Letters to the Editor
I have a question in regard to church discipline and GES. We will let people come to Jesus just as they are—a sin loving sinner. But are we to also allow them to come to church just as they are—a forgiven sin-loving sinner; or do we require a commitment to follow Jesus as Lord before we baptize them? Since we do not require a commitment to His Lordship at the conversion, when do we require it afterward before we exercise church discipline?
Chase City, VA
The Scriptures do not give us any concrete timetable to deal with this issue.
Great care and wisdom is needed in exercising church discipline. That is why the elders or leaders of a given body are the ones assigned the task.
Not all new believers are sin-loving, as you put it. Those who come from an Ozzie and Harriet home may start the Christian life as very moral people. This was often the case before the sixties. Since then, however, more and more new believers are entering the church from Ozzy Osbourne homes. Many come into the church with major moral problems. And, even such people often are not sin-loving. Many of these people hate sin and hate their lifestyles. They want deliverance.
GES has no official position on this subject. Based on Gal 6:1, I would say that each case must be evaluated prayerfully before a decision is made.
My personal view of church discipline is as follows. A brand new believer should not be the subject of church discipline. Nor should we require some degree of commitment before we baptize new converts. However, if, after sitting under Bible teaching for some time, a person is persisting in sinful behavior, it is up to the church leaders to point out to him or her that what they are doing is sin and that God wants them to give it up. If, after time, they do not indicate a recognition of their sin and a desire to change, then the leaders should visit with them again and warn them that persistence in willful sin will not be tolerated out of love for them and the whole body. If they still don't respond after time has been allowed, then the board can ask the individual to leave the fellowship until they turn from their sin. This drastic step would not be taken quickly. It would likely take many months from the initial contact to this point.
Of course, what I have just said represents just one possible procedure and churches may need to adapt their procedure to each individual case. Ed.
Dear Mr. Wilkin,
To say that we are saved by grace through faith doesn't mean that when we call people to faith we are not to call them to commitment as a synonym. In fact, at the end of John 2 the words are used interchangeably in many versions. Jesus did not commit Himself to those who believed (same words in Greek).
Sincerely in Christ,
John 2:23-24 does use the words "faith" and "commitment" back to back. In fact, as you mention, in Greek only one word is used to convey both ideas. The word pisteuō, normally translated "believe," can legitimately sometimes be translated "commit." However, it does not mean commit in the sense of pledging to serve God. Pisteuō is used in verse 24 in the sense of entrusting something to someone. Jesus did not entrust Himself and His mission to new believers. He knew that they were not worthy of such trust at that point in His ministry.
If commitment in the sense of pledging to serve God is synonymous with faith in Christ, we would need to find passages conditioning eternal life upon pledging one's lives to serve God. We find none. In fact, in the Gospel of John, the only book in the Bible whose primary purpose is evangelistic, the word commit only occurs twice and neither time in reference to man (John 2:24 refers to Christ and John 5:22 refers to the Father). This is a telling fact. In addition, the word repent doesn't occur at all. However, the word believe in its various forms (noun and verb) occurs 99 times in John's Gospel.
The evidence is overwhelming. Belief is not synonymous with commitment in the sense of pledging to do something. (It is, of course, in the sense of entrusting one's eternal destiny in God's hands.) Ed.
Dear Brother in Christ,
Years ago I was asked to speak for a week at a Bible conference which turned out to support and promote repentance-brings-salvation theology. In due time the director of the conference informed me (because I had sought to hammer on the great truth found in John 1:12-13, 3:16, 3:18, 3:36, 5:24, Eph 2:8-10), "The kindest thing that I can say about your Gospel message is that it is heresy."
Bob, by his standards your superb message on "The Ultimate Thirst Quencher" [May 1990 GES News] is heresy—heresy to the Christian world which so little understands what the Gospel is, but [it is] the truth of God for which I praise Him.
Remain unmoveable! (1 Cor. 15:58).
–A praying brother in Europe
Thanks so much for the encouragement and prayers. It is thrilling to me to know that people all over the world are burdened about the clear gospel.
If the Lord wills, by means of His grace and power, I, and Grace Evangelical Society, will persevere in promoting clear gospel proclamation. Ed.