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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Church Discipline – The Confrontation

Who, When and Where
The scripture offers little concerning the specifics of how to approach a brother who has offended us (Mat. 18) or a brother who has erred in a general offense (Gal. 6) but there are distinctions between these two. In the case of a personal offense we are to go alone to the offender and to him alone at first. In the case of a general offense when a brother is overtaken in a fault, the task is to be carried out by those who are spiritual. More often than not we totally ignore these commands and sabotage any possibility of reconciliation by first going to everyone we know complaining and seeking confirmation that either we have a right to feel the way we do or insuring that the general offense becomes generally offensive to everyone.

If we are offended by the word or deed of another believer we are commanded to confront that person before we speak to anyone else and if we are reconciled to them then no one else ever need know about the offense. Any other communication is only gossip and backbiting and confirms us to be the hypocrites that Jesus pointed at. We prove we’ve failed to remove the beam from our own eye and it is impossible for us to see clearly to help our brother with his splinter.

With respect to a general offense it may be wise to expect that the elders in the assembly are spiritual but under no circumstance should a novice undertake this task. If we are personally aware of a believer who is an open reproach to the Church, yet their activities seem unknown to the Church, then we should likely seek out an elder for council. If the person in question is an elder then the accusation can only be made before two or three witnesses. If the person in question has openly disrupted the fellowship then the elders should take action as soon as possible if not immediately. In any event the beam analogy still applies and the elder may well explain or enlighten us concerning our own shortcoming and we should be prepared to receive their instruction. Any further communication would then be gossip and/or backbiting. As an elder we too might do well to council with the other elders and find agreement on how best to approach the erring brother.

Remember the Goal
The goal of the confrontation itself is not repentance. It is to adhere to the command of Christ to inform our brother of an offense and is only the first step toward reconciliation. We are not commanded, “Make your brother to repent”. That is not our place and we have no reason to expect repentance from confrontation though it may or may not occur. It is critical that we apply the golden rule liberally. We have to remember that we ourselves would need time to digest information and to consider the implications. We would need time to pray and to form a godly response whether that is repentance or further explanation.

The Rules of Engagement
The confrontation should not be confrontational. We should already have forgiven the offense seeking only reconciliation. Our approach should be in accordance with our relationship to that person and shouldn’t be a formality. We must be open and honest in all and avoid manipulation in any sense. We must clearly state how we’ve been hurt and be careful not to insinuate our effort is on behalf of another. It should be clear this is a disruption of our relationship with them. We should employ only the highest level of Christian deportment and fully exhibit the fruits of the Spirit. We must be slow to wrath, longsuffering, slow to speak and quick to reconcile, patient, selfless and kind. In short we should strive to love our brother with all our being. It may be wise to say something like, “I would like you to consider something. I’m not asking you to do anything at this point but I need you to think about it so we can discuss it sometime soon.” It is natural for many people to respond immediately to an accusation and their response might be one of defense. There is no need to force the issue at this point. Simply reassert your need for their consideration and beg their indulgence. They may or may not respond favorably but this does not necessarily indicate failure and should not be considered their response.

Patience is Needed
The next step toward reconciliation on our part may be the most difficult. We must be patient and give time for our brother to deal with the issue and for God to work in his heart. If no harm is being done then we should not force reconciliation nor should we treat our brother as a leper. Unless he continues in the offense we should simply give the space that is needed to see if he will repent or reconcile. Our relationship may be unable to grow outwardly while our brother is growing inwardly but it is a necessary step nonetheless. We may be required to discuss the situation several times until some understanding can be reached. We must be willing to make that commitment to one another or admit we don’t truly love our brethren.

Judging the Results
As previously noted the initial response to our effort could be negative ending in a verbal rejection. We should not judge the result of our effort based on this but only on future words and deeds. Matthew 21:28-31 illustrates this principle. Verbal reconciliation would certainly be preferable and could facilitate the development of our relationship with that person yet it is still best to see an indication that your brother truly understands how he has harmed you prior to restoring your trust in him.

Without a further offense there is no reason for further action. A verbal rejection does not warrant an appeal to the elders or the Church. There must be an indication that the offensive activity is habitual. If the offender seeks forgiveness then his “record is clear”, so to speak, in that if he would offend again the process must begin anew. A habitual offender may eventually find himself outside of the trust of all in the assembly yet if he habitually seeks forgiveness we are obligated to grant it. This means we cannot appeal to the elders or the Church and our best recourse under that circumstance is to withhold our trust and not give any opportunity for the offense until our brother can demonstrate he is trustworthy.

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12 Comments:

Blogger Gordon Cloud said...

You have obviously put a great deal of thought into this study. I think you are getting at the heart of the matter which is reconciliation.

Perhaps the reason that so many churches do not practice discipline today is an over-correction from the abuses of it in years gone by. Probably all of us have heard "horror stories" of discipline becoming politicized or being carried out with ulterior motives.

The goal must be reconciliation and nothing else. Otherwise, we forfeit the work of God's grace in the matter.

4/11/2006 10:15:00 AM  
Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Good advice, Kc.

4/11/2006 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger Kristi said...

Kc, I think you should write a book. I mean, you've put tons of thought into this. You've taken the time to put it into words. It's something that would be a great help to all believers... Why not?

4/11/2006 12:57:00 PM  
Blogger Kc said...

Gordon I totally agree. Discipline has so abused in the Church. May God bless us to set our heart to follow His command according to His will.

Thanks Matthew. ;-)

Kristi your kindness humbles me. I am totally unqualified but I pray this would be a blessing to those who are in need. ;-)

4/11/2006 03:35:00 PM  
Blogger JeffGeorgia said...

What a wonderful writing of a needed subject to listen to and talk about. I will come back more often to hear such wise words.

Shalom.

4/11/2006 05:09:00 PM  
Blogger Kc said...

Jeff welcome and thanks for your kind words. I peeked in at your place and I'm very anxious to start reading your blog. I may have a million questions for you. I hope you don't mind. ;-)

4/11/2006 06:13:00 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

"we are to go alone to the offender"

As you say, this is the most often neglected part of the process.

I think people are afraid of this and I think the fear is Satan-born.

Magnificent and much needed post!

4/12/2006 07:15:00 AM  
Blogger Kc said...

Joe in my experience this has been the greatest reason why discipline failed. Thanks for the encouragement. ;-)

4/12/2006 07:48:00 AM  
Blogger Seeker said...

Well said, Kc.

4/12/2006 09:23:00 PM  
Blogger Kitty Cheng said...

Great post Kc. Such wise words and advice. Unfortunately many of our church don't do it well! Confrontation is never an easy thing is it?

4/12/2006 11:23:00 PM  
Blogger audrey` said...

A very Blessed Easter to you, Corry and your loved ones :)

4/13/2006 03:56:00 AM  
Blogger Kc said...

Karen thanks. Your opinion is valued highly. ;-)

Kitty likewise and so true. Love may be simple but it's sometimes so hard to do. ;-)

Audrey I wish the same for you and yours zus. ;-)

4/13/2006 06:21:00 AM  

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