The issue of Excommunication
James 3:1-2 (NKJV) My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.
I have to take my role seriously. I am accountable not only to my own pastors, but to God. One day I will have to give an account about how I managed HIS church – HIS people. That scares me. Every day that passes is a day closer to my encounter with Him.
So everything a pastor does should be processed through this lens. The way we treat God’s people is no light matter. Its Holy ground. In order for us to be a good stewards, we sometimes have to make difficult decisions, and this isn’t always received in the spirit intended. Church discipline is one of those very sensitive issues.
One of the most difficult and painful things to do as a pastor is deal with issues of sin, particularly when it comes to putting out people you love dearly. Every church has standards and governance, order of services, ministries and practices that people accept although they are not explicitly outlined in the bible (for example the Bible does not say “Thou shall meet at 10am every Sunday and sings three songs before announcements”).
Not everyone will agree. The Baptists don’t all agree that the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues is for today, the Calvinists’ believe that once you’re saved your always saved whilst Pentecostals believe you can lose your salvation. Other denominations believe their women should wear hats in church and others debate if female pastors are acceptable.
We are not all perfect and you will find flaws wherever you go…especially if you are looking for them. However, there must be a coherent reason why you do what you do. There are large passage of scripture to read and study, so here is a list of reasons why we as a fellowship believe in church discipline:
Read Levitcus 18
From this text we learn the following:
- Sexual sin defiles people and their environment
- Sexual sin invites the judgement of God
- Sexual sin is a matter of obedience or disobedience to God
- Sexual sin requires a “cutting off”. (vs29)
*The Pulpit Commentary says it like this:
“The fate of the Canaanites was therefore a witness to them of what would be their fate if they did like them. Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things … . Ye shall not commit any of these abominations,… that the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it. Special penalties are appointed for particular sins further on. Here there are but two punishments denounced, one for individual sinners, the other national. The individual sinner is to be cut off from the nation by excommunication, For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people. The nation, if it does not thus purify itself by cutting off from itself the authors of these corruptions, is to perish like the Canaanites.”
SIN HAS CORPORAL REPERCUSSIONS
Read Joshua 7
From this text we learn the following:
- Hidden sin brings trouble to innocent people
- Hidden sin must be judged by the elders and the community of believers
- Hidden sin affects other people
- Hidden sin provokes Gods involvement
SIN MUST BE CONFRONTED
From this text we learn:
- Sin is to be mourned.
- Sin is to be judged.
- Putting out is redemptive. They are to come back.
- Sexual sin has spiritual ramifications (vs6)
- Vs 11-13 tells us it’s the churches Job to judge matters in the church.
- One of those judgements is the putting out people.
Putting these principals together, we take issues of sexual sin very seriously. This does not mean the everyone else is perfect, nor does it mean we look down on people. We simply must lay our feeling aside and side with Gods word, and trust that God’s way is the right way to see our brothers and sisters restored.
(There is also a story in the bible where a man kills two people who were openly engaged in immorality in front of the elders. God did not rebuke the man for judging the issue in this manner, instead He blessed him and lifted a curse of sickness that was on the rest of the people).
It’s a last resort
This is when all else has failed (or if it’s an extremely serious issue). When we put people out, a long process of prayer, working things out, grace and time would have gone in. Once every other option has been exhausted, and its clear that its unrepentant, hidden and/or continual sin, then it has to be dealt with. How and when is relative to each separate issue, like the length of time someone has been saved, the circumstances and other factors.
It stops people from blaspheming God
Romans 2:24 (NLT) No wonder the Scriptures say, “The Gentiles blaspheme the name of God because of you.”
If we don’t judge sin in the house of God, it gives unbelievers an excuse to blaspheme God. We cannot allow this, so once grace has been exhausted, the issue must be dealt with. If a pastor commits adultery or abuses church resources, the world and the church will expect him to step down. If he doesn’t, the enemies of God will ridicule God and His people, hence church discipline applies to both the pastor and the congregation.
It Protects the Church
As a shepherd we are to protect the flock. Some sins affect the church spiritually. No doubt about it. I have experienced and seen this countless of times. Its the responsibility of the Shepard to protect the flock but making hard decisions, that make make him unpopular.
Its for that persons benefit
Its unfortunate that some MAY delve into sin, but what we are is manifested in our choices. We are not victims of our circumstances, as much as we are victims of our choices. Joseph remained faithful to God with no fellowship for years. That being said, whenever anyone is put out, its to see them restored and redeemed. They are not being cast away, they are loved and we regularly pray for them.
This is a principal I agree with, and fully support. I understand not everyone will agree. There are churches that allow unrepentant fornicators and adulterers to lead worship service but we hold issue with that. This is Gods house. Everyone should hear truth and be given space and time to respond. God is a gracious God, but He is also Holy and righteous and I am not immune from this myself.
Tony Evans, a well respected preacher and author, wrote
“A Church that does not practice church discipline of its members is not functioning properly as a church, just as a family that does not discipline is not a fully functioning family” (Tony Evans, God’s Glorious Church, 222).
In short, the purpose of discipline is:
- To maintain the standards of the church to a watching world. (Mat 5:13-16)
- To keep sin from spreading throughout the church. (Jos 7:3-5); (1Cor 5:6-7)
- Help the guilty person find their way to God. (2Cor 2:6-8)
- To escape God’s judgement.
We live in a generation where everything is driven my emotions. This is God’s idea and pattern. It may go against the current notion of love which says that everything can be tolerated and fixed by love, but this is a distorted view. Love tells the truth. Love confronts. Some will want to treat those who have been put out like they are the victims and unwittingly suppress or even undo the process God has set up.
WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?
I’ve heard some people respond and say Jesus would not put people out. So what would He do? Lets look to scripture.
Read the words of Jesus in Rev 2:18-29. This is Jesus speaking as He currently is. Resurrected and in Glory. Not as the Lamb of God, but as the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, Who is and Who was and Who is to come, the Almighty.
What we learn:
- Jesus is involved in the affairs of His church
- Jesus was not happy the church tolerated (or did not deal with/judge) Jezebel.
- Jesus was concerned about how her actions were affecting others.
- Jesus gave her time to repent.
- Jesus said he would do the following as a result of unrepentant sin:
- Cause sickness/tribulation
- Kill her children
Does this sound like Jesus to you? I suggest you read the other letter Jesus wrote to the churches and see Jesus as He really is. If you knew this was going to happen to someone you love, whether figuratively or physically, the loving thing to do would be to warn them, rebuke them, and challenge them, in the hope that they would repent and serve God. If there is no change and you knew others will be affected then putting them out is the biblical thing to do, albeit a painful process.
I am aware some Pastors abuse their positions and throw people out just for disagreeing with them or if they don’t like them. Well…God will judge those pastors, but we must not throw out good biblical principles for the sake of those who abuse them.
It’s a hard job being a pastor. The fears, assaults and harsher judgement. Putting someone out is not easy and not desired. We also have to deal with the criticism of those who may not understand the reasons behind it. Pray for your pastors and thank God if you have a good one that manages to get the balance right.
THE GOOD NEWS
The man that was put out of the Corinthian church was restored. It’s a wonderful story of redemption. This is the hope and prayer of every pastor – Lord Restore your people. We accept all the good God has for us and all his wonderful promises, so we must also accept the more difficult things. Job 2:10. Gods discipline is an act of love Heb 12:6.
Please leave your comments below and share your thoughts, but I pray I have at the very least shown the rationale behind it. Below is a collection of thoughts from great theologians on this matter with minds greater than mine.
- The Pulpit Commentary is a homiletic commentary on the Bible created during the nineteenth century under the direction of Rev. Joseph S. Exell and Henry Donald Maurice Spence-Jones. It consists of 23 volumes with 22,000 pages and 95,000 entries, and was written over a 30 year period with 100 contributors.