“Why does the church shoot its wounded?” is an often-repeated refrain. It is my contention that the very premise of this question is a lie from the pit of hell. Jesus, when speaking of Satan, said, “when he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” This is a lie he loves to have repeated. Yes, I will admit that some churches sometimes react badly and innocent people are hurt, but that is the exception not the norm. The churches I’ve pastored and been involved with have been caring and careful with the flock. If you repeat a lie often enough, eventually it’s accepted as truth; and I believe that to be the case with this lie. So where does this idea that the church shoots its wounded come from?
It is my contention that most of the ecclesiastical wounded are in fact the result of self-inflicted wounds! It is the mandate of the church to call God’s people to holiness. The people of God respond and desire to be more like Jesus. Yes, we fail along the way, but the church doesn’t require perfection. No one is thrown out for failing to measure up. If that were the case, the church wouldn’t exist. It’s been said and I agree, “The church is not a rest home for saints, it’s a hospital for sinners!” There is always the ebb and flow of victory and failure. The church takes the fallen saint and seeks to minister to them and lift them out of the muck and mire to once again join in the journey of glorifying Jesus. The church is messy. Always has been, always will be!
Where the problem comes is when members of a body continue to shoot themselves in the foot and then resist the medical care offered by the church leadership. Every church I have been a shepherd of has a church covenant for membership. That covenant usually requires that the members are in fact willing to put themselves under the authority of the elders of the body. They agree to be held accountable for their actions. This is as it should be! We are accountable one to another. We are there not to judge each other; that’s God’s domain. We are there to address sin in the lives of believers and to hold one another accountable for bad behavior. Inevitably, the people who accuse the church of shooting their wounded have often shot themselves in the foot and refuse aid.
When someone or a couple are struggling with sin in their life and it comes to the attention of the elders of a body, those elders are obligated to reach out and seek to help the sinner be reconciled to God. When the sinner refuses help, won’t follow Biblical advice, or even refuses to meet with the elders they are in covenant with, what then must happen? Usually, that means some form of church discipline.
Paul wrote to the church at Corinth about the situation there where one of their members was having an intimate relationship with his father’s wife. The church seemed to be affirming the sin rather than seeking to reconcile the sinner. Here, ultimately, was Paul’s exhortation to them.
1 Corinthians 5:9-13, I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.”
He also wrote “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Cor. 5:5)
And the same wording is used when he writes to Timothy, “having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”
1 Timothy 1:19-20
Where there is an unremorseful and unrepentant member of the body, who refuse Godly counsel, the only chose is expulsion. In our culture, that sounds harsh but it’s certainly Biblical. The point of excusing someone from the flock is so that they might yet repent and then be reconciled to God and ultimately the body they were a part of. Inevitability, the one ejected from the body for their own good becomes the wounded that has been shot. Had they accepted the counsel offered and there was true repentance and reconciliation, they would have remained in the body and healed to the glory of God. Because they refused to acknowledge their sin, they were put out. The unrepentant sinner then becomes the victim of an overbearing church, at least in the eyes of those who don’t know or want to know the real truth of the matter or the teaching of Scripture.
The illustration in the church at Corinth dealt with immorality, but sometimes it is someone who is teaching unsound doctrine or is divisive, or just plain arrogant and unruly. Inevitability, the leadership will have to deal with these issues; and if the offender will not yield, they will ultimately have to part ways. Usually, people who are in disagreement with their own leadership leave on their own accord, but the leaders or the church still get blamed.
The point of any church discipline is ultimately to reconcile the rebellious to God. It’s not to punish people because they displease us.
When a church releases individuals from their membership covenant because they will not receive Biblical counsel from the elders, it isn’t fun. It hurts. It is hard on those who have to make such decision and I am sure those who are expelled feel slighted and hurt and think the church has kicked them when they were down. In reality they aren’t being honest with themselves. They have refused to yield to the covenant they had previously agreed to. They can run from their problems and they can run from their church to another, but they can’t run from themselves, nor ultimately from God. While Satan will use their situation for his own ends and the cry that the church shoots their wounded will continue, God knows the heart and judgment is in His hands.
It is interesting to me that in Romans chapter one we see a culture that will not turn from their evil. In fact, the last verse states, who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them. So God’s response is to give them up. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions.
God turned away from these people and let them go their own way. Now I recognize that these are unregenerate people, however, in the context it’s about a culture that knew the truth, rebelling against it. God then gave them up to their own devices. We wouldn’t accuse God of shooting His wounded here would we? And yet we are so quick to condemn His church and its leadership for basically doing the same thing. I think that’s because we think the church should never do anything that would somehow hurt someone feelings or self-esteem. The problem with calling people to holiness is that it does both of these things! Holiness is about dying to self to live for Jesus.
So the next time you hear that so popular cliché “The church shoots it’s wounded” don’t buy the lie. There is often a lot more to the story. Please remember that Satan wants to diminish the church in every way possible.