Whom should you take with you? Someone who is a mature, wise brother or sister. It might be best if the one you bring is not the pastor or elder. Why? Because both the elder and pastor may be involved in the formal church discipline later. But if the pastor or elder is your only choice, it would be best if he comes with the clear understanding that he is not yet coming in his official capacity, but as a brother, working toward reconciliation.
The hope here is that the “weight” of an additional witness will cause the sinning brother or sister to acknowledge his or her sin, to confess it, and to repent of it, so that the one offended can forgive and be restored in Christian fellowship. But it doesn’t always work this way. The reality is that people often will double down in their resistance or denial or both, and it is at this time that the believer turns to the church for assistance.
Step 3: Tell it to the church. We read in Matthew 18:17, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.” The church here is understood to be the elders of the church, who are called to spiritually shepherd the flock (1 Peter 5:1–5). The elders are called to rule in the church (Heb. 13:7), and part of that rule is encouraging peace among the brethren. The elders are to formally consider the charges against the errant brother or sister and once again to apply Scripture wisely and cautiously in an effort to bring him or her to repentance.
Depending on your church’s polity, the elders may, in some circumstances, also instruct the members of the church to take action in hopes of a final push for repentance. The congregation should pray for the errant person and offer personal encouragement for restoration, knowing that helping to recover a wandering sheep is a good work indeed (James 5:20).
If your brother repents, welcome him back into fellowship. If there are material (or financial) issues to be addressed, the elders should provide counsel on the best way to bring about an equitable conclusion. If there are other people involved in the conflict, each should be addressed by the one who sinned so that all relationships can be restored.
Don’t think this can’t happen. We have seen it in our church and in many others. God often will bless His people with a healthy restoration, and it is a joyous time for a church. But if not . . .
Step 4: Treat him like an unbeliever. If in the end the member will not repent, it is the duty of the elders to declare that his lack of repentance, being evidence of unbelief, requires the elders to formally declare that the individual is no longer a member of the church of Jesus Christ (Matt. 18:17: “Let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector”). This process is also called excommunication—it is removing the privileges of the Lord’s Supper and the nurture, provision, and protection of the church.
What happens next? If the individual is truly a believer, God will use his time out of the church to prod him back to it. But if not, his excommunication will stay in place in perpetuity unless he repents.
Finally, let us remember that this process, though hard, is the loving thing to do. Christian confrontation is completely unlike the world that cancels anyone who violates the current ideology and rarely welcomes them back without a heavy price and a public grovel. We can thank the Lord for His perfect plan of restoration for those who have ears to hear.