The Undisciplined Church – A Plea to Elders and Preachers

I want to make a plea to all the congregations of the Lord’s church, particularly the elders and preachers. Please do not allow our congregations to go the way of the denominations. I see it happening in so many congregations today; it is very sad and frightening.

Congregations are untaught and undisciplined due to fear of offending those attending. Elders and preachers are worried more about losing attending members than they are about those attending members losing their way to heaven. Our sermons and lessons are being watered down with emotions and then sugar-coated to tiptoe around what the Bible teaches. Too many elders and preachers want it to please the listeners… even as Paul warned Timothy, they heap up preachers and teachers who will tickle their ears because they can’t endure sound doctrine. I’m not necessarily referring to the congregation enduring sound doctrine but also to the preachers and teachers who are not enduring sound doctrine.

I ask you, do you truly love your brothers and sisters in Christ? If you do, then you should teach them what sin is, and church discipline should be used. Some elders and preachers think they know better how to handle this than what God has already commanded. We all know Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death. 

I hear it way too often: let’s just be a loving congregation, and everything else will take care of itself. That is very true, but only if you understand love. Godly love is not passive; it is active and must be carried out.

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:2,3). 

This agape love is not motivated by emotions or by sentimental relationships. It is not human affection or based on our feelings towards someone; instead, it is divine love commanded by God. It seeks the benefit of the one who is loved. Agape love does not condone or gloss over sin in the one loved. This agape love pursues the best for others and helps ensure others are going to heaven. It involves keeping the commandments of God.

There are many Bible passages commanding the word to be preached, but very few actually reference what is to be preached, yet there is one we know that is commanded of preachers.

Preachers are commanded to preach in season, out of season, reproving, rebuking, and exhorting. Elders should never limit what is being preached… and preachers should never shun to declare the full gospel.

I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

Paul wrote, Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Paul spoke the following to the elders in Ephesus. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:26-28).

Can you say this as an elder or a preacher... does this define you?

What does it mean to preach the word in and out of season? It means whether it is the right time or not, whether it is needed to be heard or not… never shun to preach the FULL gospel. We can’t keep preaching love without the meaning of love and the actions of love being explained.

What does it mean to reprove while preaching?

Reprove means, "Convince, refute, confute, convict, bring to light, to expose, find fault with, correct, reprehend severely, chide, admonish, to call to account, show one his fault, chasten, punish" (Thayer, on elegcho).

For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed (John 3:20).

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them (Ephesians 5:11). 

What does it mean to rebuke while preaching?

Rebuke means: "To tax with fault, rate, chide, reprove, censure severely; admonish or charge sharply" (Thayer on epitamao).

Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear (1 Timothy 5:20).

What does it mean to exhort?

Exhort means, "To incite by words or advice; to advise or warn earnestly" (Thayer on parakaleo).

I ask those reading this a very serious question: how often have you heard preaching (or teaching) that reproves, rebukes, and exhorts?

I am so very sad to say, short of a few lessons here and there, I have heard very little of it in our congregations of the Lord’s church. I know a preacher was forced to resign from a congregation because he was following God's word on what was to be preached and was told to ease up, yet he was accepted with open arms by the next two congregations where he has preached for many years and changed many lives.

We must teach our brothers and sisters (the flock) what sin is. This alone will reprove, rebuke, and exhort those who may have habitual sin in their lives. Many do not understand what sin is… as they have not been taught. They don’t realize what they are doing is a sin because they have not been taught what the Bible teaches on the subject.

I don’t mean to be offensive here, but I was in a Bible class where a teacher spent thirty minutes on whether all verses of a song should be sung during services. The next week, he spent thirty minutes on how long our prayers should be during services. These are clearly matters of opinion and the heart. A few weeks later, when another teacher started teaching straight from the Bible on more difficult topics pertaining to matters of faith, he proclaimed the congregation was heading in the wrong direction.

When you have congregations with members dressing immodestly and have been doing so for years… when you have congregations with women teaching men and have been allowed to do so… when you have congregations with members participating in public sinfulness… and when you have congregations that have never practiced church discipline… what does that tell you about a congregation? Clearly, these congregations have not been taught what sin is… and their preaching and teaching do not include reproving, rebuking, and exhorting in and out of season.

Many will say I am leaving out the last portion of Paul’s charge to Timothy… specifically “with all longsuffering.”

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine (2 Timothy 4:2).

Longsuffering accompanies preaching the word instantly in and out of season while reproving, rebuking, and exhorting. The long-suffering of others is not to replace what is being preached. Obviously, we need to be meek and humble in handling those who are struggling, but we cannot limit or eliminate God’s instructions on what is to be preached. If it steps on some toes, it's serving its purpose.

Consider the following passages that list the sins of man…

And He said, "What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man” (Mark 7:20-23).

Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them (Romans 1:22-32).

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9,10). 

"Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM. I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE." Therefore "COME OUT FROM AMONG THEM AND BE SEPARATE, SAYS THE LORD. DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN, AND I WILL RECEIVE YOU." "I WILL BE A FATHER TO YOU, AND YOU SHALL BE MY SONS AND DAUGHTERS, SAYS THE LORD ALMIGHTY"" (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth (Colossians 3:5-8). 

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21). 

Of course, we know that the Law is good if a person uses it legitimately, that is, if he understands that the Law is not intended for righteous people but for lawbreakers and rebels, for ungodly people and sinners, for those who are unholy and irreverent, for those who kill their fathers, their mothers, or other people, for those involved in sexual immorality, for homosexuals, for kidnappers, for liars, for false witnesses, and for whatever else goes against the healthy teaching that agrees with the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me (1 Timothy 1:8-11). 

"In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works" (1 Timothy 2:9-10).

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away (2 Timothy 3:1-5)! 

"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world-the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life - is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:15-17).

But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death (Revelation 21:8).

These are ALL doctrines of God that should be preached and taught, per Paul's charge to Timothy.

When was the last time you heard consecutive lessons on any of the sins mentioned above, much less all of them? Simply teaching and preaching what defines these sins would reprove, rebuke, and exhort.

When is the last time you preached or taught a lesson on the following sins, ALL mentioned in the Bible:

fully of envy
haters of God
inventors of evil things
disobedient to parents
sexual immorality
filthy language
selfish ambitions
outburst of wrath
false witness
modest apparel
lovers of money
lust of the flesh
lust of the eye
pride of life
and things like these?

Per 1 John 5 (referenced earlier), if we love the children of God, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and the flock, we will obey God’s commandments and preach and teach what and how He has commanded. We will not look the other way at sin in the congregation… looking the other way, sweeping it under the rug, not saying anything, not teaching or preaching on it does not define the true love that God would have us abide in.

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted (Galatian 6:1).

Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins (James 5:19,20). 

Consider congregations where you may know about unfortunate circumstances that have occurred involving those in sin, including the sins listed above. If those congregations had taught and preached more lessons on what constitutes the sins listed above, spending many consecutive weeks defining these sins in detail each year while preaching and teaching the meat of the word instead of constantly feeding the congregation milk, perhaps some of those wrapped up in these sins may have repented. We would not know because it has not been taught, so we continue to see the same sins persist in some congregations for years and years, and unfortunate consequences continue to arise.

I know many will say, why do you not go to those people in sin and help them? While I am not perfect myself, I have done this on occasion. I met with a couple one time about their smoking. I met with a man one time about gambling. Neither realized it was that big of a deal. However, I prefer to leave this sort of thing to the elders, who should know their flock and should be able to recognize these sins in the congregations they oversee. If the elders and preachers are obeying God’s word, this should not be needed of members in the congregation, except for rare occasions. Sure, if someone sins against me, I should go to them, yet public sin is public, and per God's word, those who are more spiritual (that would most certainly include elders) should be helping these brothers and sisters... as their souls are ultimately on their hands. Preaching and teaching, per Paul’s inspired charge to Timothy, should resolve many of the issues recognized in congregations of the Lord’s church. Yet, too many are doubting God’s word and withholding what He commands, thinking their own way will work and situations will simply resolve on their own. I’m sorry, you can shake it and spin it any way you like, but this is not love and does not indicate a loving congregation. It is indicative of an untaught and unstable congregation. Some congregations are indeed doing many good things to help others and the community, but if you lack Godly love in action to help other members in sin, you are a congregation headed in the wrong direction.

In brotherly love,