Sins Against the Church

by Joe Shane
Sentry Magazine, March 2000

Are there sins against the church? If so, what are those sins? Simply put, the answer to the first question is yes. The answer to the second is more complicated.

Let us begin with a quote from a preacher who will remain nameless. (Since he will have no opportunity to respond it would not be fair to print his name. I do not think I have taken him out of context.)

"That which Luke wrote, in Luke 17:34, proves that when a child of God sins against one person, he must confess with his mouth unto that person. Yes, it says if he will say unto you I repent, he is to be forgiven. In as much as children of God must confess a sin committed against one person, it necessarily follows that a sin committed against a group of people must be confessed unto the group.

What is the church? It is a group of God's children ... Therefore, if one member commits a public sin, he or she has committed a sin against all the other members. ... Why? Because, most always, all the members are judged by what is seen in one. Then, too, a member who commits public sin provides the enemies of Christ with ammunition to fire against his church. ..."

His first paragraph is right on the mark, but his logic fails me from thereon. The problem begins with an assumption that there are public sins. He then reasons that this public sin, by the very fact that it is public, is a sin against the church.

What about public sins? If a sin is known by other Christians you might call that "public," but the Bible has no listing as such. Notice our responsibility, those who know of this public sin, are to go to the one who has sinned. "Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted" (Galatians 6:1 NASV). James says, "My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20).

The responsibility of the one who has sinned is to repent. It is not their responsibility to tell others who do not know of the sin or those not sinned against. I know of no Biblical reason to believe that a sin the world knows about is automatically a sin against the church. (It sounds like the same logic used in the fifties and sixties that said if the individual can do it the church can do it too.) I do not believe the Bible teaches a sin known by the world makes that a sin against the church.

For a sin to be against the church it must be just that a sin against the church, i.e. the collective. Here is a Bible example -- "If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are" (I Corinthians 3:17 NASV). The church universal cannot be destroyed, therefore this is talking about a local congregation. Here is what Vine's says about the word "destroy."

Φθειρω, (5351) signifies to destroy by means of corrupting, and so bringing into a worse state; ... (b) With the significance of destroying, it is used of marring a local church by leading it away from that condition of holiness of life and purity of doctrine in which it should abide, 1Cor. 3:17 (A.V., "defile") ...," [W. E., Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words].

So anyone who can influence the congregation to leave the Word and follow them would be one who is committing a sin against the church. Paul spoke of those who were dividing the church at Corinth by saying the one who had taught and baptized was what was important, not Christ.

Another example would be for a member to defraud the treasury. That would be an action against the collective, church. You may be able to think of some others, but they must be actions against the congregation.

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