Wednesday, February 6, 2008

To Shut Up Or Speak Up? That Is The Question.

There is a believer I know who is divorcing her husband. She is walking in rebellion, no longer wanting to walk with Christ but still recieve all the benefits of doing so. Her husband is powerless to change her mind/ heart and devestated by her course of action. He has been getting counseling from the church. The elders and counselor all agree that she has no biblical grounds for divorce. While, at first, they were going to confront her in her sin they are no longer going to do so for fear this may drive her further away from God. Had she maintained her volunteer status with the church they would have stepped in but since she has stepped down from the ministries she was serving in they are not going to approach her about her sin and treat her as an unbeliever.

The husband asked me what I thought about all this and below was my reply (with the names removed to protect both the innocent and the guilty).

"Well, it seems to me that they are referring to Matt. 18. This is a three step process where after the third step, if the person will not repent, then you treat them as an unbeliever (which in bible times dealt with the excommunication of the person from the fellowship of the believers). The reason for this was because they would not have fellowship with people who claimed to be in Christ yet refused to live as Christ.

While I think this is a biblically valid means of discipline I would also contend (based solely upon what you have told us) that they are bypassing all three steps and skipping right to the end; except in this case they are still willing to have her fellowship with them. This is not the biblically identified way of addressing sin in the life of a believer; especially one who is still claiming to be a Christ follower
(as she is doing). By skipping to the end they are cowardly avoiding the difficult task of confrontation and restoring a fallen brother. In doing so they are neglecting to love her as Christ calls the church to love one another."

As someone who is going into the ministry fulltime let me say that I in no way look forward to having to do this in the life of someone I have fellowship with. Still, the process is clear and it is for the sake of restoration that it must be done. As scripture tells us, "Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins" James 5:20. This must also be done with gentleness and respect and after a period of self-examination lest we be found guilt of 'plank-eye' syndrome.

Restoration is the goal of Matthew 18. When we think that our efforts in this area will be ingnored or possibly make the situation worse we are allowing fear and not hope to dictate our response. What if the opposite happens? What if the person actually says, 'hey you know what? You are right. Forgive me! I have been living in sin and need to turn back to living in righteousness.' This is a rosey and over-simplified picture I have just painted I know but... would not a response of repentance be worth the risk?

To be sure the heart and tone of the confrontation need to be saturated with love, truth and grace but confrontation must happen if we are going to love one another well.

Just some thoughts on whether to shut up or speak up.


Baldo said...

Hey Matt, thanks for your thoughts about this issue. In my thinking, what happens when you avoid correction is that you don't give people a chance to repent, or change their ways according to God's principles. Also, if this is a UB Church, they are ignoring the 2005-2007 discipline that says in Chapter 32: Discipline of Church Members
811 Introduction
All United Brethren members are expected to
conduct their lives according to the standards set
forth in Scripture. Their conduct should demonstrate
moral purity, personal honesty, faithfulness to the
Bible, and unity in the body of Christ. The church
is commanded to discipline its members when they
continue in open and habitual sin.
Every Christian is ultimately accountable to God.
But Christians who agree to become members of
the United Brethren church also voluntarily submit
themselves to the authority of its governing authori-
ties. Likewise, church leaders have an obligation to
discipline its members when necessary.

It is important that the Body of Christ acts like the Body and give loving chances to turn, even while being uncomfortable and tense doing so. We are compelled, if we are UB, to make this call as lovingly as possible.

Matt Kennedy said...


Thanks for your comments. I wasn't refering to a UB church in this post but it is good to know that the UB church has thing in mind (at least on paper).

I am hoping however, that the issue would go deeper than the denominational level and get to the actual biblical teaching itself. Each denomination can apply it as they see best ofcourse but I was hoping to touch on the root of the issue from a biblical perspective?

To confront a brother in unrepentant sin is an act of love. This is a perspective I think the church has lost in our "individual" and "personal" concept of a walk with Jesus. We think life is just between us as the believer and Christ. I would suggest that biblically this is not the case.