I received the following question today:
Would you comment on the practical ramifications of church discipline when it concerns a family member? Let’s say a woman is divorcing her husband for unbiblical reasons. She has been urged to repent by the elders, her family, and the church. But she refuses to repent. What would you say to the parents, or other family members concerning their relationship to her? Are they to not associate with her as well? For example, if your son or daughter would not repent, would you still have her over for holidays, etc.?
Good question. The several stages in the process are often confused. During church discipline every effort of the entire church, including family members, is turned toward urging the person to repent. This is the “tell it to the church” stage. After that, when he is put out of the church, he is to be treated “as a heathen man and a publican” i.e. as an unbeliever.
So, how do you treat an unbeliever? You evangelize him! You have him over for a barbecue, you go golfing with him, you love him and seek opportunities to talk to him about his need for the Lord. It is during the “tell it to the church” stage that you tell him that you can’t go to the game with him.
Bill, I would love to go to the game with you. We used to enjoy great times tailgating together. But now, you have chosen to break that fellowship we once enjoyed because of your sin. Instead of going to the game, let’s spend the time talking about getting this thing resolved.
After he refuses to respond to these admonitions of the entire church, the church makes a formal judgment that the person is not a believer (since he does not act like one) and is therefore to be treated as an unbeliever. So treat him like one!
How about a discussion of schism? Does that sound interesting? Among other things, in my discussions with a group of pastors recently, we touched on the subject. One of the comments made was the fact that, in some cases (I’d guess in most), congregations wait too long to act, and, therefore, end up having someone split their churches. It is always bad to put up the traffic light after the fatal accident!
Paul was clear about the urgency of the matter:
Reject a factious man after the first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.
In Titus 3:10 he made it clear that quick action is called for when someone is noticed in the corner with a number of persons in secretive discussions. He said whenever a factious person is discovered, counsel once or twice, and if there is no positive response, get rid of him. There was to be no delay or long drawn out process in which there is time for him to continue his nefarious work. He is to be confronted, and unless there is a positive response (which I assume means repentance), there is to be no more delay.
Take to heart what Paul advises. Few things can be as devastating to a church than when someone succeeds in splitting it.
In recent days I’ve had the opportunity to speak with a number of people who are seeking help in counseling others. They are dealing with people who have separated on an unbiblical basis, are divorcing a spouse, don’t attend church, and so forth. Increasingly, I find myself asking two questions almost immediately upon hearing about the basic problem presented. They are: “Is he/she a member of the church?” As soon as I receive an affirmative response, I find the second question coming out of my mouth almost automatically—without even thinking about it. It is: “What has the church done about it?” Too often the answer is totally dissatisfying. Wrong actions, no actions, inadequate actions—these and the like are the rule rather than the exception. Continue reading
Many of the problems that a counselor is called upon to face are the direct result of the failure of churches to exercise church discipline as it is set forth by the Lord in Matthew 18:15ff. When pastors and elder boards think that they know better than Jesus about how to run His church, trouble always ensues.
Then, when other remedies prove unsatisfactory, the counselor who eventually is called upon to solve problems, and wants to do so biblically, finds his task far more difficult and complex than it would have been if Christ had been obeyed in the first place. Everyone would have been spared much agony and the Lord would have been honored.
How about that problem person you’ve been concerned about? Is church discipline called for? If so, don’t fail to exercise it—Jesus promised to be in your midst when you do.