Church Discipline and God’s Call

“Be on your guard against any followers who refuse to obey what we have written in this letter. Put them to shame by not having anything to do with them. Don’t consider them your enemies, but speak kindly to them as you would to any other follower” 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15.

A couple of months ago, when I was at a church in Armavir, Armenia, the pastor, in the middle of the service, called out on a young couple from the congregation and pointed out in front of everybody that they had made the wrong choice by escaping from home and having a civil marriage. It was a very humiliating scene. At first, my friends and I thought that the pastor was wrong in doing that, but after some thinking we came to the conclusion that what the pastor had done was the right thing.

I believe that this subject is avoided in our churches. We are afraid to scare people off, we are afraid to lose our church members, we are afraid of how people will look at us, us being “old-fashioned” , or us being “not cool”. I have heard many criticisms from teenagers saying that clergy nowadays are mostly concerned with being “cool” or “popular”. Jesus didn’t call us to be popular but faithful.

Once an eastern King wanted to attack and capture a small city, but knowing the ruler’s value, he wanted to make a peace agreement. When the messenger came to the ruler Abu Taber to announce the peace agreement, Abu Taber called one of his soldiers and ordered him, “Get a knife and plant it in your heart”. The soldier did what he was ordered. Then, he called another soldier and told him, “Go up to that mountain and jump into the emptiness”. The soldier did what he was ordered. So, Abu Taber said, “You see how faithful my soldiers are. Even though we are few your king will get the same treatment as my dogs do”. And so it happened. We can see from this short story that even though they were few in number, they accomplished much.

The same thing is with our daily lives, God doesn’t call us to be popular or to be “cool”, or to be part of this world. He calls us to be faithful to his message, to carry His Cross and follow Him as Jesus commanded us, “If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

Let’s go back to the verse from Thessalonians when Paul writes, “Don’t consider them your enemies, but speak kindly to them as you would to any other follower”. Yes, church discipline is very important, but we just can’t go and accuse people as simply as that. I believe the Church is called to have:

  1. Genuine love, if we don’t have Christ’s love in us, which is pure, a love which doesn’t get jealous, a love which forgets itself and wants only the greater good of the other, then we are in no place to tell our fellow believer, “Friend, you are wrong”. However, as Paul instructs us, we have to be kind and gentle so churchgoers won’t get irritated or even in certain cases run away from the Faith. 
  2. Discipline must be done for the overall good. If the remark done isn’t for the good of everybody, then there’s no point showing it out in front of everyone. But if it will help reshape the path of others, then many will profit from that remark. 
  3. Before pointing out one’s error, the person must spend much time in prayer, so as to know if it’s God’s will or not.
Unfortunately, regular attendants of our churches are decreasing and not increasing in number. All that people want is to be shown the right way and the Truth. These are what people search for, and if we as a Church don’t provide them with these essential elements, then who will? Once again Christ doesn’t call us to be successful and popular but faithful. Unfortunately, being popular and faithful at the same time is almost impossible. The Bible is clear on this point, “You are in trouble when everyone says good things about you. That is what your own people said about those prophets who told lies” (Luke 6:26).

But this isn’t something to be sad about. On the contrary, we must be happy and rejoice as Jesus said, “God will bless you when people insult you, mistreat you, and tell all kinds of evil lies about you because of me. Be happy and excited. You will have a great reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12).

God is concerned with quality rather than quantity. He would rather have a band like Gideon’s that he can trust, than having large numbers and knowing that when trouble comes, they’ll be the first to run away.

Vahé Jébéjian