I have been asked numerous times about what I think about church discipline.
Well, I hate it. I have no specific policy about it. I just want everyone to be perfect and stop all the nonsense without any input from me. I have had to take some people aside and ask them to stop being weird in my church because they were offending other people, but I don’t know that that counts as church discipline.
However, it has come up enough that I have decided to do a blog post. For example, a fellow across the street from us came over the other day and as the first introduction, announced that he was a drag queen, and a gay Christian. Great, we get all the fun stuff. Apparently at the gay pride parade there were some Christian hecklers that were yelling at them and showing signs that perverts would go to hell. Also great. And he said, I wanted to tell them that I’m a Christian, and I do gay drag queen shows to raise money for food banks and homeless shelters. Really really great. Just … great. It reminds me of the lady I read about a while back who is a stripper for Christ. Something doesn’t quite work there. Every facet of this story seems like some kind of special insane torture to me.
So, do we let him come in and take communion and fellowship with us, dressed as a drag queen? Is that a real question? Is the only way to show love to him, to invite him to communion with us as a drag queen in full regalia? To me, I think that I couldn’t clear out the church faster if I waved a gun around from the pulpit, shot holes in the ceiling, and demanded that everyone leave. But maybe that’s just me. I’ve been asked, didn’t Jesus eat with people who horrified the religious establishment, with tax collectors and sinners? Didn’t He demonstrate His love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly?
15 And it *happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. 16 When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And hearing this, Jesus *said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
So here is the question: “See! Jesus ate with these people so surely He would eat with drag queens.” I’m not convinced. I do think that Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners. But isn’t there some line you can cross somewhere? If someone ran up on the stage naked, worshipped Satan, peed on the communion elements, and killed babies, would we then welcome them to communion? Can pedophiles run the children’s ministry because of grace? If someone has just gunned down people in a prayer meeting, do we sweetly invite them to the church potluck? Is that the only way we can forgive? Does grace mean that madness and sin reign? Is anything less ‘legalism’?
There are lines that can be crossed, and there are reasons to exercise church discipline and bar someone from fellowship:
5 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. 2 You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.
3 For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? 7 Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.
You know what? This is such a relief! There are lines that can be crossed, and there is a place for peace and order in the church. “Grace” as license to dispense with the law and be accepted by the church, literally no matter what, can become a law unto itself. It becomes a point that we get judged over – we are deemed ‘homophobic’ because we won’t let a drag queen take communion. It isn’t a correct law either. Not to mention that it is horrendous theology. Grace indicates forgiveness, and forgiveness implies – not that there is no sin – but that sin is real. This is the purpose of the law – to declare that sin is sin, that sin is real, that we bear real guilt. If being a drag queen doesn’t correspond with the idea of being “effeminate”, I don’t know what does. We are allowed to say, being a gay drag queen that organizes gay pride events for charity, and being a gay drag queen Christian, is ridiculously wrong. And you can’t be a part of the church if you press that such things are OK and acceptable, because you are saying that you don’t need Jesus to die for your sin; you instead want Jesus to bend the laws of right and wrong so that you don’t need forgiveness. We in the church can still love you and offer you the hope of infinite forgiveness and eternal life, but to receive it you will have to lay down all of your self-justification and die. And that means you acknowledge that your actions are all sin and you don’t know how to stop, and you give all of the sovereignty over to God. If you are a Christian, that is what has happened to you. Even if you are bad at sanctification, that is still what happened to you. If that isn’t what happened to you, even if you are a drag queen, you are still a moralist and you are justifying yourself by your shock-value significance. In Christ none of that is needful or desirable. It is self-salvation.
Furthermore, I am not going to draw some perfect line in the sand that says, you can go here and no further – here are the rules for getting kicked out. My standing rule is, you can take communion. Belief in Christ is what makes you worthy. I don’t want to kick anyone out and it is not what I’m looking for. It is a case by case individual “Holy Spirit shows us what to do” kind of thing, when someone becomes outrageous and disruptive. And I need lots of counsel. I have no intention of being consistent, because there is no such thing as an identical case. Maybe someone is struggling and failing at their efforts to stop being a drag queen, but the temptation is too great – if they come back confessing it is failure and sin, and they want forgiveness, I could maybe see that. But after a while I’m going to assume they are blowing smoke and fooling us and making us out for fools. Grace doesn’t mean “we are fools.” It means we are free men and free women, and if someone is violating us, I think it is fair to ask, “why do they want to do this? Can we go to their gay pride meetings and press God’s moral law and expect to be accepted and loved?” If they are being disruptive and they really do not want to believe or understand, I think I can be forgiven if I want to protect our flock and keep things in order and safe and kick someone out that threatens that.
I don’t need to worry about discussions concerning “I’m not being a drag-queen to save myself. I need salvation. It’s just that I was born gay, a woman trapped in a man’s body.” I say, you’re free to believe that, but not here. I’ll never say that’s right. Of course you were born that way. We’re all born sinners. We all struggle and fail. But you want us to say it is good. That we should have parades celebrating our sin. That we should flaunt it and introduce ourselves as being identified by our sin. I reserve the right to call it out as balderdash. Go flaunt your sin somewhere else, the church isn’t here for that purpose. That is a tremendous misunderstanding of grace and love.
Here’s an idea. We can simply stop being insane about this. If someone is flaunting their sin in the name of “grace” or freedom, they don’t need to be among us. If they had functional brains they wouldn’t want to be among us. It probably ends up being a release for everyone involved to make a division. It doesn’t mean we are somehow perfect or better. But we are interested in forgiveness and redemption, and we do want to be cleansed. We know that the blood of Jesus cleanses us, and that we can confess everything that is sin as sin and expect radical forgiveness and release.