One Sunday after our church service, the senior pastor extended his hand to greet my dad, one of his fellow elders. Yanking his hand away, my dad jetted past him. I sometimes question why God let that instance from six years ago sear my memory. Frankly, I don’t know.
But I do know that like this memory, God used my dad’s excommunication for good. I hope this testimony shows that. I hope it encourages churches to not shirk what God requires for their good and, most importantly, for his name’s sake (see Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5).
I suspect many pastors fear obeying Jesus’ command in this area because they dread the strife that could result. Judging by what happened with my dad and the reactions from my church, my family and myself, I understand that fear. But I hope this testimony will help you overturn that fear and embrace faithful obedience to Jesus’ commands.
I love my dad. Though I’ll reference hard memories, I won’t dwell on his sin here.
Given problems in my family at the time, some church members questioned if my dad should still serve as an elder (see 1 Tim. 3:4). He eventually left the church because he didn’t think these charges were properly handled. Refusing to reconcile with my church and my family, my dad, one of our church’s longest-serving and most-beloved elders, was eventually excommunicated.
The church was split over my dad's discipline. Some members argued that it was right, some argued it was wrong, and others ranged between these two ends. Disunity struck my family, too. Some of us were confused, others angry. As life went on, God brought my siblings to different schools and places. With some of them went resentment for the church and the situation.
I—the baby among five children—was confused. I had no idea what excommunication was. I blamed it for splitting my family and my church. To me, church discipline wasn’t just cold, harsh and unexpected: it was disastrous. It was an iceberg; my family and my church were the Titanic.
A DISASTER REDEEMED
Years have now passed, and today I can tell you that the church made the right decision. I can also tell you some ways God used the decision for good.
Through my dad’s discipline, my local church protected Christ’s name for its members and the watching world.
Through my dad’s discipline, God drew most of my family members closer to himself.
Through my dad’s discipline, my desire to pastor a local church continues to grow.
MY LOCAL CHURCH: ALL HANDS ON DECK
Church discipline is painful. Though I’m tempted to stew on the negatives, I’m humbled when I reflect on how the church came together to support my family during this time. Because we were church members, we were a part of the church’s family; we were one body. Though not always perfectly timed or expressed, church members did their best to love my family. They mourned with my mother and prayed for our family—including my dad. Though my family and my church were sinking, all hands were on deck.
This unity through suffering matched the picture Paul paints of the church in 1 Corinthians 12:26. Even though this painting looked messy when it began, it’s turning out masterfully. Indeed, church discipline drove this church to her master, Christ, for refuge. My dad’s sin spread division through the church like cancer. God’s corrective surgery—which in this case was formal church discipline—removed that spreading division. As with any surgery, wounds ran deep and scars remain. But ultimately that local body, now healed and strengthened, better displays God’s holiness, love, and name.
God didn’t only bless my church family through my dad’s discipline. An example from my biological family shows that.
MY FAMILY: REPENTANT & REJECTING
Through my dad’s discipline, God matured the godly women and men in my family. They now share a stronger love for God and his church. By bringing them through this trial, God allowed most of my family members’ faiths to be proved genuine. He let them experience the ministry of the churches they currently submit to. He taught them to trust his faithfulness.
One of my sisters told me how she felt about my dad’s discipline for a couple of years after the fact. With her eyes locked on mine, she said, “Isaac, I was mad at God, and I hated the church.”
Yet in his goodness, God led her to repentance by bringing her to another healthy local church. At first, she felt as though she could not trust any church, and though she joined, she kept a wrongful distance from the church. But for years that congregation rallied, spurring her on in the faith, just as Hebrews 10:24 calls us to.
Where she once saw judgment in the local church, my sister now sees redemption. She now serves that church as a deaconess. How good is the Father who took his church-hating daughter, used the church to restore her trust in the church, and now has her serving this church so that through it the gospel may more brightly shine.
I wish I could say my dad’s discipline led to all of my family members’ salvation, but that’s not the case. Some of them still feel wounded by the church because they do not see what it did as loving. Instead of praising God for what happened, they mistakenly blame and reject his church. They seem far from God.
But he remains faithful, and my own desire testifies to that truth.
MY DESIRE: A RIGHT REFLECTION
God used this discipline to show me that elders are precious gifts to local churches. In the few years after the discipline, God led me to godly men in other healthy local churches. These men taught me the value of the gospel and the dire importance of rightly representing it corporately and individually. Using my dad’s failures in church leadership, God showed me the immense potential an elder has to either reflect or deface Christ’s love for the church. Having seen it defaced, I hope that I—by God’s grace—will rightly reflect Christ’s love and humility. I hope I will always have elders surrounding me who do the same.
A BETTER SEARING
I opened with a memory that seared my brain. But it’s a different searing that my dad and I enjoy now. Every month, we grub at a seafood joint. We love seared shrimp.
This past month, we talked about reconciling with the church. Now we’re studying through Scripture together to see what this should look like. Though it’s just a step in the right direction, how can I doubt our God’s faithfulness at this point?
Isaac Adams, a member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, works as Administrative Assistant for Together for the Gospel and CROSS conference. You can follow him on twitter.