First of all it should be noted that when one stops coming to the services of the church that individual has violated the teaching of the bible. We are commanded to “seek first the kingdom…” (Mt 6:33). When one, through neglect or rebellion, ceases to assemble with the church, choosing to be somewhere else, they have failed to put the church first. Such actions are also a violation of Heb 10:25. It is a sin to forsake i.e. (abandon, leave in straits, or helpless,) the assembling of ourselves together. It doesn’t matter whether we have gone deer hunting, fishing, on vacation, or we are working, the result is the same. We have chosen to be someplace other than where we are commanded to be. Paul and others chose to be together on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7) to break bread.
We should make the same choice. Secondly, when one attends a digressive church, they participate in practices that violate plain Bible teaching. Such practices may involve singing with a mechanical instrument of music, drinking out of individual cups, or a system of teaching unauthorized by the Bible, as well as other things. The fact that no one contacted or discussed with the individual what had happened in no way diminishes the wrong done by this person. It should be noted, however, that the leadership of the congregation where this happened had an obligation to not only contact and discuss this matter with the person, but also should have tried to get them to repent and return to the Lord before it was too late.
If this person on his or her own decide to return to the church, they need to seek the forgiveness of God, and inform the church of their repentance and desire to once again be a part of the congregation. How may this be done? In any number of ways. The individual might come forward at a church service and let it be known that they are sorry for failing to assemble and request prayer on their behalf. Or they might call up some of the brethren, during the week, requesting prayer on their behalf for their sins. Since all Christians are priests and have access to God in prayer, when we come in repentance, this person might realize they have done wrong and pray to God to forgive them. It is only proper, if such be the case, that the person then let the church know of their repentance and prayer as well as their desire to once again be back with the church.
What constitutes a public sin? A public sin is one about which people generally have knowledge. A private sin in my life is one about which only I have knowledge A sin between me and another person is between the two of us and should be taken care of by the parties involved (Mt 5:23-24). The sin of choosing to stay away from the services of the church or of worshiping with digressive congregations is one generally known by all. When someone fails to come to church, everybody knows it. When someone starts worshiping elsewhere, everybody knows it. Hence, the necessity of letting people know that we have repented and desire their prayers. In Mt. 18, a private matter escalated to the point that the church had to be made aware of the situation. Since the church was now aware of the problem, any resolution to the situation must be shared with the church.
While the querist made no reference to this, I am wondering why anyone who has left the church feels they should have a right to come back without some kind of explanation as to where they have been, why they left, as well as a confession for any wrong doing? It always puzzles me when someone leaves the church and then approaches the brethren asking “what do I need to do to come back?” It seems to me that most any one should know the answer to that question. What does an adulterer need to do to come back? Quite obviously, they need to repent and confess to God their sin. What does a thief need to do to come back? The same thing. What does one need to do who has been in digression or just not attending services at all? The same thing. What God requires of one, he requires of all.
Whose forgiveness do we seek man or God’s? Anytime we sin, we must seek God’s forgiveness. Seeking God’s forgiveness might also mean that we seek forgiveness of a brother if we have sinned against him. But basically when one comes before the church and confesses sin they are confessing to God and seeking forgiveness from Him. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9
Published in the OPA January 1, 1998