Ethics: Excluding A Single Parent from Church Membership

What would you do Wednesday!

The scenario is that a single mother is a member of your local church. For several years she seemed to be living faithfully for Christ. She was present on Sunday morning and often during other church events. It was difficult for her at times and the church even helped her financially and with food when she needed help.

Then, to your surprise she moved in with a non-Christian man!

Church leaders begged her to repent and to move back out and get out of her relationship with this man. She would not. Several months went by.

Finally, it was time to vote as a church. The time had come to affirm or deny whether or not she continue to be included in your local church.

What do you do – affirm or deny her? (Depending on your local church this would mean denying the Lord’s Supper and/or being considered a member until repentance. Cf. Matthew 18:17, 1 Cor. 5:9-13)

If she is denied, but continues to occasionally attend afterward how would you treat her? What would you say to her?

tagged as , in Culture,morality

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Christiane September 1, 2010 at 11:32 am

Are you talking about excluding her from the community of members,
or just from the communion of the Lord’s Supper?

2 Mark September 1, 2010 at 11:38 am

Ultimately, it would an exclusion from the Lord’s Supper. If a church takes a high view of membership this would also mean they are under discipline and no longer considered a member until they repent.

3 Jonie September 2, 2010 at 5:07 am

So, who’s going to throw the first stone?
What about prayer and mercy and compassion?
I believe Jesus ate with sinners – how about making this lady’s partner very welcome into a loving and caring church family?
Or are you going to close the door on one of God’s daughters and also on a lost sheep?

4 Mark September 2, 2010 at 12:17 pm


Did you read the Scriptures I referenced? Maybe that would answer your questions. From my perspective it seems that calling the woman to repentance is an act of mercy and compassion which would be prayed through. It is no light matter. Biblically, this woman should not be living with nor dating a non-believer. She should not be living with him even if he was a Christian if they were unmarried.

I’m unsure how calling one to repentance and to believe the gospel is closing the door. Jesus did eat with sinners, but did He worship with them? Did he call them to repent of their sins and follow Him?

5 Jonie September 3, 2010 at 7:34 am

Jesus’ female ancestors which are named in the Bible are Thamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. Only these 4 are mentioned – isn’t it amazing? Thamar (adulteress) who seduced the father of her late husband; Rahab, a common prostitute; Ruth, who, instead of marrying one of her cousins, went to bed with another of them; and Bathsheba, an adulteress, who espoused David, the adulterer and murderer of her first husband.
I guess you would not allow them into your church?
And yet, God chose them. David, the adulterer and murderer was a man after God’s heart. Don’t you love that sinner’s psalms?
Yes, they all repented… in God’s time. How do you know that this lady whom you are judging, isn’t chosen by God for some remarkable job? Or her child or her partner?
I am surprised at how rife sexism is in the church.
When I look at Jesus I believe his priorities were quite different – didn’t he talk about feeding the poor, caring for the widows, healing the ill, bringing love and mercy to the outcasts, healing the broken-hearted, loving the lonely, fighting for justice ?
The things he condemned were immorality, but also greediness, selfishness, cheating and lying, lustful thoughts, anger and strife, swindling, judging others, and a long so on.
Have you confronted and expelled all those who gossip in your church? And those who are greedy, drink excessively, cheat on their tax returns…or is it just those in sexual immorality that you target?
Did Jesus worship with sinners? Of course he did!! – we are all sinners, He is the only One who is sinless. When he went to worship in the temple he was surrounded by sinners – remember the Pharisees? They were there and Jesus had a lot to say about them, didn’t he?
Aren’t we called to build bridges and reach out to people and not build up walls?

6 Mark September 3, 2010 at 10:19 am


Has someone in the church hurt you?

I’m not sure why the charge of sexism has to do with this post. I could have just as easily made it a single father and came to the same conclusions. And yes, even an unrepentant gossiper.

No doubt God uses sinners. We are all sinners. I should have been clearer with my question about Jesus and sinners. My point was that Jesus called sinners to repent and believe. He did not leave them in their sin as if it did not matter.

What do you do with these Scriptures which clearly state to put the unrepentant sinner outside of the church?

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
(Matthew 18:17 ESV)

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
(1 Corinthians 5:9-13 ESV)

If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
(2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 ESV)

7 Jonie September 4, 2010 at 9:07 am

It’s very sad when Bible Verses are taken out of context and misused.
Just to explain what I mean – have you read all of Matthew 18 ? The Parable of the Lost Sheep, The Unforgiving Servant? That is the context.
When Jesus talks about treating people like tax collectors and gentiles, how on earth can he be talking about excommunication? Didn’t Jesus go into their houses and befriend them? Didn’t he call a tax-collector to follow him? And the gentiles – didn’t he praise their faith? Jesus singled them out, he didn’t turn his back on them. He loved them.
Seeing that you have ignored all I wrote a few days ago there doesn’t seem to be much point in repeating the good news of the gospel to you and what Jesus said about loving one another, about having mercy and compassion. He even said that he hadn’t come to judge. So why are you?
Please don’t turn the Good News into rather bad news. Please let God out of your wee box of rules and regulations.
I pray that He will reveal Himself to you as the Almighty, Holy and merciful Father, God and Saviour He is and help you understand that the Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of convicting people of sin and bringing them to repentance. You don’t need to do it for Him.
I will leave you with some words from Isaiah: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”

8 Mark September 4, 2010 at 9:54 am


I didn’t ignore all that you wrote. A lot of it was unsupported assertion and some not relevant, IMO. Now some things are being left unexplained, for example, you said:

It’s very sad when Bible Verses are taken out of context and misused. Just to explain what I mean – have you read all of Matthew 18 ? The Parable of the Lost Sheep, The Unforgiving Servant? That is the context.

You say “that” is the context, but what is the “that” you’re referring to? Just telling me I’m taking verses out of context does not show me that I am.

Even the ESV study Bible notes (it’s easy access) say this about Matthew 18:17:

Matt. 18:17 If the offending party of vv. 15–16 will not repent after the matter has been brought before the entire church, then he or she is to be excluded from the fellowship and thought of as an unbeliever. Gentile and tax collector describes those who are deliberately rebellious against God.

I also quoted 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 and 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 which say to remove the unrepentant from among the flock. This is a loving thing to do. This is where I think you are missing what I’m saying or, more importantly, what Scripture is saying. To put someone under church discipline is not turning your back on anyone. And it doesn’t or shouldn’t happen over night. It’s a long process of calling the person to repentance. It is reaching out in love rather than turning one’s back.

I certainly agree that the Holy Spirit is capable of convicting people of sin. He is the one who does it. Yet, He might use us as the means. This is one of the problems hyper-Calvinists have in that they think they don’t have to share the gospel because the Holy Spirit will save whom He will when He will. If I share the gospel with someone it is not me who convicts them, but the Holy Spirit may use my words. It’s the same with calling Christians brothers and sisters to repent of their sin. Another example is in Galatians 6:1.

Jesus said He did not come to judge for the world was judged already and in darkness. Those who do not believe in Him are judged already. A person in unrepentant sin is denying the gospel they proclaim, hence the verses above I quoted.

Lastly, I appreciate your concern for my soul. Those whom the Lord has set over me as under-shepherds do watch over me.

9 Christian September 6, 2010 at 9:09 pm

Mark, Jonie, I’m calling you two to restoration and reconciliation! Seems to be some harsh words being tossed back and forth. Let’s have discussion, not arguing. You’re brother and sister in Christ. Both of you have very valid points. Yes, she should be called to repentance, but with grace and mercy with an ultimate goal of restoration. Church discipline, and particularly excluding from fellowship, should be evenly applied. Ok, so she is in a “sexually immoral” relationship. How about a male congregant cheating on his wife? Would he be called to repentance and “threatened” with “excommunication?” What about a man who simply looks at a woman in lust but doesn’t commit a physical act? Didn’t Jesus say looking at a woman was the same as committing adultery? Where is the line drawn? It can’t always be so cut and dry. This situations seems to me to be on the very slippery slope of legalism. Pushing her away from the church will likely lead to her heart being hardened, and neither her nor her unbelieving boyfriend wanting to associate with “those judgemental hypocrites.” Once that happens, Satan got his way again.

10 Jeff September 30, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Wow, I have been reading several of the scenarios here, and there are some very judgemental people here. It is no wonder I hear more and more people say that they are not religious but spiritual, not wanting to belong to a church because of the way they can and will be viewed and cast out because you don’t agree with how they live their life. I’m not talking about felons who have done a terrible crime, I’m talking about someone who has had a hard life, found someone who accepts them but you don’t agree with the fact that they are not a “traditional” couple, meaning clones of you and what you believe and want.

11 Dawn October 1, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Wow. Being Mark’s wife, and having been a single parent in the past, I feel qualified to answer on SO many levels here. First, I can assure you that Mark is in NO way sexist. He is also well aware of the lineage of Christ. Second, there is nothing more loving than sharing the word of God with someone, including when that means calling someone to repentance. So many people jump to the conclusion that someone is being “judged” because they are being called on their sins. As a family we are to help one another, and helping means to not look the other way when they are in trouble. Sin breeds sin breeds sin breeds……..a hard life.

It has been stated that this woman has had a hard life. No one knows the hard life of a single parent like someone who has also been a single parent. Yet so many times a hard life is to be had by the choices we make, especially the sins we commit. Nothing made my life as a single parent harder than this—my own sins. This woman’s life will be made even harder by living with a man who is not her husband. He accepts her, but does not cherish her enough to marry her before bedding down with her? Sorry, not good enough. Yes, it is tough to stay single and chaste while living the “hard life” of a single parent. I am all too aware of that. Yet that is the life God’s word calls us to live, and for all the right reasons. He puts barriers around us (no sex outside of marriage) to protect us. Then heaven forbid if someone loves us enough to come beside us and remind us of these things.

Mark may not have passed some of your tests by his views on this ethical question, but let’s look at his personal life since that has been attacked already. Mark courted a divorced single parent with many past sins, kept her pure, married her, and did not bed with her until their wedding night. Sexist or a bigot towards the least of these, including single parents? Not hardly. Is he perfect or does he think he is perfect? No. Yet he sure passed my test, and lived, and continues to strive to live, according to God’s word. How so very loving of someone to show someone else the better life God has for them–if only they will obey God’s word.

12 Victoria October 1, 2010 at 8:45 pm


13 Clark Goble October 27, 2010 at 4:25 pm


I love your blog and just discovered your “What would you do Wednesday!” series. Very cool brother! Let me take a stab at this one. I’ll apologize in advance for the length of my response, but a complicated situated merits a detailed response.

First, I’ll preface my response with this prayer: Lord, I pray that should I err in my response to this scenario that I err on the side of grace and represent Christ and His Word faithfully. Lord, help those who disagree with my position to understand my heart as they read my answer.

Okay, there are a few points within the scenario that I feel are worth noting. First, this woman is already a member of the church and was voted in as a single mother with all the struggles that apply to such a situation. Despite her struggles, the scenario suggest that she has been faithful to Christ, has attended church regularly, and I assume that her loyalty has included service within the church family in some capacity. It was after this history the woman has built with her church family that, “To [our] surprise she moved in with a non-Christian man!”

Perhaps I’m reading a little too much into the exclamation point at the end of this last sentence, but it seems to suggest that her actions shocked the congregation to the point that it became scandalous; if so, I would suggest that a healthy church family would turn that scandal into genuine, heartfelt prayer – but this is beside the point.

According to the scenario, the leaders of the Church then begged the woman to give up her new lifestyle and repent. Let me affirm that it is their right and duty to offer counsel to the members of their church and motivate others to inspire sanctification among the congregation. I have no problem with provided it is done in an edifying manner.

After the leadership has been ignored by the woman for several months the scenario then asserts that the time has come to “affirm or deny” whether or not she continue to be included in your local church” and asks should be done.

The question of what I would do in this scenario brings a couple of question into my mind. First, who decided it was time to affirm or deny this woman’s membership? Was it a decision of the leadership or rather brought about by the popular demand of the congregation? I’m not sure if these questions have a bearing on my answer, but I would humbly suggest that a congregation that demands a woman in this situation be affirmed or denied (especially if said congregation finds her actions so shocking that it is filled with scandal and gossip) has problems that run very deep.

Okay, now that I’ve rambled on far too long, I will get to the heart of the presented scenario. Do I affirm or deny this woman’s continued membership within the church? Personally, I would be chagrined that there was a vote in the first place and definitively vote for this woman’s membership to continue; should she be forgiving enough to remain. Here’s my reasoning:

• Romans 3:23 clearly teaches that all of us are sinners. The only difference between this woman’s sin and the sin of the church’s leadership and other members is that hers has been allowed to become the subject of scandal and gossip. The scenario offers no reason to believe this is the result of anything the woman, or her boyfriend, has done. Rather, it may be appropriate for the leadership to address this issue with the church as a whole.

• The leadership of the Church and its members have been ordained by Christ to love each other as Christ loves them (John 13:34-35). While there are precedents for “church discipline,” I fail to see how revoking this woman’s membership displays the love of Christ.

• By revoking this woman’s membership, the leadership of the church is displaying a woeful lack of confidence in the Holy Spirit. Rather than kicking her out of the church, the leadership should remain faithful to preach the Word of God within its services (especially those passages that define marriage and the appropriate roles of men and women) and be confident that the Spirit will convict her. Heck, perhaps they should begin the long process of befriending and ministering to her boyfriend in the confident hope that he will also be saved. This may be a difficult and lengthy process, but the effects of revoking her membership may create a roadblock that keeps her from attending church for a very long time.

• I believe the church leadership should be grateful to face a situation that allows them model faithfulness to this woman that mirrors the faithfulness of God to believers. Considering there is no indication that this woman has turned her back on her faith; it is evident that she is still within Christ’s flock. John 10-27-29 clearly indicates that nothing (not even this woman’s living arrangements) can pluck a member of Christ’s flock out of God’s hand. Romans chapter 8 teaches that no amount of distress can separate a believer from the love of Christ. If this woman’s sin hasn’t caused Christ to give up on her, who is the church to cast her out?

Next, I’ll respond to the Scriptures referenced (within the scenario) that may suggest discipline in this scenario is warranted:

• 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 does indicate that the sexual immorality does merit expelling a member from the church community; however, verse 1-8 in the same chapter spell out the exact sexual sin Paul is speaking of. Apparently, there was a man within the Corinthian church who has practiced sexual immorality that was worse than even that practiced by the pagans by taking his father’s wife as his own lover (verse 1). The question we must ask is if the woman’s sin in our scenario really compares to the sin depicted in 1 Corinthians chapter 5. Is her sin worse than that of the unbelieving world around us? Is her sin really of the same heinous type as that Paul is writing about? I’m not justifying her actions nor arguing that they aren’t sinful; however, I do believe a case can be made that her sin is no more heinous than many of the other sins that can be found in any church. After all, if we kick all the sinners out of church, no one will be left to hear the gospel!

• Matthew 18:17 does say that if a brother (or sister) refuses to listen he should ultimately be treated as a pagan or tax collector, but this is contingent upon Matthew 18:15 that states, “If your brother sins against you … .” Has the woman in our scenario sinned against anyone in particular within her church? I think it can be argued that her sin is against God rather than any member of the church. If the more sensitive members of the church are “offended” personally by the scandalous nature of her actions, they need to reevaluate the ease with which they are offended.

In summary, by the information we have been provided in this scenario, a revocation of this woman’s membership is not warranted. While she has sinned, she has not sinned in a manner grotesque enough to warrant discipline; nor has she committed an offense against any particular member of the church. The leadership of the church will be rewarded if they remain faithful to God’s Word and continue ministering to the woman’s needs as there is no doubt she will be in great need of God’s Word considering the choices she is making. Furthermore, considering the situation, there is a great likelihood that God’s power will be made evident as the Holy Spirit convicts the woman; in which case, everyone will know her life was turned around by God alone!

Thanks Mark for such a thought provoking scenario. Again, your blog is fantastic and I appreciate the work you put into it.


14 JimC October 28, 2010 at 1:47 pm

I am stunned after reading this blog the sheer numbers of legalistic replies on a variety of topics. It makes one want to weep out of understanding the pain alleged ‘Christians’ are causing people in the real world.

Legalism clearly is not what Jesus intended.

15 AshleyD October 28, 2010 at 1:51 pm

First, the church is right to confront her (lovingly, not angrily or judgmentally) and ask her to repent. However, if she doesn’t at that time, it would be tragic if the church told her she could not come anymore, or could not take the Lord’s Supper! We must remember that a person does not repent until they in their hearts feel they need to repent (moved by the Holy Spirit). Maybe it will take a while – a month, a year, we don’t know. But we should still lovingly accept her into the church, pray with her, spend time with her, etc. If she is run out from the church, her heart will be hardened (at the same time broken maybe), and like someone above in the comments said, we’d be shutting the door on her, her child and her boyfriend. And, like someone else said – it’s pretty unfair to shut this woman out when many people in the congregation are also committing some sin, but it is less obvious. I personally know I struggled with a sin (in my case an eating disorder) for many years. Every week I’d come to church and want to repent but every week had the same negative thoughts about myself that didn’t allow me to take care of my body properly. Considering I was committing the same sin every week, I guess I could have been excommunicated? I should hope not! It was only being able to come into church and pray about it and find support from people that allowed me to overcome this sin (or illness however you want to look at it). Because it revolved around selfish thoughts I do know it was sin. But anyway, this woman will repent on her own time. Like Dawn above said, being a single parent is very hard, and I’m sure she was desperately lonely. It’s going to take a lot of strength for her to be able to move out on her own again, and strenght like that doesn’t come immediately, it may take a while. So of course, let her know that what she is doing is wrong, but also let her know you love her and will always be there to support and encourage her – and worship with her! in fact it is great she is still wanting to come worship the Lord – it means he is tugging at her heart and in His own time will give her the strength to stand up against this particular sin.

16 Mark October 28, 2010 at 2:01 pm


I’m sorry I don’t have more time at the moment. Would you mind defining legalism as you are using the term in your charges?


17 JimC October 28, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Jesus was pretty far removed from rules. That was a good portion of what he railed against. But it is human nature to be authoritarian and godly to be forgiving, it seems the longer a person believes the more inclined them become to judgement of others and rules. The direct opposite of what Jesus espoused.

This is especially true of people in the church ages 30-45ish, the older people get they seem to be more inclined to return to Jesus’s primary narrative.

18 Rhology October 28, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Right, Jesus never preached anything about rules.
Never preached the Sermon on the Mount. Mark 7. Never told ppl to repent. Never said “blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and practice it”. Nothing like that.

19 Victoria October 28, 2010 at 3:28 pm

I must say Mark-I would never pose these ethics questions on a blog because you get a whole lot of people who don’t know the Scripture accusing those who do of legalism.
To my thinking there have been very few of the ethics situations that you have posted, that are not fairly easily answered either explicitly or implicitly in the Word of God. There is a famine in this land – God’s people as a whole don’t know His word and therefore they do not know his will and cannot bring glory to his name.
The rules that Jesus set, for instance on the subject of adultery’ were far more stringent than the OT law. The OT law said don’t commit the act–Jesus said to think about the act is the same as doing it. So I do not know what Jesus some here are talking about.

20 Mark November 9, 2010 at 12:30 am


Thanks for the long reply. I’m going to say, as directly, but hopefully as graciously as I can, that you have just given an example of how any church can reason itself out of church discipline of any kind. I think we could press your reasoning to a point that it would not allow churches to even call out its members for sin.

The act of church discipline and calling out members who are living in sin is an act of love. Even Paul said to give one over to Satan for a time. If Scripture’s scenarios must match exactly a scenario from today to be able to use it then we might not have many areas where we can actually apply Scripture.

In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul does not say to cast the person out because his sin is worse than that of the pagans. I don’t recall that world’s sins ever being the backdrop against which to measure them. What we have is a description of how bad the sin is. The consequences for this sin not contingent upon it being worldly so I’d say your position of comparing the lady’s sins in my scenario with that of the worlds is off base.

Again, if your Matthew 18 comment holds true, what sins could we ever hold each other accountable for inside the church? In this scenario, who advocates for the children? In this scenario, this woman was being taken care of by the church and was accountable to them. Therefore, I would say she sinned against her local church body.

21 Clark Goble November 9, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Hi Mark,

Thanks for your response. I’ll respond to what you wrote point by point, but first allow me to clarify that my goal for any person who finds themselves in the position as our woman in the scenario is complete restoration. By this I mean “right relationship” with God through Jesus Christ. I am also positive this is your goal as well. “Complete restoration” should be on God’s terms only … not the sinner’s, mine, yours, church leadership … as Creator of life, the heavens, and the Earth, it is God who will dictate the terms by which this woman – or any sinner – may find restoration. I only say this because I think our goal should be clearly defined. It is with this goal that I make my recommendations.

Now to respond to what you wrote:

“I think we could press your reasoning to a point that it would not allow churches to even call out its members for sin.”

Make no mistake about it; the woman in our scenario is guilty of sin. I made this fact clear in my original response and I still hold to it – we are in agreement over this fact. In my original response I wrote that the best strategy is for the church leadership to faithfully preach the Word of God in its entirety and allow the Holy Spirit to convict the woman of her sin. In my mind, this strategy is far more profitable and powerful than “calling the woman out on her sin.” I’m not suggesting there is never a time for this; however, sinful man calling out sinful man is never going to work as well as a sinless and Holy God convicting mankind.

“The act of church discipline and calling out members who are living in sin is an act of love.”

We learn from Scripture that the highest form of love is sacrificial in nature. Why is it that you are so eager to “call out this member?” Sacrifice your right to “call out” sinners and simply preach sermons that are loyal and faithful to the Word of God … God will “call them out” so to speak in a way that edifies and builds them up. The consequences of quenching your thirst to call this woman out may be devastating. You may drive her from the church and God all together … or worse yet, she’ll go find a church that waters down the Word of God. Either way, road blocks have been placed in her path to complete restoration.

Again, there are times when “calling out sinners” is appropriate and necessary. I could write several pages on when it should be done … I just don’t believe it is necessary in this case.

As far as comparing her sins to that of the world …. well, I believe Paul’s intent was to qualify just how bad the sin was when he recommended a gentleman be removed from the church in Corinth, “Even pagans don’t sin as bad as that!” The man had taken his father’s wife as his own lover. It was a sin that necessitated swift handling less it damaged the church as a whole. Again, I’m not suggesting the woman in our scenario is not a sinner. All sin is sin. I am making a case, however, that not all sin needs to be handled in the same manner. If we handled it all the same way, no one would be left in the church … including you and I.

I know we disagree with the handling of this proposed situation, however, let me say once more that I am sure your heart is genuine and that you have the desire to help and love the woman in our scenario – for that, I am grateful. I am concerned, however, with the eagerness you seem to have to “call her out,” – I simply think there is a way to handle it that doesn’t excuse the sin, yet still allows her the opportunity to be convicted by a power far greater than church leadership. If she can come out on the other side of her sin knowing that God convicted her, her life changed, and through it all her church family loved her; what a wonderful testimony she would have!

Again, thanks for the scenario and for your blog! I am very thankful for brothers in Christ such as yourself!


22 Ngina October 8, 2011 at 9:41 am

Am physically challenged and sometimes have heard christians saying am sick because of sin. This makes me run away from church.

23 Greg November 23, 2011 at 1:59 pm


I agree with Victoria’s comment that a lot of these questions seem to be answered fairly clearly in Scripture, but most people in the land who profess Christianity have given up Scripture as their authority.

And, Dawn, great response!

I, too, have been a single parent, and I can assure you, my church had difficulty at first with me even getting married again much less had I been attempting to marry an unbeliever (which I never would have done anyway).


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