Church Discipline: An Ignored Truth
- Saturday, May 01, 2004
Last week Cardinal Francis Arinze, a high-ranking Vatican official said in a news conference in Rome that Catholic pro-abortion politicians should not be served communion. Arinze, a Nigerian who has been mentioned as the Pope's possible successor, refused to comment directly on whether presidential candidate John Kerry should be excommunicated.
But the inference was clear and the cardinal left no doubt concerning Kerry and his pro-abortion politics, saying, "If they should not receive, then they should not be given.”
According to The New York Times, church officials say that failing to call prominent Catholics to account on such issues creates the impression one can still be a good Catholic while disobeying church teaching. Without question, Cardinal Arinze's statement clarifies that U.S. bishops not only have a right to address matters of "serious pastoral concern," but also a responsibility. Some leading Catholic laity and clerics have already told Kerry he is excommunicated because of his abortion stance.
At the risk of being perceived as cruel and hard-hearted, I rejoice in seeing a renewed emphasis on the practice of church discipline. If Catholics had taken this approach toward homosexuality years ago, then the large number of Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse would have likely been avoided. Eighty percent of the abuse cases at issue were of a homosexual nature. The scandal cost the Catholic Church more than $500 million and created a tremendous credibility gap in the church's witness.
In Protestant Chuches Too
Church discipline, which is today largely an ignored truth, needs to be revived not only in Catholic circles, but also in Protestant ones. Last August, the Episcopal Church USA approved its first gay bishop, Gene Robinson. The situation threatens to split the denomination. The fact is, however, if Episcopalians were committed to the Bible's authority and its demand to discipline wayward members, Gene Robinson would have been defrocked and removed from church membership long ago. Moreover, Methodists recently missed the mark when they acquitted a lesbian minister after she and her partner went to Portland, Oregon, to "marry.” Now the same kind of rift that occurred among Episcopalians may be brewing among United Methodists.
At the turn of the last century and as recently as 40 years ago, church discipline was not uncommon in America. Today, we look back on that time and largely view it as a relic of our puritanical past. We think of ourselves as more enlightened and tolerant. But interestingly, this same misguided notion that essentially turns virtue on its head, calling evil good and good evil, is the same predicament Paul rebuked when he commanded the Corinthian church to discipline a man who was carrying on an illicit sexual relationship of a most unsavory nature. The Apostle wrote in his first epistle to the Corinthians, "And ye are puffed up and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you” (I Cor. 5:2). In other words, Paul was horrified the church was not mourning the sinful condition of this man. Instead, they were arrogantly boasting of their spirit of inclusiveness.
When churches demonstrate an acceptance of open and flagrant sin in their midst, they are showing a complete insensitivity to the destructiveness of sinful behavior. If left alone, sin becomes like a spiritual cancer that invades pollutes, corrupts, and finally destroys both the individual and the moral integrity of a congregation. Therefore, Paul instructs: "[D]eliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaventh the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump” (I Cor. 5:5-7).
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