Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Church Discipline and Personal Privacy

By Bruce Mills

I have been following the situation with Grace Community Church of Jacksonville with great interest. For the reader who is completely oblivious to the secular media's reporting of this matter, let me give you a basic summary of what has been taking place.

A member of the church by the name of Rebecca Hancock became involved in an ongoing sexual relationship with her boyfriend. Ms. Hancock is a divorced mother of two adult children, ages 18 and 20. When the church's elders became aware of the situation, they confronted Ms. Hancock about her sin of being involved in a sexual relationship outside of marriage, a clear violation of Scriptural mandates. Following the pattern established by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17, they first confronted her privately, then with two or three witnesses. When Ms. Hancock refused to repent of her sin and stop her immoral relationship, the elders then wrote her a letter explaining to her that unless she did so, they had no choice but to follow the next step of the process and tell the church about her sin so that the church members could then call her to repentance.

But Ms. Hancock decided that she would "out" herself and go public with her sins before the church had an opportunity to follow through with its plan to inform the congregation. So she contacted a Jacksonville television station and informed them of what was taking place. Needless to say, once the story broke, it became a major news event. It was picked up by countless newspapers and even national news broadcasts. I saw a story about it on one of the local television stations here in the Tampa Bay area.

Despite her alleged desire to avoid the church shaming her by informing its congregation of a couple of hundred people, Ms. Hancock informed the nation of her sin. She even posed for a newspaper photograph standing in front of the church. And every story carried the explanation that she wanted to avoid having her two children, who are still actively involved in the church, be embarrassed to have to sit in church while the pastor informed the congregation about their mother's sin. Interestingly, she doesn't appear to be at all concerned about their embarrassment at seeing their mother's sin publicly confessed and discussed on television and in the newspaper.

Ms. Hancock also admits she is still involved in the sexual relationship with her boyfriend, but claims to be a Christian who loves Jesus. However, she doesn't seem to make the connection that genuine love for the Lord results in the desire to obey His commands, and that includes His commands against adultery and fornication.

In past years, such a story would never make the eighth page inside column of a newspaper, much less the front page with a color photo. But our society has become so consumed with personal religion and personal rights, that for anyone to come along and call what anyone else is doing "sin" is simply considered to be outrageous. I went to the web site of the Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville's biggest newspaper, and read the readers' comments which they posted in regard to the story about Grace Community Church's treatment of Ms. Hancock. The readers were overwhelmingly slanderous of the church and outraged that any church group would dare to discipline one of its members. There were threats to attend the church and disrupt the services, slanderous comments about the sexual activities of the church leadership, and lots and lots of comments regarding how Jesus said "Judge not lest you be judged" (Matthew 7:1). Of course, not a single person who posted a comment realized that it was also Jesus who laid out the process of church discipline in Matthew 18.

However, the interesting twist in this story is that Ms. Hancock states that she has left the church, no longer considers herself a member of the church, and intends to send the church a letter stating such. I'm sure there is an attorney somewhere who is coaching her to do so in order to set up a basis to sue the church for "slandering" her character publicly after she has removed herself from submission to the church leadership's authority. Hopefully, Grace Community Church's constitution provides that a member who is in the process of being disciplined by the church cannot resign his or her membership to avoid that process.

Regardless, this story merely presents an opportunity to observe the difference between light and darkness and the requirements of Scripture versus man's self-deterministic bent. I predict that we will see more and more efforts made within the court system in coming years to declare such actions of church discipline illegal because of its alleged infringement on personal privacy. Pastors and churches may pay a price for obedience to the Word of God in this area.

We need to pray for Grace Community Church and its leaders to stand firm in the faith and to obey the Word of God regardless of the cost. This is a difficult situation for them, but God is using it to accomplish His sovereign purposes. Jesus said, "I will build My church,and the gates of of Hades will not overpower it" (Matthew 16:18). So as difficult as it may be, our Lord will be honored, His church will be purified, and Satan will not achieve the ultimate victory.


MegaPhilip said...

Wow, I had heard something about that, that's a shame.

Ray said...
This comment has been removed by the author.