(Note: This is written in first person by me as the pastor, but it represents the heart and belief of the entire leadership team.)
In case anyone is not aware, this meeting is about XXXX’s decision to divorce YYYY and the church’s response to that.
First let me apologize for reading this from a statement. I know this makes it makes this seem very business and legal like, rather than family and community. But I simply cannot trust myself to speak without it.
There are too many important things to be said. I had hoped to keep my statement much shorter, bur as I realized how much misunderstanding and ignorance there is about church discipline, I saw that I need to teach as well as address this situation.
Please believe me when I say this whole process of discipline has broken my heart. This is without exception the hardest thing I have ever had to do in ministry. Several weeks ago, Micah, Peter, and I meet with XXXX one last time to try to persuade him to repent from this sin, and then had to expel XXXX when he refused. As soon as he left, I sobbed, something I have not since 6th grade.
I do not want to be here, I do not want to be doing this. The only person less excited about this whole thing is XXXX. I never dreamed in a 1,000 years that I would be expelling my one of my best friend from my church. But in the end I must obey my Lord, I must fear God, not man.
The purpose of this meeting is NOT to publically humiliate XXXX, but 1) obey Scripture and 2) to clearly inform you about what the church is doing and why, so that we can work together as a church. I have learned from experience that “through the grape vine” communication will in the end be far more destructive than a meeting.
In our membership covenant, one of the statements members agree to is:
I understand that living in community involves living in accountability and submission to each other, and I agree to submit myself to church discipline, through the elders, should I refuse to live in a God-honoring manner. If I continue to live in ongoing, unrepentant sin, it will be their responsibility to remove me from the church both in hopes of encouraging my repentance and in order to protect the church.
Then the Elders’ part includes:
The elders commit to protecting the flock from dangers both inside and out, guarding against both false teachings and unrepentant immorality that threatens church.
In effect, when you become a member, you are asking us to make a promise to not let you get away with “ongoing, unrepentant sin.” The key point is “ongoing, unrepentant sin,” not failing but refusing to repenting; I will talk more about that shortly.
This is something that XXXX and I and many of you have signed. This is not a process that we inflict on anyone who walks into the church, but is part of being a committed community that cares for each other.
But why kick someone out of the church even when they are in “unrepentant sin”? Isn’t that judgmental and condemning? Isn’t it unlike Jesus? Doesn’t this cut off of the ties that person need to be able to repent?
We do it because this is what Jesus himself told us to do:
Matthew 18:15-17 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Notice the process: First individually, then with 2-3, then tell the entire church. The hope is to keep it as small as possible. At every level there is an opportunity to repent and be restored and the whole thing will be dropped.
We the leaders believe that XXXX’s decision to leave YYYY is a sin against her, against their children, not to mention all the other people affected by it. We want to be very clear that divorce is not the core issue; we don’t kick people out of the church for divorce. We have walked people through healing from divorce on many occasions.
The issue is the refusal to do what he knows God commands. He has told us that he is not even willing to ask God to make him willing to save this marriage. In our minds, that is more than giving up on a marriage, it is hardening his heart against God and his Word.
Perhaps XXXX would say that he tried his hardest but just couldn’t do it. We firmly believe the evidence says otherwise. We believe that he given up and is pursuing what he wants over what is right.
We also believe that in the end this decision will bring him, his family, and his friends far more misery than his marriage ever did. It is in hopes of diverting that disaster that we are addressing his sin rather than simply ignoring it and accepting him. Now we have to “tell it to the church.”
So this is where things stand: We have gone to XXXX, but he refuses to listen. For that reason, it is with heavy hearts that we have asked XXXX to leave the church, in keeping with Scripture and our Membership Covenant.
There are two goals that Scripture gives us:
1. To protect the church from the affects of his sin and any attempt on his part to minimize or justify it:
(Galatians 6:1) Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.
This becomes even more important because of XXXX’s role in the church. While XXXX did resign his eldership over six months ago, that does not magically erase the influence and authority he held and holds; he continues to hold a lot of influence with the people of this church. This is why Scripture says:
(1 Timothy 5:19-20) Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.
We cannot have the people of the church thinking that XXXX’s disobedience is in any way acceptable: We are not just accountable for XXXX; we stand responsible before God for each person who is a part of this church. I hold that responsibility with fear and trembling.
Let me take this moment to be say that this sin does not invalidate or nullify everything God has done through XXXX. He has spoken into many of our lives, mine more than anyone else, and we remain grateful to him for that. XXXX was a core part of the church and without his help we would not be where we are now. I will always be indescribably grateful for his work here.
2. To show him in the strongest possible terms the severity of his sin and call him to repentance. Our goal and desire is forgiveness and restoration.
I know that seems very strange that we would kick him out in hopes of restoring him back in. Indeed, I would guess that right now XXXX would say that this is making restoration impossible and he will never come back, even if he does repent. But we have run out of options; this is all we have left.
I understand the prophets better now than I ever have: God spoke through them in hopes bringing them to repentance. His messages became more and more frantic as he tries to get them their attention and get them to repent. He had Hosea marry a prostitute; Ezekiel has to walk around naked. Finally, he is all out of options and is forced to kick them out of their homeland, to exile them. But even that was in hopes of seeing them repent and restored, which did happen for Judah, but not Israel.
XXXX can stop this at any point if he will only stop, repent, re-submit himself to God and work on restoring this marriage. Repentance does not mean perfection, but it means truly re-submitting to Jesus as Lord.
We long to show forgiveness and grace, but repentance must come first. Without repentance, grace is not grace, it is enabling. Let me repeat that: If we were to show grace and simply say, “That’s too bad,” we would be enabling XXXX’s sin. We are a church of grace, but we are not enablers.
The passage goes on to say that we should “treat him as a tax collector or pagan.” What does that mean for those of us who are personal friends with XXXX?
Remember, Jesus spent time with the tax collectors and showed love, even as he called them to repentance. It’s difficult to know how that will work out, but this is encouragement:
1. Be cautious in your friendship with him lest you communicate that what he is doing is in any way acceptable and lest you be persuade it is acceptable.
2. Continue to call him to repentance, with a “spirit of gentleness” as it says in Galatians.
As I close, I want to strongly encourage you that if you have any questions about this, please speak to the leadership directly, rather than stirring up gossip. The enemy would love to see as much damage as possible result from XXXX’s sin, but God wants to see the most possible good happen. How the church responds from this point forward will determine which one happens.
I ask that you continue to pray that God restore this marriage, bring XXXX to repentance, and help YYYY and the boys heal.
Finally, I have to ask what I have learned about protecting our marriages as a result of all this: I strongly encourage you to examine your marriage. If you are miserable in your marriage, come and talk to us so we can partner with you. Every one of us is capable of being so miserable that we no longer care about what it right and only care about relief (though that is not an excuse). Don’t let it get there.
XXXX has asked for the opportunity to make a statement. After that we will answer whatever questions we can.