Part of the reason why a recovery of church discipline is essential for the church in the 21st century is because Jesus says that discipline is a practice carried out with his authority. When Jesus gives the process in Matthew 18 He also says that whatever the church binds on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever the church looses on earth will be loosed in heaven. Then Jesus gives his famous words that are so misunderstood, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (18:20). What is Jesus saying? Jesus is saying that when the church comes together and practices discipline the congregation is speaking with the authority of Christ. If the church lovingly calls someone to repentance and the person repents, the church restores them to the fellowship and is announcing with the authority of King Jesus that this is what the Kingdom of God looks like (this person is acting like a saved individual). If the person refuses to repent and the church dismisses them from the congregation, then the church announces with Christ’s authority that this is an unbeliever who will face judgment if they do not ever come to repentance. However, if the church refuses to discipline someone who is involved in serious, public, unrepentant sin, then the church is saying nothing except that they have removed themselves from Christ’s authority. Churches that refuse to practice discipline in these cases are telling the person, the congregation, and the lost that the Kingdom of God is made up of the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, etc. That is anti-Christ (1 Cor. 6:9-10). The practice of discipline calls sinners to repentance with the authority of King Jesus and those who heed it hear the words from King Jesus himself through the congregation, you were sexually immoral and outside of the Kingdom “but you were washed…you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).
At this point a word of caution is necessary. Church discipline is in need of recovery because so many churches fail to practice it. However, this does not mean that pastors or congregations who suddenly come to embrace discipline as a biblical practice should in response suddenly implement it in the congregation. Rushing into this, doing it without a firm handle on the biblical directives, or doing it before the congregation has been given time to understand and embrace it can be foolish. A pastor must first teach his congregation what the Bible says concerning discipline. Then, it can be implemented slowly, humbly, lovingly and wisely. Bitterness and retaliation are far too easy for fallen creatures, so we must guard against using church discipline as a weapon to inflict harm or payback (see purpose above). Church discipline should not be rushed into. Loving and patient leading is necessary.
Third, churches who do this can expect increasing backlash and persecution in the future.
The truth is that we live in a culture in which even the discipline of children has been rejected. Withholding discipline from children is seen as loving and progressive. If you say that you spank your children, then many will look at you as if you are an alien from another planet. It is obvious that in that kind of culture, a church that practices loving discipline will face backlash. Not only will public complaints increase, but the churches that practice discipline can expect to face being sued, other law suits, and much more in the future.
Fourth, we need to sincerely pray for this woman. She should be more concerned with the impact her actions have on her children than she is with the impact the church’s actions will have on her children.
Hancock has two children (20 year old son and 18 year old daugher). They have remained members of the church and will be there on the Sunday (January 4th) that the church votes to remove their mom from the congregation. Hancock says, “I don’t really care what they do to me. But I am concerned about my children sitting in church with their mom being crucified by the church that they trust.” She is worried about how this action will affect her children. It is ironic that she is more concerned with how the church lovingly calling her to repentance for an action that Jesus says will end in the judgment of Hell will affect her kids than she is with how her continual sexual immorality will affect them. The church is lovingly preaching a message to her, her children, and others that we will give an account for our sin. We cannot create our own morality. Actions have consequences. We will stand looking Jesus of Nazareth in the face awaiting judgment (Matt. 25:31-46). I pray that she would come to embrace this truth being preached with Christ’s authority by her church and repent. I have seen what church discipline can do, and it is wonderful. I have a friend who was also involved in immoral sexual relationships, pornography and other sins. His church began the discipline process on him, but through loving accountability and counseling God began to change his life. He turned from his sin. He threw himself on the mercy of King Jesus. He was saved. His marriage and family were rescued. He is serving faithfully in the church. Now, the Gospel transformation in his life has also led to the salvation of others in his family. This is what church discipline is intended to do! That is the Gospel message this congregation seeks to preach to Hancock, her children, her boyfriend, and others. I can think of nothing more loving. This congregation and this post are NOT trying to thrown stones at Rebecca Hancock. The message of church disicpline is that ALL of us deserve the judgment of God, and if it was not for the cross and the resurrection of Jesus we would all receive it. Church discipline calls us ALL to repentance and trust in our King.
Hancock speaks of herself almost as if she is Jesus being unjustly “crucified.” She is being tortured while her children look on helplessly. But, Jesus is not the biblical character she most resembles. In fact, she is more like the woman at the well who is in an immoral relationship (John 4). When Jesus encountered this cohabitating and sexually immoral woman, with a past filled with divorce and relationship turmoil, He both lovingly offered her the water of life and lovingly rebuked her immorality. Jesus’ words not only transformed her life but also “many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.” (John 4:39). Naming her sexual sin on that occasion was not cruel. It changed her life and the lives around her. I pray that this would be the outcome in Jacksonvile, Florida. Jesus stood in the flesh calling this woman to repentance and eternal life, and He changed an entire town. If this church carries out discipline then Jesus of Nazareth will be in Jacksonville, Florida on January 4th speaking familiar words that he uttered almost 2,000 years ago to another woman in a similar situation. His voice shook that town. It will certainly shake Jacksonville.