Friends ought to Excommunicate Friends

I had a friend talk to me recently about a mutual friend who’s walking away from God.  This would be sad enough in and of itself, but she’s make a joke of Jesus in the process; celebrating her new found lifestyle, and expecting us to do likewise. 

The issue is big enough that I was asked, “Shouldn’t we kick her out of the church?”  I hesitated.  It was a hard hesitation.  Based on this woman’s unresponsiveness to a number of confrontations, the answer is sadly yes.   My reason for hesitating however, from a pastoral standpoint, is that excommunicating this woman for her issue means we’d have to excommunicate 17 others in our church with the same issue.

Do I have an excommunication back-log?  Have I been unfaithful in addressing sin issues in our congregation?  I whimpered through the rest of the conversation and felt like a failure. 

In all Biblical fairness though, excommunication isn’t supposed to start with the pastor.  It’s going to sound kind of funny, but Friends ought to Excommunicate Friends.  Whoever is closest to the individual and the issue ought to be the first to bring it up.  If there’s unresponsiveness, the two friends closest to the issue ought to bring it up together.  Still no dice?  Then the pastors/elders get involved to solidify the goodbye the friends have already set in motion. 

I’m not trying to absolve myself of responsibility as a pastor, I’m just saying the church cannot function if friends aren’t taking responsibility for correcting each other.  It’s less than ideal, even less than Biblical, for pastors to take every confrontation issue upon themselves.

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5 responses to “Friends ought to Excommunicate Friends

  1. Ericka Howard

    I agree that we have responsibility in friendships to do this. I struggle with it. Our cultural belief “to each his own” is so entrenched in my brain that I have a hard time “meddling” in the affairs of my friends in this way. It’s not really meddling, though, is it?

    Recently, I had an opportunity to do this. I did confront the friend by myself, a number of times. But I stopped after this friend was repeatedly non-responsive. I didn’t call on another friend to go with me. Why didn’t I? I used the excuse of not gossiping about the situation with a third party. But if my intent is to have the second friend help the first friend get back with God, then it’s not really gossiping, is it?

    Then the other question I have is: what if the friend really thinks they are following God, even when I point out scripture that blatantly says otherwise?

    Perhaps if I had involved the second friend at the appropriate time, instead of trying to do it all by myself, the first friend’s eyes would have been opened to the sin?

    As usual, thank you for your thought-provoking blogs!

  2. It’s tough when people read the Bible and come up with different things. There are certain things that we need to excuse to perserve unity, and other things we have to fight for to preserve theological integrity. Determining which is which propably comes down to a long convesation with God, and an act of faith.

  3. Chris Aldrich

    Brian,

    It’s interesting that you say there are certain things we need to excuse to preserve unity. While I believe that this is true, there are also certain things that we must not excuse to preserve unity. I think that one of the reasons Paul was so upset with the Corinthian church was that sin was causing disunity in the church.

    In our small group this week we talked about this very subject (since we were discussing 2 Cor). We talked about the importance of holding our Christian friends accountable to recognizing their sin issues, repenting of them and turning that area over to God. While this is not a comfortable thing to do, it is necessary for the sake of that person’s growth and to preserve unity in the church. Also, when you do this, you often end up with a stronger friendship.

  4. Brian, you bring up a topic that is very difficult to wrestle through due to the doctrines and theologies we hold and distortions we have been taught. We need to look at Scripture for real truth about how to deal with these, and it sounds like you are trying to do that. I have been a part of churches that would never walk through the Matthew 18 process with anyone, and have been on the receiving end of a situation where that process was not used but I was excommunicated. In that situation I was charged with being unsubmissive to the leadership which I can see from their perspective but they have been unable to accept that I was depressed, working through trauma, had huge spiritual questions, and wanted others to walk with me in prayer/study instead of having leaders mandate rules to me. I have admit my faults and have tried very hard to accept responsibility and repent but so far they are unwilling to accept my repentance as real (which is a whole separate topic that you need to wrestle through if you practice discipline).

    There is a great book out called Church Discipline that Heals: Putting Costly Love Into Action (by John White and Ken Blue). It lays out the process and purposes for walking through discipline. Even having been through a very painful experience myself I firmly believe that the process described in Matt. 18 is incredibly loving and is in the best interest of the church, and all the people involved. It is to be done in love, to gently restore the person (Gal 6:1), and to bring them back to right relationship with God and others. If you make it all the way through the process they will be given multiple times to repent (the process should take place over some time, not within 24 hours or something similar), and ultimately they will have already made the choice to separate from the church and from God.

    I also strongly agree with what you say about this process starting with those who are directly involved in relationship with the person, and I also do not think it ends with the pastor. There are different interpretations but I believe that when Matthew speaks of bringing the person to the church for accountability it means the entire congregation, not just the leadership. That way every person in the church is involved and there is no one to turn to or no place to hide because all know the same facts and things are openly revealed. No secrets protects everyone from accusations of improper treatment.

    There is a series of posts on this topic on my blog if you ever want to check them out. Blessings as you continue to walk through tough topics like this and lead a church with integrity and truth.

    Sherie

  5. Thanks for the resource recommendation!

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