Finish the Work of Church Discipline

I was part of a church one time, where one of the leaders developed what was seen as an inappropriate relationship with his female secretary.

He didn’t respond to counsel (he didn’t agree with their evaluation), and so Matthew 18 was brought out, along with 1 Corinthians 5:4&5 to bring him to repentance.

For reference:
“...if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector....” [Matthew 18:17]

“...deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved....” [1Corinthians 5:5]

This was a difficult gathering, when we obeyed these scriptures. It was, however, done tenderly and lovingly (I have seen these verses wielded in less loving ways at other times).

Over time, the gentleman in question recognized that he had been in error and repented. (Later, he testified that when we talked about “delivering him to Satan,” that it wasn’t a metaphor.)

It’s my observation that this sort of church discipline is exercised from time to time, whether with love or with a cudgel, by churches who value obeying the Scriptures.

I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of a church practicing the rest of that process.

“The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.” [2Corinthians 2:6-8]

It seems that pretty often, the church whose leader has failed morally is more focused on getting the stain off of their reputation than they are in restoring a fallen brother. And so “church discipline” when it goes this far, has come to mean that we’ll never see that brother again.

That’s not the plan.

The Matthew 18 passage instructs us to “treat him as a tax collector.” You might want to recall that the author of this passage, Matthew himself, was once a tax collector, until Jesus met him.

Or consider how Jesus dealt with the only other tax collector named in Scripture (“Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”). There was no shunning, no sweeping under the rug here.

The 1Corinthians passage goes on to say that the goal of that process is “that his spirit may be saved.” And if that weren’t enough, the apostle chews them out in his next letter for not going out of their way to restore the guy.

That’s how our Jesus does things: he restores folks. More specifically, he restores relationships with folks that the religious community has written off as embarrassing and inappropriate.

I’m thinking that Jesus is a good model to live up to.

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