“I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.” (3 John 1:9-10)
How is it that we believe a church can be wrong on baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the gospel even, and yet have forgotten that a church can be wrong on church discipline?
When the well-known pastor of a church tells that they excluded some members by a majority vote, then folks from other churches are expected to believe it was done for the right reasons. However, I am here to tell you that this may not be the case.
While we recognize churches have authority, we do not believe that church’s have been given unlimited authority. Every church is bound by the Scripture. Just because a church disciplines a member does not mean it is right. It must be for Scriptural reasons and done in a Scriptural manner. The Lord gave us directions for receiving and excluding members.
In our text we read of John’s complaint, and frustration at what was going on in the church where Diotrophes was working. Here was a man who would not receive John and excluding people who did not agree with him! Fast forward a few years and we find J. R. Graves as he experienced unscriptural discipline firsthand. I quote from Milburn Cockrell’s The Life and Times of J.R. Graves:
In 1857-62 there occurred what was called “the Grave-Howell controversy.” The dispute was between J. R. Graves and Robert Boyte Crawford Howell, and it was personal, doctrinal and denominational. This dispute almost split the Southern Baptist Convention.http://baptisthistoryhomepage.com/cockrell.graves.life.times.html
Howell had left Nashville in July of 1850, but he returned in July, 1857, for his second pastorate in the city. Two weeks after Howell had returned to Nashville, he introduced a resolution in the Concord Association, calling for a Southern Baptist Sunday school convention in Nashville, October 23, 1875 [sic – 1857], just prior to the Baptist General Association of Tennessee and North Alabama. When it met Dayton presented a constitution for a new organization, the Southern Baptist Sunday School Union to provide and recommend suitable Sunday school books and periodicals. After a heated discussion the organization was approved and the constitution adopted. The officers were: Dayton, president; Graves, recording secretary; and J. E. Sharpe, corresponding secretary – all Landmarkers. Of the seven managers elected two were part owners of Graves, Marks & Co., and some of the others were Landmarkers.
Howell opposed this new union because he was against Landmarkism and a supporter of the Southern Baptist Publication Society, Charleston, South Carolina. He also believed that the union had been started to advance the private interest of Graves’s publishing firm.
The Christian Index, Georgia, January 6, 1858, printed a letter from Howell explaining his opposition to the union and its board of managers. In February Graves assailed Howell for this article. Considerable debate followed which resulted in Dayton’s resignation from the Bible Board under pressure by anti-Landmarkers headed by Howell. Graves attacked the board and sought to have it abolished without success in 1859.
It was the firm opinion of J. R. Graves that Howell was persecuting him and was determined to ruin him. On September 8, 1858, the church preferred charges against Graves, but they gave him time to think over the matter involved. The trial began October 12, and ended October 18. Graves was charged with gross immorality and unchristian conduct. He spoke at length to the motion that the charges be dropped. About midnight the church voted, 91 to 48, to proceed with the trial, whereupon Graves and twenty-three other members withdrew and declared they were the First Baptist Church, and the majority were no church but a faction. They elected Graves as pastor.
Being warned of legal action if they continued to call themselves the First Baptist Church, they then called themselves the Spring Street Baptist Church.
The First Baptist Church tried J. R. Graves in absentia, found him guilty and excluded him October 18, 1858. It then published its proceedings in a booklet, The Trial of J. R. Graves.
Dare I say it? In our day and time, it is still very possible for a person to be unscripturally disciplined even by a majority vote of the church. If this happens, what is the course of action? The course of action is, if it will not be corrected in the same church, then another church who understands that the Bible is our only rule of faith and practice can pick them up, and receive the wronged members by statement of faith.
“And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18–19)
Here’s the reality. The Lord’s churches have been given authority (keys). Look at church history and you’ll find there have been churches and pastors who have thought they can lord over God’s people. That is forbidden (see 1 Peter 5:3). God did not give us unlimited power or authority, and that includes the fact that one church does not have authority over another church. So, when a church goes beyond her authority, another church can pick up keys (metaphorically speaking) and take in a church member who has been wronged. Just like unscriptural baptism, I do not believe God recognizes unscriptural discipline and neither should we.