Archive for the ‘refellowship’ Tag

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So what are we supposed to do when we know there are Christians in our congregations who have sinned and should be disciplined, but haven’t been?

If your church is not imposing discipline, then you might have to do it yourself. So I turn the blog over to Brad, my husband, because he’s passionate about the subject.  Lela

Brad

I became a Christian when I was 21, which means I lived a non-Christian life for 21 years before I came to know Jesus. My family are — well, dysfunctional is a mild term. I’ve been through five divorces and have half-siblings and step-siblings from each of my parents’ partnerings. Both my grandfathers drank themselves to death. My father tried to seduce Lela to have sex with him not long after we were married. And … I could go on, but you get the point.

Growing up amid free flowing booze and free flowing sex meant I learned some bad habits. I knew they were wrong and when I became a Christian, I set them aside. Well, I set the sex aside. Fairbanks is a small town. It would get back to Lela and she’s armed, so I control myself there.

But alcohol … nothing like it to make a cloudy day seem shiny bright. What better way to celebrate the holidays, birthdays, pay raises, job losses, Friday, Monday and any other day you might think of.

It just sort of snuck up on me, ran me over like a speeding car and left my life in a shambles. And, the church did nothing.

Oh, they supported Lela and comforted her and helped her make things work for her (we didn’t have kids yet), but pretty much they let me do what I wanted and almost nobody confronted me. One guy said something one time and I could  have taken it any way I wanted. I got into AA because I had to and it worked while I worked it and the church just sort of pretended nothing had happened.

And, then I started drinking again. This time Lela demanded sobriety. Our daughter had been born, she knew it was possible and she had had enough. And I reacted about like you’d expect a drunk to react — immaturely. And the church leadership counseled my wife to honor her vows and let me remain in the home — drunk, in hopes that I might come around.

The younger adults of our church were our social group and we spent a lot of time together. Not long into this, they made a choice that hurt me deeply. Two of them came to me and said “You need to stop drinking before you destroy your marriage and our friendship with you. One of them offered to take me to AA.” I told them it was none of their business. A week or so later, they came back with a third friend and told me that I was no longer welcome to attend functions with them — that included things like fishing, rock climbing, berry-picking, parties and hikes. Lela was more than welcome, but I was not … until I could demonstrate sobriety.

I wasn’t barred from the church (they couldn’t convince the leadership to disfellowship me), but if I tried to sit down with my friends, they would all get up and move to another table. If I tried to talk to one of them, it was like I wasn’t there. Now, of course, Lela couldn’t do this. We had a kid together and we were living together at least some of the time. We owned a house together. But drawing strength from her social group, she did leave me behind to go do things we’d done together before. She also took over paying all the household bills on her salary, which meant a lot of beans and rice since she is the primary cook in the household.

For a while, I used the isolation as a good excuse to hang out with “friends” who liked to drink and do other stuff. Then I left and went to work with my father in another state for a while. Lela will tell you she expected divorce papers eventually. But, in a motel room one night, bored and more or less sober, I pulled out my long-neglected Bible and started to write a letter to my wife saying I thought she was not following God’s will. Except every verse I ran across wasn’t about her, but about me. When I woke up the next morning to read the letter before posting it, I saw that God had written it to me. That evening I found an AA meeting. I didn’t go back to church right then, but the guy I got as a sponsor was a Baptist and when I did my Step 4, he suggested I had amends to make not only to Lela, but my church friends. So, I started calling them and apologizing. To a person, they all said they didn’t want amends. They wanted to see me repent and come back to God. And, they all said “We love you! Learn to love yourself.”

When I moved back to Fairbanks, I formally requested re-fellowship at the church that had never formally disfellowshipped me. The pastor had changed during the time and the new one understood what I wanted. He didn’t downplay my sin and pretend it hadn’t affected the church. By not denying the effects of my sin, I was able to heal from the effects of my sin. And one or two of those younger adults who made the difficult decision to limit fellowship with me are still my good friends 20 years later. And, yeah, Lela and I are still married and our son is evidence of the forgiveness we exercised.

Lela

The situation Brad described was not an easy one for me or the church to work through. When it was first proposed by a former drug addict, I didn’t think it was a good idea. It seemed a mine field where I’d end up divorced and Brad would end up spiritual roadkill. And, it could have been. Free will sucks in these situations.

Limited fellowship for the purposes of church discipline requires spiritual judgment (Galatians 6:1) so as not to intensify a bad circumstance. Our friends did it well. Brad remembers that throughout that first conversation, the offer was made to go to AA (in those days the Christian alternatives were few and far between). Brad rejected the help. In the second conversation, they were clear that they loved him and would be there whenever he asked for help, but they were shunning him until that time and that was a hard thing to do. As hard as it was for him to go through it, it was equally hard for them to do it to him.

It wasn’t easy for me. I couldn’t leave our daughter with him when I’d go on group outings, so it was often easier to not go … until a teenager in the congregation stepped forward as a free babysitter and solved my dilemma.

Brad felt rejected and angry and that made other problems in our marriage. He went deeper into drinking and other activities for a while and I was definitely scared when he left the state to go work for his dad. When he came back, he asked for readmission into the church, told me he thought we could work it out with time, … and then promptly went to Seward for vocational school. It didn’t feel like things were working out … though in retrospect he was taking time to work on himself before diving back into the family.

Would sobriety have happened without the shunning? Brad says he doesn’t think so. And certainly we both know recovering alcoholics who are divorced. My friend Rose will point out that divorce without remarriage in Christian circles looks an awful lot like marital disfellowship. The thing to remember is church discipline must operate in Christian love. Although disfellowship looks like punishment, it is is designed to save the soul of the wayward brother or sister (1 Corinthians 5:5) to protect the church by maintaining its purity. A little corrupting “leaven” will soon affect the entire loaf (5:6-7). Like the wayward Corinthian brother, Brad came back to the fellowship because, as a Christian, there was still a part of him in connection with God and God brought him to a place where he repented and started to once more value the things he had formerly trampled.

But unfortunately, this is not done very often. More often than not, people withdraw their friendship from the sinner because they don’t like what he/she is doing, but with little or no explanation and no method of potential return. The sinner feels just as rejected and judged, but they often don’t know why and when they want to return, they don’t feel like they’re welcome. Formality sets that aside.

Love doesn’t mean accepting everything someone else does without boundaries. There are times when God sets limits on our behavior, Christians, and there are times when He calls the churches to carry out effective discipline in love to bring a sinning Christian back to Him. But when we reinterpret what God’s love is and try to make it into the acceptance of sin in the church, we destroy ourselves as congregations and as individuals.

The Corinthian sinner returned to the church after it disfellowshipped him and the church apparently let him back in. It works if you work it.

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