Law Enforcement in the Church

We are thankful that God has ordained government to enforce civil law so that good people can be protected from criminals and evil doers (Romans 13:3-4). An honorable and dedicated police force is a great blessing to any society. It also provides motivation for good people to obey the law. "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same" (Romans 13:3).

One of the problems God's people had in the days of the Judges was that "there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6; 21:25). Because there was no central government, and little in the way of local law enforcement, the people repeatedly followed the path of lawlessness.

If law enforcement is a blessing from God in society, what about in the church? Do we have church police? Or is every person free to obey or disobey God as they choose without being answerable to any restraining authority? What has God provided in the way of spiritual law enforcement among His people?

The authority to give warnings and issue citations: The Lord has ordained that every Christian is responsible to admonish and rebuke his brethren when they break God's law. In this way, the church could be described as being self-policing. In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Christians are commanded to "warn those who are unruly." Jesus commanded, "Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him" (Luke 17:3).

Evangelists and preachers are given specific instructions to make this kind of law enforcement a part of their work. Titus is told to "Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority" (Titus 2:15). When it came to dealing with lazy and untruthful brethren, he is instructed to "rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith" (Titus 1:13). If an accusation of sin is established against an elder, the evangelist Timothy was commanded to "rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear" (1 Timothy 5:20).

Long ago Cain asked the Lord, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Cain obviously assumed that he was not responsible for the well being of his brother. Some in the Lord's church may have made a similar assumption. But love demands that we care about one another's spiritual well being, and if we do care we will police one another's behavior. Jesus said, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten." (Revelation 3:19).

The authority to punish law breakers: The Lord has also ordained that the church punish unrepentant lawbreakers by withdrawing from them. This solemn responsibility is clearly set forth in 1 Corinthians 5 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15. It is referred to as "punishment which was inflicted by the majority" in 2 Corinthians 2:6. Its purpose is to bring about the repentance and rehabilitation of the lawbreaker (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:6-8).

We see then that God has provided a system of law and order for His people. We have all been deputized. Let us do our duty and help one another obey God.

By Steve Klein

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