What happens when those who claim to be "brothers in Christ" don't act like it? I'm not talking about those moments in each of our lives when we fail to live up to our calling. Though we are new creations in Christ and have been saved by grace, we are still in the process of "putting off the old man and putting on the new" (Ephesians 4:22-24). All of us stumble and fall occasionally and are convicted by the Holy Spirit of our sin, moving us to confess our sin and to repent - turning from sin toward righteousness.
But that's not what I'm talking about. There are times when those who claim to be brothers live in persistent, unrepentant sin. At times like that, what is our responsibility as Christians? God's Word teaches us to be accountable to each other, speaking the truth in love and calling one another to repentance. In those instances when a brother sins against us, Matthew 18 tells us that we are to confront them and if they do not repent we are to bring two or three witnesses, and if they still do not repent, we are to call the church, and if they refuse to listen even to them, we are to consider them as unbelievers.
Most people today think that anyone who CLAIMS to be a Christian IS a Christian. So what's wrong with that? Just this, when those who live in unrepentant sin continue to be called, "brothers" or "sisters," and they are not disciplined or removed from the body of the visible church, the name of Christ is dishonored and others are encouraged to continue in their sin. It is even worse when those who are unrepentant are visible leaders in the church. As a pastor, I know the heartache of watching people throw stones at the church because of the behavior of its leaders. All people, but especially the leaders of the church, must be held accountable, and if, when confronted with their sin, they refuse to confess and repent, they are to be treated as unbelievers.
If this sounds harsh, think of the damage done to the church by those who are wolves in sheep's clothing. The sheep are scattered and led astray and devoured by their deception. There is a way to expose such leaders: examine their words and their teaching to see if it matches the Word of God. If a leader denies that the Bible is the very Word of God, beware, for such a leader is not sent from God, even if they say some "good" or "right" things. I read on a local church website recently that the church believes the Bible is a good book, but does not believe it is the very Word of God. They believe that modern psychology is equally profitable in helping people to live the "Christian" life. Such teaching is heresy.
Other leaders in the church declare that the church must be "ordered" by man-made rules. "Process and procedure" are placed above the authority of God's Word. There are leaders in the church structures of congregations and denominations who abuse power given to them and who justify their actions by appealing to a book of church order written by men to take away the rightful authority of the biblical leaders of the local congregation. I've had a front-row seat to see these things happen and I want to warn people to be aware of such deceitfulness within the visible church today.
Judge everything by the Word of God. Paul commended the Berean believers because when he preached they checked what he had to say against the only part of the Bible they had at the time, the Old Testament. How much more should we today judge everything that is being taught and practiced in the church by the unchanging Word of God. All is not well in the church today, even here in Western Michigan, because people are not examining the teaching they are receiving. If your leaders do not want to be held accountable to the Word, you and others need to sound the alarm. There's a wolf among the sheep!!