First, the best perspective…
Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself,
lest thou also be tempted. – Galatians 6:1
NOTE: Today’s blog entry is part three of a four part series on the
topic of forgiveness. Part one (Asking Forgiveness) was posted on Thursday, January 29. Part two (Giving Forgiveness) was posted on Monday, February 2, and part four (God’s Forgiveness) is planned for Monday, February 9.
NOTE 2: This blog entry is particularly written for those who are committed to a local church. A number of people who read this blog do not necessarily share this commitment and as a result, might have serious questions about the concept of church discipline. If this does concern you, then as you read, keep in mind that standards in society and within many local churches are sometimes different. What I hope to convey in this column is my belief that forgiveness and restoration should always be the focus in the midst of these occasional issues – all within the context of a loving and helpful relationship that should exist between people and the church where they attend and serve…
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a Sunday morning church service some distance from home. I truly felt blessed to be in attendance and there were the usual elements of a carefully planned worship service. The music was excellent and led the people into the presence of God, there were a few announcements, and the requisite presentation of tithes and offerings. Then a brief pause… something that I quickly sensed was unusual for this particular local church. The pastor stepped down from the platform and stood directly in front of the front row of seats. Then, a young woman arose, walked forward, and stood next to the pastor, who took her hand in his and then began to speak.
I cannot recall the pastor’s exact words, but he spoke with clarity and gentleness of heart as he informed the church that the young woman beside him was pregnant, yet unmarried. He briefly described how this came to be. The young woman’s fiance was serving in the Middle East and had recently been home on leave. The two of them had fallen in a moment of weakness and pregnancy was the result. He also let the church family know that the couple planned to be married as soon as the fiance returned home.
The young woman was very quiet, yet I could plainly hear sniffles and see that she was crying. The pastor continued, explaining that in view of the circumstances, she would be temporarily relieved of her ministry responsibilities – music and children’s ministry – while undergoing counseling to help her through the challenging days ahead. By that time, the young man was back on duty in the Middle East, but when he returned, he would be subject to the same ministry limitations and would join his wife-to-be in counseling.
The pastor closed these few moments by stating that he was her pastor and that he was standing with her, all while continuing to hold her hand. It was a touching scene that set the correct tone for the church family and this obviously broken young woman. Later- after the service – I took note of the many people who visited with her, offering encouragement, hope, and support.
The Bible speaks about the need to discipline those who are members of His church, and for the erring brother or sister who will not turn from their wrongful deeds, the consequences should be serious:
But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or
a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one, no, not to eat.
– I Corinthians 5:11
However, when the erring brother or sister repents of their sin and seeks forgiveness of God and the church family, forgiveness and restoration are expected. Otherwise, the repentant one will be heavily burdened with a load they were never intended to carry…
So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.
– II Corinthians 2:7, 8
The goal in church discipline is restoration of the one who has fallen. Yes, there is the issue of purity within the church and this is why it is necessary to initiate discipline, but we do a tremendous disservice by acting in a harsh and judgmental manner, which is harmful to the one being disciplined and harmful to the church. Poorly handled discipline dishonors the Lord, as His desire is to see repentance of the erring one, followed by forgiveness and restoration. If God is willing to forgive, then certainly we should be willing to do the same!
Over my many years of being a believer, I have seen and heard of a few instances of church discipline that were handled poorly. On these occasions, it seemed as though church leaders were more interested in simply getting rid of the problem, rather than diligently working through loving steps that could have led to the restoration of the one(s) who had erred. If the only goal, or the primary concern is to protect the church and its reputation, then the process of discipline falls far short of God’s good intentions.
What a shame and blot on the life of a local church when a Christian repents of a wrong, is forgiven by God, but is unforgiven and even rejected by his or her brethren within the church. When this happens, it is a grave mistake in judgment that lacks charity, and is dishonoring to the Lord, while damaging the mission of His church.
Instead, when an errant brother or sister repents from their sin and is in turn forgiven and then restored to full fellowship in the church, this should lead to a spirit of thankfulness. This type of experience should also lead to new levels of personal growth among the members of the church, a strengthening of the bonds of brother and sisterhood, and a renewed vigilance regarding sin within the body of believers.
There are other aspects of church discipline, but entire books have been written on the subject. It’s too deep to address every question in an article such as this, so for today, the above thoughts will need to suffice, keeping in mind the following:
And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. – I Peter 4:8