It is nearly two years ago that the ministerial began to look at Scripture to examine the matter of church discipline. It seems that the history of this church includes a time when discipline was exercised very rigorously. For some reason, it has not been exercised for a number of years. Something seemed wrong with this scenario and we felt, as a ministerial, that we needed to address it. After a year of studying scripture and praying about this matter and meeting with the other region 6 churches, we began to develop a discipline policy. At a members meeting on September 19, 2002 we accepted the church discipline procedure. You will find a copy of it in your bulletin.
Why all this focus on discipline? It seems so negative. The idea of discipline conjures up images of excommunication, rejection, shunning, long and difficult church meetings. Why would we even want to mention something like this?
I would like to think with you Biblically about this matter this morning. I hope that some of the negative images can be set aside and that we can see what is important in God’s eyes.
I. Why do I have a right to speak to you about your life?
To begin with, I would like to talk about why we have a right or a need to speak to each other about sin. We live in a world in which “live and let live” is the normal way. If someone accuses us of some wrong doing, we have a sense that it is none of their business. As people who have been taught to love each other, it is very difficult for us to speak in a way that might hurt another. It seems so foreign to us to say to someone else, “what you are doing is a sin.” It usually seems much easier to ignore it. Why do I put myself and you through the pain of talking about discipline?
A. We Are All On A Journey
I once went on a trip with a friend. He was hauling a grain dryer from Illinois to Manitoba and I went along to keep him company. One night we stopped at a huge truck stop, probably one of the largest in the country. Our motel was at one end of the truck parking lot and the restaurant at the other. We drove to the restaurant after checking in and had supper. I suggested that I would walk back to the hotel through the truck parking lot, just to stretch my legs. My friend wouldn’t let me do that. He warned me about what can happen in such places, he told me stories of the dangers that are sometimes there and he told me I was coming with him in the truck. I appreciated his warning. I don’t know if it is as bad as he said, but he was sure it was and was simply trying to protect me from danger.
As Christians, we are on a journey. None of us has arrived at the destination yet. On the way, there is great danger. Sin is present and seeking to destroy us. I John 1:8 reminds us that, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." The Bible further teaches us that sin is destructive. Romans 6:23 says, "For the wages of sin is death..." and Colossians 3:5,6 warns us: "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, "Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.”
The reason we need to warn each other about sin is because none of us is immune to sin and it is terribly destructive. Like my friend who was warning me in order to protect me, we need to warn each other in order to protect each other from the destructive, death dealing dangers of sin.
B. We Are Members Of One Another
But why should we be concerned about each other? We live in a society which is very individualistic. In fact, to some degree the Bible teaches us the same thing. Galatians 6:5 teaches that each person should bear his own burden. If that is true, why should we meddle in another’s life? Why be concerned if another person is destroying themselves? Why not just let them go their own way and hope that God will guide them? Why become involved if they are capable of making their own decisions and it seems difficult to influence them?
Bearing our own burdens is an important thought in that we need to take responsibility for our own life, but the Bible is very clear that we have responsibility for each other.
Ephesians 5:30 is one of many verses that tells us that we are all members of one body. As members of the one body, which is the body of Christ, we are in essence members of one another. We all belong to each another and are intimately connected to one another as members of Christ’s body. Because we have such a connection and such a love for one another, we are called to care for one another’s spiritual life.
So we learn from the Bible that when a brother sins, we should help them understand their sin and move away from it. James 5:19 says, “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back; remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” Galatians 6:1 also says, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently…” This tells us that we must love each other enough to warn each other about sin.
Another way to look at this is to realize that we have a covenant with each other as members of Christ’s church and so need to watch over each other. If you are involved in sin, I am in such a love relationship with you that I would hate to see you destroy yourself and so it is my duty to speak to you and your duty to speak to me about sin.
C. We Are A Holy Church
Another reason why we need to speak to each other about sin is because of the body of Christ. Not only does being members of one another mean that we are concerned about each other individually, by we are also concerned about the church, the body of Christ. He has called us to be a holy people who will walk with him and bring glory to him. I Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” God has set his people apart so that there is a difference between those who follow Him and those who do not. Righteousness and holiness must mark those who follow Christ and the church of Christ must be recognized as different from the rest of the world.
Any sin in the body of Christ reflects negatively on the Lord who has died to save us. Galatians 5:9 warns us that "“A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.”" If we don’t deal with that little yeast, sin multiplies and soon the body of Christ, which is intended to be a glorious representation of its holy head, is compromised.
II. How do we speak to each other when sin is involved?
I doubt if we would disagree with these thoughts and I hope we see just how important such loving concern is. That is what it really is, loving concern for each other. But that does not make it easy, so lets think about how we can do such a thing effectively.
A. Participate With God
One of the things that is most powerful is to realize that we exercise this concern recognizing that God is much more concerned about the spiritual life of our brother or sister than we are. We recognize that God is greatly involved in the life of each individual. It is freeing to understand that our involvement is not the beginning and the end of what can happen in that person’s life.
Just look at the ways in which God is involved in our lives. John 15:1,2 tells us, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." What is God doing in each of our lives? He is cutting off what does not bear fruit and he is pruning all fruit bearing branches so that they will be more fruitful. This is not our work in each other, this is God’s work in each one of us. Do you think that God does not care or is not active? He is very involved!
That allows us to work with God and to recognize that we are His partners. It allows us to let Him take the lead and it allows us to let go when that is the right thing to do and know that something is still happening. As we enter into each other’s lives in the matter of discipline, we need to do so with this understanding solidly in place. We are not God, we are His helpers and must be faithful in doing our part.
B. Confront Sin
Furthermore, when we begin to enter into another person’s life, let us also recognize that it is very tempting to approach people on what we think is sin, but is really only a man made principle. In the gospels, Jesus was particularly hard on the legalism of the Pharisees and accused them of enforcing rules which were not the Word of God, but rules made by men. In Matthew 15:9 Jesus said, "They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”
When we confront someone we need to make sure that we are confronting that which is sin, that which will truly destroy them according to God’s thinking. The church has at times had long lists of rules which it expected its members to follow. It has sometimes destroyed lives by enforcing those rules through church discipline, not realizing that they were not the Word of God.
When we confront someone, we also need to make sure that the other person has indeed been involved in the sin which we are confronting them about. In any community and even in Christian communities, rumors get started and someone is labeled and confronted when in fact they did not do anything wrong. We need to remember that gossip and starting rumors is also a sin and that approaching someone because of a rumor is not loving confrontation. We need to know it is a sin and that the person has been involved in it. That is not to say that we can’t ask concerned questions, but we need to be very careful about making unsubstantiated and wrongful accusations.
C. With Humility
I am very embarrassed about a time when I was just out of high school. I was asked to take a new believer to buy some cigarettes. I was judgemental and refused to do it because I expected him to change and get rid of the habit right away. If I think back now about all the times I sinned back then and since, I am truly sorry that I was so judgemental in my attitude to him.
Sometimes we treat each other as if we have already arrived, but we have not. All of us are on a journey. Therefore, when we talk to each other about sin, we need to be careful to do so in a way that lets them know that we are simply fellow travelers who could fall into sin just as easily. That is why Jesus said in Matthew 7:1-5, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
Galatians 6:1 teaches a similar thing when it says, “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.” We are all susceptible and need to watch ourselves at all times, including the way in which we love each other in the matter of accountability. This calls for great humility.
D. With Loving Concern
Although there are a number of passages which warn about the serious danger of not confronting sin and as we have already seen, there is a strong need to do so, yet the Bible is also quite clear that we must do so with a loving concern. This involves several important ideas.
It means that when sin in someone comes to our attention, we need to confront them and not talk about it to everyone else first. This prevents gossip and misinformation and slander.
As we confront, we need to do so with gentleness. In the very passage in II Thessalonians 3:14,15 which warns, “do not associate with him” we also have the words, “but warn him as a brother.” The attitude by which we confront is from the point of view of one who is in a close relationship, one which we do not want to destroy. In Galatians 6:1 we are told to “restore him gently.” Once again, we see that loving confrontation involves not an angry disposition or a confrontational attitude, but rather one of gentleness.
In II Corinthians 2:5-11 Paul talks about the importance gentleness and forgiveness and reinforces the importance of this by ending the section warning that if we are not forgiving and gentle, we become subject to Satan’s schemes to destroy.
Furthermore, we also find in Scripture that confronting someone in sin must always have the purpose of restoration in mind. We are not the ones who punish wrong. In every case of discipline mentioned in Scripture, even in the very strong language of I Corinthians 5 in which the church is told to hand the man over to Satan, punishment is not the intent, restoration is the intent. James 5:19 says, "My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back," Once again we see that bringing back is the purpose of this. The question we must always ask is, how can we bring this person back in the most effective way possible.
Loving concern also means that we be patient with people and walk with them while they struggle with sin. Some sins are addictive and people really don’t want them in their lives, but they are caught. Victory comes through struggle and if we condemn them while they struggle, we will not help them come to victory. Rather, we need to realize that some people will take a long time to overcome some sins. How can we walk with them and be patient with them, holding them accountable, loving them and nudging them on toward victory?
III. How do we receive correction?
We were once involved in a situation where a person was living with his girlfriend. One of the deacons and I met with the young man and suggested that it was not a good idea for a Christian to do so. We tried to be gentle and appeal to him, but our correction was not well received. He became angry with us and left the church. His grandmother wondered why we were meddling in his life. How do you respond when you are confronted with sin?
It is a sign of good spiritual health to be able to recognize when we sin and to admit our sin and to be willing to correct our sin. Listen to the words of Proverbs 9:7-9 “Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult; whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse. Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you. Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.”
How will we respond when we are corrected. Are we wise or foolish?
IV. The Discipline Procedure
I hope that these words have helped us see some of the essentials of what God’s Word teaches. The discipline procedure we have passed addresses many of these concerns. I would like to take a little time to look at the policy so please take a look at it.
A. It In Involves All Of Us
Some of you may wonder why I have chosen to preach about this. Perhaps you think, “Good, I’m glad we have a discipline policy, now the ministerial can deal with all the sinners in our church.”
That is not the way it is. In fact, the reason why I am preaching about this today is because it involves every one of us. You will notice in the discipline policy under “A. Discipline Procedure, 1. Individual Involvement” that every person in the church has a responsibility to become involved. In fact, I would say that this is the most important level of discipline and that 90% or more of all discipline will happen as you love each other enough to confront each other. If the ministerial never gets involved and each member confronts those he or she knows with loving concern that would be ideal. That is why it is so important that this become something we all own and agree with. If we follow the guidelines we have looked at today, and lovingly care for each other, then I believe God will bless our church and we will become more and more a holy church.
So the first thing I want to point out from the policy is that this is not a job of the pastor or the ministerial, it is the job of every person in the church. Leadership will be involved as needed, but it begins with all of us.
As I have said, it begins with all of us, but there are times when according to Matthew 18:15-20, other levels of involvement will come in. Sometimes, a few people will need to go to make sure that right procedure is followed and that this concern is not an isolated beef, but a genuine concern for the individual involved.
When the church becomes involved, that is another level and that involvement will happen through a discipline council which will take each case on its own to try to make sure that discipline is done well.
B. It Seeks To Be Restorative
I also want to point out that the discipline policy seeks to be restorative. Let me point out several phrases which gives that assurance to anyone who may be confronted by an individual or by the discipline council.
We see that restorative perspective in the Biblical background which precedes it. We see it in the statement in the goal which says, “Since it is the goal to help people walk with the Lord, it would also be the duty of the council to suggest a restoration procedure and to help the person who returns to the Lord experience forgiveness.”
We do not want to get into a judgemental way of doing this. We want to assure everyone that we have a loving concern for them and want only to see them walk in the path of life not death.
C. It Seeks To Be Understanding
Furthermore, I also want to let you know that the discipline procedure works from the perspective of understand that each situation is unique. My hope is that people will never be dealt with as a group, but that each individual situation will be handled as such.
We see such principles in the policy in several statements. We read in the part of the “Discipline council.” “We must recognize that in dealing with erring members as a church, each individual case is unique and therefore no one formula of discipline suits all situations. It is advisable to form a discipline council that will respond to and deal with each given situation. The discipline council will try to discern how each individual can be best helped to return to the Lord.” Sometimes that will require a conversation, sometimes, more severe measure and always patience. Therefore, let us be careful not to criticize the discipline council because they are trying to answer each situation in the most appropriate way.
We also see this concern addressed in the next part, “This council would be different for each individual case and would be made up of two parts. One part would be a few individuals from within the leadership of the church ("you who are spiritual" Galatians 6: 1 ). The second part would be individuals who are concerned for, and already have some form of a relationship with the individual in question. This assures that sin is confronted, but that there is an advocate for the one who is confronted. Thereby we maintain loving concern for each unique situation.
Look at the people sitting around you. Look at those who are two benches in front of you. Look at those who are sitting across the aisle from you. Do you love them? If one of these people you are looking at was involved in sin, do you love them enough to realize the destructive nature of their way of living and do you love them enough to speak to them about this sin? That is what this question is really all about. We have gone through an extensive exercise to discern what God wants us to do and this policy represents God’s truth to us in practice, but the question is, will we practice it?