Sunday, October 28

Dealing with sin in the church

Not long ago I received a phone call from one of our house church leaders. With tears and a broken voice they asked to come see us about what they described as a "very serious matter."  One of the actively involved young men in the church was having an affair with one of the older single mothers (also very active in the church.)

While this kind of thing certainly takes place in churches of all sizes, it is very hard to hide when both parties are part of an intimate gathering meeting several times a week. Needless to say, their sin had devastated their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. I was asked to come mediate and help the church deal with the issue.

What do you do in these kinds of situations? What do you say? How do you discipline those in error? How do you restore someone who has been caught in sin? What would you do in a similar situation?

Typically sin matters are often swept under the rug. We have enough problems of our own without having to deal with other people's messed up lives. After all, who am I to stick my nose into another's business? I believe this kind of attitude has hurt the Body of Christ. Without accountability, sin runs rampant in our midst. Our Kingdom mission becomes derailed.

But on the other hand, I have learned that it is not so much that people are afraid of confronting, but it is hard to know exactly what to do in these situations. How much authority do we have in the lives of others to tell them what they must do? You can't very well kick them out of the church for their sin. Where would they go? What chance for restoration would any of us have then?

Many times ministry responsibilities are taken away until the guilty parties show fruits of repentance. Often they are forbidden to partake of the Lord's Supper for "x" amount of time. But what restoration value is there in taking these kinds of things away? There doesn't seem to be much of a connection between taking away spiritual privileges and a person truly repenting.

While Matthew 18:15-17 gives instructions for when a brother sins, there is nothing in these verses for what to do to discipline one who confesses to their wrong-doing.  Matthew 18:18 seems to leave it up to us to decide what is best and states, "whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven."

So here is what we ended up doing, step-by-step...

On Sunday morning we called the church together. We explained that we had been invited to help the church work their way through the sin that had been committed by two of its members. We read aloud John 8:3-11 of the woman caught in adultery and brought to Jesus. Nobody present would be casting any stones at the two, because we were all sinners.

While the young man was present for all that had been shared up to this point, the single mother had not come to the meeting. I explained that unless both parties were present, we really could not deal with the issue. I appointed two ladies to go find the sister. Everyone understood that she was embarrased to come, but that we could not deal with the sin without her being present. The church sat in awkward silence for the 15-minutes it took to find the sister and bring her to the gathering. Most of us spent that time in silent prayer.

Finally the sister came, accompanied by the two sisters who had gone out and found her. We explained again what it was we were doing, and asked her to be part of our gathering as together we sought the Holy Spirit's direction on how to deal with the sin in our midst. She agreed.

I then read aloud, James 5:16 where we are admonished to "confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed." I explained that our intention was healing. We wanted to make right that which was wrong so that all might be healed.

I turned to the brother in question and asked him if he had anything he would like to say or confess to his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who loved him. He did so. For the next ten or so minutes he confessed before the church and the Lord his sin. He did not try to hide or excuse what he had done. While intimate details were not shared, he made clear that he recognized that what he had done was sin. Tears streamed from his eyes. He was repentant and sorry.

Upon hearing his public confession, I asked the sister involved if she would like to say anything. She likewise made a full confession and expressed how sorry she was for what she had done.

After hearing both confess their sin, I asked all the brothers to gather around the fallen brother and pray aloud over him. We then had all the sisters do the same for our sister. Both kneeled in front of the gathered church while they were prayed over.

At the end of this time, I again read aloud, Matthew 18:18 where Jesus gives us the authority to bind and loose in heaven and earth. We declared them forgiven in Jesus Name. They were admonished to cease from their sin and to not be found together unless another brother/sister was present. Both agreed.

At this point, I felt led to ask if there were any others present who might have sin to confess. Much to my amazement, nearly every single person present confessed aloud their sins. Many were embarrasingly personal, yet the humiliation of tearfully confessing publicly one's sin brought genuine healing to the church. The church gathered around each person after their confession and prayed over them offering words of exhortation and counsel as the Spirit directed each to do.

I don't know if we did it the right way or not, but by the time we broke for lunch everyone seemed to be full of the Holy Spirit, cleansed, with smiles on their faces and a renewed hope in the Lord.

What have been some of your experiences in dealing with sin in the church?


Pilgrim said...

When the church acts with love and truth both united, as this church has, a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit cannot be far off.

J. Guy Muse said...

I agree, Pilgrim. This kind of confrontation is uncomfortable, but when done in love brings healing and strength to the church.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Sorry having trouble with my spelling today. Here is what I mean't to say.
Sounds like you did exactly what the Lord wanted you to do. I don't think there is a formula for this Personally.Outside of just loving the saints. You just do and be as the Father shows you. Being that healing was brought..........then sounds like the Lord had his way!
But it truly is no fun!

The Parousia Network Cyber Cafe said...

Incredibly well done! This is what Biblical "community" is supposed to look like. I agree with another comment that there is no "formula" to follow, only examples to encourage us to obey Scripture, which you did. I think we could all learn and benefit from this example. Thanks for sharing it with the rest of the body.

Darrell said...

That was Beautiful!

J. Guy Muse said...

Ruth, PNCC and Darrell: Thanks for your comments. Indeed there is no formula. For this to happen there must be real love for one another. Fear keeps people from dealing with sin in the church, afraid that the offenders will leave. But if we don't lovingly confront, we aren't doing anybody any favors. We truly need one another to help us through the ups and downs of life.