For anyone who has been placed under church discipline, especially to a level where they have been placed under restriction or removed from a church body a key question is if they will ever be restored. Is there a biblical process for this? Will God even allow it?
God’s heart is to provide opportunity for all to return to him, but there needs to be genuine repentance. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 So the question arises as to what is genuine repentance, how can leaders be certain that it is genuine, and what steps need to take place for restoration?
First church leaders need to reach a point of forgiveness and have an openness to restore the person fully if they do walk through genuine repentance. Repentance is not a one time demonstration of sorrow, but a process that begins with demonstrated attitude and actions on the part of the offender. If significant offenses occurred the offender must recognize that reconciliation is a process and it will take time and clearly demonstrated change. Restoration to a specific church body may not even be possible depending on the damage that has occurred, but restoration to the family of God should always be possible if genuine repentance and a willingness to undergo a restoration process is present.
Evidence of repentance includes:
- Acknowledgement of sin and accurate view of himself as a sinner. Accepts full responsibility for his actions. (1 John 1:5-22, James 4:7-10, Proverbs 28:13a, Luke 15:17)
- Ceasing all activity tied to that which he was disciplined for or at least seeking help to do this if there are life-long patterns. Communicates deep hatred for his sin (not a light attitude) and actively demonstrates an unreserved turn from it to Christ and his holiness. (Proverbs 28:13, Galatians 6:1, James 5:19-20, 1 Samuel 7:3)
- Makes a commitment to fix heart on God and honor commitment regardless of circumstances or discipline (1 Samuel 7:3)
- Does not conceal any further sinful behavior. (Proverbs 28:13)
- Demonstration of genuine sorrow, a genuine change of heart, and a real concern over the harm he has caused to the glory of God and to others (2 Cor 7:8-11, Psalm 51:17, 1 Samuel 7:2)
- Confession of sin for what it is. Does not have a defensive attitude. (1 John 1:9, 2 Cor 7:10)
- Seeks out forgiveness and restitution (Luke 19:1-10, Phil 18-19, Matthew 5:23-24)
- Submits to accountability from leaders and others. (Hebrews 13:17)
- Does not resent doubts about his sincerity. (Job 33:3, Romans 12:9, 1 Thess. 5:21, 1 John 3:24)
- Manifesting fruit of repentance (Matt 3:7-8, Luke 3:8-14, Galatians 5:22)
- Life begins to be characterized by service to God (or at least a desire for it if they are still restricted). Service is rendered to God not to others or self. (1 Samuel 7:3)
- Involvement of the entire church body (Galatians 6:1-2)
- Forgiveness by God and the church (Luke 17:1-4, Matt 18:21-35)
- Comfort and help by fellow believers (2 Cor. 2:8-11)
- Encouraging them to return to involvement with ministry (Luke 22:31-32)
Key considerations to make regarding the timing of starting the restoration process:
- The attitude of the offender
- The depth of the sin and betrayal and impact on the church
- The pattern of the offense (e.g. often repeated offense or life-long pattern)