1 Samuel 3:11-13
11 Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. 12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.
There has been in recent years a revival of the understanding of biblical church discipline. Whether it be in national denominations or among smaller groups, Christians have been doing a great deal of talking about and writing about the issue of how churches must be more responsible for those who are members. Groups such as 9 Marks have called Christians to do their part to obey Jesus’ commands in Matthew 18:15-17.
In my own experience, conversations about church discipline are often met with a push back from folks who argue that confronting church members about their sin or even removing them from church membership simply does not work. These folks tell stories of how they know of people who were confronted in their sin and who chose never to again darken the door of the church. I don’t doubt the genuine desire in these people to not “drive away” wayward Christians. However, I do think that a mistake is being made.
In God’s message to Samuel in 1 Samuel 3:11-13, we see one aspect of discipline that is often neglected by those who do not want to see churches confronting sinful, wayward members. Eli did not confront his children. He knew of their sin, and he did not confront them, at least not with any consequences for their actions. God responds to Eli’s neglect of discipline by tearing the priesthood away from Eli’s family forever.
Why would God take something away from Eli for the sins of his sons? It makes sense pretty easily. Eli knew of sin in his sons. However, whether it be due to his desire not to upset his sons or out of fear that his actions would not make a difference, Eli did not go far enough to try to put a stop to their evil. Eli did not show that he cared enough about the glory of God to do everything in his power to keep these young men from defaming his worship. And it appears that God is acting in this instance out of a desire to protect his holy name.
It is certainly true that Galatians 6:1 and even Matthew 18:15-17, classic church discipline passages, are focused on the restoration of the believer. But it is also true that discipline in churches is also necessary for the sake of the glory of God and the reputation of the church. When we fail to confront the wayward, we do damage both to the believer and to the local church and the glory of God. If we fail to confront a wayward believer, he or she assumes that his or her actions are acceptable or at least not a big enough deal to rouse the concern of the local congregation. By failing to confront, we build walls of a false privacy around the sinner and offer him or her no real help. On the other hand, failure to confront this believer also shows the community at large that god is not concerned about the sin of his people, and that the church is not at all different than the world around us.
Yes, it is possible that confronting someone with their sin might only serve to drive them further from the church. Yes, it Is possible that confronting someone in their sin might make the church look judgmental to the local community. However, it is also possible that these things will not happen. It is possible that a person may be convicted and that a community might see the high view that the church takes regarding God’s word. Either way, if we are pressed with how to respond, as believers, we should respond with the pattern given us in the word of God. For the sake of the believer and for the glory of God, we should lovingly call one another to turn from sin and follow God with all our hearts.