Church Discipline, Part Four

Some Common Questions on Church Discipline

by Gene Taylor

What should one do when a family member is involved, i.e., when the church has withdrawn from him/her? Family responsibilities -- husband/wife, parent/child, brother/sister -- do not cease on our part because of a withdrawal. At the same time, though, one cannot give endorsement or encouragement to the sin of a family member.

David Lipscomb wrote, "A daughter does not cease to be a daughter when she is guilty of fornication. The duty still rests on the mother to do what she can to save her daughter. If refusing to eat with her or driving her from home would help to save her from her sinful course, the mother should do it. If it would dishearten her, discourage her, and drive her deeper and more surely into sin, it would be wrong for her to send her away."

How can the church withdraw from someone who, essentially, has already withdrawn from them? Some believe that "We cannot withdraw from those who have already withdrawn from us." Such an idea is based on a limited understanding of the purpose of withdrawal.

If withdrawal is to "purge out the old leaven" (1 Cor. 5:6-8) or to keep the influence of the sinner and his sin from spreading through the church, the fact that one has voluntarily left the church's presence does not necessarily mean his influence and example are purged out. In fact, the example of his sinning and stepping away unreproved may spread the leaven of sin rather than purge it. In order to get him to repent, his sin must be pointed out to him and others who will contact him and try to persuade him to do so. Love for God and Christ and love for the soul of the unfaithful one must spur us on to do something to restore him.

How should one treat the person from whom the church has withdrawn its fellowship but continues to attend at worship assemblies? My question to those who have this concern is, "In what better place could such a one be?" Where else could he be so exposed to God's word and its teachings? Where else could he have the influences and loving concern of brethren? Where else could he feel a greater sense of shame over his condition?

Such a one, though, must not be used in the public assemblies. We must also honor the command to sever social contact with such an individual. That does not mean that we are not to speak to or sit near such a one. Remember, the benevolent goodwill one must have for sinners must still apply.

What about the person from whom one church has withdrawn fellowship who goes to another church and is accepted into their fellowship? No church has a right to tell another church who to accept or reject but such a practice has greatly harmed the cause of Christ in many areas. Several things are wrong with it.

If one from whom a church has withdrawn repents and seeks to join himself to another church, he should be told to correct his situation with the first church. We must remember, though, any individual should be heard fairly otherwise the poorest judgment of the weakest church would be bound upon all churches everywhere.

Conclusion

"One of the saddest things that can happen in God's family is for people to become unfaithful. Yet God knew that this was going to happen, and made provisions for it in His word. The provisions do not allow the unfaithful to be condoned, but rather it is to be made known that they are unfaithful to the Lord, so that all may recognize them for what they are. These people are not enemies, but should be admonished to return to faithfulness in the Lord's service. Everything indicates that these people are separated from God, lost and without hope in their present condition and should not be treated in any way that would lend encouragement to a continuation in their present manner of life. This is God's plan for bringing them back to Him. If it fails, then they will face judgment without hope" (Tom Wheeler, Bulletin, Beaver Dam, Kentucky church of Christ, July 15, 1979).

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