Church Discipline: Those Without Faith

grace2.jpgThis is one of the most abused verses in all of scripture (which says a lot!)

(2 John 1:7, 9-11) Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. … Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.

The “doctrine of Christ” is plainly the doctrine of his incarnation.

Short argument 

(2 John 1:1-3)  The elder, To the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth–and not I only, but also all who know the truth— 2 because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever: 3 Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love.

“Truth” in vv. 1-3 is a reference to the gospel, that is, the truth about Jesus. Some teach that this means “all doctrines taught by Jesus” or  “all truth found in the Bible” And so they demand that we disfellowship all who have a wrong opinion on a Biblical issue.

But if this is true, only those with perfect doctrine may remain in fellowship! And it would be supremely arrogant to imagine that you possess all doctrine exactly right, wouldn’t it?

The context is all about the divinity of Jesus and the gospel (which is what we must believe and confess to be saved).

Anyone who denies faith in Jesus is certainly appropriately excluded from the fellowship of the church. They are simply not Christians.

It astonishes me that some denominations allow men studying for the ministry to be taught by the faithless. Indeed, a number of seminaries routinely deny that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. A denomination with any genuine respect for Jesus and his word would expel such people–not because they are wrong, but because they aren’t even Christians.

This is not a chronic problem in the Churches of Christ. The accusation is often made, but it’s utterly without support. Rather, we are guilty of other sins.

Longer argument

Let’s now go back a bit. 2 John 9-11 is so often cited for the proposition that we shouldn’t fellowship those in error (such as those supporting elder re-affirmation)–indeed, any error that the writer happens to feel strongly about. But this completely misinterprets the passage.

Let’s consider the context. In 2 John, John explains that that walking in this truth is about faith and love (in parallel to the major themes of 1 John) as well as righteousness (also parallel). Hence, the teaching (or doctrine) of Jesus is simply the truth previously referred to, especially the fact that Jesus came in the flesh.

This interpretation present no contradiction to grace, gives a clear demarcation between the doctrines that damn and those that don’t, and suits the context admirably. It’s consistent with the theology and vocabulary of John, 1 John, and 3 John.

(2 John 1:1-4)  The elder, To the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth–and not I only, but also all who know the truth— 2 because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever: 3 Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love. 4 It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us.

When John asserts that his readers “know the truth,” is he referring to all doctrine? or to the gospel of Jesus? Obviously, he can’t assume his readers know everything there is to know. Only an inspired writer could even come close to such a claim.

But if “truth” means the gospel, he can make the assertion with confidence, because he’s writing to Christians. The one thing we can say for sure about all Christians is that they know the gospel!

To test this theory, turn to John’s Gospel. This Gospel is verbally remarkably similar to
1, 2, and 3 John. What is “truth” in John?

(John 1:17) For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Truth is in contrast to law and is closely tied to grace (also v. 14).

(John 5:33) “You have sent to John [the Baptist] and he has testified to the truth.”

In context, Jesus is talking about the fact that he was sent by God.

(John 8:32-36) Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

The “truth” that sets free is clearly forgiveness of sins by the grace received through the work of Jesus.

(John 15:26) “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.”

The Spirit is the “Spirit of truth” because he testifies about Jesus.

 

(John 7:18) “He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.”

Working to honor Jesus makes you a “man of truth.”

(John 14:6) Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus himself is the truth!

“Truth” is the truth of the gospel, the truth about Jesus, the truth about grace, the
truth that frees from law.

Paul also sometimes uses “truth” in the same sense (not surprising, as Jesus did, too!)—

(Gal. 2:5) We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.

(Gal. 2:14) When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

(Eph. 1:13) And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit … .

(Eph. 4:21) Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.

(Col. 1:5-6) the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel 6 that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.

(2 Thes. 2:9-13) The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, 10 and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness. 13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.

And these are just the most obvious Pauline examples. There are many others.

The author of Hebrews uses “truth” the same way—

(Heb 10:26-27) If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

Plainly, we received “the knowledge of truth” as part of becoming saved, not when we went to Bible class and mastered Christian theology.

And so, we see that 2 John 1-4 is all about the gospel. The “truth” is the truth about Jesus, not any doctrinal truth–not matter how true. This is the truth that we must believe to be saved.

John changes the subject slightly in the next two verses–

(2 John 1:5-6)  And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. 6 And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.

From the gospel, John quite naturally segues to love.

He then discusses the content of their faith–

(2 John 1:7-8)  Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.

He warns his readers that even their initial salvation by accepting the truth will not protect them should they deny Jesus.

The following verses are simply a restatement of the warning in v 8–

9 Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.

It’s typical of John’s writing that he often speaks in parallel, restating his points over and over from different angles.

He is not dramatically changing the subject. Rather, he is reminding his readers of the very fundamentals of their salvation–faith in Jesus, love for others. And warns them that if they toss away that which saved them they’ll be lost.

The idea that he’s warning them against any error at all is manifestly foreign to the context. He’s warning them against surrendering their faith.

Therefore, as the “truth” is the gospel, the “teaching of Christ” is also the gospel
about Jesus, the word of truth, the truth of the gospel, the truth that leads to grace. It’s
what we hear, believe, and confess. In the immediate context, it’s the fact that Jesus
came in the flesh and the spiritual implications of his coming. It’s the content of faith. It’s
the reason we love and are righteous. It’s the good news of Jesus.

And yes, if you deny that, you are lost and the church must treat you accordingly.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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