Where Extraordinary Grace and Celestial Joy Meet

Tim Brister —  June 28, 2009 — 22 Comments

Tonight, I participated in something that I have never been a part of in the 22 years that I have known Jesus Christ.  The reason for this is twofold: I have never been in a church before that took seriously the biblical practice of church discipline, and I have never been in a church where the pastor has faithful discharged his duties of gospel preaching and pastoral ministry for over two decades.  So what happened, you might ask?

In 1988, God saved a man named Steve who soon became a baptized member of Grace Baptist Church (where I serve).  A few years after his conversion, Steve fell into sin and came under the discipline of the church which he refused to accept.  As a result, the most severe decision a church body could ever make was practiced as Steve was excommunicated from the membership of Grace. For the next 14 years, Steve spent his life committing immoral acts, including drugs and alcohol.  At one point in his life, Steve said he spent an entire month in seclusion drinking alcohol with the jaded hopes that he could die in his own misery and insanity.

It was during this time that he found an old Bible as he was reminded of what Tom had told him when he first came to Christ, “Read the Gospel of John.”  After six months of prayer, Bible reading, and personal repentance, Steve emailed Tom because he struggled to believe that there would be a church who would accept him.  The first person he knew he could to turn to, the person whom he said he trusted the most, was the very person who 14 years ago committed the most severe act of discipline–his former pastor, Tom Ascol.

Through a series of emails, Tom helped Steve get plugged into a gospel-centered church where he is living (which happens to also be a Grace Baptist) and shepherded him in gospel reconciliation that culminated this evening when we were able to fly Steve down to be with us in our bi-lingual Lord’s Supper service.  This evening I listening to a brother’s confession of prodigal repentance saturated with tears mingled with the joys of heaven.  It was extraordinary grace on display as the Great Shepherd pursued and captured one that had strayed, fallen, and wallowed in the pit of emptiness.

So many thoughts were going through my head as this was all taking place.  For instance, how many pastors minister long enough to every see an excommunicated member restored in the same tenure?  Given that there are so few churches today that practice church discipline, how many fewer ever see the most extreme (and painful) measures come full circle in the restoration and reconciliation of an excommunicated church member?  Why was it that the person Steve wanted help and trusted the most was the pastor who 14 years ago would not let his blatant sin go unaddressed?

So many churches today do miss out on experiencing the kiss of extraordinary grace and celestial joy when the gospel not only reconciles sinners to God but also to one another in the context of a repenting and believing community who is covenanted to be a pure witness as the bride of Christ.  So many pastors miss out on one of the greatest blessings of seeing Christ rescue fallen sheep because they do not hang around long enough, or aren’t willing to do love deep enough, to embrace fallen sheep and see Christ rescue them from their prodigal ways.  So many wayward sinners wander into the hidden paths of prolonged rebellion without the legitimate discipline of a loving church because there is no commitment either on the part of the member to pursue holiness or the church to pursue those who fall in trespass and sin.

When I hear reports of God-moments in churches, I often hear of x number of people professing Christ, being baptized, etc., and they are all praiseworthy.  But how often to we hear church members walk away from the gathered congregation with a God-moment where shameful acts of sinful rebellion is renounced in humble hearts of repentance and the forgiveness of Christ is communicated with joy and gratitude to God?

There was a time when experiences like the one tonight were not uncommon, but I have a strange feeling that this God-moment is one of which I would have a hard time sharing, except with brothers of yesteryear.  But it does not have to be that way. We do not have to have undisciplined churches, meaningless membership, and cowardly pastors who are unwilling or afraid to do what Christ has commanded.  I would not have had the privilege of joining angels in heaven with shouts of joy were it no for a pastor 20+ years ago committed himself to the biblical principles of regenerate church membership, church discipline, and faithful gospel preaching–marks all of which should make us Baptist.  Unfortunately, my experiences leads me to believe that are marked as being weird.

As I consider myself on the beginning chapters of my pastoral ministry, I am reminded of how blessed I am to serve under the leadership of Tom Ascol whose love for church members causes even the excommunicated to call upon him first, and whose love for the church causes the angels in heaven to rejoice over the warrior shepherd that refuses to let one wayward sheep go their own way.  It’s a love that does the hardest things and receives the sweetest expressions of reconciliation this side of heaven.  It’s a love that is not always reporting the 99 to the church growth department but is radically pursuing for the 1 because each member counts in the church health department.

There are a lot of lessons I’ve learned about pastoral ministry and being a true church, but this one is just too good not to pass along.

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  • svmuschany

    That is truly a heart warming story. Unfortunately, it seems that in today’s Christian circles, most churches either are really good at the condemning sins side with little to no offer of help and guidance towards repentance, OR the church too easily forgives sins with out making sure that the person has truly grown in Christ out of their errors. God willing this will change not only in the SBC, but throughout Christianity as a whole.

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  • word4men

    Thank you for posting this Timmy. I have been party to a similar story only once before. Praise be to God. We Christians should be very greatful to any church that tries to be faithful as GBC-CC has.
    In Christ Alone
    Greg
    By the way, I will post you link on my FB and my blog (word4men.wordpress.com).

  • http://barrywallace.wordpress.com/ Barry Wallace

    That was very moving. Certainly, it’s a tribute to Tom Ascol’s obedience and leadership; but as Tom would be the first to admit, it’s an even greater testimony to the faithfulness and grace of God. The glory belongs to Him.

  • Dr. Paul W. Foltz

    The whole point of exclusion is restoration.

    If a local body does not practice Discipline, it is not a New Restament Baptist Church.

  • http://allsufficientgrace.wordpress.com Dani

    Glory to God! What a beautiful story of His grace. Thanks for posting this.

  • Brad Hughes

    One of your best, most well articulated posts. Praise God for his example in taking us back when we stray.

  • http://hereiblog.com Mark | hereiblog

    Tim,

    This is a great testimony of see God’s grace worked out both in the biblical discipline and this man’s restoration. Praise the Lord.

    Not long ago I had a similar experience. A man who was disciplined actually went through repentance and restoration. He came back to us and gave his testimony of the things that happened. He stood with tears in his eyes before out congregation testifying of the grace of God through his discipline and restoration.

    I do agree that this is not something we see nor hear about much if at all.

    Blessings.

  • David Sullivan

    Tim, thanks so much for sharing this. I have been encouraged and emboldened. Thanks. To God alone be the glory.

  • http://www.kplunk.net Kenan

    God is good.

  • solideogloria

    At my church a family was confronted by the pastor for lying about their fornication and producing a baby outside of wedlock and they were married without telling the pastor (discipline was inacted in the sense they refused to repent at the request of their friends and then the elders confronted them) and they made the decision to in the announcements to tell the congregation (with out too much detail) their sin and asking for their forgiveness. It was so great not just knowing that God forgave them individually but as a congregation we forgave them as a whole through the words of the pastor.

  • http://onepilgrimsprogress.wordpress.com Chris Poe

    Tim,

    Thanks for sharing this.

    Too often those who practice church discipline and who are serious about regenerate church membership are caricatured as mean spirited self righteous “fundys” who gleefully kick church members in the rear as they throw them out over real or imagined sins and have no interest in their repentance and restoration.

    Several years ago when I was received into the membership of a Presbyterian congregation, in the same service a man who had been excommunicated about 6 years earlier for adultery was received back into fellowship following his repentance. He gave a moving and tearful testimony of how he had been enticed to commit this grievous sin as well as what the ongoing consequences were, which included divorce and his children’s home being torn apart.

    What was perhaps most extraordinary was that his father had been an elder and his brother was an elder at the time of the excommunication. That most think that discipline is weird is right. My understanding is that at the time the man was disciplined, many who were aware of it in the community thought excommunication was overly harsh (and like catechism was perhaps some old school Catholic practice) and couldn’t believe a man would assent to putting his own brother out of the congregation.

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  • robwitham

    Glory to God! Great post and thanks for sharing. This is such a key Biblical issue that has fallen SO out of fashion. We do, as other commenters have noted, tend to either be judgmental and critical or to be weak-kneed and spineless.

    God is faithful and good. Too bad we don’t take Him at His word a little more often!

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  • http://www.tarabarthel.com Tara Barthel

    Amen & Amen!

    Restoration services are one of the most tangible evidence of God’s grace in this lifetime.

    How I thank God for His mercy!

    How I thank God for the Bride—and for godly leaders who preach the whole of Scripture, administer the sacraments, and love us enough to discipline us. All for God’s glory and our good!

    Thank you for this post.

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  • brian

    This is a wonderful testimony, I have been a “christian” for some 29 years and can honestly say I have never seen the restoration part. I have seen Church discipline usually for retaliation because someone ticked off the leadership, which is a horrid and vile “sin”. Being on the receiving end of the left foot of fellowship, I know the pain, and understand its use because it is effective. I dont claim to be innocent I E I did lean on these folks and ask for help do to physical issues. That cant excuse being a pest.

    That is not said to gain a boohoo I loath receiving sympathy with a passion, giving it yes, getting it never. There comes a time people must part company even in a church. What I find hard to understand is when you come back and literally beg for forgiveness and just get ignored. You become one of the inviable people. Where those you called brother and sister you get the blank 100 yard stare and are never talked to again. I do understand it because I could not bring anything back to the table that was worth much but I wish there was restoration like above, but it is rare, in fact this is the only time I have ever seen it, ever.

  • Marty Bascom

    Thanks, our church is striving to be faithful in this process and it is tough but you are right we pastors need to step up.
    Marty

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