“Brother Mortimer was seen fishing on the Sabbath. Until he repents of his wayward actions, he will be excluded from the fellowship.”
Not too long ago, I happened upon the church records of a Kentucky church where some of my ancestors worshiped. In the usual list of additions and budgets, we encountered several entries like the one above. This little church, whatever their failings, took church discipline seriously.
This matter is on my mind today because a member of my church has shown herself to be a major problem. Her actions have harmed several people, including her own children, and they have brought dishonor on the name of Christ. So what’s a church body to do?
In Brother Mortimer’s case, the church voted to deny him fellowship within the body until such time as he stood before them and expressed his proper repentance. The matter came up in the next two monthly meetings with no progress. Finally, Brother Mortimer came to the church and showed remorse. He was welcomed back into full fellowship.
How quaint, right? We don’t do such things these days, but are they Biblical? Let’s dip into the New Testament words just a bit.
I wrote you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister and is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person.–1 Corinthians 5:11
If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take note of that person; don’t associate with him, so that he may be ashamed. Yet don’t consider him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.–1 Thessalonians 3:14-15
Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who create divisions and obstacles contrary to the teaching that you learned. Avoid them.–Romans 16:17
There’s more to be found. Some of it is more conciliatory, while some sounds more harsh. The bottom line seems to be that when people are significantly off the path, we shouldn’t simply treat them like nothing is wrong. We should correct them in love and gentleness, but we shouldn’t just smile and pretend that there’s no problem. Sin is always a problem. Why is it that people will go full-bore crazy if somebody did some minor thing to supposedly “ruin” their wedding day–you know, like having flowers that are one shade too lavender–but those same people just smile blithely at the Bride of Christ being sullied in a very significant manner.
- It’s not okay that you ignored your marriage vows.
- It’s not okay that you don’t show love to your children.
- It’s not okay that you spread malicious lies around the church.
- It’s not okay that you drive while drunk.
- It’s not okay that you’re spending hours each day looking at pornography.
- It’s not okay!
My sins could be on this list as well, so don’t think me self righteous. And if I’m ever sinning in a way that hurts people and the church, if I’m ever acting as if my sin is really just okay, then I’d hope you’d confront me over it.
Until we do these things, I think we rob the church of power.