Personal sins are those that occur individually or directly in relationship with one other person or a small group. A sin that the entire body of the church is aware of, or is impacting the name of the church in the community at large is referred to as a public or gross sin. These sins may need to be dealt with in a manner that is different than the personal sins.
What are public sins? There isn’t a distinct list in scripture, but it may include forsaking the church, causing discord or divisions, a crime that is listed in the newspaper or on TV/Radio, a public scandal, or some sin that is displayed publicly like appearing at a church function while drunk. A scriptural basis for public sins comes from 1 Timothy 5:20 “Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.”
According to http://www.graceonlinelibrary.org/articles/full.asp?id=25||42, “Public sins are handled in a different manner. A sin that is public and known by the whole church requires a public rebuke and repentance.4 The expression against you distinguishes between secret and open sins. John Calvin says: “For if any man shall offend against the whole Church, Paul enjoins that he be publicly reproved, so that even elders shall not be spared; for it is in reference to them that he expressly enjoins Timothy, to rebuke them publicly in the presence of all, and thus to make them a general example to others, (1 Tim v. 20). And certainly it would be absurd that he who has committed a public offense, so that the disgrace of it is generally known, should be admonished by individuals; for, if a thousand persons are aware of it, he ought to receive a thousand admonitions. The distinction, therefore, which Christ expressly lays down, ought to be kept in mind, that no man may bring disgrace upon his brother by rashly, and without necessity, divulging secret offenses.” There is a principle gathered from this passage regarding the extent to which the sins of other believers may be discussed with others who have not witnessed any sinful behavior. Unless a sin is of such a gross scandalous nature that makes it an inevitable public scandal (e.g., murder, civil crimes, etc.); then, if a sin is witnessed by a small circle of believers, these believers should deal with the problem privately and not spread the matter before the whole church. “The Bible indicates that a sin ought to be confessed as widely as the sin’s direct effects extend (cf. Matt. 18:15ff.).”. ”
When church discipline is addressing public sin there are some actions that need to be taken as the church, and some as individuals.The entire church needs to be informed that a brother has sinned and encourage him to repent (Matthew 18:17, 1 Thess 5:14). At this point mature and healthy believers need to seek to restore the sinner to right relationship (Galatians 6:1, James 5:19-20). It is not clearly defined how long a time period should exist between when a sin is identified and final actions are taken, but Titus 3:10 mentions two admonitions, and 1 Corinthians 5:6-7 warns us to move swiftly so the sin does not infect others.
If a sinner does not immediately respond to the identification of their sin and repent they should be publicly identified as walking in a disorderly and unfaithful manner (2 Thess 3:14, Romans 16:17). If the sinner does not repent then the church as a whole needs to withdraw from them in an effort to move them toward repentance (2 Thess 3:6, Galatians 2:12, Matthew 18:17, 1 Corinthians 5:4-13). This means there should be no social interaction, fellowship, companionship, etc. with the individual. It is important though that contact is not totally removed from the sinner and he is not discarded as an enemy (2 Thessalonians 3:15). There should continue to be purposeful contact with them in an effort to get them to repent.
Addressing sin is not an easy task, but if done correctly it brings life, unity, and an even stronger bond of fellowship to a community. It is important that it is an action taken by and walked out by all involved though. It is not just a decision that should be made by the pastors and elders as I will address in a future post.