Church Discipline

by Gami Ortiz

Since preaching this last Sunday, I’ve received several questions concerning rejection and our response. I thought this blog would be a good opportunity for others to profit from those questions as well.

As part of the sermon, I shared the story of telling my parents that Cathi and I were pregnant (before marriage). My dad’s response was one of rejection as he kicked me out of the house. I also shared that by God’s grace, my relationship with my dad has since been restored and we are quite close. I would add that the rejection was certainly one of the consequences for my sin. But one of the questions I was asked after preaching was, “What would you have wished your dad’s response to be?” Scripture has much to say about church discipline and how we are to deal with sin in our midst.

Probably the most didactic passage on the matter is found in Matthew 18, where Jesus addresses the issue. He says in verses 15-17,

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one of two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

Paul writes much on the matter as well. In 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15, “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.”

From these verses, we catch the intent of church discipline to be restoration. In the Matthew passage, Jesus says that when the offending party listens, you have gained him or her back. In other words, you’re going after his or her restoration. Even in the final step of that process – in what people call excommunication or breaking fellowship – the intent is to see them as someone who has no place in the church family because they first need to be reconciled to God (as Gentiles or tax collectors). Paul also makes clear to not treat the person as an enemy, rather the warnings and appeals to repent come from a loving desire to see them restored. Other verses hit on this attitude as well. Galatians 6:1 states to lovingly restore a fallen brother or sister.

Returning to my situation, my dad and I had butted heads all through my teenage years, so it wasn’t that this was the first time I’d stepped out of line. Cutting me off was probably not out of the question at this point. The loving and gentle restoration is what perhaps was missing at this moment. It felt like a personal retaliation rather than a gentle rebuke. Now, God certainly used this experience to get my attention. And to my dad’s credit, he was instrumental in my restoration to God and the church.

A few months after our wedding in Michigan, Cathi and I returned to Chicago to live with my parents, at my dad’s invitation. During the six months that we were there, we plugged back into the church my dad pastored. Cathi and I were both terrified of going back to that church. We expected judgment and condemnation. Instead, we were greeted with love and grace. That doesn’t mean that they just brushed what happened under the rug. I had been on the worship team prior to my moral failure. They required that I not step back into that for a time. I also had many tough conversations with some of the older men of the congregation. At the same time, they loved us well and cared for us in that tough time of figuring out what parenting looks like while we were still figuring out the whole marriage thing! But they did not ignore the greater need of our restoration to God and to the body of Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul tells the church to remove an unrepentant person from among them. The church seems to have followed Paul’s advice, because in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, he’s urging the church to welcome him back and show their love for him! This affirms the fact that sin is the problem and that the goal is to restore. We would do well to ensure that in the process of confronting sin, we remember to be gentle and loving, desiring their restoration to relationship with God above all else.