Hiding Behind Church Discipline?

As a recovering skeptic, I am likely a bit too sensitive to anything sounding like hypocrisy. Two sermons I watched recently, triggered some old thoughts about the habit some churches seem to have of sweeping problems under the rug. To understand my thinking on that issue, you might be interested in Seeking an Excuse.

One sermon discussed Pauls’s chastisement of the church at Corinth for allowing sin to fester in the congregation. The second referred to that sermon several times but took a different approach to the matter of sin in the congregation. At least it seemed that way to me.

The first pastor dealing with church discipline understood Paul’s position to be clear. The church cannot tolerate sin within the body. The second pastor, referred to the other sermon several times, but he was dealing with the process of church discipline. That is where the conflict or confusion seemed to arise.

As noted above, the first sermon was clear, as Paul had been clear. The sinners within the church must be dealt with, publicly if necessary. The second or follow-up sermon covered what the process of church discipline should be and how it should be handled.

The young pastor giving the sermon on church discipline did a good job explaining the basics of church discipline as laid out in Matthew 18:15-20. Where he seemed to stumble was dealing with the idea of removing the unrepentant sinner by putting him out. To me, it was obvious the pastor was saying the problem needed to be handled internally and quietly. That seemed to clash with Paul’s message.

Paul made it clear in his letter to the Corinthians. The unrepentant sinner must be thrown out of the congregation and exiled to the outside world if he would not seek forgiveness and change his ways. Such action would be clear to all including the non-believers and critics of the early church.

The pastor giving that sermon specifically mentioned social media and blogging as problems in the area of keeping internal and, as I understood it, personal struggles quiet. That raised another red flag for me in a way.

This church has an enormous online presence. From live-streaming sermons to its own YouTube channel and Facebook page, the church is square in the middle of the social media culture. I am certain the pastor and the team advising him did not see the hypocrisy in the message, but it does seem to be in conflict with Paul’s comments to the Church at Corinth.

Whatever the intent of the pastor’s sermon it could easily be interpreted as an attempt to quash or forestall the public airing of the congregation’s dirty laundry. Of course, as implied above, that may be my biases welling up from my past. Whatever the truth, one thing is clear.

The Body of the Church, the congregation, and the staff. are not immune to temptation and mistakes. When they come to the attention of the church through the disciplinary process or some other revelation, the church must respond.

That does not mean churches should return to the days of scarlet letters and public whippings. Still, intentionally concealing or down-playing misbehavior may lead to more trouble down the road, internally and externally.

Anyone doubting that only needs to think of the problems encountered by the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts to name just two major institutions heavily tarnished by their failure to follow Paul’s counsel.

© sinnerswalk – 2021

About S. Eric Jackson

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