A bit put out!
Do you, like me, struggle with some of the passages in the Bible? I think especially of those that talk of not eating or associating with “sinners” and putting people out of the church.
We have all known people who have felt themselves excluded from the Body of Christ for some reason or other. Maybe because they have felt different, “other than”, not good enough for the rest of their church family, because their clothes/talk/behaviour/lifestyle has met with a lack of understanding or welcome. Sadly I can think of several men in prison who whilst serving their sentence, became followers of Jesus and were enthusiastic about the relevant and rugged chapel services and bible studies inside, but just couldn’t find the same closeness and friendship on the out, and were unable to find a church family where they felt comfortable and welcome and fitted in.
Then there are some people whose perception of “unwantedness” stems more from how they view themselves and how others in the past have treated them. One of my earlier patterns of behaviour was to exclude myself from some groups, misreading or distorting their normal social interaction for rejection – I sometimes still catch myself with this default position!
Then there are those who imagine every remark from the front on Sundays critically directed towards themselves, and who hear things one-to-one that were never said, but who are actually being challenged by the persistent voice of Holy Spirit in one area or another; these folk are actually running from God!
Then we might know people who have been disciplined or excommunicated by a church or been “put out of fellowship”, sometimes for apparently serious offences, but, as we discovered during our 10 years at Ashburnham, sometimes excluded for marrying a person from a different denomination, having a differing doctrinal position or disagreeing with the leadership, or not giving their full tithe to that particular congregation.
When it seems there is a need for discipline within the church family, and the Bible has examples of this need, it is always a difficult situation, always painful, and requiring much prayer. But I read a verse the other day that I’d never taken notice of before (How was it suddenly inserted there??) which made my heart sing; 2 Thess.3:15.
After Paul’s admonition in the previous verse about stopping hanging out with anyone who was in “disobedience”, in order that they might feel ashamed and repent – and that this disassociation, this withdrawal of close fellowship, would bring the person back to a right attitude, Paul then says,
“Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn (admonish) him as a brother.”
Discipline in the church should be brotherly, never harsh! How we’ve got it wrong so often!
The purpose of the withdrawal is not to punish, and certainly not intended to be a forever thing, but with a view to a change of heart on the part of the ‘rebel’ (not just someone who disagrees with us), and complete restoration within the church family.
What a lot we have to learn. And what a wonderful Heavenly Father we have, who only ever disciplines us in pure love, and for our own good – and waits to teach us to do the same.