“Can Satan be used to save Sinners?”

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A number of years ago I was told a true story about a local “professing” Christian man (whom I’ll call Joe) who declared that he would never go to a church which practiced the unkind and unloving act of “Church Discipline” (hereafter, “CD”).

This statement alarmed me because it spoke negatively to me about Joe’s “possible” spiritual condition, revealing his willful heart of rebellion toward what God has so clearly expressed in Scripture.  Additionally, and sadly, it unveiled Joe’s Scriptural ignorance of this most obvious New Testament doctrine. Joe’s opposition to “CD” is not an unusual one within the typical evangelical church today or even of our own area. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find a present-day church-goer who would not totally and wholeheartedly embrace this negative sentiment toward “CD.” So then, the obvious questions now arise: Does Scripture actually teach this purportedly unloving doctrine? And if it does, why would an all-loving God really expect His people to apply it in a “real” church? Well, Scripture does teach it, and God does expect His church to apply it. Why? Because He is a holy God and every church that obeys this doctrine will soon become -- spiritually healthy, yet remain imperfect -- the kind of church Christ uses to glorify Himself in this fallen world! The most well-known Scripture on “CD” is Matthew 18:15-17:  “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Now, don’t stop reading there.  Please look up the following Scripture passages relating to “CD” like one who’s continually growing as a student of Christ’s Word, always studying within the Biblical context: Proverbs 27:5; Matthew 18:15-20; Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 2 Corinthians 7:9-11; Galatians 6:1-2; Ephesians 5:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:6,14-15; 1 Timothy 1:18-20; 5:19-20; Titus 3:10-11; Hebrews 12:14-16; James 5:19-20; and 2 John 9-11. How can our holy, loving, kind and patient God tell us to apply this doctrine? Because “Church discipline is God’s loving plan for restoring sinning saints” (J. Carl Laney). This command (Matthew 18:15-17) flowed from the lips of our Lord Jesus Christ, and teaches us that “CD” is a confidential meeting between two people – the offended and the offender. This is Step One [v.15].  If reconciliation does not take place, we move to Step Two [v.16]: a confidential meeting between – the offended and the offender, along with two or three witnesses with evidence.  If reconciliation does not take place, we move to Step Three [v. 17a]: a public explanation and exhortation to the church membership by the offended and his two or three witnesses in order to pursue the unrepentant party for the express purpose of reconciliation.  If reconciliation does not take place, we move to Step Four [v. 17b]: a formal severing of fellowship with the unrepentant “professing” believer (Matthew 18:17-20), which includes the actual handing over of the offender to Satan (by means of a congregational vote – see 2 Corinthians 2:6-7; cf. 1 Timothy 1:20), “…to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5). Yes, you read it correctly! Our sovereign God uses even Satan to save sinners (Job 2:6; Proverbs 16:4). Do you know of a church that would not say that they want to obey the entire Bible, even the Scriptures cited above? However, it’s easier said than done. Why? Because most churches understand love in an unbiblical way, and reject God’s clear path in such cases because it makes them uncomfortable. But true love always risks a relationship for the spiritual betterment of the one they love (see Hebrews 12:5-11). Thus, the 19th century Southern Presbyterian J. H. Thornwell showed a pastor’s heart for Christ’s Church when he said: “…where money is the great concern of a church, numbers must be sought by it; and where ambition for numbers prevails, doctrinal purity must be sacrificed … What we need is a spiritual body of believers, not a secular one; a Church whose power lies in the truth, and in the presence of the Holy Ghost.” I leave you with the sobering words of the great 19th century Southern Baptist leader J.L. Dagg: “…it has been remarked, that when church discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it.” I wonder how many churches Christ has already left in Jones County? 

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