When reviewing 3 John after Keith's sermon, I was especially interested in the specific ways that Diotrephes sought to usurp Christ's authority in the local church. (Lately, for various reasons, I have been giving a great deal of thought to matters of church government.) One way in which Diotrephes exalted himself above Christ was through taking it upon himself to excommunicate believers. John directly implies that Diotrephes excommunicated people whom he felt threatened his own assumed authority. So Diotrephes was excommunicating people for a bogus reason. But notice: the very practice of excommunication by an individual is, in itself, unwarranted.
Church discipline (possibly to include excommunication, if the person under discipline remains impenitent) is to be conducted according to the commands of Christ recorded in Matthew 18:15-17 and the commands of the Apostle written in passages such as 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, 1 Timothy 5:19-20, and Titus 3:10-11. An examination of these passages will abundantly demonstrate church discipline is certainly to be done according to a congregational principle. "By the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact must be established," then-if a person under church discipline refuses to listen to two or three fellow believers-the matter is to be brought before the congregation as a whole, with the congregation making a decision (under prayer and guidance from Scripture) about what action should or should not be taken. Instead, Diotrephes was acting as a kind of pope, effectively issuing "bulls" against people who might question his arrogance.
This is something to consider in our own day as well: church leaders only have authority over God's people insofar as the leaders themselves are submitted to God's Word.
Labels: Bible study