At Least They Apologized

Church discipline is supposed to be restorative. In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus outlines a four-step process for dealing with a sinning member; each step is designed to get the member to “listen,” i.e., repent and change their behavior.  If a couple of witnesses can’t get the member to listen, Jesus says, “then tell it to the church.” If the offender won’t listen even to the church, then the church may treat the person as a non-member. Generally speaking, this process is called church discipline, and the goal of each step is repentance and restoration.  It is a powerful tool, and unfortunately has too often been used for ill.

An example of church discipline gone awry came to light recently at a mega-church in Chicagoland. Three elders at Harvest Bible Chapel were in disagreement with the rest of the elders (there are more than thirty elders on their board) over “how compensation is set, how elder authority is shared, and whether Pastor James has truly owned his part in past conflict.” In June 2013, the three “problem” elders resigned and that September they were disciplined out of the church (i.e., excommunicated).

Now, a year later, the church has issued an apology. Senior Pastor James MacDonald apologized from the pulpit, admitting that “our church discipline was a failure, not the least of which was a complete lack of a biblically-required restorative component…. Our discipline condemned them; we lost sight of the biblical priority of seeking a redemptive solution of our differences.”

While it’s disappointing to hear of yet another example of a church mis-using church discipline, it’s hugely encouraging to hear a church apologize for that. Church discipline typically ends with the offender apologizing, but here it was the church that apologized. Pastor MacDonald announced that, while there were still differences between the current and ex-communicated elders, they were all now fully reconciled.

He also said that the reconciliation was “brought about by outside Christian leaders we invited in to help us all get to the table.” The church is to be commended for demonstrating humility by inviting outsiders to come in and help them resolve this. Peacemaker Ministries, Crossroads Resolution Group, and Peacebridge Ministries are just a few of the ministries available to help churches work through conflict like this.  May the healing continue at Harvest Bible Chapel!

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