If you’ve been following this blog for some time, you may think I’m avoiding a far too common scenario. I know some of you think I’m forgetting some straightforward instructions in Scripture.
Jesus said in Luke 17:3-4 (NLT)
So watch yourselves!
“If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.”
We are to rebuke a believer who sins. Jesus expands the thought in Matthew 18:15-17 (NLT)
“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.
The Church is to cut off those who don’t repent and still call themselves followers of Christ. We can’t participate in deeds of darkness committed by followers Christ, instead we are to expose them. Paul said in Ephesians 5:3-14 (NLT)
Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.
Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said,
“Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
And it even becomes clearer how the Church needs to deal with leaders who continue in sin – they are to be reprimanded publicly. Paul told Timothy concerning elders that:
Do not listen to an accusation against an elder unless it is confirmed by two or three witnesses. Those who sin should be reprimanded in front of the whole church; this will serve as a strong warning to others. I solemnly command you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus and the holy angels to obey these instructions without taking sides or showing favoritism to anyone. 1 Timothy 5:19-21 (NLT)
So how do we honor and still excommunicate?
It’s easier when we understand what excommunication was really meant to be. If you’ve had any any experience with it in a local church, my experience says you’ll not have fond memories of it. It’s harder for church leaders to administer excommunication than it is for a church goer to leave the church – and it should be. However one reason for this that is because we view it as punitive. Look over the verses above carefully and tell me where you see it’s meant to punish.
Sure, some portions can be interpreted that way, but let’s pull a fuller understanding of the Father’s heart into it.
He has given us the ministry of reconciliation:
So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (NLT)
And Paul makes it clear what the purpose of excommunication is to teach the unrepentant heart:
Timothy, my son, here are my instructions for you, based on the prophetic words spoken about you earlier. May they help you fight well in the Lord’s battles. Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked. Hymenaeus and Alexander are two examples. I threw them out and handed them over to Satan so they might learn not to blaspheme God. 1 Timothy 1:18-20 (NLT)
Removing someone from fellowship removes them from the grace of the Father extended to the Bride – His church. This is more profound than we grasp in a society that has so many churches within driving distance. But understand it is a spiritual act to excommunicate an unrepentant individual. The goal of it is to bring the offender the place of reconciliation.
It cannot be punitive ,“You’ve messed up big-time.”
It cannot be cleansing, “You’ve intoxicated the purity of the church.”
It cannot be self-righteous, “You’re not good enough.”
It is only done to the one who refuses to acknowledge any wrong doing in their sin. It should be both rare and also more common than we see in most churches today. Remember, its the job of the Church, not an individual follower of Christ to excommunicate someone unrepentant. It can be done with honor. Here’s how:
- Lead Humbly – you’re not in the right place if you enjoy putting someone in his or her place.
A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants. 2 Timothy 2:24-26 (NLT)
- Give Scripture It’s Authority – Make sure the offense is not adiaphora (things indifferent).
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 2 Timothy 3:16 (New Living Translation)
- Remember the Goal – even in excommunication the goal is Reconciliation
So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 2 Corinthians 5:20 (NLT)
Don’t stand for sin. You’re not loving anyone when you let them continue in sin.
If the godly give in to the wicked,
it’s like polluting a fountain or muddying a spring. Proverbs 25:26 (New Living Translation)
But honor everyone, even if you need to turn them over to satan.
Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. 1 Peter 2:17 (NASB)
This is not an easy road to walk, but we must to honor Scripture, the Father, and the one who is unrepentant in their sin.
I’d appreciate your comments on this one.