Tag Archives: church discipline

What Should the Church do with a Christian Swindler?

Earthly restitution isn’t always possible. King David could never undo the consequences of his sin with Bathsheba because his arranged murder of  Uriah was irrevocable. On the other hand, when Zacchaeus became a  follower of Christ, he expressed a willingness to make more than a full  restitution to those he had abused in his office as a Roman tax  collector. The basic question is therefore not whether we can make restitution, but whether we are willing to do so if it is within our  ability.

In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus placed the emphasis on reconciliation:

Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your
brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the
altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then
come and offer your gift (NKJV).

William Barclay gives some important background for understanding Jesus’ words:

But two most important things have to be noted. First, it was never held that sacrifice could atone for deliberate sin, for what the Jews called “the sins of a high hand.” If a man committed a sin unawares, if he was swept into sin in a moment of passion when self-control broke, then sacrifice was effective; but if a man deliberately, defiantly, callously and open-eyed committed sin, then sacrifice was powerless to atone. Second, to be effective, sacrifice had to include confession of sin and true penitence; and true penitence involved the attempt to rectify any consequences sin might have had. The great Day of Atonement was held to make atonement for the sins of the whole nation, but the Jews were quite clear that not even the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement could avail for a man unless he was first reconciled to his neighbour. The breach between man and God could not be healed until the breach between man and man was healed. If a man was making a sin-offering for instance, to atone for a theft, the offering was held to be completely unavailing until the thing stolen had been restored; and, if it was discovered that the thing had not  been restored, then the sacrifice had to be destroyed as unclean and  burned outside the Temple. The Jews were quite clear that a man had to  do his utmost to put things right himself before he could be right with God (The Gospel of Matthew, pp. 139-40, emphasis mine).

An intelligent white-collar criminal who knows how to evade significant punishment and continue to live more affluently than people he has
exploited demonstrates no repentance or desire for reconciliation. If such an individual is able to make significant restitution but is  unwilling, a church that neglects to hold him accountable enables his sin.

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