Church Discipline Brought Me Home

by Andrea Burke December 6, 2017

Sometimes sin is crouching at your door. Sometimes it’s devouring you alive inside of your house. The echo of emptiness that comes when you’ve been found out is deafening.

Sham. Fraud. Caught red-handed.

I had run from New York in the midst of an affair and was sure I had found my haven in north Texas. No one would find me here. No one knows my name. No one knows my face. When I’d waste the days and nights away in sin and sorrow, I’d wake to a silent phone. No one was even looking for me anymore. We had run off into the proverbial sunset and I was sure we were going to find our happy ending.

Until I got the phone call that letters had arrived on the desk of one of the pastors at the church I was at. I shuddered as he read the names. People who were out to get me, I thought. People who hated me. People who wanted to see blood in order for me to pay for my sins. It’s interesting how quickly friends became foes when they didn’t say what I wanted to hear.

In 2006, I sat at the table with men and women at The Village Church and heard the words that I didn’t want to hear: church discipline. I was in the middle of an affair with a married man and the letters revealed the life that I had tried to keep buried. What I thought was buried was actually a bomb. I was exposed and I had no excuse. My sin had found me out and I felt like I was being dragged out into the street.

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I tried to bear the weight of my own sin and it pushed me into the ground. I can look back on my life now and see lampposts lighting the way toward freedom. One of them was lit with the hot flame of church discipline. The astringent words of men and women who weren’t too afraid to say “What you’re doing is wrong.” The action of Hebrews 12:11 — the unpleasant work that yields righteousness.

The goal of church discipline is to reveal sin and when it’s done well, it has the potential to be a rescue boat in the middle of the raging sea. The seemingly harsh action of calling a believer to the table on their sin is not unkind. Instead, it’s a marker in their life that may someday remind them that God was at work here, they were pursued and loved, and here’s the way back home.

We puff ourselves up with pride and convince ourselves that the pathway to happiness is paved with our own plans, self-improvements and cheerleading. We live in a culture saturated with the message of “You can do it!” Anyone who dares stand in the way of an ambitious American can be assured they’ll be met with a confidence unmatched. We have a self delusion that runs so deep, when you cut us we bleed mirror mantras.

And the church has the hard job of sitting with the determined, disillusioned, and self-righteous  to point at their idols and say…. “These are wrong. You are in error here. This is the way to repentance.”

Hidden sin festers. Like an internal wound that gets infected and goes septic, everything around me was starting to feel the ooze of my heart. I couldn’t spin this anymore. I had no real defense.

And yet I was blind. Manipulated. Persistent. Impetuous. Willing to give up family, friends, reputation for what I believed was my greatest ally. My sin had kept me company for months and months to the point that I didn’t know who I was without it anymore. So I opted for defense strategies. Everyone else was the “bad guy,” “no one understands grace” and I was finally “free to be me.”

As we sat around the conference table, their faces were somber. Their talk hushed. I felt the weight of what’s to come sink around me. Several sheets of paper laying out my case were placed before me. A letter explaining their position and what they were hoping for. I felt my nightmare creep up in the back of my mind; a sense of doom wrapped around my neck and I couldn’t escape it. The letter laid out my sin and addressed what was wrong with our choices. It juxtaposed scripture with my actions, and gave a plan for repentance and restoration. Lanterns swinging in the darkness.

To repent.

To leave the man I was actively sinning with.

To cease any and all contact with him. And that he would be encouraged to return to New York to seek reconciliation with his wife.

“What about him?” I’d ask and they’d shake their heads.

“You don’t need to know anything about him anymore."

I read the black and white papers and thought of our date later that night, our visit home for Christmas, our plans for the New Year. I pictured him. We have only each other now in this cold, hateful world, I thought. I can’t do it. It’s not possible. We are too far down this road and I will never turn back. Love is stronger than even this, I felt deep down in my gut. It felt cruel. It felt unjust.

And yet, this is what love is. The weeping of brothers at a table who don’t wish to see anyone walk willfully into sin, and who bear the burden of giving an account for those who are under their care. To sit in the seat that requires they love truth more than comfort, repentance instead of reasons, restoration more than the American Dream. This is also a work of love — to see someone running toward a cliff and do all you can to stop them from running off of it.

The letter continued — that with the help of a Christian counselor and through a recovery program, I would find healing and restoration.There was hope, and a way to find freedom.

I read through the letter again and again as they talked. I don’t remember what was said at this point. Their voices were a drone of truth and I wanted to cut off my ears. The discipline was already doing its work — revealing rebellion. Helping me feel the weight of sin.

And it’s heavy. Oh so heavy.

But there I sat sobbing. This was breaking me and there was a small, very tiny, very distant voice somewhere on the outskirts of my mind screaming at me to please do this. Please sign it. Please end this. I heard the voice. I heard it like a distant bell in the dark telling me This is the way out.

It was a heavy-handed blow and they told me I had a few days to consider the agreement. A few days to run.

I scanned the faces of everyone sitting around that table. I knew these guys and they were starting to feel like family. But on this day they felt like thieves. They felt like every person I tried to eliminate from my life. Even though I’m sobbing and feeling sick to my stomach, I also thought this would be the last time I ever sat across from them as a friend and sister.

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I tell people now that these memories are guideposts to me. They are where I see the Gospel clear and shining like a lighthouse toward me. While I may not have heeded the warning at the time, it doesn’t make God any less faithful. Like buoys in the storm, they shone in the dark to lead me back home. Four years after that meeting, when my life had imploded and I found the bottom of the pit, I heard that voice again: “Here is the way. Walk in it. This is the way back home.”

Waking from my slumber felt like I was seeing the light of day for the first time in years, and the wreckage around me was devastating. I had adjusted to my night vision and the landscape of my life revealed how much I didn’t see in the dark. But when the sun rises, we see things as they truly are. The only things left standing were the arrows that pointed me back to where the Gospel had last broken through my heart and mind. And one of the biggest arrows was pointing at The Village.

Four years later, I’d walk back into that church. A single mom. Without much to my name. And desperately hoping that it hadn’t been too long for me to say “I was wrong. I made the wrong choice. I need redemption. I need Jesus.”

I sat at the desk of some of the same men and found that I wasn’t coming home to a scolding finger but forgiveness.

Church discipline had revealed the weight of my sin but also provided a way back home. When I said, “I can’t do this anymore” I was met with a family that said with relief “Finally” and we wept, sinner to sinner, brother to sister, a messy, snotty “Welcome home” on the dusty road. This was just the beginning of the Lord showing me that he was going to make all sad things come untrue.

I’m thankful for those who were faithful to follow through with church discipline. I’m thankful for their words that didn’t deviate from truth. I’m thankful for their tired hands swinging lanterns in the dark. I’m thankful for the way back home.