Biblical accountability in the church is a beautiful expression of love. It really is. As you well know, church discipline or church accountability fell by the wayside in our Baptist churches in the early to mid 1900’s. From that point forward, the rate of unregenerate church membership increased steeply and the moral state of the church became largely reflective of the moral state of our lost culture. Thankfully, that trend is being slowly reversed. A revival of this practice has begun in some of our Baptist churches as pastors and leaders have reasserted what the Bible says on this subject. It seems we have finally realized that we are not loving one another when we stand idly by while a professed brother or sister in Christ speeds down the road to destruction.
As a pastor, I and humbled and honored to be part of a church that practices biblical shepherding and accountability. Even in Christ, we all still struggle with our flesh and sometimes give in to temptation. However, this struggle marks the process of sanctification and reminds us daily of the necessity to walk in repentance and faith in Christ. But sin is insidious, and it is possible for any one of us to be overcome by our own pride and persist in our sin unrepentantly. In such circumstances, it is comforting and assuring to know that we have brothers and sisters who will care enough to intervene when we are unrepentant and when our judgment is clouded by our sin. Such accountability helps protect Christ’s reputation through His church, it preserves the purity of the body itself, and it manifests Christ’s rescuing and restoring love on an individual level.
Unfortunately, in churches that practice biblical accountability, there can be a fear that arises from a common misconception. The misconception is that any sin that requires intervention is automatically made public. When people believe they are going to be “outed” to the congregation because of their struggles, they withdraw from the body and go to great lengths to hide their problems from others. They effectively become afraid to seek help from the people that love them the most. This fear is a weapon of the devil, because it leaves individuals and couples and families writhing alone in spiritual quicksand, eventually given over to depression, divorce, addiction, and ultimately, death.
Thus, let me address the misconception. First of all, even the most obedient Christians face struggles where they need help and counsel from others. Thus, every one of us should strive to guard ourselves from the kind of pride that would keep us from seeking such help. Here at Morningview, we are blessed with many mature, godly men and women who are always ready to offer guidance to others. Our pastors are excellent resources for godly counsel, and for more serious cases, we have a partnership with the Eastwood counseling center where you can receive professional, biblical counsel at little or no cost. The help you may need is always available, and your privacy will be honored. Don’t assume that the problem will fix itself, and don’t let the problem fester over weeks and months before you finally humble yourself and ask for help. Every single one of our public discipline cases would have never reached the congregational level if the individuals and couples involved would have sought out the help they needed earlier in their struggles.
For cases where individuals or couples are unrepentant and won’t seek help on their own, Christ gave us the process of accountability in Matthew 18:15-17. According to His own words, accountability begins first with a private confrontation when someone first becomes aware of someone else’s sin. That first person is then obligated to go, in love, to the one in unrepentant sin and confront them biblically. This kind of private, loving confrontation should be taking place all the time in a healthy congregation as believers admonish one another and encourage one another in the faith. In the vast majority of cases, individuals or couples respond penitently and are able to get the help and counsel they need at this first level. Thus, knowledge of their sin is limited to themselves and the one who came to them in love.
If the individual or couple refuses to listen to the brother or sister who came to them, then the next step is another confrontation with two or three witnesses. If unrepentance continues, it then goes to the congregational level. After a season of prayer, if the unrepentance persists, removal from membership becomes necessary. So as you can see, knowledge of the sin only becomes more public when people persist in unrepentance. So the only reason anyone should fear church accountability is if they intend to continue on a path of blatant disobedience.
I hope this clears up any misconception that might have kept any of you from seeking out the help you need in a time of crisis. Remember, as a family of Christ, we are called to love one another fervently, scripturally, and practically. Never let fear of pride keep you from experiencing the blessing of Christ’s love through your church family. I love you all dearly!