A pastor called me recently. "I have a fellow in my church who wants to exclude every member who belongs to such-and-such a lodge. What do you think?"
I don't think much of the idea, I told him.
I know someone else who wants to kick out of the church everyone who takes the occasional beer or glass of wine. Another feels that way toward those who attend movies or dance or smoke. If you've had an abortion, heaven help you, you're out. In fact, if you have committed a sin--the bad kinds, of course, which are on some Pharisees' list of no-nos--you will not be allowed to remain in their church.
If you start kicking people out of your church because of sins and failures in their lives, I have a few questions:
- where do you start?
- where do you end?
- who's going to decide?
- how are you going to do it?
- and maybe most of all, how are you going to get anything else done in the Kingdom for spending all your time protecting the purity of your church membership rolls?
"If the Lord should count iniquities, who would stand?" (Psalm 130:3)
Nothing speaks to me on this subject stronger than the second parable of Matthew 13, the one we call "The Parable of the Tares."
Briefly, when the farm hands saw that the enemy had sown bad seed in the field they had freshly seeded for a good crop, they asked the owner for permission to invade the field with their hoes and rakes to uproot the tares. The owner was horrified. "You might also uproot the wheat with them," he said. His counsel was to leave them alone and let both continue to live. At harvest time, they would be separated.
This story answers a question that has dogged and hounded (love those canine verbs!) the church from the very beginning: "What about the hypocrites in the church?"
The enemy put them there, Jesus said. No, you are not to try to uproot them. In doing so, you will injure many who are faithful. Leave them alone. I'll handle them in due course.
That's so hard for us. We want to take matters into our own hands.
When a new pastor arrived at a church of another denomination in the town where I was serving, the congregation had high hopes. However, on arriving, one of the first things he did was to announce plans to "purge the membership rolls." The way to do that, he said, was to remove those members no longer living there, those members now attending other churches, and those members not living for the Lord.
A member of my congregation came to me in tears. Her father had received a letter from that pastor informing him he was no longer a member of the church due to his alcohol problems. She said, "Dad does have a drinking problem, and it worries us to death. But this is not the solution, for the church to kick him out."
Just as the Lord said in the parable, faithful believers were being injured by the pastor's zeal to do the Lord's work for him.
We're all interested in doing the Lord's work. No question there.
But we are not to do His work for Him. Some tasks are His and His alone. Vengeance, for instance, is in such a category. "Revenge is mine, I will repay" (Romans 12:19). Calling disciples and workers is another (Matthew 9:38).
And so is church discipline, the business of purging the membership rolls.
My little article here will not end the debate, of that I'm confident. In fact, it will appear to some I'm giving up on the church keeping itself pure as the Bride of Christ. That is not the case.
I would love, however, for some pastor or church leader who has been thinking of conducting such a membership-cleansing to read this and reconsider.
You and I have enough work to do in obeying the tasks Christ gave us without taking on work reserved only for Him.
Original publication date: July 30, 2009