Most civil governments have stringent laws with regard to the home and its preservation; but seldom does a government interfere with family discipline. There must be something out of the ordinary if there is interference when a father or mother disciplines the child. But in many cases the government should and does discipline parents for their own immoral conduct.
The church likewise has responsibility along this line, and it should be adhered to strictly. Every case of immorality should be dealt with according to the position of the individual concerned. A minister, church elder, or leading worker would naturally be more severely disciplined than a layman. However, the same principle applies in all cases, the difference being in the measure in which the discipline is administered.
The guilty party frequently complains that the one handling the case is too severe, and that the instruction in Matthew 18:15-17 has not been carried out. But it is believed by some that this scripture does not apply in these cases, for the simple reason that most instances of this kind have become public gossip, and while the one affected by it is under the impression that his or her sin is unknown, still it seems to be known by almost every one. The knowledge of moral misconduct travels rapidly, and becomes a disgrace to the church of which the individual is a member.
Mrs. E. G. White at one time had an experience in reproving a certain individual, and a partial rehearsal of this is found in "Testimonies," Volume II, page 15:
"Her husband seemed to feel unreconciled to my bringing out her faults before the church, and stated that if Sister White had followed the directions of our Lord in Matthew 18:15-17, he should not have felt hurt: 'Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church; but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.'
"My husband then stated that he should understand that these words of our Lord had reference to cases of personal trespass, and could not be applied in the case of this sister. She had not trespassed against Sister White. But that which had been reproved publicly, was public wrongs which threatened the prosperity of the church and the cause. Here, said my husband, is a text applicable to the case: 1 Timothy 5:20: 'Them that sin, rebuke before all, that others also may fear.' "
It often happens, when such cases are dealt with, that some will take the part of the guilty, and say that they are repentant and should not be dealt with severely. But if Paul were present, it would be interesting to watch his decision, for he surely gave instruction that was severe. In one case, as recorded in 1 Corinthians 5:1-11, we find him saying to the church, "Deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." He also tells the church at Corinth not to keep company with fornicators.
Some contend that the statement in Hebrews 6:4-6 closes the door of heaven forever to the one who indulges in this sin. While we would not consider it impossible for such a one to return to full fellowship with God, yet it is sadly true that many who fall into this sin of licentiousness, after they have received the Holy Spirit, do not return. It is quite evident, however, that it is hard for them ever to regain their full influence for good in the church. It may even be necessary to set some outside the church. Note these words:
"If he repents ever so heartily, the church must let his case alone. If he goes to heaven, it must be alone, without the fellowship of the church. A standing rebuke from God and the church must ever rest upon him, that the standard of morality be not lowered to the very dust."—"Testimonies." Vol. I, p. 215.
Some try to minimize such indiscretion by citing 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. This scripture does not condone the sin of one who has been in the church. It is plain that when Paul brought the Corinthian Gentiles into the church, he recognized that their past conduct had been vile, but he accepted them as converted sinners, which course we should follow today.
In dealing with ministers or other gospel workers, the counsels found in "Testimonies to Ministers" are very plain:
Any woman who will allow the addresses of another man than her husband, who will listen to his advances, and whose ears will be pleased with the outpouring of lavish words of affection, of adoration, of endearment, is an adulteress and a harlot. No misfortune is so great as to become the worshiper of a false god. No man is in such miserable darkness as he who has lost his way to heaven. It seems that an infatuation is upon him; for he has a false god. To turn this worship of human, fallen, corrupt beings of earth to the only true object of worship, seems a hopeless task."—Pages 434, 435. "When engaged in man-and-woman worship, remember that there is the same witness present as at the feast of Belshazzar." "A few resolves, a few tears, will never reverse a guilty past life, nor blot out of the books of heaven the transgressions, the willful, knowing sins, of those who have had the precious light of truth, and can explain the Scriptures to others, while sin and iniquity are drunk up like stolen waters. As though written with an iron pen, they may be found lead in the rock forever."—Pages 435, 430.
"Cleanse the camp of this moral corruption, if it takes the highest men in the highest positions. God will not be trifled with. Fornication is in our ranks; I know it, for it has been shown me to be strengthening and extending its pollutions. There is much we will never know; but that which is revealed makes the church responsible and guilty unless they show a determined effort to eradicate the evil. Cleanse the camp, for there is an accursed thing in it."—Pages 427, 428.
"I have no real ground of hope for those who have stood as shepherds to the flock, and have for years been borne with by the merciful God, following them with reproof, with warnings, with entreaties, but who have hid their evil ways, and continued in them, thus defying the laws of the God of heaven by practicing fornication. We may leave them to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling, after all has been done to reform them; but in no case intrust to them the guardianship of souls. False shepherds! Oh, can it be that the men who have been engaged in this work for a long time, will corrupt their ways before the Lord after great experience and special light?"—Page 428.
While it may seem severe, yet after reading the scriptures noted and the paragraphs from the writings of Sister White, one must come to the conclusion that a minister, church elder, or Bible worker, if found guilty of immorality, should in some cases even be severed from the church, and in all cases barred from holding further positions of responsibility in the church. But while dealing with such individuals in this seemingly severe way, everything should be done with the utmost courtesy and kindness, with the purpose to save the soul.