Cancel Culture and Church Discipline, a Tightrope Walking

The cross is the ultimate paradigm of redemption and justice; unlike revenge, love is at the heart of church discipline

Although the idea of cancel culture has existed in the past in some form, it has recently become a buzzword especially on social platforms. People have attempted to draw a parallel between cancel culture and church ex-communication, but a closer look at them would clear the doubts that they are different from each other.

What is cancel culture? This culture is similar to boycott or public shaming for sharing an unconventional opinion or taking action on action of the past which is unethical or illegal on account of a tweet or a mention in another social platform. This culture’s aim does not just stop at isolating, neglecting or condemning the action of the offender, it rather compels the authorities to take a legal action against the offender, or cause physical damage or loss to the brand/person. We have witnessed this culture in action in the form of ‘MeToo’ movement, ‘justice for Sushant Singh Rajput’ and many others.

The virtue of compassion in the church does not teach that anything and everything is permissible in the name of love and acceptance.

On one hand this culture is a powerful tool for social justice, providing a voice to the voiceless; on the other, it has created the dander of a mob mentality where unknown masses become a jury who can pronounce judgment on anyone without having first-hand information. At times, the victim may not be the offender but an innocent person who receives abuses and threats; his reputation is marred, life becomes a living hell as some have tried to explain this phenomenon as “virtual mob attack” on a person.

Some might consider that “cancel culture” is the same thing as church discipline, while others may take an arbitrary stand of favouring the cancel culture and shunning the idea of church ex-communication. To a liberal mind, shutting off people or calling out names in public in the church context might shock some or may appear to betray the values of compassion and unconditional love on part of the church. But certainly, while there is a similarity between them in terms of accountability and justice, there is a strong difference between them that the scripture teaches.

God takes sin seriously and the cross of Calvary is the ultimate paradigm. Jesus had to take the complete weight of sin on himself on the cross by dying a cruel death.The virtue of compassion in the church does not teach that anything and everything is permissible in the name of love and acceptance. In fact, it is Satan’s strategy to play the card of grace as a license to sin. He does not want that church should discipline anyone. But sin is sin no matter how much it is sugar-coated, and the church should consciously act when a person is found to be in continuous sinning.    

God expects the Church to carry out biblical discipline. It is a call and duty of the church among its members. People might level that discipline is more divisive than uniting people or we should work for peace at any cost with everyone in the family of God, but that does not reflect the teaching of scripture. Apostle Paul reprimanded the church at Corinth for not taking action against the sinning man in 1 Corinthians 5. When the church fails to exercise discipline, it will pay a heavy price in the world.

When the church fails to exercise discipline, it will pay a heavy price in the world

The scripture teaches that holiness is not just personal but rather it is communal. In 1 Corinthians 5:6, Paul asks a rhetorical question, do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Sin is contagious and when it is not dealt with, it would spread like a virus to other members who come in touch with it. Paul is not just concerned about the immoral man here but in the sanctity of the community.The spirit that indwells the body of a believer (1 Corinthians 6:19–20), lives in the community too, and therefore, we should take seriously any malfunction in the body of Christ. It is the responsibility of the body of Christ not to just redeem and restore the offender from the mistake but to also protect God’s community.

Not revenge but love is at the heart of church discipline. The news of leaders falling from grace do not just generate the emotion of outrageous anger but utter sadness among God’s people. We know that we are all capable of falling into the vilest kind of sin and none of us have our own strength to withstand temptation without God’s grace upon us. Therefore, duration of church discipline is circumstantial, and it is certainly not a pronouncement of eternal judgment on the person—there is always a place for forgiveness, grace, and restoration. Unlike cancel culture, any expulsion from fellowship or public rebuke is done only after personal confrontation and after providing several opportunities to repent for the purpose of restoration (Matthew 18:15–20). It is in no way about “cancellation” of the person but providing the person an opportunity for genuine repentance and restoration. Forgiveness is the soul of Christian faith and when church chooses to forgive the repentant, it demonstrates the very grace that all of us have received in the Lord Jesus. Church is intentional about building bridges, and not burning them in the process of carrying out discipline. Calling out name in public is usually the last resort since it can create more damage to the person rather than building him up. It is applied only when the person is on a high leadership pedestal and accountable to be a larger body (2 Corinthians 2:5–11).

There is no denial that we live in a judgmental age and cancel culture feeds on anger and revenge. It may seem to believers of this culture that love and justice are two mutually exclusive concepts, but the scripture teaches us that church discipline is the embodiment of both love and justice. The church derives this truth from the gospel we believe in. Cross of Calvary is the supreme demonstration of God’s absolute justice and unconditional love embracing each other in their deepest and richest form. Jesus died a terrible death because He loved us sinners unconditionally; and Jesus died a terrible death because He is a just and holy God who would not condone any sin.    

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