Monday, 21 May 2018

What is the responsibility of a Christian when a close family member has been disciplined (withdrawn from) by the church?

     Sometimes a dilemma is faced when it seems that one command of God must be “disobeyed” in order to obey another command of God (e.g. Matt. 12:5; John 7:22-23). The Lord instituted both family obligations and church-discipline obligations, so what happens when the fulfillment of one seems to conflict with the fulfillment of the other? For example, what does a Christian wife do when the church withdraws from her husband? What do Christian parents do when this happens to one of their children? What do the children do when this happens to one or both parents? On one hand there are God-given responsibilities for spouses (1 Cor. 7:3-5, 10-13; Eph. 5:22-33; Col. 3:18-19; 1 Pet. 3:1-7), parents (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21; 1 Tim. 5:8; Tit. 2:4), and children (Rom. 1:30; Eph. 6:1-3; Col. 3:20; Luke 2:42, 51). Even when children become adults, they still have certain obligations toward their parents (cf. Eph. 6:2; Matt. 15:4-6; Mark 7:9-13; Luke 18:18-21; 1 Tim. 5:4, 8, 16) and vice versa (cf. Gen. 7:1, 7; 24:1-4; 27:1-4; 46:1-7; 49:1 ff.; 1 Sam. 2:22-25; Matt. 22:2; Luke 15:20-32). On the other hand, God has instructed Christians not to associate with brethren who walk disorderly (1 Cor. 5:2-11; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14). This poses a real problem when some degree of association is necessary to fulfill a family duty. Unfortunately the Bible does not specifically address this predicament and there is no easy solution.
     The Lord must be a Christian’s first priority, even before the closest of human relationships (Matt. 10:37; Mark 10:29-30; Luke 14:26-33). When this is the case, at least two things will happen: (1) The Christian will not allow family members to hinder his obedience to the Lord, and (2) he will not neglect his God-given family obligations (which is part of his obedience to the Lord, cf. Col. 3:18-24). When an apparent conflict arises between the two, the Christian must first determine exactly what responsibilities he has toward the disciplined family member and then do his imperfect best to fulfill both without compromising either. In other words, he must try to carry out whatever family duties he might have in such a way that the disciplinary action is not compromised or rendered ineffective.
     The greatest responsibility one has toward a spouse, parent, or child is of a spiritual nature (cf. Deut. 6:5-9; 1 Pet. 3:1). There ought to be no question as to which of the following is most important: (a) temporal associations, or (b) eternal fellowship. The primary purpose of disciplinary action is to make the erring Christian aware of his sinful behavior, emphasize the seriousness of his spiritual condition, and engender shame and godly sorrow to prompt repentance and restoration (1 Cor. 5:5; 2 Thess. 3:14-15; 1 Tim. 1:20). It is an attempt to pull him “out of the fire” and to save his soul (Jude 23). 
     While it may not be necessary to discontinue all interaction, since some form of admonishing is to continue (2 Thess. 3:15; cf. Gal. 6:1), a decision must be made as to what is in the best spiritual interest of the one disciplined. If the errant loved one is treated the same as before (as though nothing is wrong) and continues to enjoy an approving relationship, he is not being shown loving concern for his spiritual condition and destiny, nor is he given the incentive to change.
     Emotionally this is without question an extremely difficult situation to be in, and much patience and understanding should be shown toward anyone who may be struggling with this dilemma. If a Christian is involved in family interaction with one disciplined by the church, whatever else might be said or done, the impression should not be left that the current condition of the erring member is forgotten, considered unimportant, or condoned.
--Kevin L. Moore

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Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Are there intercongregational responsibilities when an errant member of the church has been disciplined?

     The Bible does set a precedent for intercongregational cooperation (Acts 11:22-23, 27-30; 12:25; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8:1-24; 9:1-15; 11:8-9; Rom. 15:26), and letters of commendation were common in the first century when brethren transferred from one Christian community to another (Acts 18:27; Rom. 16:1-2; cf. 1 Cor. 4:17; Phil. 2:19-23). There were also warnings sent to alert brethren about those in error who posed a potential threat to the stability of the Lord’s work (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 1:15; 2:17-18; 4:10, 14-15; 3 John 9-11). Love and respect for one another and concern for the entire body of Christ require a degree of intercongregational collaboration.
     What if the immoral brother at Corinth had been disciplined by the local brethren, as Paul had instructed, but was then warmly embraced by the nearby Cenchrea congregation? The impact of the disciplinary action would have been severely weakened if not rendered completely ineffective. Moreover, those who accepted the errant brother would then be partaking in his evil deeds (cf. Rom. 1:32; Eph. 5:1- 7; 1 Tim. 5:22; 2 John 10-11) and subject to his leavening influence (1 Cor. 5:6). Open communication and cooperation among brethren can help avoid such problems.
     On the other hand, what if the Jerusalem church, having initially rejected Paul (Acts 9:26), had sent letters of warning to her sister congregations encouraging them to take the same stand? What if the congregation under Diotrephes’ influence had done this with reference to the apostle John and his coworkers (3 John 9-10)? To have blindly accepted these allegations without further investigation would not only have hurt those wrongly accused but would have greatly hindered the Lord’s cause.
     Since each congregation is autonomous (cf. Acts 14:23), each congregation must make its own decision based on the merits of each case. When an announcement of disciplinary action is received from a sister congregation and the disciplined member believes the action is unwarranted, it would be unwise to either blindly accept or flippantly disregard the allegations without knowing all the facts. Both parties should be prepared to provide as much specific information as possible. When details are too general, vague or unsubstantiated, more problems than solutions are generated. If the accusations prove to be valid, all congregations must respect and adhere to the disciplinary action so that it can fulfil its intended purpose. If it proves to be unwarranted, however, then maybe someone like Barnabas (Acts 9:26-27) can step in as an unbiased mediator to help resolve any possible misunderstandings.
--Kevin L. Moore


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Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Is it scriptural for an individual or group of individuals to withdraw from another member(s) without the consent of the rest of the brethren?

     Church discipline is intended to be a congregational rather than an individual exercise (cf. Matt. 18:17; 1 Cor. 5:4-5, 13; 2 Thess. 3:6), and obviously something is wrong when one or a few members are practicing something different from the rest. But if withdrawing from an erring Christian is necessary, whether it is done by the whole congregation or by only one person, it remains a biblical requirement and those refusing to do so are neglecting a divine mandate.
     Paul, as an individual, made judgments and took action against those in error, even when others did not (1 Cor. 5:3-4; 2 Cor. 13:2-3; 1 Tim. 1:20). Granted, as a divinely-appointed apostle he was in a position to do so and had the authority to command others to do the same (cf. 2 Thess. 3:6). But one always has divine authority to do what is right. Timothy, as an individual, was instructed to “turn away from” [apotrepou - 2nd person singular] certain ungodly people (2 Tim. 3:5) and Titus, as an individual, was told to “reject” [paraitrou - 2nd person singular] a divisive man (Titus 3:10). And while a textual variant makes it less than conclusive, in 1 Tim. 6:5 (KJV) Timothy, as an individual, was admonished to “withdraw from” [aphistaso - 2nd person singular] certain trouble-makers. It must be understood, however, that both Timothy and Titus were commissioned to impart to the brethren the instructions they had received (1 Tim. 4:6, 11; 6:2; 2 Tim. 2:2, 14; 4:2; Titus 1:5, 9; 2:1-10; 3:8). Surely Paul did not expect Timothy and Titus to withdraw from wayward people without expecting the rest of the brethren to do the same. But what would have been required of Timothy and Titus if the brethren at Ephesus and Crete had been unwilling to comply with the apostle’s instructions? Surely these men would have had to individually turn away from those in error.
     At this point it may be helpful to make an important distinction. No one today has the authority to single-handedly discipline another Christian or group of Christians. One may teach, caution, warn, and instruct (2 Tim. 4:2), but no individual has the power to put anyone out of the church (cf. 3 John 10). The disciplining of an errant member is a congregational responsibility and when everyone participates it is much more effective. However, when an individual (like Timothy or Titus) takes action alone, it is more for the purpose of self-protection and obedience to God than it is for disciplinary purposes. Certainly the congregation must be informed of the situation and given an opportunity to take a stand (cf. Matt. 18:15-17), but when an individual disassociates himself from another, without the participation of other Christians, the disciplinary impact is significantly weakened. Yet every Christian is under obligation to protect himself (and his family) from evil influences and to obey the Lord, whether others join him or not.
     A word of caution is in order. Sometimes a person suffers from the Elijah complex, thinking he is the only faithful one, when in reality Jehovah has thousands who have not yet bowed their knees to Baal (1 Kings 19:14-18). Before hasty decisions are made, one should seek the wise counsel of mature, biblically-knowledgeable Christians. “Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counsellors they are established” (Prov. 15:22). This is probably one of the reasons the Lord requires a plurality of witnesses before action is taken against an accused brother (Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Tim. 5:19; Heb. 10:28). While we need more individuals like Paul, Timothy and Titus, who are willing to stand for the truth even if it means standing alone, the church is not benefited by those like Diotrephes, who go overboard and withdraw from brethren illegitimately (3 John 9-10).
--Kevin L. Moore


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