Well, I see basically two concerns reflected in the NT —
First, there are teachers who teach things that, if believed, would destroy the faith of the listeners. They threaten damnation.
Therefore, they must be removed from the church at whatever cost. This would include those who teach a works salvation, those who in fact deny the need to be faithful to Jesus/obedient/penitent, and those who deny the basic truths of the gospel.
Second, there are teachers who threaten other kinds of harm. Some are thieves. Some are sexual predators. Some are selfish. Some teach doctrine that may not damn but which will destroy the church.
They also must be removed from the church to protect the flock. This list includes slanderers, those who rebel against the authority of the church’s leadership, those who would treat the damned as saved or the saved as damned, those who divide saved from saved, those who seek division.
Obviously, there’s a lot of potential for overlap and it’s not always necessary to decide which category someone fits in to know that they should be disciplined or removed from a position of influence.
But there is a key difference. For example, a preacher who has been unfaithful to his wife, preying on church members, must be removed from a position where he can continue his predation. He may not be a counselor or preacher any more. Not for a while. But he may well continue to be a church member. Sin doesn’t disqualify someone from membership — if he’s trying to correct his problem. We’re all penitent sinners.
But if he foments dissent, creates division, and stirs up trouble, then the safety of the flock comes first. He may no longer attend. And while we’d certainly hope that removing him from the church brings him to repentance, that’s not the first goal. The first goal is to protect the flock from a wolf.
Just so, if the adulterer preacher continues to pursue sexual conquests in the church, he has to be removed. The flock comes first.
We’re shortly going to cover disfellowshipping church members in an effort to bring them to repentance. Thus, as we’ve already seen, Paul handed Hymenaeus “over to Satan” evidently in an effort to bring repentance. Obviously, where possible, if they can be brought to repentance, the church should seek to do so. We’ll discuss how this is done in another post shortly.
But when the false teacher is seeking to actively harm the church, he must be removed from a position where he can do damage. Sexual predators are removed from positions of trust and from authority over the people they prey on — even if they say they’ve repented. Thieves lose check writing privileges even if they’ve repented. Some people may have to be accompanied by someone who makes sure they stay away from temptation. A child molester may not be around children — and the church is under no obligation to trust him to stay away on his own.
There’s a very important lesson here, implicit in some of the very harsh language we find in the NT regarding false teachers. Repentance is not the same thing as reform. Addicts repent — very genuinely — and often go on seeking drugs. Sexual predators feel genuine remorse for their crimes, repent, seek counseling, go to therapy, and often continue to prey on others.
The fact that I’ve repented does not mean that I’m qualified for my old job. I may have repented of being a bad public speaker. That doesn’t qualify me for a career in preaching. I may have genuinely repented of being a spendthrift and terrible money manager. That doesn’t qualify me to be your CFO.
Being forgiven and being cured are not the same thing. And muddy minded elders constantly mess this up.
If the preacher has been sleeping around on his wife, gets caught, publicly confesses in tears, and is truly remorseful, he may not yet have done nearly enough to overcome what drove his behavior in the first place. And how do we know when he’s defeated his inner demons without taking enough time to let him develop new patterns of thinking and behaving that no longer results in broken marriages and lives?
In short, when someone in a leadership position in the church becomes a danger to the church, the first step is to remove him from that position and any other position in which he might pose a danger. The church comes first. The victims come first.
Elders get this backwards all the time because they work closely with the man, love him, and desperately don’t want to see him and his family hurt. And so they put the church and its children and others in harm’s way because of a messed up sense of compassion — for the wolf rather than his victims.
Shepherds tend their flocks. They may have compassion on the wolves that surround them, but their job is to protect their flocks, not to cure the wolves of being wolves. Flocks first. Wolves second.
(Eze 34:7-10 ESV) “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 8 As I live, declares the Lord GOD, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 10 Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.“