The Limits of Inclusion | Daily Office Devotional 2021/9/22

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you?

For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present I have already pronounced judgement in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

Your boasting is not a good thing. Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

1 Corinthians 5.1-8

Our passage today is a somewhat unpleasant one to contemplate. For all the love and inclusion that a church must exhibit, the Apostle Paul insists that there are limits. There are limits precisely because the church is the body of Christ and the temple of his Spirit, and is holy. Paul likens it to the unleavened bread eaten at the Pesach (Ex. 12.15). Since all the yeast in the house is to be cleared out prior to the festival and bread is supposed to be eaten unleavened with the paschal lamb, the church is to be like the bread, full of “sincerity and truth,” pure from the “yeast of malice and evil.” Which means whoever is found to be malicious and evil in the church ought to be removed from communion with the church.

Paul isn’t saying that the church’s ranks can only be filled with perfectly sinless persons. As Martin Luther puts it, Christians are always simul iustus et peccator (simultaneously righteous and sinful) in this life and we’ll always struggle against sin with varying degrees of success. The church on earth will always be full of sinners. Instead, Paul is referring to persons who claim to be Christians in the church, yet are knowingly and flagrantly committing sinful acts without remorse, like the Corinthian man in an incestuous relationship with his stepmother. Just as bread is leavened by a small amount of yeast, if the flagrant sinfulness of one single person is tolerated, then the entire church would eventually become a community of moral laxity. Or worse, the entire community could be torn asunder by sin. The person would need to be confronted and excommunicated if they remain unrepentant.

Sadly, it’s not uncommon to hear of churches being turned upside down because of the “yeast of malice and evil.” There was a church community which imploded because of a man who was in an adulterous relationship with another member’s wife. He feared that an impending confrontation with his pastor would uncover his adultery, and so he added sin upon sin by preemptively attacking him with malicious false accusations. This eventually broke the community apart and left not a few jaded and estranged from the faith.

This is why Paul demands that the unrepentant sinner who tests the limits of the church’s love and inclusivity be swiftly condemned and excluded from its communion, lest the community gets poisoned by malice and evil. Yet, even such a painful intervention has restoration as its goal, with the hope that exclusion from community leads one to repentance and reconciliation. The question is, with a multiplicity of church communities happy to welcome anyone who walks through their doors, would repentance and reconciliation happen? Isn’t it easier for one to leave and bring their sin to the next community than to go through the painful work of repentance and reconciliation?

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