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Friday, March 1, 2013

When the Church Disciplines

2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 (ESV) 14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

Most churches avoid disciplining their members. Any decision to discipline a member should be done with regret. It is needed when a member or members refuse to stop doing an action which hinders the mission of the church. The church's position in discipline is to withdraw fellowship until a commitment to repent and stop the hurtful action is made. The damage to the church may be of reputation, testimony of a Christian or an actual practice which draws on the resources of the church so that she can no longer function normally.

The goal of such discipline is to bring the recalitrant member back into the fellowship of the church. He has already left this fellowship when by acting in a way contrary to the mission of the church. The formal action of exclusion is made to punctuate what has happened by revealing it as an egregious action requiring an action by the church. Paul says that it should "shame" them. I have generally failed to see this whenever the church disciplined anyone.

The persons being disicplined generally react to the action of the church with a justification of what they have done. They appeal to the fact that they are human and that those within the church are no better than they. They generally remind people of the story of the woman caught in adultery and question how anyone at the church can throw a rock at them when there are no sinless people. They talk badly about the church and even gather a group of inmmature Christians who will agree with them on these points. They minimize what they have done. This is generally done by failiing to reveal all of their transgressions. They do not see the need to admit to everything. Then, when they have gathered support from others, they blame the church. The church is the great sinner by revealing and taking action on what they have done. They say, "I thought the church was supposed to be a place of forgivness." They fail to remember that it is also a place of confession and repentance. They separate themselves further from the church.

So, should the church stop disciplining the members so that it won't incur their wrath? Absolutely not! Remember, they have already withdrawn fellowship if they continue to do things against the mission of the church. The church loses nothing by administering discipline but seeks to gain their restored fellowship by taking action.

In fact, the word which has been translated "ashamed" has a deeper meaning. It means to "repent and reform." The purpose of this action is to bring them into the full fellowship of the church. This is done when the church takes the action it should in order to restore them. They are "admonished" as a brother (or sister) not as an enemy. Thus, they are treated with respect and love throughout the process. Yet, the church cannot simply accept any action by the members. She must hold to her standards.

This is not intended to the the "church police" which seeks out those who are breaking the church's laws and punishing each and every transgression. No, it is for those things which consistently work against the church's mission which will not be repented of when confronted by the body of the church. For example, it should not be used when an individual tells one lie but lives an otherwise truthful life but should be used when the person continually tells lies and will not stop when confronted. (I am using a somewhat ridiculous example to make this point. Please don't write me about pathological liars and the such.) The damage done to the reputation of the church and the lack of fellowship with the Lord and the church is the reason for the confrontation.

Will church discipline always work in bringing wayward members back into the flock? You already know that answer. Many times it does not but it does set a standard for the whole church. It is the only truly loving thing the church can do when someone is breaking the faith. It is and always should be painful for the church to act in discipline.

There is nothing I hate more than confronting someone about his sin. I always precede this confrontation with a confession of my own sins. I always ask God for His grace as I deal with them. I must know that I am not the one in the wrong before I speak to them. Sometimes I ask someone whom I consider godly to check my own motivation and action before I go. I know that what I am doing will have to be brought before the church if left unchecked. I pray that I will not need to do so. Most of the time I don't.

Unfortunately, the church must administer discipline.

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