Remaining Patient: Dealing with Sinful Behavior Among the Church

There comes a time when church leadership must tell those members whose behavior is like cancer to the local body of Christ that they need to leave.  You can read why here.  However, is there ever a situation in which we should demonstrate grace?

In one of yesterday’s comments an observation of how many churches seem unwilling to cast out those trouble-making and divisive Christians but are willing to immediately cast out those caught in some sort of sexual sin.  This swift judgment made against sexual sin is usually based on the instruct Paul gave to the Corinthians to get rid of the Christian involved in an incestuous relationship…

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”

But if you notice, in this passage Paul is talking about a behavior that is so egregious that it is not even tolerated by the pagans (non-Christians).  That is a major key to this passage.  What it points to is that Paul is not simply concerned with judging those who are still sexually sinning.  What Paul is concerned about is the same concern he has with every problem facing the Corinthian church: the gospel.  Because incest is even abhorred by the non-Christian culture, the gospel mission is in severe jeopardy in the city of Corinth.  So Paul’s reason for enacting swift judgment on the sexually immoral here is due to the danger their behavior poses to the gospel work.

This is the point I tried to make one time when some people in a church I was ministering with wanted me to pronounce “disfellowship” judgment on a church member who was unmarried and living together with the person they were romantically involved with.

While I did not agree with this person’s decision to live together with another person in an unmarried relationship, I refused to tell this person that they were being disfellowshiped.  Instead, I went to this person and got to know them.  Eventually, the subject of their living situation came up and I spoke lovingly but candidly with them about my disapproval.  Eventually, after several months of showing grace while always speaking the truth in love, this person repented.

Here is my point: When it comes to sinful behavior, whatever that may be, if it is not threatening the gospel work among the church then I believe we should exercise grace and patience rather than swift judgment.  While we never want to approve of any sinful behavior, not all sinful behavior has the same consequences upon the local church, its mission and spiritual health.

What are your thoughts?  How do you adjudicate as to when the church should remain patient rather than acting with swift judgment?

5 responses to “Remaining Patient: Dealing with Sinful Behavior Among the Church

  1. a situation of concubinage is not as serious as someone given over to hooking up. But such a call to disfellowship or not should come from the successor of the apostles, that is to say, a Bishop in apostolic succession, who would have the charism to know the correct pastoral course, has the authority to bind and loose, and a rich tradition of dealing with that from 2000 years to move in a sound direction. In the situation of Christians in diaspora, alienated mostly by the evil from the One Cup, it is very hard to chart a course, and all I can say is “Lord, have mercy.” Back when I was in that situation I read a book in the conservative Anabaptist Tradition called Discipling the Brother, that I discovered through a charismatic Episcopal Church in Houston Texas, back in the seventies.
    What do you do as well with the divorced and remarried, when Scripture ‘says’ that remarriage after divorce is adultery? And schism….the whole denominational and non-denominational world exists by making schism in the visible communities of Believers in Jesus, into a virtue, rather than the grave sin spoken of in Scripture- be of the same, mind, speak the same thing….

  2. come to think of it I am dealing with a situation of ‘divisive’ Christians. In the community the State I used to live in there are two small congregations that are in a feud; my son is at the middle of it because he is friends to those invovled in the schism, and loyal to the pastor against whom the schismatics are reacting. It is in fact a curse or spiritual oppression that the pastor brought with him from his previous pastorate in the deep West, where a schism took place; the evil one ‘latches’ on with patterns of destruction. At any rate, the Spirit was laying on me to pray without ceasing for 50 days for that situation, from Pascha to Pentecost. My job and the Spirit’s gifting has put on me a ‘pray without ceasing’ sort of ministry whose chief effect seems to be in routing the machinations of the minions of the evil one…. Then my son called in distress wondering what course he should take as a peacemaker. I suggested that we colloborate on the unceasing prayer for fifty days, and see what the Spirit of God would work. Unceasing prayer has a wordless base but it is supported for me, at any rate, with the Prayer of Jesus. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner” In the particular warfare mode of this prayer, I add to it, and ‘have mercy on Person X.” or break curses over Church “Y.” I have seen startling transformations in the lives of people and churches in such cases. It also has dangers; there have been times when I thought too highly of myself and took on more spiritual warfare than I had the spiritual grace to handle and got absolutely slammed by the evil one; to my humility (which is good). At any rate there is a spiritual sub-structure and superstructure to the behaviors we encounter, and the perception of them, depends critically upon how well we have taken upon ourselves the Divine Nature….Thesosis…..
    Pascha was amazing this Year. What can you say, when through the Anamnestic Grace of God, we are present for the Resurrection, and the JOY beyond words, and comprehension! Christos Anesti!
    And the HOly Fire was lit, miraculously, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as it has been, since the Fourth Century.

  3. Two things trouble me:
    One: You don’t appear to have included the Elders in your decision which leaves the troubling possibility that you’ve acted on this matter unilaterally.
    Two: If this couple continues to live together and never repents… what then?

  4. Pingback: We Who Are Without Sin…? | Kingdom Seeking

  5. Pingback: this went thru my mind |

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