“Does your church ever ask anyone to leave the church?”
The person asking the question was thinking of joining our church. Another elder and I were interviewing him and this was only one of dozens of great questions he asked.
“If you’re asking if our church ever exercises church discipline, like excommunication, the answer is yes,” I responded.” “For what?” he asked. “We’ve asked people to leave for swindling, adultery, abuse, causing an unbiblical divorce, sowing discord or constantly complaining about decisions the elders have made, things like that.” He looked at me like we were Amish!
“I think that’s a terrible idea. I thought that kind of thing went out with the Puritans,” he remarked.
Well, God doesn't think so. We have these clear passages from scripture, the first from Jesus himself;
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’” Matthew 18:15-18
Then this from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians;
“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 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.
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’” 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 and 9-13
“Well, I’ve read those passages, but it’s hard for me to believe Christians ought to do that to other Christians in this day and age,,” he observed.
My response caught him off guard. “It’s dangerous business second guessing God.” I went on to explain that if we believe God gave humans the Bible, we don’t have the right to disregard, or disobey a clear teaching of scripture just because it appears unkind, doesn't make much sense to us, or few other churches still do it. I went on to explain the conditions under which we conduct church discipline:
First, the elders will approach the person who we've heard has committed a serious sin and ask if it’s true. If it is true and the person is truly repentant, we will never exercise church discipline. We will generally assign a mentor or counselor to help that person live differently In the future and to reconcile with whoever they've hurt. The goal is to restore each person to spiritual and relational health.
However, if the person is unrepentant the elders may spend up to two years meeting with this person in an effort to help them understand the serious nature of their sin. In the meantime, they are not permitted to serve in any ministry and are asked to not take communion.
If there is no repentance, we will eventually ask them to not attend our church and we place their name, but not the sin in our church communication piece. Most leave our church before we get that far.
While this is a long and stressful process, we don’t feel the Bible gives us another option. We want people to understand we take sin seriously because if we do not, the kind of sin we discipline people for will contaminate the entire church.
So, does your church exercise discipline? Why or why not? Do you think they should not?
Next week, I’ll describe the process we use to restore a repentant person to spiritual and relational health.