They ban people from Facebook? Did you know that? Well, I knew it… I just didn’t know how common it was.
Now, there is a Biblical equivalent of being kicked off of Facebook.
It’s called shunning or ex-communication. Shunning is the practice of ostracizing an unrepentant sinful member of a congregation. In essence – these folks are being banned from church.
The most famous Biblical example of “shunning” is the one found in I Corinthians 5. From what we read here, it appears that one of the members of the church had decided to co-habitate with his stepmother (sleeping with his daddy’s wife).
AND it appears that the church knew about this and looked the other way.
Paul was amazed. How could the church tolerate such sinful behavior? Even the Pagans didn’t live like this.
Well – how could the church folks “tolerate such sinful behavior?” How could they just “look the other way” when a fellow Christian was so obviously immoral?
Well, apparently it seemed like a good idea at the time. To their way of thinking, it was the “loving thing to do”. If they could just be more patient and understanding, maybe he’d change. I mean he was probably just sowing his wild oats. And maybe they took into account problems he’d had earlier in life.
Besides… it wasn’t their problem.
Many would say: “It really isn’t any of my business.”
But Paul said: “Yes, it is your business. And you better understand – you need to step up and confront this sin.”
He wrote that they NEEDED to shun this man And the reason they need to do it is “…so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.” (Vs. 5)
Notice what he’s saying.
He saying that
1. Shunning would destroy/break down/cure this man’s sinful behavior
2. BUT IT’S MORE THAN THAT, it’s also going to save him from damnation.
So if they didn’t punish this man… he could very well end up in hell. And they would be responsible because they didn’t want to get involved.
God says something about this in Ezekiel 33:2-6. God says to Ezekiel “Son of man, speak to your countrymen and say to them: ‘When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not take warning and the sword comes and takes his life, his blood will be on his own head. Since he heard the sound of the trumpet but did not take warning, his blood will be on his own head. If he had taken warning, he would have saved himself.
But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them, that man will be taken away because of his sin, but I WILL HOLD THE WATCHMAN ACCOUNTABLE FOR HIS BLOOD.’
Essentially Paul is saying that God considers the church and it’s leadership to be watchmen. We are responsible for the lives and salvation of the Christians in church family. It IS our business to confront sin so that our brothers and sisters in Christ don’t go to hell.
If we don’t step up and meet our responsibility, God will hold us accountable for the blood of that lost man/woman.
I read about a congregation dwindle from being a congregation of over 600 down to a little over 100 people rattling around in a big museum of a building. What had they done? Years ago, they’d had a wealthy Elder who had a couple of girlfriends on the side… and they looked the other way.
And this once great congregation wasted away to nothing. All because they wanted the Elder’s money more than holiness.
This is a serious matter.
But then Paul goes beyond the effect this lack of concern with holiness would have on that sinful man and tells of how it would effect the congregation itself.
Paul wrote: “Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?” 1 Corinthians 5:6
In other words – if they didn’t confront and punish this sinful behavior NOT ONLY would this young man go to hell, BUT an attitude of sinfulness would spread like yeast thru the whole congregation. Others in the church would take it as a green light to live whatever sinful way they wanted to. I mean – if they’ll let that guy get away with that – why should I worry? Why should I change?
In short: a church that avoids disciplining unrepentant, sinful members risks 3 things:
1. The sinner’s eternal damnation
2. God’s wrath on their Church
3. AND the spread of sin and disobedience throughout the congregation.
This is serious stuff.
Now, does everybody agree that shunning is something a church should be willing to do?
And does everybody agree that they find this whole idea… very uncomfortable?
In this world – just about everybody shuns somebody, sometime. There are certain people I’ll not have in my house. There are certain people I don’t want to spend any time with.
There are certain people I don’t want to waste my time talking to on the phone.
There aren’t many of these folks, but I literally shun some people.
And – in reality – most of us do.
So, it’s no surprise, that a responsible website like Facebook would try to protect their patrons from being abused by people who would embarrass them/ manipulate them. It’s no surprise that if someone does something they shouldn’t do on Facebook, they get shunned/ banned/ ex-communicated.
So if everybody does it, why is it that when the church does it – people get upset?
There are 3 reasons I can think of:
1st – A lot of people would rather BE God than OBEY God.
I Corinthians 6:9-10 declares:
“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
There are certain people that aren’t going to be in God’s House. They are not going to get in the door. Paul is telling the Corinthians that they shouldn’t allow people to deceive themselves into thinking otherwise.
That’s why Paul writes: “But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” I Corinthians 9-12
It’s God’s house. And God calls us to periodically confront sinful people that don’t want to change.
The 2nd reason some people get upset – is that churches sometimes would rather BE God than obey God. They’ve seen churches that want to stand in the place of God and be a sinner’s judge, jury and executioner. In those churches, there is no place for repentance or no place for a changed life.
In those churches a person is kicked out and there is little or no chance of coming back. It’s a lot like the experience some have had on Facebook. If you remember, in the video, one of the experts noted: “If you get booted, all you can do is send them an email stating your case. You’ll either be reinstated… or not.”
In other words – Facebook can be capricious in how they discipline people.
On that internet site, the administrators of Facebook are God and they don’t need to accept you back in if they don’t want to. And there are plenty of churches who treat sinners in their midst in the same way.
I recently read the story of a young man in a very large church on the West Coast. As is the case in churches of that size, he was part of a smaller group to help with his personal growth and fellowship. This man had become engaged to a Elder’s daughter in that church. But before he married her, he got physically involved with old flame (not sexually, but he’d betrayed his fiancé’s trust nonetheless). He felt guilty about that and shared it with his intended. Then he confessed to that before his small group, including confessing that he and his fiancé had also gotten physically involve (to what degree I don’t know).
So he confessed his sins – first to his fiancé – then to the small group he was part of. The small group leaders apparently passed this along to preacher and elders of that church and they had a meeting with him. That was appropriate. But then things got a little weird.
Apparently the leadership began to push him to confess EVERY sexual sin he’d ever committed in his life. He tried to comply with their request, but even after doing that the church began to have little to do with him.
Finally he just quit. They never seemed to be satisfied with the repentance he had already shown.
From the story that I read it would appear that this church was less concerned with restoring this man to fellowship, than they were with controlling him.
Now that was never the objective of I Corinthians 5.
Paul said they should discipline this member because he REFUSED to repent.
THAT sinful man wanted to CONTINUE in that lifestyle, he had no intention of changing.
And because that man refused to repent 1 Corinthians 5:5 Paul wrote they should “hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.”
The objective was never to play God. It was to change the behavior of this sinful man. To make him realize what he’d done was wrong and then to bring him back in and restore him.
So people object to shunning sinful people because either:
1. They want to BE God
2. Or they’ve seen churches who want to BE God.
The 3rd reason many churches don’t exercise church discipline – they don’t think it works.
But it does.
One of the videos I watched in preparing for this sermon told the stories of 3 people who’d been banned from Facebook. Each of them had used the site for building their businesses and they had overused some of the tools there. The next morning they woke and found they couldn’t get on their Facebook page.
But they had no idea what they’d done wrong! I was impressed by each of their comments:
Each of them said “If I’d only known what I was doing wrong… I’d have changed”
The threat of losing their access to Facebook would have been enough to get them to “repent”. And that’s true in the church as well.
You see the point of a church is to make people right with God. Most of the time that means doing things that are pleasant. Things like listening to people share their pains and their sorrows Crying with them, and laughing with them. Giving them the security of being part of a loving/ caring family. Reminding them how much God loves them.
But there are times when a church has to remind people – our God is Holy and righteous God. And if we love God, we will strive to reflect our God’s holiness.
A church that ignores sin…
· isn’t loving God.
· and it really isn’t loving it’s people.
And a church that exercises church discipline (the way the Bible says they should) needs to understand two things:
1st They serve a Holy God – a God who DEMANDS holiness
2nd NONE of them were holy when God saved them.
Paul writes in I Corinthians 6 (where he’s still talking about discipling the sinful man.
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And THAT IS WHAT SOME OF YOU WERE. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Too many times churches look at themselves as being righteous and worthy, whereas the sinful member is just so much trash to be swept to the curb. The sinful member deserves nothing more than to be stepped on and trampled down because they have proven themselves unworthy to be part of the holy ones in church. That’s not God’s message in this. God wants us to realize that we have been unholy and unrighteous. But we were saved by a loving and merciful God who sent His son to die for us even when we were disobedient and deserving wrath. So we who have been made holy by a holy God need to show the same compassion for the Christian who has sinned and refused to repent.
Shunning does not mean destroying. It means disciplining an unrepentant sinning brother so that he/she changes their minds.
That was the goal of Paul’s instructions in I Corinthians 5. And in the next letter he wrote them, we see that this story has a happy ending.
“The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.
I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.
The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven— if there was anything to forgive— I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.” II Corinthians 2:6-11
I heard the true story of a church which started out as a storefront congregation. There was one member of that small group who gave everything he had to make them successful. He involved himself in every ministry, and financially supported them. Eventually, they grew in size and eventually built their own worship center. But then it became known that this active member was committing adultery. The church leadership met with him and his wife several times, but it became evident that he had no intention of changing his behavior. Basically told them to take a hike… he could do what he wanted to. He loved this other woman and he wasn’t going to change a thing in his life. So the leadership took it before the church and they shunned him.
They didn’t eat with him, they didn’t talk to him… they simply walked away from him.
Now they didn’t do this because they hated him. They seriously wanted him to back in their fellowship, but since he wouldn’t change it left them little choice if they were to obey God. About a year went by and the man’s life began to suffer. He lost his job… he lost his health.
And eventually he ended up in the hospital. There, in his hospital room, he called the church leaders and asked to see them. When they came – he admitted his sin and asked for forgiveness. That church leadership gladly accepted his repentance. They prayed for him that night. They helped restore his marriage… and ultimately they helped him restart his life again.
Why did they do that?
Because this man mattered to them.
His eternal salvation was important to them.
And ultimately they loved him back into the church… and into a right relationship with God.