Unchurched "Christian" Living In Ongoing Sin as it relates to Mt 18, 1 Cor 5

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Jackie Kaulitz

Puritan Board Freshman
I have seen others ask similar questions about family church discipline, but have never seen a solid biblical answer to this one, so I'm excited to hear what my wiser brothers and sisters in Christ have to say! :D

Let's use this example: A father (who is supposed to be the leader of the household) claims to be a Christian but holds incorrect teachings: Word Faith, prosperity gospel, mystical meditation and emphasizes psychology love over Biblical law. Over 30 years, he shows no fruit at all but is verbally abusive and engulfed in pride and selfishness. Being mislead himself, he tries to teach these wrong beliefs to his Reformed Christian wife and kids, so he is a type of false teacher. Now, if he does NOT go to church, what can be done if he is living in ongoing sin?

1) Can Mt 18:15-20, 1 Cor 5:1-13, Gal 6:1, 2 Thess 3:6-15, James 5:19-20, 1 John 5:16-21 apply? If yes, on what basis since he doesn't go to church? Must his Reformed Christian family "excommunicate him?" How can he be held accountable for his ongoing sin?
2) Or if these verses do not apply to his situation, on what basis? Is it because some may consider him "not really a true Christian?" Are we allowed to even make this distinction in such a case? Or is it because he doesn't go to church that these verses don't apply? Is there no way to hold him accountable at all? What is a Christian family to do biblically?
3) Should the family treat him like a backsliding disobedient Christian (holding him accountable in some way for his sins according to above verses?) or a lost unsaved soul who needs the gospel (forgiving all sins and ministering to him) or a false teacher (although he is only teaching members of his direct family and not the church)?

Thanks for your feedback!
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Puritan Board Junior
Hi Jackie:

Though I do not claim the breath of wisdom that others on this board have - I will try to answer your questions. First, I think it meet to understand that though the husband is a professing Christian his actions do not merit his profession. In light of this I am thinking of him as an unbeliever.

Matthew 18 does not apply as it is intended for "brothers" who sin against each other. If the husband is a professing believer and a member of the church, then it does apply.

1 Cor 5: If the husband has committed adultery, then that is grounds for divorce. As I am not aware of the extent of this husband's sin, nor the amount of grace the wife and family wish to apply to him, then it does not seem possible to adequately apply this passage to the situation at hand.

Galatians 6: As the man is an unbeliever, but thinks himself to be a Christian, then it may be prudent to first speak to him of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Since he is the head of the household, then the wife and children are "speaking up" and need to do so humbly as to one in authority.

2 Thess 3: The passage is talking about brothers in the Church. If the husband is a member of the Church, then, as least from what you have related, there are grounds for Church discipline based on his non-attendance. A family cannot apply these passages to the husband.

James 5: As the husband is an unbeliever, then he needs to hear the gospel and be converted. Would he be open to marriage counseling? and/or pastoral visitation? Bible studies started in the home by an elder of your church?

1 John 5: I think this also refers to a "brother" rather than an unbeliever.

in answer to the overall question: I do not think that the family has a right to "excommunicate" the husband. The wife may have grounds for divorce, but the overall principle of the unequally yoked spouse applies here, 1 Cor 7:13-16. The family has the right not to believe the teachings of the husband.

Not knowing any more of the situation - this is my 2 cents.

Blessings in King Jesus,



Puritanboard Commissioner
You ask many questions, based on a hypothetical with subjective descriptors . It may be helpful if you narrow your question down.

We can observe some biblical principles:

1) Wives are to submit to and respect their husbands, this is not conditional upon them being believers, far less that they be mature ones.

2) Unless an unbeliever (male or female) has joined themselves to the covenant community (e.g. by membership vow), there is not really a basis for formal church discipline, at least.

3) Honor to parents, and to authority (Commandment four, the WLC is helpful expounding on the broad application of this) is not conditional.

4) The real problem is that none of us want to obey God- men don't want to be suffering servants toward their wives; wives don't want to submit to their husbands; children do not want to obey their parents.... employees do not want to submit to their employers, citizens do not want to submit to the magistrate and its laws, church members do not want to submit to the authority of their officers, etc.


The Bible tells us- we are self seeking.

We do not naturally (until God intervenes) desire to love God or our neighbor (that begins with our spouse).

Pride, greed and fear are generally attributes of that self seeking in that they are not based on faith.

We resent anyone having claim on us (including God). We resist suffering even the slightest inconvenience to do what is right.

None of this is new or ought take us by surprise because the pervasive sinfulness of mankind is a central theme of God's revealed truth to us (the Bible).

It also reveals the truths of His marvelous grace and redeeming work in our (imperfect) lives.

We cannot approach situations such as you mention in a vacuum-
our focus needs to be on being faithful to God, and trusting Him for results,
Not on controlling other people or conditioning our response based on our perceived estimation of their worthiness.

J. Dean

Puritan Board Junior
In fairness it would be VERY rare to find a Word of Faith adherent who doesn't believe in attending church. And I do believe there are sincere Christians in the Word/Faith movement, although their salvation is in spite of, and not because of, the Word of Faith doctrine.


Staff member
Christian + does not go to church +does not bear fruit = not a Christian.

The wife would need to separate the issues between her duty to God (to believe and act rightly based upon what the scriptures teach and to fulfill her responsibility to her children to teach them this truth) and her respect for her husband. In the latter case, 1 Peter 2:13-22, would be an extremely useful text for her consideration -- to endure even injustice as one under authority.

Of course, the best option is to avoid this situation altogether by seeking a godly spouse. I realize that someone can be fooled, or that one spouse or the other might mature more readily, but I think people sometimes jump at the opportunity to marry without weighing all the consequences, particularly when a nonbeliever or an immature believer might be involved.


Puritan Board Doctor
The label "Christian who does not attend church" is a contradiction in terms. With that said, there can be no discipline from a session to someone who is not a member.

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
He calls himself a believer, so treat him like one. Confront him about his sin. If there are no church elders he's accountable to, then someone else should do it.

Are there any believing men outside the family whom he respects or might listen to? Even if he hasn't attached himself to a church that may undertake formal discipline, the larger body of Christ should attempt to intervene, warn and correct this man. Things will go better if he's confronted by other men rather than by his wife and kids, who must still submit to him to an extent.

Not all situations allow for formal church procedures. Sometimes godly men just have to wade into a bad situation and speak truth, for the good of everyone. Be as winsome as possible, but be persistent and bold. Get in his face. Make it uncomfortable for this guy to continue to get away with sin that harms his family.
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