The early church fathers considered church discipline as one of the marks of the true church. If their assessment is true it should trouble us, because church discipline has become exceedingly rare these days. I think there are a number of reasons for this. For starters, it seems as if offending someone today has become the greatest of all sins, and few things offend a person more than pointing out their sin. That is compounded by our mobile society in which a new church which will either ignore or even embrace their sin is usually pretty easy to find. So rather than risking offending and losing church members, we simply say nothing. Church discipline is also hampered by the reality that none of us is perfect. The “let him who is without sin throw the first stone” thing makes many of us afraid to speak up. We know our sin and we really don’t want anyone pointing a finger back at us!
But I think the greatest drawback with church discipline is the way in which we have formalized it. We have taken it out of the realm of personal relationships and given it to church Sessions, Presbyteries and General Assemblies, with courtroom-like rules and regulations that make the process so formal, unyielding, complicated and ineffective that it ceased having any impact on the holiness of individuals.
James, as I believe the rest of Scripture does, clearly states that the responsibility for holding one another accountable for their sins belongs to each of us. If you see your brother or sister falling into sin, you do not have the luxury of looking away, or waiting on some official body to step in and do something. You are your brother’s keeper. That is how God has designed His kingdom. We tend to think of our relationship with God as deeply personal and private. It is something strictly between God and me. But in reality, salvation not only brings us into a relationship with God, but also brings us into a relationship with each other! Together we are viewed by God as the bride of Christ. Together we represent Christ to a fallen world. Therefore if a brother or sister sins and wanders from Jesus, we have a responsibility to them and to God to bring them back. That is how James concludes his book.
Sunday we will talk primarily about how we reach out to those caught in sin. I would encourage you to reread the entire book as you prepare for Sunday, and ask God to open your heart and mind to His calling on your life.