Question: What church openly welcomes unrepentant adulterers?
Answer: Every church that does not know its members.
Last week I had lunch with a friend. His wife divorced him last summer, and recently admitted that she had been having an affair for the past three years.
She casually mentioned how much she and her paramour were enjoying (the mega-church next door). Everyone there is so nice, and greets them warmly.
We have a difficult time with church discipline under the best of circumstances. Elders have to know the members well enough to have an idea what is going on in their lives. The members have to trust their elders enough to invite them in during embarrassing struggles. The whole thing is messy.
Imagine how much worse it would be if the first time you ever spoke to your pastor was to confess adultery. Imagine going up to a complete stranger and confessing alcoholism, or greed that has led you into financial ruin. Would you trust people you do not even know to lead you through those difficulties?
In a day when more and more churches do not even bother with membership, you can attend Church for years and never have a conversation with an elder. Now that video screens deliver sermons, you never even have to be in the same room with your pastor. Somebody needs to ask, how much can we give away and still call ourselves a church?
God expects his elders to shepherd the church. 1 Peter 5:1-2 So I exhort the elders among you... shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly. But a shepherd must know his sheep (John 10).
Previous generations have told us that to be a true church we must preach the gospel truly, administer the sacraments rightly, and practice church discipline. I fear that we have sacrificed two of these essential elements in the name of “effective gospel proclamation.”
My question is not simply academic. It is practical and urgent. We need churches that can step into family crises before they escalate out of control. Spouses who discover extra-marital affairs need to have elders they trust who will work to save their marriages.
A Church that allows sin to grow unhindered is no church at all. I fear the day when those are the only kinds of churches left.