Church Discipline: A Case Study

A Case Study in Church Discipline

Leaving for a week of vacation in South Carolina with my brother Karl and his wife Dawn. Stephnie and I are looking forward to spending time together with two of our favorite people in all the world. We haven’t had a week off in some time and for the last four months have only been together for more than four days at a time once. In other words, my posting may be sparse for a couple of days—unless I feel like posting parts of messages already written.

Let me throw out a case study for Friday:

heartacheFormer parishoner X is under church discipline. They walked out on their spouse and family. They have rejected all overtures from all members of the congregation, show no signs of repentance and in fact, have said that they no longer believe in God and are “finished with the whole God thing.”

Practically, how would you apply 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 to them if they were to show up on a Sunday morning, but announced before they came that they had no intention of repenting, in fact had nothing to repent of, was living with and planning marriage to another person, and said they didn’t care what anyone thought. Here’s the text I have in mind:

2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 (ESV)
14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

Questions:

  1. Practically, how would you have nothing to do with him?
  2. Practically, how would you not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother?

8 thoughts on “Church Discipline: A Case Study

  1. Been there on an eerily similar situation. He/she would be greeted on arrival by Elders and a Pastor and asked to leave (if the person had ignored their communication on hearing of the intent to come) because of previous church discipline. The discipline would have included an instruction to come to the Elders FIRST if there is a desire to come back to any church function and/or repent of the offending behavior.

    The practical part is hard for those who had been friends. A surprise encounter downtown and the sudden remembrance of what had happened, and turning away in sadness at the loss of a friend because that person had made a decision that cut off the relationship. Others may ask if the person can be invited to outreach events or small groups in a home – and the answer is a firm, gracious “No” if it is a church event. Because of personal relationships in the situation, I found myself even avoiding or turning away if I saw this person coming to the same store or at non-church events. Others I know did the same.

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    1. Hi Donna,
      Thanks for your input and getting the discussion started. Sounds like your elders took wise precautions by instructing the offending brother/sister to come back and talk to the elders first before attending a church function.

      Your response also lays out some of the awkwardness that all the whole church feels with social engagement with the offending brother/sister. What you outline to me sounds and feels almost like an “Amish Shunning”. Are there other ways to respond that have less of this feel but are consistent with the desire to not consider the offender as an enemy but also warn the offender as a brother?

      Before giving my suggestions, I want to encourage more interaction. What do you think people? Share your insight with the body. Let’s think this through for the glory of the King and the health of his church.

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      1. Marty – Just want to clarify that the personal reaction for me and others who had been friends of the disciplined person (avoiding, not engaging in unnecessary interaction) was more from a personal sense of betrayal in the situation, not just the sin involved against my friend. I/we were polite when encountering this person in public but did not seek interaction. This person had defrauded more than one of us in behavior and words and had specifically refused to repent and respond to support offered by the church. The church discipline only extended to church activity and functions until such repentance had been expressed (more than a decade and still not so). Personal relationships were left to the individuals.

        The discipline was announced at a regular church service. (This was the third time in my memory this had happened at my church. One person publicly confessed, repented and has been fully restored in the community and ministry and family; and has ongoing ministry with others from same struggles.)

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  2. Hereafter is my response to the parishioner X discipline matter. I had opportunity between class last evening to reply. I will review and clarify further if necessary.
    I had included the original subject matter and questions in bold letters but this did not transfer when I cut and pasted. Please forgive the CAPS as I originally did this on my iPad and this was the best way for me to differentiate the text.

    I have responded by giving some further contextual assumptions followed by COMMENTS, PRINCIPLES, OBSERVATIONS, GOALS and STRATEGIES followed by a commentary on the applicability of 2 Thess 3:14-15 in this matter before giving my response.

    Former parishioner X is under church discipline.

    IF THIS MEANS THAT;
    1) THE PERSON IS A MEMBER OF THE CHURCH and
    2) THERE IS EVIDENCE THEY HAVE EXPRESSED FAITH IN CHRIST AS SAVIOR AND LORD and
    3) THE DISCIPLINES OUTLINED IN MATTHEW 18 HAS BEEN PROPERLY IMPLEMENTED THROUGH THE ASPECT OF X REFUSING TO LISTEN TO THE CHURCH

    THEN THE FOLLOWING COMMENTS IN CAPS BELOW APPLY. IF NOT THEN I WILL FORWARD ANOTHER RESPONSE ONCE INFORMED.

    They walked out on their spouse and family. They have rejected all overtures from all members of the congregation, show no signs of repentance and in fact, have said that they no longer believe in God and are “finished with the whole God thing.”

    Practically, how would you apply 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 to them if they were to show up on a Sunday morning, but announced before they came that they had no intention of repenting, in fact had nothing to repent of, was living with and planning marriage to another person, and said they didn’t care what anyone thought. Here’s the text I have in mind:

    SOME COMMENTS
    1. THE ASSUMPTION IS THAT THERE ARE NO FIRST AMENDMENT OF PRIVACY MATTERS CURRENTLY, PENDING OR THREATENED BUT ALL MUST TREAT THE MATTER AS IF THERE WERE 2. ASSUMING THE CHURCH ELDERS WILL BE LEADING THIS MATTER AND THEY HAVE BEEN NOTIFIED AT LEAST 24 HOURS IN ADVANCE, THE ELDERS SHOULD REVIEW MATTHEW 18:12-14, PRAY AND FAST BEFORE IMPLEMENTING A BIBLICAL ACTION.

    (I HAVE NOT FASTED PRIOR TO THIS RESPONSE ASSUMING AN ELDER RECEIVING “SHORT” NOTICE.)

    PRINCIPLES FOR ELDERS
    1. ALWAYS SPEAK THE TRUTH IN LOVE, RESPECT AND EDIFICATION (EPH 4:15, 29)
    2. ELDERS, BE SURE YOUR ATTITUDE AND HEART IS RIGHT (EPH 4:31-32)
    3. SEEK PEACE BUT DO NOT COMPROMISE TRUTH AND RESPONSIBILITY (ROM 12:17-18)

    SOME OBSERVATIONS
    1. There appears to be some hypocrisy in X. If X said they no longer believe in God and is “finished with the whole God thing” then Why is X showing up to church on Sunday?
    2. If X has dismissed God then comments regarding non-repentance are valid – no intention to repent and nothing to repent of. If X does not believe in God then X would be correct from their perspective.
    HOWEVER, FROM ABOVE IT IS UNDERSTOOD X IS A BELIEVER SO MUST BE TREATED AS ONE.

    GOALS (TO BE WRITTEN OUT BUT NOT GIVEN TO X)
    1. RESTORATION OF A STRAYING SHEEP (MATT 18:12-14, HEB 6:6, GAL 6:1)
    2. RESTORATION OF THE STRAINED/ BROKEN RELATIONSHIPS (2 COR 13:9-11)
    3. CLEARLY ESTABLISH AND IDENTIFY THE SINS;
    ABANDONMENT OF DUTIES (1 TIM 5:8, EPH 5:21-33, 6:4)
    FORNICATION / ADULTERY (DE 5:18, ROM 13:9)
    UNREPENTANT SIN (MATT 18)
    DEFIANCE OF ELDERS (HEB 13:17, 1 PET 5:5)
    DISHONORING OF THE BODY OF CHRIST (ROM 12:10, LK 10:27)

    STRATEGY (TO BE WRITTEN OUT BUT NOT GIVEN TO X)
    DO NOT PUBLICLY SHAME OR CAUSE EMBARRASSMENT TO X. THIS IS NOT THE GOAL. THE GOAL IS TO HELP THEM SEE THEIR SIN WHICH WILL CAUSE THEM TO FEEL ASHAMED AND SEEK RESTORATION. (SEE PROPER CONTEXT OF 2 THESS 3:14-15 BELOW)
    1. DETERMINE FIRST THE ADMITTED STATUS OF X THROUGH RE-EXAMINATION; REDEEMED OR
    NOT (2 COR 13:5) (ASSUME REDEEMED)
    2. TWO TO THREE ELDERS MEET WITH X AT THEIR HOME BEFORE THEY HAVE OPPORTUNITY TO
    COME TO CHURCH TO ADDRESS THE MATTER THERE
    A) LOVINGLY EXPRESS PURPOSE / GOALS FOR VISIT
    B) LOVINGLY ENUMERATE THE SINS
    B) ASK ONCE MORE FOR REPENTANCE AND RESTORATION
    3. IF X REFUSES 2B ABOVE THEN INFORM X THAT
    A) MEMBERS OF THE BODY MUST ACT LIKE MEMBERS
    B) MEMBERS OF THE BODY MUST SUBMIT TO LEADERSHIP
    C) AS EVIDENCED BY YOUR OWN ADMISSION AND ACTIONS YOU ARE NOT PART OF THE BODY
    D) BY YOUR OWN ACTIONS X HAS UNWELCOME THEMSELVES
    E) ISSUE A LETTER TO X FROM THE CHURCH STATING X;
    1. WILL BE REMOVED FROM THE ROLE AS A MEMBER
    2. WILL NO LONGER BE ACKNOWLEDGE IN ANY MANNER
    WHATSOEVER BY THE CHURCH
    3. WILL NOT BE ALLOWED TO SERVE IN ANY CHURCH CAPACITY
    4. WILL NOT BE SERVED COMMUNION
    5. IS NOT WELCOME AT ANY CHURCH FUNCTION AS
    LONG AS THE DEFIANT BEHAVIOR EXIST
    6. WILL BE ENCOURAGED TO RESTORE TO THE CHURCH

    THEN EMPLOY CHURCH DAY RESPONSE AS DISCUSSED BELOW

    DISCUSSION FOR THE REFERENCED VERSE TO BE EMPLOYED;
    2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 (ESV)
    14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

    UNLIKE THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH APPLICATION OF MATT 18:12-20,
    THE PASSAGE ABOVE IS ADDRESSING A SPECIFIC MATTER OF THOSE IN THE THESSALONICA CHURCH. FURTHER THE CONTEXT IS THAT OF AN IDLE BROTHER(S) OR A BROTHER(S) NOT FOLLOWING THE TRADITION RECEIVED BY THE WRITER. THIS TRADITION IS SPELLED OUT IN 2 THESS 3:7-10 (AND PREVIOUSLY ADMONISHED IN 1 THESS 5:14). IT IS DOUBTFUL THAT THIS VERSE SHOULD BE USED TO ADDRESS INTENTIONAL RESISTANCE OF AUTHORITY AS IS THE CASE WITH X. MATT 18 MAY BE THE MORE PROPER WAY.

    THUS I WOULD PROCEED AS FOLLOWS BASED ON MATT 18:17 AND TREAT X AS UNCLEAN AND POTENTIAL POSION AND TRAITOR TO THE CHURCH OF CHRIST. THE COMMAND HAS ALREADY BEEN GIVEN BY CHRIST AND THE AUTHORITY TO FOLLOW UP IS IN MATT 18:18-19 TO CLEANSE THE CHURCH. THEREFORE – IF X HAS REFUSED SUBMISSION TO THE CHURCH THAN FROM THE CHURCH X SHOULD BE REFUSED. IF X IS A MEMBER OF THE BODY X MUST ACT LIKE IT OR NO LONGER PARTICIPATE AS A MEMBER.

    Questions:

    Practically, how would you have nothing to do with him?
    I DO NOT BELIEVE THIS IS THE BIBLICAL POSITION AS 2 THESS 3:14-15 IS PROBABLY NOT APPROPRIATE IN THIS CONTEXT SO AS LONG AS X SHOWS UP TO CHURCH I WOULD PROCEED WITH THE BELOW SECOND RESPONSE CLOSER IN LINE WITH MATT 18:17

    Practically, how would you not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother?
    CONTINUE WITH PATIENCE AND LOVE.
    CALL A CHURCH MEETING WITHOUT X TO EXPLAIN THE LETTER TO BE GIVEN TO X (THIS CAN BE AFTER X’S RETURN TO CHURCH BUT SHOULD BE BEFORE IF AT ALL POSSIBLE) EXPLAIN TO THE CHURCH THEIR DUTY TO LOVINGLY NOT ACCEPT X BY RENDERING NO HARM OR ANGER OR MALICE NOR A WELCOME HAND TOWARDS X.
    X IS TO BE AVOIDED NOT IGNORED.
    X IS TO BE CONTINUALLY ENCOURAGED BY TO OBEDIENCE TO GOD AND HIS CHURCH BY AN ELDER EACH TIME X COMES TO CHURCH. DISCOMFORT AND THE FEELING OF SHAME WILL LEAD X TO STAY UNTO FORGIVENESS AND RESTORATION OR LEAVE DUE TO SHAME AND FRUSTRATION.

    Ed Schoenleber
    West Olive, MI

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  3. On your further assumptions:

    1. No, for the purposes of this case study, the person is not a member but has been a regular attender and involved in ministries.
    2. For purposes of this case study, this person was a professing believer. Others in the church would certainly have “thought” him/her to be a believer.
    3. Believing the best, the church is well led and went through all the procedures of Matthew 18 in a careful and prayerful way. Church members were very faithful and loving in their past behavior toward the individual.

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    1. The fact that the person is not a memeber but has been:

      * a regular attender
      * involved in ministry
      * a professing believer and recognized by others as such,

      then I believe the discipline as previously outlined stands. Though X may claim immunity from church discipline rationalizing the non-member status, I believe the local church still has the responsibility and authorty to act as discussed.

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      1. A further response from the church would be the care and support of the abandoned spouse and children. This would be the expression of love 1 Cor 12:25-26 and also be a testimony to X and possible a “heaping of coals” on their head.

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