I recently wrote about whether Christians should divide over homosexuality. One of the points I made was that though it’s appropriate to leave a church or pastor who is a false teacher, we should not divide from family and friends who hold to errant teaching (e.g. pro-gay theology). Someone kindly offered some criticism regarding my post. They wrote:
I’m with you on just about all, but Scripture does talk about “having nothing to do with them” in church discipline concerning an unrepentant believer. I know you’ve said play tennis, go to lunch, etc. as a strategy to win them over… The Bible says along with having nothing to do with them—for the explanation—so that they’re driven to repentance. I think maybe not applying this biblical mandate is actually coddling the sin and even spawning more victims.
They also gave an example of how someone in their family divorced his wife (with whom he had three children), embraced homosexuality, and brought tremendous pain to the family. He was still included as a family member and loved, but became an alcoholic and ultimately died of health issues. It seems like my advice would lead to harm in the preceding situation. How, then, should this not be an issue we divide over?
It grieves my heart to hear this story. Unfortunately, I’ve heard many stories like it. Though I understand the harm that family experienced, I want to explain why I still hold to my view.
It appears the person concerned with my view is referencing the biblical procedure for church discipline described by Jesus in Matthew 18:15–20 and Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:1–13. The first step is to confront a brother’s sin. If he repents, then “you have won your brother” (v.15). If he doesn’t listen, take two or more with you. If he still doesn’t listen, you tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, then Jesus says to “let him be to you as a Gentile or tax collector” (v. 17). Paul appears to be encouraging the church to follow Jesus’ final step of excommunication in the 1 Corinthians 5 passage. Of course, the goal in this discipline is not to kick someone out of the church, but rather to encourage repentance and restoration. But if they refuse to turn from their sin, then the bigger concern is to protect the believers with a church body by removing the unrepentant sinner. Sin left unchecked within a body of believers is dangerous to the health of the church. After all, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough,” Paul warns (1 Cor. 5:6).
What these passages tell me is this procedure is a matter of church discipline to be performed under church authority. Otherwise, how can a person be excommunicated by the church and from the church if the discipline isn’t being conducted within the church?
My assumption—and I could be wrong about this—was that the man who divorced his wife and pursued homosexuality was engaging in this behavior outside the context of a local church body and, consequently, outside of a church’s jurisdiction. Therefore, you can’t apply the steps of church discipline in this case. If he was a part of a church, then I agree that the church should have followed Jesus’ and Paul’s teaching and corrected the man. If he refused to repent, then it would be appropriate to “have nothing to do with him.”
But that’s not what I was talking about in my previous post. I was saying that we shouldn’t end our relationship or part ways with someone merely because they hold to errant theology. Though they could have pursued such theology because they wanted to justify someone’s behavior, it’s also possible they were deceived by a leader who misled them. Either way, that doesn’t mean we can’t call them out on their view, nor does it mean we should pretend that all is well if they begin to live out their errant theology. It just means we don’t automatically end the relationship because they’re mistaken.
I’d also add that I’m not suggesting we stay silent when someone makes decisions that damage the lives of others. If a friend or family member is making poor life choices and hurting people, then I agree we should call them out.
What happened in the real-life scenario described by the author of my critique is not a situation addressed in my previous post. This man sinned when he divorced his wife, sinned when he embraced homosexuality, and sinned when he abused alcohol. Of course his family and local church body (if he was under their authority) should hold him accountable. But merely holding to pro-gay theology doesn’t necessarily result in those actions. And holding orthodox views doesn’t preclude someone from such sinful behaviors.
Therefore, I agree that man should not be coddled but called to account for the harm he committed. But that kind of accountability goes beyond what I was talking about in my previous post.