Tonight while surfing the Internet and watching the nasty weather outside I came across a story on Foxnews.com that caught my eye. The headline read “Sinner In Love”, but it was the subheading that really caught my attention. It read “Church to expose Florida woman for ‘Immoral’ relations with boyfriend.” The story is about a woman who is involved in the process of church discipline. You know, the type of discipline hardly ever observed in the local church today. Except for the more faithful churches, this kind of discipline is deemed too harsh in most evangelical churches. God’s word teaches Christians to be holy as He is holy. God also teaches us in 1 Corinthians 7 that we should
cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
Many years ago I first learned about church discipline from Dr. John MacArthur Jr. through his sermons on tape. To me it sounded so harsh and alien because I had never seen it practiced. At least not practiced correctly, and certainly not out of love and for the restoration of the one involved in sin. MacArthur’s church, Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and our church here in Omaha at Omaha Bible Church both believe that the church must enforce the standard of purity within the local church. We implement church discipline in that if someone sins, we confront him or her for their own good and the good of the church as a whole.
The article on Foxnews.com mentions the three steps involved in church discipline. The three steps come from Matthew 18:15-17. Does your church practice this necessary discipline in order to maintain the purity in the church? What do you do if you find out that someone in your congregation is living in sin with someone else? Do you confront them on love? If you do, where do you take it from there if they do not repent of this sin? The bible is very clear what should be done to preserve the purity of the church and for the ultimate restoration of the sinner.
Please be in prayer for this church in Jacksonville, Florida. Pray for the member to repent and for the leadership there. I emailed the article link to my senior pastor this evening and he replied back that the senior pastor is a friend and like him a graduate of The Master’s Seminary.
The article also mentioned above is linked here.
December 19, 2008 at 6:26 am
Barry, I read that article from the local news website in that town. Like you, the headline caught my eye. It made me wonder if the practices of the church are going to be called into question more and more as those practices become increasingly politically incorrect.
My only concern from a legal standpoint is that if this lady has withdrawn her membership, then the church may not be able to do anything more. I would hate to see the church get into a nasty legal situation over it because of that.
One of the reasons I resigned from my previous church was the unwillingness of the leadership to practice biblical discipline. In the PCA church that I’m a part of now, it has refreshing (and sad all at once) to see discipline practiced well and appropriately and with restoration as the goal.
I do believe that we have to be careful about how we phrase the concept of church discipline, though. Yes, the purity of the church is part of the goal, but I hope that we never practice church discipline under the false pretense that if we can just deal with this one horrible sinner then our church will finally be pure again. That’s obviously not the case. Maybe we should discuss the subject more in terms of restoration.
My other concern is that we don’t practice restoration or discipline consistently. We think that sexual sin is a “big” sin, but we leave other thins untouched. In the classic discipline passage in 1 Corinthians 9, the context is clearly a case of sexual immorality. However, verse 11 goes on to list people who are greedy who slander or abuse, idolaters, cheats and drunkards as well. I’ve never seen the wealthy, tithing business man disciplined because of unethical business practices (he’s a cheat). I’ve never seen a man disciplined because he refused to take a job that didn’t offer at least 6 figures. If we’re going to speak of the purity of the church, we need to speak in biblical terms, not just sexual terms.
May God help his Church as she seeks to obey him.
December 19, 2008 at 8:25 am
Unfortunately, many churches today are run to please their congregants not to please their Lord.
It is much easier, and oh so much more PC, to ignore sin on the whole. It is much easier to look the other way, or gossip about it “in prayer”, or speculate on it. It is much harder to approach the person in love and speak to them about their sin.
What if they know what I’ve done? That would make me ::shudder:: vulnerable too.
Yes, it’s much easier…
I’m just sayin’.
December 19, 2008 at 9:55 am
I just read the article this morning. My problem with this is the only reason they are going public with this is that the woman got caught. Yes, there were biblical things that took place and things taught regarding purity in church, but I would take Jesus’ actions over any other. When the woman caught in adultery was brought to Jesus, he asked those condemning her to cast the first stone if they were without sin. Jesus told her that they could not condemn her, and neither will he and to go and sin no more.
I believe this church needs to focus more on showing people Jesus. When others have an encounter with Him, their lives will change. This is why so many people hate religion and the Church. We are constantly preaching “therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, but when it comes down to it, we handle our approach with people in a condemning manner sometimes.
I agree with you, Barry. Let’s not only pray for this church, but for the Church as a whole.
December 19, 2008 at 10:45 am
Excellent points as usual. Like you, I believe this practice is going to be harder and harder for churches to do. Mainly from the pressure of the culture. A faithful church is increasingly hard to find. I also agree that the ultimate goal is to restore the sinner to the flock. The natural consequence of the discipline is the purity of the church, rather the outcome is restoration or excommunication. I also agree with your take on the other sins as well. In this case the sin somehow became public knowledge. I been a witness to at least two cases in our church where all the steps were exhausted. The sin of the member was not made known to the rest of the body. I believe this should be the standard so as not to paint some sins bigger than others.
Good point on the use of the known sin as fodder for gossip and “prayer request”. I believe the heart of the individual should be checked whenever they bring something like this to the church. Of course this is only after the difficult task of confronting them yourself has been exhausted.
I appreciate your comments, and your concerns are definitely warranted. You mention Jesus’ handling of the woman caught in adultery. Did he not confront her with her sin? This would definitely be step number one in the process of restoring her if she were already a believer. We do not know this. If she were a believer then Jesus did not contradict himself in Matthew 18:15-17. Non-believers are naturally enemies of God (Romans 5:10) and have every reason to hate the church since we represent Christ’s bride. I also understand that believers need to consider the cost of their actions before men so the world does not have a reason to point a condemning finger toward the church. We should not judge or condemn the unbeliever for he is condemned already.
Always good dialog Shane. Thanks.
December 19, 2008 at 11:07 am
I go to this church. When I joined the church, church discipline was clearly presented to me beforehand along with various other topics. Additionally, when you become a member you agree to the membership bylaws which include that once the discipline process is enacted, that it will be followed thru to restore the brother/sister in Christ. That means, whether you chose to leave the church or not, it is still going to be followed thru with. The fact that she left is a salvation issue in that she loves her sin more than God. In this case, I would say she has already exposed her sin in far greater expanses than just to the church. The issue here should be restoration or salvation. Not sure how long this has been going on, but the reality is love takes guts and sometimes the truth of scripture isn’t easy to take. We have to quit conforming our churches in America to the culture and continue to speak truth in love. Church discipline wouldn’t have been an issue 50 years ago.
December 19, 2008 at 4:01 pm
C, you said, “whether you chose to leave the church or not, it is still going to be followed thru with.”
I believe if she leaves the church and withdraws her membership, at least from a legal standpoint, anything said about her in an official public way would constitute slander.
I understand completely what you’re saying about knowing in advance what one is getting into. I’m just praying that the church will be very careful, have pure motives and abide by the law in their carrying out of discipline.
December 20, 2008 at 11:44 pm
I too live in Jacksonville, Fl and familuar with the parties involved. However, I am a faithful member and Marriage Missonary in an Independent Baptist Church.
We recently had to discipline a (very) young adult for moving in with her boyfriend and refusing to get married. After going through the process, she wrote a letter of withdrawl from our church. This was unacceptable to our Deacon board. Legal issues aside, Christians may chose to join a church, but can not remove their membership anytime they want. The Biblical approach (reference not on my fingertips) is that if a member wanted to move their membership to another body of believers, the sending church gave a letter of transfer if the member was in good standing. The first century church had no sister church on the other side of town. So this was the only way the receiving church could know the person was a good candidate for membership. Moving of membership was rare in those days.
It does seem that sexual sin gets more profile and is more easily identified within the church, while other sins seem to “get a pass”. Paul says in Romans 8 that sexual sin is the only sin against their own body. Adultry and fornication get more attention from God in the scriptures than even murder. Even gossip and glutiny gets very little attention in scripture yet both sins can be deadly.
In the case of the woman, the church had gone through the initial steps and kept all condfidential. When the woman refused to change and threatend to leave the church, the church then sent her a letter giving her several weeks to change. This all hit the news aroung Dec 17 and the letter would not be read aloud in church until Jan 4, 2009. Her beef is that her two adult children will be at the church and will be embarassed by this on Jan 4.
My take is this:
1. She is the one who made this public not her church
2. This is a private matter and no civil judge or government agency will touch this.
3. The church (ladies and elders) tried to get her to see the mistakes (sins) she was committing in private conversations in love.
4. The church has done nothing wrong and has tried desperately and Biblically to take the high road in this matter to the point that no offical interviews have been given by church personnell and one “letter of comment” has been given.
5. The Jacksonville community (and the local paper) is very conservative and we have a lot of good sound Bible Churches here. There are some PC congregations running in the thousands and I can assure they have never heard of such a thing. However, the local paper did not receive one letter of support or comment. All letters to the editor were negative and somewhat hateful.
6. I was still :taken back” that a woman would stand in front of a TV camera and then agree to an interview with her picture after agreeing that she was having sexual intercourse with her boyfriend.
7. Finally, God is not surprised by this and I do count this as persecution against the church. We do have to keep our churches Holy and open to sinners who seek repentance.
December 20, 2008 at 11:55 pm
Thank you for the information. Amen. I agree with the church and the biblical approach to church discipline. When the story first broke I emailed my senior pastor and he replied that he personally knows Pastor Christmas. They both attended The Master’s Seminary together. Our church practices church discipline as drawn out in Matthew 18.
In your point # 6, I too was somewhat shocked, and then I realized that sin is no longer something the world tries to hide or practice in the dark. There is no more shame.
December 21, 2008 at 6:19 pm
Quite a situation…presumably a worst case scenario for the leaders of this church i.e., the church coming under the scrutiny of the courts and possibly risking losing a court battle and many thousands of dollars. This scenario demonstrates, IMHO, the necessity for a strong written membership policy.
I am presuming that Ms. Hancock released the letter from the church to the media and not the other way around…much like Proverbs 30:20 This is the way of an adulterous woman: She eats and wipes her mouth, And says, “I have done no wrong.” How sad to appeal to the world…
I certainly praise Grace Community Church for standing true to their membership policy and ultimately the Word of God. It is very difficult to apply 1 Timothy 5:20 Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning. No doubt this trial will strengthen our brothers and sisters within this Jacksonville meeting of Saints.
This situation will certainly be in my prayers, thanks for commenting on it.
December 21, 2008 at 10:18 pm
I attended Grace Community Church this morning (Dec 21) to offer my support in prayer and to worship with them. When I arrived, there were two police crusers parked out front and a police officer in the ‘common area’ outside the santuary. This was wise because if there is an kind of protest, the police are better trained to handle this and it is unlawful to disrupt a church meeting. Having the police present might have prevented problems. I identified myself to one of the elders by giving him a my prayer card. He welcomed me right away.
As I milled around, several friends from the past came up to me and they were uplifted and encouraged by my attendance there. I then went into the auditorium and it was a normal service and no comment from Pastor Christmas about the issue at hand. At the conclusion of the service, the pastor asked the visitors to excuse themselves as he wanted to address the members only. It is interesting to note that about 25-30% of the attendees got up to leave. That is a large number of visitors-non members! I shared with one of the members that there is a saying in public relations, “Even bad publicity is better than no publicity at all.”
Wouldn’t it be something that this church (less than 15 years old) just exploded off the map with salvation decisions and transfer of membership, because of all of the attention! Satan would not like that at all…
December 21, 2008 at 10:47 pm
Amen to the praise of GCC and to God for strengthening them. Nice Proverbs quote.
I appreciate the update. Sounds as though the church is having some it’s share of visitors because of this undeserved publicity. Yes it would be just like God to glorify himself through all of this. Keep me posted brother.
December 27, 2008 at 9:43 pm
hmmm…not really sure if I understand this correctly. From what I read I am not entirely sure I agree to this method. Perhaps I mis understand its meaning or it purpose. It looks to me that the church is passing judgement on someone sort of like casting the first stone sort of thing. I am sure that you wouldnt support this kind of actions, Dad. I am sure I misunderstood this blog and the whole article you spoke about. Please explain what the whole “church disipline” means.
December 27, 2008 at 9:45 pm
Oh forgot to say in my last post. I love you, hehe.
December 27, 2008 at 10:15 pm
First of all, thanks for the comment. It’s been a while since you commented.
As for the article and the church discipline: make no mistake the church is not passing judgment on the person. They are only doing what Jesus called the church to do. In this particular case it is to keep His church pure and to call the member to repentance. If you read the bible, in particular Matthew 18, it will explain it more. There are fewer and fewer churches brave enough to still practice this God ordained task. That is why there are churches full of unrepentant members who misrepresent the body of Christ. Sometime when you are on IM we can chat about it some more.
December 28, 2008 at 12:01 am
Matthew 18:15-17 (ESV)
15 If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.
16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
So, basically there are four steps:
1. Go, to the brother (in Christ) in sin, in private.
If he does not “listen” – that is repent of the sin
2. Go back to the brother with several other brothers (in Christ)
to confront the sin in front of godly witnesses.
If he does not “listen” – that is repent of the sin
3. Go to the church with the sin. Now, don’t misunderstand this
step… you are not going in front of the congregation
and saying “Well, so and so is doing such and such….”.
You are going to the church (leadership) to tell them of the sin
so they can confront the brother (in private).
If he does not “listen” – that is repent of the sin
4. The church leadership announces to the congregation the
unrepentence of the brother (in Christ) and the body is then
able to treat the brother as a Gentile or tax collector. THAT
IS TO SAY go back to sharing the Gospel with this person.
Treat them, in love, as a non-believer.
We have had several instances of church discipline at OBC. Not once has Pat stood in front of the congregation and repeated the sin in detail to the body. Not once has he been judgmental in his announcement, as a matter of fact he is more likely to be teary-eyed because we are at a stage where we must “back track”, treating this brother as a non-believer.
Also, make no mistake. This is not a discipline for the church to take on a non-believer. This is a discipline for the church to take on an unrepentant professor of Christ as Lord and Savior.
January 7, 2009 at 12:28 pm
I’m just gonna say it..ya know..to stir up some more fun. The earliest manuscripts don’t even contain the woman caught in adultery story….hmmm. lol.
January 7, 2009 at 4:07 pm
You know how to stir it up all right. Even if you include the woman caught in adultry Jesus told her to go and sin no more. (John 8:11) He did confront her sin even though He did not comdemn her.
January 7, 2009 at 4:57 pm
Thanks for this post!
I find myself in a similar situation at my Church.
My brother has been commiting the sin of Onan for about
2 months now and he has not responded to the Biblical
format for correction.
I’m planning on bringing this to my congregation next week,
but I’m worried that since its his confirmation week also
that I might be ‘stealing his show’.
However: isn’t it appropriate that his entrance into the church
as an ‘official member’ (he’s been saved and born again since he was four) that it be with a clean slate?
Your thoughts are appreciated.
January 8, 2009 at 11:42 am
Yes you are right Barry, go and sin no more. 😉
January 8, 2009 at 1:21 pm
I appreciate your comment and welcome to BarryDean4Christ. I will have to admit I was not sure whether to respond to this comment or ignore. It has hints of mockery for the subject matter. I will assume this is a legitimate question, and respond accordingly.
First of all by your reference to the sin of Onan, it is my assumption that you are referring to masturbation and not the spilling of his seed on the ground instead of inpregnating a women. My assumption is based in your words that tell me your brother is about to be confirmed and that is usually done for a pre-teen or teen boy. So my assumption is in the former and not the later.
Next, have you confronted your brother in the matter? I assume he is not willing to repent of this sin if your intention is to move forward in a disciplinary manner. My understanding of the next step in church discipline is to take one or more other Christian brothers with you and confront him again.
If he is not willing to repent then you should take it to someone in authority of your church. Possibly a pastor or elder. They will confront him and seek his repentance in this sin as well. If he will not repent and is unwilling to work through it with them then the final step is to take it before the congregation only to inform them that he is in sin and that they have have gone through all the previous step in an effort to restore him. At the conclusion of this process it is still the goal of the church to help bring this person to repentance. But if he or she will not we are to treat them as an unbeliever. Matthew 18:15-17
Again, the goal of this whole disciplinary process is to restore the person to the church. If this happens then the church should be rejoicing for having helped to win this brother back into the fold and the church will remain pure.