Oddly enough, I've been doing a lot of research and reading on church discipline lately. Don't worry though, I was researching a blog post for one of my bosses, and there was also a new B&H release on the subject—Those Who Must Give an Account. That was all last week. Then this morning's Bible reading (using the 4+1 plan from Read the Bible for Life) dropped me into Numbers 5.
The Lord instructed Moses: “Command the Israelites to send away anyone from the camp who is afflicted with a skin disease, anyone who has a bodily discharge, or anyone who is defiled because of a corpse. You must send away both male or female; send them outside the camp, so that they will not defile their camps where I dwell among them.” The Israelites did this, sending them outside the camp. The Israelites did as the Lord instructed Moses.
Sure does look familiar. Those who were members of God's family were put out of the flock when they were found to be unclean.
Leprosy, now specifically known as Hansen's disease, was akin to death in Biblical times. There was no way back into fellowship with God's people unless you had been cleansed by God and inspected by the priest (see Leviticus 13). If one had leprosy, one was basically living as though dead.
While interesting to study and debate at times, Church discipline is never enjoyable in its application. For if one takes joy in exercising discipline over unrepentant sin, there are greater issues at hand.
The same could be said for those cast out due to leprosy. Family members and friends would no doubt be devastated by the news. They would likely cry out in desperation for healing.
Our response to Church discipline should be similar. It should be marked with brokenness for those who are unrepentant. We should cry out for their spiritual healing. And if/when they return, we should welcome them with open arms, ecstatic that they are once again in fellowship with the community.
Jonathan Howe serves as Director of Strategic Initiatives at LifeWay Christian Resources, the host and producer of Rainer on Leadership and SBC This Week. Jonathan writes weekly at ThomRainer.com on topics ranging from social media to websites and church communications.