This past Lordís Day I presented a lesson on one of the most divisive issues in the church today. I addressed the issue of church discipline. As I stated last week as I begin that lesson, I am intimately aware of how it can be done wrong, and I am hopeful that I witnessed an eldership do it the right way. Because of the nature of the lesson, and the fact I was so squeezed for time, I did not get to talk about everything I wanted to address in that lesson.
Handling church discipline incorrectly has numerous ramifications that need to be considered. Yes, there are commands and examples that deal with marking, avoiding, withdrawing from certain persons. Regretfully, I have seen with my own eyes too frequently the letter of the law (supposedly) being done while the heart of the law, the purpose of the law, was completely ignored. When this happens, we have done more than just broke a commandment.
We can push a person even further from God. This is what I witnessed with my own eyes on more than one occasion. I know of a young man I grew up with that ceased gathering with the saints. Years after his last time in the building, the church finally decided to withdraw from him. They mailed him a letter letting him no their intentions. His sister called me and talked to me about all that had happened. She told me that his reply to the letter was, ďHad they come and talk to me years ago, I might have cared.Ē (I personally believe the church made several mistakes here. They never contacted the person, they just jumped to withdrawing from him. They didnít knock on his door and talk with him (his immediately family did, but it needs to be more than that). These mistakes caused this man to turn his back on God. When it comes time to exercise church discipline (whether we are initially approaching the person or we are moving towards the last step of withdrawing from a person) let us take great care that our actions donít hinder the person from coming to God.
We can push a person even further from the church. While I realize that the church is not who/what we are to convert/restore a person to, we do need to remember that the church is the body of Christ. If we are not careful, our actions can cause a person to turn their back on the church (while still believing that they can have a relationship with God at home). My own father was withdrawn from based upon the testimony of one person who lied about what my Dad had done. My father hadnít met the man until he was withdrawn from. My father was so hurt by these actions that it took 20 years before he was restored unto God and the affects of those actions still impact him today (nearly 40 years after it started). The mishandling of this situation caused my Dad to turn on the church, not God. For years I had/have sit and listed to Christians who refuse to gather with the saints proclaim that they can have a relationship with God at home. I suppose I have to say they do have a relationship. But a broken relationship is not the kind God is looking for us to have with him.
We can damage our effectiveness of evangelism in our communities. In Acts 5 we can see how the church grew as a result of the disciplining of Ananias and Sapphira. But, if mishandled the opposite ends up being true. I know of a situation where the spirit of the Law was ignored. Instead of reaching out to a sister in Christ that was going through some very difficult times (that regretfully led to her sinful behavior) the church withdrew from her. In the hour that she needed compassion, she received none. Those that new her and new of the situation couldnít understand why the church told her that she wasnít welcome in their homes. They further complicated the issue by not explaining to her what withdrawing meant. She assumed that she was no longer welcome to come to services. Her friends and some of her family wanted nothing to do with that church. I donít know if her family and friends ever would have obeyed the gospel. What I do know is that as it stands right now, they havenít because they believe that church is a godless, compassionless church.
We also need to realize that our effectiveness of evangelism is impacted if we continue to let sin go on without saying anything. We are not in the business of filling pews and church bank accounts. We are in the business of saving souls.
Grinnell church of Christ
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The Dangers of Mishandling Church Discipline
Volume 7 Issue 23