On a recent Sunday, I saw Jack again for the first time in years. He was back in town for a short visit, and he came to church with his family… Then, after the worship service, he purposefully sought me out and looked me directly in the eye. Thank you . . . for, well, for all of that, six years ago. If I’m honest, there were moments when I hated you. But I’m so thankful now. Really . . . Thank you.
Six years ago, our elders put Jack under church discipline.
Last week, he thanked me for it.
Our church tries to practice formal church discipline in obedience to Scripture (Matt. 18:15–20; 1 Cor. 5:1–5;Gal. 6:1–5). Because we’re human and flawed and faulty, however, we don’t do it perfectly. But we must practice it. Our consciences are captive to the Word of God.
The only stories you ever hear about church discipline are the bad ones. That’s partly because there are lots of ways to foul it up, but also because the good stories are six years in the making. The good stories don’t make headlines. Church discipline, when rightly practiced and graced by God, “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11) in those chastened by it. And when they come back to say “thank you,” it’s not a history-making moment. It’s just an another evidence of God’s redeeming grace.
Case of Hiding Serious Sin
In Jack’s case, deception put him under discipline. On the surface he was a sharp, committed church member—a medical student helping to lead and oversee a small group. But under the surface, he was hiding a serious problem with lust and alcohol. I still remember the meeting in my office—after a confrontation from his peers—where we wrote on a whiteboard the women he’d slept with over the past year. There were six, including one who was in his small group and wasn’t yet a Christian. Instead of sharing the gospel, he had shared her bed. Instead of inviting her to Christ, he had invited her to sin. And all of this came to light not because he came forward in repentance, but because she did.
So our elders asked Jack to write a letter to the other covenant members of our church, bringing into the light what he had been keeping in the dark. We shared his letter privately, not publicly, inviting his fellow members to surround him in prayer and accountability. And we laid out for him a redemptive plan with specific boundaries and expectations to help kill his sin.