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!