Church Discipline – Now What?
Consider this real-life situation: An individual(s) is biblically excluded from membership in the church. Subsequently, he/she attends the church from which he/she was excluded.
This situation prompted this question: What relationship should congregants have with such excluded individuals, especially those who still attend worship? This and similar questions are often voiced by church members.
General observations designed to help answer the question:
We have disciplined for refusal to genuinely repent not for sinful conduct per se.
We have elevated the spiritual welfare of the congregation as a whole over that of individuals. The implication of the little leaven notion in 1 Corinthians 5:6-13 makes this clear. In effect, the church needs to be willing to sacrifice the unrepentant member in favor of the health of the whole body.
We have recognized the excluded person as a functioning non-believer because he refuses to submit to the Word. The church is collectively no longer recognizing him as a fellow believer and is therefore excommunicating him to the realm of Satan so that per chance, he might be restored as a result of his sensual desires having free, but destructive, reign in his life. He will no longer enjoy the protective and redemptive umbrella of Christ’s church. Consider the strong biblical language:
“…let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer.” (Matthew 18:17)
“…the one who had done this deed might be removed from your midst.” (1 Corinthians 5:2)
“…deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh…” (1 Corinthians 5:5)
“…REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.” (1 Corinthians 5:13)
We have modified our relations to the excluded person. The congregation realizes that it bears ongoing responsibilities to the unrepentant excluded person; things such as prayer, compassion, forgiveness and or restoration if requested, as well as our own continued self examination. And I Corinthians 5: 11 states our responsibility to restrict association with the unrepentant individual. “But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler-- not even to eat with such a one.” What is this all about? I do not believe the passage teaches that individuals in the church are to have nothing to do with the individual in the absolute sense. Yet, God wants to send him a message which is, “I deplore what you are doing; change!” And the vehicle for communicating this message is the church. So, it is not the act of eating with the unrepentant person that is forbidden per se, rather it is eating as a common social interchange which denotes fellowship and recognition of him as a believing brother. Therefore the Christian can readily accept a dinner invitation from non-believing neighbor, but must pose some hard questions before accepting one from an excluded professing believer! Will the number of guests present be conducive to turning conversation to spiritual matters? Can I reasonably anticipate an opportunity for private conversation with the excluded person? Who are other guests and are they aware of the relationship between the excluded person and me? Is the dinner setting public or private? Does the excluded person have an inappropriate agenda? The broader principle must be that any contact with the excluded person must be without acknowledgment of him as a brother in Christ and must be undertaken with a view to his coming to repentance and ultimate restoration.
We have focused on restoring the excluded person. A congregation ought to exercise discipline for the purpose of overthrowing sin and restoring the sinner (1 Corinthians 5:5). The church must always be ready to extend full restoration upon genuine repentance. So, the church must be prepared to discern between real and pseudo repentance and demand the former. This obviously requires divine wisdom and usually necessitates time.
Specific observations and suggestions:
The excluded person’s worship attendance may not say anything about his repentance. Members should not conclude that an excluded person who attends is repentant or is even making progress toward genuine repentance. There may be reason to be encouraged regarding progress toward genuine repentance for some but not for others.
So long as the excluded person has no hidden agenda, doesn’t attempt to erode corporate unity, or curry favor from members, his attendance is generally a
good thing. The church doors swing open for sinners! Rubbing shoulders with God’s people and exposure to the Scripture is profitable. We should be encouraged.
Members should extend common courtesy and Christian kindness to excluded persons. Handshakes, a smile, personal conversations, care for his family, and common social interaction are all appropriate.
Excluded persons should not be afforded the privilege of formal ministry through the auspices of the church. However, he is free to serve in informal capacities.
© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2017. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.
Posted on Mon, September 4, 2017
by Patrick Fata filed under