In this post I’m going to answer my friend’s question, “What about the scripture that says, ‘Give them over to satan?’ Does that mean to kick them out of the church?”
In 1 Corinthians 5:1 we are given a very specific instance that Paul is dealing with…
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.
Now, we know that this is inspired by the Holy Spirit and can give us guidance and application today… but let’s not use this passage of scripture for just any old sin. We’re talking about something fairly extreme and of a sexual nature – which is different than all other sin (see 1 Corinthians 6:18).
That being said, I want to give you my practical answer to my friend’s question… under the mandate of “seek the Holy Spirit’s counsel in all manners of discipline.”
There are really two classifications of people that we deal with when it comes to any kind of church discipline… whether that be business, character or moral correction. These people need to be identified before classified. The first identifier is that they are proud of their sin… but the real harm starts coming when others aren’t even uncomfortable with it, which is the second identifier.
Understand me… we accept and love everyone… but anyone who loves God should be uncomfortable around proud (and/or flamboyant) sin.
Now the two classifications…
Classification 1 is a RASH. With a little tender love and care, a rash can be healed. It may even spread, but probably won’t do any major damage in the long run. Be proactive… but not proactive with your excommunication contract.
These people will be healed with more grace! Grace produces transformation!
Classification 2 is a TUMOR. Tumors are lethal. Once a tumor is connected to something in the body, that thing begins to die. A mentor and friend who has been struggling with cancer for the last few years recently had the cancer tumor touch one of his vertebrae… and he went completely paralyzed in an arm (they got that taken care of praise God!).
Tumors bring death and destruction everywhere they reach. If you are dealing with someone in your church who is causing multitudes to morally decay, or doubt, or turn away, or die spiritually… then you deal with them like you do a tumor. You eradicate them.
Like a tumor though, these people aren’t extremely common (though they exist). In his book Antagonist in the Church, Kenneth Haugk suggests that you will most likely never encounter a true antagonist in the church. In the same way, you will most likely never encounter someone with such abominable sin problems and such influence that you will need to excommunicate them from the church.
In all of Paul’s letters, even though he occasionally warns his readers about a certain individual, this kind of dealing (turning over to Satan) only occurs once. Once. ONCE!
The other day as I was walking through my thoughts on this passage, I initially thought that these “tumors” needed to be confronted with the law… to show them their own wretchedness. So, I did what I always do when I need to thrash out a thought… I called Tony Sutherland.
Tony reminded me of what I already know… and then he said, “just like Paul, you can’t let one person discredit the truth.” And the truth is that grace is not the solution for some people’s sin problems… it’s the solution for all people’s sin problems. There is no transformation apart from the glorious grace that comes through Jesus!
Even though this course of action seems both unloving and dramatic… it requires leaders to unleash that which causes grace to be most effective… trust.
That’s right, this requires trust. Look at the last part of the passage:
1 Corinthians 5:5
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.
Doesn’t this remind you of a story that Jesus told…
11 And He said, “A man had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. 13 And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living.”
In the end, when this son had lost everything, hit rock bottom, started living in the state that he found repulsive… he “came to his senses.”
That’s what we do in this senario of church discipline. We turn an individual – who is bringing harm into the body – over to their own foolishness. So that they may come to the end of themselves and start living like God has accepted them in Christ… because He has!
And when the time comes that this person returns… we meet them with open arms… just like the Father!