Mohler at T4G: The church must hold itself to a holy standard
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (SBTS) — Christians must guard themselves against the corrosive effects of sexual sin — both for the health of their souls and the reputation of the church, said R. Albert Mohler Jr. at his Thursday address at Together for the Gospel in Louisville, Kentucky, April 12.
Mohler, who is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, preached on 1 Corinthians 5:1-6:11, which is one of the strongest texts in the New Testament about how the church should discipline its members who persist in unrepentant sin. Paul calls the church in Corinth to practice church discipline with its members while lovingly calling unbelievers outside the church to repentance. The passage serves as both a strong motivator for personal evangelism and a stern warning against the destructive effects of sin within the church itself.
“Sexual immorality is one of the most dangerous realities that human beings can imagine. One of the greatest lies of the devil is the very idea of ‘safe sex,’” Mohler said. “In the context of marriage, between a husband and a wife, it is holy and celebrated. But nowhere else is it authorized, and nowhere else can it be anything approaching ‘safe.’ It is deadly — first to the soul, then … to the church and the reputation of the gospel.”
Church discipline exists to purify the church from the stain of persistent sin and bring wandering believers back to repentance, Mohler said. The only piece of sexual morality that secularism has left is a morality of consent. Under the world’s moral standard, if consent is given, any behavior is permissible. The church has a higher standard — a mandate of consecration, which is the church’s command and calling, he said.
“The purpose of church discipline is not just to make certain that the church does not have a bad reputation because of an unrepentant sinful member,” he said. “It is so that person who has betrayed the gospel by his or her behavior and unrepentant sin and obstinate arrogance, that such a one being handed over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, may nonetheless or even thereby be so desperate to once again cling to Christ.”
The Bible teaches that Christians ought to be part of the world as salt and light, Mohler said, but remain separate and holy. This becomes difficult when the broader culture accepts without reservation the tenets of the sexual revolution, rendering the church strange and out of place. Meanwhile, the secular world must grapple with the massive consequences of an inverted morality structure.
Yet Christian theism could offer the solution — if it remains holy, according to Mohler. Several recent studies have indicated that the only belief system that restrains the human sexual impulse is monotheism, Mohler said. But the contemporary church faces the same distinct danger of sexual immorality that first century Corinth did. As a result, the church has no credibility to speak about the cultural implications of human sexuality without wrestling with God’s demands of holiness upon itself, Mohler said. If the church’s holy witness is damaged, the gospel is damaged.
“Sin tolerated in the church is a disaster to the church and the gospel,” he said.
If sin is such a problem, Christians might be tempted to leave the sinful world completely. But the church is not left in the world by accident — it remains where it is by divine intention, Mohler said. While the church should require holiness from its members and lovingly discipline those who fall into sin, it should also aggressively pursue non-Christians with the gospel.
Mohler said the church can learn profitably from the example of Rosaria Butterfield, a former lesbian and feminist who became a Christian through the faithful, patient hospitality of a local pastor and his family. She became a believer because the church did not ignore or shun her because of her lifestyle. Instead, Christians chose to minister to her.
“We are to flee sexual immorality in the church, but we are not to flee the sexually immoral in the world,” Mohler said, noting that some churches, including one he grew up in, were too insular. “In white, middle-class, sanctimonious evangelical Christianity, the instinct that was built into us at that time was to keep our distance from sinners while not being too specific about sin in the church. The apostle Paul says the church is to have the opposite instinct.”