Loving Correction

Loving Correction

Dear Friends,

I imagine that most of us have witnessed the behavior of a child who is always allowed to do as he pleases with no consistent discipline. It is not a pretty sight. Nor is the overly permissive parent loving, for a lack of discipline dooms the child to a difficult future. I always hate to correct my grandson but sometimes it is the most loving thing I can do for him and is necessary for his own good.  Likewise, sometimes, church discipline is necessary. Done correctly, it is loving and it is commanded by God. 

The purpose of church discipline is never to be mean-spirited or to display a holier-than-thou attitude. Rather, the goal of church discipline is the restoration of the individual to full fellowship with both God and other believers. The discipline is to start privately and gradually become more public. It is to be done in love toward the individual, in obedience to God, and in godly fear for the sake of both the individual and others in the church.

Our post-modern society today tells us that it is not our place to judge others and certainly never to correct them since everyone lives their own truth.  That is a lie from Satan, attacking God’s sovereign truth.  The Bible is clear about God’s desire for us to reflect His holiness. “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do” (1 Peter 1:15 NIV).  God’s Word is also clear about the need for church discipline to deal with sin in the church. Since one of the jobs of the church is to demonstrate the goodness and holiness of God, a church with a member who persists in sin must take steps to address the state of that person’s soul as well as protect the church body from being corrupted by unchallenged sin in its membership.

The process of church discipline is never pleasant but Jesus gave us an outline to follow when we must confront another professing Christian: “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” (Matthew 18:15-17 NIV).  This process shows the seriousness of sin in the church and the need to strive for repentance and reconciliation. The steps protect both the individual being confronted and the purity and reputation of the church.  They should not be sidestepped or ignored.

Of course, we must ask, what kinds of sins should a church confront? Since everyone is a sinner, including the pastors and leaders, where do we draw the line?  What sins are worthy of confrontation? The answer seems to be sins that fall into three different categories; 1) Lifestyle sins that are public and ongoing (1 Cor. 5:11-13), 2) Divisive behavior sins that break down the unity of the church (Tit. 3:10), and 3) the sin of heresy or false teaching (1 Tim. 1:3-4). These are differentiated from those sins we commit in our hearts because we live in the flesh. For example, a Christian struggling with impure thoughts or personal jealousies is not publicly defaming the name of Christ as he wrestles with those sins. They are private and unwanted. They are sins for which the person needs to repent and perhaps reach out to a believing brother or sister for help.  However, a professing Christian who lives in open, unrepentant sin, causes division in the body or advocates teachings or beliefs contrary to Scripture must be confronted.

Unfortunately, most churches today never practice church discipline, even in glaring instances of impropriety and obvious sin. The result is that the ministry of the church is undermined and the legitimacy of its message cast in doubt. If we ignore sin in our midst then outsiders are right to wonder if we take the Bible seriously.

Hopefully, any disciplinary action a church takes against a member is successful in bringing about godly sorrow and true repentance. When repentance occurs, the individual should be restored to fellowship. The man involved in the 1 Corinthians 5 passage repented, and Paul later encouraged the church to restore him to full fellowship with the church (2 Cor. 2:5-8). Unfortunately, disciplinary action, even when done correctly and in love, is not always successful in bringing about restoration. Even when church discipline fails to bring about repentance, it is still needed to accomplish other good purposes such as maintaining a good testimony in our society.

One of my greatest desires as a pastor is to never need to confront or discipline someone in my flock.  However, Hebrews 13:7 says that I am called to watch over my flock and to give an account.  We are all called to love our brothers and sisters enough to do what is necessary to protect their souls and we are commanded to protect the integrity of the church and to glorify the Lord.  Sometimes that calls for loving correction.

Only by Grace!

Pastor Mike