No More Seconds, Please

When I was in New York a couple of weeks ago, a cab driver asked me what I do for a living.   "I'm a minister," I answered.   "Oho," the cabbie said. "So you're here to get money."   It wasn't a question, it was a statement: If you're a minister, that's what you're after. Money.   The cabbie launched into a well-worn diatribe against Christians. A bunch of hypocrites, he said. And he clinched his case with the latest Jimmy Swaggart scandal.   Frankly, it was hard to respond. I had no defense. The Jimmy Swaggart case has brought disgrace on the entire evangelical world. One person falls, and we're all painted with the same brush.   The Swaggart incident illustrates clearly a need to rethink the whole question of church discipline. To maintain its integrity, the Church needs an effective means of disciplining across denominational lines.   To its credit, the Assemblies of God did its best to discipline Jimmy Swaggart after his first offense in 1988, when he was caught with a prostitute. The denomination ordered him to step down from the pulpit and undergo counseling.   But Swaggart refused. Even when the denomination revoked his license to preach, he continued his ministry.   And people continued to support him.   Now Swaggart has dishonored the Church a second time--caught with another prostitute. This time, he was even less repentant. He refused to talk about it, telling his congregation, "The Lord told me it's flat none of your business."   The lesson here is this: When a believer is disciplined by his church, and refuses to comply, then the Scriptural principle is to cast him out of the congregation.   The policy is described in Matthew 18: If a believer rejects the discipline of the church and continues in sin, expel him. And Paul's letter to the Corinthians explains why.   The purpose is not to be mean or vengeful. It's to impress upon the sinner the seriousness of his sin, with the hope of bringing him to repentance. And it's to maintain the integrity of the Church before a watching world.   The Protestant denominations are not subject to a single central authority, like the Catholic Church is. What it will take is all of us acting together voluntarily. If one denomination disciplines a member, the rest of us must support the action.   When the Assemblies of God church disciplined Jimmy Swaggart, the rest of the evangelical world should have stood behind them. They should have refused to tune in to Swaggart's program any more, or send him money.   But many people chose to follow a charismatic TV preacher instead of the Church. They continued to listen to Swaggart and give him financial support.   That's why this has all come back to haunt the evangelical world a second time.   Swaggart himself is ultimately responsible for his second offense, of course. But so are the Christians who enabled him to continue in ministry after he had defied the discipline of his church.   Evangelicals have got to work together across denominational lines and support one another's efforts at discipline. Because unless we evangelicals are able to effectively discipline the sinners in our midst, people like Jimmy Swaggart will continue to bring discredit on the Church.   And on the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ.


Chuck Colson



  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary