Sunday, February 28, 2010

Restoring the Family

For many who live in our not-my-fault modern world, the concept of brotherly and sisterly confrontation, and eventual church discipline, seems foreign.  With Christians who grew up in a church context that did not practice discipline, or for nonbelievers who may stumble upon a web post like this, the idea may sound harsh or unloving.  To the contrary, it is a loving and gracious component of what Christ intends for His church.  Ultimately, the idea is to restore those church family members who have wandered away.

With this post I do not intend to write an essay, as it would be lengthy and I prefer not to turn off anyone due to post length alone.  So what follows, in outline form, are the some of the Scriptures and process showing why and how we practice what we do, in a loving way, for the glory of God and the good of His people through the almost lost virtue of church discipline.

Restorative confrontation and church discipline has never been an easy task, and therefore many leaders and congregations have abandoned the practice.  However, God has commanded the discipline for clear reasons and has told us how to do it.

1. Biblical reasons for church discipline

A. For the righteousness of the church

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.  Philippians 1.9-11 (NASB)

B. For the restoration of the congregation

Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness…  Galatians 6.1 (NASB)

C. For the reputation in the community

- God's name/reputation is at stake

I am writing…so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth [in the larger community].  1 Timothy 3.14-15 (NASB)

I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers?  1 Corinthians 6.5-6 (NASB)

2. Biblical model for church discipline

Stage 1: Private confrontation

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  Matthew 18.15 (NASB)

Stage 2: Pastoral and personal contacts

But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.  Matthew 18.16 (NASB)

The Lord’s bond-servant [in context, speaking of church leaders] must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.  2 Timothy 2.24-26 (NASB)

Stage 3: Public challenge

- Publicly within a closed church meeting

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector [i.e., as a nonbeliever].  Matthew 18.17 (NASB)

3. Possible results of church discipline

A. The individual repents and is restored with the congregation

Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.  Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.  2 Corinthians 2.6-8 (NASB)

B. The individual refuses and is removed from the congregation

…faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme.  1 Timothy 1.19-20 (NASB)

Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.  Titus 3.10-11 (NASB)

In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.  1 Corinthians 5.4-5 (NASB)

Even when the offending individual must be excluded from the church, the ultimate purpose for excluding him or her is always for repentance, reconciliation and restoration—for the glory of God and the good of the individual and congregation.