How do you deal with sin in the church when the elders disagree?


I am writing this on behalf of several individuals involved in this particular situation. We are having a very difficult time deciding how to deal with these problems and would appreciate your thoughts on the matter.

A member of our congregation is living in an adulterous marriage. He was approached by two elders and others, prior to remarrying, and told that it was unscriptural for him to be remarried. There are witnesses to the unscriptural basis of his remarriage. The third and final elder is the gentleman's father and actually performed the wedding ceremony. Now most who felt that the remarriage was unscriptural say that speaking out to the church as a whole and enacting discipline will cause too many problems (including one of the two elders who admonished the gentleman earlier). Only one elder wants to do what is right scripturally but has been called judgmental and harsh. How is this elder to deal with the situation? What are individuals in a congregation to do if the church as a whole will not discipline members living in sin?


I am assuming that you have the facts of the case accurate and that the man is indeed living in adultery. You actually have no choice in the matter as the rules for handling this problem have already been laid out. To claim that it is judgmental to follow the Lord's commands is simply a common tactic to make the righteous feel guilty about their obedience. It is to Satan's benefit to keep the righteous from acting because that allows sin to spread further. As Paul asked, "Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?" (I Corinthians 5:6).

Like the man living with his father's wife, the only choice is for the church to withdraw from him immediately. "For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (I Corinthians 5:3-5). Notice that Paul openly declared that he was judgmental in this matter and with good reason. The matter is not and never has been up for a vote. The Lord has laid out the rules. "But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner -- not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore "put away from yourselves the evil person."" (I Corinthians 5:11-13). And a bit later, as if the former wasn't clear enough, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God" (I Corinthians 6:9-10).

The father of this man has allowed his personal preferences to cloud his judgment. By marrying this man, he became a party to his sin and is just as guilty. "Who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them" (Romans 1:32).

Yes, there will be a backlash, not because God's Word is being enforced, but because they dilly-dallied in carrying it out and thus allowed sin to take root within the congregation. "Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Ecclesiastes 8:11). The proper time to have withdrawn from both the adulterer and the elder who supported it would have been the day of the wedding. Now the extraction of sin will be painful and difficult, but it must be done for the survival of the members. "Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10).

No one can allow fears of what might happen keep them from doing what is right. "Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin" (James 4:17). It is interesting that first sin listed in Revelation 21:8 is cowardice. The Lord's work failed to be carried out more often by people who were afraid that for any other reason. This is why Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:17) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 2:6) were forbidden to show fear when delivering God's message -- they were representatives of God and were required to act like it. Timothy was reminded of the same thing, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (II Timothy 1:7).

That an elder is involved in the sin doesn't change what must be done. The only requirement there is that you cannot use hearsay evidence. It must be facts established by multiple witnesses. "Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear" (I Timothy 5:19-20). Being an elder doesn't mean a man doesn't sin, nor does it give him immunity from being withdrawn from if he refuses to repent of his sin.

So, get your facts laid out. Get your Scriptures together supporting both why it is wrong and what needs to be done. Call a special meeting of the church as quick as you can. Have the elders present the issues, the facts, and the Scriptures in front of the entire congregation (as in Acts 15). There will be disagreements, but emphasize being civil. By the time the end is reached, I think the entire congregation will know what must be done and why. Then it will only be a matter of doing it.