A long journey in church discipline-Pt. 1

On June 1 I began my 24th year of serving as pastor of Grace Baptist Church. While there are challenges that go with a long pastoral tenure blessings that attend it far surpass them–things like baptizing and marrying the children of people you baptized and married 20 years ago. A long ministry in one place also allows you the opportunity to see God work in ways that you would otherwise miss if you hadn’t stuck around.

Woody Allen said that 80% of success is showing up. If you show up long enough you get to see some special things. One of the greatest blessings of my pastoral ministry at Grace has been unfolding over the last 6 months and culminated last Sunday night. A man that we had been forced to remove from our membership due to unrepentant, public, scandalous sin was restored to our fellowship after living for more than 15 years in the far country. He has given me permission to tell part of what happened. It is a great story of God’s great grace.

Steve came to faith in Christ and was baptized during the 2nd or 3rd year of my ministry in Cape Coral. He had been caught up in long-time patterns of life-dominating sin that had taken their toll on his personal life and his family. When I first met him his wife had taken their children and fled to Texas to get away from him. After Steve became a covenanted member of Grace I had the opportunity to fly to Texas to meet with his wife and persuade her to return home. When she agreed, several men from our church took up a collection for plane tickets for her and the children to come home.

Within a few months, she also professed faith in Christ and their home began to be rebuilt by the gospel. After 4 years, Steve began secretly to flirt with some of the sins that had previously dominated his life. His activities were providentially brought to light when he was arrested one night. That event began a 2 year effort to help him put sin to death and learn to live by gospel grace. He was removed from all ministry responsibilities, formally admonished and the church was called on to engage in the effort of encouraging him to live faithfully.

These efforts, though apparently promising for the first year, ultimately proved fruitless and ended when Steve became belligerent and completely rejected the counsel he was being given. As we moved forward with the final step of church discipline, he moved his family to Texas.

On September 25, 1995, with many tears, the church voted to remove him from membership. On that occasion I said to the church, “In one sense Steve has already removed himself from us. Our action tonight is simply a sad confirmation of that. In another sense, we are called on by the Word of God to ‘deliver such a one over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus’ (1 Corinthians 5:5).”

As you would imagine there was no joy in taking that unanimous decision. After we voted, I made the following statements to the church:

  1. This is the most serious step the church of Jesus Christ can take on this earth. It ought to humble us and make us very sober. It is not something that we have come to lightly. There have been countless tears and sleepless nights by many of those involved who have tried to help Steve.
  2. Do not stop praying for the __________ family. They have left our area, but God knows exactly where they are….Pray that God will bring Steve to the end of himself, that he will repent of his sin and will be restored to fellowship.
  3. Take this as a reminder that Satan is constantly on the prowl seeking whom he may devour. Do not trifle with sin. What may seem to be a harmless, secret tryst with sin today can destroy you tomorrow. Do not give Satan a foothold in your life.
  4. Pray for your church. That God would protect us and keep us faithful as we seek to follow Jesus Christ in obedience to His Word.

Over the next several months and into the ensuing years, I had indirect contact with Steve through one of a couple of his relatives. For most of the last 14 years, however, he has been out of contact even with them. All that changed on Sunday afternoon, January 11 of this year. Waiting in my in box after church was the following email, sent through our church’s website:

Pastor Tom:
May I first start off by apologizing for turning my back on Jesus Christ, Grace Baptist Church and all the people who helped me in my faith and walk with GOD. I don’t know where to start but you are one person I know I can trust for direction. I’ve spent the last 12 or so years going through divorce’s addictions, etc. due to my own doing and [I am] very empty inside (soul sick). I have been attending several different Baptist churches…but just can’t seem to fit in or understand how Christ can allow me to return for what I’ve done, or if my faith was ever real. I have a lot more to say, but want to make sure it is you that will get my e-mail. I just want to find my way back into Christ’s love and His grace.
Pray for me and thank you for your time,
Steve

That email led to the reestablishment of a relationship that culminated in Steve’s restoration last Sunday night. In the next post, I will explain how that process unfolded.