[The following is excerpted from the book, Gather: Getting to the Heart of Going to Church, Copyright © 2021 by M. Hopson Boutot. Click here to download the entire book for free.]
On June 2nd I outlined the normal process for church discipline. But is such a process necessary for the sin of non-attendance? If you’re not convinced, let me offer several reasons why I believe it is right and necessary to discipline for sinful non-attendance.
If non-attendance is a sin, then God’s Word is clear on how we should respond to it.
Perhaps you’re asking yourself, is it right to confront someone because they’re not faithfully attending church? The answer to that question depends entirely on whether you believe there is such a thing as the sin of non-attendance. If you agree with my argument in this book, that it is possible to sin against God and neighbor by forsaking the assembly, then confronting sinning non-attenders is a matter of obedience.
Consider Galatians 6:1, Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Paul doesn’t say to restore those caught in serious transgression, but any transgression. Besides, the burden of this book has been to demonstrate that sinful non-attendance is serious.
Refusing to discipline for non-attendance is a refusal to warn those who are in great spiritual danger.
Some might suggest an alternative approach to dealing with this sin: just remove them from the membership list without going through any of that discipline stuff. But simple removal does not warn the sinner (or the rest of the members) in the way God intends.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15, the Apostle Paul says, “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” Biblical church discipline functions as a warning to God’s people. And these warnings are essential to help us persevere until the end.
Failure to discipline for non-attendance may withhold from the sinner the grace by which God will bring him or her to repentance and restoration.
In 1 Corinthians 5 we learn about a grotesque church discipline case in the Corinthian church. A man is engaging in gross immorality and Paul urges the church to remove him immediately. In doing so the members of the church in Corinth will “deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:4-5).
Surely this was a painful ordeal, but Paul hoped their obedience would work a positive outcome in this sinner’s life. Many believed that’s exactly what happened. 2 Corinthians 2:6-8 seems to indicate this man who had been excommunicated from his church was now to be restored upon his genuine repentance. Often church discipline is the very means by which God brings sinning believers to repentance.
The sin of non-attendance is more serious than most of us are prone to think.
When the elders of PBC first presented such a case of church discipline to our membership, we listed five main reasons why this sin is so serious:
- It is a clear violation of passages like Hebrews 10:25-26
- It makes obeying the “one another” commands in Scripture virtually impossible
- It misleads unbelievers, confuses new believers, discourages regular attenders, and becomes a liability to our corporate testimony.
- It diverts the elders’ time and energy away from those who do want to grow in Christlikeness and grow in loving and serving one another
- It is the first promise of the PBC Covenant and makes keeping the other promises virtually impossible. While this does not carry the same weight as Scripture, it is rooted in and flows out of Scripture.
Frankly, this list could be much longer. The sin of non-attendance is not some slight peccadillo. It’s a serious sin with serious consequences. Church attendance matters. If God’s people will respond rightly to this (and other) sins, we need a serious confidence in the Scriptures.