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Ex-communicating a Friend
Posted by Clare
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Ten years ago a group of us ex-communicated, or exercised Christian discipline on a close friend.

Yes, you read that correctly! It came to our attention that a married Christian man who we’d all known for years, with whom we’ve been in Bible studies, vacationed and even done ministry together was apparently having an emotional affair with another woman. He (I’ll call him John.) and his wife weren’t technically members of any church, although they faithfully attended church. Rather than let this problem fall through the “who’s responsibility is this?” crack, we, “the church” around them stepped into his life. Here’s the story…

Wanting to respect this couple’s privacy, I’ll be purposely vague and brief on the details of this emotional infidelity. However it was clear to his wife and those who saw John with the other woman in public that something clearly inappropriate was going on. This was way more than a business relationship!

His wife approached several of us men she trusted and expressed her concerns and asked for our help. For over a year, a number of us individually and in pairs confronted John with his wife’s concerns and the reports that came our way from others and our own observations. He denied any romantic interest at all. We never accused him of actually committing adultery because we had no proof, but for sure his wife was being humiliated and Christ’s reputation was taking a hit.

Finally, in the spirit of Matt. 18 and I Cor. 5, the group asked John to meet with our group, which he refused to do. We then individually wrote or met with him and gave him a 30 day ultimatum: either he breaks off this relationship completely, or we would end our relationship with him. To further get his attention, we also told him that we and some of our wives would fully support his wife if she decides to temporarily separate from him, but not file for divorce.

To say John was not a happy camper is an understatement. “You self-righteous hypocrites…” Our response was, “That may be true, but right now we’re concerned about you.” Most of us agreed to meet with John only if he was willing to discuss this issue. Several of us met with his wife’s attorney to make sure she was taken care of and felt supported.

The Power of a Faithful Spouse

John’s wife was amazing! All she wanted was her husband’s love and faithfulness and her family back together. They lived apart for nearly a year but finally, by the grace of God, he powerfully moved in John’s heart to admit his emotional attachment, end the relationship, and ask his wife’s and his teenage children’s forgiveness.

Six months after his reconciliation, I asked to meet with John to ask what we, the group, could have done differently to be more helpful to him. We truly wanted to learn. Aside from some frustration over how an older child found out what we were doing from one member of our group gossiping, he had this to say.

“I truly just couldn’t see the problem. It’s hard to imagine, but I was simply blind to it and there’s nothing you could have done painlessly to get me to understand. I wanted you to accept my decision, stay out of our business and your refusal was an affront to me. I was hurt and angry. But, I’m so thankful you loved me enough not to let me destroy my family and embarrass God. Thank you.”

The Rest of the Story

Today John and his wife have a personal ministry working with other couples in similar situations. He’s become an elder in this city, courageously calling men right out of the blue, who he’s heard have made similar, sinful or foolish choices and helping them realize their offense to God and the potential damage to their families.  He is one of my heroes and a great friend.

I wish every attempt at discipline was as successful. But, it’s not. Over the years, whenever our church tried to formally exercise discipline, when it got almost to the point of severing a person from membership, most people would simply resign from the church, begin going to another church and effectively ending the process.

However, in my church where I’ve been an elder, we try to gather family and friends and urge them, rather than the formal church, to warn, pray, encourage and eventually, if necessary, to exercise discipline first, before the church gets too involved. They are “the church” in their friends’ lives and it’s been our experience that this method of exercising discipline is far more effective than our formal church discipline.  When family and friends are involved, the pain of loss of friendship is a constant reminder of their sin and hopefully, they’ll be brought back to the “wisdom of righteousness”.

Question:  What has been your experience with this method of exercising discipline, if any, or are there questions you have about it?

Next Week:  Unconventional Conversations on Divorce

Following Jesus in Real Life

A personal note: For the next two weeks, I’m traveling in Europe with a group of college seniors teaching and helping them interpret history and life in the light of a biblical worldview. Therefore, I may not be able to respond to your comments or questions readily. But, please comment, nevertheless.


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Comments (5)
  1. Tricia said...

    Hey Clare,
    I found your post very encouraging and refreshing, and a confirmation that my husband and I have done the correct thing Biblically in a situation we have found ourselves in.

    I have a sister who confesses to be a Christian, she is adamant that she is and that she walks with the Lord. She also has decided that she is gay and is actively living a homosexual lifestyle, she says that this is God’s will for her life and that He has given her complete peace about this choice.

    I have sat and thoroughly discussed the scriptures with her, and it has become very clear that she has been deceived by those she believes have given her Godly, biblical counsel. She has been told by 5 different pastors that as long as she is in a loving, monogamous relationship that she is not living in sin and is not choosing sin. The difficult part for us is that we are the only ones in her life trying to counsel her according to God’s Word, everyone else just wants her to be “happy.” I am concerned for her eternally…

    As a result of all of this and based on 1 Cor. 5:11 we do not fellowship with her, all in hopes and in desire of helping open her eyes to the truth of God’s Word and what He desires and her returning to Him. This has been and continues to be so hard to do, I miss my sister… and it is hard when no one else stands with you for the truth of God’s Word…

    I would love to hear your thoughts, comments, and or counsel regarding our situation, thank you so much!

    Abundant Blessings,

    • Clare said...

      Trica, I can sense the pain in your comment. Unfortunately I’ve rarely seen Christian discipline work if it’s only one person or couple doing it. It’s really meant to be done in the context of the Christian community, or the church. Your sister can easily blow off your opinion but that’s harder when a group is speaking truth. Just keep up the prayer and I would send thoughtful cards that you’re thinking of her, news of the family, ect., without repeating your disapproval. Your sister knows how you feel. I’m really sorry. Clare

  2. Tricia said...

    Thank you Clare for taking the time to respond to my comment… I do send occasional cards and talk to her every now and then on the phone, just to keep the door open if she ever needs help… and I will continue to pray for as long as I have to… Hope you have a wonderful evening!

  3. Lindsay said...

    I always used to read Matthew 18 in light of the 1 Corinthians passage about shunning. But when it’s read on its own, it doesn’t seem to point to shunning at all. Rather, it says to “treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Given Jesus’ interactions with tax collectors and pagans, this hardly seems like an example of shunning. The surrounding passages are also about continuing to pursue those that have strayed. This is a new reading of this text for me, but I no longer see it as a text supporting ex-communication. What do you think – am I way off base?

    • Clare said...

      No, I don’t think you are off base. You’re very insightful. I’ve heard respected pastors and theologians say the same thing about Matthew 18. However, the passages immediately following regarding “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven” seem to imply something very serious is going on here as a result of the church’s reaction. Either, this person is now deemed “lost” by heaven (God) or they have been given over to Satan, or the kingdom of darkness for a time. But it appears to me that it’s more than, “well we can’t consider you a Christian anymore, but let’s hang out like we used to before you became a believer.”

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