What is restoration? It is simply the church declaring forgiveness and reaffirming citizenship in God’s kingdom. This is how Paul describes it in 2 Cor. 2:6-8. It seems that a church majority had voted to punish this individual and now Paul asks that they reaffirm their love for him.
Forgiveness is fundamental in the process of restoration. John 20:23. Once restoration has been accepted we should move forward and celebrate the return of our prodigal.
Once a person has been forgiven should we then restore them into membership? But, how do we know that a person who has been excommunicated is truly repentant?
At some level we have to see fruit. There was a man in Niddrie who had been excommunicated from our church. We had removed him from membership and communion and publicly stated to our community that as a local church we no longer validated his claim to be a Christian. Yet, he continued to live in my home (preferable to homelessness) and attended Sunday services. What was happening there? Well, he was still under church discipline. He could not be a member and he was not welcome to take communion. He had expressed remorse and repentance and so we took him into our home on a trial basis until we saw some evidence of fruit in his life that was in keeping with Holy Spirit filled repentance. He was in the process of being restored to the fellowship but that had not yet occurred. We were not yet prepared to publicly declare that his confession of Christ was real and genuine. (Sadly, he loved drugs more than Jesus and is no longer with us)
Sometimes, however, restoration is simple. A man leaves his wife for another woman and returns. Sometimes it is complicated as in the case of addictions or people with mental health problems.
What happens if an ex-communicated member of another church comes to us? How should we treat them?
Should we receive people who have been kicked out of other churches? They can come and worship in our church as long as they don’t bring division but they cannot come into membership while there are still issues with other congregations.
Here are some scenarios
- THE ADULTERERS
Joe is a deacon in the church and has been sharing with some of the men about his doubts about the faith. It turns out his wife has shared with one of the ladies about Joe committing adultery. He has done it more than once. The elders have met with him to tell him to stop but he is not interested. He plans to leave his wife.
- Bob is a longstanding member of the church who has confessed that he had an inappropriate one night stand with a woman from work. They had been drinking at a works do and one thing led to another. He feels awful about it.
Should Joe & Bob be excommunicated? If so, how quickly should it happen? If not, why not?
Assessing the level of repentance is key to these situations. This is always the first giveaway. How do they respond to the challenge of sin? Have they shown what Paul in 2 Cor. 7:11 calls godly grief? An earnestness to sin no more? Or is it all excuses and ducking and diving?
THE DRUG ADDICT
- Jill was addicted to online Bingo and she was spending more and more time online and down the local hall. She had apps on her phone and she was involved in loads of gambling forums and chat lines. When she became a Christian she cut back but lately she has been going back to the old patterns of life. Some people in the church knew she did it but they didn’t seem too bothered. Nobody seriously challenged her and so she didn’t feel too bad about it. Then one day, over a coffee, an older lady in the church challenged her on her behaviour and she was really mad. Who did she think she was? Anyway, it wasn’t that bad. She had a pal down the road who was worse than her. Now, she was addicted! But inside she knew the older lady was right and she agreed to some accountability. At first it worked and she tried really hard to behave herself but she was getting herself into debt. She was just stuck in a cycle of gambling, feeling bad, stopping it and then starting again.
Should the church impose CD on Jill? If so, why and how?
What sin is she committing? Certainly poor stewardship and her sin is affecting others if she is continually borrowing from them to pay off her debts. It seems like it has become an idol in her life and it certainly stops her from giving generously to the work of the gospel in her church. She is definitely a person under the control of her desire to gamble. Is all of this enough to excommunicate her?
This one would seem to be a slower boil given the history pre-Christ. She is certainly behaving in a Prov. 26:11 way – like a dog returning to its vomit. At some point in the process it would be good to make the sin public if only to stop people lending her money and to pray for her and challenge her behaviour.
THE DIVISIVE NON MEMBER
- Lucy starts attending the church and she seems nice at first. She loves the fellowship and decides to make it her home. Soon, though, she begins to meet with some more immature members of the church and begins to gossip with them and advises them to read and listen to unhelpful Christian literature from known false teachers. When challenged about it she becomes aggressive and accuses the church of heavy shepherding. She begins to spread gossip and lies about the church leaders and begins to have a bad influence on new believers. At the same time she applies to become a church member but the elders, again, express their concern at her behaviour. She begins to tell anybody who will listen that the church is persecuting her. She will not listen to reason.
How should the church react to such a person?
We have to be on our guard against wolves in the church. I warn every new believer who comes to NCC that not everybody who claims to be a Christ follower is and so they should be careful who they listen to. Acts 20:28-31 comes into effect here. Even though this person is not a member we would likely want the membership to know that she is a wolf among us. We would ask that they treat her as an unbeliever and not be duped into the things she is claiming. We cannot exercise church discipline on a non-member and therefore that is the extent of our authority.
THE FAMILY MEMBER
- Les has been a Christian for about 2 years and his wife has been in the church for a bit longer. Sadly, she has been excommunicated for gambling and gossiping in the church. Les agreed with the church’s decision. But now he has discovered 1 Cor. 5:11 which says we must not even eat with such a person and he doesn’t know what to do. She’s still his wife after all.
How should Les treat his wife in this case?
Les has to love his wife according to 1 Cor. 7 and Eph. 5. It doesn’t matter whether she has been disciplined or not. He has to love and honour his wife. But he has to treat her as an unbeliever and seek to win her back to Christ by his love and witness to her.
None of these issues are easy and there are no pat answers. We must pray for wisdom and we must always deal with people in a spirit of reconciliation. However, sometimes that is not possible and in these cases we must act decisively. We must pray for wisdom in all of these matters.
Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Cor. 13:11)