One of the most painful, saddest and necessary actions to be performed in the Christian Church is when an unrepentant believer refuses the admonitions and pleadings from the local assembly or congregation, and as a result, the member is shunned or avoided as a means of discipline with the hope and expectation that such isolation will bring about repentance and restoration back in God's grace and fellowship of the saints.
Although this event happens rarely, yet, it must be handled prudently, prayerfully, and done in a 'spirit' of love and one must be diligent to carry out this directive according to the guidelines found in the Scriptures. This is a matter that is too important to be legislated solely by the Church hierarchy or clergy, but rather by, "THUS SAYS THE LORD." The following references are given for consideration in this study, as in the following:
Matthew 18: 15-17
Moreover if your brother sins against you, (1) go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear you, (2) take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established (Cp. Deuteronomy 19: 15). And if he refuses to hear them, (3) tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen [infidel] and a tax collector.
NOTE: This one passage encapsulates in its entirety the procedure with simplicity, but there is more information to consider.
Galatians 6: 1-2
Brethren, if a man is overtaken [caught] in any trespass [sin or offense], you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
1 Corinthians 10: 12
Therefore let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall also.
1 Corinthians 5: 1-2, 6; 2 Corinthians 2: 6-9
It is actually reported that there is sexual morality among you . . . that a man has had [sexual relations] with his father's wife. And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from you. You glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? This punishment [discipline] which was inflicted by the majority [of the congregation] is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.
NOTE: The Corinthian Church was admonished by the Apostle Paul for not taking corrective action against a member who was sinning with his father's wife and this scandalous behavior was known to the entire congregation and they essentially put up with and ignored it; and this matter came to the apostle's attention. His follow up letter indicates that discipline was meted out to the brother who was at fault but also the congregation had to experience a sort of restoration themselves for failing to act previously in a spiritually responsible way in this matter, according to the obligation and authority they have in Christ.
2 Thessalonians 3: 14-15
And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note [mark] that person and do not keep company [fellowship] with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish [warn] him as a brother.
Matthew 18: 7b
For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes.
Matthew 5: 23-24
Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
NOTE: This statement by the LORD means that the gift is not accepted without reconciliation, or at least the effort on your part to restore the relationship.
Ephesians 4: 29, 31-32, 30
Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it might impart grace to the hearers. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor [loud quarrels], and evil speaking be put away from you with all malice [to inflict a wound or injury]. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
COMMENTARY: There are two components to the injunction to withdraw fellowship [ex-communicate] a fellow believer, namely, if one commits an offense against a particular member of if an unrepented sin has become known to the entire Church assembly. Doubtless, there could be more disciplinary measures taken by the church in modern times, but like spiritual ostriches, we would much rather bury our heads in the sand and avoid any moments of being uncomfortable or be criticized for doing what is our responsibility and duty. Sometimes it might involve taking this action against a popular or charismatic church member who could be very involved in uplifting activities within the local congregation and if these misdeeds came to the attention of the collective body of believers, it could cause dissention and a schism [rift] in the body.
The thing is, though, the church is a community or family and invariably anything that is covered up will affect the spiritual vitality and effectiveness of the members, no matter how much it might appear to grow numerically. The leadership of the church has the responsibility to watch out for the well being of the flock but they are not to lord over it as though it belongs to them. If the correct steps are taken, the erring member will or should not feel as though the other believers are judging or condemning him, but rather are praying and hoping for his eventual spiritual recovery and renewal; and that, unconditionally.
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April 25, 2011
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