There is an exception for every rule, but please be exceedingly slow to write about or evaluate situations of church discipline from a distance. Virtually all instances of church discipline that I know of have layers of complexity, pain, history, sin, personalities, and just plain old messiness. And there are two sides to every story.
Let’s remember that the truth of this proverb:
The one who states his case first seems right,
until the other comes and examines him.
Discipline done wrongly can be harmful and hurtful. But criticizing the discipline from a distance, without an awareness of all the facts, can damage the reputation of the church of Christ and her leaders.
In addition, let’s remember that those who call most loudly and consistently for repentance among some pastors—often with legitimate criticism—are sometimes the least to model repentance when they themselves may be engaged in gossip or slander.
My dilemma in giving specific examples here is that it would do precisely what I’m trying to avoid—discussing local church discipline situations publicly. But I recently saw a post that models wise repentance after a critical post, and think it’s worth quoting as a model. I’ve deleted specific names of the individual and the church in question:
While being discreet to protect the identities of those involved, and avoiding many of the gory details, my friend laid out enough evidence to satisfy me that the initial accounts given by [the individual] and those promoting his story are at best incomplete, and most likely deliberately misleading. Large parts are left out, including the majority of action taken by the church to reconcile him. Also, [the individual’s] case involves a confluence of several situations that it appears [the church] has properly and thoroughly dealt with. Because the details involve the sin of others that are not publicly known, the church has decided the best course of action is to remain silent to protect those people’s reputation and privacy. They did not divulge the identities of the people involved, or the specific details of each situation to me, but they gave me a rough overview of the pieces missing in various accounts of the incident now in circulation. In light of these facts it is only right that I publicly retract my former comments directed at [the church].
Only the gospel can produce that kind of humility.
While I hope that we would have less discussion of specific cases of church discipline, I also hope we would have more discussion about the biblical teaching on this important process. Toward that end, I suspect that Jonathan Leeman’s short book, Church Discipline: How the Church Protects the Name of Jesus (due out in April from Crossway), will become the go-to book for many churches. As Craig Blomberg writes, “Far too few biblically grounded, pastorally sensitive books on church discipline remain in print today. I know of none that is as exegetically accurate, practically relevant, and filled with real-life case studies of how churches should deal with a wide variety of common situations.” J.D. Greear says it’s “an outstanding, one-of-a-kind theological work. . . . I believe this will be the definitive work on church discipline, and our elders plan to use this work as our guide.” So if you have questions on what “church discipline” is and how to put it into practice, this may be a resource to consider.