“…you are not welcome in our gathered worship, you will not be admitted to the communion table, you will not be allowed to meet with your small group, nor with others in our church body…”
These were the words I heard on a cold November day in 2013. I heard these words from men I love and respect. I heard these words from my pastors. They lovingly spoke these words to me after 2½ years of walking beside me through my devastating sin. And now they were asking me to walk this path alone? Literally alone.
My extended family lives hours away. Most of my friends were from the church, and those that weren’t I did not want to call for help. “Why would my pastors do this” and “How am I supposed to figure this out on my own” were questions I would ask thousands of times over the course of the next several months.
Throughout the past couple of years my local church had been gently and fervently calling me to repent and turn from my sin. Initially, I was encouraged not to partake in communion. After my wife and pastors found out that I had been hiding again and pretending that things were okay when they weren’t, the church more specifically barred me from communion as a way of church discipline while continuing to walk beside me through this. In the midst of my discipline, the pastors and leaders of the church were regularly praying with me and being available to talk when I needed them.
However, this past November was different. My sin continued and I was completely blind to how idolatrous and deceitful my heart had become. I had been lying to myself for so long that I had begun to believe my own lies. I also continued to manipulate and feign repentance as a way to gain favor with my wife, close friends, and pastors. I was fluent in the language of the church. Because of this the Holy Spirit convinced my pastors, who take shepherding the body humbly and seriously, that the next steps of church discipline needed to be stronger and more dramatic.
It was at that time when I heard those words, “…you are not welcome in our gathered worship, you will not be admitted to the communion table, you will not be allowed to meet with your small group, nor with others in our church body…”
And yet, I heard much more than those words. I also heard “We love you,” “We grieve with you,” “We are in this with you.” Initially the statements seemed dichotomous, but the reality is that they are beautifully linked. Both were used to discipline me, both were used to call me to repentance, and both were incredibly gracious and loving. My pastors were courageous enough to trust that God wanted to work in me without me continuing to use the church as a way of hiding within the body of Christ. I could go Sunday after Sunday, small group after small group, and pretend that I was fine, masking my deep sin and refusal to repent. It was only when I was left alone in my sin that I could no longer hide from God. It was in these long days and nights without my friends, pastors, and even my family for a time that I began to feel the weight of my sin.
I didn’t only see the horrible sin; my eyes were also open to God’s deep and strong love for me, with grace enough that His son would pay the penalty of my sin. I read scriptures like Psalms 18, Psalms 69, 2 Timothy 2, Hebrews, and 1 John which spoke encouragement, hope, and love while calling me out of my sin.
What I learned was that church discipline was not about punishment for my sin but rather a beautiful expression of gospel hospitality pleading withme to repent and bask in the holiness and loving kindness of a gracious Savior. I am deeply thankful for the courage and wisdom that my pastors demonstrate as they lovingly call me to repentance.
Finally, I’m not writing these words from the other side, aftera year or two, where I can sanitize these hard months…these words are raw and real while I am living in the midst of the church discipline. I don’t yet know what the outcome of my discipline will be, but my great hope is being restored to my family and to my church, and above all, restored to my Savior.