Church Discipline – When is it okay to Abandon People?

First, let me say that the author of the blog, Church Discipline, is a well reasoned, and balanced individual who has some biblical insights into this controversial subject. I thought that I might give a few thoughts myself. You might also want to check out this site as well.

The Church is a Community, a nation, a people, and each congregation is a subset of the larger Community. We have our leaders, our own financial system, our own by-laws, and our own culture. We also have our own justice system, so to speak. We are called to constantly exceed the righteousness (even self-righteousness) of the religious world around us. Further, we are called to be the first to apologized, whether we are wrong or the wronged. Further, the leader/congregant model is often seen as shepherd/flock; indeed, ‘pastor’ is better translated as shepherd.

There are times, though, that the system breaks down, when some are abandoned because of hurt feelings or mistakes, not counting their own mistakes in the process, especially the mistake of failed leadership. Why is it failed? Easy – when you abandon a congregant you ignore biblical precepts, such as Jude 1.22-23, as well as a minister’s call to reach out to those who need discipline.

Nearly all texts related to Church Discipline are found in Matthew, for good reason, I believe. Matthew is also the gospel of 16.18, of loosening and binding.

“But I warn you– unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven! “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.

“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. (Matthew 5.20-24)

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away! In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish.

“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector. (Matthew 18.12-17)

In the first passage, we find two interconnecting thoughts about the community. Christ was not concerned with who did what, He was concerned with anger. Anger is a disease which leads to death. Paul said to be angry and sin not – not an allowance on the word of the Lord, but an agreement. Anger makes you subject to judgment. For what? The things which you think, say, and do in anger. It is not about being angry – we are flesh, it happens – but if we remain angry with a brother or sister, it will separate us from the Community, or cause others to be separated.

What did Christ command to fix this? He commanded that before you bring your goods to God, search and remember if someone has something against you. Do they? Does it matter if it is justified or not? No! What matters is that you go to them, and attempt to change the situation. It is not about getting someone to like you again, or to apologize – it is about you being Christ to the world. The Community does not need to be divided, or disparaged, or have it’s members abandoned by it’s leaders. Further, this act of reconciliation needs not be public.

The second passage is a reminder to ministers, leaders, elders. Christ is the overseer of our souls, and came to find those that are lost. Can His ministers do any less? Can they forsake those in the community? Instead, Christ said to seek those that were lost, even if it means leaving the 99 behind to do it. Can you imagine a minister selfish enough about his feelings to abandon even 1 person to be alone in this world?

There is then a succession given for justice within the Community – to make sure that people are not abandoned. If someone is doing something against the Community, one person is to supposed to go and talk, etc… It is not about a public act of apology, but about individual, at home, care for those bruised and downtrodden in this world. Christ gives both groups time to deal, and heal, with this individually – one to one, a small group, and then, and only then, the case is made to the community for exclusion, but never abandonment. This is not about ‘Let me tell you what you have done wrong,’ but about a conversation. Maybe the person in the wrong is not necessarily wrong.

Christ was never about who was wrong or who was wronged – but about forgiveness, healing, reconciliation. His life, death, and new life centered on these things, and yet too often, members of the Community refuse these things and adopt instead the attitude of ‘I wish they would never come back.’

Christ was about searching for the lost. Are you about abandoning them?

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