CHURCH DISCIPLINE BY THE HOLY GHOST
D. M. PANTON.
many and grave were solved once for all on the threshold of the
Ananias and Sapphira,
as among the souls "added to the Church,"
because "saved," and added not by man,
but by "the Lord" (Acts 2: 47), had a conversion that is
unchallengeable. That the Apostles (like ourselves)
had no jurisdiction over unbelievers, the punishment of whose sins must
be left solely to God - "for what have I to do
with judging them that are without? Do ye not judge them
that are within?" (1 Cor. 5: 12) - further establishes their
regeneration; and explains why, where an Elymas
gets a transient blindness and a Simon Magus goes unscathed, an Ananias - for covetousness, one of the
excommunicating sins: for it was covetousness that prompted his lie -
gets instantaneous "destruction of the flesh"
(1 Cor. 5: 5).
The penalty wielded by the Holy Ghost is the penalty commanded for this very
sin occurring inside the Church. "Ananias was a member
of the Christian Church; he had, in all probability, with the rest received the
Holy Ghost; and hence he was in the enjoyment of greater privileges, and under
heavier responsibilities, than either Simon or Elymas"
(P. J. Gloag,
Now the Apostle, gifted with the ‘discerning of spirits,’ at once unveils the Church as the stage of a constant drama of the other world: his questions rip open the supernatural struggle going on in every assembly of believers. "Ananias, why hath Satan" - no sooner is the Paradise of the Church created, than the Serpent is found in it - "filled thy heart" - filled it, that is, not with himself, but with an evil conspiracy - "to lie to the Holy Ghost?" Two great protagonists stand out on the floor of the Church, one descended from Heaven, one risen from Hell - the Holy Ghost and Satan; and Satan, inside the Church, can lure a believer to his death.* The Apostle puts a parallel question to Sapphira:- "How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord?" how dared you experiment, to see whether the [Holy] Spirit knows all things, and so your secret? Or whether He would care? Or whether He would act? How gastly the blunder events quickly proved. The [Holy] Spirit knew the market price; He knew the exact sum retained; He had - far more wonderfully - overheard Satan whispering at the door of the man’s heart; He was present at the family conclave; He so cared that He did what Christ never did in the whole of His ministry on earth; and He acts without a moments warning.
[* Would be better to have written, - ‘… and Satan, inside two regenerate members of the Church, can lure them to their death.’ See Matt 16: 22, 23; 27: 5; Luke 22: 3, 31, 32; John 13: 27.]
Peter’s remonstrance is exceedingly illuminating. "While it remained, did it not remain thine own? And after it was sold, was it not in thy power?" - that is to say, both the estate itself, and the proceeds of the sale, were exclusively Ananias’s: the Lord’s word to sell all, and give to the poor (Luke 12: 33), is a counsel of perfection, not a requirement of obligation: therefore Ananias was a perfectly free agent, and so a perfectly responsible agent. And even after the estate had been sold, with the object of giving all, God still allows a change of mind; "after it was sold, was it not in thy power?" for any part of our property may be retained, until faith is strong enough to give up all; or all may be kept, without penal consequences. There was no physical necessity, no church necessity, no moral necessity, no necessity whatever - only the exquisite efflorescence of Christian love, or the wise investment of earthly funds in heavenly stock - why Ananias should part with anything at all.
Now instantly falls the Divine excommunication. "And Ananias hearing these words" - God’s mere statement of a sin can be a death-warrant - "fell down and gave up the ghost."* "It was well that men should be taught once for all, by sudden death treading swiftly on the heels of detected sin, that the Gospel, which discovers God’s boundless mercy, has not wiped out the sterner attributes of the Judge" (Oswald Dykes, D. D.). The reason why this first and sharpest of all Church discipline for two thousand years has never again been so dramatically repeated is most significant. If there were no such case of instant and condign punishment among the [eternally] saved, we must have concluded that, for [regenerate] believers, God’s justice is shackled and sheathed; on the other hand, if every such sin met with instant judgment, we must have concluded that this is no dispensation of grace, nor ours a mercy-seat: there is one, as a sample of judgment coming; but only one, for the Mercy-Seat defers infliction, almost invariably, to a future Judgment Seat. God sometimes slays now, lest we doubt His justice: He often defers judgment, lest we doubt His patience. "Divine judgment knows no respect of persons, but calls believers as well as unbelievers before its bar; yea, it steps even more quickly among the former, as the servants who know the Lord’s will: judgment must begin at the house of God" (Lange). The perplexing rarity, yet coupled with the astounding fact, is expounded in one pregnant word of Paul. "Some men’s sins are evident" - are instantly exposed - "going before unto judgment" - provoking judgment at once; "and some men also" - cloaked hypocrisies to the last - "they follow after," into the other world ¹, and [the consequences of their sins will determine their entrance or exclusion] into the Age beyond (1 Tim. 5; 24).** The [Holy] Spirit, who never slew an enemy for the life of the Church, slays two of her own children for her purity. It is immoral and impossible that Ananias should be struck dead, and all other Ananiases of the Church die in their beds, for ever unjudged.*** "It is only a demonstration of the invisible judgment which, without any such open manifestation, rests upon every previous or subsequent Ananias." (Stier).
[ * That is, they gave up the animating ‘spirit’ which, at the time of their death, returned to God. James 2: 26. cf. Eccl. 12: 7; Job 34: 14; Luke 23: 46; Acts 7: 59.
** In 1 Tim. 5: 24, Paul is describing the consequences of wilful sin in the lives of regenerate believers, which should “be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning” (verse 20): and the consequences for those who ignore and reject the warning is that, (1) unless God grants repentance and restoration, they will be (2) excluded from the kingdom in the ‘age’ to come. (1) Luke 22: 28-30; Acts 11: 18; Rev. 3: 19-21. (2) Matt. 5: 20; Luke 20: 35.]
*** That is, unjudged because although regenerate, they are not (because of wilful sin and disobedience in their lives) presently being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, (Heb. 10: 26-30; Acts 5: 32). Unlike Ananias and Sapphira, they are allowed to continue in sin for a time, with Judgment delayed until after the time of death. To say ‘forever unjudged’ is not correct and can be misleading, for we will all have to appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ sooner or later. See 1 Kings 13: 26; 1 Sam. 28: 17, 18. cf. Psa. 51: 11.]
So vital is this truth for the whole Church that the [Holy] Spirit doubles the witness, as well as records its history. "Behold the feet of them which have buried thy husband shall carry thee out." The second death, following so sharply and so exactly in the track of the first, like a swiftly doubled peal of thunder, must have caused tenfold terror. So high were the privileges of Ananias and Sipphira, so magnificent their opportunities in the heart of the miracle-gifted Church of the Apostles, that they are given no warning; no time for reflection; no call to repentance; no pardon: in a moment Peter used the Keys, and locked the Kingdom - "whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained" (John 20: 23): "be not deceived; neither thieves, nor covetous, nor extortioners shall inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6: 10).
Thus the doctrine that the believer’s person is immune from the judgment of God, and that the Judgment Seat takes cognizance [mental knowledge or recognition] of his works only, is here proved untrue; and the assumption, not really made, at least subconsciously, that the backslider is necessarily restored before death the case of Ananias also proves to be false.* How profound the awe of this initial lesson on the threshold of the Church! "‘Great fear came upon all them that heard these things’: “note-worthy words, which clearly show that the possibility that any one of them might become an Ananias was present to the minds of all the disciples, full of grace as they were" (Stier). It is overwhelmingly solemn that modern exponents of privilege seem to have passed into almost total blindness on responsibility.² An ambitious mountain climber, thrilled with excitement, stood erect at last upon an Alpine peak in ecstasy of enjoyment, when his guide shouted, - "On your knees, Sir! You are not safe here except on your knees!"
[* Nevertheless the death-penalty, either here (1 Cor. 11; 30) or hereafter (Matt. 24:51), cannot alter the believer’s standing, nor forfeit his eternal life. Peter utters no warning to Ananias of eternal death, nor perdition, as he does to Simon Magus (Acts 7: 20): nay, on the contrary, excommunication, whether enforced by the [Holy] Spirit or the Church, is a "destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor. 5: 5)]
1. ‘The other world’ is not heaven, as so many of the regenerate suppose; we cannot go there until after resurrection (John 14: 3; 3: 13). This ‘other world’ is in “the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12: 40; 16: 18), where our Lord Jesus went immediately after His death. Hades is not ‘the lake of fire’ the place of eternal punishment after resurrection: it is a place, consisting of more than one compartment, where the souls of the dead are confined and where they must wait unit the time of resurrection, (Luke 16: 19-31; Rev. 6: 9-11. cf. Acts 2: 34; Heb. 11: 40).
2. See word document, ‘Judgment Prophecies.’
3. Keep in mind: “Blessed experiences of the past are no guarantees for equal fulness of blessings in the present and future. A Christ of only ‘yesterday’ does not help you, but the living Christ of to-day always does. Our vision must not be directed only backwards – however fundamental our former experiences may be – but upwards and forwards. ‘It is not the beginning but the end that crowns the Christian’s pilgrimage.’” - Erich Sauer.
“…IF OUR HEARTS DO NOT CONDEMN US, WE we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask, BECAUSE WE OBEY HIS COMMANDS AND DO WHAT PLEASES HIM.” … “THOSE WHO OBEY HIS COMMANDS LIVE IN HIM, AND HE IN THEM. AND THIS IS HOW WE KNOW THAT HE LIVES IN US: we know it by the Spirit he gave us:” (1 John 3: 21-24).