Archive for the ‘Church’ Category

Church Discipline: Third Degree

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

church-discipline-3“And 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-gatherer.” (Matthew 18:3 NASB)

This Scripture is one of the harshest Scriptures in the entire Bible, and many people hate and disagree with this verse. Let me tell you, I have seen this verse hideously distorted, and the pain that it has caused people who are dear to me through its misapplication has been unbelievable, especially if first and second degree has never occurred. Yes, four times in my life I have personally witnessed third degree happening BEFORE first and second degree. Never, EVER do this to people, because they might leave God forever because of the grievous sin of the church against them. At best, it leaves a permanent scar, after causing the sweet Christian to crumple up in so much pain that he doesn’t know where to turn. Because, you see, his heart was open to God, and you committed spiritual capital punishment against him before he even knew what he did.

God has created third degree church discipline as the spiritual capital punishment for the vilest offenders who have hearts of stone and continue to refuse to repent. That is why God has created it to be so unbelievably painful. For example, if a man is unfaithful to his wife, and several people have confronted him already and he refuses to repent, he needs to be thrown out of the church. Maybe if this happens, he will realize, “Oh wait a minute. My sin has more ramifications than I thought. What I justified in my heart is actually wrong and has deeply wounded my wife. The church is holding me accountable for this, and rightly so.” Then he comes to his senses, like the prodigal in the pig slop.

Stealing is another reason to throw someone out of the church. But it’s better just to send them to jail. If someone is harming other people, this is the only reason I believe that a person should be thrown out of the church.

If someone has an “attitude,” that is NOT something that I believe someone should be thrown out of the church for. For example, someone was accused of pride. Okay… If you’ve already confronted them about the ugliness of their sin, at this point, just pray for them. After all, EVERYONE has too much pride. Heart issues are NEVER something that you should be thrown out of church for.

I would also like to mention informal third degree, because it happens all the time, and it is just as painful as being thrown out of the church. This is when people in a position of power, usually the pastor, an elder, or a Bible study leader, block a person from meeting with other believers because of a perceived sin. If the person in power has never confronted that person gently one-on-one, he has no right to throw him out of a Bible study. The guy doesn’t even know he did something wrong, for crying out loud.

If the first time a person is confronted includes the eldership, and it is only something based on heresay, this is completely bewildering to the person being attacked. That person can’t defend themselves and try to understand the situation because it is considered insubordination to the pastor. But he has NEVER heard of his sin. How then can he understand what he did, if everyone is ganging up against him and no one will listen? I’m telling you, this is demonic. It causes the internal destruction of the church. Most people can’t survive this. They will leave the church and never go back.

Church Discipline: Second Degree

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

church-discipline-2“But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.” (Matthew 18:2 NASB)

If second degree church discipline happens before first degree, it’s called slander.

Just think about it: if someone sins against you and you go blabbing to others about how bad that person is, the gossip and slander that you are committing poisons the minds of the people that you’re talking to against that person. You are in effect ruining that person’s reputation when they don’t even know about their sin. This is evil.

The only person that you should talk to is the person that sinned against you. But let’s say you’re a wimp. The thought of confronting that other person gives you panic attacks. If you sincerely can’t do the right thing, I will give you one way out: you may tell your husband. But you must realize that this is also sin. (I’ll tell you why in a minute.) If you acknowledge to your husband that you yourself are sinning, your husband can give you perspective on the situation which might cause you to stop obsessing and forgive the person. Your husband is your priest, according to Ephesians 5, where he washes you with the Word. My own husband always rebukes me, so it’s no fun for me to tell him. Also, men usually realize that a woman’s perspective is often marred by hormones and emotion, and that the facts are often skewed. For this reason, your husband might not be poisoned against that other person because of your words. The thing that makes it sin is if your husband believes the bad stuff about the other person, because then the person’s reputation is ruined when they don’t even know that they sinned.

I know of a woman who told her husband a skewed perspective of what she perceived as the truth. Her husband then told the pastor these alleged “facts” that were basically hearsay that had stewed in a cauldron of the woman’s soul for years. You can imagine that the man who was slandered against had to leave the church, even though he hadn’t even sinned. I myself bear witness to this specific event, which was excruciating to the person who was slandered. This is why I say it’s still sin to tell your husband.

Now let me tell you how second degree is supposed to work. Let’s say you do the right thing. You go to the person who sinned, and you tell them they sinned. (Most of the time this will be the end of it, because they will apologize, and all is well.) But let’s say they don’t handle it well, and they yell at you and call you names. Or the opposite: they look smug and self-righteous, and their ears are plugged against you.

If you told no one, prayed about it, and confronted the person, I’m clapping for you. I’m giving you a standing ovation. Wow, you’ve got guts. Confront the person as gently as you can, since harsh words stir up anger. My personal secret weapon is to yield to God in the moment and let God give me the words. When I rehearse words beforehand, it’s only manipulation and stewing, and it causes me more stress. So I commit my situation to God and phone the person. It’s easier than talking to the person face to face. You can also write an e-mail, but these words can come back and bite you, even if they are exactly what God wants you to say. I write a letter occasionally because when someone’s ears are plugged and they won’t listen to anything you say, you sometimes need to set up the argument and use many, many Scriptures to knock down their sin. In situations like these, I go ahead and write the letter, even though it might bite me. I do it because it’s the right thing, and so help me God, I will do the right thing.

So let’s say you confronted the person privately about their sin, and they wouldn’t listen. Now it’s biblical for you to tell one person. Pick a person who you think will be heard by the person sinning. Don’t just pick a person who will side with you. Make it as easy as possible for the person to repent. Don’t make it humiliating. Every human being deserves to have some form of dignity.

So the two of you need to confront the person who did not repent when you went to them one-on-one. Most of the time the person who sinned will repent at this point, because they will realize that it’s not just you with a personal vendetta against them, but that what you’re saying is actually true.

The damage is minimized to two people who love the person who sinned, enough to tell them to stop.

(Stay tuned for third degree church discipline…)

Church Discipline: First Degree

Monday, October 31st, 2011

church-discipline-1Church discipline is severely misunderstood. When used properly, it is exactly what the Christian who is sinning needs. When used improperly, it can irrevocably damage the soul of a person, and it is absolutely excruciating to that person. Let me explain why God wrote this specific order, and why disobeying this order is grievous to God.

Let’s spell out the first degree so that there is no mistaking it:

“And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” (Matthew 18:1)

First degree church discipline is fabulous. If more people used it instead of jumping to second or third degree, this life would be grand. First degree means that a person sinned. Without telling anyone else their offense against you, go to that person in private and let them know their sin.

Wow. This is staggering. God wrote this. Everyone forgets first degree because it’s awesome. Nobody gets hurt. No one is slandered, no poison is spread, there is no public disgrace. If you are the one sinning, you are SO HAPPY that the person came to you in private, because you can talk things over.

Believe it or not, MOST of the time when you perceive that someone sinned against you, it is simply a misunderstanding. That person did not mean to hurt your feelings. Assume the best in people. If you twist what everybody says and mull it over for days until you’re furious, you are sinning way more than the other person anyway.

So go to that person in private. You’ve got to have guts to do this. God commands you to do this for your own good as well as for the good of that person who has offended you. You see, that person is blind to their sin, and you are the one that saw it. It’s up to you. If you do NOT go to that person, they will never know that they sinned. They will continue in their sin. And you are now responsible before God for their sin (Ezekiel 33:8-9). You are guilty of sinning against God for not telling them. And they will continue to wallow in their sin because no one loves them enough to tell them to stop.

(Stay tuned for second degree church discipline…)

Finding a Good Church

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

finding-a-good-churchIf you move to a new city, I strongly recommend not settling for the first church you walk into. You have a unique opportunity to see the state of Christianity in the area in which you live. Don’t leave a church where you are a member unless God is purposely moving you forward. Faithfulness is worth a lot in God’s eyes, and endurance is usually what is required of you when you are hurt by others in the church. You must feel a supernatural peace from God about leaving, and a sweetness toward those left behind.

This summer we have been visiting a wide variety of churches. The style, the preaching, the worship, and the people were vastly different from each other, even though I saw people who loved God at each place. For example, one church was more like a geriatric ward (I love the elderly, so I have no problem with this!) and hardly any young people, and another church had only young people and not a single person with gray hair. Some of the churches were warmer to newcomers, and others were disconnected and uninterested in making new friends. Some people left you alone while other people were so in-your-face that they were almost like  annoying car salesmen. I suddenly saw how unbelievers viewed Christians.

Neither I nor my husband enjoyed this process. It felt like we were eating too many flavors of ice-cream, and we wanted to puke. Each Sunday when we got home from church, my husband would say to the children, “We are not going back to this church, and here is the reason…” Then he would tell the children why the church was not solid. My children began to gain discernment.

This brings me to the most important characteristic my husband and I were looking for in a church: expository preaching of the Word of God. This means a verse by verse explanation of Scripture. Ideally we both enjoy exposition combined with exhortation, so that we walk away convicted to become more holy people. (But pure exposition also causes conviction.) A high view of the Word of God and of God Himself are vital. Both my husband and I want to walk in holiness. If the preacher gives 20 illustrations that are disjointed and finally throws in a verse at the very end as an afterthought, the Word of God is not preached at that church. My husband said he felt like putting police tape around those churches to prevent more people from being led astray.

The second-to-most important factor in our search for a church was friendships. Childhood friendships are crucial for walking in holiness as an adult. That’s because childhood friends understand you like no one else can; you can’t fool them. They can remind you of a time in your life years prior when you were in a similar situation, and how you handled it well, and you can do so now. In other words, friends who have known you forever are irreplaceable as far as rebuking effectively or encouraging in a way that is real. This is no small matter. There’s something about my best friend choosing to remain my friend over the years, even though she isn’t related to me. It makes me feel valuable as a human being. “There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother,” says Proverbs, so even Scripture acknowledges that people ought to have friendships outside their family. There are also blind spots in families that only an outsider can point out; it helps you to gain wisdom to see something from another person’s point of view.

The quality of the adults at a church influences the quality of the children. Are they striving after holiness? In one of the churches we attended, the adult Sunday school was talking about personality types and only mentioned Scripture for five minutes. When prayer requests were taken, the requests were trivial. At another church, the prayer requests mentioned in the Sunday school indicated that the adults had a deep walk with God. People talked about sanctification issues, adopting an orphan from Haiti, and for God to help them on a missions trip to India. Even the comments during the Sunday school in that second church showed that people cared about obedience to God, and they weren’t afraid to speak the truth.

The style of worship didn’t even factor in, although my husband had an opinion about the depth of the words of the songs. He doesn’t enjoy songs like “Kumbaya” that have no substance. In one church, people were actually dancing during the songs. Oddly, I felt like everything was out of control, even though I love raising my hands during worship music. To be honest, I would rather be in a church where no one is raising their hands, so that I can raise mine and free other people to worship God. (I see in my peripheral vision other people raising their hands because my action freed them; they just didn’t want to be the first person to do it.) Forty years of being in churches where almost no one raises hands makes me feel weird when the entire church is moving. It makes me feel dizzy. I was surprised because I’m a closet charismatic at heart. I want to worship God with wild abandon, and I’m always holding back for fear of distracting others. Now I had a perfectly good chance to go to a church that was more charismatic, and I found myself backing up.

Finally we found the right church. We both knew as soon as we heard the pastor preach. He exposited the Word of God with scholarship and with a passion for truth. My husband later said to our pastor, “As soon as I heard you preach, I knew that I was home.” I felt the same way. At last we were served a feast of spiritual steak, and our souls could rest.