Church Discipline - Handled/Mishandled - True stories
Example One - mishandled:
Fornication or fraud. The couple were in their sixties, widow/widower. It was generally understood by the others in the local church that they were married. They had friendships with other couples their age and things went along for some time with a certain issue being unknown to most. Namely, the couple was unmarried yet living together. The reason? The woman had a pension from her prior husband that she would lose if she remarried. So they decided they would be “married” before God and the local church, while in the eyes of government and the pensioning company they would be “unmarried.” The leadership of the local church was aware of it, and gave their blessing, understanding the financial burden it would create especially if the current man were to “pass away” and leave her financially stranded. The problem? One of two sins was being tolerated in the name of compassion, either fornication or fraud. The scriptural injunction to “refrain from every appearance of evil” was ignored, and much hurt to the local church did arise when the issue became known. Even the suggestion that the man be made a deacon was considered while this was coming to light. Here is a case where a misguided compassion (and we understand it and feel it in this instance) overcame what is right, and harm came to the couple, the church, and to Christian testimony. It was either fornication or fraud.
Example Two – handled:
Gross Immorality D was an odd young man in his upper twenties. He was in fellowship in the local church, his mannerisms were odd, as well as his odor and other quirks. Yet in the local church body there is a great diversity and love overcame the oddities, as it should. I used to daily drive the 30 miles to the larger city nearby to my employment and was asked, and drove, this man regularly to that city and “drop him off” near downtown. I knew not in my youth and due to being naïve, that at the time that this was near the “Boulevard” where unpleasant behaviors transpired. One day a couple of men in leadership went to visit D at his home. He answered the door, and met them, dressed as a woman. There was much that immediately took place, from counseling to a desire for repentance for this gross immorality, all to no effect. Two had (unexpectedly) confronted him per the biblical pattern, and the leadership body of the local church had tried many things-one leader in great heart compassion offering to pay for help/counseling in a far off place. All was to no avail, and there were tears shed over it, so it was time to act and bring the needed discipline before the assembly. At a solemn weeknight meeting in which D was invited to attend, but did not, it was agreed to put him out of fellowship, in hopes he would repent and be restored one day. He never was – and I often wonder what happened to him. The church was strengthened through this sorrowful event and young men like myself greatly impressed by the solemn handling of church discipline. It was a very important event to watch and participate in, recalling that we aren’t trifling but living a real Christian life. A hard situation turned to a sort of blessing/cleansing for the church, though through much sorrow.
Example Three – mostly mishandled
Adultery Bart had a lovely wife and daughter. They even babysat at times for us. Bart taught on occasion with ability, the adult Sunday School. There came a time when the family attended the meetings less regularly. One day I personally saw Bart while I was driving to work. At least I was pretty sure it was him-now I am positive. He was out jogging in the early morning with a woman - not his wife. It was odd because he lived well in the south part of the city, we in the very north. I drove on to work with a nagging feeling that this was not right and a situation that could, quickly degenerate into adultery-if it had not already. Yet I erringly did nothing, said nothing, and went on. After all the “pastor” of the local church was responsible for such things, not myself (this is greatly wrong I know-but a fruit of the one man pastorate system mindset). Some time passed and the couple had not been seen for many months, and we learned there had been a broken home, a divorce, and all the heartache associated therewith. One evening at a business meeting (this was a denominational group), an odd request came up. The man, Bart and his new wife were apparently at another church in this denomination in the same city, and were seeking to transfer his “membership” to the new church. Most seemed compelled to just go along with it but a question was raised. Could a man who was in adultery be given a blessing by the local church to transfer his membership to the other church? (as a side note-we are now aware this type of membership is really unbiblical in the first place but the story must be told in its context) After a bit of conversation and one misguided woman suggesting that it was something we should do because Bart was “apparently now seeking the Lord” and we should encourage that. But in the end it was decided to not transfer his membership and therefore force the sinful situation to be looked at by the other church when the request to transfer his membership was “denied”. I wonder what that other church did next? We kind of passed the buck. One young girl came up to me after the meeting and said in a very serious way, “I am never going to commit adultery” making one mindful of Acts 5 when in a discipline situation “great fear came upon all who heard these things.” Parts of this situation were grossly mishandled from start to finish, and the church was weakened, and man living in adultery only partially discouraged from continuing that pathway. Some time later as I entered a grocery store, he was coming out of the same. I stopped and stood still in silence, just like before…looking at him, not knowing what to say. Mishandled indeed. At least his lack of eye contact and quick escape made it clear his conscience was aware of something amiss.
Some information above was tweaked to protect privacy of those involved due to our litigation filled culture.