Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
Well, here we are. We have arrived at what frankly is the most uncomfortable part of our series we have been doing in the process we often call “Church discipline.” I am not such a fan of that commonly accepted phrase, even though it fits. A better name would be, “Restoring a wayward brother.” Discipline nonetheless fits as a term.
Even though the process may be disciplinary, the objective remains restorative. Period, no exceptions. It’s similar to a child or employee. The intent of discipline with either is to correct behavior, point to the right path, and bring that person back into fellowship with the whole, whether it be a family or a work place. The intent in our families or workplaces is not to “get back” at the offender, and it should not be in our churches. If one did that in their family, they would be called an abuser. If one did that in their workplace, they would be called a jerk. If we do it in our churches, we should be called unBiblical.
So, again, here we are. We have an wayward brother or sister sinning and transgressing openly and rebelliously. We have talked to them and implored them with love in our hearts. Perhaps their friends, family, or church officers have talked to them and implored them with love in their hearts. We have taken the issue before the church, and our entire local assembly of believers has talked to them and implored them with love in their hearts. Nothing has worked, and all has failed.
First, I hope we all understand this did not all take place in 24 hours. I could never say how long it might take; it simply takes as long as it takes. We do not have a schedule for this, as our goal is not to “finish” things up, but to restore our brother or sister.
Sadly, it has failed. Let’s look again at our guiding passage:
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. A heathen man and a publican. We need to take a look at this phrase quickly, because it’s application is often misused when applying this passage. It quickly gets pointed out that these are just the type of people Jesus frequented during His earthly ministry. That is absolutely a statement of fact and is not up for dispute. There’s no issue there whatsoever, as even for this writer these sorts are just the ones reached out to and invited to come be with us in our church.
There is another meaning to this phrase, and it is the one which applies here. In the Jewish society, the term heathens and publicans would be used to refer to those who were ostracized and outcasts from Jewish society. As unpleasant as this is, that is the application being used here. An unrepentant member among us, must be removed from among us.
What does that mean? Of course it varies from association to association and denomination to denomination. Some might call it excommunication; some call it shunning; in our work we withdraw fellowship. From the churches standpoint, this is a public rebuke of a public transgression. From the standpoint of the wayward one, they simply are no longer part of our fellowship. This person is no longer our brother or sister in fellowship. They are not hated, but that aren’t really part of us any more either.
What is this not?
It is not salvific in nature. We don’t revoke any person’s salvation. That is beyond our rights and our pay grade.
It is not their notice that they are no longer welcome in our church. That would be like telling other outsiders they have the get cleaned up before they come see us.
It is not their sign that they are no longer part of our families or circle. Do we refuse to associate with all of our sinning family members? We probably have sinning, lost friends as well. Having said that, one cannot deny there will be a change in relationship with this person in our circle of friends.
So, it’s over right? No, no, no and more no! What is our objective? Restoration. When do our efforts cease? When the person repents and is restored or they die. Until then, it is not over.