position STATEMENTS FROM OUR ELDERS
Please read the following four statements from the Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel North Indy. You will be asked to affirm that you have read and acknowledged these statements before signing the application for covenant membership.
1. A STATEMENT ON PEACEMAKING AND RECONCILIATION
Our church is committed to building a “culture of peace” that reflects God’s peace and the power of the gospel of Christ in our lives. As we stand in the light of the cross, we realize that bitterness, unforgiveness, and broken relationships are not appropriate for the people whom God has reconciled to himself through the sacrifice of his only Son (John 13:34-35; Eph. 4:29-32; Col. 3:12-14).
Therefore, we look to the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit for guidance on how we can respond to conflict in a way that will honor God, promote justice, reconcile relationships, and preserve our unity in Christ. As God gives us his wisdom and grace, we are committed to actively teaching and encouraging one another to live out the following principles of peacemaking and reconciliation.
Personal Peacemaking Principles – Guidance for Resolving Conflict
Whenever we are faced with conflict, our primary goal will be to glorify God with our thoughts, words and actions (1 Cor. 10:31).
We will try to get the “logs” out of our own eyes before focusing on what others may have done wrong (Matt. 7:3-5).
We will seek to overlook minor offenses (Prov. 19:11).
We will refrain from all gossip, backbiting and slander (Eph. 4:29). If we have a problem with others, we will talk to them in person, not about them.
We will make “charitable judgments” toward one another by believing the best about each other until we have facts that prove otherwise (1 Cor. 13:7).
If an offense is too serious to overlook, or if we think someone may have something against us, we will go promptly to seek reconciliation (Matt. 5:23-24; 18:15).
When we offer a word of correction to others, we will do so graciously and gently, with the goal of serving and restoring them, rather than beating them down (Prov. 12:18; Eph. 4:29; Gal. 6:1).
When someone tries to correct us, we will ask God to help us resist prideful defensiveness and to welcome correction with humility (Ps. 141:5; Prov. 15:32).
When others repent, we will ask God to give us grace to forgive them as he has forgiven us (Eph. 4:32).
When we discuss or negotiate substantive issues, we will look out for others’ interests as well as our own (Phil. 2:3-4).
Assisted Peacemaking Principles – Guidance for Involving Others When Resolving Conflict
When two of us cannot resolve a conflict privately, we will seek the mediation of wise people in our church and listen humbly to their counsel (Matt. 18:16; Phil. 4:2-3). If our dispute is with a church leader, we will look to other leaders for assistance.
When informal mediation does not resolve a dispute, we will seek formal assistance from the elders or people they appoint, and we will submit to their counsel and correction (Matt. 18:17-20).
When we have a business or legal dispute with another Christian, we will make every reasonable effort to resolve the conflict within the body of Christ through biblical mediation or arbitration, rather than going to civil court (1 Cor. 6:1-8). If the other party attends another church, the elders will offer to cooperate with the leaders of that church to resolve the matter.
If a person coming to our church has an unresolved conflict with someone in his former church, we will require and assist him to make every reasonable effort to be reconciled to the other person before joining our church (Matt. 5:23-24; Rom. 12:18).
When a conflict involves matters of doctrine or church discipline, we will submit to the procedures set forth in our Statement on Accountability and Church Discipline.
If any of the above disputes or conflict involves a crime (e.g. abuse, embezzlement, etc.), governing authorities should be contacted in concurrence with efforts to receive the assisted peacemaking from the church (Romans 13:1-2).
Above all, we pray that our ministry of peacemaking will bring praise to our Lord Jesus Christ and lead others to know his infinite love and peace.
This Statement on Peacemaking and Reconciliation is adapted from The Peacemaker Church. Used by permission of Peacemaker® Ministries (www.PeacemakerChurch.net).
2. A STATEMENT ON DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE
God created marriage to be a permanent union, a covenant between one man and one woman that would only be separated by death (Genesis 2:24, Romans 7:2-3). But because of the reality of sin in our world and our lives, not all marriages live up to that design. Sadly, many marriages that have been marked by strife, division, and unfaithfulness end in divorce. And when divorce occurs, it not only brings pain and loss to all parties involved, but it grieves the heart of God. So how does God respond to this departure from His design? What does His word say about divorce? Are there any situations where divorce is not sinful? This document seeks to answer these questions and clarify our beliefs about divorce and remarriage.
Divorce is Addressed and Legislated by God as a Concession to Sin
The Bible is clear that God acknowledges the reality of divorce. That is why, for instance, Moses provided legislation related to divorce in Deuteronomy 24. But it must be understood that such legislation does not mean that God changed His mind about His intention for marriage. Rather, it demonstrates that God addressed divorce as a concession - an unfortunate reality of a world that is fallen and filled with sin.
One place where Jesus articulates this truth is when he responds to the Pharisees about the lawfulness of divorce in Matthew 19:3-9. First, Jesus reinforces God’s original purpose for the intimate unity and permanence of the marriage bond (vv.4-5). Second, he explains that it was “because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” So while divorce is both addressed and legislated by God in Scripture, it is done so as a concession.
As couples consider this reality it should lead them to be very cautious even in the consideration of divorce. Though God does allow and permit divorce under specific circumstances (see next section below), divorce never has to happen. And even when legitimate divorce happens, it occurs as a concession against God’s original design.
The Grounds for Biblical Divorce
The only New Testament grounds for divorce are sexual immorality or desertion by an unbeliever. The first is found in Jesus’ use of the Greek word “porneia” (Matthew 5:32, 19:9). This is a general term that encompasses sexual immorality such as adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, and incest. When one partner violates the unity and intimacy of a marriage by sexual sin and thus forsakes his or her covenant obligation, the faithful partner is placed in an extremely difficult situation. After all means are exhausted to bring the sinning partner to repentance, the Bible permits release for the faithful partner through divorce (Matthew 5:32, 19:9).
The second reason for permitting a divorce is in cases where an unbelieving spouse does not desire to live with his or her believing spouse (1 Corinthians 7:12-15). Because “God has called you to peace” (v. 15), divorce is allowed and may be preferable in such situations. When an unbeliever desires to leave, trying to keep him or her in the marriage may only create greater tension and conflict. Also, if the unbeliever leaves the marital relationship permanently but is not willing to file for divorce, perhaps because of lifestyle, irresponsibility, or to avoid monetary obligations, then the believer is in an impossible situation of having legal and moral obligations that he or she cannot fulfill. Because the brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases (1 Corinthians 7:15) and is therefore no longer obligated to remain married, the believer may file for divorce without fearing the displeasure of God.
The Possibility of Remarriage
Remarriage is permitted for the faithful partner only when the divorce was on biblical grounds. In fact, the purpose for a biblical divorce is to make clear that the faithful partner is free to remarry, but only in the Lord (Matthew 5:32, 1 Corinthians 7:15).
Those who divorce on any other grounds have sinned against God and their partners, and for them to marry another is an act of “adultery” (Mark 10:11-12). This is why Paul says that a believing woman who sinfully divorces should “remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). If she repents from her sin of unbiblical divorce, the true fruits of that repentance would be to seek reconciliation with her former husband (cf. Matthew 5:23-24). The same is true for a man who divorces unbiblically (1 Corinthians 7:11). The only time such a person could remarry another is if the former spouse remarries, proves to be an unbeliever, or dies, in which cases reconciliation would no longer be possible.
The Bible also gives a word of caution to anyone who is considering marriage to a divorcee. If the divorce was not on biblical grounds and there is still a responsibility to reconcile, the person who marries the divorcee is considered an adulterer (Mark 10:12).
The Role of the Church
Believers who pursue divorce on unbiblical grounds are in disobedience to God’s Word. Furthermore, those who obtain an unbiblical divorce and remarries are guilty of adultery since God did not permit their original divorce (Matthew 5:32; Mark 10:11-12). Such persons are subject to the steps of correct church discipline as outlined in Matthew 18:15-17.
If a professing Christian violates the marriage covenant and refuses to repent during the process of church discipline, Scripture instructs that he or she should be removed from membership and treated as an unbeliever (v. 17). When such discipline results in a reclassification of the disobedient spouse as an unbeliever, the faithful partner would be free to divorce in the same way a believing spouse is free to divorce an unbelieving spouse who separates (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:15). Before such a divorce occurs, however, reasonable time should be allowed for the disobedient spouse who has been removed from membership to repent of their sin and seek restoration in the marriage.
The leadership in the local church should also help single believers who have been divorced to understand their situation biblically, especially in cases where the appropriate application of biblical teaching does not seem clear. For example, the church leadership may at times need to decide whether one or both of the former partners could be legitimately considered “believers” at the time of their past divorce, because this will affect the application of biblical principles to their current situation (1 Corinthians 7:17-28). Also, because people often transfer to or from other churches and many of those churches do not practice church discipline, it might be necessary for the leadership to decide whether a member’s estranged or former spouse should currently be considered a Christian or treated as an unbeliever because of continued disobedience.
In 1 Corinthians 7:17-28 Paul addresses new converts and helps them think through how to respond to the various circumstances they find themselves in. When it comes to marital status, he gives the following instructions: “Are you bound [i.e. married] to a wife? Do not seek to be free [i.e. divorced]. Are you free [i.e. previously divorced] from a wife? Do not seek [remarriage to] a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries [i.e. one who has never before been married], she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that” (vv.27-28).
So according to Paul, if the individual was converted while married, then they are not required to seek a divorce (even though divorce may be permitted on either of the previously stated biblical grounds). If the individual was converted after being divorced and cannot be reconciled to their former spouse because that spouse is an unbeliever or is remarried, then he or she is free to either remain single or be remarried to another believer.
Repentance and Forgiveness
In cases where divorce took place on unbiblical grounds and the guilty partner later repents, the grace of God is operative at the point of repentance. A sign of true repentance will be a desire to implement 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 which would involve a willingness to pursue reconciliation with his or her former spouse, if that is possible. If reconciliation is not possible, however, because the former spouse is an unbeliever or is remarried, then the forgiven believer could pursue another relationship under the careful guidance and counsel of church leadership.
In cases where a believer obtained a divorce on unbiblical grounds and remarried, he or she is guilty of the sin of adultery until that sin is confessed (Mark 10:11-12). God does forgive that sin immediately when repentance takes place, and there is nothing in Scripture to indicate anything other than that. From that point on the believer should continue in his or her current marriage.
NOTE: While this position statement is limited to our understanding of divorce and remarriage, the elders of Harvest Bible Chapel North Indy do recognize that marital separation is at times a wise and safe course of action (e.g. where someone is in physical danger). Support for and terms for such marital separation are handled on a case-by-case basis.
3. A STATEMENT ON MARRIAGE, GENDER, AND SEXUALITY
God designed marriage to reflect the beauty and permanence of Christ’s loving relationship with His bride, the church (Eph. 5:22-33; Rev. 19:7). Therefore, He established marriage to be a life-long, exclusive relationship between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24-26, Matt. 19:4-6). God also designed it to provide mutual companionship through life’s joys and difficulties, to create stability for raising and nurturing children, and to give strength and cohesiveness to society in general. As a result, the church will only host ceremonies, perform weddings, and recognize marriages to the extent that they are consistent with the above biblical description of marriage.
Gender Assignment, Identity, and Expression
We believe that all humans, male and female, reflect the image of God. And it is God who assigns our fundamental human identity and gender. Genesis 1:27 provides the definitive statement: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Reaffirmed in Genesis 5:2 and again by Jesus (Matthew 19:4, Mark 10:6), this passage clearly defines human gender in binary terms—as two distinct genders.
Our bodies are God’s dwelling place. In the context of discussing sexual identity and behavior, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). To honor God with our bodies is to affirm the biological birth gender to which God has assigned each person*.
Human sexuality is part of God’s divine design for human beings (Gen. 1:28). However, the Bible restricts all forms of consensual sexual activity to within the boundaries of the marriage relationship (1 Cor. 7:1-5; Heb. 13:4). The Bible clearly prohibits not only non-consensual sexual misconduct (Deut. 22:25-27) but also any consensual sexual activity outside the boundaries of heterosexual marriage (1 Thess. 4:1-8). Furthermore the Bible specifically names as sinful and prohibits any form of sexual activity between persons of the same sex (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:10), polygamy (Matt. 19:4-6; 1 Cor. 7:11), incest (Lev. 18:6-18; 1 Cor. 5:1), bestiality (Exod. 22:19; Lev. 18:23; 20:15-16; Deut. 27:21; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5), adultery (Exod. 20:14; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20; James 2:11), and fornication of any sort including pornography (1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Thess. 4:3-8; Lev. 18:20).
Hope for Sexual Brokenness
All of us are sinners who have fallen short of God’s glory. And regardless of our particular sins, God offers forgiveness and help to anyone who repents and forsakes their sin and turns in faith to Him (Acts 3:19-21, Romans 6:23, 10:9-10, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 1 John 1:8-9). As a result, we should treat all who experience same-sex attraction or confess sexually immoral acts with respect, compassion, and sensitivity (Mark 12:28-31, Luke 6:31). Additionally, we should speak the truth in love as we minister to individuals struggling with sexual brokenness by encouraging them to resist further sexual temptation, refrain from sexual immorality, and pursue a life of holiness (I Corinthians 10:13, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, Hebrews 2:17-18, Hebrews 4:14-16).
*In rare cases today, a human being is born with both male and female sexual organs (hermaphroditism) or without complete sexual organs (e.g. Turner’s Syndrome). We believe such physical anomalies to be a result of the fall (Genesis 3; Romans 8:18-25).
4. A STATEMENT ON ACCOUNTABILITY AND CHURCH DISCIPLINE
Most Corrective Discipline Is Private, Personal, and Informal
God gives every believer grace to be self-disciplined. “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7). Thus, discipline always begins as a personal matter and usually remains that way, as each of us studies God’s Word, seeks him in prayer, and draws on his grace to identify and change sinful habits and grow in godliness.
But sometimes we are blind to our sins or so tangled in them that we cannot get free on our own. This is why the Bible says, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently” (Gal. 6:1). In obedience to this command, we are committed to giving and receiving loving correction within our church whenever a sin seems too serious to overlook (Prov. 19:11).
If repeated private conversations do not lead another person to repentance, Jesus commands that we ask other brothers or sisters to get involved. “If he will not listen, take one or two others along” (Matt. 18:16). If informal conversations with these people fail to resolve the matter, then we may seek the involvement of more influential people, such as a small group leader, Sunday school teacher or church leader. If even these efforts fail to bring a brother or sister to repentance, and if the issue is too serious to overlook, we will move into what may be called “formal discipline.”
Formal Discipline May Involve the Entire Church
If a covenant member persistently refuses to listen to personal and informal correction to turn from speech or behavior that the Bible defines as sin, Jesus commands us to “tell it to the church” (Matt. 18:17a). This first involves informing one or more elder about the situation. If the offense is not likely to cause imminent harm to others, our elders may approach the individual privately to personally establish the facts and encourage repentance of any sin they discover. The individual will be given every reasonable opportunity to explain and defend his or her actions. If the individual recognizes his sin and repents, the matter usually ends there, unless a confession to additional people is needed.
If an offense is likely to harm others or lead them into sin, or cause division or disruption, the elders may accelerate the entire disciplinary process and move promptly to protect the church (Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 5:1-13; Titus 3:10-11).
As the disciplinary process progresses, the elders may impose a variety of sanctions to encourage repentance, including but not limited to private and public admonition, withholding of the Lord’s Supper, removal from office, withdrawal of normal fellowship, and, as a last resort, removal from membership (Matt. 5:23-24; 2 Thess. 3:6-15; Matt. 18:17).
If the straying individual does not repent in response to private appeals from our elders, they may inform others in the church who may be able to influence that individual or be willing to pray for him or her, or people who might be harmed or affected by that person’s behavior. This step may include close friends, a small group, or the entire congregation if the elders deem it to be appropriate (Matt. 18:17, 1 Tim. 5:20).
If, after a reasonable period of time, the covenant member still refuses to change, then the elders may formally remove him or her from membership and normal fellowship. They also may inform the church body of their decision and instruct the congregation to treat the individual as an unbeliever. This means that we will no longer treat him as a fellow Christian. Instead of having casual, relaxed fellowship with the individual, we will look for opportunities to lovingly bring the gospel to him, remind him of God’s holiness and mercy, and call him to repent and put his faith in Christ (Matt. 18:17; 1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Tim. 1:20)
Formal Discipline When an Individual Leaves the Church
We realize that our natural human response to correction often is to hide or run away from accountability (Gen. 3:8-10). To avoid falling into this age-old trap and to strengthen our church’s ability to rescue us if we are caught in sin, we agree not to run away from this church to avoid corrective discipline. Therefore, covenant members of the church waive their right to withdraw from membership or accountability if discipline is pending against them. Although they are free to stop attending the church at any time, they agree that a withdrawal while discipline is pending will not be given effect until the church has fulfilled its God-given responsibilities to encourage their repentance and restoration, and if necessary to bring the disciplinary process to an orderly conclusion, as described above (Matt. 18:12-14; Gal. 6:1; Heb. 13:17).
If a covenant member leaves the church while discipline is in effect or is being considered, and our leaders learn that he or she is attending another church, they may inform that church of the situation and ask its leaders to encourage the individual to repent and be reconciled to the Lord and to any people he or she has offended. This action is intended both to help the individual find freedom from his sin and to warn the other church about the harm that he or she might do to their members (see Matt. 18:12-14; Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 5:1-13; 3 John 1:9-10).
It is the deep desire of the elders that all church discipline be administered in love and humility. Loving restoration always stands at the heart of the disciplinary process. If an individual repents, and the elders confirm his or her sincerity, we will rejoice together and gladly imitate God’s forgiveness by restoring the person to fellowship within the body (see Matt. 18:13; Luke 15:3-7, 11-32; 2 Cor. 2:5-11; Col. 3:12-14).
While this statement applies primarily to covenant members of the church, its principles also apply to individuals who have been excluded from another church due to church discipline and seek participation in our church. Unless the elders determine that the former church’s discipline was not biblically appropriate, such individuals must first repent of their sins and make a reasonable effort to be reconciled with those who have been wronged prior to partaking in the ordinances of baptism or the Lord’s Supper, becoming covenant members, or participating in the regular fellowship of the church.
As we pursue the blessings of accountability and church discipline, we will hold fast to the promise of Scripture: “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:10-11).
*This Statement on Accountability and Church Discipline is adapted from The Peacemaker Church. Used by permission of Peacemaker® Ministries (www.PeacemakerChurch.net).