West Valley Bible Church Membership Agreement
Membership provides a way to determine who is like-minded and committed to the mission, vision, doctrine, and values of West Valley Bible Church – our local expression of the body of Christ. Such delineation is not meant to be elitist or divisive. It is not meant to create different classes within the body. Rather, it simply recognizes that there are people within any expression of the body of Christ at varying levels of agreement and involvement – and that’s okay. But as an intentional community with a mission and purpose, it is important and helpful to know who is in agreement and desires to be involved.
It has been asked, “Why would we (wvBc) require people to agree with and believe things to become a member of West Valley that God doesn’t require us to believe in order to be a member of His family?”
While foundationally we agree that belief in certain specific doctrinal tenets are not required for access into God’s family there are some important reasons why we, as a family of faith, hold to certain beliefs that shape the culture of our church family. We have included those beliefs, values, and convictions in this our ‘Membership Agreement’ and in the ‘Statement of Faith’ and ‘Statement of Practice’ documents.
The following five areas of agreement are necessary for membership at West Valley Bible Church:
First, the agreement and acceptance of the Bible as the final authority for our beliefs and practices (#1 below).
Second, the agreement of what it means to be and acknowledgement that one has been born again (John 1:12-13; 3:3-7) according to the Scripture (#2 below).
Third, the agreement to certain Biblical perspectives that may be counter-cultural (#3-5).
Fourth, the agreement to come under the authority of the elders & church leaders (#6-7).
Fifth, the agreement to read and understand the Statement of Faith and Statement of Practice as outlined in (#8).
We believe the Scriptures – the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments – to be the inspired Word of God, written by men under the direction of the Holy Spirit, inerrant and infallible in the original manuscripts and the final authority in faith and life. We accept the grammatical-historical system of interpretation of the Scriptures, and accept the historical record of the Bible as wholly true. (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21) The Bible is our definitive source for knowing God, the person and work of Jesus Christ, the person and work of the Holy Spirit, the condition of man, the explanation of and means of salvation. The Bible is our final authority on the security, assurance, responsibility, and sanctification of the believer. The Bible is our final authority on the responsibility, mission, vision, function, and leadership of the Church. The Bible is our final authority concerning the eternal state for all of creation.
2.“YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN”
We believe that all people are born sinful and separated from God and are only made right with God by repenting of sin and believing in the good news of Jesus. “…Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Talking to one of the most religious men of His time Jesus boldly told him “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” As Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection He told them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations…” (Mark 1:14–15; Luke 24:46-47; John 3:3-7; Rom. 3:23; 5:8; 6:23; 10:9; 1 Cor. 15:3-5)
3. SANCTITY OF HUMAN LIFE
We believe that all human life is sacred and in God's original design human life was created by God in His image in innocence and without sin. Human life is of inestimable worth in all its dimensions, including pre-born babies, the aged, the physically or mentally challenged, and every other stage or condition from conception through natural death. We are therefore called to defend, protect, and value all human life. Psalms 139
4. MARRIAGE, GENDER, AND SEXUALITY
We believe that God wonderfully and immutably creates each person as male or female. These two distinct, complementary genders together reflect the image and nature of God (Gen 1:26-27). Rejection of one’s biological sex is a rejection of the image of God within that person. Additionally, we believe the rejection of one’s biological sex suggests that God makes mistakes, which He definitely does not (Psalm 139:13-16).
We believe that the term “marriage” has only one meaning: the uniting of one biological man and one biological woman in a single, exclusive union, as delineated in Scripture (Gen 2:18-25). We believe that God intends sexual intimacy to occur only between a biological man and a biological woman who are married to each other (1 Cor. 6:18; 7:2-5; Heb. 13:4). We believe that God has commanded that no sexual activity be engaged in outside of the marriage union between one biological man and one biological woman. Furthermore, we believe that any form of sexual immorality (including fornication, adultery, homosexual behavior, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, and use of pornography) is sinful and offensive to God (Matt. 15:18-20; 1 Cor. 6:9-11).
We believe that in order to preserve the function and integrity of West Valley Bible Church as the local body of Christ, and to provide a Biblical role model to the wvBc members and the community, it is imperative that all persons employed by West Valley Bible Church in any capacity, serves as a lay leader, serves as a volunteer, or desires to become a member of West Valley Bible Church agree to and abide by this Statement on Marriage, Gender, and Sexuality (Matt. 5:16; Phil. 2:14-16; 1 Thess. 5:22).
We believe that God offers redemption and restoration to all who confess and forsake their sin, seeking His mercy and forgiveness through Jesus Christ (Acts 3:19-21; Romans 10:9-10; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
We believe that we, His church, are commissioned by Jesus to unconditionally reach out to everyone without prejudice or bias of any kind. We believe we are to love and pursue all peoples regardless of race, creed, gender, social/economic status, or sexual orientation with the hope of Jesus. We believe we must reach out to everyone with an attitude of utmost humility remembering/knowing we were all once spiritually blind, naked, lost, lifeless, His enemies and yet He still pursued us. We are called to be ‘friends of sinners’ with the intent and hope of introducing people to the only hope of humanity, Jesus (Matt. 9:11-13; Luke 5:29-32; Rom. 5:8; 1 Cor. 6:11; 1 John 3:16).
We believe that every person must be afforded compassion, love, kindness, respect, and dignity (Matt. 22:34-40; Luke 6:31). Hateful and harassing behavior or attitudes directed toward any individual are to be repudiated and are not in accord with Scripture nor the doctrines and values of West Valley Bible Church.
5. DIVORCE & REMARRIAGE
We believe God created marriage, as defined within the parameters of the Bible, to be a rich and rewarding expression of God’s love for humanity to those not called to singleness. More importantly, God also designed marriage to be the physical and visible earthly representation of what a relationship with Him is all about (Ephesians 5:32).
God’s gracious benefits notwithstanding, God hates divorce because it is a violation of His very nature and character. He hates it because it always involves unfaithfulness to the solemn covenant of marriage that two partners have entered into before Him, and because it brings harmful consequences to those partners and their children (Mal. 2:14-16). Divorce in Scripture is permitted only because of man’s sin. Since divorce is only a concession to man’s sin and is not part of God’s original plan for marriage, all believers should hate divorce as God does and pursue it only when there is no other recourse. With God’s help a marriage can survive the worst sins.
In Matthew 19:3-9, Jesus teaches clearly that divorce is an accommodation to man’s sin that violates God’s original purpose for the intimate unity and permanence of the marriage bond (Gen. 2:24). He taught that God’s law allowed divorce only because of “hardness of heart” (Matt. 19:8). Legal divorce was a concession for the faithful partner due to the sexual sin or abandonment by the sinning partner, so that the faithful partner was no longer bound to the marriage (Matt. 5:32; 19:9; 1 Cor. 7:12-15). Although Jesus did say that divorce is permitted in some situations, the key to understanding Jesus’ perspective on divorce is directly tied to the question He was asked in Matthew 19:3, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”
Jesus then answered the Pharisee’s deceitfully manipulative question with a question that demonstrated the following about marriage:
- the authority regarding marriage is God’s Word; ‘have you not read’ (then quotes Gen. 2:24)
- the only partners permitted in marriage are one man and one woman; God ‘made them male and female’ (both terms are singular in original language; see also Gen. 1:27)
- the intended permanence of marriage; ‘…and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh.’
- the sacredness of marriage; ‘What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.’
Jesus’ answer to the question of divorce ‘for any reason at all’ is a resounding “no” or perhaps better “How?” How can a man and a woman who have become one become two again? Attempting to pit Jesus against Moses the Pharisee’s ask “Why then did Moses command to ‘give her a certificate of divorce and send’ her away?” Jesus responded, ‘Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.’
To understand what Jesus meant by this we need to look at what was happening during the time of Moses relative to divorce (Deut. 24:1-4). In that time the strongest deterrent against adultery was death. If caught in adultery both the unfaithful man and the unfaithful woman were stoned to death (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:21-24). So clearly the men Moses spoke of in Deuteronomy 24 were not divorcing their wives for reasons of adultery; they didn’t have to divorce them since their wives would have been stoned and their death would have allowed the husbands to remarry.
Sadly, Moses was moved to give the women of that time a certificate of divorce to protect them against hard hearted men who trumped up ridiculous reasons to divorce their wives. Divorced women in that culture were assumed wrong, not being considered much more than property, and ostracized from society. Without the certificate of divorce given them by Moses they would have faced impossible odds to even survive let alone continue as a welcomed member of the community.
With that understanding, however, Jesus did say ‘…whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.’ So we believe there are Biblical grounds for divorce and subsequently remarriage. We would stress that divorce is not mandated but only permitted. We believe God still hates divorce and would prefer marriage. We would welcome any chance to help families stay together and encourage couples to trust God for what seems to be the impossible (Matt. 19:26; Rom. 4:17).
The Grounds for Divorce
We believe the only New Testament grounds for divorce are sexual sin or desertion by an unbeliever. The first is found in Jesus’ use of the Greek word porneia (Matt. 5:32; 19:9). This is a general term that encompasses sexual sin such as adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, and incest. When one partner violates the unity and intimacy of a marriage by sexual sin—and forsakes his or her covenant obligation—the faithful partner is placed in an extremely difficult situation. After all means are exhausted to bring the sinning partner to repentance, we believe the Bible permits release for the faithful partner through divorce (Matt. 5:32; 1 Cor. 7:15).
The second reason for permitting a divorce is in cases where an unbelieving spouse does not desire to live with his or her believing spouse (1 Cor. 7:12-15). Because “God has called us to peace” (v. 15), divorce is allowed and may be preferable in such situations. When an unbeliever desires to leave, trying to keep him or her in the marriage may only create greater tension and conflict. Also, if the unbeliever leaves the marital relationship permanently but is not willing to file for divorce, perhaps because of lifestyle, irresponsibility, or to avoid monetary obligations, then the believer is in an impossible situation of having legal and moral obligations that he or she cannot fulfill. Because “the brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases” (1 Cor. 7:15) and is therefore no longer obligated to remain married, the believer may file for divorce without fearing the displeasure of God.
The Possibility of Remarriage
Remarriage is permitted for the faithful partner only when the divorce was on Biblical grounds. In fact, the purpose for a Biblical divorce is to make clear that the faithful partner is free to remarry, but only in the Lord (Rom. 7:1-3; 1 Cor. 7:39).
Those who divorce on any other grounds have sinned against God and their partners, and for them to marry another is an act of “adultery” (Mark 10:11-12). This is why Paul says that a believing woman who sinfully divorces should “remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband” (1 Cor. 7:10-11). If she repents from her sin of unbiblical divorce, the true fruits of that repentance would be to seek reconciliation with her former husband (Matt. 5:23-24). The same is true for a man who divorces un-biblically (1 Cor. 7:11). The only time such a person could remarry another is if the former spouse remarries, proves to be an unbeliever, or dies, in which cases reconciliation would no longer be possible.
The Bible also gives a word of caution to anyone who is considering marriage to a divorcee. If the divorce was not on Biblical grounds and there is still a responsibility to reconcile, the person who marries the divorcee is considered an adulterer (Mark 10:12).
The Role of the Church
Believers who pursue divorce on unbiblical grounds are subject to church discipline because they openly reject the Word of God. The one who obtains an unbiblical divorce and remarries is guilty of adultery since God did not permit the original divorce (Matt. 5:32; Mark 10:11-12). That person is subject to the steps of church discipline as outlined in Matthew 18:15-17. If a professing Christian violates the marriage covenant and refuses to repent during the process of church discipline, Scripture instructs that he or she should be put out of the church and treated as an unbeliever (v. 17). When the discipline results in such a reclassification of the disobedient spouse as an “outcast” or unbeliever, the faithful partner would be free to divorce according to the provision for divorce as in the case of an unbeliever departing, as stated in 1 Corinthians 7:15. Before such a divorce, however, reasonable time should be allowed for the possibility of the unfaithful spouse returning because of the discipline.
The leadership in the local church should also help single believers who have been divorced to understand their situation Biblically, especially in cases where the appropriate application of Biblical teaching does not seem clear. For example, the church leadership may at times need to decide whether one or both of the former partners could be legitimately considered “believers” at the time of their past divorce, because this will affect the application of Biblical principles to their current situation (1 Cor. 7:17-24). Also, because people often transfer to or from other churches and many of those churches do not practice church discipline, it might be necessary for the leadership to decide whether a member’s estranged or former spouse should currently be considered a Christian or treated as an unbeliever because of continued disobedience. Again, in some cases this would affect the application of the Biblical principles (1 Cor. 7:15; 2 Cor. 6:14).
According to 1 Corinthians 7:20-27, there is nothing in salvation that demands a particular social or marital status. The Apostle Paul, therefore, instructs believers to recognize that God providentially allows the circumstances they find themselves in when they come to Christ. If they were called while married, then they are not required to seek a divorce (even though divorce may be permitted on Biblical grounds). If they were called while divorced, and cannot be reconciled to their former spouse because that spouse is an unbeliever or is remarried, then they are free to either remain single or be remarried to another believer (1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14).
Repentance and Forgiveness
In cases where divorce took place on unbiblical grounds and the guilty partner later repents, the grace of God is working at the point of repentance. A sign of true repentance will be a desire to implement 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, which would involve a willingness to pursue reconciliation with his or her former spouse, if that is possible. If reconciliation is not possible, however, because the former spouse is an unbeliever or is remarried, then the forgiven believer could pursue another relationship under the careful guidance and counsel of church leadership.
In cases where a believer obtained a divorce on unbiblical grounds and remarried, he or she is guilty of the sin of adultery until that sin is confessed (Mark 10:11-12). God does forgive that sin immediately and there is nothing in Scripture to indicate anything other than that. From that point on the believer should continue in his or her current marriage.
6.CHURCH DISCIPLINE By Wayne Grudem
The Purpose of Church Discipline.
Restoration and Reconciliation of the Believer Who Is Going Astray: Sin hinders fellowship among believers and with God. In order for reconciliation to occur, the sin must be dealt with. Therefore, the primary purpose of church discipline is to pursue the twofold goal of restoration (of the offender to right behavior) and reconciliation (between believers, and with God). Just as wise parents discipline their children (Prov. 13:24: “He who loves [his son] is diligent to discipline him”), and just as God our Father disciplines those whom he loves (Heb. 12:6; Rev. 3:19), so the church in its discipline is acting in love to bring back a brother or sister who has gone astray, reestablishing that person in right fellowship and rescuing him or her from destructive patterns of life. In Matthew 18:15, the hope is that discipline will stop at the first step, when someone goes alone: “If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” The phrase “you have gained your brother” implies that those carrying out discipline should keep the goal of personal reconciliation among Christians always in mind. Paul reminds us that we are to “restore” the sinning brother or sister “in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1), and James encourages us to “bring back a sinner from the error of his way” (James 5:20).
In fact, if church members were actively involved in giving private words of gentle admonition and in praying for one another when the first clear evidence of sinful conduct is seen, very little formal church discipline would have to be carried out, because the process would begin and end with a conversation between two people that never becomes known to anyone else.
Even when the final step of “excommunication” (that is, putting someone out of the fellowship or “communion” of the church) is taken, it is still with the hope that repentance will result. Paul delivered Hymenaeus and Alexander to Satan “that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim. 1:20), and the man living in incest at Corinth was to be delivered to Satan “that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5).
If Christians who must take steps of church discipline will continue to remember this first purpose—the reconciliation of believers who are going astray with each other and with God, and their restoration to right patterns of life—then it will be much easier to continue to act in genuine love for the parties involved, and feelings of anger or desires for revenge on the part of those who have been hurt, which often lie near the surface, will much more easily be avoided.
To Keep the Sin From Spreading to Others: Although the primary goal of church discipline is restoration and reconciliation for the erring believer, in this present age reconciliation and restoration will not always come about. But whether restoration comes about or not, the church is told to carry out discipline because two other purposes are served as well.
One other purpose is that the sin will be kept from spreading to others. The author of Hebrews tells Christians to see to it that “no “root of bitterness’ spring up and cause trouble, and by it the many become defiled” (Heb. 12:15). This means that if conflict between persons is not resolved quickly, the effects may spread to many others—something that sadly seems to be true in many cases of church division. Paul also says, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump,” and tells the Corinthians to put out of the church a man living in incest (1 Cor. 5:2, 6–7), lest his sin affect the whole church. If that man were not disciplined, the effects of the sin would spread to many others who were aware of it and saw that the church paid little attention to it. This would cause many to think that perhaps that sin was not as bad as they had thought, and others might be tempted to commit similar or related kinds of sin. Moreover, if discipline against one specific offense is not carried out, then it will be much more difficult for the church to carry out discipline if a similar kind of sin is committed by someone else in the future.
Paul also told Timothy that elders who persist in sin are to be rebuked in the presence of all, “so that the rest may stand in fear” (1 Tim. 5:20)—that is, so that many others would realize that the sin will not be tolerated but will receive discipline both from the church and from God himself. In fact, Paul rebuked Peter publicly, in order that others would not follow Peter’s bad example of separating himself and eating only with Jewish believers (Gal. 2:11).
To Protect the Purity of the Church and the Honor of Christ: A third purpose of church discipline is that the purity of the church is to be protected, so that Christ will not be dishonored. Of course, no believer in this age has a completely pure heart, and we all have remaining sin in our lives. But when a church member continues to sin in a way that is outwardly evident to others, especially to unbelievers, this clearly brings dishonor to Christ. It is similar to the situation of Jews who disobeyed God’s law and led unbelievers to scoff and blaspheme God’s name (Rom. 2:24: “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you”).
This is why Paul is shocked that the Corinthians have not disciplined the man who continued in willful sin that was publicly known in the church (1 Cor. 5:1–2: “And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn?”). He is also greatly distressed to know that “brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers” (1 Cor. 6:6). Rather than allowing such moral blemishes on the character of the church, Peter encourages believers to “be zealous to be found by [Christ] without spot or blemish, and at peace” (2 Peter 3:14). And our Lord Jesus wants to present to himself a church “without spot or wrinkle...holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27), for he is the head of the church, and its character reflects on his reputation. Even angels and demons look at the church and behold the wisdom of God expressed in it (Eph. 3:10); therefore (Eph. 4:1) Paul encourages Christians to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).
This is a very serious matter. Since the Lord Jesus is jealous for his own honor, if the church does not exercise proper discipline, he will do it himself, as he did at Corinth, where the Lord’s discipline resulted in sickness and death (1 Cor. 11:27–34), and as he warned he would do both at Pergamum (Rev. 2:14–15) and at Thyatira (Rev. 2:20). In these last two cases the Lord was displeased with the whole church for tolerating outward disobedience and not exercising discipline: “But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols” (Rev. 2:20; cf. vv. 14–16).
For What Sins Should Church Discipline Be Exercised?
On the one hand, Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18:15–20 tells us that if a situation involving personal sin against someone else cannot be resolved in a private or small group meeting, then the matter must be brought to the church:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matt. 18:15–17)
In this case the matter has progressed from a private and informal situation to a public and much more formal process of discipline by the whole church.
On the other hand, there does not seem to be any explicit limitation specified for the kinds of sin that should be subject to church discipline. The examples of sins subject to church discipline in the New Testament are extremely diverse: divisiveness (Rom. 16:17; Titus 3:10), incest (1 Cor. 5:1), laziness and refusing to work (2 Thess. 3:6–10), disobeying what Paul writes (2 Thess. 3:14–15), blasphemy (1 Tim. 1:20), and teaching heretical doctrine (2 John 10–11).
Nonetheless, a definite principle appears to be at work: all sins that were explicitly disciplined in the New Testament were publicly known or outwardly evident sins, and many of them had continued over a period of time. The fact that the sins were publicly known meant that reproach was being brought on the church, Christ was being dishonored, and there was a real possibility that others would be encouraged to follow the wrongful patterns of life that were being publicly tolerated.
There is always the need, however, for mature judgment in the exercise of church discipline, because there is a lack of complete sanctification in all our lives. Furthermore, when we realize that someone is already aware of a sin and struggling to overcome it, a word of admonition may in fact do more harm than good. We should also remember that where there are issues of conduct on which Christians legitimately disagree, Paul encourages a wide degree of tolerance (Rom. 14:1–23).
How Should Church Discipline Be Carried Out?
Knowledge of the Sin Should Be Kept to the Smallest Group Possible: This seems to be the purpose in Matthew 18:15–17 behind the gradual progression from a private meeting, to a meeting with two or three others, to telling the entire church. The fewer people who know about some sin, the better, because repentance is easier, fewer people are led astray, and less harm is done to the reputation of the person, the reputation of the church, and the reputation of Christ.
Disciplinary Measures Should Increase in Strength Until There Is a Solution: Once again in Matthew 18 Jesus teaches us that we cannot stop simply with a private conversation if that has not brought satisfactory results. He requires that the wronged person first go alone, and then take one or two others (Matt. 18:15–16). Moreover, if a Christian thinks that he or she has wronged someone else (or even if that other person thinks that he or she has been wronged), Jesus requires that the person who has done the wrong (or is thought to have done the wrong) go to the person who considers himself the victim of wrongdoing (Matt. 5:23). This means that whether we have been wronged or others think they have been wronged, it is always our responsibility to take the initiative and go to the other person. Jesus does not allow us to wait for the other person to come to us.
After a private meeting and a small group meeting, Jesus does not specify that the elders or officers of the church are next to be consulted as a group, but certainly this intermediate step seems to be appropriate, because Jesus may simply be summarizing the process without necessarily mentioning every possible step in it. In fact, there are several examples of small group admonition in the New Testament which are carried out by elders or other church officers (see 1 Thess. 5:12; 2 Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:13; 2:15; 3:10; James 5:19–20). Moreover, the principle of keeping the knowledge of sin to the smallest group possible would certainly encourage this intermediate step as well.
Finally, if the situation cannot be resolved Jesus says to “tell it to the church” (Matt. 18:17). In this case the church would be assembled to hear the facts of the case and to come to a decision. Since Jesus allows for the possibility that the person “refuses to listen even to the church” (v. 17), the church may have to meet once to decide what to say to the offender, and then meet again to exclude that person from the fellowship of the church.
When Jesus gives these directions about church discipline, he reminds the church that his own presence and his own power are behind the decisions made by the church: “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:19–20). Jesus promises to be present in church gatherings generally, but specifically here with respect to the church being gathered for discipline of an offending member. And Paul similarly tells the Corinthians to discipline the erring member when they are assembled “with the power of our Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:4). This is not an activity to be taken lightly, but is carried out in the presence of the Lord, the spiritual component of it actually being carried out by the Lord himself.
If this ever must be done, the whole church will then know that the erring person is no longer considered a member of the church, and that person would not be allowed to take Communion, since partaking in the Lord’s Supper is a sign of partaking in the unity of the church (1 Cor. 10:17: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread”).
There are other passages in the New Testament that speak of avoiding fellowship with the excommunicated person. Paul tells the Corinthians, “I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber—not even to eat with such a one” (1 Cor. 5:11). He tells the Thessalonians, “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us” (2 Thess. 3:6). Moreover, he says, “If any one refuses to obey what we say in this letter, note that man, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not look on him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (2 Thess. 3:14–15). 2 John 10–11 also prohibits greeting or welcoming into the house anyone who is promoting false teaching. These instructions are apparently given to prevent the church from giving to others the impression that it approves of the disobedience of the erring person.
Discipline of Church Leaders: In one passage Paul gives special directives concerning the discipline of church elders:
Never admit any charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without favor, doing nothing from partiality. (1 Tim. 5:19–21)
Paul here gives a special caution to protect elders from individual attacks: action regarding wrongdoing in this case should require the evidence of two or three witnesses. “Those who persist in sin” are to be rebuked “in the presence of all.” This is because the bad example of wrongful conduct by elders will very likely have a widespread negative effect on others who see their lives. Then Paul reminds Timothy to do “nothing from partiality” in this situation, a very helpful warning, since Timothy was probably a close friend to many of the elders in the church at Ephesus.
Paul’s command to rebuke a sinning elder publicly means that some statement of the nature of the offense must be made to the church (”rebuke them in the presence of all,” v. 20). On the other hand, not every detail of the sin has to be disclosed to the church. A helpful guideline is that the church should be told enough that (1) they will understand how serious the offense was, (2) they will be able to understand and support the discipline process, and (3) they will not subsequently feel the sin was minimized or covered up if more details somehow leak out later.
Such a public disclosure of the sin of a leader will signal to the congregation that the leaders of the church will not hide such matters from them in the future. This will increase the confidence of the church in the integrity of the leadership board. It will also allow the sinning leader to begin the gradual process of rebuilding relationships and trust with the congregation, because he will not have to deal with people who have a hundred different speculations about what his sin was, but with people who know the specific sin, and can see the genuine repentance and change regarding that area of sin in his life.
What about the serious sins of people who are not church leaders? Scripture gives no command to disclose publicly the sins of people who are ordinary members but not recognized leaders in the church. Leaders, however, are treated differently because their lives are to be “above reproach” (1 Tim. 3:2), and their lives should be examples for other Christians to imitate (see 1 Tim. 4:12).
Other Aspects of Church Discipline: Once discipline has occurred, as soon as there is repentance at any stage of the process, the Christians who have known about the discipline should welcome the repentant person back quickly into the fellowship of the church. Paul says, “You should rather turn to forgive and comfort him or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow....I beg you to reaffirm your love for him” (2 Cor. 2:7–8; cf. 7:8–11). Once again, our purpose in church discipline should never be to punish out of a desire for vengeance, but always to restore and heal.
The attitude with which discipline is carried out at any stage is also very important. It must be done with gentleness and humility, and with a genuine appreciation for our own weakness and with a fear that we might fall into similar sins. “If a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1).
It is unwise to set any timetable in advance, telling people how long the discipline process is expected to last. This is because it is impossible for us to predict how long it will be until the Holy Spirit brings about deep, genuine repentance and a change in the condition of the person’s heart that led to the sin in the first place.
Finally, we should notice that immediately following the passage on church discipline in Matthew 18:15–20, Jesus strongly teaches the need for personal forgiveness of those who sin against us (Matt. 18:21–35). We are to forgive those who harm us “seventy times seven” (v. 22), and Jesus tells us that our heavenly Father will punish us severely if we do not forgive our brother from the heart (v. 35). We should see the passage on church discipline and this passage as complementary, not contradictory. As individuals we must always forgive in our hearts and not bear grudges. Yet we can certainly forgive someone in our hearts and still seek church discipline for the good of the person who is committing a sin, for the good of the church, for the honor of Christ, and because God’s Word commands it.
7. FINAL AUTHORITY FOR MATTERS OF BELIEF AND CONDUCT
The West Valley Bible Church statement of faith does not exhaust the extent of our beliefs. The Bible itself, as the inspired and infallible Word of God that speaks with final authority concerning truth, morality, and the proper conduct of mankind, is the sole and final source of all that we believe. For purposes of West Valley Bible Church’s faith, doctrine, practice, policy, and discipline, our Elder Board is West Valley Bible Church’s final interpretive authority on the Bible’s meaning and application.
8. ‘STATEMENT OF FAITH’ AND ‘STATEMENT OF PRACTICE’
Like every church we also have beliefs and doctrinal distinctives that we have very strong convictions about and that significantly shape our church culture. In our ‘Statement of Faith’ (What We Believe) and ‘Statement of Practice’ (Who We Are) we share those beliefs and convictions. When signing the membership agreement you are acknowledging that you have read and understand our Statement of Faith and Statement of Practice. We are not asking you to agree with all of it in order to become a member. Also, you do not have to become a member to participate with West Valley Bible Church in a Corporate Gathering or House Church. However, any person employed by West Valley Bible Church in any capacity, serves as a lay leader, serves as a volunteer, or signs the agreement to become a member of West Valley Bible Church must affirm sections 1-7 of this document. We are asking that you join us with your eyes wide open to the theology that is foundational to what will be taught and practiced throughout the church as we seek to live like Jesus lived. (1 John 2:6)