headshotsmall.jpg

Putting a LOCKE on Offenders and the Straying:

A loving approach to church discipline.

In Matthew 18: Jesus calls us to call those who sin back from their sins.

“If a brother or sister sins,
go and point out the fault, just between the two of you.
If they listen to you, you have won your brother 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 refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church;
and if they refuses to listen even to the church,
treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

The key to this passage lies in the very last words: “…treat him as you would… …a tax collector.” Matthew, the former tax collector notes that Jesus wants us to treat offenders and the straying as he was treated by Jesus.

So how did Jesus have such a profound effect on those who were offending or were alienated from God? I believe that the answer can come in the letters LOCKE. These describe a set of values that allow us to reflect God’s love and justice in a Christlike way.

  1. Love the offender. This is, of course, very difficult. And the worse the offense, the more difficult the task. Jesus expressed love to those he drew to him. With Matthew and Zacchaeus he asked to eat with them. He allows the sinful woman to touch him at the banquet. The young rich ruler he looked on with compassion and told him what he needed to know.

    Of course, people viewed Jesus as so holy (as he was) that merely being embraced by his presence showed his loving compassion. Excepting the famous religious figures among us, we will need to show our love a bit more clearly. We will need to love them with our

    • Attitude We must judge the situation. (More on that below under Observation.) However judgmentalism destroys our ability to express love to the offender. Judgmentalism assumes a position of superiority, that we would be above such sins and therefore places us above the other person who sinned. Such attitudes cannot help but come through in our demeanor and therefore poison any approach we take to calling them back to the life in Jesus. Our attitude needs to include a sense of humility that we, like they, are sinners saved by the grace of God in the sacrifice of Jesus. “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
    • Approach Going to them, entering their world, in a place comfortable to them – just as in Evangelism – becomes our burden. If possible, sharing food and drink improves the setting. When I sit down at table with you I implicitly declare my desire to be a peace with you, to have community with you. Jesus showed the way when he got himself invited into the homes of those, like Matthew and Zaccheus, who needed to change most. When this cannot be arranged, at least choosing a place where the offender will feel comfortable (or allowing them to choose it) will help.
    • Appreciation Repentance revolves around relationships. If you have no positive relationship with the offender, then you are just a stranger bringing judgment. If, however, before this time, you have experienced some of the goodness that God has placed in this person, telling these stories will place this discussion in a better context. You are seeking to restore something you fear you will lose personally, more than coming to tell a person how to live. It will be best if this appreciation revolves around personal contact between the two of you – some time that they did something that you enjoyed or that benefitted you. “I remember when we…” However, even if all you can speak about appreciating them from afar (“I always have enjoyed your singing in worship”) it still provides a bridge of appreciation on which to express love.

  2. Observe Objectively Even the best of us tend to become defensive when someone points out a fault of ours. While the problem may seem obvious to us, pronouncing the blame directly makes us the issue. If at all possible it is best to make this an issue with God in Christ Jesus. It will not help to label them a sinner (or adulterer, or abuser, or whatever) nor to use judging language. Simply giving an objective account of what you saw happen will remove you from the seat of judgment.

    I suggest we simply state the situation, such as, “I heard you call your wife an idiot last night.” and then ask, “What do you suppose Jesus thinks of that?” we move ourselves out of the way and bring the person directly to the only Judge of the World, one who can also be kind and forgiving. While this approach does not guarantee repentance, it does lay a foundation where we deal with the issue without making us the issue.

    Of course, sometimes in our sinfulness we simply refuse to admit that Jesus would find anything wrong. At that point it is good to simply point the offender to an appropriate place in the Bible and ask them to read out loud what Jesus thinks. Of course, we may need to read it to them. Yet, at every point we want to make sure that they understand that the issue is what Jesus thinks.

  3. Confess If we have struggled with this particular sin, speaking of our own experience can make us a fellow traveler with them. It opens us to expressing our own regrets and repentance in this area. Eve if we haven't sinned in this particular way, we have sinned. Admitting that we are sinners, along with them, who have found new joy in living the way Jesus wants, provides renewed focus on Jesus and pleasing him.
  4. Keep Community Change is not easy. In their book, How People Grow, Cloud and Townsend note that when self-control fails we often need the help of “other control”, people who will advise us and to whom we can be accountable. Just telling someone else to “stop it” may seem simple enough until we reflect on the times we have wanted to change our own behavior and have failed when we tried it alone.

    Promising to keep community means that we are re-enfolding them into the community of believers who are called to “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:26( Living out this call to community leads us to lead others back into faithfulness to Christ and others.

  5. Evangelize Of course, not every person repents (immediately or at all). There comes a time when we can only admit that this person does not desire to follow Jesus and is, in fact outside of Christ. How should we treat them. Matthew the former tax collector recalls Jesus saying, “…treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” That is to say, we evangelize them.

    What is the difference between evangelism and church discipline? It is simply this, whether we assume the person is inside the Body of Christ or outside it. A person who is outside the Body of Christ we go to, embrace and teach in order to apprentice them into the mission of Jesus, being the reflection of Jesus in the world. A person who is inside it we go to, embrace and teach in order to apprentice (“disciple”) further into the mission of Jesus. If we find a person we thought was inside the Body of Christ and is, in fact, outside the Body of Christ (as shown by their behavior) we go to the, embrace them and teach them in order to apprentice them into the mission of Jesus.

In this sense we see that we truly have only one mission from God, whether it regards those inside the Body of Christ or outside. Doing both with equal love will best reflect the life of Jesus to others.

For more information on improving our effectiveness in Our Only Mission see: