Remember your old Webster’s dictionary you used to grab(at least for those who lived before the internet) when you came across a word you didn’t know the meaning of? Well, here is Webster’s definition of…
It is one thing to usurp the power of a government official and that without right. It is quite another thing to seize and hold in possession a throne from a king. Well, that is exactly what many churches and pastors do. You ask, from which king do they usurp authority? Answer: From the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who is the Head and the Lord of His church.
The follow-up question is important. If you haven’t thought of it already, here it is. How do churches and pastors usurp the authority of Christ?
Churches and pastors usurp the authority of Christ when they do not practice church discipline.
In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus outlines the process of church discipline.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
There are 2 purposes for church discipline.
The first one is for the purity of the church. The reason Jesus gave His life for His church was
“that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
In his excellent little book In Pursuit of Prodigals, pastor and author Stephen Davey explains the other purpose for church discipline.
“Contrary to the common notion, the objective of discipline is not punitive, but restorative. While punishment may be observed as one of the consequences of church discipline(2 Corinthians 2:6), it is never the motive or the objective for exercising it. Condemnation is not the goal; restoration is. …The main objective of church discipline is the restoration of the unrepentant believer to the blessed, productive lifestyle of godly obedience and intimacy with Jesus Christ.”(p. 12)
Well, you might say, church discipline is not a very loving thing to do.
In Things That Go Bump in the Night, pastor Mike Abendroth (Yes of NoCo fame) responds.
“The absence of church discipline is unloving. …. Negligence in performing discipline shows that we are not loving the church. “Oh well, my body has treatable cancer, but I’m worried about what chemotherapy will do to my hairline.” Sin in the body of Christ can affect other people. It’s dangerous, but it’s also correctable. So for the love of others, it must be dealt with according to the Bible. If you really hate other Christians, leave them totally alone when they get stuck. Love wants to reclaim offenders. Love for the lost sheep goes into the wilderness to restore them(see Luke 15). Loving God, loving the church, and loving the unrepentant sinner do not add up to a witch hunt in the church. Not going to the wayward person would actually be the most hateful thing you could do. Should you warn your neighbors when their house is on fire, or should you let them sleep through it?”(p. 170)
Granted that the New Testament church epistles and pastoral epistles are very prescriptive as to “how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”(1 Tim. 3:15) Have you ever considered though that the Lord of the Church, Jesus Christ, only mentions the Greek term for church, ekklesia, only twice, both times recorded in Matthew’s Gospel?
One time it is simply a declarative statement that He will build His church(Matt. 16:18). And the second instance is here in Matt. 18:15-17. And what does He NOT talk about? He does NOT talk about worship. He does NOT talk about evangelism. He talks about church discipline. And why? For the sake of the purity of His church. After all, that was the purpose of His sacrificial death on the cross(See Eph. 5:25-27).
Now if you asked any pastor with any sense to them, “Would you ever even consider usurping the authority of Christ?”, I am sure you would get an unequivocal “No” for an answer. Yet in practice, because there is no church discipline, that is exactly what they are doing.
Matthew presents Jesus as King. To not do what He clearly instructs here in Matt 18:15-17 concerning church discipline, is to usurp the authority of the King. On the other hand, to do what He clearly instructs, is to practically affirm the Headship and Lordship of Christ over His church.