said, “Some Christians try to go to heaven alone, in solitude. But believers are not compared to bears or lions or other animals that wander alone. Those who belong to Christ are sheep in this respect, that they love to get together. Sheep go in flocks, and so do God’s people.” 
As we spend our time thanking God for all of the blessings of this life, don’t forget the enormous blessings that God showers upon us as members of His church manifest through our membership in a local church. Thank God for the church!
- Alistair Begg, Made For His Pleasure, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996), 52.
- Jonathan Leeman, Reverberation, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2011), 188.
- Charles Spurgeon, Sermons, 30.597
Last week, I was interviewed by Chris Arnzen on his radio show, Iron Sharpens Iron, on the subject of hyper-Calvinism. It caused me to think about this subject and the importance of using vocabulary properly. As the father of a type 1 diabetic, I spend much of my time explaining to people in random conversations that type 1 diabetes (T1D) is not the same thing as type 2 diabetes (T2D). Therefore, let me begin by clearly stating this point—Calvinism is not hyper-Calvinism. When I engage in conversation with people who want to discuss Calvinism, I’m happy to do so, but I want to be sure that we’re using the same dictionary.
What is Calvinism?
Calvinism is a system of theology that seeks to systemize the teachings of Scripture on the subject of salvation. What is the relationship between the absolute sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man? This is the central issue of Calvinism. It takes the name of the Reformer John Calvin, who was a passionate preacher of Scripture in the Sixteenth Century in Geneva, Switzerland. During the Protestant Reformation, the Reformers were seeking to unleash the true gospel from the intense strangle hold of the Roman Catholic Church. It was through this period of time that the Bible was being printed in the common language of the people and was simultaneously being proclaimed expositionally.
A group of followers of Jacobus Arminius who studied under Theodore Beza (a disciple of John Calvin) drafted a document known as the Remonstrance. It was a detailed refutation of the sovereignty of God in salvation. It elevated the free will of man above the sovereign initiative and power of God. These people were known as Arminians. Their doctrine would eventually become known as Arminianism.
An official meeting, known as the Synod of Dordt, was held in 1619 in order to respond to the submission of the Arminians in their Remonstrance. The overall conclusion was that the Remonstrance was incorrect and that the biblical view of salvation teaches that God is the author and finisher of saving grace. The “five points” of Calvinism came as an answer to the unscriptural five points authored by the Arminians in 1610 me eventually were organized with an acronym T.U.L.I.P. To explain the key teachings.
Historical Timeline Surrounding the Doctrines Known as “Calvinism”
440 Bishop Leo of Rome becomes “Bishop of Bishops.” Asserts Primacy of Rome over the Church; Dark Ages Begin.
1382 John Wycliffe translates Bible.
1384 John Wycliffe martyred by Rome.
1439 (Approximate) Printing press invented.
1517 Luther Nails 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Church Door; The Reformation begins (Post Tenebras Lux).
1522 Luther’s New Testament.
1526 Tyndale’s New Testament.
1536 William Tyndale Martyred by Rome; Institutes of the Christian Religion (John Calvin).
1553 Bloody Mary becomes queen of England and restores power to the RCC. During
Mary’s reign, more than 300 Protestants are burned. John Rogers (publisher of the Matthew’s Bible) is the first to be burned at the stake. Many Protestants flee from England to Geneva.
1559 Calvin opens his college in Geneva. Within five years the college would have over 1500 students.
1560 The Geneva Bible is printed. It was the first Bible with verse references and sold over one million copies between 1560 and 1640. John Foxe publishes Foxe’s book of Martyrs.
1561 Belgic Confession (Guido de Bres).
1563 Heidelberg Catechism (Zacharias Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus).
1564 John Calvin Dies.
1571 The Synod of Emden (birth of the Dutch Reformed Church).
1609 Jacobus Arminius dies.
1610 Remonstrance (Arminians or Remonstrants led by Johannes Uytenbogaert).
1611 Counter-Remonstrance (led by Pieter Platevoet).
1618 Opening of the Synod of Dort & Opinions of the Remonstrants.
1619 Synod Dismisses the Arminians & Adopts the Canons (AKA – 5-Points of Calvinism).
The system known as Calvinism is really five counter points to Arminianism. Years later, Wesley adopted the Arminian position and thus the Methodist movement was born. Although there are certain exceptions, historically, Baptists and Presbyterians have been more Calvinistic and opposed to the doctrines of Arminianism while the Methodists and groups such as the Assemblies of God have embraced the doctrines known as Arminianism. Today, Calvinism is sometimes known by titles such as Reformed theology and the doctrines of grace.
What is Hyper-Calvinism?
Hyper-Calvinism is not a term used for those who are overly passionate about Calvinism. That’s actually what we refer to as “cage stage Calvinism.” When understood properly, hyper-Calvinism is a technical term for an extreme and unbiblical view that rejects any need for Christians to engage in missions and evangelism. Simply put, hyper-Calvinists forbid the preaching of the gospel and the offer of salvation to the non-elect. Such people believe that God has chosen people in Christ in eternity past and will bring about His results without the help of His people. Hyper-Calvinism is heresy and must be rejected.
To illustrate the views of hyper-Calvinism, consider what happened during a pastors’ meeting years ago. A man named William Carey wanted to organize an effort to get the gospel to what he called heathen nations. Carey stood up and addressed the crowd by requesting that they discuss “the duty of Christians to attempt to spread the gospel among the heathen nations.” Mr. Ryland, and older minister, exclaimed loudly, “Sit down, young man! When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine.” Carey did not stop. His allegiance was to Christ – not Mr. Ryland. Carey went to India and proclaimed the good news of Christ.
Carey would write a book titled – An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians, to Use Means for the Conversion of Heathens. He would argue his case that we should use means to reach heathens – contrary to what Mr. Ryland – the elder minister said in his meeting as he scolded the young Carey for bringing up the subject.
William Carey, in his Enquiry, wrote: “It seems as if many thought the commission was sufficiently put in execution by what the apostles and others have done; that we have enough to do to attend to the salvation of our own countrymen; and that, if God intends the salvation of the heathen, he will some way or other bring them to the gospel, or the gospel to them. It is thus that multitudes sit at ease, and give themselves no concern about the far greater part of their fellow sinners, who to this day, are lost in ignorance and idolatry.”
It must be pointed out that William Carey was a Calvinist. Although William Carey had only a grammar school education – he would shake the world with the gospel. Carey once preached a sermon where he stated – “Expect Great Things – Attempt Great Things.” It was later added – “Expect Great Things From God – Attempt Great Things For God.” That’s exactly what he did as he proclaimed the true gospel of King Jesus. India would never be the same. The world would never be the same. The way the church viewed missions would never be the same – because of this Christ-exalting Calvinist that has become known to us as the “father of modern missions.”
What’s the Difference?
The difference between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism is the distance between heaven and hell. Calvinism is full of life and passion for God and desires to make God’s glory shine among the nations. Hyper-Calvinism is lifeless heresy that damns people to hell, kills evangelism, and ruins churches. Take a good look at the missionary movement of church history and you will see Calvinists leading the charge. Men like William Carey, Adoniram Judson, and Charles Spurgeon were all Calvinists. Many people overlook the missionary heart of John Calvin himself. He trained and sent out many missionaries who passionately preached the truth. Many of these men were martyred for their faith.
The next time you’re talking to someone with type 1 diabetes, just remember—it’s not the same thing as type 2 diabetes. Also, the next time you’re talking to a Calvinist, remember, Calvinism is not hyper-Calvinism. To call faithful Calvinistic Christians hyper-Calvinists is to consign a massive number of people from church history to the flames of hell (including people like Charles Spurgeon, William Carey, Martin Luther, Andrew Fuller, Adoniram Judson, and George Whitefield). What’s the difference between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism? Calvinism proclaims the true gospel while hyper-Calvinism proclaims no gospel at all.
Iron Sharpens Iron Radio show – Tuesday (11-15-16)
Any true church of Jesus Christ will be actively engaging the neighborhoods and the nations with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus has given us a clear commission that we often refer to as “The Great Commission” in Matthew 28:18-20. Any group who calls themselves a church but refuses to engage in the spread of God’s good news of salvation is certainly something other than a church. That being said, many methods and missions of local churches that fly beneath the banner of evangelism are not biblical evangelism.
Many pithy definitions have been spread around throughout evangelicalism over the years on the subject of evangelism. One such statement defines evangelism as “One beggar telling another beggar where to find food.” While this is certainly a description, it’s lacking in substance and cannot be a true definition. Evangelism comes from the Greek verb “euangelizesthai [which] means ‘to announce good news’, and is found 52 times in the NT. The noun euangelion means ‘good news’, and occurs 72 times, mostly in Paul. The noun euangelistēs, meaning ‘evangelist’, appears only three times (Acts 21:8; Eph. 4:11; 2 Tim. 4:5).” 
Therefore, the word evangelism actually means to communicate the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ to guilty sinners who deserve the judgment of God. Mark Dever defines evangelism as follows:
[Evangelism] is telling the good news about Jesus, and doing it with honesty, urgency, and joy, using the Bible, living a life that backs it up, and praying, and doing it all for the glory of God. 
Don Whitney provides a helpful definition of evangelism by writing:
Evangelism is to present Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit to sinful people, in order that they may come to put their trust in God through Him, to receive Him as their Savior, and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His Church. If we want to define it simply, we could say that New Testament evangelism is communicating the gospel. Anyone who faithfully relates the essential elements of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ is evangelizing. This is true whether your words are spoken, written, or recorded, and whether they are delivered to one person or to a crowd. 
Therefore, it’s essential to understand what evangelism is and what it entails before passionately supporting a ministry or mission that falls beneath this category. While it’s a good thing for a church to be engaged in various endeavors such as mercy ministries, that alone is not evangelism.
That’s Not Evangelism
If evangelism is a true presentation of the saving message of the gospel that comes exclusively through Jesus Christ the Lord, anything other than this is not biblical evangelism. Consider the fact that much mercy ministry, although well intended, is not evangelism (or missions). Some popular missions and ministries within local churches often find themselves categorized as evangelism or mission endeavors, but in all reality—they’re not.
- Sharing your testimony is not evangelism
- Digging wells in poor villages in Kenya is not evangelism
- Choir trips to foreign nations is not evangelism
- Apologetics is not evangelism
- Providing shoes for underprivileged students is not evangelism
- Inviting people to church is not evangelism
- Serving people in sports ministries is not evangelism
- Wearing a Christian t-shirt or jewelry is not evangelism
- Tweeting or sharing Christian quotes is not evangelism
- Evangelism is not church planting
It’s not that these things are bad, in fact, I engage in most of the things in this list (except for the choir trips). All of these things can be really powerful tools used by the Lord to open doors to evangelism, but they’re not evangelism at the foundational level. It’s quite possible to wear Christian apparel without sharing the good news of what Christianity is all about. It’s very probable that many wells have been dug in social gospel efforts without sharing the true gospel. It’s possible to win a well framed argument in an apologetic setting, but miss the boat in real evangelism.
Perhaps many Christians don’t share the gospel because they lack good examples or haven’t been discipled by a good biblical evangelist. In many cases, this isn’t true. A lack of evangelism is prevalent among many evangelical churches, and it’s not based on a lack of knowledge or opportunity. A lack of genuine evangelism among evangelical churches is most often the result of laziness and selfishness.
It would do us all well to read Matthew 9:35-38 – “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’”
Until the King returns, let us be faithful to the commission. In order to become a Christian, it’s necessary to affirm the true gospel of Christ. In order to validate a genuine faith in Christ, one must move beyond affirmation to declaration of the gospel.
- Sinclair B. Ferguson and J.I. Packer, New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 241.
- Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, (Grand Rapids: Crossway, 2007), 107.
- Don Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, (Colorado Springs, Co: NavPress, 1991), 100.
To think earnestly of hell for more than five minutes would bring a person to their knees. Hell is a horrible subject, but one worthy of our attention. When you think of the population of hell, what faces do you see? Have you ever considered the reality that many ministers will spend eternity under the wrath of God? It’s not only possible for a minister to go to hell, but it’s a reality that many ministers will hear the fearful words, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matt. 7:23).
In Matthew 7:15-20, we see a clear warning about the pervasive attack of false teachers. Jesus said, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt. 7:19). According to Revelation 22:18, those who persist in their false teaching will experience plagues of God’s eternal wrath. Paul passionately guarded the door of the church in Galatia that he scolded the church for allowing those who contradicted the true gospel. He writes, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8). The word “accursed” used by Paul there is the Greek term “ἀνάθεμα” literally meaning – damned by God (damned to hell). But, what about those who are earnest in their beliefs, but earnestly wrong?
John Wesley: When John and Charles Wesley went to Oxford to study, they were serious young men. They were not living open and immoral lives. They were so serious, they formed a club known as the “Holy Club” where they would covenant together to live sober lives before the Lord and to give themselves to the study of God’s Word. The club would grow to include several others and John would eventually become their leader. These men would be given the derisive title, “Methodist” because of their methods of strictness in God’s Word.
After returning to England after ministering in Georgia, John Wesley wrote of his experience in Georgia, “I went to America to convert the Indians; but, oh, who shall convert me?”  He would soon thereafter write, ““I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”  Although often debated, it seems that Wesley was not converted until after his mission in Georgia ended. He had ministered the gospel, but he was unconverted.
Martin Luther: On July 2nd 1505, as Martin Luther was making his way home from law school, he was caught in a thunderstorm and with a nearby thundering bolt of lightening, Luther was brought immediately to the ground. He cried out in fear, “Help me, St. Anne; I will become a monk” He kept his word and entered the monastery. He was 21 years old when he became an Augustinian Monk. In 1507 he was ordained to the priesthood. On October 19th, 1512, Luther received his Doctor’s degree in theology, and Staupitz turned over to him the chair in Biblical Theology at the University of Wittenberg.
Luther was steeped in religion, was capable in theology, and had progressed nicely within the Roman Catholic system, but Martin Luther was not yet a Christian. He was full of man-centered religion, and was on his way to hell. When lecturing on the Psalms in 1518, Luther was being confronted with the true gospel. He writes:
I had indeed been captivated with an extraordinary ardor for understanding Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. But up till then it was … a single word in Chapter 1 [:17], ‘In it the righteousness of God is revealed,’ that had stood in my way. For I hated that word ‘righteousness of God,’ which according to the use and custom of all the teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically regarding the formal or active righteousness, as they called it, with which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.
Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteous wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and trouble conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.
At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” There I began to understand [that] the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which [the] merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. Here a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the Scriptures from memory …
And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word ‘righteousness of God.’ Thus that place in Paul was for me truth the gate to paradise. 
The righteousness of God, as revealed in the text of Romans 1:17, was what opened Luther’s eyes. For the very first time, he understood that it was an alien righteousness that must be received by faith, one that originated extra nos – outside of him – it was an external righteousness that comes from God. Although Luther was extremely committed to his religion, he was not born again until years after progressing in his religion. In short, Luther was an unconverted minister.
How many ministers of the gospel have labored in vain, died in their sin, and found themselves immediately beneath the wrath of God? That number we may not know, but if Luther, Wesley, and others were fooled for years – what about you? How do you know that you’re a true Christian? When you examine yourself, do you find that you’re in the faith or do you find that you’re of the world? Is your religion a mere check-box salvation or is it genuine, real, and alive?
How wonderful it will be as a minister of the gospel to see the glories of heaven after studying and preaching about it for years. How terrible it would be for a minister to read about hell, preach about hell, warn about hell, and write about hell—only to die and go there.
A.W. Pink once said:
There will be many in the Lake of Fire who commenced life with good intentions, honest resolutions and exalted ideals – those who were just in their dealings, fair in their transactions and charitable in all their ways; men who prided themselves in their integrity but who sought to justify themselves before God by their own righteousness; men who were moral, merciful and magnanimous, but who never saw themselves as guilty, lost, hell-deserving sinners needing a Saviour. 
- John Wesley, Journal, January 24, 1738.
- Ibid., Journal May 24th, 1738.
- John Dillenberger, ed. Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings, pp. 11-12.
- A.W. Pink, Another Gospel.
Try mentioning the subject of church discipline among fellow Christians in a mixed evangelical audience at a local coffee shop and you’re bound to receive mixed reviews. The overwhelming majority of churches in my town do not practice church discipline. If asked to review a history of their membership meetings (business conferences), you would not find one instance of public church discipline on their records for the last 50-100 years—if you found a single record to begin with.
What is the goal of church discipline? Is it punitive? Is it revenge? Is it to demonstrate authority over people in a spiritual manner? What is the ultimate goal of church discipline and how do you know when you’ve become successful?
Confrontation with a Purpose
The process of church discipline is explained in Matthew 18:15-20. The entire purpose of confronting someone who is living in sin is to bring the individual to a place of confession and repentance to God. If the vertical relationship is restored, the horizontal relationship will be a natural fruit of repentance. The goal is never revenge or punitive damage upon the character of the person being disciplined.
If we examine Matthew 18, we see that Jesus is the One who has given us our marching orders regarding church discipline. This overarching purpose is for the purity of the bride of Christ. Contrary to the opinion of most evangelicals, church discipline is not harsh and mean-spirited. It’s done out of love. Consider the words of Alexander Strauch:
Love is not just happy smiles or pleasant words. A critical test of genuine love is whether we are willing to confront and discipline those we care for. Nothing is more difficult than disciplining a brother or sister in Christ who is trapped in sin. It is always agonizing work – messy, complicated, often unsuccessful, emotionally exhausting, and potentially divisive. This is why most church leaders avoid discipline at all costs. But that is not love. It is lack of courage and disobedience to the Lord Jesus Christ, who Himself laid down instructions for the discipline of an unrepentant believer (Matt. 18:17-18). 
Excommunication with a Purpose
It’s one thing to confront someone in sin, but it’s quite a different thing to go through the steps to a final and divisive decision of excommunication. It seems so harsh and antiquated to the modern evangelical church. Would we really put someone outside of our church membership? That seems so counter productive to church growth – right? However, the purpose is to protect the purity of the bride of Christ and to demonstrate a desire as a local church to honor Christ with our lives. It’s one thing to claim to be a Christian, but quite another thing to live as a Christian. Too often evangelical churches put more emphasis on the words rather than the actions.
The entire goal of excommunication is to protect the purity of Jesus’ bride, to honor God, and to cause the people in the church to have a healthy fear of God. All of us should take heed of our own lives, because none of us are beyond a similar fall (1 Cor. 10:12; Acts 5:11). The goal is never revenge and it’s always with a goal of restoration. However, local churches cannot become local community clubs. In order to prevent a church from mission drift and becoming a community club, church discipline must be practiced. John MacArthur, in a blog post from February of 2003, wrote the following:
[Church discipline is] vital to the spiritual health and the testimony of the church. Ignoring church discipline is the most visible and disastrous failure of the church in our time, because it conveys to the world that we’re not really serious about sin. 
This past week we had a members’ meeting (business conference) on Sunday evening. We typically gather as a church and enjoy a meal together and then the elders of the church speak to the business and ministry of the church. During our recent meeting, a particular gentleman came before the church at the end of the meeting during the allotted time for church discipline and addressed the entire church. His goal was to explain himself publicly and ask for forgiveness. He was excommunicated from our church almost two years ago for committing adultery on his wife. After restoration between himself and God and restoration between he and his wife, he came before our church to ask for forgiveness and to request that his membership be reinstated. In my opinion, this is mission accomplished—almost.
It was a great thing to watch the disciplined member come back full circle and be accepted back into the membership of our church family. It was good for the young married couples to see this testimony of forgiveness, covenant keeping, and Christ honoring restoration. It was healthy for our church to see church discipline work as Christ designed. Too often, within evangelical churches, we see people who are held accountable simply move on and press the restart in another church where they’re allowed to harbor without any question or concern. That was not the case with this couple. After many months of difficult conversations, prayer, and ultimately a miracle from the Lord—their marriage was salvaged.
When I left the church campus and reflected upon the entire meeting, I was reminded that we’re not home yet. We must wake up tomorrow and fight the good fight of faith and persevere for the glory of God. We can’t slack off. We can’t afford to be lazy for one single moment in the journey of faith. It’s in those lazy moments that we find ourselves making catastrophic mistakes. We must keep fighting sin and work to become more conformed to the image of Christ until we arrive home.
- Alexander Strauch, Leading With Love, (Colorado Springs: Lewis and Roth, 2006), 152.
- John MacArthur, “The Disciplined Church,” (Grace to You, February 5th, 2013).