Church Discipline

As I am planning soon to begin a preaching series on the marks of the church, one of which is church discipline, I have reflected over our experiences here. Over the lifetime of the Sycamore congregation, we sadly have had many cases of church discipline. Below is the body of a letter written by our elders some time ago to a particular individual (the fifth one we had given him), with his name and a few of the details having been changed for this display. I offer this to serve as a reminder of the church’s duty to apply Biblical discipline to wandering sheep, a testimony to the lengths we took to recover this person, and, as you read at the bottom of this post what ultimately resulted, a warning to heed the Word of God and the shepherds He has placed over the church.

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Dear Esau,

The Session of Sycamore Reformed Presbyterian Church has made repeated efforts to restore you to our fellowship, as listed below:

  • Last summer in July we rebuked you for your failure to participate in worship and observe the sacraments. We also warned you about your relationship with the widow in whose home you were staying and called you out of that situation. You made an initial confession in August and returned for two weeks to the church. However, since August 31st you have not attended a worship service at Sycamore.
  • Even after seeking counsel from the Session on September 3rd and being warned not to go, you purposefully chose to move out of town and live with the widow there. On October 1st we again rebuked you for “showing contempt for the counsel of the court and the appearance of immorality,” as was communicated to you in a letter dated October 26th. This letter was hand-delivered to you by the pastor.
  • On December 14th we sent another letter to you when you were in the Howard County Jail. The pastor visited you and explained that this letter indicated our numerous attempts to restore you and informed you that you had been suspended from the privileges of church membership.
  • Last month you received a certified letter dated February 2nd that called you to respond to our letter of suspension as you had promised you would do. This letter was signed by the widow. We gave you a deadline to respond of February 10th, which you ignored, despite the fact that this letter threatened that we would proceed officially as the court of the church towards conducting a trial of excommunicating you from this congregation if you did not.
  • Last Sunday, February 29th, Elder Bob McKissick and Pastor Barry York appeared at the address listed above as your official residency. When we asked the widow if you were there, she indicated you were. She returned after talking with you and claimed that because of allergies you did not want to see us that day. She assured us you had received our certified letter and that she would tell you that we wanted to hear from you before or during our Session meeting on March 3rd. Once again this date came and went, and we never heard from you.

Esau, how we have pursued you and sought to love you in Christ! Recall all that we did to counsel with you, to provide work opportunities for you, to bring you into our homes and into our hearts when you were still with us. We wept and welcomed you as our brother as we listened to your testimony the day you stood in the sanctuary and told of God’s grace. We have instructed you in the word of God and prayed earnestly for you. But you have spurned both God’s love and ours.

You may still claim to love God, but honestly, Esau, by the most basic measure can you say that you are demonstrating that by your actions? Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Yet you made vows to attend the worship of God and have missed them for months on end. You promised you would heed the counsel and discipline of the church when you joined, but within a few months you disdained it by putting personal pleasure and aspirations above the kingdom of God. Even now the widow claimed you were attending church together elsewhere, but your broken relationships with us coupled with your living with this woman outside marital bonds makes your church attendance abhorrent to God. Your stubbornness and refusal to listen to godly counsel has caused you to wander into grave spiritual danger, where you no longer are even able to discern the deceitfulness of your actions.

Therefore, in a final attempt to restore you, we took the following action at our Session meeting of March 3rd:

Because of your contempt for the established order and worship of the church, and your dwelling with a woman outside marriage bonds against the Session’s particular counsel, the Session has set the date of March 17, at 5:00 p.m. at the pastor’s office of Sycamore Reformed Presbyterian Church to hold a trial to excommunicate Esau unless he presents to the Session a valid objection or repents of his actions.

Esau, please understand that if you do not leave this situation and return to us, we will have to conclude that by your own deeds you no longer are walking in a manner worthy of the kingdom of God. If you continue to ignore us and do not contact us by this date, we will be forced to excommunicate you. By that action we will be declaring that you are no longer to be considered a Christian and that your soul is in danger of the eternal flames.

Yet our heart’s desire is not your condemnation, Esau, but your restoration. Please heed the word of God, Esau, who said to Lot through the angels sent to rescue him, “Escape for your life! Do not look behind you!” Leave this situation immediately, and seek refuge in Christ and the church.

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Sadly, Esau did not come to the meeting to which he was summoned and was excommunicated. Tragically, soon after this action he was stricken with a massive heart attack and died in the home of the aforementioned woman.

2 Comments

  1. Anonymous March 30, 2009 at 4:33 pm #

    Wow a very powerful reminder of the significance, and importance of biblical discipline.It is also good to remember that in many cases discipline from the church is received well and is used to help a Christian in sin, repent. I know this to be the case first hand. Biblical, church administered discipline stings, but when done in love, demonstrates the love, care, and concern of the church.Bart

  2. Anonymous March 31, 2009 at 12:19 pm #

    A sobering reminder, both for God’s people to remain strong in pursuing holiness, as well as of the difficult task that our Sessions has as they seek to lovingly and committedly practice oversight of the flock under their care. Few people grasp the enormity of the task and the heart ache actions such as discipline is for our leaders. I can recall a number of instances of how our session members wept over the course of discipline they had chosen to enact on unrepentent individuals.I also recall the horror of hearing of the sudden death of the one person described in the blog. May God grant each of us the humbleness to submit to all His decresss and to call one another to holiness. May we also be committed to pray fervantly for those in leadership positions.ronlovesloons

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