“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” Matthew 18:15-27
This is the biblical model on conflict resolution that churches have been practicing for two thousand years. It is a matter of faith – of following the directives of our Lord and Savior. Nearly six years ago, Pastor Buddy Westbrook of Crossland Community Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas, implemented this model and ultimately disfellowshipped a church member who did not repent from her sins. The church member sued. This case, now before the Texas Supreme Court, carries the weight of whether or not pastors can be sued for implementing biblically prescribed disciplinary practices. By the way, THIS is what Jefferson was referring to when he talked of a wall of separation between church and state.
The Texas Supreme Court has announced it will hear a case that could determine whether courts have the authority to interfere with matters such as church discipline.
The case known as Penley v. Westbrook dates back nearly six years to when Buddy Westbrook, pastor of Crossland Community Bible Church of Fort Worth, Texas, disassociated female church member Peggy Penley over divorce and adultery. Pastor Westbrook was sued after sending a letter to church members informing them of the situation.
Hiram Sasser is with Liberty Legal Institute, which is representing the church in the matter. He maintains that the U.S. Constitution protects churches and pastors when it comes to internal matters such as church discipline, and he says this case is “extremely important,” in that it deals with this fundamental First Amendment issue.
According to Sasser, Pastor Westbrook followed the three-step model for conflict resolution outlined in Matthew, Chapter 18, and was left with no other choice but disassociation after Penley refused to repent of her sin.
The attorney says Westlake had approached Penley about her inappropriate relationship with another man as well as her decision to terminate her marriage without any biblical basis. It was only after these efforts failed and Penley refused to repent that Crossland Community Bible Church’s pastor wrote the letter to congregation members outlining the reasons for Penley’s removal.
Increasingly over recent years, Sasser notes, a pattern has existed “of new lawsuits against pastors for following biblical principles and following the Bible.” One of Liberty Legal Institute’s goals in this case, he points out, is “to make sure that we establish clear precedent that pastors are immune from suit under the Constitution of the United States.”