Watermark Community Church, a nondenominational church in Dallas that draws 4,000 people to services, requires members to sign a form stating they will submit to the "care and correction" of church elders. Last week, the pastor of a 6,000-member megachurch in Nashville, Tenn., threatened to expel 74 members for gossiping and causing disharmony unless they repented. The congregants had sued the pastor for access to the church's financial records.The full text of the article is online here: Banned from Church.
First Baptist Church of Muscle Shoals, Ala., a 1,000-member congregation, expels five to seven members a year for "blatant, undeniable patterns of willful sin," which have included adultery, drunkenness and refusal to honor church elders. About 400 people have left the church over the years for what they view as an overly harsh persecution of sinners, Pastor Jeff Noblit says....
Scholars estimate that 10% to 15% of Protestant evangelical churches practice church discipline—about 14,000 to 21,000 U.S. congregations in total. Increasingly, clashes within churches are spilling into communities, splitting congregations and occasionally landing church leaders in court after congregants, who believed they were confessing in private, were publicly shamed.
Have no fear...King of Peace will not be taking up this practice. First, anything said in private, must stay private. Strictly speaking, I am bound only by confession and I have many more private conversations than actual confessions. But that division is somewhat artificial for me and I feel that private conversations are also confidential, whether they involve confession or not. I have been accused of violating this privacy when I did not speak to anyone of what was said, but I heard what I was told being told to others. So why the assumption that the pastor was the one to share the confidence when others knew as well? I don't know, but I remained and remain quiet and years have passed in the meantime.
Second, when humans seek to judge one another, we err and sin ourselves. When we leave judgment to God and make room for mercy, we fall much closer to Jesus' teachings. That's the short version of it.
But what does a church do when someone confesses sin, but neither repents nor seeks to change? What about the drug addict who keeps doing drugs. The thief who keeps stealing? Is it judgment to separate yourself from such sin? I know that I prefer to err on the side of love. But what is a loving response in these cases?
And what of the person who wants to change, but you don't want to set up a scenario that tempts the him or her to sin. Clearly, I think it is a good idea, and one I highly recommend, for an addict to separate him/herself from others who do drugs. It's the only way to kick the habit. And just as clearly someone who steals church finances can not remain in charge of church funds. The person who has molested children can never again be involved in children's ministries of any kind. Are these actions judgment? I don't think so. You are not damning the person to Hell, but removing him or her from the problem area.
I would never go the route of the churches in The Wall Street Journal article, which while defendable from some passages of scripture, it seems so counter to the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So what is a church to do when confronted with the penitent thief or the convicted child molester who says he has mended his ways. Don't we believe in redemption? How does a church walk the line between judging others and encouraging sin by placing someone back in temptation?
I think that Jesus words to the woman brought to him to be stoned for adultery. He both said, he did not condemn her and he told her to go and sin no more. I would not put the thief back in charge of finances or the convicted sexual predator around children, and would consider that love not judgment. What do you think?
The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor