Within evangelicalism, church discipline is often misunderstood, which is unfortunate, since church discipline is one of the means that King Jesus has ordained to help preserve the saints and protect his Bride, the Church. At its ground-level heart, church discipline in the life of the local church is intended to be preventative; in its most visible manifestation, church discipline is corrective.
We are not called to live life alone, nor are we called to grow in grace alone. As Christians, we are commanded to confess our sins to each other and pray for one another. Those means of grace help protect our hearts from being deceived by sin. Of course, our hearts are deceitful, and there are times when we are willfully blind to sin that has taken root in our lives. Enacting the first step of church discipline found in Matthew 18:15-17 in obedience to King Jesus’ command and going to a fellow believer who is engaging in willful and gross sin is an act of love intended to prevent that believer from giving himself or herself over to that sin. Unfortunately, there are times when that sinning believer rebuts the continued admonishment of others. At that point, according to Matthew 18, the matter is to be brought to the church, the individual is to be publicly admonished, and, if still unrepentant, the individual is to be put out of the church. This corrective action’s goal is repentance and restoration.
One of the more difficult aspects of church discipline is discerning which sins qualify for this type of extreme action. The most frequent answer to that is to include sin that is 1) obvious to the community 2) gross and 3) unrepentant. This is why, I trust, by God’s grace, that if I were to be as vocally and publicly supportive of Donald Trump as Jerry Falwell, Jr. has been, my church family would church discipline me.
Policy aside, Donald Trump oozes evil. The sliminess that it takes to own casinos is so pungently stained with sin as to render Trump untouchable from a Christian voter’s perspective. Taking into account his impressive (in a bad way) collection of personal vices and evils, how any Christian can even contemplate voting for Donald Trump is baffling. Voting for the man, however, is one thing; publicly supporting the man is another thing, altogether.
To be clear, I’m not claiming that retweeting a pro-Trump tweet or “liking” Trump’s Facebook page reach the level of obvious-to-the-community sin that demands church discipline. Don’t misunderstand, I’m willing to contemplate it, but I’m not willing to make that claim … yet. However, I am willing to state that the kind of enthusiastic, public and persistent support of Donald Trump exhibited by Jerry Falwell, Jr. is a sin that is obvious to the community, gross, and unrepentant, and should be dealt with through church discipline which, by the way, is only possible in the life of a local church. If Jerry Falwell, Jr., or anyone else, is not a member of a local church, then church discipline is off the table.
Part of the purpose of church discipline is to protect the local church’s gospel witness in the community. For example, in 1 Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul admonishes the Corinthian church for allowing obvious immorality to remain unchecked in their congregation. The immorality was known in the community. The name of Jesus was being defamed. If, in the eyes of the community, the church isn’t holding fast to what is preached, the community has very little reason to listen, much less respond, to the gospel message. In 2016, non-Christians recognize Trump’s evil. How are they going to hear the gospel call if the church’s message is obscured by the visible promotion of a man that even they recognize as evil?
Jerry Falwell, Jr. has been stumping for Trump across a variety of platforms, including his bully pulpit at Liberty University, media outlets like On the Record with Greta van Susteren, and using his personal Twitter account for the constant burnishment of Donald Trump. If I were to become such a visible shill for someone as unrighteous as Donald Trump, I pray that members of my church would have the moral courage and love to confront me about my sin.
The sin of forcefully and publicly supporting Donald Trump is bound up in who we are as Christians. Being in Christ means that we are part of the Kingdom of God and are subjects of King Jesus. Our King has tasked us with preaching the gospel and making disciples as his representatives on this earth. Christians are King Jesus’ ambassadors. Vocally and persistently stumping for Donald Trump communicates that King Jesus approves of the evil that is Trump. Failure to be confronted when engaged in a dalliance with such gross sin as lending the name of King Jesus to the support of Donald Trump is a failure to love Christ, the church, and the sinning individual. It also opens the door for the name of Christ Jesus to be defamed by a watching and mocking world.
Confronting a fellow Christian with his obvious-to-the-community and gross sin has the goal of repentance as its endgame. If the individual fails to acknowledge his sin and repent, the next step in church discipline is bringing that individual before the church and calling him, again, to repentance. Failure to repent at that point requires the step of that individual no longer being considered part of the church. As the Apostle Paul put it, the church is to deliver the sinner “to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5).
As harsh as that may seem, the objective remains the individual’s repentance. If, similar to Jerry Falwell Jr., I were to openly promote Donald Trump, and then rebuff the corrections of my church family, I hope they would place me outside of their fellowship. By doing so, they would be communicating the grossness of my sin and adding an emphatic exclamation point to their loving pleas for me to repent.
I believe that voting for Donald Trump is out of bounds for Christ followers, but simply voting for Trump does not qualify for church discipline. The sin of voting for Trump is not necessarily obvious. In other words, it’s not an action, in and of itself, that can be seen by the community-at-large, and, hence, be a continuous negative reflection on King Jesus. But, vocally and visibly promoting a man as wicked as Donald Trump does demand the church to take action. Which is why, if I were to promote Donald Trump in the manner in which Jerry Falwell, Jr. has been, I pray that my church would have the faith to church discipline me.