More on the Mess

I find it sadly ironic that after I wrote a post about the messiness of believers getting involved in each other’s lives, I received two pieces of difficult news regarding some family members and close friends of mine. I am left with the feeling that this life we choose, this life in Christ, can be extremely hard.

The questions, however, continue to roll around in my head… Who has the right to speak into my life if and when they perceive sin? Who do I trust, and to whom do I give permission to hold me accountable in my areas of weakness and temptation? And who trusts me? How do I know when it’s time to tell someone the truth about the things that are separating them from God and others?

I have observed and experienced what is traditionally called “church discipline” (quite a few times as a spectator and once as one who was being disciplined). Some of these situations have worked out well and some haven’t. And because I seem to have an opinion about everything, I’ll share my opinion on church discipline (one word of clarification– my thoughts below do NOT apply to situations of abuse. In cases of safety, I believe immediate action should be taken to protect those being abused):

When pastors entertain comments from some church members about other church members, concerning sin, it is wrong. The first question should always be, “Have you spoken to them directly about this?” That’s Matthew 18– first individually, then with a few brothers/sisters, and then with the leaders.

When someone confesses a weakness or struggle they’re having, leadership should take adequate time to LISTEN before speaking. Ask questions. Let the person talk. Hear all sides before giving any directives about what should be done. This may take days or weeks. Rushing into action to “purge the sin” causes damage, especially when these situations are often complex and multi-layered. Prayerful discernment can’t be rushed.

Church leaders should never approach another believer about “the sin in their lives” without also acknowledging their own sin. Biblically, submission within the church is always mutual and voluntary. I tell you the truth and you tell me the truth. We are the same. If I’m going to confront you about your greed or lust or unfaithfulness, I must also confess my own inability to live a holy life apart from God’s grace. And not just as a formality, I might add… really do it! Let’s actually acknowledge our own screwups instead of pretending we’ve got it all figured out and have the answers for everyone else. What would it look like if I confessed my own sin first in these meetings, and THEN spoke to the others? Hmmmm….

Lastly (and then I will step down from my soap box), what if we allowed people who have confessed their sins to also have a say in the restoration process? What if we asked, “So what do you think you should do now? How can you be restored to right relationship with the Body and with God?” In this way, everyone has a voice in the process. No one is strong-armed or muzzled. When church discipline is used simply as punishment, it is not redemptive or restorative.

I believe I said this in my last post, but I’ll say it again here: I do believe in Christian community. We need one another in order to grow into Christ-likeness. I need help! You do, too! Church discipline (or, please, give it another name!!!) has a place… somewhere, somehow. But can we fix this mess?

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