Church Discipline - Part 3

Previously, I wrote about the importance of the disposition of the heart in church discipline. In this series of articles I want to expand on that a bit further with regards to the major biblical teaching on church discipline.

In Part 1 of this series we discovered that church discipline has a process that aims at restoration. The accused is given multiple opportunities to repent and to have their case heard to ensure that justice is done. Likewise, the accuser's claims are verified by multiple people to avoid false accusations and they are exhorted to have a heart of forgiveness like God's heart towards them. Those responsible for the discipline must also act in accordance with the will of God in order for it to be binding.

In Part 2 of this series we saw a practical example that illustrated that Christian's should shun someone who claims the name of Jesus yet their life is characterized by their sin and they refuse to repent, in order that this person might be restored and the church not be corrupted by their sin.

In the final Part 3 we are going to look at some of the considerations of implementing church discipline. I believe that capital punishment is just. "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image (Gen. 9:6)." However, I have limited faith that our government can carry it out justly. But, that doesn't mean we should stop capital punishment, instead we need to approach it with humility knowing that we are capable of injustice. The same thinking also needs to be applied to church discipline, especially when it comes to shunning, which is why we are exhorted to forgiveness.

A formal process is needed because everybody involved in the situation is a sinner and may misrepresent the facts intentionally or not when they explain it to other people. When my wife and I get into a disagreement, we usually walk away from it thinking we both were right. We, well typically my wife, may go away and talk to her friends about it and they will discuss how I was in the wrong. There will be at least sometimes when I am not wrong (I hope), but her friends not knowing the situation will never know. Most of the disagreements I have with my wife are inconsequential, but if all my friends stopped talking to me I would then need to set the record straight. In a group of friends that may be manageable, but in a church or denomination it would be next to impossible. Not all situations require a formal process, but if you are asking people to shun someone than the details of the situation should be made publicly available (unless the person being shunned admits the charges and accepts the discipline). The details that are made public should not be a one-sided account of the situation, but should allow the accused to defend themselves against the accusations.

We should also remember that shunning is the last attempt to reconcile someone whose life is characterized by sin and that it is not the only type of church discipline. Elders are also commissioned to admonish and care for those under them in the Lord.
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labour among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work (1 Thess. 5:12).
The church seems to only discipline for sexual sin and doctrinal error, which is correct, but there are many other sins which also need discipline, such as,
  • Greed - The love of money is idolatry and other people are often sucked in to keeping up with the Joneses.
  • Gossip - Those who gossip are often out to make someone look bad. Their desire is not for reconciliation but to stir up trouble.
  • Marital Issues - It is well documented that marital problems affect children drastically and they often act out as result which influences other children
  • etc...
It is too late for discipline to only occur in crises situations. Rather it should be practiced regularly for the health of the whole church. Disciplining someone for lust is much better than for adultery.

Church discipline has caused many divisions throughout history, the details of which remain unknown or are only here-say, yet the divisions persist. If we were to count up all of the divisions it seems it would come out to seventy times seven, which is the exact inverse of what it should be. For a holy nation that should also be characterized by forgiveness, there is something that is missing. The reason for this disconnect appears to lie somewhere between apathy and worldliness, but let it not be attributed to spirituality. It would be one thing if there were many failed reconciliation attempts, but that is not the case. It is not that forgiveness has been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and never tried.

Comments

  1. I was wondering what how far you think that shunning should be taken. (In the case of someone knowing it is wrong, and yet decides to continue). For instance does it mean to avoid completely except to meet up to talk about the specific problem. And is meeting up as friends wrong? Also does shunning include actions that should be taken by immediate family members or not?

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    Replies
    1. Firstly, all situations are unique and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. We are only given one example in Scripture and it is an extreme one at that, but the principles are clear. We don't fellowship with someone who claims to be a Christian and their life is characterized by sin. It clearly says not to associate with someone like that (1 Cor. 5:11), which would include meeting up as friends, etc... There are two reasons for this teaching: In order to limit their corrupting influence on the local church, and to push them toward repentance. Both of these reasons are reminders that if sin characterizes your life you are not part of the body of Christ.

      When it comes to immediate family things become a little more difficult; if not theologically, at least practically speaking. We are told in the Bible that our ties to the church are stronger than our ties to our own flesh and blood (Mark 3:35). In addition, there are times even in a family where someone is kicked out or there is separation due to detrimental behaviour, such as, abuse. But, the family is not the body of Christ and there is no association with one's salvation. I think this is the key distinction. In the same way we don't apply these principles to the world since it would be impossible to leave it, we also don't apply them to the family, not that there couldn't be a situation where it would make sense.

      The other thing to keep in mind when it comes to shunning someone is that a key characteristic of cults is what they do when someone leaves. Christians always need to keep in mind the holiness and love of God when they deal with situations.

      Anyway, those were some of my thoughts on your questions.

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