What church or congregation do you go to? It seems like a good question, but I am liking it less and less because it’s phrased in much the same way that we might ask someone: what supermarket do you go to?
Our relationship to Messiah’s Community is to be much more than going to a congregation, singing, listening to a message and giving some money. While it’s right to attend religious services, our relationship to Messiah’s Community is to be more than that. It is to be much more relational, much more integrated, much more focused, much more intense.
Rabbi Paul describes it this way: Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Messiah we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others (Romans 12:4-5). Followers of Messiah are to be fully integrated into Messiah’s Community so that we are functioning like a body with its different parts all working together.
Our relationship to Messiah’s Community is to be characterized by close relationships and working together to build up the Community and proclaim the Good News to those outside the Community.
So, rather than asking someone: what church or congregation do you go to – a better question to ask is: what community are you a member of and working together with to serve the kingdom of God?
Here’s a question to consider: Can bad people sin? The answer is yes. Here’s another question: can good people sin? The answer again is yes. How about this: can followers of Messiah sin? The answer again is yes. If we sin, and our sin affects the Community, the leaders need to take action to protect the Community and correct us. This is called congregational discipline. Congregational discipline is essential for the proper functioning and the well-being of Messiah’s Community.
Some congregations will need to engage in congregational discipline more frequently than others. Because Shema is outreach-oriented, and because we attract a diverse group of people – non-believers, new believers, people from different backgrounds, people who come with different doctrines, sometimes heretical doctrines – we experience more challenges than many congregations which are less outreach-oriented. Because of this, Shema, more than many congregations, needs to implement congregational discipline.
For examples, in the past couple of years, we’ve had situations of conflict between members – and the Elders needed to intervene in the conflict to resolve it. We’ve had people advocating heresies. We’ve had people involved in sexual immorality. We’ve had people cause division. We’ve had people be insubordinate toward our leaders in various ways. There have been several instances when people were so defiant they had to be asked to leave – and they refused – and we had to threaten to call the police. The police, by the way, are very supportive of the leaders of churches and synagogues, and if someone is asked to leave by the leaders of a congregation, and the person refuses to leave, that person is guilty of trespassing and the police will arrest him, or her.
Most of these situations didn’t come to your attention because the Elders took action to deal with these situations without wanting to trouble the congregation.
Some people think it’s easy to lead a congregation. All you have to do is read the Bible during the week, come up with a message, give the message on the weekend, count the offering and make the deposit. After leading Shema for about 30 years, I can tell you that shepherding God’s flock involves much more than giving a message and counting the offering and making the deposit. Shepherding the flock includes protecting it from various dangers, and that is not easy. Sometimes the Elders deal with tough people who are difficult to deal with. It can take the combined efforts of Rabbi Glenn, Dave and myself to deal with a tough individual who is being difficult. Dealing with some of these people is like going into combat, and takes its toll on us – emotionally and sometimes even physically.
To help the Shema community with congregational discipline, we have a document that is called Principles And Procedures Of Congregational Discipline. We have used it for years. While the current version is OK, it has some weaknesses. Over the past several weeks, Rabbi Glenn, Dave and myself, along with Mike and Jerry, have been working on a new version. This morning I want to go over that new version with you. If, after you have considered this new version, you want to give us your feedback, that would be fine. The new version has not be officially adopted yet and we can still make changes to it.
I want everyone to pay attention, because this teaches us how we are to conduct ourselves in Messiah’s Community.
- Purpose: The purpose of this policy is to establish and communicate the guidelines for correcting wrong behavior of the members of Congregation Shema Yisrael.
- Scope: This document contains Congregation Shema Yisrael’s policy for corrective action and restoration of a member who has behaved wrongly and the Elders deem it necessary to take action. The policy outlines the reasons for, purpose of and process for discipline.
- Responsibility: The Elders are the leaders of the Congregation and have the final responsibility for making decisions, correction and discipline. Members of the congregation are to submit to their decisions, correction and discipline (Matthew 18:15-18; 2 Thessalonians 3:14; Hebrews 13:17).
4.1 Description of Congregational Discipline
4.1.1 Congregational Discipline is the process whereby the Elders of Congregation Shema Yisrael take action to correct a member’s behavior adversely affecting both him/her and the congregation as a whole.
4.1.2 Congregation Shema Yisrael’s by-laws state: Membership may be terminated by the Board of Elders in its sole discretion at any time for just cause, including but not limited to active and unrepentant conduct, either verbally or by lifestyle, that is contrary to Biblical standards of conduct for a believer, conduct demonstrating departure from the Statement of Faith or the spirit, purposes or activities of the ministry of Congregation Shema Yisrael, is disruptive of the harmony of the body, or discontinuance of faith in the Messiah and the Scriptures. Such removal shall be in accord with Biblical principles as reflected in the Principles And Procedures Of Congregational Discipline and the authority of the Elders according to Matthew 18.
4.2 Reasons for Congregational Discipline
4.2.1 The Bible teaches that there are four instances in which congregation discipline is to be initiated.
4.2.2 Divisive Behavior: Scripture repeatedly warns us about the corrosive influence divisive people have on the congregation. Congregation members who seek to stir up agitation against fellow members and/or the congregation leadership must be stopped. Titus 3:10-11 states: “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.” Before Messiah died on the cross He prayed: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (John 17:20-21). Elders must be vigilant about correcting those who would seek to cause any division within the congregation for which Messiah died. This is so serious, Rabbi Paul warned in Romans 16:17-18: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Messiah, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.”
4.2.3 Insubordination: The Bible teaches that God has instituted an authority structure in the local congregation. The Elders are the leaders of the congregation and have the authority to make a wide range of decisions. They are not to use their authority in a dictatorial way, but as servant-leaders. It is the responsibility of members to submit to their decisions, especially their decisions pertaining to the restoration process. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17); and Philippians 2:12: “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence …”
4.2.4 Immoral Behavior: The Bible compares unchecked immoral behavior to yeast that works itself through “the whole batch of dough” (1 Corinthians 5:6). Persistent immoral behavior on the part of a member must be corrected because it hurts the member involved in the sin, but also because it creates a lax moral environment within the congregation. When addressing the congregation in Corinth, Rabbi Paul wrote: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?” (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). Immoral behavior is not limited to sexual activity. It includes other sins listed in Galatians 5:19-21 and in other places.
4.2.5 Teaching Against Congregation Doctrine: The Bible tells us that we must “teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1) and that an elder “must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9). When someone teaches doctrine that is in direct opposition to Congregation Shema Yisrael’s position, that behavior must be confronted and corrected.
4.3 The Purpose of Congregational Discipline
4.3.1 The Bible teaches there are five reasons to correct a member. The first four were implied in what was stated above: (1) to protect the congregation from division; (2) to protect the congregation from insubordination; (3) to protect the congregation from the spread of false teaching; and (4) to protect the congregation from the spread of lax moral behavior. The fifth reason for congregational discipline has to do with the member directly: (5) to restore the erring member to a right relationship with God.
4.3.2 If a member is being divisive, teaching unsound doctrine, being insubordinate, and/or is living in unrepentant sin, efforts should be made to restore him/her. 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 says: “Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer.” Galatians 6:1 gives this instruction: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.”
4.3.3 It must be noted that while the goal is to restore a member’s relationship with God, this does not necessarily mean their relationship with Congregation Shema Yisrael must be restored. In rare cases, for various reasons, it would be better for a member facing congregational discipline to have their relationship with God restored but seek to worship and serve in another congregation.
4.4 The Process of Congregational Discipline
4.4.1 The process of congregational discipline is based on Messiah’s teaching in Matthew 18:15-17: “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the congregation; and if they refuse to listen even to the congregation, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” This should be understood in the context of a reconciliation process for someone who has already sinned. The Lord is teaching us that something has already happened that is clearly wrong. The brother or sister has “sinned.” The brother or sister has committed a “fault.” The wrong-doing is not in question. A trial does not need to take place to determine if a sin or a fault has taken place. When it is obvious that a sin has taken place, then the rest of the reconciliation process of Matthew 18:15-17 is to be followed.
4.4.2 Step One: One to One Confrontation: This happens when one member confronts another member regarding their sin, divisive behavior, immorality, insubordination and/or aberrant doctrinal teaching. If the erring member who has been confronted acknowledges and repents of his/her behavior, the goal of the confrontation has been achieved – the erring member has changed his/her ways and the matter is considered resolved.
4.4.3 Step Two: Two or Three to One Confrontation: Oftentimes, the behavior goes unchecked even after one member is confronted by another. When this happens we are to escalate the process to involve one or two other members. If after this Two or Three to One confrontation takes place, the erring member who has been confronted acknowledges and repents of his/her behavior, the goal of the confrontation has been achieved – the erring member has changed his/her ways and the matter is considered resolved.
4.4.4 Step Three: Elder Confrontation: Unfortunately, sometimes followers of Messiah will not change their unrepentant sin, divisive behavior, insubordination, and/or aberrant doctrinal teaching, even after One on One or Two or Three on One confrontations take place. When this occurs, the Elders step in to lead the unrepentant member through a restoration process. Before the Elders meet with the member in question, they will talk to those members who have been involved in confrontations with or otherwise have been impacted by the member in question and find out the pertinent facts. At this meeting, the member is asked to acknowledge and repent of his/her behavior as well as submit to a restoration process. If the member in error submits to and completes the restoration process the goal of the confrontation has been achieved. The erring member has changed his/her behavior and the matter is considered to be resolved. If a member refuses to participate in the restoration process, the Elders will proceed to step four. A refusal to meet with the Elders on the part of the member in question will be interpreted as a refusal to participate in the restoration process.
4.4.5 Step Four: Removal From Membership and All Congregational Participation: When a member refuses to acknowledge and repent of his/her behavior, and complete the restoration process presented by the Elders, he/she will be removed from the membership of the congregation and will be asked to leave the congregation. Under no circumstances will he/she be allowed to participate again in any worship service or congregation-related activity until he/she have met again with the Elders and submitted to the restoration process. If at a future time the former member seeks to come back to the congregation, even years afterward, he/she must first complete the restoration process before being restored to membership.
4.5 Restoration Process
4.5.1 While each restoration will vary according to the circumstances, it will include at least the following:
4.5.2 Initial Meeting: The Elders will meet with the member in question and present him/her with the details of the case against him/her. If the member acknowledges and repents of his/her behavior, he/she will be asked to sign a document outlining his/her commitment to the following:
220.127.116.11 Repentance to All Parties Affected: The member will personally ask for forgiveness from everyone he/she has affected with his/her behavior. A list will be generated of such people to contact. The Elders will follow up with the parties the member agreed to contact to ensure this has happened.
18.104.22.168 One Year Probationary Period: For a period of one year the member will not be allowed to serve in any capacity. The member will be allowed to attend services and participate in other events – but that is all. The goal for this one year period is to rebuild the member’s relationship with God and also rebuild trust within the congregation. If, after the one year probationary period is completed, the Elders are satisfied that the member is ready, he/she will be allowed to serve again under the advisement of the Elders.
- Other Procedures
5.1 Since causing division and insubordination are particularly dangerous, the Elders may immediately suspend the member who is causing division or being insubordinate from all participation in the congregation until the member goes through the restoration process.
5.2 Should a member involved in the restoration process resign or withdraw from the congregation, or be removed from membership, the Elders reserve the right to inform the congregation, as well as other leaders in other congregations, as well as other persons, as to what has occurred, and make appropriate recommendations.
5.3 If the situation with an erring member warrants it, the Elders may ask the congregation to not associate with the erring member until the Elders are satisfied that the offending member has repented and has submitted to the restoration process.
That is the end of the new version of Principles And Procedures Of Congregational Discipline. Again, if you want to give us your feedback, that would be fine, but do it sooner rather than later.
In conclusion, because members of Messiah’s Community may sin, and our sin can affect Messiah’s Community, congregational discipline is essential for the proper functioning and the well-being of Messiah’s Community.
Avinu Malkaynu, our Father and our King, You are a God of order and You have designed Messiah’s Community with order.
You have given leaders in Messiah’s Community the authority to maintain order.
We pray, our Father and our King, that congregational discipline at Shema will be rarely necessary to implement.
Help us, when it is necessary to implement congregational discipline, to do so with wisdom and grace.
And, I pray that if any of us sin, and others confront us with our sin, You would help us humble ourselves and receive correction.