Everyone was shocked. Whenever I told people my church had kicked me out, they unanimously expressed outrage.
“How could they be so cruel?”
“What a bunch of hypocrites!”
“Who are they to judge?”
I loved these responses. I would sigh heavily, my eyes welling up with tears, as I recounted the day I received the letter from the “Holier Than Thou Reformed Baptist Church” informing me of my sins against God and their duty to break Christian fellowship with me. Without fail my audience would look at me with pity and affirm how sorely I had been mistreated. And I knew they would spread the news of this “injustice” far and wide. And I was pleased about that, too.
“I stopped praying the day we received the diagnosis, and I didn’t pray again for five years.”
I was excommunicated because I had stopped attending Sunday service about a year and a half earlier. I had also separated from my husband while our son was in hospice care. At the time, our terminally ill son was going downhill fast. Honestly, I couldn’t have cared less about the church. My son was dying! Anger came like a storm. It was a dark time, and looking back now, I see that “my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped” (Psalm 73:2).
I had been through difficult times before: the tragic loss of my father in childhood, the torturous cancer battle that took my mother’s life in my twenties, and the horrific fight of my firstborn against malignant brain cancer a decade earlier. But nothing hit me as hard as my son’s genetic disorder. It was a rare aging condition called Cockayne Syndrome. There is no treatment for CS. You watch your child slowly deteriorate and suffer horribly. I stopped praying the day we received the diagnosis, and I didn’t pray again for five years.
My Eyes Were Opened
During my rebellion, I experienced the undeniable failure of a church body to minister to a hurting family. Not one single person from our church came to see our son when he was put on hospice care. Not even the pastor. But they did find the time to kick me out of the church. I realized in the process that at some point or another everyone will fail you. When a church fails to meet the needs of a family in crisis, it is sad and disappointing. But that disappointment was coupled with something I didn’t expect.
The more time I spent apart from church, the more I saw the world as it really was. I began to see a culture around me spiraling out of control. No one around me had any clarity. My co-workers at the university based their values on personal whims. I silently dubbed the reasoning of my new friends theologia iohannes lennon (theology of John Lennon). The idea that “All we need is love” was continually tossed out as a panacea for conflict, but it offered no real guidance on how to understand the world or how to make decisions.
“I missed the peace of his forgiveness.”
My frustration grew even more as I found myself listening to conversations in which there was no grounding for any values, not even human life itself. Everywhere I turned, I observed hollow men, as T.S. Eliot described them, saying meaningless things, “As wind in dry grass, or rats’s feet over broken glass.” I missed the truthfulness of God’s word.
Finally, God revealed my own heart in undeniable ways. I would observe repugnant behaviors and say, “I would never do that.” Time and time again, a situation would present itself where I would do just that very thing, and immediately feel the Lord looking directly at me, as he looked at Peter (Luke 22:61). My shame weighed me down as I remembered “all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).
I missed the peace of his forgiveness.
I reflected back on the church that had ousted me. They had acted consistently. They stayed true to their biblical convictions and I began to feel admiration.
It was not the actual withdrawal of fellowship that drew me back to God, but the simple fact that the church itself had remained steadfast to the biblical standard. The individuals may have let me down personally, but the body of Christ stayed faithful to the one that mattered most. It was to God that I needed to return, and their faithfulness to him was what I needed to see. I traded my resentment for respect. At the end of five years, I cried out from the depths of my soul, “God, forgive me! I miss you!”
“I encourage churches to practice church discipline in love. There will always be people like me who need it.”
I did not return to that church, but I repented of my sin toward God. Because of his enduring faithfulness, I received the forgiveness Christ offers to those who repent, and now enjoy the fellowship of new friends at a new church. My husband and I reconciled after our son passed away and God has carried us to our 21st anniversary. I’ve even enrolled in a program to study Christian apologetics to try and understand the problem of evil and suffering more, so that I can help others with the kinds of painful issues that knocked me down in my faith.
Setting the Record Straight
Occasionally, the subject comes up today. In a far different tone, I explain that the “Holier Than Thou” church was a holy church, indeed. I tell people that the pastor and elders did the right thing. They held to their membership covenant and had the responsibility to give me the boot when they did. It was for my good and God used it.
Looking back, biblical church discipline had reflected God’s holiness, and it was the beauty of his holiness that drew me back. True love, shown through unwavering faithfulness to his word, proved irresistible, gleaming like a bright jewel in the fog. I encourage church leaders to practice church discipline in love. There will always be people like me who desperately need it.