You have heard the concept of “Economical with the Truth” before. This is very similar to the concept of “Selective Truth”. In place of saying to someone, “You are a liar,” you say, “You are economical with the truth” or “You are selective with the truth.” I am certain you understand this very well. One of the most important instruments of the church to progress towards holiness and purity is Church Discipline. I know I dealt with “discipline” very recently, but I want to bring another slant to it. Just like saying someone is economical with the truth or selective with the truth, so it could be said that some churches or some pastors or some church leaders are economical with church discipline or selective with church discipline. I have always maintained that private sin must be dealt with privately and public sin must be dealt with publicly. By this I mean that those sins engaged in within the privacy of your house or mind are not known to others and even if the person committing those sins comes to the pastor or church council confessing the sin … it must be treated privately. But if the sin is a public sin, meaning that the congregation become aware of the sin, then the sin needs to be treated publicly … that is, within the membership of the church.
Selective discipline is when the pastor or church council treats members differently when sin is revealed. By “sin” I do not mean every single sin. If one is caught in a moment of anger, church discipline is unnecessary. Most people have that moment of anger, and if everyone was disciplined for every ‘little’ sin, it would require a full time staff member for this and such like sins. Church discipline that requires publicity are open sin that people see and it affects the Body of Christ negatively. One such sin could be public drunkenness or open adultery. Naturally, there are many private sins and many public sins. Selective discipline is when the pastor or church council deals with one person’s public sin differently to another’s public sin.
Let me set this up for you. In one case where someone was guilty of a sin that was more ‘private’, the sin was made public. It was announced to the congregation and a notification was placed on the webpage. Certain disciplinary steps were put into place. The sad thing here was that the gossip spread like wild fire throughout the structure of the ministry on a national level. In another case gossip was spread about a certain individual over a protracted period of time. Largely, this was a regional matter. When the offended person became aware of the gossip and addressed the gossip (even though it was years later), it was brushed off casually by the words “people change”.
Two situations, one was largely private and made public with the offender being punished harshly, without love, care and no reconciliation in sight. The other was public and maliciously damaging a reputation and was brushed off as if it never actually happened. Such selective discipline is associated mostly with who one favours within the church and who one has little or no time for … or … the offence is taken so personally that it is dealt with harshly. The problem with this is that those who exercise the discipline “play God” and chose who will be disciplined and who not. Irrespective who they are, they willingly ignore the intention and purpose of Biblical Church Discipline.
Although written in the context of spiritual gifting within the Body of Christ, Paul says:
1Co 12:21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
If the parts of the body (Body of Christ) have equal concern for each part of the body (each individual in the Body of Christ), then surely Biblical Church Discipline needs to be exercise consistently throughout the Body of Christ as is applicable, be it private sin or public sin. You see, Biblical Church Discipline is an expression of love! It expresses God’s love for the individual and the body. For the individual to learn, repent and recover and the body to be warned on the one hand and rally in prayer and support for the one disciplined on the other hand. It is true that discipline is painful … but understand the pain in the context of “short term pain, long term gain.” Sin left undone could easily permeate the Body as yeast spreads in dough. I did some gardening today. After the rains we have had the weeds spring up rapidly. When left unattended, the spread quickly. These are two example of how sin, undealt with, could spread throughout the Body. Hence, the pastor and church council need to protect the Body of Christ by dealing with public sin correctly otherwise people will see and duplicate because no corrective action is taken. The act of love in Biblical Church Discipline is vital because it expresses concern and care for both the offender and the Body. You want the Body protected through warning and you want the offender restored through correction so that he or she might once again participate positively in the church.
Dear God, I understand that I sin far more than I care to admit. It embarrasses me to know You see my behaviour. I would be devastated should my wicked ways become known to others. Lord, forgive my sin and help me to pursue holiness so that I may contribute towards making your Church radiate Your glory. Graciously help pastors, leaders and church councils to exercise Biblical Church Discipline when call upon to do so. Amen.