Fifty years ago in China, some in the Pentecostal movement required and instigated the public confession of sins. Some of these public confessions issued in suicide, fighting, and turmoil in the society, which nearly caused the government to stop such a thing. This shows us that we should not dig out all these sinful things. We should do our best to help individuals make a clear confession before the Lord. Even the so-called confession to the priests in the Catholic Church has caused much trouble. The man who is considered the father of the Republic of the Philippines confessed to a Catholic priest that he did something to revolt against the Spanish government. This priest then passed on this information to the government, and the government arrested him and put him to death.
These examples again show us that we must handle these matters very carefully. Even if a person volunteers to make a public confession, we had better advise him not to do it. This does not edify anyone. These are dirty things to dirty our ears and to dirty the minds of the young people. Once you hear things like this, it will be hard for you to forget them for the rest of your life. This is not so healthy.
The ones who are for the public confessions of sins use two portions of the Scriptures as their basis. They say that when people were baptized by John in the Jordan River they confessed their sins (Matt. 3:6), and also that the ones who believed in Acts 19 confessed their sins and made known their practices (v. 18). We must realize, however, that these are spontaneous cases and not teachings which require you to do this.
A LIMIT OF PUNISHMENT
Something divisive which has happened and which has been manifested to everybody does not involve people’s morality in principle. Even if we said something concerning this, this would not constitute any kind of defamation, and this would not be contagious to the listening ears. Even with the matter of divisiveness, however, we must take care of it in a very careful way. According to the Old Testament law, when a sinful brother is going to be punished with forty stripes, this punishment had better be done with thirty-nine stripes (Deut. 25:1-3; 2 Cor. 11:24). Thirty-nine lashes were given in order to insure that the limit of forty was not exceeded. There is the possibility of meting out more punishment than is necessary because there is something in us which likes to punish people. When we punish, we punish more than is needed. Even in dealing with our children, we should not forget the principle of thirty-nine stripes rather than forty. This principle is to safeguard us from over punishing someone. Therefore, we should always under punish. If you have a burden to give a certain saint forty dollars in love, you had better give him forty-one dollars. To love more is safe. To punish more is not safe. We must see the principle in the Word.
CONSIDERING THE OTHER CHURCHES
Also, when you consider putting out or cutting off a saint from the fellowship of the church you must consider what the other churches will do. Once you have thoroughly considered that you have no choice that a certain one has to be put out, then you must put him out. When such a person comes to the other churches they must consider whether or not to receive him back since he was cut off from the fellowship in another locality. When we receive such a one, we must receive him with much consideration for the other churches. In doing anything we must do it under the consideration of the other churches. If we receive someone, can the other churches receive this one? If we put out someone, will all the other churches agree with us to put this certain one out? If we deal with these matters in this way, we will be protected and, at least, we will be balanced. We will not go too far.
ALEXANDER THE COPPERSMITH
I do not think we need to consider the case of Alexander the coppersmith as a case of so-called excommunication. He was one who was attacking the apostle and damaging the ministry. Since he was an enemy and an opponent already, there was no need to cut him off from the fellowship of the church. When a person speaks negatively about the ministry, you should not consider that as an attack. We must give people the liberty to express what they feel and think. However, I believe Alexander the coppersmith went much farther than this. Otherwise, Paul would not have said such a strong word about him. To criticize the ministry, to say something bad about the ministry, and even to oppose the ministry should not be considered as the type of attacking that was done by Alexander the coppersmith.
In conclusion, I say again that we must always remember that when we practice anything for justice, we must do it in love. We must also reduce the extent and the quantity of the punishment from “forty stripes to thirty-nine.” This is safe.
(Elders' Training, Book 04: Other Crucial Matters Concerning the Practice of the Lord's Recovery, Chapter 6, by Witness Lee)