In our previous discussion where we considered if we can take actions against a sinning elder, we that it isn’t out of place. What are the right actions to take? How do we take actions? Does the Bible offer us a guideline on how to take actions against a sinning elder? Let’s look at these few guidelines. These steps apply to every Christian but also shows us how to confront a sinning elder.
1. PRIVATE CONFRONTATION & CORRECT JUDGEMENT
When you notice an elder is sinning, you may be greatly disturbed, it is okay that you may struggle to let go or you may be struggling to come in terms with the fact that an elder sinned against you and God but there is a way to settle these issues in the Church which is the same way you settle issues with other believers. The Bible says in Proverbs 27:6
“Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.”
It is your responsibility to confront someone you caught in sin and speak the truth to him or her in love (Ephesians 4:15). You don’t have to harbour their wrongs in your heart or go around making news out of it. You have to confront them privately for what they did! No matter how painful your rebuke may be to them, it is better than the praises they receive from people who never dared to approach them. The Bible says in Galatians 6:1
“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.”
Look carefully, the Bible isn’t talking about just a onetime mistake but a habitual sin! When you discover someone has been caught up in sin, the first thing you do is to confirm your assumptions without wrongly judging him or her and when your assumptions are true, you should seek to restore such a person in a gentle manner and with a heart full of love while you watch yourself to ensure you don’t get trapped too! The judgment that Jesus condemned is gossip, slander and sentimental judgments. The Bible says in John 7:24
“Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.”
We can judge things right when we do a careful and biblical evaluation of the situation. We shouldn’t just jump up and start taking sides based on appearance and things that appeal to the emotions, we must look beneath the surface. This is also how we are careful so that we don’t eventually go into sin while trying to help another. When you have confronted someone privately for his wrongs and he continues with it, take the second step.
2. INVOLVE A THIRD OR FEW MORE PARTY
The next biblical step to take is not to broadcast it to the world! You should involve two or three persons as the Bible says in Matthew 18:16 and go to encourage him out of that sin. These two persons could even be witnesses or Church executives. Your visit to the elder isn’t a sign of disloyalty but a portrayal of love for him and the people committed to his care. He may not even understand that it but that’s alright. If this elder continues in the wrong ways then the third step is necessary.
3. INVOLVE CHURCH ELDERS
In some Churches these days, there aren’t multiple elders who the Pastor is accountable. When you have confronted an elder (or Pastor) with few executives and he insists on living the way he wants, you may have to involve the senior Pastor or the Pastors he is submitting to in the case if he is the Senior Pastor of your congregation. The leadership are to take up the matter and discipline the elder. But if he admits he’s wrong, you must stop on this step.
4. LET THE ELDERS FAULT BE MADE PUBLIC
When an elder has refused to change and keeps on sinning the Bible recommends in 1 Timothy 5:20
“But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning.”
Many times, the sins of elders will go on influencing those he is leading. He may not even know that a lot of people already knows about his sexual misconduct or his tendencies to always write off money from the church purse for his personal use and he wouldn’t even be aware that he is wrongly influencing various other persons. The Bible recommends that such an elder should be rebuked publicly! Another instance is when an elder makes a public declaration that is totally against the word, the correction should be made public too and not private. This step would humble him and make him steer back to the right path, on the other hand, it will also correct those who had assimilated the wrong teachings.
5. LET HIM LEAVE THE FELLOWSHIP OR THE LEADERSHIP
If the elder had continued in that sinful way after all efforts have been made to address his issues and he insists on living the way he wants, he should come down from that leadership position and also be shown the way out of that fellowship. Now, this is very difficult for a Church organization where the elder happens to be the senior pastor and also happens to assume the highest authority where he isn’t accountable to the members of the Church or even the leadership board. The essence of leaving or coming down from his position as a Pastor is because he would continue influencing other loyalists, he would also continue using the resources of that ministry to shield himself. Concerning this kind of disciplinary action, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5
“It is reported that there is sexual sin among you. I’m told that a man is sleeping with his father’s wife. Even people who don’t know God won’t let that kind of sin continue. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you be very sad instead? Shouldn’t you have thrown out of your church the man doing this? Even though I am not right there with you, I am with you in spirit. And because I am with you in spirit, I have already judged the man doing this. I have judged him in the name of our Lord Jesus. So when you come together, I will be with you in spirit. The power of our Lord Jesus will also be with you. When you come together like this, hand this man over to Satan. Then the power of sin in his life will be destroyed. His spirit will be saved on the day the Lord returns.”
When you study this passage carefully, you will discover that the man in question has been confronted and even reported to the Church elders in that congregation but because nothing could be done and the sin continued, it was reported to Paul by concerned persons who asked them to throw him out of Church by the authority of Jesus. Paul instructed that they hand him over to Satan. He didn’t mean that the Church has a deal with Satan, what he was saying is “throw him out of fellowship into the world where Satan rules there system.” Although it sounded tough and harsh, it was a disciplinary action that would drive that person back because he wouldn’t want to stay out there in the world after having a taste of the freedom from sin that Christ has given us. By throwing the person out, he is further disciplined by God in a way He deems it fit. The Bible also says in Titus 3:10-11:
“Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.”
6. PRAY FOR HIM, FORGIVE AND MOVE ON
After he has been thrown out, you have done your part and God is pleased with you. If you are a victim of his wrongs, you can forgive him, pray for him and move on with your life allowing God to deal with him His way. The Bible says in Hebrews 12:6
“For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”
The Bible also says in Psalms 94:12
“Blessed is the man You discipline, O LORD, and teach from Your law.”
Always ensure that your motive towards him isn’t to see him punished for his wrongs but to get him restored by God and to send signals to others to desist from such actions.
7. SEEK THE HELP OF LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES
If the issue you faced from a Church elder is that which involves physical violence, death threat, rape and so on, it may not be out of place to quickly seek the help of the Police or other law enforcement agencies in your locality. The reason is simple, to prevent him from hurting others, to give him the privilege of seeing how terrible his actions are in the face of the law. While you do this, you may also need to keep others informed about the step you are taking. Concerning the government officials including the various arms of government, the Bible says in Romans 13:3-4
“For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the one in authority? Then do what is right, and you will have his approval. For he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not carry the sword in vain. He is God’s servant, an agent of retribution to the wrongdoer.”
Some conducts aren’t what can be fixed right in the Church, some are conducts that bring about the danger in the society and you are doing the right thing by quickly reporting to the law enforcement agencies. They are also God’s agent of retribution to the wrongdoer.
Meanwhile, when an elder or just any Christian admit their wrong and apologizes publicly, showing genuine repentance, they can be welcomed back to the congregation, given some time for godly restoration and assimilated back into leadership after they had taken time to prove that they are qualified for that position.
This is how I believe sinning elders should be handled in the Church as it is the principles of discipline I found in the Bible. Next time, we will be looking at how a Pastor should seek forgiveness, healing and restoration.
God bless you.