By now most have seen the tragic news out of Georgia. On March 16, 2021, eight people were killed in a series of shootings at three spas in the metropolitan area of Atlanta. There are many horrific and grievous angles to this developing story, but I want to focus on one in particular as a pastor and a follower of Jesus.
The shooter, now in custody, was a professing believer and a member at Crabapple First Baptist Church in Milton, Georgia. The reality is CFBC and PBC have a lot in common. We're both Baptist churches. We're both affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. We support and align with some of the same ministries and organizations. We preach the same Gospel.
How should a local church respond when one of its members does something so heinous?
Thankfully, the Bible doesn't leave us in the dark.
In 1 Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul writes to a church that is proudly harboring a member guilty of grievous sin. No, his sin didn't have the same devastating consequences as eight lives snuffed out. But it was a sin that was "not tolerated even among pagans" (1 Cor. 5:1). Paul's admonition to this church is clear and decisive: "Let him who has done this be removed from among you" (1 Cor. 5:2).
Unlike other passages that deal with church discipline (e.g., Matthew 18:15-17), the Corinthians aren't called to patiently pursue the sinning member. Their task is to act quickly and remove him. If they were playing Monopoly, their instructions would be "Go directly to excommunication. Do not pass go, do not collect $200."
Why so serious? What about patience and grace? In the face of heinous and egregious sins, the church must act. Why? First, to warn the sinner (1 Cor. 5:4-5). He or she must not doubt for a second what God thinks of their sin . Second, to preserve the church's witness (1 Cor. 5:6-8). The world is watching, and if the church harbors heinous sin the purity of the church will be tarnished. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
But let's be clear: this swiftness is not the normal process for church discipline. This type of swift, decisive action is reserved for those sins that are so heinous they call into question the member's entire profession of faith. They lead the church and its leaders to conclude that they can no longer affirm that he or she is a believer.
Yes, every Christian sins. Until Christ returns, sin will never completely be in the Christian's rearview mirror. But not every Christian has so given themselves over to sin that they'll kill eight people in cold blood. Some sins require a significant hardening of the heart. And when sin reaches that point, the church can no longer have any confidence that the professing believer is truly a born-again Christian.
By God's grace, these sorts of situations are rare in the life of the church. But they do happen. Ready or not, the members at Crabapple First Baptist Church were forced to deal with this situation just a few days ago. To their credit, they moved swiftly and biblically.
They didn't mince words in their statement:
Was ___________ a member at Crabapple First Baptist Church?
Yes. These actions do not in any way reflect the biblical character of a true follower of Jesus Christ and members of His Church. In accordance with the biblical pattern and our church bylaws, Crabapple First Baptist Church has completed the process of church discipline to remove _______________ from membership since we can no longer affirm that he is truly a regenerate believer in Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 5).
In 1 Corinthians 5:4-5, Paul says this: "When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord."
The painful truth is that God sometimes uses the faithfulness of His church to bring about the salvation of even the vilest offenders. May God do the same and more through the faithfulness of Crabapple FBC, and any other church that is faithful to take God at His Word.