As I mentioned in my introduction, I’m working through Robert Ewusie Moses’ book on Paul’s prescribed practices in regards to powers and principalities called Practices of Power. We discussed Gospel preaching before, and now we’ll look at church discipline.
Practices of Power: Church Discipline
The issue of the man immoral man in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 is important for our understanding of the powers and how church practices interact with them.
Moses begins by surveying the interpretative difficulties, but in the end, much of it defends what I understand to be the “traditional” take on the broader details of the passage. More surprising is that Moses holds that the man was a false teacher, actually justifying his actions theologically in a way that was confusing the church body. His basis for this includes arguing that “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor 5:3-4) should be attached to “the one who did such a thing”, meaning that his immorality was grievously claimed to be in the name of Christ, i.e. with His approval. Another argument in favour of seeing this man as a false teacher was Paul’s similar treatment of false teachers in 1 Tim 1:20. Moses’ points here are interesting and perhaps correct, though not required to adopt his other conclusions. The point is that the man was unrepentant, whether through theological gymnastics or simple obstinacy.
For Moses, what happens to the man is more than mere exclusion or excommunication, as those “could have been accomplished without the context of worship, without Paul being present in spirit, and without the power of Jesus Christ” (p105). He emphasizes that something more is going on than simply “locking the church doors” to the man. Something spiritual is taking place.
So what does all of this mean? Moses notes the similarities between this passage and Job 2 and uses it as an “interpretive key” (p108). Just as Satan attacked Job’s body but could do no more damage than God allowed, the immoral man was to be handed over to Satan “for the destruction of the flesh” (1 Cor 5:5) and Satan can only have access to the immoral man in 1 Corinthians 5 if “the protective hedge the man is enjoying is removed” (p112). This is exactly what Paul is saying will happen by the man’s expulsion from the church out to the realm where Satan prowls more freely. It seems that Paul is also hoping that the man will repent through his sufferings and repent; this is ultimately a remedial practice.
The powers are continually working to gain access to the church (Eph 6:10-13; 1 Pet 5:8) and wreak havoc. Satan even takes advantage of overzealous church discipline (2 Cor 2:10-11)! If we have a real spiritual enemy trying to infiltrate the church, the importance of church discipline is magnified. “While the body of Christ may be providing a protective hedge around this immoral person, it is also the very presence of this immorality within the body that, if unchecked, would eventually give Satan access to the body” (p115). Just as leaven affects the whole lump, unrepentance in the church will affect all, allowing Satan a foothold. This is why this is all so important for Paul. The church today often rejoices in how “accepting” we can be, but this disinterestedness towards holiness is exactly what opens us up to Satan’s attacks (1 Cor 5:5-8).
This all shows that Christian life cannot be separated from the spiritual realities around us. Seemingly insignificant actions have tremendous spiritual ramifications and must be taken soberly as acts of spiritual warfare.
Check back soon for the next post on Practices of Power. Many thanks to Fortress Press for kindly providing a review copy. Their generosity has not affected my opinions.