Friday, August 8, 2014
Reclaim and Gain!
I recently helped plan and lead our annual presbytery middle school youth camp. It spans four days and includes a non-stop schedule of games, activities, large group gatherings, bible teaching, singing, devotions, food, fun, fellowship...and exhaustion for old dudes like me.
One of the highlights of our camp is tubing on the Lake of the Ozarks. We rented two boats and dragged kids around for hours each day. Hearing the kids tell of their wild rides on the tube is tremendous fun. They tell of being dragged on "suicide runs" at 100 mph and getting 2, 4, 6, even 10 feet of air! They pit the craziness of each boat driver against the other. The boat drivers pride themselves on providing a safe, but terrorizing ride for those who dare to mount the tubes. Each likes to be known as a touch more insane than the other. Insanity is a highly lauded trait by middle school students. Often times, if the mood of the driver is maniacal enough, a tube rider gets thrown off. Keep in mind, the boat is going 40-50 mph (although the kids will swear it's going faster) with 100 feet of rope pulling the tube. So when a person gets launched off the tube, they are out in the middle of the lake all alone for as long as it takes for the boat to circle around quite a ways and get to them. I've been out there, having been thrown off myself. Even though you have a life jacket on, there's a sense of helplessness treading water for the time it takes for the boat to come and get you. What if they forget? What if they just leave you there? It can be a touch scary. Imagine if you didn't have a life jacket? You can only tread water for so long. It's a long way to shore. Way too far for most people to swim. I think you'd eventually drown as you fatigue and the water overcomes you. Dark thought, for sure. Notice the look on this poor boy's face. He's wondering if we'll come pull him out.
If a church is practicing biblical discipline, there are times, hopefully rare, when a person has to be removed from the church because they are mired in a sin they will not repent of. People are not to be excommunicated because of sin, but rather for sin they won't stop and repent of. Repentant sinners make up the membership of any truly Christian congregation. Sinners who won't repent aren't actually Christians (repentance is a necessary part of trusting Christ). Now, as it works, there are times when people fall in to terrible, habitual sin, and it becomes open and scandalous. They are confronted, but won't repent. Such a thing happened in the Corinthian church, and Paul instructed the church to remove the person (1 Corinthians 5:1-3). In 2 Corinthians 2, Paul refers to the same case or perhaps a different one, where a person was previously removed for unrepentant sin. However, after being removed for a time, the person repented! The discipline of the Church was used by God to provoke a godly sorrow for their sin. If a person is truly a Christian, and gets trapped in a sinful pattern, eventually God will give them repentance. Church discipline has as its' chief goal the restoration of the offender.
The problem in Corinth was the congregation apparently not accepting the now repentant sinner back in to the congregation. Notice what Paul says to them-
Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. - Paul to the Corinthians (second letter, 2:5-8)
Paul begs them to forgive, comfort, and reaffirm their love for the man! The man was becoming excessively sorrowful. Such repentance is a product of God's supernatural work and an awesome thing (yes, awesome may be used here). When a person repents like this, the church must do as Paul instructs here! Forgive, comfort, and love them back in to fellowship!
The Westminster Confession, chapter 30, speaks about the several purposes of church discipline, but first sentence captures the chief one- "Church censures are necessary, for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren..." I love this expression of biblical teaching about church discipline. It is for reclaiming and gaining!
Back to my description of getting thrown off a tube and treading water in the middle of a scary lake until the boat comes to get you. When the boat comes along side a kid who can't climb back in to the boat on his or her own, an adult will reach over the side of the boat, grab their life jacket, and pull them up, out and in to the boat. I have done this dozens of times, yanking helplessly floating kids out of the lake and in to the boat. I am reclaiming them from the sea! I reclaim and regain them!
This is a picture of what we do for the repentant sinner floating in the sea of despair, about to be overwhelmed by the burden of their sin. They are sorry for their sin, but paralyzed by all the pain and misery it has caused. This is why Paul describes the man as nearly "overwhelmed by excessive sorrow." Interestingly, the greek word for "overwhelmed" is often used in conjunction with a sense of drowning. When God gives us repentance for our sin, part of the effect is a real and heavy sorrow for the pain we have caused.
A person out in the lake floating needs to be yanked out and brought in to the boat, lest they become overwhelmed with the water and drown. A person who repents of their sin will need immediate comfort and love, or they'll become overwhelmed, like the man described in Corinth. Reclaim and gain them!
You might need the same help some day.