Monday, May 21, 2007

Is Christ Divided? session 6

And now I have surpassed myself - this is _next_week's_sheet!!

BTW, this is picking up themes from a thread on the blog last September, see here for a relevant sermon, and then a sequence of posts, here , here and here.

My thinking has continued to develop, and these notes contain my most up-to-date thoughts on the question of church discipline. Hit 'full post' for the text.

Notes for the house groups on 1 Corinthians.

Week six, beginning Sunday 27 May: 1 Corinthians 5

Main theme: the nature of church discipline

The ONE question for discussion!!

1.What are the grounds for excommunicating a member of the church?

Supplementary thoughts:
Paul is clear that the 'immoral brother' should be cast out, 'put out of your fellowship', handed over to Satan, not even to eat with, expelled. How does this reconcile with Jesus' life and ministry, where he was condemned by the Pharisees for table fellowship with sinners? Is it to do with the nature of the offence committed? How does this reconcile with Jesus' teaching about not judging? How does this reconcile with the idea that 'we are none of us righteous, no not one'?

A way forward may be to consider Matthew 18.15-35, especially vv 15-17 (bear in mind that this gospel is written by a tax collector!) The structure for church discipline here is:
- take a matter up privately (the 'against you' in v15 may be spurious)
- take one or two other members of the congregation with you
- take it to the church body as a whole
- if the church is rejected then the sinner is outside the community.

The difference here is that it is the sinner's choice that places them outside the community; it is less a matter of condemnation than a refusal to accept forgiveness (the rest of Mt 18). In other words, the matter is less about whether a member of the community is a sinner - for we are all sinners - than whether the understanding within which sin is dealt with (repentance/forgiveness/new life) is shared. The issue is not about any individual act (however wicked); rather it is about how community life is to be maintained when it is structured on Jesus. Hence verse 11 - someone who calls himself a brother, but rejects the teaching of the community.

Different church communities have followed different policies on this over time. What sort of framework would be best for Mersea?

Notes on verses
v1 - the context is probably a stepmother and stepson following the death of the father; there may be an issue about securing an inheritance lying behind the controversy
v5 - 'hand this man over to Satan' - ie back into the world
v5b - the word 'his' is not in the Greek; the second half of this sentence may therefore be about the church (ie the expulsion saves _the_church_ on the day of the Lord)
vv7-8 - we'll come back to this when we explore communion later

A little something extra:
A brother in Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to him, saying, 'Come, for everyone is waiting for you'. So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug and filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said, 'What is this, father?' The old man said to them, 'My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the sins of another.' When they heard that, they said no more to the brother but forgave him.

A brother asked abba Poemen, 'If I see my brother sin, is it right to say nothing about it?' The old man replied, 'Whenever we cover our brother's sin, God will cover ours; whenever we tell people about our brother's guilt, God will do the same about ours.'

A brother sinned and the priest ordered him to go out of the church; abba Bessarion got up and went out with him, saying 'I, too, am a sinner.'

(From 'Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers', ed Benedicta Ward)

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