One of the really important aspects of dealing with church discipline is realizing that everything that is done is seen and evaluated by others. Not only will those within the local church body know about the decision (if it goes to stage two or beyond), but very likely things will be shared with family, friends, co-workers, etc. that are outside of the church. These other people could come from a variety of perspectives including attending a different church that doesn’t believe in practicing church discipline, or they might not be Christians at all. The way the church discipline is handled not only reflects on that local church, but on all of the body of Christ. We need to walk carefully!
I talked with some Jewish friends this week and shared about the church discipline that had been performed at my church. They did not understand why leaders would ever take such actions and why they would be so personally involved in people’s lives. It lead to an interesting but difficult conversation. Explaining that a small group of elders has the right to examine others lives and exercise authority and protection of a local church family is not something that is easily understood by others. It also is not something that most non-Christians are going to be drawn toward in Christianity? Would you want to join an organization where you immediately place yourself under the “judgement” of others?
“We take all that God does for us for granted. We are spoiled acting like we have some sort of entitlement. So we reduce God’s message to telling everyone that they are going to Hell and need a Savior. But the truth is people are hurting, dying, incomplete and disillusioned. They would do anything to learn about a God that is real. Sure, we must share the saving message of the gospel, but if we are going to win a generation then they also need to know about all the great things God is doing.” (http://devog.wordpress.com/2009/06/12/god-of-wonders/)
The gospel is good news, we need to be sure that we are not making it look like something else because of our religion and legalism. The goal of discipline needs to be to share God’s good news, bring the sinner’s heart and life back to God, and teach them that life with God is better than life without. If all we share with the sinner is that they are a sinner and are living under condemnation, rejection, punishment, and harsh critical analysis then the sinner will not be drawn back to God’s love. If we have to go to the step of separating them from the body of Christ this should be something that will drive them to feel ashamed, lost, and alone due to their sin, but instead it could be relief to be away from the hypocrisy and judgment of believers if we have been acting out of religion, legalism, and condemnation. What a horrible testimony before God if a sinner finds the world and non-believers are more loving, caring, accepting, and full of grace than the church!
Here are some questions we might want to ask before we act:
- Why am I addressing this issue?
- What is the cause of the issue? Am I sure that is the root cause and not a symptom of something else?
- Could this just be a personality or gender issue that could be resolved by having someone else involved?
- Is my heart right in addressing this issue?
- Are my actions loving? Would they be seen as loving by other leaders? the sinner? friends/family of the sinner? others churches? non-Christians?
- Have I done all I can to encourage, support, strengthen, sharpen, and guide the sinner?
- If I take these actions am I willing to stand before God and give account for my actions?
- Have I allowed room for this person to repent and be restored?
- Am I doing what is best for the sinner and the body of Christ jointly?