Humility paves the way for a proper balance of grace and discipline or forgiveness and rebuke.
Q: Once it is discovered that someone in the church, clergy or lay, has had an extramarital affair, how can we balance grace and forgiveness with proper discipline and rebuke?
A: As people of grace we are to follow the scripture "to admonish and restore gently" (Colossians 3:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:12, Galatians 6:1). A gentle restoration is always our goal though it may not always be possible. Where brokenness already exists the church never gains by introducing more brokenness. The effectiveness of the extension of grace by the church depends largely on the transgressor.
The paradox is that gentle restoration requires everyone to respond with their very best in a moment of duress and stress. Does he or she evidence pride or humility? If he or she acts prideful, then restoration and the unity of the church are, at best, tenuous. Humility, on the other hand, paves the way for a proper balance of grace and discipline or forgiveness and rebuke. In cases where a visible leader, whether lay or clergy, is the transgressor, humility and voluntary submission to discipline are the keys to progress. Clergy in particular are held to a higher standard because of their call and their own voluntary agreement to submit to the discipline of the ordaining body.
Balancing grace requires an end to gossip (conversation with others) and a full-hearted effort in prayer (conversation with God). I fear that the temptation in these circumstances is to talk too much and pray too little. May the opposite be true.
Interventions in every case must be guided by the goal of restoration, understanding that even discipline is a demonstration of love (Hebrews 12:7). Some form of restoration is always available if people are willing to submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Phil Fuller is superintendent of the Virginia District Church of the Nazarene.
Holiness Today, July/August 2012