We are continuing our look at the importance of church discipline in the one-to-one ministry of believers and in the larger context of the Church. It is very important that we understand this aspect of our faith in light of its true, biblical meaning.
We are using the story of a fictional woman named Pat who has developed a long distance relationship with an unbeliever named Dan. Pat’s friend has confronted her several times and has been ignored or dismissed by Pat. Despite her friend’s pleadings and Scriptural admonitions, Pat continues to involve herself with this man in deeper and deeper ways.
In response to her refusal to listen, Jean has brought in the counsel of a few other godly women who have also confronted Pat in love and truth. Together, they have taught, rebuked, corrected, and attempted to train Pat in righteousness. Pat has refused the women at every turn and maintains that she is a Christian, that she loves God, and that God wants her to be happy. She also maintains that she is not acting out of rebellion. She just doesn’t see the Scriptures the same way as the women. She agrees that the Bible is true, but she does not agree with your interpretation of it.
Despite her rebuttals and refusals to listen, Jean and the other women persist in their attempts to get Pat to understand that what she is doing is sinful. It is wise for the women to do this until they reach a point where they are confident they can do no further good. They have done it all and have said it all. Pat has begun to avoid all of the women because she simply does not want to hear it anymore. Their relationships are strained and the women fear it is damaged beyond repair.
Yet, they know that Pat’s ongoing sin is revealing dangerous attitudes of her heart that cannot be ignored! As a group, they inform Pat that if she does not repent and break off the relationship, they will have to take the issue to the leadership of the church for them to deal with.
If in the course of time after being confronted and admonished by the leadership of the church, a person still refuses to repent, they will be put out of the church and considered an unbeliever. This is not as a form of punishment, but it is in hopes the person will repent and return to God. The purpose of all discipline is restoration and reconciliation.
This is the most loving thing we can do as Christians, to hold one another accountable in Christ. This might be easy to understand in the context of a Church, but what happens when the situation is with a family member? How can we “put out” a blood relative who is deep in sin and yet believes they are not? What do we do with them and for them?
The process of turning someone over is frightening and painful. Our goal in the conflict remains repentance for the sinner, reconciliation with God and man, and restoration to the fellowship of the church and the family.
But sometimes loved ones refuse to cooperate which results in putting their relationship to the church and to us in danger. We have to love them enough to see it through. We are family, and we are family of God, and I believe that family of God has to take precedence over earthly family. No less than 13 times in the New Testament are we told to love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, which is our enduring relationship. We must continue to press on out of love for the person and reverence for Christ.
So often out of fear of man, family members stop exhorting, stop warning, stop urging their loved ones to repent. They set aside the heavenly view (this person is in grave danger!) and take the short view operating out of the fear that they won’t be liked or accepted anymore. It’s true that you may be disliked by others, and you might get opposition from unbelievers who approve of the sin being committed. In these moments, keep in mind the truth of Romans 1:28-32. They are darkened in their understanding.
Continue to urge repentance until you are confident it will do no good. Enlist the help of other believing family members, if you can, and prayer from those you trust. More than likely the difficulty only continues to grow.