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Q. Is it right for a pastor to ignore church discipline? What should be done?

Question: A Woman’s Husband Is Using Pornography, And Has An Illicit Relationship With A Woman. The Pastor Of His Church Knows Of This Sin, And Has Been Asked By The Man’s Wife To Confront The Sin. The Pastor Says He Waits For The Person To First Contact Him. Is This Right?

Answer

My sense is that looking at Porn is virtually the same as adultery (Matthew 5:27-30). Our Lord’s words here make it clear that painful and drastic corrective action is required. Thus, based on what you have said, I think church discipline should already have commenced, based on the use of porn.

But beyond that, the Scriptures are clear. The first text I would go to would be 1 Corinthians chapter 5.

It is actually reported that sexual immorality exists among you, the kind of immorality that is not permitted even among the Gentiles, so that someone is cohabiting with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you have been deeply sorrowful instead and removed the one who did this from among you? 3 For even though I am absent physically, I am present in spirit. And I have already judged the one who did this, just as though I were present. 4 When you gather together in the name of our Lord Jesus, and I am with you in spirit, along with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 turn this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord (1 Corinthians 5:1-5, NET).

Here, a Corinthian Christian was living with his father’s wife, something that was shocking even to the Corinthian pagans. But rather than grieve, these saints were proud (of their “unconditional love”?). Paul rebukes them, and makes it clear that this fellow must be put out of their fellowship. Indeed, Paul had already exercised discipline from a distance.

The other principle texts follow:

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector. 18 “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven. 19 Again, I tell you the truth, if two of you on earth agree about whatever you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three are assembled in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:15-20).

Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too. 2 Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:1-2).

And we urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the undisciplined, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient toward all (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

16 Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. 12 It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 as we wait for the happy fulfillment of our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 He gave himself for us to set us free from every kind of lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are truly his, who are eager to do good. 15 So communicate these things with the sort of exhortation or rebuke that carries full authority. Don’t let anyone look down on you (Titus 2:11-15).

I would say that this pastor’s practice of waiting until he is asked falls far short of biblical leadership.

So Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go look for the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 Then when he has found it, he places it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 Returning home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, telling them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent (Luke 15:3-7, emphasis mine).

The pastor’s approach is the easy way out. In such cases, the sinner is hardly likely to seek the shepherd, and thus the shepherd must seek the sinner.

Note, however, that most of these texts are not instructions just for pastors, elders, or leaders. Some of these texts are addressed to all saints. This would incline me to say that if the pastor is not willing to step up to the plate then his wife should seek out those men in the church (assuming there are some) who will confront this her husband with his sin. His wife needs to know that her initiative could have some repercussions (e.g., the husband could decide to divorce), and thus she needs to act in faith, seeking the best interest of her husband.

As an aside, I would say that I have sometimes heard it said, “This is a family matter, and thus it is to be private.” The Scriptures don’t say this. They say that rebuke should initially be private, but if that is rejected, it must get more public, to the point that the entire church participates, if necessary.

I hope this helps,

Bob Deffinbaugh

Related Topics: Christian Life, Ecclesiology (The Church), Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Leadership, Pastors

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