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The Joy of Repentance

Church discipline works. It is always for the good of the individual as well as the whole church. Following are two real-life stories, one from a woman in Columbus, Ohio and the other from a man in Kansas City, Missouri, which demonstrate the power of discipline and how it can rescue Christians from spiritual shipwreck.

When I angrily left the Great Commission Church in Columbus, Ohio, in the autumn of 1981, I was convinced that I had burned the bridge and there was no return. After all, I had told myself that I knew more than anyone else about walking with God, and I was sure that the leaders did not understand me. I pitied myself for the reproof I had been given. I wondered how they could say that I was a divisive person. “Poor me,” I thought. I was full of resentment. How dare they keep correcting me? I left the fellowship with the attitude of, “I’ll find a better way and show them all!”

For more than three years I searched for that better way. When I was a very young child, I sometimes threatened to run away. My mother used to say, “Wherever you go, you have to take yourself with you.” That used to anger me, but it was true.

It was still true as an adult. Although I had cut the fellowship out of my life, I could not escape the resentment and bitterness that had built up in my heart — I had to take myself with me! If I even heard the name of certain Christians in the church, I would boil inside. I once hid behind a rack of clothes in a department store to avoid someone. I was enslaved to my sin, but I kept professing how free I was in the Lord. I took every opportunity I could find to preach about my superior knowledge in the Lord and how glad I was to be out of the fellowship.

My health began to suffer. I was sick almost two weeks out of every month with swollen glands and overall fatigue. Physically weak and spiritually bankrupt, I would still not accept the fact that I was wrong. I still pointed my finger at the fellowship and its leaders — they were the cause of everything wrong in my life.

Then I was given an opportunity to voice my resentment on a larger scale. The Lantern (Ohio State University’s campus newspaper) wanted to do a story on the church for the purpose of slandering it. Even though I did not have a clear conscience, I spoke to a reporter. Afterward, I could not live with myself. So I phoned one of the pastors and asked for forgiveness — I think just so that I could sleep again at night. Although he was readily forgiving and kind, I still hadn’t come to terms with the resentment and bitterness in my heart.

In the course of three years I had hopped in and out of six churches, finding fault with each one. Sadly, I could not see that the problem might be with me.

I got to the point where I couldn’t read the New Testament. I would always feel rotten after I read certain parts. These Scriptures, like the leaders, seemed to challenge my belief that I was a model Christian. I would only read certain Psalms and parts of Isaiah where I was sure to hear God say “I love you.”

Similarly, I had cut anyone out of my life who would reprove me; I surrounded myself with people who told me that I was a good person. Nonetheless, I was miserable and lonely inside. No matter what I purchased or did, there was a nagging loneliness inside that would not quit.

Finally, I moved back to Cleveland to live with my parents, thinking that would solve my problem with loneliness. Over the years, my mother’s health had deteriorated to the degree that she could not function without an oxygen tank almost 50% of the day. This weighed heavily on my father, who became very depressed.

When I first began to follow Christ, there were no two people I longed to see become believers more than my parents. And even though I wanted to be an example of Christ to them after I moved back home, I felt incapable of it. At times I was actually cruel to them in my speech. They had given me a generous sum of money after I moved home which I, in turn, promptly squandered. I impulsively bought expensive clothes, hoping that would fill the emptiness inside, but it never worked. My inability to love my parents and to control my lust for spending began to be a clue to me that something might be wrong. I prayed and asked God to show me.

One of the saddest nights I remember was sitting across from my dad in a restaurant and hearing him say, “I’m an old man and there’s no hope for my life anymore.” I thought to myself “Jesus Christ could be your hope, Dad.” But I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth: I knew then that I couldn’t witness; not only because my life was a terrible example, but because in my own heart there was no longer any hope.

Soon I knew I had to leave home — I had done enough damage. I felt drawn to return to Columbus. There were times when I felt so miserable that I even thought about going back to the fellowship. I remember how one day I longed to be back with those Christians. But I quickly put aside those longings by reminding myself that I had been mistreated and that God would not want me to return to those who had mistreated me. So I tried to forgive them, but I couldn’t. Something was wrong. I was a mass of confusion. Would it be possible for me to be happy again?

I moved back to Columbus and started getting close to a Christian brother I had met. I really wanted more than just a friendship with him. I wanted someone to fill the emptiness inside my heart.

Then I became very ill. One morning while I was sitting at work, I began to get sharp internal pains. By mid-afternoon, at the doctor’s office, I wasn’t even able to sit on the examining table. By evening the pain was so severe that I went into shock and nearly fainted in the bathroom. The doctor had given me a strong dosage of penicillin, not knowing exactly what was wrong. He said that I would have to see a surgeon if the pain was not completely gone in five days. I prayed that it would go away; and it did get much less severe.

I was very frightened because I
knew that God would be
perfectly just in taking my life.

I was very frightened because I knew that God would be perfectly just in taking my life. The pain started coming back a week later. The doctor’s threat of surgery echoed in my mind. I was terrified of going into the hospital. One night I was talking on the phone to the guy I had gotten close to. Without even realizing it, I was putting tremendous pressure on him to be committed to me. He would not give me what I wanted, but to my surprise, he gave me what I needed the most: he confronted me on my sin.

Through his reproof I saw, for the first time, that the pastor whom I had built a case against in my heart for years was really in the right! As our phone conversation continued, God began to expose my whole life to me for what it really was. I felt like someone was beating me internally. I was really in pain as my life unraveled before me and all of my self-pitying excuses fell apart.

After I got off the phone, I humbled myself before the Lord and said, “Lord, I’m the one who has been wrong — not the ones I’ve blamed.” As I said those words, I felt as though someone had reached inside me and took away a burden that had been weighing me down for years. For the first time since I could remember, I felt peace in my heart and close to God.

God began to give me more light on what had happened to me several years ago. I realized how out-of-line my life had been. I asked God to give me another chance and to heal me. I told Him that if He did, I’d give the rest of my life to Him. The next day, the pains disappeared. Three days later, I went to Great Commission Church’s Sunday morning service. My heart just filled with joy as I heard the songs of worship and saw the Christians. I was full of gratitude to God for granting me repentance and restoring me to Himself and to His people. The Lord put a smile on my face that day — and it was a unique sensation for me. I had forgotten what it was like to smile a sincere smile, not a plastic me [sic].

Since I’ve been back in fellowship, I’ve experienced more peace and joy than I thought was possible. All this has truly been a miracle of God. In His mercy, God met me where I was and spoke to me through the only voice I was willing to listen to. All I can do is praise God and give Him the credit for what He’s done in my life. One more thing — I haven’t had swollen glands since.

[Although the second account (below) was published anonymously, Larry Pile identifies the author as John Toner in his book Marching To Zion, in which he writes: "The brother who repented was John Toner, who had earlier written a very cogent critique of McCotter's leadership book. His personal account of how he was persuaded to repent of “faction” and having a party spirit was published anonymously in a special double issue of The Cause, June-July 1985." John Toner is further identified in as an "attorney for GCI" in a 1988 Sunday Journal newspaper article.]

As an 8-year member of the Cornerstone Church (Kansas City, Mo.), I never had the intention of undermining the authority of my local elders, and becoming the cause of a church split or faction. Nonetheless, through a few “small” sins, and much spiritual blindness, I found myself paving the road to division, strife and destruction of the very church I loved.

For years, in the Cornerstone Church, there had been poor scriptural understanding of authority. Different people, from time to time, would murmur and grumble against the leaders and their plans for the church. Slanderous remarks were sometimes made concerning the character of the pastors. Occasionally, this disrespect for spiritual authority was even expressed in public meetings. Though most people, at first anyway, supported the leaders, they failed to openly take a stand against this disrespect for authority, and hence many, including me, were led astray.

In late 1984 and January of 1985, things came to a boiling point. Numerous church members organized themselves together as a group to resist the plans of the leaders for the church, to entangle others in theological debates, and to call into question the motives and character of the local leaders. In addition, slanderous accusations were cast against leaders of other churches associated with ours who were barely known to their accusers.

I was probably the chief
of all sinners
in such actions.

I was probably the chief of all sinners in such actions. By crafty words and untimely comments, I helped to spread suspicion and fear in the hearts of many. I thought I was helping to establish “unity” in the church, and protecting the freedom to hold different ideas based on scripture. But actually I was resisting scriptural unity (unity under God-given authority) and was only spreading strife. However, somewhere in my heart, I knew something wasn’t right.

On February 9, 1985, four Christian brothers, in gentleness and love, rebuked my sin of spreading strife. Though it was hard, I listened to them closely, saw my sin and repented. After I repented, I began to understand more and more how the things I had been doing were wrong, and how I needed to change my path. But repentance over my own sin wasn’t the hardest thing I did. I saw that in order to love righteousness, I needed also to hate iniquity. At a church meeting, I publicly confessed and renounced my sin. I honored the discipline of those who refused to repent (including my closest friend), and for the first time in my life, I got wholly under scriptural authority and obeyed them, as Hebrews 13:17 commands.

Taking such a public stand against sin was perhaps the biggest test of faith in my Christian life, because standing for righteousness meant separation from my close, close friend. But, by God’s grace, and the encouragement of the Christian brothers, I was able to put love for God, His laws and His righteousness above affection for unrepentant friends. (However, by supporting church discipline, I actually loved such friends even more.)

Since repenting, there has been much good fruit in my life. Many others have repented as well, after my public confession. The church is now quite united. My wife and I thought we had a good marriage before, but it is much, much better now. And we have even led one neighbor to the Lord in the last six weeks, and a few others are very close to believing.

I am so grateful to God for His forgiveness. I feel that my life is living proof that where sin increased, God’s grace abounded all the more. All glory be to God!

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