A MINISTRY OF RESTORATION
We must now give attention to the manner or spirit in which this work of corrective discipline is to be done. Our attitude is all-important. Ours is a ministry of restoration and healing. We must not do the right thing in the wrong way.
the good of his brother, and on the effects of his actions on unbelievers. The most we can do is to bring such considerations before him. The final issue lies with him, and not with us. His continuing enjoyment of his liberty cannot be the cause of any censure, even if it should be unspeakably distasteful to us personally, and contrary to local custom or church tradition. We have no mandate to implement discipline unless what is being done is inherently sinful. We must avoid legalism at all costs. We must also avoid laxity. A believer may drink, but he may not become a drunkard. Should he do so, or should something parallel occur, we have Scriptural authority to act [1 Cor. 5.11].
Nor can corrective discipline deal with inward sins, but only with those which are outward and manifest. The Word of God thunders against covetousness, pride, selfishness, and envy. But unless these inward sins lead to some outward shame there is nothing that can be done about them, except by the formative discipline of Biblical preaching. It is only against outward sins which are clearly wrong beyond all argument that action can be taken.
This includes all manifest transgressions of the Ten Commandments, such as idolatry; blasphemy; witchcraft; profanity; desecration of the Sabbath; dishonour to parents; murder; adultery; theft; and lying.
In addition, corrective discipline may move against errors in foundation doctrines which destroy the integrity of the Gospel [Gal. 1]. But we must be careful to realize that not all doctrinal differences threaten the integrity of the Gospel. Here there must be forbearance.
It is useful for a local church to have a confession outlining what it considers to be the fundamentals of the faith. Those who cannot subscribe to this are not to be admitted to fellowship, and those who cease to subscribe are to be excluded.
Finally, there is contumacy, and all else that sets out to divide the Body by sowing seeds of dissension and disaffection. Men who engage in this are carnal men, who will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, and the local church is to act against them.
It is vital to keep within these limits, avoiding both legalism and laxity. If this is not done, corrective discipline becomes a means of appression, a perpetrator of harm, and a stimulant to bigotry. It becomes an inquisition, and an undue meddling in private affairs.
If it is confined to manifest sins which beyond argument are condemned by Scripture, its administration becomes ‘plain and easy’ [John Owen].
Secondly, we must be clear as to precisely what spirit the Scriptures do demand of us as we give ourselves to this work. We must underline again that the purpose and object of corrective discipline is the restoration of the offender. When this is forgotten we usurp
God’s prerogatives stated in Romans 12.19 and 14.4, and become ministers of vengeance, appointing ourselves as judges over others.
This work is to be done with meekness, ‘considering thyself (Gal.
6.1]. We approach the restoration of another, conscious of our own failures and inconsistencies, our own likelihood to fall into temptation, and our own continuing weakness. We are not beyond falling, and we are not to give the impression that we are. But neither are we to drift into laxity by letting the knowledge of our own weakness keep us from the work which Christ commanded us to do!
As our object is edification, and not destruction [2 Cor. 10.8], it is absolutely essential that we do not treat each erring brother alike. There is the greatest possible difference between the young believer and the hardened anarchist, between the doubter and the heretic. A harsh rebuke may be needed to help one, whereas even a mild rebuke to another may fill him with overmuch sorrow. ‘And for some have compassion, making a difference’ [Jude 22].
Even those who have committed identical sins cannot be treated in exactly the same way.
We need to take into account our brother’s temperament, his standing in grace, his family circumstances, his intellectual grasp, and countless other things. Our purpose is to gain this brother! Different treatment to different people must not be regarded as ‘favouritism’ or ‘partiality’. Our people must be taught this; and the integrity of office-bearers dealing with individual cases must be strenuously defended from such accusations.
No doubt we shall err a great deal as we seek to do this work. Let us determine that we shall always err on the side of charity. It is better to deal too kindly with one who needed a sterner rebuke, than to quench the smoking flax or to break the bruised reed.
And let us realize that all that we do is utterly fruitless without the blessing of God.
The work must therefore be done with much prayer. We must constantly be at the throne of grace, beseeching the Saviour of sinners that this means of grace, by His blessing, may be effectual to the restoration of the person involved. The sign of restoration is that the brother hears and repents. If he is under suspension, or has been excommunicated, he is to be immediately restored. Christ’s Body must not be slower to receive the penitent than
Christ Himself is!
The New Testament does not teach that any public confession or ceremony is to accompany or follow restoration. Public confessions of sin are undoubtedly hurtful, both morally and spiritually. 2 Corinthians 2.6-8 is the only passage bearing directly on the subject of restoration, and there the emphasis is that the church is to receive the penitent, and to confirm its love toward him – the love which all along has led the church to proceed with the practice of discipline.
Restoration is only a problem where censure has been done in the wrong spirit. No rules need be given for it, any more than a family needs rules as to how it should treat a wayward member who returns, or a father needs rules as to how he should receive a repentant son.
Where there has been love for the offender all along, embarrassment or
awkwardness when he is restored is quite out of place