I am all for church discipline. As someone that happens to believe the Bible is God’s inspired Word, believing in church discipline is a requirement. When both Christ and Paul deal with discipline, it is in the context of unrepentant believers. Jesus tells us to cast a rotten body part (or a body part that causes us to sin) aside. He also says that if an unrepentant sinner won’t change even after being brought before the church, he is to be cast out of the family. Paul says that we shouldn’t even eat with a Christian that refuses to repent from his sin. Suffice it to say, there is sufficient evidence in Scripture that when a brother or sister refuses to repent, we are to cut them off.
However, some churches tend to take this too far or tend to ignore certain contexts. How many churches are uncomfortable with homosexuals or prostitutes coming into their church even when the ‘sinner’ (we’re all sinners) lays no claim to Christ? We should be willing to accept and embrace all people who do not claim Christ and let our lives serve as an example of what a Christ-filled life is. Likewise, let our lives draw the ‘sinners’ to repentance in Christ.
What bothers me, however is how some churches are beginning to lose the concept of grace. What has triggered this is what I have learned about some church in my area, dealing with a young man who used to be a practicing homosexual. We’ll call him James.
James was molested by his stepfather at a very young age, which led to James being confused about which gender he was to prefer during some developmental years. While in high school, he began to have sexual encounters with other men. However, he came to Christ and began to work against those urges. Though he was tempted and struggled, as time progressed the temptations became weaker and weaker. Unfortunately, his effeminate mannerisms did not disappear (he was raised by his mother). Though he is attracted to women and no longer struggles with homosexuality, he still acts effeminate at times.
Due to his effeminate nature, an assistant pastor wanted to talk to James. He asked if James struggled with homosexuality. James told him the entire story, James’ past, and so on. He also explained how he had been healed through Christ. The assistant pastor, however, decided that such a member was not welcome. He has asked James to leave the church – a decision backed by the pastor and supporting staff.
Where is the grace? Why is it a former homosexual cannot be welcomed into the church without suspicion, but a former alcoholic, drug dealer, or average American teenager are welcomed with open arms? What is so different between James and others? If a young man comes forward and says that he slept with 100 women before coming to Christ, but hasn’t slept with a single one since, he would be lauded as a hero of the faith, proof that God can redeem anyone. James, however, is shunned because of his past.
I will say this – this church is committing a sin that is just as erroneous as homosexuality. The assistant pastor will have to answer to God just as much as any homosexual will. When we don’t show grace, when we withhold it, we are sinning and ourselves are in need of grace.
Never forget where you come from. Never forget that you too were a sinner. Never forget that God has shown just as much grace for you as He has for all of His other children. If a person has repented or is willing to repent, embrace that person and bring that person back into the church. That is what church discipline is ultimately about – restoring, not destroying.